Friday, March 30, 2012

Three candidates for President of World Bank....U.S. nominee likely

By Annie Lowrey, New York Times, March 29, 2012
For the first time, the World Bank is considering more than one candidate for its five-year presidency — a change that reflects the fast-growing clout of emerging economies, even as it raises questions over whether that change is coming quickly enough.
Experts say that victory is all but assured for the American nominee, Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College and an expert in global health. But emerging and developing economies are rallying behind Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the 57-year-old Nigerian finance minister, and José Antonio Ocampo, the former Colombian finance minister and high-ranking United Nations official, who is 59.
The World Bank’s 25-member board will interview all three candidates in the coming weeks and plans to announce its new president by the I.M.F.-World Bank meetings in mid-April. Robert B. Zoellick, the current president, will step down at the end of June.
Ms. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Ocampo have won the endorsement of a group of developing economies. And the United States is weathering criticism for the time-honored gentlemen’s agreement that ensures its control of the World Bank, even if the institution’s presidential selection process is opening up.
“For all its virtues, this nomination and its predetermined success reflects how global governance continues to lag behind shifting economic realities,” said Eswar S. Prasad, a professor at Cornell and an expert on international institutions. “Domestic politics has again trumped true multilateralism.”
Global health experts largely applauded Dr. Kim’s nomination, and he has scooped up the endorsement of a number of prominent commentators, like the development economist Jeffrey Sachs. Europe is expected to back him in that the United States supported the candidacy of Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister, for managing director of the International Monetary Fund last year.
Ms. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Ocampo were carefully vetted and specifically chosen for their long résumés and expertise in development and international economic negotiation. African governments lobbied the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, to encourage Ms. Okonjo-Iweala to run; the Group of 11 emerging economies pushed for Mr. Ocampo.
Ms. Okonjo-Iweala was a World Bank managing director — working directly beneath the president — from 2007 until last July. In Nigeria, she has fought to reduce the country’s debt, gain greater access to international credit markets and battle corruption.
Mr. Ocampo served as finance minister and the head of the Colombian central bank, and led the arm of the United Nations that facilitates economic development.
In an interview, Mr. Ocampo expressed some initial hesitancy to enter the race, given the odds. “It is a relatively unbalanced competition,” he said with a laugh.
But he said his four decades of experience in development and international policy made him an excellent candidate. “I thought the developing-country candidates who were suitable for the job should be in the race,” he said. “I felt a responsibility to put a stone in the road toward a democratic process.”
Speaking by telephone from New Delhi, where she was attending the BRICS meeting of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala also called for a merit-based, transparent selection process, suggesting a televised debate for herself, Mr. Ocampo and Dr. Kim.

Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College and an expert in global health.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the 57-year-old Nigerian finance minister,
José Antonio Ocampo, the former Colombian finance minister and high-ranking United Nations official, who is 59.

While this competition is unlikely to produce a World Bank President from the third world, (given both the power and the tradition that the U.S. has exerted on the institution), nevertheless, the fact that other countries are rallying around other candidates, without in any way disdaining the nomination of the Dartmouth College president, is a sure sign of the growing muscle, confidence and influence of the third world.
And that can only be a healthy development for all of us.
We do not need, nor do we crave or embrace so readily as we perhaps once did, an American super-hero on the stage of global economics, trade, manufacturing, and political decision-making.
While there's has been and will continue to be an important and mostly positive contribution to the world's governance, the United States is facing a significant change, even transformation, in the degree of influence it has and will have in the near and medium future, and perhaps forever.
As emerging countries gain both in self-respect and in the quality of their national performances, there will indeed be many individuals, perhaps U.S. educated, who will mount the world stage, with dignity, with expertise and with growing support from the developed world, if that world, including especially the U.S. is able to witness the change with its own dignity, self-respect and honour in tact.
And that will be more the question to watch, than whether the emerging countries can take their rightful place on the world stage, in such august agencies as the World Bank.
We welcome the new initiatives, albeit somewhat tertiary and unlikely to succeed this time, but certainly they indicate a healthy and growing cadre of professionals from whom to select the next World Bank President. That can only bode well for that specific institution, and for world governance generally.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

We are responsible for innnovation and creativity..not government!

By Robert Roach and Todd Hirsch, Globe and Mail, March 29, 2012
Robert Roach is vice-president of research at the Canada West Foundation. Todd Hirsch is a Calgary-based senior economist at ATB Financial. They are co-authors of The Boiling Frog Dilemma.

It’s time we take more responsibility, both as individuals and as companies. If we’re not happy with our productivity, we need to change our attitudes.

The government’s job is to ensure a foundation on which an innovative, creative economy can be built. But we can’t simply wait for politicians to magically make us more innovative with a more generous tax credit or other policy carrot. Ottawa’s multibillion-dollar Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit has not been successful, and the Conservative government appears ready to take the axe to it in Thursday’s budget.
New ideas are born only through creativity and innovation; it’s these ideas that will unleash wealth-building potential and prosperity. Yet, there’s a problem. Canada is like a frog placed in a pot of cool water. But the global economy is rapidly heating up the water; if we don’t take action, we’ll end up like the complacent frog that stays in the pot and meets a terrible fate. Too many Canadians have fallen into the rut of waiting for government policy to turn down the heat. And that’s a losing strategy.
It’s possible for Canadians, and the businesses that employ them, to become more creative. But it takes serious practice and enormous effort. Innovation flows from this, and it’s not limited to the self-employed entrepreneur. Every employee in every occupation can benefit from becoming more creative and, if we all do it together, we can become the most innovative economy on the planet.
Canadians need to become more outward looking and cosmopolitan and visible on the world stage. We need to become more comfortable with risk, while learning the difference between risky and reckless. We need to learn that a green economy actually has much in common with the business doctrine of the bottom line.
We also need to learn that ideas don’t flourish in isolation: They emerge in greatest force when we’re in community with each other, rubbing ideas together. This was one of the major conclusions of the Public Policy Forum report Leading Innovation: Insights from Canadian Regions. Canadians are actually pretty clever, but it appears we’re not that great at collaboration. The report recommends more incubators and places to pull ideas together.
It’s up to Canadians to jump out of the pot. Yes, a good public policy structure is helpful, especially on reducing red tape. But not even the most generous government tax credit can make us creative, and we fool ourselves if we think it can.
Like the kid whining for an expensive hockey stick, we have to grow up and do the hard work ourselves. A creative and innovative economy is the key to prospering in a rapidly changing global economy, but it takes practice, determination and personal responsibility. We think Canadians are up to the challenge.
Canadians need to become more outward looking and cosmopolitan and visible on the world stage. We need to become more comfortable with risk, while learning the difference between risky and reckless.
Outward looking, in our view, includes becoming conscious of what is going on the world, the whole world, and Canadians are a singularly insular lot, paying very close attention to the pocketbook, the bank account, the back yard and the immediate environment, but scarcely little attention to the rest of the world, including even and sadly, research in their own field or discipline.
Doctors have to read the journals, in order to know whether or not to increase that dose of Lipitor or not, or to add a dose of Vitamin D or not, based on the latest research from around the world.
Lawyers have to read the case law, and glance over the journals to know about the general trends in their field, but their concentration comes to the fore when they are working on their own case, and the relevant case law for that case, in that jurisdiction....once again, in that jurisdiction.
Teachers, rarely, if ever, in my experience read professional research journals, about what is going on in the rest of the world, in order to be able to implement "best practices" in their own classroom. And what's more, teachers, for the most part, are caring, humanistic and reliable...and certainly not RISK takers, except for the few who venture into the third world, for their adventures in teaching. And risk-taking is one of the last cultural traits sought in new teachers, and especially in administrators for schools. The "establishment" in education is the epitome of stolidity, verging on solidity, and never veering far from the middle of the road.
Kids, as a result, drink in that culture, and take minimal risks, like "going out for the drama club, or the track club, especially if they have never tried in one of those areas. Of course, there are science fairs, in which many parents actually do the major portion of the work, so that their kids will not be embarrassed on the day of competition....Yes, I'm cynical, but that was certainly the case in the seventies and eighties, and probably still is, given the umbrella parenting that seems to have become the norm today.
Those parents might do well to re-read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, in an overt attempt to relinquish their tight grips on their children....the alternative to tight-assed parenting is not "gangs" could be imagination, innovation and experiment and some responsible risk-taking.
If the "colour-outside-the-box" muscle has never been used, there is a high likelihood that the first few times it is deployed, there will be some mistakes. And that is why we religiously show that muscle, and those seeking to grow its potential, are treated so shamefully.
It is not only the government grants that we have to ward against, in attempting to develop a national culture of innovation, experiment and risk.
And, our model does not need to be Wall Street of 2008 either.
Regimentation, in our education system serves only the system, certainly not the majority of students, and especially the male students. Compliance, as measure of a student's potential in university, is a reductionism of both the university and those students. Late slips, rigorous detention assignments, most discipline administered in an unimaginative manner, because we must have "control".....and so we sell out the spirit of the school to placate the idol of political correctness.
My best and most enjoyable students were always those who "provoked" my classes with their penetration questions, observations, witticisms, ironic and satiric wit and their sardonic scepticism.
Whenever they permitted themselves to "be real" and "speak their mind" the class became electric, sparkling with energy, engagement and learning....and my role was facilitator and guide. For the most part, I tried to get out of the way of the flow of the argument, the debate, the discussion and the involvement to keep it going.
We need to change our "model" for both teacher education and hiring...from boring and predictable to exciting and unpredictable...and then maybe, just maybe, the innovation that we seek might be able to emerge from the learning cocoons the public pays for, without paying the least attention to whether they are getting their money's worth.
We also need to examine our attitudes to eccentricities and those who demonstrate them. We need to "let up" on our critical parents, our judges and our control freak attitudes....especially when we are speaking with the young. They need to know that eccentricity is not evil; that is not even distasteful.
And perhaps if and when we begin to unwrap our tight fists, we will incubate both innovation and risk-taking....and dramatically reduce the profits of the pharmaceutical companies.
Let's try it...what we're doing now certainly isn't working!

Chicago Mayor Emanuel proves politicians can "get things done"....

By John Schwartz, New York Times, March 29, 2012
Chicago is embarking on a $7 billion plan to transform the city’s infrastructure from the skies above to the pipes underground.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is planning to announce the initiative Thursday. It includes projects to expand the city’s largest airport and improve its streets, water system, schools, community colleges, parks and commuter rail network. The city estimates that these initiatives will create 30,000 jobs over the next three years.
At a time when the nation is only beginning to pull itself painfully and delicately out of a deep recession, and when cities and states are cutting essential services and wondering how to keep the courthouses open and the lights on, an infrastructure proposal for a single city with an estimated cost in the billions — with a “b” — is audacious. Mr. Emanuel, in an interview, suggested that nothing less than this “integrated, comprehensive approach” will do for what he calls “building a new Chicago.”
With the plan, Chicago is taking a leading role among cities and states struggling to keep their infrastructure from crumbling further but frustrated with legislative gridlock in Washington, said Robert Puentes, director of the metropolitan infrastructure initiative at the Brookings Institution.
“There is tremendous interest in doing something different — people aren’t waiting for the federal government to raise the gasoline tax or pass the carbon tax and have money raining down,” he said. He cited successful campaigns in “can-do states” that include Colorado, Washington, Arizona and Virginia to finance economic development projects with public-private partnerships, and Los Angeles’ vote in support of a major transportation referendum in 2008.
Mr. Emanuel, who served in the White House in two administrations and as a member of Congress, said “I will not tie this city’s future to the dysfunction in Washington and Springfield.”
In the speech, to be delivered at the Chicagoland Laborers’ Training and Apprentice Center, Mr. Emanuel will describe the financing for the sprawling plan. Some of it will come from the newly created Chicago Infrastructure Trust, an initiative announced this month by Mayor Emanuel and former President Bill Clinton, who has long had an interest in infrastructure and energy efficiency. The fund, a nonprofit corporation, pools outside investment and applies it to a wide range of possible projects.
Other funds will come from cost cutting, some from the savings in energy and water use from retrofitting buildings, and some from user fees, but “none of these funds will come from an increase in property or sales taxes,” according to the speech. A copy was provided to The New York Times through the mayor’s office. Depending on the project, some of the investment would be paid back through interest on loans, others through profit sharing.
Still, economic development efforts in the past have tended to disappoint, Mr. Puentes noted, because they tended to pay businesses to relocate or threw money into projects like stadiums. Some public-private partnership projects have been criticized as giveaways to the private businesses that take them over — including two prominent cases in Chicago itself, the privatized Chicago Skyway and the city’s parking meter system, which obligate the city to leases that span generations. Mr. Emanuel says that the city has learned an important lesson, and that “I am not leasing anything,” or selling off the city’s assets, he said in an interview. “I’m using private capital to improve a public entity that stays public.”
The investments, by any measure, are enormous, and they are intended to tackle enormous problems for this aging city. “You can’t have a 21st-century economy on a 20th-century foundation without holding yourself back,” Mr. Emanuel said. The projects include $1 billion for the Chicago Transit Authority to renovate more than 100 stations and eliminate “slow zones” that cost riders an estimated 11,000 hours of delays every day. O’Hare International Airport will receive $1.4 billion over the next three years to expand capacity.
Underground, the city will take on the challenge of fixing its water system, which suffered 3,800 leaks last year. That means replacing 900 miles of pipe that is more than 100 years old and replacing or relining 750 miles of sewer lines, among other projects estimated at $1.4 billion. Projects would be coordinated so that a street dug up to repair pipes could get broadband cables and other work done at the same time so that the streets would not be resurfaced only to be dug up again soon after.
Mr. Emanuel served in Congress and as White House Chief of Staff for President Obama, prior to this stint as Mayor of the swashbuckling city of Chicago, after a mini-dynasty of Daleys as mayor.
Now only is his going to retrofit the infrastructure, he is also going to bring Chicago schools into the 21st century (less than half of the students graduate currently!) and balance the budget, but he is going to prove that politics and politicians can and do get things done.
It would seem that the Mayor, who formerly served in the Israeli army, and also studied ballet, has caught the essence of the famous city, made legendary by the American poet Carl Sandburg:


HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Emanuel was constantly reminded by his father, "Just get it done!" when he was growing up. Brothers who work as doctors and executives in the film industry, along with their "blue-mouth" brother the Mayor who clashed with Hillary Clinton in the Obama administration for his abrasive and vulgar approach to both issues and people illustrate the old maxim, 'this acorn did not fall far from the tree".
We say a hearty "congratulations" to the Mayor of Chicago. Who really cares if you want to be the next governor of Illinois? If you get even 75% of this ambitious plan completed, on time and within budget, you will be in line for the thanks of the people of your city...and many others who might just take a page from your interesting and colourful book.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Welcome to our first readers from Mauritius Islands!!

Mauritius Islands can be described as 'the paradise on earth'. The name Mauritius islands conjures up vibrant images of pristine beaches, blue sea with a backdrop of beautiful mountain ranges, lush green vegetation and exotic places of tourist attractions.

Mauritius Islands or the Republic of Mauritius is located in the middle of Indian Ocean. Spread over an approximate land area of 2,040 square kilometers the island is located within the geographical co-ordinates of 20.17 degrees South and 57.33 degrees East. The geographical location of Mauritius has influenced its climate. Climate of Mauritius Islands is essentially tropical characterized by warm, hot and humid summers and cold winters. Mauritius archipelago comprises of two islands. First is Mauritius, and the other island is Rodriguez located some 500 kilometers away from the main island. Peak tourist season in Mauritius is during the Christmas and New Year Period. Apart from that, the best time to visit Mauritius is from July to September.

Trayvon Martin: martyr, victim and symbol of racial bigotry forever..will there be charges?

By Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail, March 27, 2012
Last month, a 17-year-old black kid named Trayvon Martin was shot dead in a gated Florida community by a self-styled neighbourhood vigilante. The teenager, who was unarmed, had gone to the convenience store to buy some candy. Astonishingly, the police didn’t bother to arrest the shooter, a 28-year-old white Hispanic named George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman – who, by some accounts, chased the teenager down the street – said he’d acted in self-defence.

Trayvon’s death was an outrage. But nobody paid much attention until Jesse Jackson took it up. Now the case has reignited all the bitter old debates about racism in America.

To many people, Trayvon’s death is the modern-day version of a lynching. It’s proof, if any more is needed, that racism is alive and well. Jesse Jackson called him a “martyr.” Black leaders are comparing him to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for supposedly whistling at a white woman. Al Sharpton accused the Sanford, Fla., police department of a “reckless disregard for black lives.”
Even Barack Obama weighed in. How could he not? He refused to address the issue of lingering racism head-on. But he did frame the issue as a parent. “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” he said last week. “I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen.”
It would be naive to think race played no part in Trayvon’s death. As every black American knows, racial stereotyping is a fact of life, and young black males in hoodies live under a constant cloud of suspicion. But the real villain isn’t racism in America. It’s Florida’s noxious Stand Your Ground law – aided and abetted by an incompetent local police department that did nothing.
The Stand Your Ground law is a product of America’s crazy gun culture. It allows anyone to shoot anyone else in “self-defence” if they feel threatened. Critics call it a licence to kill under a variety of suspect circumstances. More than 20 states now have such laws, which have been used to justify killings ranging from drug dealers’ turf wars to lethal incidents of road rage. Since the law was introduced in Florida, the rate of justifiable homicides has tripled. Former Miami police chief John Timoney calls it a “recipe for disaster.”
But when it comes to racial politics, the Stand Your Ground law is irrelevant. Black Americans and white Americans experience two different versions of reality. In one version, black men are stopped, frisked, shot and jailed in overwhelming disproportion to their numbers. “It’s a feeling of being degraded,” said former New York governor David Paterson, the first black to hold that job; he says he’s been stopped three times by police. In the other version, the face of crime in America is overwhelmingly black on black. In New York City, according to a New York Times op-ed based on reports filed by victims in 2009, blacks made up 23 per cent of the population but accounted for 80 per cent of the gun crimes.
The racism that infects the very soul of the United States hit me one day back in 1999, three years after I arrived as a vicar in a rural Colorado mission of the Episcopal church. In a seemingly offhand comment, I was reminded by a lawyer-member of the congregation, a white female in her fifties, "If you had arrived here with a black wife, you would not have been given the job as vicar!"
Just the Christmas season prior to this tiny bomb, I was approached by one of the members of the congregation with a question: "Would my niece's boyfriend from Denver be welcome at Christmas services this year? You might like to know that he is black!"
"Why, of course, he would be welcome, and might I ask, why did you consider it necessary to ask that question!" I replied quickly and without reservation.
"Oh, I was just wondering," came her lame response.
Apparently, the boyfriend did not feel welcome enough because he did not attend any of the services, during my stay in the tiny mining town mission on the western slope of the Continental Divide.
This was a town in which the half-ton trucks bore signs on their rear bumpers that read:
                                    This vehicle insured by Smith and Wesson!...
and a rack of rifles hung, loaded in the cab window, suchb was the strength of the NRA (National Rifle Association) the main lobbying agency behind the "Stand Your Ground" law that infects over two dozen states statute books.
As an "alien" and so named by all locals, since I came from Canada, I felt the racism that is rampant and directed to those "aliens" who are not native born. Let's not forget that the U.S. continues to forbid anyone not born in their borders to become president, so parochial are the country's attitudes, even in the 21st century.

Will Netanyahu comply with Israel's Supreme Court on illegal outpost?

Editorial, New York Times, March 27, 2012
Israel’s Supreme Court made an important contribution to justice and kept alive hope for a two-state solution with the Palestinians, when it ruled this week that Migron, an illegal outpost built by Israeli settlers, must be dismantled by Aug. 1. Now it is up to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to comply promptly, while making clear to the settlers that violent resistance will not be tolerated.

The outpost, which houses 50 families, was started a decade ago in the West Bank near the city of Ramallah. It is among the largest of dozens of enclaves that — unlike the 120 full-blown settlements in the West Bank — even the Israeli government considers illegal because they were constructed without authorization. Yet the government has abetted their expansion, rather than dismantling them, as Israel long ago promised the United States in preparation for a two-state solution.
The case was brought by Palestinians, represented by an Israeli lawyer, and Peace Now, a group that opposes settlements as an obstacle to peace. Last August, the Supreme Court ruled that Migron was built on private Palestinian land and ordered the outpost dismantled by the end of March. The justices said there was “no justification for preserving the illegal situation and continued violation of Palestinian property rights.”
Instead of complying, Mr. Netanyahu negotiated a deal with the settlers that would let them stay in Migron until 2015. After that, they were to be moved to a newly built alternative community nearby. The Supreme Court rejected that deal and rightly chided the government for failing to dismantle Migron per the earlier court decision. “This is a necessary component of the rule of law to which all are subject as part of Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state,” the court said.
This case has broad implications. Under any plausible scenario, Migron and its environs deep in the West Bank are envisioned as part of a Palestinian State. The settlers should be relocated to existing settlements or as close to the Green Line as possible — all areas that are assumed to become part of Israel if there is ever a peace agreement.
Palestinians are despairing that the number of settlements and outposts are expanding so fast that they could soon preclude any chance of a two-state solution. If that is the point, Israel’s own hopes for a peaceful and secure future are seriously at risk.
When even the Israeli Supreme Court orders this settlement closed, the case having been brought by the Palestinians, then outsiders have to wonder if and why the Prime Minister might bock at implementing their decision.
Is he opposed to a two-state solution?
Is he buying time, while juggling his options on Iran?
Is he digging in his heels to retain some kind of political power, superior to that of the Court?
What possible motive might restrain the Prime Minister in this instance?

Obama's Health Care Act goes to Supreme Court today...will the mandate survive?

By Kevin Sack, New York Times, March 27, 2012
After a day punctuated by seeming skepticism from Supreme Court conservatives about the constitutionality of requiring Americans to buy health insurance, the justices will turn their attention on Wednesday to how much of the 2010 health care law might survive if they strike down that mandate.
If the court invalidates the insurance requirement, the White House and a divided Congress would be left to pick up the pieces. Their first steps toward finding alternatives to reduce the number of uninsured in the country — nearly 50 million, or one in six Americans — would depend heavily on how far the Supreme Court goes, and on the balance of power in Washington after the November elections.
Lower courts that have ruled against the insurance mandate have adopted a spectrum of positions. Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., who first ruled in the case now before the Supreme Court, invalidated the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, writing that the insurance mandate could not be legally separated from the rest of the expansive law. He stayed that judgment until the law could be reviewed by higher courts.
The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta upheld Judge Vinson’s invalidation of the insurance mandate. But it significantly scaled back the impact by concluding that only the mandate itself would die.
The Obama administration will argue on Wednesday for a middle ground that is driven by economic assumptions as well as legal analysis. If the mandate falls, the Justice Department has said, two politically popular provisions must die naturally with it — those that prohibit insurers from declining coverage or charging higher premiums because of pre-existing medical conditions.
The economic argument is that it would be unreasonable to expect health insurers to cover the sickest Americans if the healthiest ones are not required to pay for coverage and broaden the actuarial pool. “If you are told that you can buy insurance anytime, you would wait until you got sick and buy it en route to the hospital,” said Neal K. Katyal, the former acting solicitor general, who argued the health care case before the 11th Circuit.
But there also is a clear political component to linking the insurance mandate to the insurance regulations. A poll taken this month by The New York Times and CBS News found that while more Americans disapprove than approve of the law’s insurance requirement, the abolition of pre-existing condition exclusions is wildly popular, with 85 percent saying they supported it.
The health care law began requiring that insurers cover children regardless of their health in September 2010, but the ban would not apply to adults until 2014.
In court on Wednesday, the challengers to the law will argue that the entire act must fall along with the mandate. The court has appointed an outside lawyer, H. Bartow Farr III, to argue the 11th Circuit’s position, that the mandate could fall alone.
Massachusetts has a law similar to the one passed in Washington, including individual mandates, and when the federal law was being debated, that model was considered a moderate compromise between the full single payer, government sponsored and operated, universal access model (as in Canada) and the more "private enterprise" model, the favourite of the Republican party, operated exclusively by the insurance companies.
With some 50 million uninsured in the U.S. there will be strong political pressure to find a way to "cover" those people, should the individual mandate be rendered unconstitutional. And the question seems to be that old chest-nut, that the government cannot require the citizen to purchase anything, even if that purchase helps to sustain a national program where prior conditions cannot be used by the insurance companies to deny coverage. It is really only by requiring individual mandates that a national health care system can be fully sustained economically.
Everyone will be watching Justice Kennedy, given his reputation as the "swing" vote on many issues, and the otherwise evenly divided court among the remaining eight.
Like others, we urge the Supreme Court to find the mandate legally acceptable and permit the law to continue its staged implementation, already having provided health care for young people under 26 who are still living 'under their parents' care'.
Another interesting piece of the existing law is that for those who have no money, the federal government will subsidize their purchase of health care insurance, for those up to 4 times the poverty level, and as these people start to earn income, the government subsidy will decline. I wonder how many people know about this humane and rational provision.
The U.S. touts its earned reputation as an innovator, and as an economic magnet for both investors and entrepreneurs, and such a reputation is and will only be enhanced by a national health care program that, far from enhancing the "nanny state" among those 'red necks' who despised all aspects of government intervention, instead provides the kind of coverage that helps to sustain the entrepreneurial ventures and the families that depend on their success, without adding the burder of uncertain health care, in whatever kind of emergency.
We have already seen how capacious and voracious are the private insurers through the many stories of denied coverage, and family tragedy, due to pre-existing conditions. We have also seen the stories of individuals who have to choose between food/rent for their families and health care access, and, of course, their lives have been significantly reduced and sometimes even lost, in that quagmire.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Annan's Syrian Accord toothless....thanks to China and Russia

By Patrick Martin, Globe and Mail, March 27, 2012
The key to the success of Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Plan unveiled today lies in what is not said in the scheme: At no point does the plan call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down or delegate power.

This is in sharp contrast to earlier Arab League proposals, endorsed by the UN Security Council, that were far more judgmental and called for Mr. al-Assad to cede at least some of his powers to his vice-president in order to negotiate his transition from office.
Instead, the Annan plan calls only for a commitment by Syria to stop the fighting, to allow humanitarian assistance to reach victims, to release detainees more quickly, to allow journalists into the country, to respect freedom to demonstrate peacefully and to initiate a dialogue for political reform.

Even those points are gently worded. For example, Syria “should” cease troop movements toward population centres and “should” end the use of heavy weapons, and should “begin” the pullback of military concentrations. All this leaves ample room for Syrian interpretation.
As for negotiating Syria’s future political system, the Annan points call only for Syria to “commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the envoy [Mr. Annan].”
All this makes the scheme much more acceptable to Mr. al-Assad and to his allies in Moscow and Beijing, all of whom rejected the idea that Damascus was getting all the blame and the opposition militants none at all.
Getting all these people to sign up was deemed necessary as a starting point by Mr. Annan, and as acceptable by Washington, London and Paris, the other permanent members (along with Moscow and Paris) of the Security Council.
Indeed, people with personal knowledge of Mr. al- Assad say such an approach is the only way to bring about political reform, including democratizing the presidency, and pushing Mr. al-Assad to step down.
A former senior Syrian official, now critical of the regime, says Mr. al-Assad will never just leave office and hand the keys over to the opposition. “It’s unrealistic to expect that,” the former official said recently. “There would be chaos.”
This kid-glove entente is hardly worth the work that Mr. Annan has put into it. If mollifying China and Russia are the goal, then Mr. Annan has succeeded. If mollifying Assad, then Mr. Annan has succeeded once again.
However, if the ultimate sacrifice of over 8,000 Syrians through the brutality of the Assad regime is to have any real meaning, then clearly Mr. Annan has failed. Those lives have, by the stroke of the pen, become merely collateral damage, and Russia and China must be held accountable for that "oversight".
And it is clearly not an "oversight." By holding onto the construct that the Syrian government must not bear ALL the blame for the massacre, China and Russia have merely protected themselves from similar uprisings, and international scorn an contempt for any intervention by the state, no matter how brutal that intervention.
That Syria "should" do this or that, as the agreement is reported to be worded, is like telling a rebellious teen he "should" stay in school...only to learn later that he has become another casuality of the education and social services systems and become a convicted felon.
If diplomacy is to have any respect, the primary quality for any population to withold contravention of the law, it must genenrate confidence among the world's leaders. How could this agreement meet that smell test?
With all due respect to Mr. Annan, who undoubtedly did his best to craft an agreement that would "fly", we are left with an agreement similar to a paper airplane, able to fly long enough to capture a single day of headlines and perhaps even a single still photo, but destined for the trash heap with the first drop of rain, or public scrutiny.
Is the U.N. afraid of both Russia and China, with respect to how much muscle it is able to "lever" when the going gets really rough and thousands of individual lives have already been lost.
How many more will die under the shackles of this tyrannical regime, while the world sips its martinis in the corridors of power, congratulating Mr. Annan for his brilliant work?

Landis: Muslim Brotherhood New Covenant: Political Authority emanates from people not God

By Josh Landis on Syria Comment, March 26, 2012
The Muslim Brotherhood has issued new Covenant. It is being praised widely on the Gulf TV stations by Christians such as Michel Kilo and others. They say that the Muslim Brotherhood has now embraced the notion that political authority emanates from the people and not from God. Human law should be the arbiter of human affairs and not divine law. Sharia is finished for the Muslim Brothers, who state that they embrace equality of all citizens without distinction between religions or gender. Although they neglect to state it outright, they leave open the possibility that a Christian, Alawi, or Druze could have the constitutional right to be president of Syria.

A dirty “Google translation” of the most important paragraphs of the new charter give this:
This iCovenant and Charter has a national vision, and common denominators, adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and provides the basis for a new social contract, establishes the relationship between national contemporary and safe, among the components of the Syrian society, with all its religious, sectarian, ethnic, and intellectual trends and political rights. Adhere to the Muslim Brotherhood to work to be Syria’s future:
1 – A modern civil state, based on a civil constitution, emanating from the will of the people of the Syrian people, based on national consensus, established by a constituent assembly which must be freely and fairly elected, and protect the fundamental rights of individuals and groups from any abuse or excesses, and to ensure equitable representation of all components of society.
2 – State of deliberative democracy, pluralism, according to the highest conclusion reached by the modern human thought, with a republican parliamentary system of government, which the people choose their representatives and governed, through the ballot box, in the elections free, fair and transparent.
3 – State of citizenship and equality, where all citizens are equal, with different ethnic backgrounds and religions, sects and attitudes, based on the principle which shall be the basis of citizenship rights and duties, any citizen access to the highest positions, based on the bases of the election or efficiency. As even where men and women, human dignity and to be eligible, and enjoy the full women’s rights. …
7. A state that respects the institutions, based on the separation of powers, legislative, judicial and executive branches, the officials in the service of the people. ….
9. State of justice and the rule of law, no place for hatred, where there is no room for revenge or retaliation .. Even those who contaminated their hands with the blood of the people, of any class they are, it is entitled to fair trials before impartial judiciary free and independent. …
There are only a few phrases that raise some concern. One is the statement, that the new state will be “committed to human rights – as endorsed by heavenly religions and international conventions – of dignity, equality, and freedom of thought and expression…. equal opportunities, social justice, and to provide basic needs to live decently. …”
Here the covenant defines human rights to be “as endorsed by ‘heavenly religions” — كما أقرتها الشرائع السماوية والمواثيق الدولية – - The definition of human rights provided by the “heavenly religions” is a bit problematic. The “heavenly” religions are the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Their divine books were revealed from the heavens by God. The other religions of the world are defined by Islam to be “non-heavenly.” See my article:
“Islamic Education in Syria: Undoing Secularism,” by Joshua Landis in Eleanor Doumato and Gregory Starrett, Eds., Teaching Islam: Textbooks and Religion in the Middle East, London & Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007, pp. 177–196.
Here is a quote from the section of my article that deals with the “non-heavenly” religions of the world as they are defined in Syria’s school texts that are used to instruct all Syrian Muslims in the principles of religion.
Atheists and Pagans
At the very bottom of the hierarchy beneath the revealed religions of the “people of the book,” are the belief systems of the rest of humanity, who are categorized as “Atheists and Pagans.” Only one paragraph is devoted to them in the twelve years of Syrian schooling and it is tucked away in the ninth grade religion text under the subtitle, “Islam Fights Paganism and Atheism.” It explains that “pagans are those who worship something other than God, and atheists are those who deny the existence of God.” Islam must fight these two belief systems because they “are an assault to both instinct and truth.” We are told that these belief systems “contradict the principle of freedom of belief.” This is because “Islam gives freedom of belief only within the limits of the divine path,” which “means a religion descended from heaven.” Because pagan religions were not revealed by God, they are considered an “inferior” form of belief that reflects an “animal consciousness.” How should Muslims deal with these peoples who comprise half of humanity? Students are instructed that “Islam accepts only two choices for Pagans: that they convert to Islam or be killed (9:128).” The Islam of Syrian texts does not have a happy formula for dealing with non-believers. Perhaps in recognition of this failing, the ministry of education has buried a mere six sentences on the subject into the middle of its ninth grade text.
But the new Muslim Brotherhood covenant does not define human rights only by reference to the revealed religions, it also references “international conventions.” If the MB is serious about accepting humans to be the source of national government and laws and not God or Sharia law, this is very important. The Syrian opposition is struggling to come up with a “national” agenda that all Syrians can sign on to. The weakness of Syria’s sense of national political community has been its greatest shortcoming. Maybe Syria is becoming a nation?
Of course, we deeply welcome this move in the interest of broader acceptance by the Muslim community of "the other" in all  countries. We will be watching to see how the new charter is interpreted and implemented.

Merkel agrees to Permanent Rescue Fund for European Union

By James Kanter and Melissa Eddy, New York Times, March 26, 2012
BRUSSELS — The European Union took a big step on Monday toward building a financial firewall strong enough to prevent the spread of fiscal contagion to major economies like Spain. The move came after Germany dropped its opposition to bringing the Continent’s total bailout capacity to more than 690 billion euros ( $916 billion).
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said on Monday at a news conference in Berlin that her government remained determined that a permanent European rescue fund should be capped at 500 billion euros.
But in a big concession, she said Germany would not oppose letting that fund operate alongside a temporary fund that has aided Greece, Ireland and Portugal but still has money to lend.
German officials cautioned that many details needed to be negotiated at a two-day summit meeting of European Union finance ministers that starts on Friday in Copenhagen.
But Ms. Merkel’s statement effectively gives the green light to expanding the size of the firewall, as the United States and others have been urging.
It also shows renewed determination to shore up the stability of the euro zone while the overall European economy remains fragile and concerns are mounting about the Spanish government’s rising costs of borrowing.
Ms. Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, have long opposed expanding the bailout fund any further, as they seek to shield German taxpayers from higher liabilities. There is already widespread discontent among Germans about shouldering most of the cost of rescuing weaker European partners like Greece.
Germany also was hesitant to commit more money before countries that might eventually need assistance, including Italy and Spain, showed they were serious about removing barriers to competition and other impediments to growth, said Silvio Peruzzo, an economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland.
“The German strategy has been pretty clear,” he said. “They wanted to keep the pressure on some euro zone member states in terms of reforms.”
The money already given out in loans by the temporary bailout fund — known as the European Financial Stability Facility — was originally supposed to count against the lending power of the permanent fund when it goes into effect this summer.
But under the new flexibility indicated by Ms. Merkel, the temporary fund’s lending program might be allowed to continue without counting against the new 500-billion-euro fund, known as the European Stability Mechanism, when it goes into operation in July.
The new fund will spread the risk more evenly among the participating nations than the temporary fund, which left German taxpayers more exposed.
A permanent resuce fund, operating alongside the temporary fund, will spread the risk more evenly among more members of the European Union, and also establish the principle that, in this world, there is much more interdependence than complete independence.
It would seem that there have been several conversations between Christian Lagarde and Ms Merkel over this issue, given the earlier gap that apparently existed between them on this issue.
Now, if this "permanent rescue fund" could only be expanded to include Asia and North America, or even separate funds for each region as a beginning, we could start to see a shift in perspective among world leaders from insular self-interest to a broadened and integrated common interest in the need to solve problems of a global nature collaboratively.
Of course, in this endeavour, it will likely be the United States and to a slightly lesser degree Canada that will be stumbling blocks, given the reluctance to link their government decisions to those of any other country or group. Parochialism, under any circumstances, is no substitute for pragmatism, yet it defines much of what many Americans considered "their special status" and thereby their exemption from global initiatives. And some of the argument they use is clouded with the "small government" imperative of the increasingly loud "right".
We applaud the decision of the German Chancellor and her finance minister, and hope that the Bundestag will endorse her leadership on this issue, and that it is announced favourably in the capitals around the world putting legitimate pressure on other world leaders who steadfastly look inward at the expense of the whole world community.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fiery, 'grizzly' and combative...Will Mulcair's performance "move" Canadians?

By Daniel Leblanc and Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail, March 25, 2012
(His) former staff and colleagues insist that Mr. Mulcair loves to put up a fight for the victims of government ineffectiveness and failure, whether in opposition or in power.

He was outraged when an overpass collapsed and killed five people in Quebec, seeking stiff consequences for the parties responsible for the disaster. He took on the Quebec Corporation of Physicians over its plans to allow a doctor to practise in Montreal despite a guilty plea to sexual misconduct.
In 2006, he started waging a public battle against his own government’s plan to promote a residential development in a provincial park, eventually leaving his cabinet position over the spat with Premier Jean Charest.
“He is very charming but if you get in the way of his principles, he can be a deadly killer. He’ll go for the jugular,” said Pierre Paradis, a veteran Liberal MNA in Quebec City.
Mr. Mulcair now vows to transform the NDP by ensuring that its core message is adapted to reflect regional realities, as the party already did in Quebec after he was first elected to the House in 2007, leading to last year’s Orange Wave. He is looking for growth in the Greater Toronto Area and provinces like Saskatchewan, now dominated by the ruling Conservatives.
One of his priorities is to rewrite the NDP’s constitution, including its preamble that talks of “democratic socialism,” boldly stating that his party’s traditional messaging can be repellent to non-traditional party supporters. His call showcases his political pragmatism, honed over almost two decades in the National Assembly and the House of Commons, which is certainly new in a party long wed to ideology.
His plans as leader are not so much to rewrite NDP policy as to improve the party’s organization and to tweak its messaging for the 21st century.
“We have to refresh our discourse, modernize our approach, and use a language that pleases our supporters, but also attracts people who share our vision,” said Mr. Mulcair, who won on the fourth ballot of the NDP leadership convention on Saturday.
To explain his plan, Mr. Mulcair repeatedly referred to his arrival in provincial politics in Quebec in the mid-1990s, when he spent two mandates in opposition before the provincial Liberals brought down the Parti Québécois government. He earned the nickname “Grizzly” in those days, as much for his beard as for his penchant for constant, trenchant attacks against his separatist foes. The courts once slapped him with a $95,000 fine for using a crude insult against a former PQ minister, but he never stopped going on the offensive and using his fierce debating skills in order to, as he said, “hit to hurt.”
Clearly, the presence of a "grizzly" conservative leader (Harper) and cabinet in the House of Commons has had an influence on NDP voters when choosing their new leader. Also, it is clear that Mr. Topp did not win, in large part because he does not have a seat in that 'august' body, having passed on an opportunity to submit his name for the nomination when the by-election was called in Toronto Danforth, Jack Layton's former seat. Having secured the endorsement of the party establishment, including former leader Ed Broadbent, who raised eyebrows from "coast to coast to coast" with his trashing of Mr. Mulcair prior to the ballots on Saturday, and while there are many examples of party leaders elected when they did not hold a seat in parliament, there seemed to be a strong thrust among delegates to "hit the ground running" with the fiery MP from Quebec, Mr. Mulcair.  
Parsing the party's message out into regional "messages" might sound like a workable idea; however, there will be those who consider that approach to be a significant watering down of the traditional, national message of higher taxes from the rich and especially from the corporations, lower taxes and more social programs like pharmacare for the whole electorate. Such regional parsing might also sound as if Mr. Mulcair is imitating Mr. Harper who sends micromessages to various segments of the electorate in order to seduce them into supporting the conservatives.
Combative, energized and fiery, Mr. Mulcair will have established his primary public persona, on the national stage, within the first few "question periods" of the house sittings.And should those initial "reviews" prove positive, the NDP can and will look forward to two-plus years of political fighting against the Harper government, with a vigour and intensity that even Jack Layton would not likely have provided.
However, should those early reviews prove negative, the NDP will have a giant task of transforming their leader, a task that so far has proved outside the boundaries of political strategists. Mr. Mulcair may be precisely the man needed to bring Harper down. However, we are going to reserve judgement until we see just how his performance "fits" into the Canadian political landscape of the second decade of the 21st century.
Bob Rae and the Liberals will, naturally, be watching closely and setting their course, in response to both Harper and Mulcair, in the hope that, by 2015, they will have secured enough of the public support to regain their reputation and credibility, in the hope that by 2019, they might be returned to power.

Karen Armstrong: We need to accept the other...

By Karen Armstrong, Globe and Mail, March 25, 2012
Karen Armstrong, a historian of religion and founder of the Charter for Compassion, received Simon Fraser University’s Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue last week.

A decade after 9/11, the West seems more bitterly divided from the Muslim world than ever. In Afghanistan, there’s been a violent explosion of anti-Western sentiment after last month’s Koran burning at a U.S. base and the slaughter of 17 Afghan civilians by an American soldier two weeks ago. But this hatred is not confined to distant parts of the globe. We’re witnessing a surge of virulent Islamophobia in Europe, especially in the Netherlands and some parts of Scandinavia. And sadly, this seems to have crossed the Atlantic.

In 2002, a survey of Canadian Muslims by the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations found that 56 per cent of respondents had experienced at least one anti-Muslim incident in the 12-month period since 9/11. Mosques or mosque construction sites in Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton, Waterloo and Vancouver have been targeted by vandals. In January, anti-Islamic graffiti were spray-painted on the walls of the Outaouais Islamic Centre in Gatineau, Que. – the third such attack in four months.

These hate crimes are committed by a small minority, of course. But unfortunately, on both sides of the divide, extremists set the agenda. The news media, for example, inform us of terrorist attacks but don’t give much coverage to those Muslim leaders who regularly condemn them. Between 2001 and 2007, Gallup conducted a massive survey representing the views of more than 90 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. When asked if the 9/11 attacks were justified, 93 per cent of respondents said they weren’t – basing their arguments on religious grounds. This finding wasn’t widely reported and could, therefore, make no impression on the widespread view that Islam is an inherently violent faith.
This belief is deeply engrained. It dates back to the Crusades, when Western Christians were fighting holy wars against Muslims in Syria and Palestine; their brutal ferocity stunned the people of the Near East. Even though Islam had a far better record of tolerance than Christianity at this time, European scholar-monks depicted Islam as a fanatical religion of the sword that was violently opposed to other faiths. They were, perhaps, projecting buried anxiety about their own behaviour onto their victims – Jesus, after all, had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them.
As Europeans fought their way out of the Dark Ages, Islam, a great world power that dwarfed Christendom for centuries, became their shadow self, arousing in them the same kind of complicated resentment as the United States inspires in some regions today – an image of everything that they were not (or feared obscurely that they might be). This distorted image of Islam became one of the received ideas of the West.
During the 12th century, anti-Semitism also became a chronic disease in Europe. It seemed absurd to the Crusaders to travel to the Middle East to liberate Christ’s tomb when the people who had killed Jesus – or so the Crusaders mistakenly believed – were alive and well on their very doorsteps. Those who couldn’t go on Crusade would often do their bit by attacking Jewish communities at home. Jews were said to kill Christian children and use their blood to make matzo at Passover. This image of the Jew as child-slayer, representing an almost Oedipal fear of the parent faith, persisted well into the modern period and regularly inspired pogroms in Europe. Without a thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe, the Holocaust would have been impossible.
We now know what can happen when unexamined prejudice is allowed free rein. 9/11 was a terrible crime. But if it has stained the reputation of Islam, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have equally tainted the image of the West. Islamophobia is also a violation of essential Western values: tolerance, liberalism and egalitarianism. Founded on fear and ignorance, it also flies in the face of Western rationalism. We have created a global market in which, whether we like it or not, we’re interconnected as never before. If we want a peaceful, stable and sustainable world, we have to learn to live with those we instinctively regard as “other.”
With historic background, Ms Armstrong makes the case, when and wherever she appears, in person or in writing, for tolerance, compassion and respect for the "other". It is her life's mission, after having spent her early years in a convent and departed from its repressive regimen.
However, the current culture is not only hostile to both Jews and Muslims, it is also hostile to moderates among the Christian denominations. Extreme sports, and their pushing the envelop to the limit,  seem to have found application in our political rhetoric, in our economic competition, in our reductionism of much of our preoccupation with money and both the poverty of its absence and the affluence of its presence. If we are to listen in, or read into the tweets and much of the verbiage on the internet, we find language and attitudes that dramatically depart from the traditional heritage of the west....its tolerance, and its egalitarianism and especially its rationalism.
The pursuit of power, in personal, organizational and community terms, linked to the capacity to send messages of hate, contempt, bullying and innuendo to as many people as we wish has, it would seem, turned many individuals into "propaganda machines" of their own design.
It was George Orwell who reminded us that all literature is political. We are now living in a time when all digital communication is considered "political" whether that means ideological, or personally ambitious, or another attempt to convert the "other" to our beliefs, including our faith communities.
Islam and Christianity, both, are aggressive evangelicals. They openly state they want the world converted to their faith, believing as they do, that God, as represented by their approximation of Him/Her/It is the "right" definition.
And, it would seem, that while Ms Armstrong pleads, along with many others, for tolerance and for compassion and for respect, this undergirding ambition at the core of both Christianity and Islam to dominate the world continues to plague the planet and all of its people.
Of course, there will be those who will argue that both faiths have made significant contributions to the improvement of the lives of humans. And they will be right, insofar as their argument holds to the facts of education and the development of laws and political organization. However, it is the prosletyzing by the most ardent advocates for the Christians and the Muslims, and the black-white manichean view of their self-righteousness that the world cannot negotiate with, compromise with, nor even tolerate.
It is this religious superiority, this conviction that "what I believe" is "what everyone must believe" that compromises those in both faith communities who are ready and willing to accept differences, to educate their own about those differences, and to build bridges between the different faith communities.
Your scribe is equally uncomfortable with Rick Santorum's religiosity (he is an active member of Opus Dei and would abolish both contraception and abortion, as part of his presideny) as I am with the radical Imam who declares it his goal and the goal of Islam to evict the royal family from Buckingham Palace, leaving the Queen two choices: convert or leave the country.
It is the penetration into the public debates in all countries by people like these, inluding the recent killings by Maher of Jews in France, that continues the story of intolerance, disrespect and violence based on fear.
And the eradication of fear, at the heart of most faiths, is one of the most intransigent of human dilemmas. We are held in her grips, almost without even knowing the ferocity of those grips. We are afraid:
  • of being rejected
  • of failing
  • of succeeding
  • of having too little
  • of having too much
  • of knowing too little
  • of knowin too much
  • of being evil
  • of not being good enough
  • of going to Hell
  • of not going to Heaven
  • of world takeover by "alien" forces, be they Christian or Muslim
  • of dying without reconciling with enemies
  • of living without compassion and forgiveness
  • of working against out best instincts
  • of undermining the best instincts of our colleagues
  • of belonging to the "right" faith
  • of belonging to the "wrong" faith
  • of living in the right part of town
  • of living in the wrong part of town
  • of losing our job, our reputation, our health, our faculties, our friends even our loved ones
  • of being unacceptable to God
  • of failing to do God's work while here
And so long as our fears trump our hopes and aspirations, we will continue to drag our human community down to its lowest common denominator(s) because.....we seem unable to stop ourselves, inspite of the valiant efforts of those in the evangelical communities to convert us to their belief systems.
We cannot omit mentioning that too often, it seems, the most devoted adherent to a faith is also the most intolerant of others from different faiths. This irony undercuts both faith communities, and it does with with impunity. After all, who among a faith community is going to criticise its most ardent members, those who are doing more to raise funds, to study, to recruit and to pray and to reflect on their own spiritual life? No one.
And it is very often those at the front of the parade who demonstrate the very contempt and bigotry that runs deep in every faith community, even between members of the same congregation who find others, including their own clergy, as apostates to the faith, because they do not share a rigid and unwavering commitment to one tenet of the faith. Those ardent believers also seem to be the most frightened of losing their tight adherence to the faith, if someone, including a clergy, posits a different view from the one they espouse. And the conflict is renewed....almost eternally, certainly tragically and certainly not in the interests of tolerance of the "other".

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thomas Mulcair elected NDP leader and Leader of the Opposition on 4th ballot

Thomas Mulcair has just been elected as leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada, following the untimely death of former leader Jack Layton last summer.
A former member of the Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest, a former labour lawyer, Mr. Mulcair defeated Brian Topp on the fourth and final ballot. The two other candidates who finished in the top four were Peggy Nash and Nathan Cullen.
One of the themes of the leadership campaign was the question of the relationship betwen the NDP and the Liberal Party, nearly annhiliated on May 2, in the last federal election.
Som irony: a former NDP Premier, Bob Rae is the interim leader of the Liberals, while a former Liberal cabinet minister is now the leader of the NDP. Could there be a next chapter of this narrative that sees these two "progressive" parties forming a united front to defeat Steven Harper. Some certainly hope so; others reject that prospect as one that would "water down" social democratic principles that form the cornerstone of the NDP foundation.
The fiery Irishman is one of several children, known for his quick brain and angry retorts in the House of Commons, and some suggest also in his personal relationships.
He has inherited a complex and challenging set of issues including among others:
  • the need to show that the NDP surge in Quebec (59 seats) was not a flash in the pan
  • the need to bring Quebec issues back to the forefront on the national agenda
  • the need to show Jack Layton loyalists that Jack's work will be carried on by the new leader
  • the need to bring all factions of the party together in a working relationship in the caucus, starting on Monday when the House of Commons reconvenes
  • the need to best both Steven Harper and Bob Rae in the debates in the House, from day one, in order to demonstrate that the party chose wisely
  • the need to develop and announce policies that will unite the progressive voters across the country, without frightening moderates into the Conservative camp
  • the need to choose advisors who can and will coach the new leader in discipline, in public speaking, in control of his emotions and in preserving and protecting his strengths without deferring to his weaknesses
  • the need to generate a substantial war chest with which to fight the Conservative "war machine" known to work 24-7, not only during campaigns but every day prior to the election writ
  • the need to connect with party members across the country, in order to develop a sense of their priorities, and to plan for a policy convention that must be held between now and the election of 2015
  • the need to build bridges between him and his opponents, particularly Brian Topp, the candidate many considered the legitimate inheritor of the Jack Layton legacy, given their close presonal and professional relationship
  • the need to move into Stornoway, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition, and to create a persona as the Prime Minister in waiting that is both credible and authentic
Mr. Mulcair will have to perhaps shed a few layers of his acknowledged considerable pride, demonstrate his capacity to both listen and to honour "the other" in a party whose history and tradition may well still be somewhat foreign to his political tastes and experience. There are literally millions of Canadians who want the Harper government to be "given the boot" as other candidates put it throughout the convention this weekend, and many will be counting on Mr. Mulcair and his colleagues to be the primary agents for that deeply held wish and hope.

The future of the labour movement...??

By John Allemang, Globe and Mail, March 24, 2012
So it has come to this: Even union leaders are losing faith in the power of their unions.

“There used to be a time when we had great respect from the public,” says Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. “But we've lost that. There's this notion that unions are just out for themselves and not for society. You get that label hung on you, and you have to work to get rid of it.”
Or as Mark Ferguson, president of a Toronto branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees put it more bluntly in a recent e-mail to a fellow CUPE member who had complained about a failure to win concessions: “The public hates unions right now.” That simmering hatred turned visceral early Friday when a man spat on a female Air Canada employee during a wildcat walkout at Toronto's Pearson airport.

It's a precarious moment for the labour movement. Next week's federal and Ontario budgets will bring thousands of job losses. British Columbia's 30,000 nurses are bargaining and the province's teachers appear headed for a showdown with the government over back-to-work legislation. Toronto's 23,000 inside workers are in a strike position. Meanwhile, the very survival of unions' collective-bargaining powers is at stake.
Witness the Harper government's pre-empting of the Air Canada pilots' right to strike, calling it damaging to the economy, as well as March-break travel plans. “In that case, you can't ever have a strike ... because every strike has an economic impact,” says Buzz Hargrove, former president of the Canadian Auto Workers.
In a hostile environment, unions are beginning to realize that they must alter both their tactics and their attitudes.
“A major defeat is staring us in the face,” says Sam Gindin, a former top union adviser who holds the Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University. “We have to change how unions function.”
Leading Canadian unions are echoing this dissatisfaction and have undertaken an unprecedented exercise in self-criticism and renewal – the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union is in talks with the CAW to create a new private-sector super-union designed to reinvent the labour movement.
“If unions do not change, and quickly, we will steadily follow U.S. unions into continuing decline,” states a discussion paper ominously entitled A Moment of Truth for Canadian Unions.
Political parties must re-invent themselves when they find the public has rejected their brand. Corporations have to re-brand themselves when, for example, they find, as Toyota did, a major safety defect and public confidence plummets. Social and domestic history is filled with the stories of families who, through a confluence of factors, have to face their own need to re-invent themselves, after a death, or a divorce or a financial disaster, or a political oppression. And even individuals have to face the need to re-invent themselves if and when they find the job security they thought they had "went south" with the closing of factories, the transfer of jobs to another country, the politics of personal differences and sometimes even a poor judgement made in the course of performing one's duties.
So, we can hardly be surprised at the evident need, admitted publicly by many inside sources, for a dramatic transformation by the labour movement in many countries.
Just as auto manufacturing companies know there is a large and continuing need for their products, and families know they have a sustaining need for family income, including the self-respect that can only accompany  honourable work with dignity, and individuals know they cannot survive without alternative work and income and the needed steps for an effective transition, unions too must find a new and effective structure, and modus operandi to provide the protection that all workers need, especially in a political and economic culture that casts them out as "trash" at the slightest opportunity to 'gut' their pensions and their benefits and their hard-won rights and privileges, including even their job security should the accountants and consultants point to a downturn in the balance sheets.
When many of those rights, privileges and benefits were won, workers were not "in harmony" with boardroom corporate suits; in fact, there were lives lost in viscious fights between the workers and their former "masters"....Today, there is mounting evidence that former antipathy and animosity, even contempt and bitterness are growing between the two groups.
And the political culture has shifted to tip the balance in favour of the corporations, leaving the workers' protection in serious jeopardy.
And while the labour movement has celebrated its frontline "fighters," it does not have a reputation for developing leading strategists, given the short-term perspective of union members for significant "gains" in the next contract. Now union leaders are facing not only public derision but membership ennui, as confidence among members dissipates as quickly as does public support for their movement.
Strategic thinkers, planners and long-term executive planning is clearly needed by all labour organizations, under the umbrella and guidance of the International Labour Organization.
(From the ILO website)
The ILO is the international organization responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards. It is the only 'tripartite' United Nations agency that brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes promoting Decent Work for all. This unique arrangement gives the ILO an edge in incorporating 'real world' knowledge about employment and work.
The unique tripartite structure of the ILO gives an equal voice to workers, employers and governments to ensure that the views of the social partners are closely reflected in labour standards and in shaping policies and programmes.
The main aims of the ILO are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.
The ILO was founded in 1919, in the wake of a destructive war, to pursue a vision based on the premise that universal, lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice. The ILO became the first specialized agency of the UN in 1946.
One of the "files" of their issues is dubbed "decent work". Here is how the website defines that file.
Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.
However, the "on-the-ground" application of such definitions involves the detailed terms of the contracts that are written, disseminated and signed between employers and employees. And the clauses in those contracts, if such contracts can even be negotiated in new workplaces (and let's not forget that entrepreneurship generates most new jobs!) they will likely be devoid of the kinds of terms for working conditions, pensions, health care and parental opportunities that former contracts once celebrated.
As we have moved to globalization, the comparisons that employers make  when designing their employment contracts are less with the competiton across town and more with the workers in the third world, where worker rights and protections are virtually unknown, including even such basics as the right to "clear air" to breathe. These comparisons are, clearly, unfair, unwarranted and unsustainable.
For example, some companies are now returning jobs from China to the U.S. because of lower total costs, when transportation costs are factored into their equations.
Meanwhile, workers struggle to hang on to whatever bits of security they have, and the movement degenerates into many pockets of un-co-ordinated political action, without a perceived national or international strategy, in the face of international corporate batteries of lawyers and accountants.
If the ILO, as an agency of the UN has lost much of its former muscle, perhaps it needs to renew its mandate and its potential, if workers everywhere are to be offered both opportunities and benefits befitting the honour and dignity of their work.
And those attitudes at the highest level of corporate government need a complete overhaul, given the last one or two generations of corporate leadership that can only be characterized as narcissistic, selfish and arrogant, with respect to the future of "labour" as a disparate political interest group.
And even corporation, government, social agency, including the essential services like education, fire and police need workers, and workers professionalism, without the bitterness and resentment that accompany much of current "labour" relationship, especially in light of the current Canadian government's disdain for workers in all sectors.

Friday, March 23, 2012

UPDATE: Plan rejected York U. Professors question funding agreement with Basillie

By James Bradshaw, Globe and Mail, April 2, 2012
York University has abandoned contentious efforts to partner with a private think tank after its law faculty rejected the deal for the second time, maintaining it threatened York’s autonomy and academic freedom.By James Bradshaw, Globe and Mail, March 23, 2012

The proposed collaboration with the Centre for International Governance Innovation would have funded 10 research chairs and 20 graduate scholarships over a decade. Former Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie, who founded CIGI, had pledged $30-million, to be matched by another $30-million in provincial funds.

York University has a plan to settle a dispute with professors dismayed over a partnership with a private think tank founded by business giant Jim Balsillie. But if it can’t get approval from the university’s senate, it will kill the initiative.

More than 270 professors have signed an open letter that argues an arrangement with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) gives the Waterloo, Ont.-based think tank “unprecedented” influence in academic matters. The letter demands that the senate, the university’s highest academic authority, be allowed to change the deal to maintain autonomy, and then approve it....
Many professors, including more than a dozen senators, have balked at the current terms of the agreement, fearing it gives two CIGI employees on a five-member Steering Committee undue sway over who fills the chairs, and what they plan to study. Despite assurances to the contrary from York administrators, the professors insist the deal would undermine fiercely guarded principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, and could erode York’s reputation for independent thought.

But Craig Heron, a professor and senator who has helped lead the charge to rejig the current deal, called Prof. Monahan's proposal “a step in the right direction.”
“[The University’s administrators] clearly were listening,” Prof. Heron said. “Now there’s a need to make sure that all the voices that have been raised up to this point have a voice in that [policy and planning] committee’s deliberations. We want to make sure that we’re going to be heard.”
Whether any new framework will be agreeable to CIGI also remains to be seen. Fred Kuntz, CIGI’s vice-president of public affairs, has said the think tank has little interest in being a funder without oversight of its investment.
“We’ve learned that when we show an interest in the area that we’re funding, and who’s doing the research, that we have more comfort that it’s actually related to what we do,” Mr. Kuntz said.
Can corporate money contaminate the university's independence and freedom of thought?
Of course it can, and does all the time!
There is a directly pipeline from the corporate trust accounts to the universities whose chairs and research they fund. And that pipeline could include the oversight of the selection of those research topics and those chairs selected.
And while the corporate funding, in this case, seems to be going to a new institute of international studies and law, a worthy venture in conception, the devil is always in the details.
And who is more worried about the invasion of those decisions that the faculty of a university, who seem to be listened to at York.
Here is a little background.
By James Bradshaw, Globe and Mail, March 19, 2012
The deal in question would see York and CIGI join forces to create 10 research chairs and 20 graduate scholarships in international law, funded with a $30-million donation from Mr. Balsillie, former co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, and another $30-million in provincial funds. Both partners hail it as a chance to build a world-leading hub in the subject.

Yet discussions of a similar arrangement with the University of Ottawa had already failed, according to a spokesperson for that school. And the York partnership has since been plagued by stops and starts as faculty voiced concerns that it gives CIGI too much control in selecting the chairs and framing their research.
When university administrators and York’s Osgoode Hall Law School’s faculty council failed to agree on a document protecting the school’s autonomy, Prof. Monahan opened the chairs to all faculties, and later drafted a pair of new protocols with CIGI to assuage lingering fears.
At the heart of the matter is a provision allowing two CIGI employees on the partnership’s steering committee to review the shortlist of candidates for the chairs. The latest protocol promises the committee would appoint an arm’s-length panel of “scholars and experts” to settle any dispute about who should be interviewed, but a letter from 14 senators counters that allowing CIGI a seat at the table to shape hiring decisions is still “a shocking departure from our established practices.”
Prof. Monahan got unanimous support for the deal, with its proliferating protections, from the senate’s academic policy, planning and research committee. But even that failed to calm anxious professors, who say it remains a threat to York’s integrity. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has been the most vocal critic, warning it may formally censure York.
“I’ve never seen a donor agreement as egregious as what York agreed to with CIGI,” said Jim Turk, the association’s executive director.
Protecting the university from the control of the money that seeks to fund, and to influence the administation of that funding is both honourable and necessary especially now.
Money has limitless power, as we have seen with the "buying" of the Republican candidacy for president of the United States, apparently with impunity, by Mr. Romney.
Universities would do well to demand, from the provinces, an independent panel of trustees, to assure both anonymity and independence from corporate donors seeking to gain a foothold into the "culture" including the political philosophy of those institutions to which they give or intend to give their excess cash. In our picture of such a panel, they would be constituted by independent ethicists, and empowered to set and to monitor and to inforce guidelines for donors to universities that would preserve both the independence of the university and the anonymity of the donors.

U. of Winnipeg to offer free tuition to 10 underprivileged students! Historic!

By Ryan Leclaire from Study Magazine website, March 22, 2012
The University of Winnipeg is offering free tuition, to break down the barriers between education and underprivileged youth in Manitoba.
“Removing the tuition hurdle dissolves an important barrier, but more importantly, it says to this group of young people who have faced so many challenges that their dreams matter, that they are welcome and they belong here,” said UWinnipeg President Lloyd Axworthy.
The Youth In Care Tuition Waiver program is being heralded as a first of its kind in Canada, and the university is offering free tuition to students who’ve recently been in the care of a child welfare agency.
“We have a very deep commitment to addressing the needs of youth who are underrepresented in university classrooms, and we know that children and youth in care face multiple barriers that keep them from pursuing post-secondary learning, including financial hurdles,” said Axworthy.
The program will help people like Shirley Delorme Russell who was place in roster care, along with her four siblings. She changed homes three times and stopped going to school after graduating from Kelvin High School.
“I had no money. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I was not really sure what student loans were and the thought of them and getting into debt terrified me,” said Russell.
“It is awkward for a child in care because you can feel you are not really anyone’s kid. So at 18 I went out to work.”
The university hopes to help 10 students each year with the program, beginning next September.
This announcement is nothing short of historic! And we commend the University of Winnipeg, and its President, Lloyd Axworthy, for making this important decision.
It will, we hope, prompt other universities in Canada and elsewhere, to make similar decisions. We all know that  intelligence and capability are not restricted to those whose early narratives speak of extreme hardship. We also know that universities have been increasingly becoming "gated" communities for the more affluent. This decision will not only change the lives of those 10 students forever; it will also change the culture of the University of Winnipeg forever.
By making this decision, the university will tell the world at least some of the things it stands for, and will thereby attract students who consider these values worthy of their exploration. It will send a message to graduate students about the culture of the university, deliberatately dedicated to serving the community through the attention paid to those who would otherwise never have this opportunity.
Just yesterday, thousands of students marched through the streets of Montreal in protest of tuition hikes by the Province of Quebec, although their tuition fees are among the lowest in the country.
We cannot afford to permit a financial moat to be "constructed" around our universities, if we hope to generate a culture that is both informed and compassionate, for our children and grandchildren.

Thursday, March 22, 2012 an uneasy relationship...looking for leadership (Maioni)

By Antonia Maioni

It’s clear that Quebeckers did not so much vote for the NDP as they voted against politics as usual. They voted for Mr. Layton not so much because he was a federalist or a social democrat, but because he provided a personable alternative and promised to take a stand on the issues that matter to Quebec.

That promise has been evaporating. While Quebeckers show persistent dissatisfaction with Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, the NDP’s support in Quebec is sliding, the party has not yet secured grassroots support and its leaders are not well known. Quebec voters are largely responsible for the NDP’s place in Canadian politics today, but they have been mostly silenced in this leadership contest within a party that is resolutely anchored in the rest of Canada in outlook, attitude and organization.
So, the real question is: Does the NDP want to become a party with a real and relevant Quebec voice? It is a huge responsibility, but also a risk. To do so means choosing a leader who can essentially build a new party, someone who is prepared to give Quebeckers a real voice in its organization and platform, and who is able to bridge the increasingly uneasy relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
The risk of not doing so is just as great. The NDP’s breakthrough as Official Opposition and a new Quebec party in federal politics should not be underestimated. But the two roles are inextricably intertwined, and party members need to face up to that dual responsibility if they want to see the NDP remain a force on the national political stage.
Bridging the increasingly uneasy relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada is not only one of the principal tasks of the NDP with its new leader to be elected this weekend, it is also one of the principal goals of any transformed Liberal Party, if it hopes to even move up in the standings after the next federal election.
Quebec is, has been, and likely will continue to be the single most "unique" province in the country. Its history, language, and especially culture set it apart from the rest as a model of embedded diversity. Canada has a unique privilege to be part of the same political family as this unique province, sitting as it does with a unique perspective on all issues that come to the table in the Canadian federal system. Far from Steven Harper's token "nation" legislation, Quebec breathes different air, smokes different cigars, drinks different wine, goes to different schools and both consumes and offers to the world a far different menu at her table than any other province in the country. Her film, her poetry and dance, her chanteuses and her attention to the details that both infuriate and endear her to both Ottawa and the rest of Canada belong under the Canadian umbrella, and, in the current global fixation on profit and economic issues, continue to place social policy, and the relationship between the individual and the state at the centre of the political debate.
Canada would not be Canada without Quebec...and while there are those who would argue that such a statement could apply to any province or territory, it is most true about Quebec. And when the relationship between Quebec and the rest of the country thrives, in a healthy spirit of vibrant and vital federalism, it is a shining beacon of pride for Canadians and a model for the rest of the world. However, as Ms Maioni says, Harper has, as John Ibbitson put it in one of his Globe and Mail columns, proved that Quebec is no longer necessary for a majority government in Ottawa thereby making the Quebec-Canada relationship increasingly uneasy.
It is Quebec that has driven much of the initiative to sustain healthy social policies and to keep them at the forefront of the national agenda.
It is Quebec that provides a second language and culture for young people across the country to profoundly enhance their education through the plethora of French Immersion programs literally everywhere, and while there are pockets of indigenous French communities, the national program would not be a reality without Quebec.
It is also Quebec that reminds every Canadian of the diversity of peoples, within and outside the country, and the need to develop approaches and policies and perspectives that welcome difference and make "the other" an integral part of the fabric of the quilt that is any nation, especially the one so many millions of us call our homeland.
It is Quebec that, more than any other province, demonstrates the capacity of a region of diversity to develop, within its own borders the approaches, attitudes and even the laws that make multi-culturalism work effectively, if it is to work at all. And while we have not always agreed with some of their attitudes, approaches and laws (Bill 101, for example), we have nevertheless always been reminded of the complexity of our nation by the mere presence of its leaders at the national debating sessions.
And the contribution to our country from men and women "native" to Quebec has been simply astounding. They have taken their responsibility as Canadian citizens seriously, and have stepped up to the "plate" in so many different situations that our history books are literally dotted with their names and their unique contributions, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to mention only one.
And now, Quebec's "uneasy" relationship with Canada is before us, on the weekend when the NDP will elect their new leader, and with the huge block of seats from Quebec in that party, he/she will be charged with the task of "speaking for Quebec" in the House of Commons, not solely, but certainly on the national stage.
Harper does not, and cannot do that.
Bob Rae can only do so with a mere "rump" from Quebec, most of the bridges having been burned by previous "hacks" in the party.
So, Ms Maioni is right in her assessment of the difficulty of the task of the new leader.
Quebec is not going away. She is an integral part of the country and the continent. And the rest of Canada cannot be lulled to sleep on this issue, and thank that papering it over with the word "royal" will keep it silent, not should that insulting move be permitted to keep it silent.
We are all watching, and waiting to see how this next chapter in our country's history unfolds.