Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Should the U.S. arm the F.S.A. in Syria?

By Andrew Tabler, Special to CNN, from CNN website, January 31, 2012
Editor's Note: Andrew J. Tabler is the Next Generation Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the book In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.
Last weekend’s sharp spike in death tolls in Syria has come hand in hand with the rise of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – opposition members who believe armed struggle is the most efficient way of deposing the Assad regime.
Over the past two weeks, as Arab League monitors visited Syria, the FSA has expanded the scope and scale of their operation, wresting control of towns - and for a time neighborhoods of Damascus - from the Assad regime.
While the FSA is largely a franchise rather than a centrally commanded militia, it now represents a major force within the Syrian opposition that Washington is struggling to reckon with.
The FSA emerged last summer as a collection of Syrian military defectors who fled to Turkey. Once dismissed as a mere Internet phenomena, the FSA and other domestically based groups of armed defectors joined forces to carry out attacks against regime forces throughout the country.
Anti-regime protestors braving live fire have earned the respect and diplomatic support of the international community, but not a military intervention akin to Libya. Without a light at the end of the protest tunnel, local Syrians (many with military backgrounds) calling themselves the FSA began picking up arms to defend protesters from regime fire.
While many operate outside of a central command, this loose association of armed oppositionists, with weapons smuggled over from neighboring Lebanon (as well as Turkey and Iraq) or weapons seized from Assad regime depots, have captured and held the border town of Zabadani and (until the Assad regime moved in full force) neighborhoods on the outskirts of Damascus and into the Ghouta in the countryside of the Syrian capital. The FSA is active in Idlib, Homs and Dera governorates, amongst others.
The question Washington is now wrestling with is: What to do with the FSA?
For months, U.S. policy has been to support non-violent means of opposing the Assad regime as, quite rightly, the opposition has much more political leverage keeping the high moral ground and the regime has the armed opposition heavily outgunned. Nevertheless, the international community’s inability thus far to get Assad to stop shooting his way out of the crisis, as well as its reticence to intervene on the ground like Libya, means that more and more Syrians are looking to the FSA not as an alternative to the protest movement, but rather as a way to support and overall revolutionary effort.
Will Washington follow suit? What kinds of assistance can and should the United States and its allies provide the FSA as part of an overall strategy of helping to achieve President Obama’s goal outlined last August to get Assad “to step aside”? Or should Washington subcontract that such support to regional allies who may share our short term goal of changing the Assad regime, but differ significantly on what political forces should rule a post Assad Syria? What do you think?
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Andrew Tabler.
We have to read this piece in conjunction with the piece of January 30, entitled "Russia'  arms sales to Assad" from Oxford Analytica Group on acorncentreblog.com.
Should the U.S. decide to arm the F.S.A., and Russia continue to arm the Assad regime, there will be makings of a theatre for conflict beyond what either major country can really contemplate, not to mention that the rest of the world can't contemplate such a conflict either.
The longer the U.S. resists involvement in the Middle East, on the territory of the Islamic revolution, the better the potential for trust for the Americans from those countries.
Now, put Israel into the calculations, and the picture changes considerably.

Chris Hedges: What happened to Canada?....good question!

By Chris Hedges, from truthdig.com, January 30, 2012
What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.
But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.
The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.
“I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”
“My skills and experience—as a facilitator, as a trainer, as a legal professional and as someone linking different communities and movements—were all targeted in this case, with the state trying to depict me as a ‘brainwasher’ and as a mastermind of mayhem, violence and destruction,” she went on. “During the week of the G8 & G20 summits, the police targeted legal observers, street medics and independent media. It is clear that the skills that make us strong, the alternatives that reduce our reliance on their systems and prefigure a new world, are the very things that they are most afraid of.”
The decay of Canada illustrates two things. Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries. Corporations have no regard for nation-states. They assert their power to exploit the land and the people everywhere. They play worker off of worker and nation off of nation. They control the political elites in Ottawa as they do in London, Paris and Washington. This, I suspect, is why the tactics to crush the Occupy movement around the globe have an eerie similarity—infiltrations, surveillance, the denial of public assembly, physical attempts to eradicate encampments, the use of propaganda and the press to demonize the movement, new draconian laws stripping citizens of basic rights, and increasingly harsh terms of incarceration.
Our solidarity should be with activists who march on Tahrir Square in Cairo or set up encampamentos in Madrid. These are our true compatriots. The more we shed ourselves of national identity in this fight, the more we grasp that our true allies may not speak our language or embrace our religious and cultural traditions, the more powerful we will become.
Those who seek to discredit this movement employ the language of nationalism and attempt to make us fearful of the other. Wave the flag. Sing the national anthem. Swell with national hubris. Be vigilant of the hidden terrorist. Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, responding to the growing opposition to the Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway pipelines, wrote in an open letter that “environmental and other radical groups” were trying to “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” He accused pipeline opponents of receiving funding from foreign special interest groups and said that “if all other avenues have failed, they will take a quintessential American approach: sue everyone and anyone to delay the project even further.”
No matter that in both Canada and the United States suing the government to seek redress is the right of every citizen. No matter that the opposition to the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines has its roots in Canada. No matter that the effort by citizens in the U.S. and in Canada to fight climate change is about self-preservation. The minister, in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry like the energy czars in most of the other industrialized nations, seeks to pit “loyal” Canadians against “disloyal” Canadians. Those with whom we will build this movement of resistance will not in some cases be our own. They may speak Arabic, pray five times a day toward Mecca and be holding off the police thugs in the center of Cairo. Or they may be generously pierced and tattooed and speak Danish or they may be Mandarin-speaking workers battling China’s totalitarian capitalism. These are differences that make no difference.
“My country right or wrong,” G.K. Chesterton once wrote, is on the same level as “My mother, drunk or sober.”
Our most dangerous opponents, in fact, look and speak like us. They hijack familiar and comforting iconography and slogans to paint themselves as true patriots. They claim to love Jesus. But they cynically serve the function a native bureaucracy serves for any foreign colonizer. The British and the French, and earlier the Romans, were masters of this game. They recruited local quislings to carry out policies and repression that were determined in London or Paris or Rome. Popular anger was vented against these personages, and native group vied with native group in battles for scraps of influence. And when one native ruler was overthrown or, more rarely, voted out of power, these imperial machines recruited a new face. The actual centers of power did not change. The pillage continued. Global financiers are the new colonizers. They make the rules. They pull the strings. They offer the illusion of choice in our carnivals of political theater. But corporate power remains constant and unimpeded. Barack Obama serves the same role Herod did in imperial Rome.
This is why the Occupy Wall Street movement is important. It targets the center of power—global financial institutions. It deflects attention from the empty posturing in the legislative and executive offices in Washington or London or Paris. The Occupy movement reminds us that until the corporate superstructure is dismantled it does not matter which member of the native elite is elected or anointed to rule. The Canadian prime minister is as much a servant of corporate power as the American president. And replacing either will not alter corporate domination. As the corporate mechanisms of control become apparent to wider segments of the population, discontent will grow further. So will the force employed by our corporate overlords. It will be a long road for us. But we are not alone. There are struggles and brush fires everywhere. Leah Henderson is not only right. She is my compatriot.
And she is our's too!
And, while getting elected to any office in Canada requires a skillful balancing act between convictions and mediocrity, because convictions without a mediocre and non-threatening presentation will become tomorrow's newsprint, lying in the trash.
We have not only fallen victim to the corporatism of which John Ralston Saul warned us so eloquently in his 1995 book, The Unconscious Civilization,  but also to its first-generation offspring, globalization, built on the rules, conventions and profit motive of those same corporations.
Canada, as do all of the western countries, now speaks only the language of dollars, budget spread sheets, debt and deficit. Gone is the language and the mindset and the accompanying attitudes of compassion, fairness, equality of opportunity and environmental sustainability. They are all replaced by corporate tax breaks, "foreign money" that contaminates the review process of the Gateway Northern Pipeline, budget austerity in the face of rising immigrant numbers linked to rising federal revenues, and more prisons with longer sentences in the face of falling crime rates.

Two America's...riven by completely different purposes

By David Brooks, New York Times, January 30, 2012
I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart.” I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.

Murray’s basic argument is not new, that America is dividing into a two-caste society. What’s impressive is the incredible data he produces to illustrate that trend and deepen our understanding of it.
His story starts in 1963. There was a gap between rich and poor then, but it wasn’t that big. A house in an upper-crust suburb cost only twice as much as the average new American home. The tippy-top luxury car, the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, cost about $47,000 in 2010 dollars. That’s pricy, but nowhere near the price of the top luxury cars today.
More important, the income gaps did not lead to big behavior gaps. Roughly 98 percent of men between the ages of 30 and 49 were in the labor force, upper class and lower class alike. Only about 3 percent of white kids were born outside of marriage. The rates were similar, upper class and lower class.
Since then, America has polarized. The word “class” doesn’t even capture the divide Murray describes. You might say the country has bifurcated into different social tribes, with a tenuous common culture linking them.
The upper tribe is now segregated from the lower tribe. In 1963, rich people who lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan lived close to members of the middle class. Most adult Manhattanites who lived south of 96th Street back then hadn’t even completed high school. Today, almost all of Manhattan south of 96th Street is an upper-tribe enclave.
Today, Murray demonstrates, there is an archipelago of affluent enclaves clustered around the coastal cities, Chicago, Dallas and so on. If you’re born into one of them, you will probably go to college with people from one of the enclaves; you’ll marry someone from one of the enclaves; you’ll go off and live in one of the enclaves.
Worse, there are vast behavioral gaps between the educated upper tribe (20 percent of the country) and the lower tribe (30 percent of the country). This is where Murray is at his best, and he’s mostly using data on white Americans, so the effects of race and other complicating factors don’t come into play.
Roughly 7 percent of the white kids in the upper tribe are born out of wedlock, compared with roughly 45 percent of the kids in the lower tribe. In the upper tribe, nearly every man aged 30 to 49 is in the labor force. In the lower tribe, men in their prime working ages have been steadily dropping out of the labor force, in good times and bad.
People in the lower tribe are much less likely to get married, less likely to go to church, less likely to be active in their communities, more likely to watch TV excessively, more likely to be obese.
Murray’s story contradicts the ideologies of both parties. Republicans claim that America is threatened by a decadent cultural elite that corrupts regular Americans, who love God, country and traditional values. That story is false. The cultural elites live more conservative, traditionalist lives than the cultural masses.
Democrats claim America is threatened by the financial elite, who hog society’s resources. But that’s a distraction. The real social gap is between the top 20 percent and the lower 30 percent. The liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1 percent narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.
It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.
The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.
Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.
Brooks closes his piece with a recommendation for some program that forces each "tribe" to walk a few miles in the shoes of the other tribe.
No, Mr. Brooks, the time for that "simulation game" is over. We are no longer living in a world, or country, or continent in which the words being used by the political establishment are congruent with the continental divide that grows on the streets and in the neighbourhoods of our towns and cities.
I grew up in a small town in which the professional class, lawyers and doctors and dentists and maybe engineers and accountants were socially intertwined. The teachers, clergy, social workers and bankers did not "cut it" in the upper group. And the semi-skilled and unskilled workers drank their beer in the Kipling Hotel, for those who recall, on the road to the First Nations reserve on Parry Island. There have always been classes, and the divide has always been significant.
What is now so different, and it was described by John Reed, former Chair of Citigroup, in an interview with Bill Moyers just this past Sunday, is that one group is completely dedicated to "making money" as their personal goal, while others, like Mr. Reed, believe that the goal used to be, and must return to being, the production of some good, value or service, through which one generates income. The generation of income, according to Reed, lies at the root of the disaster of the economic crash of 2008-9 and he could not believe the depth and the commitment of those who pursued that goal, in an of and for itself.
Sociology, Mr. Brooks, is useful. However, it will never be able to dig into the primary motives of individuals, who, when they become a significant and powerful group, leading lives of absurdity demonstrate their greed, narcissism and contempt for the rest of us.

Harper's government flies in face of reality, AGAIN! and AGAIN!

By Bill Curry, Globe and Mail, January 31, 2012
Expert advice commissioned by the federal government contradicts Stephen Harper’s warnings that Canada can’t afford the looming bill for Old Age Security payments.

The Prime Minister and his ministers forcefully defended their surprise plans to review OAS on Monday, as the year’s first sitting of Parliament exploded with accusations from the opposition that the Conservatives misled Canadians during the 2011 federal election. ...
But research prepared at Ottawa’s request argues Canada’s pension system is in far better shape than the Europeans’, and there’s no need to raise the retirement age. Edward Whitehouse – who researches pension policy on behalf of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank – was asked by Ottawa to study and report on how Canada stacks up internationally when it comes to pensions.

His conclusion: “The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes,” and “there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future.”
While other OECD countries face big pension problems, the report predicts Canada will do just fine as the baby boomers retire. That’s because, as Canada heads into the boomer crunch, it spends far less than the OECD average on public pensions. Further, Canada’s relatively high levels of immigration will partially offset the distortions of an aging population, and Canadians tend to save more independently through RRSPs and workplace pensions than Europeans.
The report is one of six that fed into a larger summary paper written by the University of Calgary’s Jack Mintz that reported to federal and provincial finance ministers at a December, 2009, meeting. While this supporting research was overshadowed at the time, it stands in sharp contrast to forceful warnings now coming from the Conservative government. ...
The government’s claims leave experts baffled. Thomas Klassen, a York University political science professor who co-authored a 2010 report on Canada’s pension system, said his own research concluded that the OAS program is sustainable.

“I haven’t heard any academic argue that there’s a crisis with OAS, which is why I was surprised a few days ago when the Prime Minister seemed to say there was a crisis,” he said. “Because I don’t know where that came from.”
Prof. Klassen said he suspects the federal government has concluded that reducing OAS costs is an easy way to save money over the long term because it can be done unilaterally without negotiating with the provinces or public-sector unions. “It’s okay to look at Old Age Security pension payments,” he said, “but I think there’s got to be a lot more evidence that there’s a problem, and I don’t see that evidence.”
Kevin Milligan, a University of British Columbia economics professor who co-authored another of the supporting research papers prepared for Ottawa, is also of the view that there is no OAS crisis. He says the government’s use of statistics showing the cost of OAS will climb from $36.5-billion in 2010 to $108-billion in 2030 is not very meaningful because of the impact of inflation. He notes the rise is less alarming when measured as a percentage of economic growth.
“As an economist, I would never characterize things in terms of nominal dollars in the future because it’s hard to put those in context,” he said. “I don’t know what we’ll be paying for a litre of milk then.” Canadians are, once again, facing the perplexing paradox that the facts do not support the moves the government wishes to make, and especially those facts do not support the arguments the government is making for those moves.
The crime rate is falling; so we need more prisons and longer sentences.
The OAS is sustainable; so we throw out onto the public stage the argument that "demographics," an academic-sounding, authority-giving, intelligence-connecting word, will provide the kind of "ruse" or smoke-screen that we need to deflect the criticisms that will be inevitably mounted by the opposition, while at the same time, comforting our base that we are "responsible" and that we are making the necessary cuts to the budget to prove the government's justified claim to deserve a second majority government in 2015. Hogwash! Or as the Liberal leader might say, "Bullshit!"...but he can't say that in the House of Commons, because it is not parliamentary language.
The uncertainty of the next terrorist move against stability in the world means that the "big guns" of Fighter Jets and warships are not as essential as is sound, detailed and credible intelligence. So, this government proceeds to purchase the "big guns" just to recruit new young kids into the military and (but they don't mention this) to demonstrate just how committed they are to the strength and theatre of the military, in their political campaign for re-election.
The long-range planners, in all social development fields state publicly and loudly that they need the long-form census for their planning; so this government pulls the document from use, because there have been complaints about hte invasion of privacy.
It was George Orwell who wrote, in his scathing book, 1984, that War is Peace; Friends are enemies; truth is lies; history is and can be and will be re-written, making today's friends tomorrow's enemies, and today's enemies tomorrow's friends.
Of course, we read Orwell with ironic eyes, believing, hoping and praying that he was using satire to depict a kind of political "game"...however, today Harper and his gang, in the west, in what we used to think was a democracy, certainly not a totalitarian, nor a communist state, are generating more evidence of the horrible truth of Orwell's satire.
There is a reality for this government: today it is "austerity" and so the OAS is projected to come under their budget-cutting knives.
Tomorrow it will  be "national security" and the jets and ships will be laughingly purchased, while the government smirks uncontrollably about the gullibility of the public. And they tell their stories to the media in such pompous and sonorous and heavy-sounding funereal sound bites that make them look serious, responsible and "in charge" with their "mandate from the Canadian people for a majority government."
They don't mention that it is their increases in spending of some 22% that has helped to generate the buget crunch.
That past of reality is not in the talking points produced by the prime minister's office, where all sound thinking and all grasp of reality is located.
If it weren't so tragic, it would be laughable, fit for a Swiftian satire, like the boiling babies in his "Modest Proposal".

Monday, January 30, 2012

Russia's arms sales to Assad...dangerous and irresponsible

Why Russia protects Assad, from CNN website, January 26, 2012
Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.
On Tuesday, the U.S., UK and French ambassadors to the United Nations sharply criticized "irresponsible" arms sales to the Syrian regime. This was a thinly veiled reference to Moscow's close defense-industrial cooperation with Damascus.
In recent months, Russia has been Syria's foremost protector in the international arena. It has taken on this role because of Syria's economic significance for its arms export industry, its role as the host of Russia's only military base outside the former Soviet Union - and its concern that anti-government protesters in Moscow might be inspired by a successful popular uprising farther afield.
Syria is one of the top five foreign buyers of Russian defense equipment, receiving 6% of all its arms exports in 2010. Contracts for further deliveries are worth about $4 billion, and are critical for some companies' financial survival. Russian exporters fear that regime change in Syria would lead to the annulment of these agreements, as new rulers may pursue opportunities to purchase weapons from other countries.
The uprising has not deterred Russia from continuing to send weapons to Syria, including a shipment of various munitions that came to attention this month after the ship carrying the weapons made an unscheduled stop in Cyprus.
In addition to military contracts, Russian companies have other investments in Syria, primarily in natural gas extraction. These are valued at approximately $20 billion and include a pipeline and a liquefied natural gas production facility. Moreover, Russia has given up all but one of its military facilities outside the former Soviet Union - the sole remaining presence is its naval logistics facility in Tartus. The base’s primary purpose is to repair and resupply Russian navy ships transiting the Mediterranean.
While the Syrian opposition has not made any statements regarding the future of Tartus, Russia has long depended entirely on President Bashar al-Assad and cannot expect to have good relations with his successors, especially if they come to power by force.
While the 'Arab awakenings' have little direct connection to the rallies against President Vladimir Putin's political order, Russian leaders feel that they are surrounded by a tide of anti-incumbent protests - and see each government toppled as potentially feeding the mood throughout the world. A related fear is that the overthrow of the Assad regime may feed a resurgence of anti-government protests in Iran, bringing political instability even closer to Russia's borders.
Furthermore, Russian leaders are concerned about the gains made by Islamist forces in the region, particularly in Egypt. The twin dangers of popular overthrow of local autocrats and subsequent electoral victories by Islamic parties have raised fears about an Islamist takeover in one or more Central Asian states. Though such a scenario appears unlikely, it is a particularly sensitive issue for Russia because it would likely lead to a significant increase in migration inflows from the region, further destabilising an already volatile domestic political situation.
Russian leaders will use the Syrian crisis as an opportunity to show that their country is still a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. They will also press their case that overthrowing the current Syrian regime would lead to further instability in the region - which might even spread to the former Soviet Union. As a result, Russia will do its utmost to prevent the fall of Assad.

"Heinrich Himmler" by Peter Longerich, reviewed by Jonathan Yardley

Book Review By Jonathan Yardley, from truthdig.com, January 26, 2012
Heinrich Himmler” A book by Peter Longerich
This biography of one of the most evil creatures ever to walk the earth is thoughtful and perceptive, stupendously long and almost unimaginably exhausting. The first names that come to mind when the subject of 20th-century evil arises are those of the ungodly trio—Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung—but surely that of Heinrich Himmler belongs among them. Utterly devoid of courage, decency or genuine human feeling, he caused through his manipulation of the Nazi police bureaucracy the deaths of uncountable millions of people, almost all of them innocents, and when it was all over he died a craven death.
Himself a native German, born in 1955, Peter Longerich is a professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway University of London and a leading scholar of the Holocaust. That he spent as many years with Himmler as were necessary to the research and writing of this massive book suggests that he is a man with a strong stomach. Indeed there are many times in his “Heinrich Himmler” when the reader needs one as well, for the record of Himmler’s depredations is long, violent and bloody, and Longerich does not shrink from setting forth the details, as indeed he should not if he is to give us the full measure of the man.
At the outset Longerich asks: “How could such a banal personality attain such a historically unique position of power? How could the son of a prosperous Bavarian Catholic public servant become the organizer of a system of mass murder spanning the whole of Europe?” To address these questions, neither of which can be answered conclusively, Longerich has gone “beyond the established pattern of political biography and (taken) into account quite literally the whole of Himmler’s life in its separate stages and its various spheres of activity.” He argues that the crimes committed by the German police state in its various manifestations—among them the SS, its intelligence operation the SD and its military arm the Waffen-SS—were all Himmler’s crimes, because “he to all intents and purposes united in his own person all the instruments of violence belonging to the Nazi state.”
Thus this book is less a biography as the term is commonly understood than a history of the organizations that Himmler created in order to terrorize the citizens of his own country, the Jews of Europe, and Europe itself. “Himmler was the complete opposite of a faceless functionary or bureaucrat, interchangeable with any other,” Longerich writes. “The position he built up over the years can instead be described as an extreme example of the almost total personalization of political power.” Therefore it is necessary, Longerich convincingly argues, not merely to portray Himmler the man but also the institutions he created in his own image.
Himmler was born in 1900 into a respectable and almost entirely conventional Munich family. His father was a schoolteacher, his mother a homemaker. He was “the middle son, trapped between the model of the superior big brother and the solicitous care focused on” the youngest brother. He “had a sickly constitution, he was frequently unwell, and his whole appearance was delicate.” From an early age he was fascinated by “everything connected with war and the military,” and like countless other German boys of his generation he was deeply embittered by the peace imposed on his country in the Treaty of Versailles. He was in military uniform at the end of World War I but never saw action, which left him permanently resentful even though there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that he would have been a competent military officer, much less a brilliant or brave one.
“Nothing in Himmler’s childhood and youth,” Longerich writes, “would suggest that someone with clearly abnormal characteristics was growing up there.” He became obsessed early on, though, with “the soldierly world,” with its precepts of “sobriety, distance, severity, objectivity, but also order and regulations,” and its relegation of women to subordinate and supporting roles. “It was only much later,” Longerich says, “that he discerned ‘homosexual dangers’ in this way of life, with its protective cocoon of male solidarity and its self-imposed celibacy, and this was a disturbing insight that strengthened his latent homophobia.”
True enough, but Longerich does not explore the possibility that Himmler’s homophobia may well have been an outward defense against inner fears of his own homosexuality. From Hitler on down this was a pattern among the males of Nazi Germany. Himmler’s complex, ambiguous relationships with and feelings about women—he had a passionless marriage and, much later, an affair with his private secretary about which little is known except that “the couple cannot have seen much of each other, and they cannot possibly have lived together”—suggest that his sexual self-confidence was shaky and his true sexual identity uncertain. The possibility that the extreme violence he actively promoted in the organizations under his command was an expression of inner rage cannot, it seems to me, be discounted.
(For more of this review, go to truthdig.com)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

UPDATE: Muslim community responds...Three found guilty in "honour killings" in Kingston Ontario, Canada

Just a few moments ago, the jury released its verdict of guilty of first degree murder in the deaths of three teenaged girls and a second wife, in a polygamous marriage. Guilty are the father of the three young women, his other wife and their twenty-something son.
In a trial requiring translators, interpreters, scholars to explain the meaning of honour killings under Sharia Law, which witnessed a bomb threat that evacuated the court room just this past week, the issues were those that attend the new world order, given the elevated rates of immigration from such places as Afghanistan, where this family originated.
The public evidence of incompatibility between the desires of the young women to have male friends, to date, and also to seek shelter from their treatment at home, according to witnesses, and the expectations of their father at least, to remain chaste, pure, unavailable to men and protective of the family honour eventually proved to be irreconcilible. The four women were found dead in a car in one of the locks on the Rideau canal just outside Kingston.
There was considerable public evidence of missteps by the three defendants, including contradictions, misleading statements, evidence of intemperate actions following the alleged timing of the deaths. Nevertheless, the prosecution held fast to its theory of "honour killings" under the umbrella of evidence that the father of these three young women considered them "whores" especially when compared with his version of their responsibility to the family of which he considered himself the head.
In his absence, it fell to the adult son to maintain the  family honour, in the face of the actions, attitudes and beliefs of his sisters.
Should anyone think that the cultures of Afghanistan and North America can or will be easily, readily or even modestly merged, through immigration, or education or accommodation, they would be will advised to releae such thoughts. They are not going to happen, not now, and not in the foreseeable future.
We could import as many educators from Afghanistan into our Canadian school systems as we might like, without altering the culture that prevails between men and women in this country.
While there is growing evidence that people of different ethnicities and languages and cultures are assuming positions of responisbility in public life in Canada, we are not about to adopt Sharia Law; and we are not about to permit the erosion of a culture and values that have seen us knit formerly English, French and First Nations communities into something of a patchwork quilt, albeit with many rips and tears and lots of failures, in favour of the adoption of a culture as foreign and unacceptable as that apparently at the core of this murder trial.
And those who seek to impose the requirements of such a cultural change need to hear our push-back, although this verdict stands on its own merits, and on the evidence, not on the debatable merits of Sharia Law.
And this by Sheema Khan, Globe and Mail, January 30, 2012
Imam Sikander Hashmi, the newly-appointed imam in Kingston, took the lead the day the Shafia trial began. In no uncertain terms, he told the congregation that honour crimes were heinous, and forbidden by Islam. He reminded the audience that while such crimes were committed by different ethnic/religions groups, Muslims should step up to the plate and be part of the solution. That includes unequivocal condemnation of murder, and the establishment of resources to address family tensions.

This was soon followed by a National Call to Eradicate Domestic Violence, signed by over 100 mosques and community leaders across the country, which stated: “Domestic violence and, in the extreme, practices such as killing to “restore family honour” violate clear and non-negotiable Islamic principles, and so we categorically condemn all forms of domestic violence.” As part of this call, imams across Canada gave sermons unequivocally condemning family violence. Signatories pledged to go further by raising awareness, and providing workshops in mediation, anger management and family counselling.
Furthermore, a group of Muslim men launched the first-ever Muslim community White Ribbon Campaign at the Islamic Institute of Toronto. Men and boys pledged never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls. It was also promoted at Toronto’s annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention, with an audience of 15,000. The White Ribbon campaign is scheduled to go nationwide on March 8, coinciding with International Women’s Day.
Last week, the London Muslim Resource Centre for Social Services and Integration announced the launch of the “Honouring Families” project, in partnership with Ceasefire, a renowned anti-gang program based in Chicago. The premise is that one can “save face” through mediation and non-violent options.
MRCSSI, led by Dr. Mohammad Baobaid, has a wealth of experience (and success) dealing with inter-generational conflict in Muslim families, finding key risk indicators for honour-based violence, such as: cross-generational gender conflict (e.g. father-daughter) which is exacerbated by the involvement of extended family; an older male sibling taking on a parental role; when extended family or a parent overseas has a significant say in the parenting; pre-migration trauma or post-migration stresses; and family isolation. In many of these cases, the parents are disengaged from the solution, and blame the child entirely. They hold uncompromising views of their tradition, and/or maintain rigid interpretations of Islamic teachings regarding gender roles and expectations. The risk is highest when the conflict involves adolescent girls. Also, reports with the police or child protection services can worsen the situation, as the child subsequently denies any problem for fear of getting their parents in trouble, especially if the intervention is not culturally sensitive.
The MRC has been successful in resolving many high-risk cases by engaging the family at risk, and the many support services around the family.

Geithner strikes balance in approach to economic crisis...Is Harper listening?

Listening to Fareed Zakaria interview Timothy Geithner, Treasury Secretary in the Obama administration in Davos earlier this morning, I was aware of both the "term limits" on the Secretary's service to the administration (he will not serve in a second term) and the balance of his assessment and analysis of the relative importance of "austerity" and "stimulus" in the resolution of the nation's debt/deficit crisis.
Advocates of austerity over-estimate its importance while advocates of stimulus also over-estimate its significance at this time in the economic cycle...was the position I heard him striking.
Nevertheless, the political campaign airwaves are saturated with personal attacks painting the president as some "european socialist" and one Republican candidate for president dubbing his opponent as a wealthy elite with Cayman Island and Swiss bank accounts to accommodate his $42.6 million in income in 2011, while he (and his opponent) want to restore "opportunity" to the American people, another code word for unleashed capitalism and its little sister, "austerity" in order to reduce the size, importance and role of the government.
While the political rhetoric is painted in "either-or" terms, coloured black and white, without a hint of grey, or green, or blue or yellow or orange the more mature perspective as articulated by Geithner  is both closer to the truth and also more representative of actual governing, than is the inflamed rhetoric of campaigning.
Not co-incidentally, the president appointed a blue ribbon committee (Bowles-Simpson) to make recommendations on how to bring both debt and deficit back into line. Their responses were "balanced" similar to the "balanced" rhetoric of Geithner in Davos, and while there are critics of the president who think he did not put the full weight of his office behind their recommendations, nevertheless, he has consistently advocated a position of balance between spending cuts to entitlements and also increased taxes on the most wealthy, a position blocked by the Tea Party and the Republicans in Congress.
So, it says here that the presidential election that is still in its incubator, will unfold as a debate between the president's balanced approach (favoured by most Americans) of spending cuts, tax increases and investments in industry and manufacturing and training as well as infrastructure versus the Republican candidate's position of no tax increases, and no increases in spending, to preserve the opportunity of the most wealthy to "generate jobs" a position that is neither supportable by the evidence nor by the opinions of most respected and responsible economists of all political persuasions.
While I have not always been a fan of Mr. Geithner, considering him far too close to Wall Street where he was employed at the height of the economic meltdown, prior to the Obama election in 2008, and thereby unlikely to be the agent to promote stiff and needed regulatory changes in the financial services sector, nevertheless, his measured, balanced and detached responses to Mr. Zakaria in front of a "studio audience" in Davos at the Economic Forum attended by the world's leading political and business leaders merits our attention, and our faith and our hope that the president can and will be able to articulate to the American people, and thereby to the rest of the world, the importance of neither too much austerity (take note, Mr. Canadian Prime Minister) and too many tax breaks for the wealthy, both corporate and individual (once again take note, Mr. Harper) while at the same time providing government incentives for industry, manufacturing and both training and research.
Political rhetoric of the ideological kind, from both sides, is neither a solution for our problems, nor a measure of the success of any responsible government, including both Canadian and American political practitioners.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Iron Lady: a review of the movie...

My wife and I just returned from watching the new movie starring Meryl Streep, Iron Lady, dominated by the director's skillful, seamless and really nothing less than "artistic" editing of past, present, earlier past, nearer past and present into a montage of authentic performances by Ms Streep and the rest of the cast. And Prime Minister David Cameron is right when he says the movie is really about Ms Thatcher's dementia as much as about her political career.
The only woman in the Conservative Party caucus when she entered the House of Commons, after a first unsuccessful attempt in 1959, when women were virtually unheard of, and certainly unwelcome in the political backrooms of all western nations, including Great Britain, Mrs. Thatcher was headstrong, determined, persistent,
ideologically "right" of centre and eminently combative. She fought the trade unions, busting the coal miners union; she fought the IRA and the war in the Falklands, after the British islands were invaded by the Argentinians.
She will be forever linked to President Ronald Reagan, her cohort in reducing the size of government, and in her case, provoking violence in the streets, at the hotel where her party was holding its convention and in various locations carried out by the IRA.
The movie brings to life a political regime of austerity, self-righteousness and even arrogance not at all dissimilar to the current class of Republican/Tea Party members of the U.S. Congress, and the Canadian government under  a leader who is nothing more or less than a clone of the "thatcher" model of political leader.
She would not listen to her Cabinet, just as Harper runs his own one-man government.
She refused to see the need for government compassion and fairness, preferring instead to tilt her government in favour of the wealthy, and against the ordinary people, in the same manner as Harper does, and either Romney or Gingrich would.
The timing of the movie's release, just as the 2012 presidential election is beginning in the U.S. will remind voters there, and unfortunately also in Canada where we do not go to the polls again until 2015, of just how repressive and frightening a right-wing leader and government can be and have been, not so very long ago.
If the movie has the desired effect, it will move a majority of voters away from the Republican camp and re-elect President Obama. It will also enrich and spread an awareness of ageing that is both credible and somewhat frustrating both for the individual and the family of the elderly.
From an artistic perspective, the movie provides outstanding acting, a brilliant script, uplifting and seamless music and sound effects, and one of the most clever editing performances in any movie.
From a political and historic perspective, the movie is an authentic rendering of her time in office, her determination and role modelling for other women seeking public office, and a scathing critique of what she considered "weak men" for whom she grew tired making apologies. Her fragmented relationship with her own spouse, Dennis, is captured in his exit scene, in which he declares, "You will be just fine; you have always been just fine on your own!"
Streep's portrayal is so complete, authentic and convincing that it reminds one of the other women cut from the same cloth, proud, determined, capable and completely intolerable of anything less than perfection from others, none of whom were equal to or even close to her own performance, just like my own mother.

Letter to David Brooks

By David Brooks, New York Times, January 26, 2012
It’s sad to compare that era of bigness to the medium-sized policy morsels that President Obama put in his State of the Union address. He had some big themes in the speech, but the policies were mere appetizers. The Republicans absurdly call Obama a European socialist on the stump, but the Obama we saw Tuesday night was a liberal incrementalist.

There was nothing big, like tax reform or entitlement reform. There was no comprehensive effort to restore trust in government by sweeping away the tax credits and special-interest schemes that entangle Washington. Ninety percent of American workers work in the service economy, but Obama spoke mostly about manufacturing.
Dear Mr. Brooks: You seem to have forgotten that Mr. Obama worked most of last summer to get a "grand bargain" with John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, on many big items. You also seem to have forgotten that it fell through because Mr. Boehner could not deliver the votes necessary in the House. You also seem to have forgotten that virtually since the passing of the Health Care bill, there has been gridlock in the Congress, with the Tea Party and the Republican leader in the Senate both publicly declaring their goal to be "Obama is a one-term president".
One of the basic rules of government is that, in an election year, you don't paint pictures the country is not ready for, lest in attempting to move the public too far when it is struggling for survival, you force them into regression.
Mr. Obama, unlike your Republican friends, seeks to make change whenever and wherever possible. For example, he brought the auto makers together, to secure a commitment that they would produce cars that achieve 52 miles per gallon of fuel by 2020.
That did not make loud and 72-point headlines; however, it is a significant achievement, and will result in a dramatic change both to the design of the auto as we know it, but also a significant reduction in demand for oil.
He has also generated a new industry, led by America, in the generating of car batteries, with various technologies still on the drawing board.
Let go of the past, Mr. Brooks, when the "Cecil B. deMille" version of political accomplishment was in fashion. We live in different times; technology is changing the micro managers into nano-micro-managers, and in that context Mr. Obama is still seeing both the forest and the trees, and acting, often without either fanfare or Congressional votes (which are unavailable to his ideas) to demonstrate he is the president of all Americans.
We know all Republicans will forever be disappointed in Mr. Obama; he is a Democrat and this is an election season when Democrats are "fair game" for all Republicans.
However, as a serious thinking and demonstrably intelligent writer with considerable heft in both your ideas and your position in the bully pulpit of the New York Times, you can be expected to surmount petty political partisanship at least once in a while. Today, you failed in to meet that expectation.
Yours truly,

Harper: Tea Party North, in Davos, while lecturing Europe on "responsibility"

By Joe Friessen and Bill  Curry, Globe and Mail, January 26, 2012
With reports from Jane Taber in Ottawa and The Canadian Press in Davos, Switzerland

Although short on details, Mr. Harper’s speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday made clear the sweep of his ambition. He will change how Canadians finance their retirement. He will overhaul the immigration system. He will make oil and gas exports to Asia a “national priority” and aggressively pursue free trade in India and Europe.

Several times in his speech, Mr. Harper portrayed his agenda as a fix for a generation – a fix he claimed is necessary to confront the challenges of an aging population. Canada’s demographics, he warned, pose “a threat to the social programs and services that Canadians cherish.” Preserving those social programs will likely mean cuts elsewhere.
“Western nations, in particular, face a choice of whether to create the conditions for growth and prosperity, or to risk long-term economic decline. In every decision, or failure to decide, we are choosing our future right now,” Mr. Harper said.
“We’ve already taken steps to limit the growth of our health-care spending. … We must do the same for our retirement-income system.”
He said he plans to make Canada’s old-age supplement program sustainable. What that means is unclear. He did not spell out whether seniors will have to wait longer to receive the benefit or whether clawbacks would be increased for higher income earners.
Unlike the Canada Pension Plan – which is supported by a separate and well-financed pool of savings – there is no pot of cash to support the OAS program, which is paid out of government revenues. A recent actuarial report pointed out that the cost of OAS will climb 32 per cent between 2010 and 2015, and OAS payouts to retirees will rise to $108-billion in 2030 from $36.5-billion in 2010.
While future changes to OAS were not explained, Mr. Harper said current retirees will not be affected. The major policy reforms are in addition to looming spending cuts, which Treasury Board President Tony Clement said on Thursday could be as much as $8-billion, twice the $4-billion target announced last year.
Mr. Harper further outlined the blueprint for his government by ticking off a list of policy priorities. He said Canada’s investments in science and technology had produced poor results and were a “significant problem for our country.” He said he intends to pursue free trade with the European Union and India and find new energy markets beyond the United States. Regulatory delays for mines and energy projects are also being targeted.
Mr. Harper said he intends to tackle immigration reform, a thorny issue in a country where one in five is an immigrant. Canada’s humanitarian obligations and its family reunification objectives will be “respected,” he said, but the needs of the labour force and the economy will now be central.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has been working on significant reforms to the immigration system for several months. Mr. Kenney has said he wants to speed immigrant integration in the labour market by changing the emphasis of selection criteria. He intends to reward applicants who speak English or French, have job offers, Canadian work experience or postgraduate degrees, all of whom tend to fare better economically. The increased emphasis on economic immigrants could lead to reductions in the family class.
As the Canadian population ages, immigration is increasingly the major source of population growth. At the moment, more than 60 per cent of population growth comes from immigration, but that will approach 100 per cent by 2030. If Canada wants to maintain its population structure, or at least the proportion of the population that’s over 65, it would have to start admitting about three to four times its annual intake of roughly 250,000 immigrants, experts say.
As for OAS, previous Liberal and Conservative governments have tried – and failed spectacularly – to make the program financially sustainable. Both Brian Mulroney, and Paul Martin when he was finance minister, were forced to back down in the face of public pressure.
C.D. Howe Institute president Bill Robson said he believes the public will support changes if they see MPs and the public service scaling back their benefits as well.
“As seniors get more numerous, it’s clearly more difficult for politicians to take them on,” he said. “But I’m encouraged to think Canadians can get together on things like this.”
Susan Eng, vice-president of the non-profit retired persons advocacy group CARP, predicts a strong negative reaction to OAS changes, which were never discussed during the election campaign.
Ms. Eng said her group’s surveys show strong opposition to changing the OAS.
So from the top of what Harper considers the "mountaintop" of a world business leaders' conference, when capitalism is under fire for lacking any hint of social responsibility, and some are calling for its transformation, far away from the mud and mire of Ottawa and the national media, the Canadian political leader issues his manifesto, stolen directly from the Tea Party manifesto in the United States.
Not a hint of any of these ideas was uttered in his "5-Q's" (5 questions max. at each face-to-face with media) encounters with the media throughout the campaign only last Spring. No parliamentarian from any opposition party was permitted the "privilege" of knowing these moves, although aides were prompt with their talking points in Davos, in support of the speech.
And the people of Canada have the voters in Toronto, principally, to thank for their short-sighted and politically self-destructive election results, both in electing their equally threatening Mayor as well as a Harper majority government on May 2.
It is not only these initiatives that will bind the country into a kind of grid-lock, in which some demographics will be at war with other demographics, because "austerity" to this government sounds more responsible than courage and creativity and compassion and imagination and balancing various interests.
Furthermore, to suggest that there is a problem with OAS (Old Age Security) because it is not "funded" by employer and employee contributions is only true, once again on the surface. It is tied to the economic revenue of the government, and together with the CPP (Canada Pension Plan) amounts to no more than 15% of the ecoomy, which itself will continue to grow as it has since the beginning. This is another ideologically motivated move to curtail "entitlements" when it is not justified, and cannot be justified, except for a political base that seeks to "gut" what is sees as the "nanny state."
This government would rather buy 65 F-35 Fighter Jets and more armed ships than provide education and housing for First Nations people in Attawapiskat, for example. This government would rather cut 60-70,000 government employees, while committing millions to new commissions with no staff or work in expensive downtown Ottawa offices. This government would rather unload its traditional "national" responsibility for equalization and health care on the provinces than takes its place at the head of the table in formal and informal discussions with the provinces about how to share the revenue from resources that are obviously not distributed equally by nature.
And this prime minister would rather deliver what many consider a "throne speech" in Davos under the glare of international kleg lights, while lecturing the European nations on how to take responsibility for their fiscal crisis, than acknowledge the facts in his own backyard, that jobs in Canada are showing both lower pay and less stability and reliability. This government would rather play "hoity-toity" with the so-called big-shots of a crumbling capitalism in Davos than preserve both good jobs and fair benefits through union negotiations in Canada.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ontario Teacher spills his secrets...tragicomically...are there humans amid those wires?

By Kevin Bray, Globe and Mail, January 26, 2012
I work with zombies, or ICU patients, or pod-bodies plugged into the Matrix. Whatever they are, they are rarely “in the moment” and engaged with other pod-bodies. Well, they do sometimes interact with one another, usually by taking photos (every moment is infused with significance, apparently), or sharing the umbilical cord that sustains their rich interior life. When they do communicate it’s often done through texting or Facebook. I’ve watched the pod-bodies do this even when just one metre separates them; it’s as if they have willingly given away their tongues for more dexterous thumbs.

You can see them on the street, in packs or alone, shuffling along, oblivious to traffic or weather or birdsong. They are plugged into a smartphone or iPod, and carry them like patients shuffling down the hospital hallway tethered to an IV drip. They never go anywhere without the constant drip of music; every moment is accompanied by a soundtrack. I wonder how many of them suffer falls on the icy sidewalks only holding out their thumbs, locked mid-text message, to block the hard concrete while they hear I’m Sexy and I Know It played at 110 decibels.

I am speaking of teenagers, of course. For 20 years I have walked among them as a teacher and witnessed the slow accretion of technology into their lives and mine. How different they have become in just two decades. Everyone is disengaged or hiding. In math class they beg to listen to music while working and I acquiesce. It’s easier to ask them to lower the volume and plug the leaking sounds of Bruno Mars than to argue and suffer their mood for an hour. Once plugged in, they work on simple interest questions while listening to music that I guess charges their souls or assaults their equilibrium. All this music must be doing something to them. Studies are finding that teens who listen to a lot of music suffer depression, but maybe the emotion came before the tune rather than the opposite. If Pitbull sings “for all we know we might not get tomorrow” and the Mayans predict that before the year is out we are doomed, then it’s tough to convince a 16-year-old about the power of compound interest over their lifetime.
I grew up in a small logging town in northern British Columbia in the 1970s and we did not have iPods, iPhones, Facebook, Twitter or rap. We had one television station – the CBC – and one radio station. I listened to music on LPs and suitcase-sized speakers. We daydreamed in math class or fell asleep during movies in English; most of us talked too much when we were supposed to be working and the only games we played were either on a board or at the arcade (at least pinball involved some physical activity). We were engaged even when it seemed that we weren’t. We had nowhere to hide from teachers or friends except in our heads. I know this sounds a bit like the Monty Python skit “oh, you think you had it tough!”.
Do students imagine? Do they hear the “other” inside their head, the one who comments on moral ambiguity and increases the volume on empathy? I asked this once and the reply was “Sir, we’re not robots, you know.” One day I demanded that all phones be turned off, all music be silenced and everyone do it “old school” for one period. I was amazed how quickly I was transported to 1989, my first year of teaching. We worked and talked, not always on topic, and for those 75 minutes we emerged from zombieland and heard human voices. Maybe the students sang inside their heads and thought about the text messages they would like to compose, but at least they were with me.
I know that waves of technology will forever crash onto our emotional and intellectual beach, and teachers are cajoled into adopting technology and meeting students in their “world.” Smart boards, websites, clickers, PowerPoint, podcasts, simulations and e-mail are just a veneer over the most important part of teaching: the human connection in real time and space. If Socrates were alive today I doubt he would be impressed with our hyper-connectivity. None of this makes us critical thinkers. We are entertained rather than engaged.
Everywhere I go I hear music: in every store in every mall; in auto dealerships; in hotel lobbies and elevators; in pub washrooms; in the dentists’ office. At home though, or in the woods on a hike, or kayaking on a lake, I hear the wind and birds, even the rustle of leaves. This is because I am “old” and unplugged. I see young people skiing, biking, drinking coffee at Starbucks, eating at the food court and hanging out with friends and all of them are tethered by white wires to perpetual melodies. The world sings past them.
In my morning class a few months ago the students wandered into the room, plugged in and texting, and the few who had questions before I started the lesson yelled at me over the sound of the music in their ears. I told them to wait a minute and then took ear buds out of my bag, plugged them into my laptop and attached myself to them. Nonplussed, they continued with their question about quadratics; them listening to Cee Lo Green and me listening to Earth, Wind and Fire.
Kevin Bray lives in Aurora, Ont.
Editors Note: Having left the classroom in 1984, I cannot share Mr. Bray's experience, and like all other retired teachers can only send condolences and relief that I am not responsible for a secondary school English class today.

Education Researchers: High cost of school drop-outs...prevention starts early

By Henry M. Levin and Cecilia E. Rouse, New York Times, January 25, 2012
Henry M. Levin is a professor of economics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Cecilia E. Rouse, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, was a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2009 to 2011.
In 1970, the United States had the world’s highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we’ve slipped to No. 21 in high school completion and No. 15 in college completion, as other countries surpassed us in the quality of their primary and secondary education.

Only 7 of 10 ninth graders today will get high school diplomas. A decade after the No Child Left Behind law mandated efforts to reduce the racial gap, about 80 percent of white and Asian students graduate from high school, compared with only 55 percent of blacks and Hispanics.
Like President Obama, many reformers focus their dropout prevention efforts on high schoolers; replacing large high schools with smaller learning communities where poor students can get individualized instruction from dedicated teachers has been shown to be effective. Rigorous evidence gathered over decades suggests that some of the most promising approaches need to start even earlier: preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, who are fed and taught in small groups, followed up with home visits by teachers and with group meetings of parents; reducing class size in the early grades; and increasing teacher salaries from kindergarten through 12th grade.
These programs sound expensive — some Americans probably think that preventing 1.3 million students from dropping out of high school each year can’t be done — but in fact the costs of inaction are far greater.
High school completion is, of course, the most significant requirement for entering college. While our economic competitors are rapidly increasing graduation rates at both levels, we continue to fall behind. Educated workers are the basis of economic growth — they are especially critical as sources of innovation and productivity given the pace and nature of technological progress.
If we could reduce the current number of dropouts by just half, we would yield almost 700,000 new graduates a year, and it would more than pay for itself. Studies show that the typical high school graduate will obtain higher employment and earnings — an astonishing 50 percent to 100 percent increase in lifetime income — and will be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Further, because of the increased income, the typical graduate will contribute more in tax revenues over his lifetime than if he’d dropped out.
When the costs of investment to produce a new graduate are taken into account, there is a return of $1.45 to $3.55 for every dollar of investment, depending upon the educational intervention strategy. Under this estimate, each new graduate confers a net benefit to taxpayers of about $127,000 over the graduate’s lifetime. This is a benefit to the public of nearly $90 billion for each year of success in reducing the number of high school dropouts by 700,000 — or something close to $1 trillion after 11 years. That’s real money — and a reason both liberals and conservatives should rally behind dropout prevention as an element of economic recovery, leaving aside the ethical dimensions of educating our young people.
Some might argue that these estimates are too large, that the relationships among the time-tested interventions, high school graduation rates and adult outcomes have not been proved yet on a large scale. Those are important considerations, but the evidence cannot be denied: increased education does, indeed, improve skill levels and help individuals to lead healthier and more productive lives. And despite the high unemployment rate today, we have every reason to believe that many of these new graduates would find work — our history is filled with sustained periods of economic growth when increasing numbers of young people obtained more schooling and received large economic benefits as a result.
Of course, there are other strategies for improving educational attainment — researchers learn more every day about which are effective and which are not. But even with what we know, a failure to substantially reduce the numbers of high school dropouts is demonstrably penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Proven educational strategies to increase high school completion, like high-quality preschool, provide returns to the taxpayer that are as much as three and a half times their cost. Investing our public dollars wisely to reduce the number of high school dropouts must be a central part of any strategy to raise long-run economic growth, reduce inequality and return fiscal health to our federal, state and local governments.
Setting goals like 700,000 additional graduates, and demonstrating the investment return of $1.45 to $3.55 for every dollar invested in keeping kids in school, and positing $127,000 of graduate contribution to state coffers and an accumulative $90 billion for each year of increasing the number of graduates by 700,000, or $90 billion over eleven years....all worthy and credible figures and projections.
However, while the economy is sputtering and has been for at last the last four years, and while No Child Left Behind was always nothing more than a "teach-to-the-test" cover of the politicians' asses, and not a visionary educational approach, and while reducing the number of drop-outs, and increasing the number of graduates is and always will be a good thing to do, nevertheless:--
  • learning generates much more that dollars, for both the graduate and the state
  • learning generates many more options within the graduates perspective on whatever life or career situation presents itself
  • learning also generates a much more demanding and imaginative culture through which, we can only hope, politicians will have to account to both more and more penetrating questions from more sources...generating a far more interactive and accountable and thereby responsible society
  • learning also stimulates the imagination, if done successfully, thereby providing the essential foundation for a society and a culture seeking to shed  the "ingenuity gap" which plagues North American culture, on both sides of the border, although it is more serious in Canada..
So while the accountants and the revenue department would be happier with more graduates coughing up more cash into public coffers, that is not the reason, nor even the most important reason to propose, to advocate and to implement strategies and tactics that keep students in school longer....It may be a useful byproduct...but it is certainly not the most important reason for such a policy implementation: never was, never will be!

Let's develop a national energy program in Canada, with refining and national distribution

Barely audible in the political storm over the Northern Pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, are two voices arguing for the same thing, missing so far in the calculations of what to do with Canadian crude from the tar sands.
Their names are Gordon Laxer, a professor and former premier of Alberta, Peter Lougheed. They are both asking why Canada is not refining the crude before shipping it.
And the question bears reflection.
We know that shipping refined crude is less expensive that shipping the heavier product. We also know that Canada has the opportunity to "feed itself first" in energy, in order to bring the two halves of the country onto the same page at least on this file. The western half of Canada gets its energy from the western provinces. Ontario gets its energy, originally from the west, transported to the U.S. where it is refined and then imported back into Ontario. Quebec and the Maritimes gets most of their energy from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The Prime Minister has told CBC news that he is not interested in making Canada "energy self-sufficient" preferring to let market forces play that game. Yet, at the same time, he is singing like a warbler to anyone who will listen that he wants to create jobs.
Well, by refining our own crude and making it available to all our provinces, we would do two things:
develop a model of energy self-sufficiency that demonstrated our capacity to solve our own problems, while at the same time bringing the country a little more together on this important file
and also creating thousands of Canadian jobs in both refining and  distribution that could last.
But more important to this prime minister are "market forces"...code words for letting his political base have free reign in managing the industry. The national interest plays no part in the discussion, so far as this prime minister is concerned.
Once, Conservative politicians in Canada saw a need for a national railway to link the country. Others, later conceived of the notion of a national radio network, created the CBC and provided an additional and important link across the vast terrain. Perhaps this generation of Canadian conservative political leaders could also take a page from their history books and develop a national energy program, in spite of the west's contempt for such an approach under Pierre Trudeau, who even went so far as to purchase a national energy company, PetroCanada, something the west saw then and sees today as socialism, in the mild version, and communism in the more contemptuous version.
Provincial politicians are all facing budget problems, (except of course Alberta where the energy is being recovered) and the more Canadian leadership can and does do to enhance the linkage of all provinces and territories, while at the same time reducing the impact of this recession, and evidence yesterday from CIBC that Canadian jobs are losing both stability and wage levels, as they slip further into the temporary and unskilled variety, leaving few opportunities for permanent and skilled work for Canadians.
A national energy strategy would not eliminate the market, but merely work within the market to achieve national goals as well. We do not have to today, just as we did not have to in the part, worship exclusively at the altar of "private enterprise" without developing our national interests. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Can Ottawa?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Liberal gain small, better than a loss...

By Jane Taber, Globe and Mail, January 25, 2012
Although the Conservatives and NDP are still number one and number two, the Grits are creeping up – the Abacus poll has the Harper Conservatives with the support of 37 per cent of voters compared to the NDP with 28 per cent support and the Liberals at 21 per cent.

The Abacus numbers, meanwhile, are similar to those in the Angus Reid online public opinion poll, released Tuesday. It has the Conservatives at 39 per cent compared to the NDP with 28 per cent and the Liberals at 22 per cent support. Again, the Angus Reid poll shows the Liberals increasing their support at the expense of the NDP.
This new poll also shows that Mr. Rae’s personal popularity is increasing. When asked for a favourable or unfavourable impression of the major leaders, 28 per cent of respondents said they had a favourable impression of Mr. Rae. This is up from 25 per cent in December and 20 per cent in August.
Abacus:            Conservatives 37%; NDP 28%; Liberals 21%
Angus Reid:      Conservatives 39%; NDP 28%; Liberals 22%
Favourable impression for Mr. Rae: 25% up from 20 in December.
The headline to the Taber piece in the Globe and Mail reads:  "The Bob Rae Bounce: Liberals continue to gain steam"
Unfortunately, if this were really a steam engine, and it were gaining speed at this rate, people would be gladly climbing down those steps into the snow, as it crept along into the night. While it is true that in politics, a week is a long time, a month a lifetime and two years an eon, nevertheless, while the numbers are moving in the right direction, anyone calculating how to invest money in political futures, or even in party memberships would have to take a very deep breath, and a very long walk in the February snow before signing a cheque to support the Liberal Party's "steam gaining" evidence.
Harper is giving the party a smorgasbord of succulent political issues on which to chew and then to pounce on his party's policies, ideology and the apparent absence of political and professional competence of his cabinet.
The NDP is quietly enjoying its moveable feast of leadership debates, where everyone agrees with everyone else, and does it all so politely and delicately. Where is John Rodriguez and his ilk from the Ontario wing of the NDP?
However, the Liberals missed a huge opportunity to ride the national tidal wave from a Sheila Copps election as party president. That, along with the popularity and media access to Mr Rae would have been a 1-2 punch, while former Cabinet ministers were recruited for national speaking engagements, town halls and op-eds. And then, as the campaigns for leader began, the announcement of potential and confirmed candidates could have, once again, swelled both the coffers and the registry of memberships for the party.
And, co-incidentally, policy papers, positions papers and research summaries could have been flowing from both the research department and from the universities, all with the goal of an integrated policy AND leadership convention prior to the next election.
It will take at least one million more memberships to render the Liberal Party a viable player in the next election, and with barely two million Canadians in total carrying memberships in all political parties, that is a very steep hill to climb and the engine will have to generate a lot more "steam" to get to the top....many are still hoping that the party will be like the "little engine that could"....

Davos: A clarion call for "transformation" of capitalism....long overdue and needed

By Heather Scoffield, The Canadian Press, in Globe and Mail, January 25, 2012
DAVOS--The founder of the annual World Economic Forum retreat in this Alpine town, Klaus Schwab, has appealed to global movers and shakers for a “great transformation” that would challenge the basic tenets of capitalism.
Other leaders of global organizations, including Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, have issued a joint “call to action” asking country leaders to fuel growth and jobs in a way that confronts chronically high youth unemployment, is environmentally sustainable, and also deals with inequality.

And Mr. Harper heard a similar message from some of the Canadian business leaders in his roundtable meeting on Wednesday afternoon. He was told that doing business is not just about making money but is also about bolstering Canadian society, confirmed participant Monique Leroux, chief executive of Desjardins Group.
But the opening speech of the forum on Wednesday was all about status quo.
Throughout the recent bouts of financial crisis, “our market economy has proved itself,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
She said Europe is inclined to work together to resolve the continent's sovereign debt crisis, but she stuck to her script and did not commit major new money for a rescue fund.
“I think we have shown in many ways that we are serious,” she insisted.
But she told the forum she did not want to make promises she couldn't keep — despite intense pressure from Canada and the rest of the world to inject large amounts into the bailout.
She did suggest Germany would play an active role in keeping the eurozone afloat, but said finding solutions would take time.
“We are no longer deluding ourselves.”
Officials said Mr. Harper kept up the pressure on Europe in a bilateral meeting with Denmark's prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who holds the presidency of the European Union this year. He warned her that Europe's failure to act boldly is harming the global economy, officials said.
Is there any chance, even a miniscule one, that the combined chorus of the voices of Schwab, Leroux, Carney and Obama all singing from the same song sheet, and not only singing the same melody but also the same words, will be heard in Davos and beyond?
The words of Ms Leroux from Desjardin Group, "doing business is not just about making money, it is also about bolstering the Canadian society," sum up the plea for a different, more socially responsible kind of capitalism. And if those voices are not drowned out by the aardvarks like Harper and Manley and Flaherty and Boehner and Cantor and Romney and Gingrich, then, possibly those millions of Canadians and Americans who are living from pay cheque to pay cheque, or are actually drawing money from the state just to keep their family afloat, might possible find the bottom rung on the ladder, and start the long climb back to the middle class.
And such a dream would generate millions in tax revenue for the "state" and help to pay down the debt and the deficit, and reduce the need for radical surgery in an austerity program which both American and Canadian neo-cons would prefer, to any tax increases for their billionaire and millionaire friends.
For the Prime Minister to be in Davos taking credit for the fact that the Canadian economy did not fall into as deep a recession as some other countries, when his government did not establish the foundations, and the rules and the regulations that prevented such a deep recession is the height of presumption. And for John Manley, the former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister to be beating the drum for Harper as one of his chief cheerleaders, is nothing less than shameful. Canadian banks and lending institutions were completely separate and apart from the financial services sector for decades. And even when they were permitted to enter the insurance and investment fields, they were still governed by regulations that prevented the kind of scandalous "credit default swaps" designed by the doctoral graduates employed by the Wall Street cabal, whose executives did not understand the full implications of the instruments designed on their payroll.
Harper is riding a tiny wave of international smiles, and he rides that wave with the kind of smugness that befits the cat who has just swallowed the mouse. But like the cat, the flavour and the nourishment will not last, and neither will that wave of smiles and invitations.
Capitalism does indeed require transformation. And Schwab is right to be calling for social responsibilty as an integral part of the transformation.
And only those who are listening, and thinking through the implications of his call for transformation will ride the wave of capitalism's next chapter. I do not hear representatives from the Canadian chartered banks, the original six, singing from that same songsheet that is in the hands of Ms Leroux, where each of us could be considering taking our banking needs...to Desjardins Group....where at least the chief executive "gets" the message that has been the song of the winter of our discontent, composed and sung in the major cities around the world by the Occupy movement.
Canadian reporters covering the Davos meeting of world business leaders would do well to publish both the Schwab speech and the many and diverse reactions to his courageous and creative and timely overture to the conference he inaugurated, in the Canadian media for the next few days and give Harper's speech the backpage coverage it deserves.

A Financial Writer: Downgrade the Rating Agencies...Really!

By Philip Stevens, Financial Times, in Globe and Mail, January 19, 2012
I keep hearing people say don’t blame the rating agencies. My first reaction is why not? After due and sober reflection my considered response is why the hell not?

Standard & Poor’s has put the agencies back into the headlines by downgrading a slew of euro zone governments and robbing France of its cherished triple-A rating. There is something unsettling about S&P’s eagerness to grab the headlines. A cynic might see the theatrical nature of its pronouncements as a rather vulgar marketing tool. Moody’s and Fitch seem a lot quieter.
This time, though, S&P had wisdom to impart. Its serried ranks of economists, analysts and financial wizards were offering startling insights. Fiscal retrenchment, they intoned, would not alone repair the public finances of euro zone countries. The weak economies needed growth in order to revive flagging tax revenues. Wow! Who would have thought it? Perhaps S&P is hunting a Nobel Prize.

I suppose it would be unkind to recall at this point that the rating agencies have been in the vanguard of those telling politicians to pile austerity on austerity, and threatening an instant downgrade for anyone that dared even think about Keynes’s paradox of thrift.
S&P, after all, has also offered us a second searing revelation: the threat to sovereign solvency is not simply a reflection of the deficits and debts of individual states. No. There is also a problem of European governance. The process is cumbersome. The 17 euro zone states struggle to take quick, decisive action.
No one who has watched Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and the rest stumble from summit to Brussels summit for the best part of two years could possibly have guessed that the effort to reconcile domestic politics with euro zone economics had thrown up the odd snag. Could they?
I don’t share Mr. Sarkozy’s paranoia about Anglo-Saxon conspiracies to insult France and wreck the single currency. Doesn’t Fitch, anyway, have a French connection? French ministers do themselves few favours when they suggest they would be quite happy with a dud rating if only Britain was also relegated. No, the question is why, after their ill-starred role in bringing the financial house down, does anyone still take the agencies even faintly seriously?
Mr. Sarkozy is author of his own embarrassment. He treated a triple-A rating as an emblem of national virility. His presidency, he is said to have confided, would be “dead” if France were downgraded. All this bestowed on S&P an authority out of all proportion to its worth.
These are the same organizations that stamped triple-A on the billions upon billions of dollars in junk credit that brought us the financial crash. It must have been coincidental that the banks bundling up this debt were a fast-growing source of business for the agencies. What was it one S&P employee said in a private e-mail when journalists asked awkward questions back in 2007? “We sound like the Nixon White House.” Given what happened next, the former U.S. president might have considered that something of a slur.
While Mr. Sarkozy kept a sullen silence, Mario Monti offered a grown-up response to the downgrades. The Italian prime minister said he could scarcely welcome a triple-B rating. As for S&P’s diagnosis of Italy’s economic challenges, though, it was no more than a rehash of his own publicly stated views.
The irony is that on the separate question hanging over the euro zone’s capacity to come up with credible answers to the crisis, S&P may well have got it wrong. Again.
Only a fool would say that the euro zone has found a route out of the sovereign debt minefields. There are plenty of potential explosions ahead, not least the possibility of a disorderly Greek default. But it is striking that in the wake of the downgrades, borrowing rates have fallen slightly. S&P has missed a discernible shift in the political dynamic of the crisis. What seemed a few months ago well beyond the collective will of governments now begins to look at least possible.
Ms. Merkel has found political space. Hard-line opponents of any bailout have fought themselves to exhaustion. Berlin is ready to countenance a boost to the firepower of the new European Stability Mechanism. Ms. Merkel can never call on the European Central Bank to act as a lender of last resort to governments, but she seems content with the ECB’s strategy of indirect support through the banking system. German officials also talk about changing the political psychology of the crisis by offering light at the end of the austerity tunnel.
This reflects the progress toward a fiscal compact between the 17 euro zone states. Next week’s European Union summit is expected to endorse a new treaty to turn the compact into law. The entrenchment of fiscal rectitude across the euro zone weakens critics who argue Germany is bailing out feckless southern Europeans.
The speed with which Mr. Monti has set about reform in Italy has had something of the same effect. Italy now has a serious government with things to say about economic policy. Mr. Monti gets a hearing in Berlin. It would be a stretch to say that this adds up yet to the beginning of a virtuous cycle in the politics of the crisis. But governments may be breaking out of the vicious one in which they have been trapped.
As for S&P, perhaps we should not be overly punitive. After all, all the other villains of the crash have got away scot-free. The second thing I keep hearing, though, is that we must still take the agencies seriously because they remain embedded in the global financial system. Shouldn’t we just downgrade them? Junk would do.
Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

Praise for last State of the Union Address by Obama in election year

By Konrad Yakabuski, Globe and Mail, January 25, 2012
“Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires,” Mr. Obama said. “You can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”

The speech – which included proposals to revitalize U.S. manufacturing, help distressed homeowners and invest more in green energy, infrastructure and job training – laid out the themes of Mr. Obama’s re-election pitch against a Republican opposition hostile to government intervention, income redistribution and tax increases.
“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” the President said, “or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”...
“When I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income, or a student trying to get through school, or a family trying to make ends meet,” the President said. “That’s not right.”

The cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s “fair shot” proposals – which recall Mr. Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Fair Deal of Mr. Truman – is the so-called Buffet Rule that would set a minimum 30-per-cent tax rate for millionaires. The idea was inspired by billionaire Warren Buffett, who lamented that he paid a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.
Immediately following the speech, former Bush Press Secretary, Ari Fleisher, said on CNN that he did not like the speech because it consisted mainly of "spending other people's money" although he patronizingly gave Obama credit for capturing and taking out  Osama bin Laden. It was nothing of the kind, and Mr. Fleisher knows better. His words are another example of the king of political rhetoric that plagues the U.S. political bowel obstruction, generated by his Republican friends.
Balancing the budget, reducing the debt and deficit and growing the American economy will happen, according to economists of both "left" and "right" colourations, if a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy.
Warren Buffet, himself, has called for a higher rate of tax on millionaires and billionaires. His secretary, who pays approximately 30% in taxes was seated in the gallery with Michelle Obama, the President's wife. Capital gains taxes on investments run, on average, around 15% for the most wealthy in America, whereas those rates were between 25 and 30% under Ronald Reagan in the 1980's. Also sitting with Mrs. Obama was another woman, previously out of work, who with the help of a partnership between Siemens corporation and a community college, has retrained and is back in the workforce, demonstrating a model the president believes could apply in all 50 states.
While the theme of "taxing the rich" was certainly present, front and centre in the speech, so was the president's commitment to take action with or without the support of what has become an obstructionist congress. Also clearly evident was:
  • the White House commitment to generate jobs in new and clean energy,
  • to generate jobs in repairing crumbling infrastructure, 
  • to confront the immigration nightmare that sends graduates home following university, 
  • to stop tax breaks for companies that ship jobs out of America
  • to reward companies who create jobs at home through tax breaks and incentives
  • to provide tax and other incentives for small business entrepreneurs to grow new businesses
  • to level the playing field for all Americans by making rules to prevent another Wall Street fiasco
  • to continue to renew America's reputation among world countries and leaders
  • to lower the interest rate on student loans to make college more affordable for all 
  • to maintain a strong military while cutting $500 million from the defence budget
  • to create a special unit in the Attorney General's office to examine critically how and why the housing crisis occurred and to prevent its recurrence 
  • to continue prosecuting other countries when the "trade" playing field is not level
  • to challenge Congress to take one half of the money released by withdrawal from Iraq and pay down the debt/deficit and take the other half and generate infrastructure projects and thereby jobs 
  • to require full disclosure of all chemicals used in "fracking" of natural gas
  • to require all secondary school students to remain in school until graduation or their eighteenth birthday
And, running for more than an hour, and having republican speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, call it boring for that, the speech provided those who want to move America forward and further into recovery, initiatives on so many fronts that the speech has to be seen as comprehensive, (and not "small bore," as David Brooks dubbed it on PBS), imaginative, courageous and "presidential" in the context of what has become his do-nothing, obstruct on everything Republican political opponents, who seek through their obstruction, to "make Obama a one-term president" in the words of the Senate majority leader.
The U.S., North America and the global chaos need both the experience and the imagination and the steady, but firm hand, of President Obama for the next four years, and Americans can be proud of their President, as the rest of the world is grateful.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Anxiety vs fear....distinguish and confront in a safe place

By Joseph Ledoux, New York Times, January 22, 2012

You are taking a walk in the woods ― pleasant, invigorating, the sun shining through the leaves. Suddenly, a rattlesnake appears at your feet. You experience something at that moment. You freeze, your heart rate shoots up and you begin to sweat ― a quick, automatic sequence of physical reactions. That reaction is fear.
Human anxiety is greatly amplified by our ability to imagine the future, and our place in it.
.A week later, you are taking the same walk again. Sunshine, pleasure, but no rattlesnake. Still, you are worried that you will encounter one. The experience of walking through the woods is fraught with worry. You are anxious.
This simple distinction between anxiety and fear is an important one in the task of defining and treating of anxiety disorders, which affect many millions of people and account for more visits to mental health professionals each year than any of the other broad categories of psychiatric disorders.
Scientists generally define fear as a negative emotional state triggered by the presence of a stimulus (the snake) that has the potential to cause harm, and anxiety as a negative emotional state in which the threat is not present but anticipated. We sometimes confuse the two: When someone says he is afraid he will fail an exam or get caught stealing or cheating, he should, by the definitions above, be saying he is anxious instead.
But the truth is, the line between fear and anxiety can get pretty thin and fuzzy. If you saw the abovementioned snake at a particular rock on the path of your walk, and are now at that spot, the rock may stand in for the snake and elicit fear, even though the snake itself is nowhere to be found. In modern life, many fear states are like this — they are brought on by things, signposts or signals that stand for harm rather than things that are truly harmful. After the Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, many New Yorkers felt uneasy at the sound of low flying airplanes.
How do things come to symbolize threats? Remember Pavlov’s dog? When the bell rang the dog salivated because the bell had previously been rung as the dog was being fed (actually, it wasn’t a bell, but no matter). The dog’s brain formed an association between the sound and the food, and the sound came to elicit salivation in preparation for the imminent food. As the snake and Sept. 11 examples above illustrate, the same thing happens in dangerous situations.
Language purists like to use the appropriate word to describe a situation. Those whose detailed attention to the choice of words is more casual, clearly the norm, generate confusion not only about the difference between fear and anxiety, but also about other equally different and separate categories of experience.
However, those language purists are considered "anal" by many of those in the "casual" category, and vocabulary is considered satisfactory if and when it conveys the general drift.
In the beginning was the word, and the word became flesh...a quote from scripture that has heavy freight in many of our human experiences two thousand years after the words were recorded. Many of the words we use actually become precursers to our experience. In other words, how we conceive, perceive an event to develop can play a significant role in how that specific event does actually unfold.
Failing to separate fear from anxiety, and then failing to confront our own history of both, in the current context, can only exacerbate both fear and anxiety, turning the latter into the former, without anything actually occurring.
We can slip and slide from anxiety into fear in the blink of an eye, and make the progression unconsciously.
It is only in bringing both the words and the pictures associated with those words to our consciousness that we begin to reduce the power of both fear and anxiety to levels that we can accommodate.
And, only if and when we begin to confront a culture that denigrates both the experience of anxiety and of fear as "for wimps only" will both men and women begin to interact on something more akin to a level playing field. And that would be a gift for both genders, and a significant loss of revenue and need for pharmaceutical companies and their products.