Saturday, July 30, 2011

Faith: can be a component in acts of violence

By Ray Pennings, Globe and Mail, July 28, 2011
Mr. Breivik’s faith claim is destroyed by his own words. He admits that his Christianity is a “cultural, social identity and moral platform” but that he doesn’t “have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God.” A faith in Jesus Christ as the substitute for sin and a relationship with him is to Christianity what breathing is to life. Take it away and you have neither....
The crimes of which Anders Breivik stands accused don’t show how religion can inspire evil. Quite the contrary: They are proof positive that a Christ-less Christianity is a cultural construct that can’t bring the depth of relationship required to prevent the horrors that evil inspires. It doesn’t show how faith makes us evil – it shows only why we so badly need to be inspired by the social virtues propagated by its institutions.
Mr. Pennings thesis is "do not blame religion for the atrocities caused by Breivik."
And yet, we are prompted to push back:
Is it a kind of self-righteousness that drives people like Breivik to commit the kind of acts we all witnessed in Norway? And is that self-righteousness in part the consequence of a kind of religious purity of perception that has no room for greys and sees things only in black and white. The acts allegedly carried out by Breivik illustrate lengthy planning, scrupulously detailed and documented organizations, and clearly a pre-meditation that defies "temporary insanity".
It is not Breivik's psychopathology that we seek to uncover. That is above my pay-grade.
However, is there is "faith" component in the motivation that drives some to shoot and kill, for example, health care workers who work in clinics that perform therapeutic abortions?  I would have to say there is. It is because of their faith that some people shoot and kill, to "act on behalf of the innocent babies" as they put their defence.
Is there a faith component that compels otherwise worshipping 'christians' who even espouse their "born again, personal relationship with Jesus Christ," to break into the homes of  and to threaten, both physically and politically, those whose faith does not conform to their's and then proudly declare, "I was responsible for driving the last clergy from our church because he was not spiritual enough"?
I would have to say that there is.
Is there a faith component that fuels the gossip that fills the sanctuary in every church for the half-hour before and the hour immediately following the liturgy on Sunday morning? I would have to say there is.
Just yesterday, I listened, with my wife, as the Senior Planner in London, England toured a visiting journalist through the laneways of his city to the gathering spots "where the gossip takes place". "It is the gossip that fuels all business," the planner proudly asserted. And I sat, stunned, as the kaleidoscope turned into a new clarity, in my mind.
For decades, I had decried that very gossip, in schools, in families, in organizations and certainly in churches where it is most pronounced, and where it proceeds with immunity.
And to learn that "gossip fuels all business" as a dismissal of its venality was quite shocking.
And to hear it from a likely Anglican, in the heart of London.
Is there a faith component to the insatiable appetite that writes and purchases gossip that destroys reputations, careers and even families? There is certainly an ethical superiority behind both the writing and the consuming of such stories, and that certainly has a 'faith' component.
Perhaps my experience is not representative; however, I have witnessed and experienced acts of violence perpetrated by many who public espoused a fundamental christian faith. And, to deny any connection between the acts of Breivik and a fundamental christian faith is to bury one's head in the sand, for self-protective purposes.
"Social values propagated by (church) institutions" to use Pennings words, are deeply flawed by the acts of those, in many cases, who lead those institutions. And their acts, no matter how heinous, are motivated, in part, by their faith, whether it is personal or cultural or both.
There is a quality of "insider" versus "outsider" that attaches to faithful living, and to how we perceive both ourselves and our world, that cannot be denied. Those "inside" the purity of the faith often have contempt for those "outside" whom they consider apostates. Nothing annoys the purists more than apostasy, because they cannot control those "doubters" and they know it. And only doubters can see and live with ambiguity, one of the central attributes of any healthy faith.
As faith seeks literal, black-and-white answers to unanswerable questions, no matter which brand of faith, it risks both unsustainable answers and acts to support those answers.

It was Paul Simon whose song "My Little Town" captured the nature of such untenable faith:

In my little town

I grew up believing
God keeps his eye on us all
And he used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall

Lord I recall my little town
Coming home after school
Riding my bike past the gates of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging out shirts in the dirty breeze

And after it rains there's a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there
It's just imagination they lack
Everything's the same back in my little town

In my little town I never meant nothing
I was just my father's son
Saving my money
Dreamin of glory
Twitching like a finger on a trigger of a gun

Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town

[ Lyrics from: ]

It is the black of the rainbow that captures so eloquently and poetically, the nature of a fundamental faith, which is part of all acts of reprehensible violence...even if we cannot ascertain the part faith plays. The dead and dying in Simon's song are not there from being shot; they are there by their own lack of imagination....also a lack of faith.
Let's reflect on the words of Chris Hedges, in "Fundamentalism Kills" on July 26, 2011
By Chris Hedges

The gravest threat we face from terrorism, as the killings in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik underscore, comes not from the Islamic world but the radical Christian right and the secular fundamentalists who propagate the bigoted, hateful caricatures of observant Muslims and those defined as our internal enemies. The caricature and fear are spread as diligently by the Christian right as they are by atheists such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Our religious and secular fundamentalists all peddle the same racist filth and intolerance that infected Breivik. This filth has poisoned and degraded our civil discourse. The looming economic and environmental collapse will provide sparks and tinder to transform this coarse language of fundamentalist hatred into, I fear, the murderous rampages experienced by Norway. I worry more about the Anders Breiviks than the Mohammed Attas.

Whither Islam? Egypt, Norway, Europe, Africa, North America

By Patrick Martin, Globe and Mail, July 29, 2011
Hundreds of thousands of ultra-religious Islamists packed this capital’s central Tahrir Square in an unprecedented show of support for the creation of an Islamic republic, rather than the planned unity demonstration in collaboration with secularists. In doing so, they drove a stake through the heart of a united revolutionary movement that had brought together Egyptian Islamists and secularists, Muslims and Christians, and shared the goal of democratic elections and the punishment of the corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak.
“The Islamists showed their true colours today,” said Hisham Kassem, the former editor of the independent al-Masry al-Youm newspaper and one-time vice-president of the liberal el-Ghad Party. “From this day on, everyone will know these guys can’t tolerate others’ views. They’ve been pretending they can work with others,” he said.By Arne Tumyr on his website: SIAN (Stop Islam in Norway) In Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, July 29, 2011

“This is a lot like Iran,” said Saeed Rahnema, a left-wing activist in Tehran in the late 1970s and now professor of political science at York University in Toronto. “And it’s only going to get worse. Once the Islamists start in like this, they’re never going to let up.”

(But) this new debate (following the tragedy in Oslo) is a great opportunity for us to educate Norwegians about the truth which is that Muslims are not a religion, they are a political fifth column out to take over oru part of the world.
Some troubling questions:
  • Is what is happening in Cairo only the sign of what is to come to fruition following the so-called Arab Spring?
  • Is the spectre of Islamic states, run by Islamic fundamentalists the real prospect in the Middle East?
  • Does the Muslim  Brotherhood seek to impose Sharia law in Egypt?
  • Is the imposition of Sharia law the real goal of the Islamic jihadists, whenever and wherever they can gain political power?
  • Is the perspective of the Islamic movement that it is a political movement, more than a faith movement, legitimate?
  • Should the west be shifting its position of seeing Islam as a "world religion" (and thereby tolerated and encouraged and fostered in a spirit of the "freedom to worship" that undergirds our civilization) to a "political movement" that seeks to control any country where it take power?
  • Who are the sources of legitimacy to guide the "education" of the west in this confusion?
  • Where does the responsibility for reining in the radical imams rest...with their fellow Muslims or with the civil authorities? Can either of these resources succeed without the other?
  • Has the west sacrificed what previously were secular states (Egypt, Tunisia, Lybia, Yemen) because of our desire to support what we saw as political movements against tyrants?
  • Has the west inadvertently fallen into the trap set by the Islamic fundamentalists who preach "faith" on the front end, and follow with "politics" and political control?
More from the Martin piece, Globe and Mail, July 29, 2011
Bulos Oweideh, a Coptic priest who sits on a joint revolutionary council that included both Islamists and secularists, shared the outrage. The Islamist hijacking of the demonstration, he said, was “contrary to what we had agreed.”

“It was all supposed to be about Egypt, not about sharia or Islam,” he told reporters.
Banners put in place in the wee hours of Friday morning proclaimed, “Islamic law is above the constitution,” while chants used throughout the day in the square insisted “the people want to implement sharia” just as they once had chanted, back in February, “the people want the regime to go.”
“We can live in an Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood in government,” said Father Bulos, “but not if they govern by sharia. This is not the Egypt we want.”
Safwat Hegazi, spokesman for the fundamentalist Salafists, dismissed the complaints of the secularists. “There was no agreement,” he said, referring to the concord said to have been reached between the two sides to avoid confrontation.
“If they [the secularists] don’t want an Islamic state, they’re free to go.”
He challenged them: “If they’re so sure they represent the people, let them see if they can fill a square with three- or four-million people. Show us,” he said on the Al Jazeera (Egypt) television network.
“We are the people,” he said defiantly. “This is an Islamic country.”
This reminds one of the radical imam in Great Britain who stated publicly the Islamic intention to take over Buckingham Palace, turn it into a mosque and confront the Queen with a choice: convert to Islam or leave the country.
In the west, especially in Canada, we genuinely prefer tolerance, accommodation and respect for all people regardless of their language, culture, gender or faith. In fact, we have a history of even encouraging what we have called multiculturalism, although the term is currently in some disrepute. Our immigration policies have opened the doors of our country to thousands if not millions of immigrants, many of them Muslims. Previously, their history does not indicate a need to impose sharia law on our country, nor even to take control of the political system, for that purpose.
However, is there a new strain of Islamic fundamentalism that is becoming emboldened by the mass movements around the world? Is that strain already taking root in North America? In Canada?
In Egypt, is the army able to withstand the pressure to transform that state into an Islamic state, complete with sharia law? Some believe it is. Others doubt.
(with notes from the Martin piece)
There are three Islamist parties in Egypt:
  1. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and best organized, some of their activists broke away to form Islamic Jihad which assassinated Anwar Sadat.
  2. Gamaa Islamiya waged terrorist attacks against tourists and Christians in the 1990's, crushed by Mubarak who drove them underground, but clearly wants an Islamic state
  3. The Salafists, third in size, comprised of small groups following the most fundamental form of Islam, have a close relationship with the Brotherhood
On the secular side, the political groups seem more disorganized, and while they seek free elections, they need time to organize and want to bring Mubarak to justice, also want to ensure an Islamic government could not be voted into power.

In Norway, the debate, previously under the veil of public consciousness, is now out in the open.
In Great Britain, the questions are being debated in public every day.
In North America, while there are some discussions, they are infrequent and disparate. Clearly no politician would risk losing his scalp by raising public fears, becuase s/he would immediately be dubbed a racist.
So we watch, and we read, and we continue to question where this is going, how it is going to play itself out in various localities including Somalia, where Al Shabbab continues to block the food and medical supplies for starving and destitute millions.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Costs of aging populations...everywhere!

By Chrystia Freeland, Globe and Mail, July 28, 2011
There are a lot of reasons this is turning out to be such a politically hot summer in so much of the Western world. But one way to understand the acrimony, from the street protests in Europe to the budget deadlock in Washington, is that it is diverse symptoms of a shared condition: The West is getting old. That fact is becoming a generational war, and there is every reason to believe it will worsen in coming decades.

As life expectancy increases and fertility declines, the population pyramid is being inverted – and in some countries that is causing the entire economy to topple. This is true in Greece and Spain, where the young are taking to the streets partly because state pension commitments have become so heavy they are suffocating the economy and depriving the seniors’ grandchildren of any chance of a job. Likewise in the United States, where the budget battle is really a fight about the old. Programs for the elderly constitute almost half of non-interest government spending, about $1.6-trillion (U.S.) of a $3.3-trillion total in 2010. That figure will swell as baby boomers retire.

According to a paper by political economist Nicholas Eberstadt, who has done extensive research on the issue, “costs associated with population aging are estimated to account for about half the public-debt runup of the OECD economies over the past 20 years.”
The demographic squeeze may also be contributing to one of the biggest dangers in international finance: the threat of sovereign default. Ali Alichi, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, argues in a recent essay that “old folks may be less willing to repay sovereign debt.” According to Mr. Alichi: “As the number of older voters relative to younger ones increases around the globe, the creditworthiness of borrowing countries could decline – resulting in less external lending and more sovereign debt defaults.”

This demographic crunch has transformed the way many think about the relationship between economic growth and population growth. Not long ago, the conventional wisdom was neo-Malthusian: For individuals, for families and for societies, one of the keys to prosperity was to have fewer children. That thinking has been turned upside down.
In a speech at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin cited the United States’ “favourable demographics relative to Europe, Japan and even to China and Korea” as one of the principal reasons to believe the country has sunny economic prospects.
Even China, the most brutal apostle of population control, now fears it will get old before it gets rich. And India, whose fertility was once seen as its national curse, is touted as a rising investment prospect thanks to its “demographic dividend.”
Ms Freeland concludes her piece arguing, on behalf of feminism as a potential answer to our dilemma:
The other answer is to persuade families to have more children. So far, that’s something no developed country has really figured out. As women get richer, better educated and more autonomous, they have fewer babies. That decline in fertility is driven by harsher economic forces, too: Most middle-class families in the West need a mother’s wage to survive, and women in industrial and postindustrial societies can’t take their babies to work in the way their peasant great-grandmothers could.

Yet there is one political movement that has long campaigned for societies to find a better way for women to be both workers and mothers: feminism. Until now, we have framed those efforts as being about expanding personal choice – and government and business have paid them lip service, but not much more.

As greying countries become angrier and more dysfunctional, this could change. We think the most pressing issues in the rich West are budget deficits and job creation. To fix our economies in the long term, what we should probably be talking about is parental leave and workplace day care.
Parental leave and day care, as solutions to the worlds' growing tension around the cost of an aging population?....Who would have thought that such seemingly simply solutions would be such a potential elixir that would take the bite out of this growing tension about how to pay for the inverted pyramid of population.
And yet, there is a conflict between what some consider "the nurture and the sustaining of the home and children" over against the "need to make money and thereby generate income, taxes, GDP, and lower unemployment"....for centuries these have been two distinct realms and there has been some "clarity" of both roles and responsibilities. Some societies even leave the former (home nurture) to the women, and the latter (work and making money) to the men.
It is in the transition that the difficulties arise.
When and if the making of money, through labour, facilitated by both parental leave and workplace daycare, both worthy changes on their own merit, trumps the issue of nurture and home/parenting duties...then we have different issues.
And when the making of money becomes the purpose of life, so that the economies can pay for the costs, have we not put the cart before the horse.
When the society exists to comply with the economic needs of the state/corporation/financial system, will that system not set the rules, the standards and the expectations for how children are taught, how families relate, how schools operate and how society considers its own definition of success.
Not only will the population pyramid have been turned upside down, but the things that really matter will also have been turned upside down, and the people will then be slaves to the generation of income on all levels, not the generation of income being the byproduct of raising families and of nurturing children.
It is our complicity in believing that only economics and finances can and do matter that we risk losing the best and the most important aspects of our various cultures and faiths, even though the acceptance of both parental leave and workplace day care, in themselves, is something worth achieving.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Memo to Andre Picard: "Back Off with your demand for Layton's full disclosure"

By Andre Picard, Globe and Mail, July 27, 2011
Has Mr. Layton been forthcoming enough about his health status?

Brad Lavigne, Mr. Layton’s principal secretary, said the public already knows plenty. He told The Canadian Press that he has tried to balance the need to “provide the public relevant information” with “holding back information of a private nature.”
Sorry, but the NDP has failed to get the balance right. The cameras don’t need to follow Mr. Layton into surgery, but we deserve to know a lot more than we’ve been told to date.
Saying that Mr. Layton has a “new, non-prostate cancer” is far too vague. It’s unacceptable fudging.
Does he have a second cancer that is unrelated to his prostate cancer? Or has his cancer metastasized – meaning it has moved elsewhere in the body?
These are important details. Today, men with prostate cancer have a five-year survival rate that hovers around 90 per cent. But when prostate cancer metastasizes, the survival rate drops below 10 per cent.
Mr. Picard:
Just becase the Americans demand and get a complete disclosure of their political leaders' health records does not make that fact the only approach to the issue.
While I agree with the needs for disclosure, there is an appetite for the most minute details in American public life that seeks to destroy before the subject of the disclosure has a chance either to explain or to serve.
For example, what if Mr. Layton's doctors really do not know if this cancer is a primary or a secondary (metastasised)?
Or, what if the doctors do not know the expected prognosis, or even the treatment of choice?
Or, what if Mr. Layton is going to be the subject of an experimental treatment, in a research trial, where the outcomes are both unknown and unpredictable?
The public's right to information is not limitless while the public's demand for information is literally insatiable. This is not about whether Mr. Layton is a "big man" and can take the scrutiny.
It is about what kind of society we wish to live in. And theAmerican model is clearly not the one we seek to follow, nor do we need to follow. There are millions of families in this country, in which private details of an individual's health have not been fully disclosed to other members of those families.
And that results from individual choices of doctors, family members, subject patients and the potential implications of full disclosure. For example, even the doctor's disclosure of the details of the condition of their patient's health has been the subject of appropriate treatment. There was a time when disclosure of a patient's cancer was linked to the remaining time in that person's life. It shortened the time period, so doctors backed off from full disclosure.
It was T.S. Eliot who reminded us that "man cannot stand too much reality" and that it not a testament to our inferiority, our neurosis, or our being less than adequate. It is rather an observation that some details are too much for some people, and perhaps at this time, Mr Layton felt and believed that his caucus and the Canadian people were not ready for a full disclosure. Or perhaps, Mr. Layton himself was not ready to deliver that full disclosure because to do so would rob him of every vestige of hope for his return to public life.
Back off, Mr Picard, and let the patient's case play out in its own good time. And put your detective's eye, diligence and absolutist's "need to know" back in its metaphoric holster where it belongs. There will be time enough for enough details to emerge, and you and I are not, and should not be in charge of that time or that decision.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Researcher: Close the food banks

By Elaine Power, Globe and Mail July 25, 2011
(Elaine Power, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University, has served on the board of the Partners in Mission Food Bank.)

It’s time to close our food banks. I’ve reached this conclusion after 18 years of researching food, hunger and poverty; volunteering at food banks; serving on a food bank board; and recently taking part in a challenge where I ate from a typical food bank hamper for three days.

The first problem is that food banks can never end hunger.
Most people who could officially be classified as “hungry” simply don’t use them. In the only national survey that bothered to ask (conducted by Human Resources Development Canada), one in four hungry Canadians used food banks. Many would rather go hungry than accept charity. Or they choose to leave the food for those who, they tell themselves, “really” need it.
Research shows that even those who use food banks go hungry. That’s because food banks can only supply what is donated. Given the overwhelming demand for their services and their limited supply, food banks must ration how much they provide to clients. Most restrict households to a once-a-month hamper.
I too have spent some time working in food banks, and after a morning of lifting and carrying boxes of foodstuffs, one returns to the solace of one's home feeling that one has helped other a little.
And, when I first read Ms Power's piece, I was a little off balance, given my social conscience and motivation to solve such a glaring and insidious problem as hunger in our own communities.
However, we are learning many different things about select charities, and Power's point that foodbanks given "cover" to politicians who have a resource to which they can point to say 'something is already being done about that'.
Charity from the donor, can also be a source of denial for the people with authority and responsibility to change the situation.
There are now African writers and thinkers who say similar things about 'foreign aid'....that it should be discontinued in order for the recipient countries not to become dependent, and thereby less likely to take full responsibility for their own growth and development as healthy vibrant societies. (The current disaster in Somalia where millions face starvation, disease and death as a result of multiple factors like drought, homelessness, failed states, and even political interference with the aid that has been sent to the victims of the famine would have to be considered an exception to the position of these writers.)
In Canada and the so-called 'developed world' there have been many futile attempts by various political leaders to eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness and the accompanying spin-offs of poor health, school failure and drop-out statistics, social assistance costs, and even law enforcement. However, taken overall, most of these initiatives have become a patchwork quilt of intersecting regulations, power plays between various agencies and generally a lack of co-ordination and consequently a failure to change the lives of at least 10% of our society in any meaningful way. There is an army of workers 'beavering' in their own silo's all of them with a client list that bulges past reasonable and manageable. And politicians will point to the plethora of programs to "help" those in need.
But there is not a nationally co-ordinated and nationally committed goal to eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness and all of the accompanying costs that flow from this gaping hole in our social policy and political will. (Attacking the need for more prisons is precisely the wrong end of the problem to address.)
Nevertheless, with the band of right-wing politicians like the recently elected Mayor of Toronto who wants to close the libraries 'because no one is using them' when the numbers prove exactly the opposite, is like Harper spending billions on new prisons when all the real data demonstrates a significant decline in criminal activity of both the petty and the serious variety. And in this climate, there is little or no appetite for even a full discussion of Ms Power's worthy and somewhat provocative recommendation that we close the food banks...And until some movement in social consciousness and political will occur, we will continue to put this band-aid on the cancer that should be an embarrassment for everyone.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is Grover Norquist the de-facto leader of the U.S. government? Who elected him?

Editorial, Globe And Mail, July 21, 2011
Without a congressionally approved increase in the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, the U.S. will run out of new borrowing authority, forcing it to pick and choose among its existing obligations – to Social Security recipients, bondholders or its own employees. And so one consequence of failure would be a removal of money from the American economy. That would affect economies the world over, many of which rely on trade with the U.S. (and on which Canada remains especially dependent).

The U.S. would also enter into technical default and its debt would surely, and deservedly, be downgraded by major rating agencies. That would devalue the holdings of millions of people and institutions (including those in Canadian pension funds, government reserves and private accounts). Treasury bills, a lifeblood of its own economy and the world economy, would no longer be risk-free. That would put into play the “full faith and credit of the United States” on which global finance depends, limiting borrowing elsewhere and further threatening the prosperity of other economies.
The power the U.S. exercises on the world stage comes largely from its economic strength. Default would demonstrate the U.S.’s inability to meet its commitments. In addition to the economic consequences, that could lead to a loss of its moral authority in international affairs – and that would be a very bad thing.
Editorial Globe and Mail July 12, 2011
The debt ceiling is the legal limit of the debt the U.S. can issue to meet its obligations. Thanks to expensive wars, tax cuts and the recession, the nation is much obligated: Congress passed nine separate bills to raise the debt ceiling in the past decade. If Congress does not pass another increase by Aug, 2, the U.S. would have to pick and choose which of its current obligations – pay to civil servants and soldiers; cheques for grant recipients; interest on existing debt – it will not meet. In time, the country could be in a default situation, wreaking havoc on a world economy that depends on the U.S. currency.

After years of profligacy, both parties now realize the fiscal trend – debt as a proportion of GDP could double in ten years, says the Congressional Budget Office – is unsustainable, and that a debt-reduction plan, not another band-aid, is necessary. But only one is reaching across the aisle. Mr. Obama’s proposal for up to $4-trillion in savings constitutes a massive concession, given the orientation of his base, the Democratic Party.
In the U.S. system, Congress holds the purse, not the President. The Republican majority should share an interest in governing, in such hard choices. But Republican House Speaker John Boehner has capitulated – to his party’s presidential candidates and his own deputy, who insist that the deal include no tax changes whatsoever.
Low taxation is a laudable objective. But so is fiscal rectitude. And low taxation at the price of default is a price not worth paying. The complete set of tax cuts approved under George W. Bush are proving to be unaffordable in the long run, yet the Republicans refuse to discuss them. The U.S. tax code, which allows well-connected parties to reduce their obligations, could use reform – yet the extremists in the Republican Party refuse to consider that, either.
Both belief in the U.S. and the country’s economic future are at risk if they continue this game. Default is staring Americans in the face. It would be criminal if a broken political culture and an out-of-touch political party inflicted default, and its horrible consequences, on its own people and the world.

Last night the President addressed the nation, again, for the nth time it would seem, once again demonstrating his commitment to a balanced solution, combining both spending cuts and tax revenue from loopholes and from the termination of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Should this crisis cross the threshold without a solution by the August 2 deadline, it is quite clear that the Republicans are the party and Boehner their leader whose hands must bear the blood of the failure.
It is the Republicans who merit severe castigation at the polls, in the next election. And, specifically, the TeaParty candidates whose ideological commitment to their oath, sponsored by Grover Norquist, the anti-tax ideologue, bear the heaviest respsonsibility for the failure to reach an agreement.
By having a majority of Republican politicians sign his oath that they will not vote for any measure that includes a tax increase of any kind, Norquist has effectively tied the hands of the rest of the government, including the remaining moderate Republicans, the Democrats and the President.
If this log-jam continues, and the U.S. does indeed default on its payments, because the debt ceiling is not raised, any fingerpointing must be directed to Norquist, and he must be held accountable although he does not even hold a seat in either house in Congress.

Monday, July 25, 2011

$35 billion for war ships to go with $30 billion for Fighter Jets...Is this Canada?

By Robert Matas, Globe and Mail, July 25, 2011
The federal government has requested proposals for a $35-billion procurement program that includes combat ships – new armed Arctic patrol ships and replacements for the navy’s destroyers and frigates. It also involves non-combat vessels – a polar icebreaker, support ships for the warships, Coast Guard vessels and fisheries science ships. Federal officials have said contracts for the combat ships would be awarded to a different bidder than the contract for the non-combat vessels.

Armed Arctic patrol ships, destroyers and frigates...more war ships to go with the already contracted Fighter a cost of another $35 billion. That's a total of nearly $70 billion in war preparations for Canada, a country known around the world for its peace-keeping history, tradition and character.
And at the same time, the Harper gang is touting an austerity program that lays off hundreds of people including some of the best brains in the art history world from the National Gallery.
What kind of mandate does Harper think, believe, make-up that he and his government were given on May 2?
There never was a single debate about war ships in the last campaign.
There was considerable talk of Fighter Jets (at an estimated cost of $30 billion) and several billion for new prisons, but not a word on war ships.
Why is Harper transforming this country into a war machine, without a mandate from the people of the country? Why, on the day when the Leader of the Opposition is diagnosed a second time with cancer, and has taken a leave of absence to deal with his own personal health battle, is Harper so arrogant and so single-minded, so out of touch with the Canadian people, ethos and character that he announces another significant expenditure on war.
Where is he planning to fight? Against what forces is he planning to engage in what battles? And for what purpose? Is this more chest-thumping faux nationalism?
Is the Baird diplomacy initiative a cover for the real "war" agenda of the government?
Oslo proves, London proves and many other sites demonstrate conclusively that the current world is facing serious terrorist threats, not the threat of military action by another foreign government of the kind that WWI, WWII, Korea and even VietNam were.
The nature of conflict today involves mad men with personal manifestoes for and against Islamic jihad.
Does Harper believe that spending $70 billion on war ships and planes will make Canada safer from such threats? If he does, then Canadians have to ask, "What is he smoking?"
If even half this money were to be directed toward new thinking and research into the causes, and the prevention of terrorism, especially in light of the recent events in and near Oslo, Norway, then the country could easily discern the appropriateness of such an expenditure. But war ships, armed Arctic Patrol ships....and those damn Fighter the government gone mad?
Or am I the only one confused?
This is certainly not the Canada I grew up in and not the Canada I want to leave to my grand-daughters!

Xenophobic beliefs drive terrorists and their violent opponents: witness Oslo

By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, July 24, 2011
Norwegians, reeling at the death of at least 93 adults and children in Friday’s mass shootings and bombing attack, are being forced to confront the fact that the perpetrator is not a lone madman, but a highly organized Norwegian political terrorist who claims to be part of a Europe-wide movement opposed to Muslim immigrants and multiculturalism.

The confessed killer, 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik, released a 1,500-page manifesto moments before his terror spree and made statements through his lawyer while being interrogated on the weekend that suggest he intends to use his atrocity as a platform to espouse a type of anti-immigrant politics that has become increasingly popular in Europe.
The revelations come as a blow to European police and intelligence officials, who now appear to face two parallel terror threats, one Islamic and one anti-Islamic, which share xenophobic beliefs, violent tactics and even inspirational leaders, and differ only in their targets.Anyone who comes from a small town where resistance to the "outside" world runs deep and long knows something about a kind of political activism that projects its worst fears onto the enemy, as it sees that enemy to be.
What is now changed is that political activism has grown new courage, new strategies and new tactics, along with a boldness and a narcissism that "heroically" seeks publicity as one of its new strategies.
Of course, Breivik seeks an open, probably televised court hearing today. He wants the world to listen to his manifesto. Of course, he is a hero to his like-minded, radical, racist 'movement' across Europe.
Fear of being submerged, subsumed in a world generally formed by judeo-christian values, laws and traditions motivates the Islamic terrorist and jihadist; fear of the take-over and domination by those jihadists drives the people like Breivik.
And the rest of us are left watching a conflict whose outcomes we can only imagine.
The  world is experiencing the collision of people with cultural and religious traditions that are very different. Thousands of litres of alcoholic beverages are openly thrown into a pit when the Islamic Taliban find them after the forces of the "west" leave. Women, in the Islamic tradition, are treated very differently from their treatment in the "west." The U.S. and much of the "west" supports, aids and defends the state and people of Israel; much of the Islamic movement would wish the state of Israel 'wiped off the map' as has been stated, even demanded, by some Islamic fundamentalists.
These are incompatible positions requiring both intense diplomatic efforts to bring them into some kind of safe and secure detente, and the hard power that support the military will have to become less the 'instrument of choice' for political leaders, just as an arsenal of weaponry will have to be restrained by the "terrorists" on both sides.
When we consider, for even a brief moment, the scene in which a white Christian, fundamentalist dressed as a policeman to convey a phoney and deceptive message of safety and security plans and executes the deaths of nearly 90 innocent young people at a camp on an island 35 kilometers off the shore of Oslo because their parents are members of the Labour Party in Norway, after he has just bombed the building housing the offices of the prime minister, also a Labour Party member, we can see just how expensive is membership in that political party. We can also see the lengths to which a deranged individual will go to make a political statement. And the office building is on the same street as the offices of the Nobel Peace Prize, ironic, given Norway's commitment to the pursuit of peace in all theatres and in all the means available to attain that worthy goal.
There is a kind of "religious righteousness" that drives someone like Breivik that seeks to purify his country's culture, without recognizing the gifts of both immigration and diversity. His religious convictions, like those of the Islamic jihadists, are completely misguided, dangerous and therefore must be considered evil, regardless of the outcome of the intervention of law enforcement, courts, judges and prisons. The Islamic jihadists are moving against what they see as the evil forces of capitalism, consumerism, feminism, loose morality and those infidels who have not converted to the worship of Allah. It is a kind of religious righteousness that drives those terrorists also.
However, one band of terrorists must not be permitted to generate an opposing band of terrorists, because the fallout from such a conflict is far too horrendous even to contemplate.
This space will continue to be devoted to the cause of dampening down the virulence, the violence and the toxicity of extreme positions on both sides, because both exhibit the dangers of excessive and misdirected fear, anxiety and neurosis.
Anyone who has been subjected to any form of violence knows intimately:
  • that it will not achieve the ends for which it is deployed,
  • that it will continue to bring down those committed to its deployment,
  • that the victims will only be enraged and more seriously committed to raising the stakes in their own pursuit of violence and
  • that ultimately everyone, collateral damage as the military language likes to call it, suffers tragically, needlessly and eternally.
This resort to violence by extremists is a global human scourge to which the efforts of governments, individuals and organizations of all cultures, traditions and languages must be focused, in a concerted attempt to provide safety, security and the "right to life" of all inhabitants of the planet. This needs to be more than "water cooler talk" although that would be a good place to start. We need to train leaders in negotiation, conciliation, mediation and conflict resolution in droves. And we need to examine our words, attitudes and actions at the individual and family level in order to excise motives that would in any way concur support aid or abet the motives of violence, terrorism and domination.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Counter-terror offensive: the new global war theatre

By Colin Freeze, Globe and Mail, July 22, 2011
Islamist guerrillas who control swaths of Somalia are banning food aid from foreigners – a posture that observers predict might cost millions of lives.

“This is yet another heinous crime – starving people to death in the name of religion,” Omar Jamal, a New York-based official with Somalia’s vestigial government, said in an interview.
Somalia’s al-Shabab militants, already globally notorious for suicide bombings and sharia courts that kill and maim alleged heretics, may well now be set to facilitate famine on an epic scale.

Al-Shabab has gained ground by targeting Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, the largely powerless local authority whose ministers face widespread intimidation and possible death if they remain in the country.
This week, al-Shabab militants kidnapped a newly appointed female cabinet minister who they let go only after extracting promises she no longer work for the TFG. Last month, the country’s interior minister was killed in a suicide bombing by a female who was reportedly his niece.
In a country beset by two decades of anarchy and warlordism, these al-Qaeda-linked fighters continue to make gains as a relatively cohesive fighting force.
A spokesman for al-Shabab, which controls the bulk of Somalia’s south, recently told reporters its territories remained off-limits to groups such as the United Nations. This statement reversed a pledge to open the lands up for famine relief, a promise that had made the international aid organizations cautiously optimistic that widespread famine might be averted.
“We are not guaranteeing safety for any agency that was previously banned from working in areas under our control,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage of al-Shabab told the Daily Telegraph. “We shall also expel any agency that causes problems for Muslim society.”
He said al-Shabab leaders were “mistranslated” when they were quoted saying that they would let in foreign agencies.
Somali has 3.7 million people who are starving because of the drought, according to the UN. Because most live in the south, the UN says its food aid is reaching only about a third of those who need it. The UN World Food Program hasn’t been present in south Somalia since January, 2010.
While this story is currently a "famine and food story," it seems to be more of another story of terrorism. Like the new microbes that are resistant to antibiotics, the terrorists seem resistant to the forms of military and intelligence offensives we have used agaisnt them.  Also, like the microbes, they are emminently capable of mutating, of changing the colours and the designs of their evil madness and, as a single, untrained, and completely inexperienced professional in military, legal or intelligence studies, I have to wonder if we have found the most appropriate collaborative, invasive and effective remedy for their "crimes against humanity."
"Crimes against humanity" is a phrase we hear in reference to those dictators who can be proven to have carried out mass killings, 'ethnic cleansings' as they're called. So we have a legal system capable of addressing individuals, who have to be caught, held, tried and convicted and then sentenced for their crimes. Terrorists, probably in "Terrorism 101" learned that the west has not been very effective against groups, only against individuals, and our court libraries are filled with cases, including those of the Nuremburg trials.
War, as indicated by the wars in both Iraq and Afthanistan, with both large batallions of foot soldiers and huge arsenals of planes, ships, bombs and missiles, seems also less than effective, and extremely costly against the latest 'insurgents' of which there seem to be caves full of waves, waiting for their turn to attack. Small groups took over four planes on 9-11 and killed thousands killing themselve in the process. Never have we faced an enemy so willing to sacrifice their own lives, in the pursuit of what is really a cultural-religious-conversion-domination campaign to 'rule the world.'
So we face a force without money, without physical weapons except those fashioned from hardware store purchases, without ships, planes, bombs or missiles...but who are intimately and permanently committed to their cause and they take the form of pirates on the high seas taking over millions if not billions of dollars in cargo and hundreds of prisoners and pilots, and suicide bomb conveyors and detonators, and lone wolf self-styled heroes to the cause...and yet, with our truckloads of cash, and our bombers and nuclear aircraft carriers, and guided missiles and drones operated by joy-sticks in Nevada, and our CIA and FBI and M5 in Britain, and hopefully the KGB in Russia, and Interpol and (lol) the Canadian CSIS, we are still in danger. Just this week, Homeland Security issued another warning focused on a home-grown terror attack from with the staff groups of hundreds of American facilities in nuclear energy, electric power, military production facilites, electric power grids...all with the purpose of disabling the U.S. as a gift to celebrate the tenth anniversary of 9-11.
  • We have not eradicated the Taliban in Afghanistan, just as Russia could not do after ten years;
  • we have not removed the terror-training operations in Yemen and presumably in Pakistan;
  • we have not removed the "internal threat" from the brain-washing of radical imams in Britain, and other countries;
  • we have not stopped the Iranian and Syrian support for Hezbollah and Hamas in the Middle East;
  • we have not stopped or forestalled the nuclear weapons development scheme of the Iranians;
  • we have not discontinued the nuclear armament development program of North Korea;
  • we have not secured the unequivocal and trustworthy commitment of the Pakistani's to support the removal of the Taliban from their borders;
  • we have sacrificed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives in our attempt to control the forces of terror, particularly those attached to the Islamic, fundamentalist jihad that seeks, and openly admits it seeks, world domination, and while there has not been a second 9-11 of similar proportions, who knows what creative impulse with spark a new and different method of terror
During the Second World War, we interred enemy "citizens" in our internment camps, to our great and tragic peril. This generation of terrorists is far more cancerous and malignant than were our enemies in the 1940's, or so it would seem to those of us too young to remember WWII. While civil rights legislation has developed to a very fine extent over the last sixty-plus years, do we now have to consider abrogating those rights, in order to gain the upper hand in our mental combat and our intelligence war against the kind of virulent human microbes we are fighting.
With General Petraeus, now head of the C.I.A., literally changing offices with the new Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, will there be a blending of the lines of both responsibility and jurisdiction, with the aim of converging the two forces in a single-minded effort to combat these demons?
  • Will the military and the intelligence-gathering efforts be more co-ordinated?
  • Will the forces of the military be more open to and more warmly received by the forces of the other in joint actions and in joint planning?
  • Will the military training capabilities be enhanced by the intensive training potential of the C.I.A.?
  • Will the military capabilities become more familiar to the agents of the C.I.A., now that the training and the professionalism of each is exchanged with the other?
  • Without creating a new bureaucracy, will the U.S. now move to a hybrid force that seeks to reduce the capacity of the enemy and to provide the kind of long-term security that all those living in the U.S. can only hope will be a reality?
  • And does this new development signal a potential third arm in the mix, the Attorney General's department, for the purpose of the appplication of law to the international situation, as far as its current development will permit?
  • And when, because it is long past due, does the U.S. sign on to the International Court of Justice at the Hague, as an indication that this fight requires the best and the brightest brains from all countries to combat what is now clearly a global threat, just as significant as global warming?
Al-Sabab, for one, merits its own rounding up and being taken to the Hague, and charged with
crimes against humanity, and such an initiative requires the U.S. membership in the Court at the Hague.
Clearly the starving people in Somalia do not have the strength to accomplish such a mission.
Clearly, the various governments of Africa, including the OAU (Organization of African Union) do not have sufficient resources, or political will to accomplish such a mission.
The U.N. does not appear to have either the will, or the power to accomplish such a mission.
Does the U.S., inconcert with other international partners, in coalition, have the power and the political will to accomplish such a mission? Who knows?
Does the Court, itself, have the needed resources to bring to justice such a large and disjointed group of people and charge and convict them of a single crime against humanity?
Or are we left wondering when our capacity to confront the enemy will grow to match the capacity of the enemy to escape our tentacles of justice, under the rule of law?

Headlines and bumper stickers....signs of the times!

Headlines in major papers are often a useful signpost into a culture. They often point to what the public calls a major scandal, a blow-up of a public building, as happened unfortunately in Oslo, Norway, just down the street from the offices of the Nobel Peace Prize, followed a couple of hours later by shots fired at the children of Labour Party members at a children's summer camp, where a man dressed as a policeman began shooting children as if they were fish in a swimming pool.
Another headline in several North American papers this weekend, points to the impasses between House Speaker John Beohner (R) and President Obama, who have become the two opposing voices in the debt/deficit reduction politics in Washington.
However, sometimes it is the smaller signs that will never be featured on the front page of a major daily that demands attention for their sheer vacuity. Living on the border between the U.S. and Canada, (on the Canadian side) and riding a ferry each morning to and from work on one of the "Thousand Islands," I am privy to some American tourists who are taking the same ride. Their cars are parked for roughly twenty plus minutes for the brief ride, and in July many passengers wander the decks just to catch the breeze.
This week, two SUV's, one from Arizona the other from Oregon, proudly displayed stickers on their rear doors. The Arizona Ford Escape's political statement read: "I'll keep the the guns, the money and my keep the change!" Immediately I thought of Congresswoman Jeffords who was shot while holding a meet-and-greet in Arizona, and wondered just what danger lurked with this influx of obviously rich and obviously Republican tourists coming into Canada. I wanted to approach the driver and tell him how much his sticker offended me, and I would hope most Canadians, but thought  better of engaging in any kind of open conflict with one so power-driven. Does he anticipate a robbery some time soon? And does he wish to warn his potential intruder...about the terms he will accept in the exchange?
And then the Ford Flex from Oregon bore a different sticker. It read: "Fire Nancy Pelosi!"
Another Republican, obviously, proudly declaring her disdain, even contempt, for the Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives, formerly Speaker of that august chamber.
And I realized the depth, even if it costs only a few dollars to puchase such graffiti to stick to the rear of a car, of the political animosity that has become 'normal' in the U.S.
I smile when I read a letter to the editor from a Canadian, 'selected' as he put it, to complete the long-form census, now virtually discontinued by the federal government of Stephen Harper, because it was considered 'invasive' even though there were barely a few dozen complaints. He wrote in a recent edition of the Globe and Mail that he did not believe he had the time or the inclination to fill the form out, given its treatment by the government. That kind of personal political power I really admire.
Currently there is a spate of letters in Toronto papers throwing legitimate political darts at another neo-con, the current mayor, who sees a gravy train flowing down most streets and through the offices of city hall, and has declared war on "the gravy". He is threatening to "buy out" about one third of city workers and cut city services, "without raising taxes" (that word that only the right wing can utter, but never beside the word "raise". So it is easy to see that the Republican venom washes from Washington north across the border into Canada, and, like a poison virus, has launced itself in the vocabulary of Canadian political leaders (Mayor Ford who enthusiastically endorsed the current Prime Minister) and the Harper-PM himself.
And, everyone knows that those on the left do not traditionally purchase those acid bumper stickers, nor do we purchase, or seek to purchase more guns, more jets, more lieu of comprehensive crime prevention and rehabilitation programs. And so no one is likely to see bumper stickers on liberal cars that read: "Beohner for Dog Catcher," or "Ford for Foot-Patrol Cop" or "Raising Taxes is fun 'cause it risks the coronaries of all neo-cons!"
Instead, we are more likely to watch a growing chorus of new "Obama/Biden for 2012" stickers appearing on all cars whose drivers would be a delight to invite for a drink.

Friday, July 22, 2011

UPDATE: Sheila Copps is a candidate for Liberal Party President

Sheila Copps       Canadian Press photo
By Canadian Press, from Globe and Mail, September 7, 2011
Former cabinet minister Sheila Copps has announced she will run for the presidency of the federal Liberals and fight any plans to have the party merge with the NDP.

Ms. Copps said she disagrees with former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s prediction that it is only a matter of time before the Liberals and the NDP become one entity.
She believes the party should instead unite internally so it can return to being a strong centrist option.

“I think we need to do some internal merging. ... So I don't agree with my colleague and friend Mr. Chrétien that the only solution is merging the Liberals and the NDP,” she told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
Ms. Copps, 58, said it is important that the Liberals resurrect themselves to help counter Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
“If [Mr. Harper] wants to get rid of the Liberal Party, it is not to help the NDP,” Ms. Copps said.
“He wants to get rid of the Liberal Party because he feels if there is a vacated centre and the country goes into two polar opposites, there's a good chance he could stay in power in perpetuity.”
As for why she wants to become Liberal Party president, Ms. Copps said: “I've got the seven-year itch and it needs scratching.”
And the former deputy prime minister appears to be under no illusions about the challenges she would face, saying she would like to bring in “money, memberships and morale – and not necessarily in that order.”
Ms. Copps said she wants to modernize the party, make it more accessible and have one million voters cast ballots in the leadership race.
If the Liberal Party wants to find the "social liberal" democracy side of its collective psyche, there would be no one more fitting to recruit as party president than former Deputy Prime Minister, former member of the "Rat Pack," former Heritage Minister, and former candidate for leader of the party from the "social democracy" wing than Sheila Copps, daughter of the former mayor of Hamilton.
Here is a feisty, combative, articulate renegade political voice from "lunch-box" and "blue collar" Hamilton where the pretense of Ottawa's rarified atmosphere would find little acceptance and the worker-bee mentality prevails.
This piece does not pretend to state that Ms Copps is even interested in the post, only that Ms Copps would be a "shot of Jack Daniels" that the party needs when it is groping through the dense fog and uncertainty that fell on May 2 in the election results.
It was Sheila Copps who, as a contender for the party's leadership along with Paul Martin and John Manley, posted her own policy proposals all of them committing to significant enhancement of the social safety net that began with Lester Peason's minority government and the adoption of medicare through the Canada Health Act. And then she watched as no one paid any attention to her hard work, not the media and certainly not her two opponents. She knows what it is like to have ideas, proposals and vision and to be a voice crying in the wilderness with no one listening.
She knows what it is like to be called "babe" by John Crosbie, then Minister of Finance in the Joe Clark Progressive Conservative government, as Crosbie's way of poking fun, to which Ms Copps replied, "I am nobody's babe!"
She wasn't then, and she isn't now, anyone's babe.
She is someone who can take the reins of this wilting party, grab it by the proverbial 'shirt' and shake it until all the cobwebs and all the dynasties and all the empty bottles of Canadian Club are cleaned out of its cupboards along with the complacency of the long-standing reputation as the 'governing party'. She is not indebted to anyone and no one owes her. She is and has always been her own voice and if ever the party needs all the integrity, and all the force of a January gale blowing through the corner of Yonge and College, one of the coldest corners in Canada when the wind is right, it is now. There will be no one in the country who will not hear from, and be inspired by, and even provoked by the voice of Ms Copps, should she offer her name for party president.
Of course, there will be those who argue, 'she's just another voice from the party's museum, one of the manikins the party drags out from time to time, to bask in the glow of what used to be.' To which we respond, "Sheila Copps is no manikin! Sheila Copps is no museum piece! Sheila Copps is president of her own public relations and communications company in her home town of Hamilton and as the saying goes, "there's lots of life left in her yet"...
And the party will never be the same if it takes the leap of faith to install her in the CEO's chair.
There will be total openness and transparency about both the party's policy and process. There will be no backroom deals; there will be no rejection of the outsiders, given the outsider status that she endured for so long. She knows what it is like to be ignored and alienated and nevertheless continue to fight for what she believes.
And, both political opponents, Conservative and NDP, will also know that the party is not only alive and kicking; they will know that the funds and the candidates needed to fight an election, not to mention the policy details and their detailed costings, will be available, ready and generating high quality and quantity in both categories.
Some people are, it seems, built for difficult assignments. And this assignment is one of the most challenging in Canadian political history. And while new people are certainly needed to be brought into leadership positions in the Liberal Party of Canada, there is still room for people who have been in the political wars of the party's and the country's past, if they are still willing to make another contribution.
There is no room for a figurehead president; there is also no need for an honourary president, some name who would add stature and luster to the brand. This is time for trench-digging and trench warfare, in the political sense.
And Ms Copps, if she is interested, would be a more than adequate candidate on the ballot for party president.
Let's watch for an announcement! And let the sparks fly! May they be both heat and light!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kristof tosses darts of irony and sarcastic wit at TeaParty and we all cheer!

By Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, July 20, 2011
Why would we impose “job-crushing taxes” on wealthy Americans just to pay for luxuries like federal prisons? Why end the “carried interest” tax loophole for financiers, just to pay for unemployment benefits — especially when those same selfless tycoons are buying yachts and thus creating jobs for all the rest of us?

Hmmm. The truth is that House Republicans don’t actually go far enough. They should follow the logic of their more visionary members with steps like these:
BONUSES FOR BILLIONAIRES Republicans won’t extend unemployment benefits, even in the worst downturn in 70 years, because that makes people lazy about finding jobs. They’re right: We should be creating incentives for Americans to rise up the food chain by sending hefty checks to every new billionaire. This could be paid for with a tax surcharge on regular working folks. It’s the least we can do.
Likewise, the government should take sterner measures against the persistent jobless. Don’t just let their unemployment benefits expire. Take their homes!
Oh, never mind! Silly me! The banks are already doing that.
LET JOBS TRICKLE DOWN Leftist pundits say that House Republicans don’t have a jobs plan. That’s unfair! Granted, the Republican-sponsored Cut, Cap and Balance Act would eliminate 700,000 jobs in just its first year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, but those analysts are no doubt liberals. America’s richest 400 people own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans, and the affluent would feel renewed confidence if the Republican plan passed. We’d see a hiring bonanza. Each of those wealthy people might hire an extra pool attendant. That’s 400 jobs right there!
Thank you, Mr. Kristof, for throwing this javelin at the balloon that is engulfing the Republican Party, especially the TeaParty wing. It is a balloon of perceptions and self-talk that any cartoonist would have a field day in dismantling.
However, yesterday, we learn that Michelle Bachmann is, in some states, leading the pack of Republican contenders for the White House. We also learn that, on the right itself, there are concerns about her "headaches" and those concerns are being thrown in her face by one of her opponents, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota. Michelle Bachmann is "the TeaParty candidate" and proud to be carrying that banner of empty rhetoric onto the stump, decrying the excessive of President Obama, while at the same time ignoring the history of her own party's excessive spending and a cuts, especially those that came in the presidency of Dubya, the one Bush family member who did not deserve to win the White House.
There is, in the TeaParty balloon, a complex of gases, fit to decompose the proud history and honour of a once vital nation. They include the gas of selfishness, and the gas of narcissism, and the gas of arrogance and the gas of the failure to grasp reality, while all the time pretending to have the only legitimate grasp of the very reality they are denying.
These are yahoo's, steeped in the Swiftian tradition of Gulliver. They are intellectual cretins, political tyrants, spoiled children and adolescent club-house oath-makers, compelling all of their members to replicate the worst of the former secret societies: to wit,
  • a complete surrender to the mentality of the "pack," 
  • a loyalty to the members of the club trumping the collective good of the whole town in which they reside, and
  • a bank account that would make any sophomore from any private college proud to roll up to class in his own, monographed Ferrari, while his classmates foraged for hotdogs in the college cafeteria.
The Koch brothers and their banker friends are, before our very eyes, accomplishing a "coup" of the American government, should they finally take control of both Houses of Congress and the White House in 2012. They have the funds, the Fox news chanel, the tabloids and a mentally lazy and power-addicted band of reporters whose numbers and whose muscle are eroding as we write this, at the hands of those same power-and-money barons whose investments keep paying dividends, and whose croney executives continue to receive truck-sized bonuses, while literally the little people starve before their very eyes.
The U.N. yesterday declared an official "famine" in parts of Somalia, a notice that slipped past the reading glasses of these TeaPartiers, so focused are they on the famine they are trying to create in their own country.
Please keep up the good work, Mr. Kristof; the U.S. needs every instrument in its journalistic orchestra playing a tune of ridicule and harrassment and "balloon-pricking" as the titanic of state sails amid the whirlpools of vaccuity and the charybdis of superiority that challenge its survival.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Income gap grows in Canada and elsewhere...who cares?

By Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail, july 20, 2011
The Conference Board of Canada, hardly a bastion of far-left thinking, just reminded Canadians about the growing income inequalities in their society.

The richest group of Canadians, those in the top fifth of income earners, saw their share of national income rise from 1993 to 2008. Within that fortunate group, the biggest gainers were the super rich, the top 1 per cent. And they got even richer not so much from investments but from basic salaries of the kind paid bank presidents and company CEOs.
From 1980 to 2005, the earnings of the top group rose by 16.4 per cent, while middle-income Canadians’ incomes stagnated, and earnings for those in the bottom group slid.
There are various ways of measuring inequality. One is the Gini coefficent, which tracks inequality on a scale of 0 to 1, with 0 being a world of total equality and 1 being total inequality.
Canada, it turns out, ranks 12 among 17 comparable countries in income inequality. Canada’s Gini score is 0.32, slightly worse than that of Australia and Germany, and far behind Denmark (0.23), Sweden (0.23), Finland (0.26) and Norway (0.27) The United States and Britain, two countries against which Canada measures itself, are the worst performers – that is, the most unequal societies of the 17. Put another way, anglophone countries are the most unequal, at least compared with continental European ones, and two of them (the U.S. and the U.K.) are also in desperate fiscal shape.

The U.S. Gini score is 0.38, reflecting the fact that income inequality is at a record high, greater even than during the Roaring Twenties. During the past decade, the top 10 per cent of U.S. earners took 49.7 per cent of income gains.
In Canada, the top fifth of income earners take 39.2 per cent of total income (up from 35 per cent in the 1980s), while the lowest quintile takes 7.2 per cent. Vancouver has the highest share of people in the lowest quintile of earners among Canadian cities; Quebec City has the lowest.
So why are we a more unequal society? That’s the subject of fierce debate. Other countries’ income inequalities are also growing, albeit to varying degrees, and the inequalities in big developing countries such as China, India and Brazil are much higher than anything in Canada or Europe.
It is relatively easy to document the inequalities; it is virtually impossible to bring the issue to the forefront of any national or international debate. As the gap in incomes grows, the wringing of hands and the gnashing of teeth by some think tanks and the occasional blogger (this one, for example) continues while the politicians continue to "sleep with their wealthy supporters" in a form of political incest that defies the logic of reducing the income gap, something that all the research indicates would be a healthy move for everyone in the society.
Where income gaps are the lowest, the people are healthier, they live longer, their children are more educated and hopeful, and their governments have fewer social conflicts. However, those with power (and money) seem to be interested only in generating more power and money for themselves and their peers, while ignoring those at the bottom of the income scale. And they do so at their own peril, in the long run.

Why a jail-intensive approach to youth, ask authorities in U.S., U.K., Australia

By Anna Mehler Paperny, Globe and Mail, July 19, 2011 

Judges, criminologists and policy-makers in the United States, Britain and Australia – countries whose systems, for the most part, closely resemble Canada’s – can’t figure out why this country is planning to shift toward a jail-intensive approach. Everyone else seems to be doing the opposite, not for ideological reasons, but because evidence shows it works.

“It’s somewhat ironic, actually,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, which studies jail policy across the United States.

“After nearly four decades of the so-called ‘get tough’ movement in the U.S., which has meant sending more people to prisons [and] keeping them there for longer periods of time, there’s beginning to be a shift away from that.”
Ottawa’s intention to adopt principles of deterrence and denunciation when it comes to sentencing teens makes no sense to Judge Jimmie Edwards. He’s chief justice of the juvenile division of Missouri, an otherwise conservative state that for half a century has focused on diverting youth from the prison system, and rehabilitating the ones that are incarcerated. Now, the “Missouri Model” is being adopted elsewhere.

“I don’t think it deters anything,” he said. “You have to look at what type of community are you building by constantly sending kids to jail.”
Bob Ashford calls it the three cherries on the slot machine: Fewer teens committing crimes, fewer teens in custody and fewer teens reoffending once they’re out.
That’s the multi-year trend Britain is looking at when it comes to youth justice. But it’s not an obvious correlation, by any means. And the method – pour money into prevention and rehabilitation, in the hopes it will pay off years down the road – was a tough sell for the man in charge of prevention strategy in the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales.
Now, he has £32-million a year (about $49-million; or the amount it costs to keep 405 British youths in jail for a year) to put toward programs designed to catch potential young criminals before they commit crimes, and more on top of that to divert those facing charges out of the prison system, and rehabilitate anyone who does end up in custody.

A couple of years ago, he was invited to Canada to give a talk on his program’s success. He spoke in Vancouver and Montreal, and was encouraged to see a country receptive to more innovative alternatives to locking teens up.
“Our approach has been to say, ‘There are too many young people in custody.’ … Prison not only doesn’t work in terms of preventing reoffending, it’s also extremely expensive. And that’s not to anyone’s benefit.”
United States

As of Aug. 1, Texas will have a total of six youth-incarceration institutions – down from 15 four years ago.
That’s a huge shift for a state that in 2007 was embroiled in horror stories of teens facing harsh, abusive conditions far from home. Damning national headlines and allegations of mistreatment from hundreds of youth sparked a sea change in the way the state tackles juvenile delinquency.
“There’s been a real shift to make sure that we really look at the youth, the seriousness of the offence and the youth’s risk to reoffend, and only incarcerate those that are the highest risk in terms of public safety,” said Texas Youth Commission executive director Cherie Townsend.
“We had some horrible things occur which really got our attention. And we then re-evaluated.”

For more than two decades, youth-incarceration rates in Australia trended in one direction: down.
That started to change about four years ago, when the trend was reversed and the number of young people being put in custody rose – by as much as 40 per cent over two years in one state.
This spring the government of New South Wales responded to consternation over rising rates of teens locked up by pledging to review the Bail Act, a law critics point to as a major factor in sending more youth to jail since it was last amended in 2007.
The Bail Act, a product of Australia’s most-populous state, was supposed to crack down on offenders of all ages who’d been dodging bail or breaching conditions. But it had the unintended result of sending youth-incarceration rates soaring, especially for teens awaiting trial.
Now, the state’s premier has vowed to change that.
One of the most offensive cultural traits of Canada is its determination to resist even looking at information from other jurisdictions when it comes to public policy. When I worked as a municipal affairs reporter for a dozen years, in another life, I would often ask politicians and bureaucrats how their ideas compared with those being implemented in cities only an hour distant. "We don't know and we don't care," was their normal response.
Seems as if the Canadian government, on the law-and-order file, has taken the same "do not ask" approach, even when the evidence from other "conservative" jurisdictions points to a different, and workable strategy.
However, there is a political base of "control and punish" attitudes that gives support to the Harper gang of neo-cons and it is to placate these social and cultural dinosaurs that the Canadian government seems bent. The approach has proven it will not work; other equally conservative jurisdictions have demonstrated its ineffectiveness; nevertheless, we will plunge headlong into a prison building, incarcerating system of punishment as another initiative to "reduce crime." And everyone knows the policy is merely political theatre, and not sound social policy.
Two-word sound bites are not and never will be substitutes for authentic and effective and creative policy in the area of juvenile justice and social policy to that end.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Take an oath to paralyze the U.S. government....tragic, adolescent and irresponsible

New York Times Editorial, July 18, 2011
Signing Away the Right to Govern

It used to be that a sworn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution was the only promise required to become president. But that no longer seems to be enough for a growing number of Republican interest groups, who are demanding that presidential candidates sign pledges shackling them to the corners of conservative ideology. Many candidates are going along, and each pledge they sign undermines the basic principle of democratic government built on compromise and negotiation.
Both parties have long had litmus tests on issues — abortion, taxation, the environment, the social safety net. The hope was that the candidates would keep their promises, and, when they didn’t, voters who cared deeply about those issues could always pick someone else next time. Human beings, after all, do not come with warranties.
But iron-clad promises were just what the most rigid Republican ideologues wanted. They had seen too many presidents — specifically Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush — bend when confronted by a complex national reality. Both those presidents agreed to new taxes and some Republicans said they did not fight hard enough to outlaw abortion or cut spending to the point where government was unrecognizable. In other words, they compromised a bit, to keep divided government from destroying itself. Washington, the ideologues decided, corrupted true conservatives into moderates.
More was needed to keep them in line, which gave birth to the signed pledge — no more enforceable than a spoken promise, but a politician’s actual signature was seen as more binding. The oldest and most pernicious of these modern oaths was dreamed up by Grover Norquist, the leader of Americans for Tax Reform, who has managed to get 95 percent of all Republicans in Congress to pledge never to raise taxes for any reason. If they end tax deductions, Mr. Norquist’s pledge-takers say they will match the increase in revenue with further tax cuts.
That pledge is the single biggest reason the federal government is now on the edge of default. Its signers will not allow revenues in a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
Its success has now spawned dangerous offspring. There is the Susan B. Anthony pledge, in which candidates promise to appoint antiabortion cabinet officers and cut off federal financing to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. It has been signed by Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum. There is the cut, cap and balance pledge to gut the federal government by cutting and capping spending, and enacting a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. It has been signed by all of the above candidates, plus Mitt Romney and Herman Cain.
And there is the particularly bizarre Marriage Vow, in which candidates agree to oppose same-sex marriage, reject Shariah law and pledge personal fidelity to their spouse. Until it was changed after a public outcry, it also contained a line saying that a black child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by a two-parent family than a similar child raised in the Obama era. It was signed by Mr. Santorum and Mrs. Bachmann.
Only one candidate, Jon Huntsman Jr., has refused to sign any pledge, saying he owes allegiance to his flag and his wife. It is refreshing in a field of candidates who have forgotten the true source of political power in America.
A Canadian Perspective
In Canada, we are much less overt about our "oath's". We pledge an oath, "to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God" when we are called as a witness in a courtroom.
We take an oath when we join the Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Girl Guides.
We express an oath when we join a service club or a fraternity.
And when we are 'installed' into a profession such as law, medicine, ministry, accounting and engineering, we pledge to uphold the standards of the profession.
When we become a citizen of Canada, not born here, we take an oath of citizenship pledging loyalty to the "Queen" as the head of state.
And, when elected to the House of Commons, we are expected to repeat an oath that we will uphold the constitution and the Queen as the head of state.
In the U.S. an oath is taken much more seriously than it seems to be in Canada. Or perhaps, it has been my experience that an oath seems to be considered an ideal, but hardly a "snare" or a trap in which to impale those who take it.
It is not only the "right to govern" that is being compromised in the U.S. by the plethora of "oaths" being demanded by various "control freaks" whether they are individuals or groups.
It is the very right to an independent thought process, an independent opinion, and a right to execute that position if and when called upon that is being sacrificed.
There is in this movement to controlling oaths a form of tyranny, through a forced sanitization of the potential for political power into a homogeneity of control that smacks of fascism that is most regrettable.
"If you do not sign our oath, we will not fund your political campaign," is the implicit requirement of those seeking to run under the Republican banner and certainly those seeking the support of the TeaParty movement.
Adults are being reduced to robots, able to be controlled and counted on to literally paralyze the government for the sake of what they call, mistakenly, "principles."
It all reminds me of an adolescent boys' secret society to honour long-dead poets, if only it were that benign and honourable.

Whither Social Democracy?

By Eric Alterman, in The Nation, from the NPR website, July 19, 2011
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

In the introduction to his 2008 collection, Reappraisals, Tony Judt offered up a concise elegy both for European social democracy and its weaker, occasionally envious cousin, American liberalism: "For much of the second half of the twentieth century, it was widely accepted that the modern state could — and therefore should — perform the providential role; ideally, without intruding excessively upon the liberties of its subjects, but where intrusion was unavoidable, then in exchange for social benefits that could not otherwise be made universally available. In the course of the last third of the century, however, it became increasingly commonplace to treat the state not as the natural benefactor of first resort but as a source of economic inefficiency and social intrusion best excluded from citizens' affairs whenever possible. When combined with the fall of Communism, and the accompanying discrediting of the socialist project in all its forms, this discounting of the state has become the default condition of public discourse in much of the developed world."
One need only glance at the headlines — not only of American newspapers, where a Democratic president is in the process of dismantling some of the signal achievements of the welfare state, but all across the European continent — to see much of the same. Though taxation levels are at historic lows, "austerity" is in the driver's seat regardless of whether the government in question considers itself to be of right or left.
It was therefore a propitious moment for liberal and social democratic thinkers from Europe and the United States to gather in late June in Paris at a symposium, organized in Judt's memory, to consider what has gone wrong and where to go from here.
Of course, one could point to any number of problems that the left failed to anticipate and arguments it neglected to drive home when times were relatively flush. Today we are witnessing what former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt once called the "hungry, rapacious wolf" of capitalism in decline, and with it what the German-American historian Fritz Stern aptly termed "a decline of civisme" on the part of both elites and the masses. This is true even where the welfare state remains strong. Muslim immigration has caused a crisis of identity for those nations whose magnificent socioeconomic achievements turn out to have rested on a foundation of a homogenous population base. People, it turns out, do not generally appreciate the opportunity to be forced to subsidize, through tax and transfer policies, the lifestyles of those they deem to be different from themselves. The French historian Pierre Rosanvallon noted that "it is here that the anti-immigration argument gets its force. On the left the view is one of nostalgia. An extremely weak response to a strong attack and it's hard to see how it can survive the argument 'the immigrants are stealing the welfare state.'" This story can be told almost anywhere in Europe and increasingly applies as well to the United States.
As much as I would like to, dear readers, I cannot offer any optimistic reading of where the left should turn to combat these ideas — at least not on the basis of the panels I attended in Paris. It should surprise no one that leftist intellectuals are more adept at identifying problems than at offering solutions. On one panel the French economist Thomas Piketty suggested a global tax on the extremely wealthy, which would be a fine idea if anyone had any clue how to force the extremely wealthy to accept it. The political philosopher Ronald Dworkin argued that the US education system needs to be infused anew with political ideas and arguments, as "ventilation" would expose the stupidity of contemporary conservative ideas. Again, my admiration for Dworkin's philosophical work notwithstanding, I've rarely heard a less promising solution suggested to our current quandaries. One need only examine the controversy surrounding the content of Texas history textbooks to see that the forces of free-market absolutism, xenophobia and social reaction would likely loom at least as large in education as they do in our benighted political debates.
The sociologist Richard Sennett took a different tack. Leftists, he explained, should expect to lose when it comes to political battles. The problem is one of a lack of trust in elites. People do not believe that the programs politicians propose will stick or make any difference if they do, and they do not vote their own interests because all they see are the likely costs. As a consequence, he argues, we need to emphasize the "social" in social democracy and obsess less about electoral politics and more about civil society [see Sennett, "A Creditable Left," in this issue]. The left needs to stop trying to win arguments and begin engaging people in politics. For as Saul Alinsky argued, getting people to participate in projects with people unlike themselves is itself a goal of social democracy. So the left needs to be less programmatic and more fluid, helping inarticulate people connect — not to make arguments, not to mobilize aggression, but in the name of "solidarity" for its own sake.
I dunno.
It so happens that the current president of the United States was also an Alinsky man once upon a time. But it was not Sennett's Alinsky he embraced; rather, it was the one who believed "No one can negotiate without the power to compel negotiation. This is the function of the community organizer. Anything otherwise is wishful non-thinking." The president told a journalist that while working as a South Side Chicago organizer, he learned that "the key to creating successful organizations was making sure people's self-interest was met and not just basing it on pie-in-the-sky idealism." His mentor in the job, Jerry Kellman, believed Obama wanted to synthesize "the Alinsky teaching on self-interest" with "Dr. King's appeals to our mutuality."
The present challenge for the American left is to make that fellow remember why he once believed this; the long-term challenge is to remember and believe in it ourselves.

In Memoriam to Gleb Algyorov, a suicide at 17 in provincial custody..mishandled

 By Diana Zlomislic, Toronto Star, Juloy 19, 2011

The mother of a mentally ill Pickering teen listened in horror Monday as she heard a provincial official testify at an inquest about the bureaucratic bungling that led to her son’s jail suicide.

A senior manager within the Ministry of Children and Youth Services who took the stand told the inquest that provincial officials never looked at a court-ordered plan before approving $3,500 in funding for a psychiatric evaluation of Gleb Alfyorov at Syl Apps Youth Centre in Oakville.
If anyone had seen the document, they might have realized Gleb had been sent to the wrong place — a jail, not a hospital — and that the youth centre was requesting funding for the wrong assessment.
Gleb’s mother, Marina Alfyorova, has now decided she wants to address the inquest, but as she attended the proceedings for the first time Monday she encountered a new series of bureaucratic hurdles....
Three years ago Gleb Alfyorov was mistakenly sent to a jail instead of a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. He was never assessed during his nearly month-long stay inside cell 12 at the Syl Apps centre.

He spent most of that time isolated, writing disjointed messages about hate and suffering on his walls and screaming “Rescue me!” in the middle of the night. He hanged himself five days after turning 17....
The inquest heard that staff at Syl Apps did not even know why Gleb was at the facility until after he died. Nobody there read the court order.

Ultimately, the province approved the funding based on a verbal request for a fitness-to-stand trial assessment instead of the more intensive evaluation actually ordered by the court to determine whether the boy was criminally responsible for his actions.
The judge in Oshawa who ordered the 30-day assessment of the teen had told him: “I want you to be with a team of specialists — nurses and doctors who can meet with you and talk with you about things.”
The duty counsel who recommended Alfyorov be sent to the centre after a brief cellphone conversation with the centre’s head psychiatrist did not realize Syl Apps was not set up to conduct such evaluations.
He told the inquest he did not realize the institution, which is privately run but government-funded, even had a jail.
The family immigrated from Kazakhstan ten years ago, and his mother, who attended the inquest, was "sickened" by what she heard, although her own command of English is still fragile.
When lawyers do not even "know" about the capabilities of the institutions to which they are recommending adolescents and people in those institutions do not even read the court orders that accompany those young people, there is literally an inexcusable dysfunction in the social services/legal system that is supposed to "serve" such families.
And the fact that this young man seems to have been struggling with some legitimate issues that even the judge could acknowledge and that his family is "immigrant" and likely to be less than completely integrated into the Canadian society...these are no excuses for his mistreatment.
The public must ask more questions through all the processes at its disposal. If the Ontario government needs to be taken to court over this death, and over its involvement in this case, then so be it.
There are several components to the "system" that failed this young man and his mother, and his case is a scathing indictment of the carelessness, the unprofessionalism and the sheer nonchalance of those acting in the public interest on behalf of this young man.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Guilty until proven innocent" says U.S. Law Professor of American journalism

By Patricia J. Williams, from The Nation, found on the NPR website, July 18, 2011
(Patricia J. Williams is a professor of law at Columbia University.)

Shortly after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was indicted on charges of attempted rape, his friend Bernard-Henri Levy wrote a defense of him that, among other wrongheaded assertions, denounced the American justice system as one where "anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime — and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact." What Levy actually described is a presumption of guilt, not the American presumption of innocence. In the United States, the prosecutor — whose responsibility extends not merely to the accuser but to the general interests of justice — has the burden of proof. The accused doesn't have to prove or disprove anything; indeed, the accused doesn't have to say a word, as per our Fifth Amendment.
Levy's offhand remark came closer to describing the global media than our courts. Journalistic values like accuracy, accountability and respect for human dignity have fallen by the wayside as entertainment and titillation have prevailed. The inescapable rush to judgment that pours forth in hi-def in seemingly every public space — from elevators to taxicabs to airports to bank lobbies — is a kind of civic poison.
It's because of the media that we find our democratic processes foundering in increasingly debased public discussion: Strauss-Kahn's accuser is driven to suing the New York Post for its unsubstantiated claims that she is a prostitute. Pundits mock the very principled prosecutor, Cyrus Vance Jr., as a sucker for having dutifully and appropriately revealed potentially exculpatory information. Radio jocks spend hours dumping on those who believe the accuser's history of lying has anything to do with Strauss-Kahn's "obvious" guilt. When HLN opinionator Nancy Grace's howling impersonation of blind Fury wins her more respect than the deliberation of an actual jury, as in the Casey Anthony murder trial, we worry for the safety of judges, defendants, accusers and jurors. We forget that the case against Anthony was circumstantial; as much as she lied to law enforcement — a crime for which she has been convicted — her child's body was so decomposed there was no way to prove either how she died or who did it.
Professor Williams is speaking, of course, of the U.S. where tabloid journalism, spawned by imitating the British tabloid press is funded by the same agents like Rupert Murdoch who funded and profited greatly from the British model. While we dutifully separate the Wall Street Journal, a Murdoch publication that provides the exception to the tabloid rule of "guilty until proven innocent," nevertheless the "gutter-gossip" of much of tabloid news is predicated on the valid premise that the public will purchase a story of a scandal, including the most circumstantial evidence of guilt, regardless of the veracity of the story or the tactics used to "gather" the information.
Just think of the last time you were in a conversation about an individual who was "in trouble with the law" and listen to the tape of that conversation. Did you not hear words like: "Well he'll have to spend several months in the slammer, now!" as though he was already convicted, even before a trial occurred?
It is the lowest form of human interraction and conversation to accuse another, to gloat about the accusation and to refrain from intervening to correct the premise of the conversation that the individual is "guilty until proven innocent".
I remember attending a church conference in a rather upscale resort, where I had breakfast with a female clergy. I was serving as vicar in a rural mission in that U.S. diocese and before lunch, the gossip that I was "sleeping with that female clergy" had found its way back to me before lunch on the same day. The story was unequivocally untrue.
Offended, profoundly angry and betrayed, I immediately left the conference, learning the lesson that there really are no limits to which people will go to start a scurrilous rumour, even if that rumour will potentially destroy the subject's personal, professional and private lives and reputation. And Christians are not only not immune to the "disease" of scurrilous innuendo and gossip; they revel in it, in a highly sanctimonious manner. After all, they are protecting the world from sinners, so they are "doing God's work" even if that work includes, in their misguided and libellous perceptions, making up stories that will negatively impact, accuse, convict and punish the innocent.
Seems as if the tabloids have taken a page from the "book" of those so-called christians.
And it will take more than a law professor from Columbia to eradicate such motivation and behaviour from North American society.