Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lister: The Risks of Intervention in Syria...reflections

By Tim Lister, CNN, from CNN website, May 30, 2012
Amid growing outrage over civilian casualties in Syria, there are ever more urgent calls to aid — or at least protect — the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. But so far, the international community's response has been limited.
There has been diplomatic censure, with envoys withdrawn or "recalled for consultations." Syrian diplomats have been expelled from numerous countries, including much of the European Union, Turkey, the United States and several Arab states.
A growing raft of sanctions is draining the Syrian regime's coffers but only gradually sapping its strength. This is not a country that has relied on international trade for its survival.
A United Nations mission was formed to monitor a cease-fire agreement made in April, but violence has persisted.
Nothing has made the al-Assad regime buckle, especially as the regime perceives both internal opposition and the international community as divided.
Compare the situation to that in Libya last year. As Moammar Gadhafi was about to unleash his forces on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the world came together in the shape of the U.N. Security Council to authorize international intervention and prevent a bloodbath.
The French and British were prime movers behind U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973; the United States an enthusiastic supporter. Russia abstained, but at the time its ambassador noted that many questions remained "unanswered, including how it would be enforced and by whom, and what the limits of engagement would be." Russia later complained that a humanitarian mandate had become a blank check in support of the rebels.
Perhaps in part because of the bad blood over Libya, the world body has reached no similar consensus over Syria. Rather, the opposite, with some of the harshest diplomatic language traded for years.
Both Russia and China are wary of any international action supporting protest against authoritarian rule. And Syria has been first the Soviet Union's — and now Russia's — key ally in the region after Egypt “defected” in the 1970s. As it has for decades, Russia still supplies the Syrian government with weapons. One Russian analyst, Ruslan Pukhov, told CNN: "Once the Assad regime vanishes, we have zero influence in the region."
It remains to be seen whether the recent massacre in Houla will force Russia into a corner. But even if it does, what can be done? In Bosnia, the international community declared "safe havens" for Muslims but failed to protect them. The result in July 1995 was Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since 1945, when some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim civilians were killed by Serb forces. Havens are only safe when protected against superior forces.
Syria, Sarajevo and Srebrenica: When outrage isn't enough
Analysts say that even setting aside the lack of international will, successful intervention in Syria would pose problems not present in Libya:
Geography: Most regime targets in Libya were close to the Mediterranean coast and within easy reach of NATO air bases in Italy. Even so, NATO warplanes flew some 21,000 missions over nearly six months to enforce the no-fly zone, suppress air defenses and destroy command centers and armor. Military analysts say that, while no match for the best NATO members could summon, Syrian armed forces are better equipped and coordinated than anything Gadhafi could muster.
Neighboring states: Few of Syria's neighbors would likely allow their territory to be used to pre-position supplies or military units. Certainly neither Iraq nor Lebanon, both countries with their own volatile sectarian mixes. The Hezbollah militia, strongly allied with Syria, remains powerful within Lebanon.
The presence of foreign troops on Jordanian soil might have repercussions for a monarchy that already has plenty of problems domestically. Using Israeli territory would send the wrong message altogether.
That leaves Turkey, a NATO member that has run out of patience with al-Assad. Earlier this year, the Turkish foreign minister compared the Syrian president with former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned al-Assad — pointedly in Arabic — "What goes around, comes around."
Turkey has military bases (Incirlik, Diyarbakir) close to the border that, theoretically, could serve as staging posts for intervention. But even for the Turks, there would be risks, including a flood of refugees and possible retaliation by Damascus supporting the Kurdish terrorist group active in Turkey, the PKK.
Topography: Libya was flat desert; there was little cover for regime forces and most of the fighting was along a narrow coastal strip. "Target acquisition" was relatively simple. Syria's physical geography is more challenging; and much of its northern border with Turkey and Lebanon is mountainous, with few major roads. Getting aid into any safe havens within Syria would be a logistical nightmare.
The opposition: The Libyan rebels, for all their military shortcomings, quickly grabbed a swathe of eastern Libya and major air and seaports in Benghazi and Tobruk that became their resupply hubs. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) controls a few neighborhoods and some rural areas in the north of the country — but no major population center. It is vastly outgunned by the Syrian army.
Crucially, the regime retains control of Syria's frontiers, and its armed forces appear cohesive, according to analysts in the region. There have been military defections, mainly of low-rank conscripts, but not of entire units with their armor.
Against all this and the political risks of western military action in yet another Muslim country, some argue there is a moral imperative — as there was in Libya and Kosovo (done), Rwanda (ignored) and Bosnia (eventually).
Writing in The Atlantic earlier this year, Steven Cook argued that "if there is no intervention and political will to stop Assad's crimes remains absent, the world will once again have to answer for standing on the sidelines of a mass murder."
Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, asked: "At what point in the body count is international intervention deemed to be an acceptably worthwhile option that can have a positive effect on the situation? After Assad has killed 6,000 people? 7,000? 10,000? 20,000?"
By most accounts, we have passed the second of those benchmarks.
Some argue that, despite the price, there would also eventually be a strategic gain: a post-al-Assad Syria would unlikely be as close to Iran as is the current regime and might also deprive Hezbollah of critical regional support.
Others see the risks of international intervention as outweighing any benefits, with the danger that civil war would inevitably spill into Lebanon.
Every day that casualties mount in Syria. Every day the recognition of the divide between the western powers and the Russia/China connection, over Syria, demonstrates a geo-political conundrum, a gordion knot, that seems intractable.
The complications that seem evident, whether there is a military intervention or not in Syria, are potentially like dominoes. The apparant unassailability of Assad, protected and armed as he is, by his Russian "friends," galls most observers, while a co-ordinated approach, including that of Kofi Annan on behalf of the UN, seems so far to have been ineffective. Even thoughts of protecting the civilians from the regime, with safe havens, have been thwarted, in a calculus that would appear to include Iran, Russia, China, Hezbollah and...?
Lancing this "diplomatic boil" (or is it potentially a cancerous tumor?) seems so necessary and yet so out of reach. The killings and the limited reporting of the details (because of Syrian repression of foreign reporters) seem likely to continue as does the wringing of diplomatic hands, providing a not-so-incidental, or accidental, backdrop for negotiations with Iran over its nuclear intentions, obviously tipping the scales, at one level, in Iran's favour.
This drama has many of the elements of a too-small pot with far too many "cooks" on a stove with too many elements "on high" and no clear pathway out, short of thousands more deaths and the sale and shipment of many more weapons into Syria and the increasingly shortening "fuses" among the several players.
That just could be a confluence of factors too big to wrestle 'to the ground' in a tinder-box that takes only a single match to ignite...and then???
There have  to be some people somewhere who know, understand and welcome this conflict in order for it to continue...and those who oppose it's continuing seem uncertain and sufficiently detached not to know how to act.
Is this as close as we have come, in the current situation, to a "perfect storm" diplomatically? Perhaps.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Zakaria to Harvard Graduates: "We live in an age of progress"

Fareed Zakaria, from Harvard Gazette, May 24, 2012
(After brief introductory remarks about missing his own graduations)....
I have always been wary of making commencement speeches because I don’t think of myself as old enough to have any real wisdom to impart on such an august occasion. I’d like to think I’m still vaguely post-graduate. But there’s nothing like having kids to remind me of how deeply uncool I am. So I accept this task, with some trepidation.

The best commencement speech I ever read was by the humorist Art Buchwald. He was brief, saying simply, “Remember, we are leaving you a perfect world. Don’t screw it up.”
You are not going to hear that message much these days. Instead, you’re likely to hear that we are living through grim economic times, that the graduates are entering the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. The worries are not just economic. Ever since 9/11, we have lived in an age of terror, and our lives remain altered by the fears of future attacks and a future of new threats and dangers. Then there are larger concerns that you hear about: The Earth is warming; we’re running out of water and other vital resources; we have a billion people on the globe trapped in terrible poverty.
So, I want to sketch out for you, perhaps with a little bit of historical context, the world as I see it.
The world we live in is, first of all, at peace — profoundly at peace. The richest countries of the world are not in geopolitical competition with one another, fighting wars, proxy wars, or even engaging in arms races or “cold wars.” This is a historical rarity. You would have to go back hundreds of years to find a similar period of great power peace. I know that you watch a bomb going off in Afghanistan or hear of a terror plot in this country and think we live in dangerous times. But here is the data. The number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war, and, yes, terrorism, is down 50 percent this decade from the 1990s. It is down 75 percent from the preceding five decades, the decades of the Cold War, and it is, of course, down 99 percent from the decade before that, which is World War II. Steven Pinker says that we are living in the most peaceful times in human history, and he must be right because he is a Harvard professor.
The political stability we have experienced has allowed the creation of a single global economic system, in which countries around the world are participating and flourishing. In 1980, the number of countries that were growing at 4 percent a year — robust growth — was around 60. By 2007, it had doubled. Even now, after the financial crisis, that number is more than 80. Even in the current period of slow growth, keep in mind that the global economy as a whole will grow 10 to 20 percent faster this decade than it did a decade ago, 60 percent faster than it did two decades ago, and five times as fast as it did three decades ago.
The result: The United Nations estimates that poverty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500 years. And much of that reduction has taken place in the last 20 years. The average Chinese person is 10 times richer than he or she was 50 years ago — and lives for 25 years longer. Life expectancy across the world has risen dramatically. We gain five hours of life expectancy every day — without even exercising! A third of all the babies born in the developed world this year will live to be 100.
All this is because of rising standards of living, hygiene, and, of course, medicine. Atul Gawande, a Harvard professor who is also a practicing surgeon, and who also writes about medicine for The New Yorker, writes about a 19th century operation in which the surgeon was trying to amputate his patient’s leg. He succeeded — at that — but accidentally amputated his assistant’s finger as well. Both died of sepsis, and an onlooker died of shock. It is the only known medical procedure to have a 300 percent fatality rate. We’ve come a long way.
To understand the astonishing age of progress we are living in, you just look at the cellphones in your pockets. (Many of you have them out and were already looking at them. Don’t think I can’t see you.) Your cellphones have more computing power than the Apollo space capsule. That capsule couldn’t even Tweet! So just imagine the opportunities that lie ahead. Moore’s Law — that computing power doubles every 18 months while costs halve — may be slowing down in the world of computers, but it is accelerating in other fields. The human genome is being sequenced at a pace faster than Moore’s Law. A “Third Industrial Revolution,” involving material science and the customization of manufacturing, is yet in its infancy. And all these fields are beginning to intersect and produce new opportunities that we cannot really foresee.
The good news goes on. Look at the number of college graduates globally. It has risen fourfold in the last four decades for men, but it has risen sevenfold for women. I believe that the empowerment of women, whether in a village in Africa or a boardroom in America, is good for the world. If you are wondering whether women are in fact smarter than men, the evidence now is overwhelming: yes. My favorite example of this is a study done over the last 25 years in which it found that female representatives in the House of Congress were able to bring back $49 million more in federal grants than their male counterparts. So it turns out women are better than men even at pork-barrel spending. We can look forward to a world enriched and ennobled by women’s voices.
Now you might listen to me and say “This is all wonderful for the world at large, but what does this mean for America?” Well, for America and for most places, peace and broader prosperity — “the rise of the rest” — means more opportunities. I remind you that this is a country that still has the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, that dominates the age of technology, that hosts hundreds of the world’s greatest companies, that houses its largest, deepest capital markets, and that has almost all of the world’s greatest universities. There is no equivalent of Harvard in China or India, nor will there be one for decades, perhaps longer.
The United States is also a vital society. It is the only country in the industrialized world that is demographically vibrant. We add 3,000,000 people to the country every year. That itself is a powerful life force, and it is made stronger by the fact that so many of these people are immigrants. They — I should say we — come to this country with aspirations, with hunger, with drive, with determination, and with a fierce love for America. By 2050, America will have a better demographic profile than China. This country has its problems, but I would rather have America’s problems than most any other place in the world.
When I tell you that we live in an age of progress, I am not urging complacency — far from it. We have had daunting challenges over the last 100 years: a depression, two world wars, a Cold War, 9/11, and global economic crisis. But we have overcome them by our response. Human action and human achievement have managed to tackle terrible problems.
We forget our successes. In 2009, the H1N1 virus broke out in Mexico. Now, if you looked back at the trajectory of these kinds of viruses, it is quite conceivable this one would have spread like the Asian flu in 1957 or 1968, in which 4,000,000 people died. But this time, the Mexican health authorities identified the problem early, shared the information with the WHO, learned best practices fast, tracked down where the outbreak began, quarantined people, and vaccinated others. The country went on a full-scale alert, banning any large gatherings. In a Catholic country, you couldn’t go to church for three Sundays. Perhaps more importantly, you couldn’t go to soccer matches either. The result was that the virus was contained, to the point where, three months later, people wondered what the big fuss was and asked if we had all overreacted. We didn’t overreact; we reacted, we responded, and we solved the problem.
There are other examples. In the 12 months following the economic peak in 2008, industrial production fell by as much as it did in the first year of the depression. Equity prices and global trade fell more. Yet this time, no Great Depression followed. Why? Because of the coordinated actions of governments around the world. 9/11 did not usher in an age of terrorism, with al-Qaida going from strength to strength. Why? Because countries cooperated in fighting them and other terror groups, with considerable success. When we can come together, when we cooperate, when we put aside petty differences, the results are astounding.
So, when we look at the problems we face — economic crises, terrorism, climate change, resource scarcity — keep in mind that these problems are real, but also that the human reaction and response to them will also be real. We can more easily map out the big problem than the thousands of individual actions governments, firms, organizations, and people will take that will constitute the solution.
In a sense, I’m betting on the graduates in this great audience. I believe that your actions will have consequences. Your efforts will make a difference.
And turning to the graduates, I know I am expected to provide some advice at a commencement. Should you go into nanotechnology or bioengineering? What are the industries of the future? Honestly, I have no idea. But one thing I do know is that human beings will reward and honor those talents of heart and mind they have always honored for thousands of years: intelligence, hard work, discipline, courage, loyalty and, perhaps above all, love and a generosity of spirit. Those are the qualities that, at the end of the day, make you live a great life, one that is rewarded by the outside world, and a good life, one that is rewarded only by those who know you best. These are the virtues that people honor, that they built statues for 5,000 years ago. Well, nobody builds statues anymore. They build weird, modernist sculptures with strange pieces of metal falling off of them, but you get my idea. Trust yourself; you know what you should do. You know the kind of life you should live. You don’t need an ethics course to know what you shouldn’t do. Just trust in your instincts, be true to them, and you will make for yourself a great and a good life. And, in doing so, you will change the world.
I said that at my age I don’t feel competent to give you much advice, but I will give you one last piece of wisdom that comes with age. For all of you who are graduating students or, really, anyone who is still young, trust me. You cannot possibly understand the love that your parents have for you until you have children of your own. Once you have your own kids, their strange behavior will suddenly make sense. But don’t wait that long. On this day of all days, give them a hug, and tell them that you love them.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and to the graduates of Harvard University’s Class of 2012, Godspeed.

Mallick: Fitzgerald, America's prophet on the tragedy of money and hubris

By Heather Mallick, Toronto Star, May 29, 2012
It isn’t the bad economic and social news that eats at me, it’s the eternal sense of novelty with which everyone reacts to it. Hard times that are this crusty, well, it’s shocking, I do declare!
But it has all happened before, many times in fact. Larger forces and greedy people are chewing at us like a vagrant on bath salts. We are fearful, largely unread, too lazy to vote, too incoherent to organize as the Quebec students did, we are older than we realized and we look to . . . who? . . . for guidance.
There’s always Paul Krugman, whose measured blog — one of the most influential in his nation — maps the financial catastrophe using tracing paper from the previous ones, and startlingly breaks the chain with videos of Canada’s Arcade Fire and Feist.
Books and music ease the pain. Out of money, out of luck, we turn to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote about class, money and yearning for status in a century we are now replaying. This is a big subject for a novelist and he made it his big subject with a formal perfection admired to this day.
On Oct. 19, 1929, 10 days before Black Tuesday ushered in the Depression, Fitzgerald published a story called The Swimmers about an American whose ideals were smashed. (I thank Sarah Churchwell in the Guardian for alerting me to this obscure story. Her book on Fitzgerald, Careless People, will be published next year.) The Swimmers was about sexual betrayal intertwined with dishonesty about money, less compressed than 1925’s The Great Gatsby, a novel in which I cannot find one wrong word.
“It’s the hardest story I ever wrote, too big for its space,” he told his editor, but all writers say that. In The Swimmers, the French wife, unfaithful on her American husband’s money, turns a gimlet eye on the Riviera’s American women, sleek swimmers “who push water” to gain the attention of suitors. She mocks a “stenographer . . . dressing and acting as if she had all the money in the world.”
“Perhaps she will have, some day,” says her husband.
“That’s the story they are told,” the wife scoffs. “It happens to one, not the ninety-nine. That’s why all their faces over thirty are discontented and unhappy.”
Astonishing, this, the Occupy movement’s 1 per cent slogan foretold. The Old World has its history and its land, the husband thinks, “but Americans, restless and with shallow roots, needed fins and wings. There was even a recurrent idea in America about an education that would leave out history and the past.”
More seer points for Fitzgerald, as history and literature fade to black.
Recently the New York Times praised a sentimental damp-eyed teacher of immigrant students for luring them with The Great Gatsby. She told them the novel was about the American dream of becoming rich as Gatsby, as stupid a summary as those written by the reviewers who destroyed the book in 1925 and cracked Fitzgerald “like an old plate.”
Times readers were furious and told the paper so, but it’s clear that Americans still don’t understand the book. Gatsby, a gangster, had money, the great measurer of American life. That’s what killed him.
In 1927, Fitzgerald was interviewed about the future of the Jazz Age. “The idea that we’re the greatest people in the world because we have the most money in the world is ridiculous,” he said. “Wait until this wave of prosperity is over! Wait 10 or 15 years! . . . Wait until the next war on the Pacific, or against some European combination!”
For this, he was ridiculed. Remarks like these made Fitzgerald, already famous as an uncontrollable drinker, a laughingstock. But he understood how things begin and end, what happens to unencumbered people without history to weigh them down.
They take a giant dive, a terrible arc, as did the good careful Dick Diver in Tender is the Night, the last novel published before Fitzgerald died.
He had always been right about descent and despair, always been a boat against the American current. He died thinking himself a failure

Publicly funded Catholic schools no longer needed or defensible?

By Adam Radwanski, Globe and Mail, May 29, 2012
To most of the rest of the Western world, it would come as little surprise that Catholics in Ontario – the ones in senior positions within the church, at least – are uncomfortable telling kids that it’s okay to be gay. The surprise, rather, would be that Ontario still has a publicly funded Catholic school system beyond any point at which it’s reasonably needed or defensible as a minority right.

For that matter, we’re also rapidly passing the point at which that system’s Catholicism has any real meaning. To many of us, the church’s willingness to allow its identity to be heavily shaped by its positions on hot-button social issues – gay rights and abortion first among them – might seem peculiar. But to tell Catholics they can have their own schools but not their own beliefs surely defeats whatever purpose these schools are still supposed to serve.
That leaves – should leave – two choices.
One would be to let Catholics run their publicly funded schools according to their value system. Never mind that many of the students aren’t really there for a religious education, since there aren’t actually enough religious Catholics to sustain a parallel system in many parts of the province. This is our system, and we’re sticking with it.
The other would be for government finally to accept that, sometimes, progress involves a few headaches, and start treating Catholics the same as everyone else – free to practice their faith as they see fit, including with religious schools, but not on the public dime.
Privately, many of the people in and around government believe that’s the right way to go, and some take it as a given that it will eventually happen. But somehow, it remains a third rail that nobody in a position of power is willing to touch.
Religious conviction that can and often does lead to civil violence including bullying and sometimes suicide must not be tolerated. Being gay in a Roman Catholic, publicly funded school in Ontario is not a circumstance any parent would seek for his or her child. So ironically, when compassion and tolerance are the most obvious and most appropriate values to practice when faced with difference, the church's teaching prefers "not OKness" that somehow gay students are simply not OK in God's eyes.
So for politicians funnelling public money into a system that is premised on separation, and it consequences, there is a problem. And the public is unlikely in the long run to tolerate public funding of what amounts to intolerance.
However, as in so many other issues Canadian, we prefer to "muddle on" mostly not drawing attention to the issue, so long as no one challenges the state's position either in a public relations campaign on in a court challenge.
Would it not be ironic if, partly as a consequence of public funding for Roman Catholic schools, (the only religious schools receiving public funding in Ontario) the church found its position on gays and lesbians to be incompatible with the spirit of scripture and shifted to the more tolerant and compassionate one of acceptance?
Nevertheless, there have been boards of Catholic schools demanding that the province not impose its "secular" position of acceptance of gays and lesbians on their teachers, administrators and students, preferring to observe the church's teachings, as a condition of and a sign of the moral certainty of the church's teaching on the issue. So far, the premier has pushed back, preferring a publicly funded school system that teaches and practices tolerance, acceptance and civility of gay-straight alliances.
Some would consider the current situation a 'tipping point' in which the province will inevitably have to take the "road not taken" as Robert Frost reminds us in his famous poem. Let's hope that such a decision, either to de-fund Roman Catholic schools, thereby leaving them free to practice their religious teachings and dogma, or to let them continue as they are with public funding, will not result in social disturbance that requires the provincial government to restore order in the midst of inflamed passions and rhetoric.
The society is becoming more endangered by the debate(s) over "hot-button" issues, wedge issues as the political operatives call them, that profile one side against another, enabling headlines and conflict to boil feeding both the insatiable appetite of the media and the operatives to seek the higher opinion poll numbers, and hopefully the greater number of votes.
Some would argue that it is through "hot button" issues that the public becomes engaged; however, we would counter that reductionisms endanger the public discourse by positing a "right position" for both sides...and leaving little or no room for compromise.
On this question, we would support the discontinuing of public funding for Roman Catholic schools, knowing that such a decision will hang over whatever government makes it for decades, in resentment, anger and feelings of betrayal.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Female students poisoned in N. Afghanistan...Taliban stikes again?

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN)  from CNN website, May 29, 2012
 A hospital in northern Afghanistan admitted 160 schoolgirls Tuesday after they were poisoned, a Takhar province police official said.

Their classrooms might have been sprayed with a toxic material before the girls entered, police spokesman Khalilullah Aseer said. He blamed the Taliban.
The incident, the second in a week's time, was reported at the Aahan Dara Girls School in Taluqan, the provincial capital.
The girls, ages 10 to 20, complained of headaches, dizziness and vomiting before being taken to the hospital, said Hafizullah Safi, director of the provincial health department.
More than half of them were discharged within a few hours of receiving treatment, Safi said. The health department collected blood samples and sent them to Kabul for testing.
Last week, more than 120 girls and three teachers were admitted to a hospital after a similar suspected poisoning.
"The Afghan people know that the terrorists and the Taliban are doing these things to threaten girls and stop them going to school," Aseer said last week. "That's something we and the people believe. Now we are implementing democracy in Afghanistan and we want girls to be educated, but the government's enemies don't want this."
But earlier this week, the Taliban denied responsibility, instead blaming U.S. and NATO forces for the poisonings in an attempt to "defame" the insurgent group.
Taliban tightens grip on Afghan schools
There have been several instances of girls being poisoned in schools in recent years.
In April, also in Takhar province, more than 170 women and girls were hospitalized after drinking apparently poisoned well water at a school. Local health officials blamed the acts on extremists opposed to women's education.
While nearly all the incidents involve girls, earlier this month, nearly 400 boys at a school in Khost province fell ill after drinking water from a well that a health official said may have been poisoned.
The Taliban recently demanded the closure of schools in two eastern provinces. In Ghazni, the school closure was in retaliation for the government's ban on motorbikes often used by insurgents. People in Wardak said the Taliban has been a little more lenient and has allowed schools to open late after making changes to the curriculum.
Tortured Afghan teen: 'The same should be done' to attackers
The battle indicates broader fears about Afghanistan's future amid the drawdown of U.S. troops in the country.
Are children, and especially girls, to be the hostages in the immediate future conflicts across the globe?
There were some 45 children murdered in Syria just this weekend, along with at least 100 adults
Have we reached a new, lower and more despicable stage in human history when war includes targetting children because they seek to learn? Is the world, by default, going to grant immunity to those who perpetrate these war crimes? Kofi Annan, bless his heart, stands before a microphone in Damascus, following the massacre in Syria, and the unrevalling of the peace accord he negotiated, and tells the world, "Those responsible must be held to account!"
And we all know that will never happen. Just as those Taliban responsible for the poisoning of hundreds of young women will never be found let alone prosecuted.
Have we grown numb to these atrocities? Have we given up hope that we can and will create a world in which children everywhere can receive an education in peace and security?
Have we merely chalked these stories up to another "incident" in an already bloody and complex conflict, "occupation" the Taliban would call it, and turned to our own affairs, knowing or believing that there is nothing we can do to stop this insanity?
Are we, as detailed on a recent NPR, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, entered a time when war no longer resembles anything we formerly knew as war, popping up at any time, in any place, in a random, but nevertheless highly co-ordinated, if secret, offensive by terrorists bent on destroying the western way of life?
Are we watching and reading about some network of enemies, including Iran, Syria, North Korea, the Taliban and Pakistan, possibly also including the Karzai government in Afghanistan all of whom are in some kind of loose league in opposition to what we know as 'western civilization' in order to replace it with a brand of their own loosely referred to as some form of Islamic state?
Clearly, the countries listed, (backed often by both Russia and China) are not interested in complying with accepted and agreed to conditions for conducting conflict. They are more interested in destablizing whatever seems to them to be a sign of "western liberalism" including the formal education of women.
And our collective capacity to confront so varied, and so rich and so armed and so determined a group of enemies, loosely working under a common umbrella, without actually declaring a formal war against NATO or the west, or Israel...seem disorganized at worst and uneven at best.
We seem to take a few steps forward, and then more steps backward.
We seem to have decided on a date for withdrawal, likely more as a political compromise, in aid of a sitting president who does not want to campaign with another albatross around his neck, when the economy is larger than a single such albatross. And yet, will these heinous, and cowardly and sinister attacks on innocent women and young girls continue and even increase in frequency and severity after our departure?
They might...and once again with impunity...under cover of darkness, secrecy, disorganized security facilites, and some counter-intuitive political will to modernize.
The evil we name and confront is paling in comparison to the evil we barely recognize and barely acknowledge. And that pattern, dear reader, constitutes an extremely slippery slope, from which there may be no escape.

Canada: a binary choice or is there room for a third option?

By John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail, May 29, 2012
Mr. Mulcair has galvanized debate across Canada with his warning that unfettered development of the oil sands is not only damaging the environment, it is driving up the dollar and hurting manufacturing in Ontario and Quebec.

“This is about the future of the economy of the country,” he told reporters on Monday outside the Commons, “maintaining the equilibrium, coming up with a strategy that will allow us to maintain a vital industrial sector.”
Mr. Mulcair accuses the Conservative government of failing to require oil and other natural resource companies to pay the full environmental cost of their operations, and would compel them to do so if the NDP came to power.
“It's about the enforcement of federal legislation,” he said. “Since the beginning, we've made it clear that we're very concerned that the federal government is not enforcing federal law.”
Mr. Mulcair's message is powerful, first and foremost because he believes it. He was saying it months ago, long before he won the leadership. Cynics forget the impact that a principled argument, passionately held, can have.
Riding the petro-dollar, as Harper has been doing for the last several years, is not governing, in the sense that failing to require those companies that extract natural resources to pay the full cost of those extractions, including environmental protection, restoration and reclamation. Governing includes more than self-interest, and short-term self-interest at that. Relatively speaking, the Harper government's cynical approach, letting the extractors away with minimal costs and virtually no standards to meet, while depending on a short memory among the voters, while pointing to national data that indicate relatively moderate unemployment and a moderately strong dollar is insulting both to the government and to the nation.
And insulting the nation can only continue for a finite time.
Has that time come to an end?
We will learn more during and after the Mulcair visit to the west, and his visit to the oil sands and whatever interraction occurs between Mulcair and the western premiers.
There are certainly respected economists who agree with the Mulcair position. There is also clear evidence that the Harper government is not interested in either limiting the negative impacts of climate change and global warming or reducing the environmental footprint of the oil sands extractions.
One notion that disturbs about the Ibbitson piece is the link he tries to establish between Mulcair and this argument, as if personalizing it for the political "drama" of a right-left split in the electorate, something the conservatives and Ibbitson clearly include on their dream wish list, renders the Liberals extinct.
Predicting the extinction of the Liberals, based on the economic and national interests of the Mulcair argument, renders all voters another binary choice, either vote for Harper or for Mulcair in 2015.
While there are many reasons to object to this country's resistance to change, the preservation of a "third option" in the face of a binary tsunami has more merit for the long-term national interest, than the kind of reducction Ibbitson posits.
Nevertheless, waiting for the Liberals to stake out their position on the "development-environment" equation may leave enough time and room for the Mulcair forces to take the ground that has to be divided between the two opposition parties. And that thrust has already shoved the Liberals aside on the national stage.
While there are still ghosts of an anti-corporate policy history lurking around the NDP headquarters, there are also ghosts of the national energy program of Pierre Trudeau lurking around the offices of the Liberal Party, so both parties will have to shed these ghosts before they succeed in capturing the confidence of the Canadian voter.
Both all of both kinds of ghosts must never be adequate reason to continue to support the Harper government now or in 2015, when a federal election is expected.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Evolving Masculinty...indicated by tension about the future of hockey

  By Michael Adams, Globe and Mail, May 28, 2012
Michael Adams is president of Environics Group.
The first rule of fight club was don’t talk about fight club. The first rule of Canadian hockey seems to be never stop talking about it.

The past few years have produced a huge amount of debate about the nature and value of our national sport. Rule changes, fighting, head shots, concussions, “big hits” – fans, journalists and concerned health professionals have hashed it all out again and again.
Why so much talk? Because there is a tension between the broad trends of social change and the take-no-prisoners machismo we see on the ice. A large proportion of Canadians feel they have a stake in the game of hockey. Eighty-four per cent of us say that hockey is “a key part of what it means to be Canadian.”

That said, the millions of Canadians who feel some ownership over the game of hockey represent a range of constituencies. There are lovers of the sport who want a technically demanding, fast-paced game to watch. There are parents who want their kids to enjoy the camaraderie of a team sport while staying active during our long winters. There are Canadians who perk up around playoff time, feeling a sentimental, vaguely patriotic attachment to the game.
But the group that is understandably most important to the league and its advertisers is a set of hard-core fans, on average anglophone men aged 30 to 49 who feel quite at ease with the violence that makes some of hockey’s other constituencies cringe. Just 18 per cent of serious hockey fans describe themselves as uncomfortable with the violence in hockey, as compared to 32 per cent of occasional fans and half (49 per cent) of those who say they dislike the game.
Old-fashioned masculinity does not have many places to prove its mettle these days. Our information economy prizes creativity and networking over physical strength. Our social mores less often call on men to defend women from rogues in the street, and more often ask them to meet women as equals at work and in social life. Even the military seldom affords opportunities to fight bad guys and scumbags: Historical and cultural understanding in complex places like Afghanistan may now be more important than target practice. For those who long for a venue in which to express their raw testosterone, a rock ’em, sock ’em game – complete with all the traditional etiquette, such as punishing aggressors, defending teammates and upholding manly honour – is a welcome release.
But even as some will wish for hockey to serve as a fight club-like refuge from a culture in which machismo seems outmoded and violence grows ever less acceptable, others will insist that sport does not exist in a vacuum. On a basic level, hockey must conform to society’s ideas about acceptable behaviour. Off the ice, sneaking up behind someone and hitting them so hard they lose consciousness can get you jail time. On the ice, you risk a modest fine and a few games on the bench.
I suspect that hockey will eventually trend toward a compromise between the desire of hard-core fans for a tough, physical game and the belief of more casual fans that whatever happens on the ice should not be so brutal as to debilitate players long after the final buzzer. In short, hockey will have to find a way to remain an arena that stands a little apart from ordinary social norms while at the same time remaining basically aligned with the contemporary Canadian expectation that no job (however rich the pay) should cost you your health or your life.
Some of the off-ice discussions that have emerged around hockey recently (the breaking of the code of silence about sexual abuse by coaches, and Brian Burke’s continuation of his late son’s campaign against homophobia) have revealed that a growing number of hockey stalwarts believe manly heroism in sport does not mean stoic silence in the face of any and all abuse. Might doesn’t automatically make right. Changing the rules – and especially the unwritten codes – of professional hockey means changing our expectations about what it means to be a real man, even a heroic man, in the 21st century. And contrary to some tough guys’ intuitions, it’s men themselves who stand to gain the most from those changes.

Old-fashioned masculinity does not have many places to prove its mettle these days. Our information economy prizes creativity and networking over physical strength. Our social mores less often call on men to defend women from rogues in the street, and more often ask them to meet women as equals at work and in social life. Even the military seldom affords opportunities to fight bad guys and scumbags: Historical and cultural understanding in complex places like Afghanistan may now be more important than target practice. ....
 Might doesn’t automatically make right. Changing the rules – and especially the unwritten codes – of professional hockey means changing our expectations about what it means to be a real man, even a heroic man, in the 21st century.
Both of these quotes from the Adams piece are worthy of consideration.
Old fashioned masculinity once meant hard knuckles, and an even harder head. It meant bulging biceps and 6-pack abs, horse-like thighs and calves, even, at one time, "brylcreem hair," black leather and swivelling hips a la Elvis Presley. It also included "Marlboro Man" billboards, cow-poking ranchers and ropers, along with six-shooter sheriffs in frontier towns where power was the law. John Wayne slow-talking bass suggested that nothing ever rattled a real man. Except perhaps anything that smacked of "girlie" attitudes, dress, hair, or even pop music choices. Shortly after these nuanced on the archetype, there were two "Easy Riders" who rode their way across the country, not too long after Jimmy Dean died in a car crash. His "Rebel without a Cause" was a Hollywood version of an unloosed male, among others. And, a little later, there were slightly less "macho" men like Pat Boone who, as an undergraduate student at Columbia seemed to some the antithesis of the Presley "masculinity."
Common to all of these male icons was the throng of females who pursued concerts, on television, and in movies and photo-magazines, not to mention records.
The hockey counter-point to this era included Maurice, The Rocket, Richard (of the Montreal Canadiens), and his nemesis, Leo LaBine (of the Boston Bruins), who was confronted by his then coach, Milt Schmidt, upon his return to the bench in the middle of an NHL game from one of his many slashes on The Rocket, with, "What the hell did you do that for?" Now that you woke him up, he'll kill us! For God's sake, let sleeping dogs lie!"
It was a rare thing, in the fifties and early sixties, to learn that an NHL player was enrolled at university, studying in the off-season at "Summer School." I recall Eric Nesterenko was one of those special players who were attempting to combine "brain and brawn" in his life.
Male singers, including Perry Como, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and comics like the Smothers Brothers demonstrated a more subtle, perhaps even talented masculine public figure, at a time when politicians like John F. Kennedy, never considered effeminate by anyone, were striding the public stage with rhetoric that smacked of Churchill, and even a hint of poetry, without ever compromising his masculinity.
Eisenhower's military history was not enough to block his now famous warning of the "military-industrial complex" in 1961, just before he turned the White House over to Jack and Jackie Kennedy.
Similarly, Richard Burton strode both the Hollywood screen and the front pages of most dailies with both his theatrical rendition of King Arthur in Camelot and his courting of Elizabeth Taylor, another thespian of considerable talent and testosterone, as were all the Kennedy brothers.
Another chapter in the evolution of masculinity came with the invasion of British Rock Groups, especially The Beatles, whose claim to fame seemed to include their lyrics, their rhythms, their 'long hair' and their Liverpudlian origin. These were young men who seemed unlikely to slay any public or private dragons.
And once again, pre-pubescent girls were smitten with their presence.
The Brady Bunch, while a soft spoof on family life, was not about to celebrate a masculinity of either brain or brawn, preferring a white bread version, behind the picket fence, without any potential threat to anyone.
Hockey, meanwhile, was slashing Russian stars out of their careers, (witness the Bobby Clarke incident in the '72 series), and watching Billy Smith slashing anyone and anything that happened into his goal crease, while protecting the cage for the New York Islanders.
The Broad Street Bullies from Philadelphia, under head coach Fred Shero, were the reigning cup champs not so incidentally as a result of their pugilistic power, both public and through "sleight-of-hand" antics that sometimes missed the eyes of the ice police.
It could be argued that Bobby Orr attempted to bridge the gap between the ballet and the alley, through his masterful skating and stick-handling and his willingness to 'mix-it-up' when the occasion required. Modelled on Gordie Howe, Orr seemed to combine the best of both worlds, as did Howe, in a proportion that rendered his public persona both exciting and sufficiently refined to keep him in the top echelon of hockey greats.
And then there was Mario (Lemieux) and Wayne (Gretzky), both exemplars of a kind of masculinity that was defined by intuition, vision, strength and sportsmanship....of the gentleman variety. While they were protected by various "hit-men" so they were mostly left alone to make plays and to score goals, they personified an evolving masculinity that could still be fast, furious, exciting and successful, from a different perspective...
the beginning of the "evolved" man.
Guy Lafleur, Marc Messier, the "French connection line" from the Buffalo Sabres, Dave Keon, and a host of other highly skilled players added considerably to the poster-hallways of hockey greats while also helping to flesh out a new form of masculinity, without fights, without dirty shots, without nasty slashes yet all the while providing excitement and surprise with their did Ken Dryden in the Montreal Canadiens goal.
A former Nader-Raider (as a summer student from his law studies at Cornell) working for consumer advocate Ralsh Nader, Dryden conspicuously combined both brain power and hockey skill and stamina.
Pierre Trudeau, in a parallel universe, demonstrated that martial arts, swimming, constitutional law and dating famous and beautiful women were a Canadian refreshment both in politics and in masculinity.
Let's not dichotomize too deeply, rendering some of the more nuanced models of a varied masculinity to which we have been exposed and through which we have come to understand both ourselves as men, and our national game, as a public tension between various example and tendencies of the masculine, including more recently a new and growing acceptance of both gays and lesbians among men.
It has always been men, and the strict definition of what it means to be male, that has barred gay men from acceptance in the male bastions of sports, the law, medicine and commerce. For a much longer time, they have been accepted among artists, actors, dancers and writers, thereby also rendering those professions as "less than adequate" for many young males to pursue.
Fortunately, that "off-limits" sign is changing, but has still not been taken down, although its letters are very worn and barely readable.
I have left the military out of this piece, for the simple reason that the inner sanctum of that establishment, along with the church, has been moated from society for far too long, and how they view masculinity is not a part of the equation that merits much time or energy, sadly.
However, while Mr. Adams piece provokes some thought and reflection about the nature of evolving masculinity, it must not be permitted to eradicate some basic truths of male hard wiring, nor must it be permitted to cause men to apologize for their manhood, in all of its forms...since such apologies including repression, are far more dangerous than the fullest expression of that manhood, including all of its testosterone.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Obama vs 'what's his name!' and "what's he stand for?"...besides more breaks for the rich

By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, May 26, 2012
Barack Obama is a great orator, but he is the worst president I’ve ever seen when it comes to explaining his achievements, putting them in context, connecting with people on a gut level through repetition and thereby defining how the public views an issue.

Think about this: Is there anyone in America today who doesn’t either have a pre-existing medical condition or know someone who does and can’t get health insurance as a result? Yet two years after Obama’s health care bill became law, how many Americans understand that once it is fully implemented no American with a pre-existing condition will ever again be denied coverage?
“Obamacare is socialized medicine,” says the Republican Party. No, no — excuse me — socialized medicine is what we have now! People without insurance can go to an emergency ward or throw themselves on the mercy of a doctor, and the cost of all this uncompensated care is shared by all those who have insurance, raising your rates and mine. That is socialized medicine and that is what Obamacare ends. Yet Obama — the champion of private insurance for all — has allowed himself to be painted as a health care socialist.
Think about this: Obama didn’t just save the auto industry from bankruptcy. Two years later, he also got all the top U.S. automakers to agree to increase mileage for their vehicle fleets to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, from 27.5 m.p.g. today. As Popular Mechanics put it, this “is the largest mandatory fuel economy increase in history.” It will drive innovation, save money and make America less dependent on petro-dictators. Did you know Obama did this?
Finally, how did Obama ever allow this duality to take hold: “The Bush tax cuts” versus the “Obama bailout”? It should have been “the Bush deficit explosion” and the “Obama rescue.” Sure, the deficit has increased under Obama. It was largely to save the country from going into a Depression after a Bush-era binge that included two wars — which, for the first time in our history, we not only did not pay for with tax increases but instead accompanied with tax cuts — plus a 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill that we could not afford, then or now. Congressional Democrats also had a hand in this, but the idea that Bush gets to skate off into history as a “tax-cutter” and not as a “deficit buster” is a travesty. You can’t just blame Fox News. Obama has the bully pulpit.
But Obama is running even with Mitt Romney not simply because of what he didn’t say, but also because of what he didn’t do. As the former Obama budget director Peter Orszag notes, to get the economy moving again, what we’ve needed for the past two years is a plan of “combined boldness” — another stimulus focused on infrastructure that would grow jobs and enhance productivity combined with a credible, bipartisan plan for trimming future growth in Medicare and Social Security and reforming taxes to get our long-term fiscal house in order, as the economy improves.
In short, we needed more stimulus paired with some version of the Simpson-Bowles deficit plan. It is highly unlikely that you could “get one passed without the other, and you shouldn’t want to anyway,” said Orszag. Together they would launch the U.S. economy.
Obama, in fairness, tried a version of this with his “grand bargain” talks with the House speaker, John Boehner, but when those talks failed, Obama made a huge mistake. He should have gone straight to the country and repeated over and over: “I have a plan that will create millions of jobs and send the stock market soaring — near-term stimulus plus Simpson-Bowles — and the Republicans are blocking it.”
Obama could have adapted Simpson-Bowles, but symbolically it was vital to embrace it in some form as his headline deficit plan, because it already enjoyed some G.O.P. support and strong backing from independents, who liked the way it forced both parties to compromise. Had Obama gone to the country with more near-term stimulus married to Simpson-Bowles, he would have owned the left, independents and center-right. It would have split the Republicans and provided a real alternative to the radical Paul Ryan-Romney plan.
Instead, Obama retreated to his left base, offered a stimulus without Simpson-Bowles and started talking about “fairness.” The result has been a muddled message that has alienated independent/center-right voters who put him over the top in 2008. Don’t get me wrong: I want fairness, but fairness that comes from a growing economy and comprehensive tax reform not from redividing a shrinking pie.
In sum, Obama’s campaign right now feels as though it were made in a test tube by political consultants. It’s not the Obama we admire. Rather than pounding the country with “I have a plan” — a rebuilding stimulus plus Simpson-Bowles — which would be an Obama-like message of hope, leadership and unity that would put him on higher ground that Romney can’t reach because of the radical G.O.P. base, Obama is selling poll-tested wedge issues. I don’t think it’s a winner for him or America.
And there were Simpson and Bowles themselves, sitting together in Charlotte, North Carolina, while appearing this morning on the GPS program with Fareed Zakaria. And listen to Simpson, who describes himself as a R.I.N.O. ...a Republican In Name Only, who doesn't agree on much with his party. He pointed to Grover Cleveland, riding around in his white robes, threatening to defeat any member of Congress who supports even one penny of tax increase..."he can't burn their house down, and he can't kill them, so he will make sure they are defeated" a thinly veiled reference to the KKK's history against African Americans.
Simpson also pointed out that, had Obama more vigorously supported the recommendations in their plan to cut both the debt and the deficit, he would have been crucified by his own party, while the Republicans watched with glee.
However, resurrecting the main principles of Simpson-Bowles, and placing them before the American voters, as a central argument of his campaign would serve Obama well, not to mention how much service such a plan would be to the country. Failure to implement sound, visionary economic policy and proposals to cut both the debt and the deficit will only render the U.S. in danger of another reduction in its credit rating (according to Erskine Bowles himself this morning).
There is a strong argument that Obama needs to point not only to what he has accomplished but also to the obstruction to other sound ideas he has supported without achieving legislative passage of those ideas, because of the complete and utter obstructionism of Republicans.
Let'e be clear:
  • Romney would dismantle Obamacare
  • Romney would increase the Pentagon budget
  • Romney would gut the social programs, while cutting taxes for both corporations and the wealthy
  • Romney would assure the financial services sector of even fewer regulations for their rampant rape and pillage of the American economy
  • Romney would "call" the federal loans to the auto companies, those still un-repaid, because he believes this was a policy that undermined the American capitalist system
  • Romney would gut the Department of Education, leaving education exclusively to the states
  • Romney would attack Iran as his way of curtailing that country's nuclear weapons program
  • Romney would gut Head Start and Food Stamps because they provide too much assistance to those in need, who, in his view, need to show more initiative and "pull themselves up by their bootstraps"
  • Romney would immediately approve the Keystone pipeline and extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich
  • Romney would most likely strip funding to such services as public radio, as part of his cost-cutting campaign while also cutting thousands of jobs from the public service, thereby reducing the size of government, and also reducing or eliminating government services to the public
The fact that these two men are running even close, (latest poll has Obama at 47% and Romnney at 45%)
is both shocking and a scathing condemnation of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, which opened the flood-gates to billions of unaccounted cash for any candidate benefiting the Republican candidataes as they knew it would.
America needs not only a second term of President Obama, but also a Congress comprised mainly of moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans, (if there are any left)...and this election is Obama's to lose, because Romney clearly does not deserve to win and, with a resurgence of positive campaigning by Obama will not even be close, on election night in November.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A visit to Norway's Halden Fensel Prison...for enlightenment and hope

By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, May 26, 2012
 If a neighbourhood kid grabs you on the street, slashes you with a knife and steals your wallet, once you get over the pain, the rage, the fear and the police bureaucracy, you’ll probably want him sent to prison.
But what sort of prison? That’s where you, as a victim, confront the question that most countries face today: Correction or revenge? Do you want to hurt the criminal, or do you want to hurt crime?
That European sense So ask yourself. Would you want him to do time in Norway’s Halden Fengsel, possibly the best prison in the world?
Halden, completed two years ago, is a nicer place than the homes that many of its inmates come from. There are comfortable cells with flat-screen TVs, Ikea-style wood furniture and mini-fridges, teaching kitchens, music studios and excellent libraries, two-storey houses for lengthy visits with partners and children, guards who don’t carry weapons and share meals and sports with the inmates – a great many of them murderers and rapists.
Prisoners are locked in their cells between 8:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m., but are otherwise expected to be engaged in classes, treatment programs and prison-yard jobs. “If you have very few activities, your prisoners become more aggressive,” prison governor Are Høidal told The Guardian this week.
Despite the seriousness of their crimes and their deprived backgrounds, the inmates rarely fight. They do have incentives: If they misbehave, they can get sent to a less enjoyable “closed” prison, like the one that will house anti-immigration terrorist Anders Breivik.
Mr. Høidal has explained in earlier interviews that revenge and suffering have no place in the Norwegian prison system. “We want to build them up, give them confidence through education and work and have them leave as better people.”
Does that make you feel all warmhearted and hopeful for the kid who disfigured you? Are you yearning to give him the chance to become a better person? Probably not. There’s a good chance it infuriates you. Especially when you learn that it’s costing more money to keep him in this luxe prison than you earn in a year.
But consider this: Fewer than one in five prisoners in Halden will commit another serious crime after being released. In Canada, the United States and Britain, the rate is more like three in five.
We know exactly why Norway has such lower recidivism numbers. Prisoners, being under constant observation, are very easy to study, and they’ve been studied like mad. Cambridge University criminologist Friedrich Lösel recently compared scores of studies in a dozen countries and found they reached almost identical conclusions.
He found that what causes prisoners to reoffend at lower rates, everywhere, is basic education, vocational and employability programs, anger management and therapy while behind bars (or, in Norway, no bars). On the other hand, things that cause prisoners to reoffend more after release include longer sentences, strict discipline, deterrent “shock incarceration” programs and regular sanctions (such as withdrawal of privileges).
In other words, we have a stark choice: We can punish people more, or we can reduce crime more. One cancels out the other. Sadly, though, it is a sense of anger and vengeance that motivates policy decisions in most countries these days.
In fact, it would seem that anger and vengeance motivates policy decisions on more than incarceration practices. Governments like that in Norway demonstrate to the world that how they treat the "least" of their people models their attitudes to the "rest" of their people...and we would all do well to take a page from their playbook.
Ideally, no country seeks higher rates of recidivism; yet, many 'achieve' them simply because of a short-sighted, vindictive, punitive and angry perspective that motivates the demographic power base of the people in power. And playing to that power base keeps the politicians in power.
Where does the world view come from, that seeks to punish the criminal, rather than the crime?
I would respectfully suggest that religion and faith both have a significant impact on the worldviews of people.
If one has been raised in and has bought into a faith perspective that concentrates on the "sin" and the "worthlessness" of human beings, leading to the need for redemption, through pain and  punishment, there is a higher probability that such persons, and cultures replete with such persons, will write policies that concentrate on punishment, as a way of "taking care" of those who demonstrate deviance from what is considered acceptable. And those definitions, too, will likely derive directly from some holy book, that includes injunctions comparable to those in the Decalogue.
Interestingly, and somewhat paradoxically, the Decalogue, in the Old Testament, does not include specific forms of punishment. And the New Testament finds injunctions to "do unto others what you would have them do unto you" and to "love your enemies as yourself" and the "poor will inherit the earth" and....a rather insightful, compassionate and farsighted attitude to others that many, in the west, have come to associate with "socialism" and with "soft on crime" and with "unmanly"attitudes of the state. And in the powerlessness of victimhood, or at least perceived victimhood, we focus on those acts and attitudes that demonstrate our "power over" others, no matter how desperate we might be for that moment of "power."
Narcissistically, we seek vengeance, although at least one 'holy book' reminds us that "vengeance is mine, says the Lord"...and even find a perverse kind of comfort in executing that motive, including, in the U.S. in some 38 states, the execution of the person found guilty of murder.
As a fantasy, one would propose an excursion, a boatload, of the most "committed" evangelical christians to the prison described above in Norway, to spend a week listening to all the perspectives on the history, philosophy and policy background of that prison, so that they could see that the narrow, controlling, anal and punitive attitudes they took across the Atlantic, as part of their "holy" and "sacred" theology and belief system represent more of a distortion of anything that God could or would represent, support and propose than what they have witnessed in the Norway prison.
There is really nothing more sinister than a born-again Christian telling the world how to punish evil and evil doers, except perhaps a country committed to the same kind of vengeance. Unfortunately, most have not noticed the "plank" in their own eye, while focussing instead on the "spec" in the eye of the other.
It is the "deprived backgrounds" that we know are at the centre of criminal behaviour, and both prevention of those deprivations, and designing policies and practices that sustain all people in their pursuit of their higher purposes that can and will reduce even the need for prisons.
And such prevention and policies will only come from people whose humility and whose grace and whose theology sees their own vulnerability as a gift from God, and not their "superiority" and their moral purity and sanctimoniousness as that gift.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Krugman: Ego's and Immortality...reflections on the "cash strike"

By Paul Krugman, New York Times, May 24, 2012
In the wake of a devastating financial crisis, President Obama has enacted some modest and obviously needed regulation; he has proposed closing a few outrageous tax loopholes; and he has suggested that Mitt Romney’s history of buying and selling companies, often firing workers and gutting their pensions along the way, doesn’t make him the right man to run America’s economy.
Wall Street has responded — predictably, I suppose — by whining and throwing temper tantrums. And it has, in a way, been funny to see how childish and thin-skinned the Masters of the Universe turn out to be. Remember when Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group compared a proposal to limit his tax breaks to Hitler’s invasion of Poland? Remember when Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase characterized any discussion of income inequality as an attack on the very notion of success?
But here’s the thing: If Wall Streeters are spoiled brats, they are spoiled brats with immense power and wealth at their disposal. And what they’re trying to do with that power and wealth right now is buy themselves not just policies that serve their interests, but immunity from criticism.
Actually, before I get to that, let me take a moment to debunk a fairy tale that we’ve been hearing a lot from Wall Street and its reliable defenders — a tale in which the incredible damage runaway finance inflicted on the U.S. economy gets flushed down the memory hole, and financiers instead become the heroes who saved America.
Once upon a time, this fairy tale tells us, America was a land of lazy managers and slacker workers. Productivity languished, and American industry was fading away in the face of foreign competition.
Then square-jawed, tough-minded buyout kings like Mitt Romney and the fictional Gordon Gekko came to the rescue, imposing financial and work discipline. Sure, some people didn’t like it, and, sure, they made a lot of money for themselves along the way. But the result was a great economic revival, whose benefits trickled down to everyone.
You can see why Wall Street likes this story. But none of it — except the bit about the Gekkos and the Romneys making lots of money — is true.
For the alleged productivity surge never actually happened. In fact, overall business productivity in America grew faster in the postwar generation, an era in which banks were tightly regulated and private equity barely existed, than it has since our political system decided that greed was good.
What about international competition? We now think of America as a nation doomed to perpetual trade deficits, but it was not always thus. From the 1950s through the 1970s, we generally had more or less balanced trade, exporting about as much as we imported. The big trade deficits only started in the Reagan years, that is, during the era of runaway finance.
And what about that trickle-down? It never took place. There have been significant productivity gains these past three decades, although not on the scale that Wall Street’s self-serving legend would have you believe. However, only a small part of those gains got passed on to American workers.
So, no, financial wheeling and dealing did not do wonders for the American economy, and there are real questions about why, exactly, the wheeler-dealers have made so much money while generating such dubious results.
Those are, however, questions that the wheeler-dealers don’t want asked — and not, I think, just because they want to defend their tax breaks and other privileges. It’s also an ego thing. Vast wealth isn’t enough; they want deference, too, and they’re doing their best to buy it. It has been amazing to read about erstwhile Democrats on Wall Street going all in for Mitt Romney, not because they believe that he has good policy ideas, but because they’re taking President Obama’s very mild criticism of financial excesses as a personal insult.
And it has been especially sad to see some Democratic politicians with ties to Wall Street, like Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker, dutifully rise to the defense of their friends’ surprisingly fragile egos.
As I said at the beginning, in a way Wall Street’s self-centered, self-absorbed behavior has been kind of funny. But while this behavior may be funny, it is also deeply immoral.
Think about where we are right now, in the fifth year of a slump brought on by irresponsible bankers. The bankers themselves have been bailed out, but the rest of the nation continues to suffer terribly, with long-term unemployment still at levels not seen since the Great Depression, with a whole cohort of young Americans graduating into an abysmal job market.
And in the midst of this national nightmare, all too many members of the economic elite seem mainly concerned with the way the president apparently hurt their feelings. That isn’t funny. It’s shameful.
While agreeing with all of Professor Krugman's history and analysis, I would also add that the kind of immunity and impunity sought/bought/secured by the very wealthy is likely to be afforded by an obsequious media, whose existence more and more seems tied to their capacity to fawn over their "star" interviews, comprised mainly of the rich and the famous.
The rich and the powerful have never had so many sycophant scribes. From the television show, "Lives of the Rich and Famous," hosted by Robin Leach back in the day, we have watched an active production incubator of both shows and print coverage of the narcissism of the rich.
The very fact that Romney's millions have propelled him to the Republican nomination for president, along with the millions contributed to the PAC's supportive of his candidacy, gives notices that many of those same Wall Street billionaires, and their corporate CEO friends, are ostensibly holding back their mountains of cash from investing in the American industries who could benefit from those investments, not to mention the thousands, perhaps even millions of jobs those investments would unleash, perhaps waiting for his election in November and then demonstrating his capacity to "create jobs" by unpacking what is essentially a "cash strike".
Analogous to a labour strike in which workers withdraw their services, in order to put pressure on their employer for enhanced working conditions, and/or benefits, the rich have produced this "cash strike" without worry of breaking any law, thereby crippling both the economy and the employment rate, under the pretense of "too much uncertainty" for them to make wise investments, because they do not know what the tax rate will be in 2013.
Holding both the economy and the unemployed, the poor and the dispossessed hostage to this undeclared "cash strike" supported as it is by the financial sector, also under the rubric of "assuring that Obama is a one-term president" is also shameful. State and local government coffers are being starved of the cash that income and business taxes would generate, should even half of this cash be released from the vaults in which it is being held.
While the Republicans chortle at this chicanery, salivating at the thought of capturing the Congress and the White House in November, the country withers on the vine of both greed and financial withdrawal.
If this were a marriage, the 99% would and should divorce the 1%....and let them hang in the wind.
If this were a partnership, it would be dissolved.
If this were a corporation, the board of directors would, hopefully demand a change in leadership.
But because it is only a country that has lost its political and financial bearings, and is only too ready to pass the reins of power over to Bush III (Romney), both it and the rest of the world will continue to suffer its unbridled narcissism.

Questioning the establishment of "office of religious freedoms"

By Campbell Clark, Globe and Mail, May 24, 2012
In a speech promoting Ottawa’s plans to open an Office of Religious Freedom in the Foreign Affairs department, Mr. Baird spoke of the “moral call” that people like his grandfather answered in fighting the Second World War.

“And yet, after the war, some decision makers lost sight of our proud tradition to do what is right and what is just,” he said in a draft of the speech. “Some decided it would be better to paint Canada as an honest broker. I call it being afraid to take a clear position, even when that’s what’s needed.”

Mr. Baird was speaking to the Religious Liberty Dinner, an annual fixture on Washington’s busy political dinner schedule organized by religious-liberty associations and the Seventh Day Adventist Church – and for the first time ever, hosted at Canada’s Embassy.
Mr. Baird was invited, according to government officials, as a nod from organizers to Canada’s plans to open a $5 million-a-year Religious Freedom Office, inside Foreign Affairs, some time this year.
The plans for the office, with a projected budget half as big as its U.S. counterpart, has been criticized by some as an attempt to appeal to religious conservatives in Canada.

Mr. Baird said the office will “help our diplomats around the world support religious freedom.”
His speech argued that defending religious freedoms cannot be separated from defending other basic human rights.
Mr. Baird’s speech mentioned the persecution of religious groups including Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, Ahmadiyya Muslims, and Baha’i. But it dealt most extensively with the targeting of Jews and Christians.
He spoke of the pogroms against Jews in the Spanish Inquisition, said 6 million died in the 1930s and ’40s because of their religious identity, and said the world cannot risk appeasing “Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran” now “in the same way the world appeased the Nazis.”
He said that Canada now will “stand with the Jewish state.”
Christians now “face particular persecution in countries around the world,” he said, citing persecution in Iran, attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, among other examples. He pointed to a program to resettle Christian and other minority refugees from Iraq as an example of Canadian action.
There is reason for more than a little scepticism about this proposal, from many quarters.
Canada's honest broken role did not stop her from participating in the Second World War, against tyranny, as well as against Jews. Ethnic cleansing must never be tolerated, regardless of the religion practiced by the victims or the perpetrators. However, to concentrate on "religious freedom" as opposed to human freedoms, is to join those who wish to litigate religion in the public arena, including the state.
In the U.S. for example, there is such an enmeshment of the state with religion that the Catholic bishops are taking the Obama administration to court, to challenge the government's right to require Catholic institutions to provide birth control to their students and employees who may not be Catholic.
That may appear, on first blush to be another attempt to separate church from state, but it is really the church attempting to dictate public policy, to bring it in line with the church's teachings.
We are living in a time when religion is being used as a weapon both for and against political power.
Religion is certainly not immune from attempting, just like the insurance and the pharmaceutical companies, to lobby, influence and shape government policy, in North America.
And, while people are being persecuted around the world, and some of that persecution does indeed have a religious basis and bias, persecution, in and of itself warrants prevention, through all of the vehicles open to those seeking to expose, confront and prevent that persecution. Religious persecution by itself merely focuses on putting resources on select, preferred and acceptable religions, at the expense of other religions.
Do we want to join in an initiative that elevates religious liberty above other human rights and freedoms?
Do we think and believe that, because we practice a particular faith, and thereby do not support a different faith, or even a person with no faith, whether they are agnostic or atheist, that we are somehow morally superior?
And when a government, whether a theocracy or an atheistic government attempts to control, manipulate or repress a specific faith group, do we wish to frame that conflict primarily in religious terms, as opposed to framing it as a  human rights issue?
This kind of attitude, merging into public policy, does not necessarily "show spine" as Baird would like to think, but rather demonstrates an attempt to attract specific religious groups to a specific political party, and colours that party as a supporter of specific religious, at the expense of other religions.
Spending some of the taxpayers money on such an office, as compared, for example, to establishing inter-faith dialogues, to demonstrating a willingness to see human beings as more than economic units or as voting machines, would go a long way to developing a culture of both tolerance and understanding among and between faith communities, and demonstrate a kind of public policy that cannot and will not be linked by those looking to link it, with political ambition, aspiration and manipulation.
Why are religious leaders in Canada not speaking out against the establishment of this office of religious freedom, asking legitimate questions about why this state (and government) is more interested in aligning itself with specific named religions while at the same time practicing a political philosophy that denies the very tenets of the most basic of faith?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Quebec in crisis...NYT interferes publishing Montreal political scientists

Our Not-So-Friendly Northern Neighbor
By Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour, New York Times, May 23, 2012
Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour are associate professors of political science at the University of Montreal.

When Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in Russia, Quebecers could not help but laugh. Poutine, as he is called in French, is also the name of a Québécois fast-food dish made of French fries, gravy and cheese. But these days the laughter is over, as Quebec gets a taste of Mr. Putin’s medicine.
For a change, Americans should take note of what is happening across the quiet northern border. Canada used to seem a progressive and just neighbor, but the picture today looks less rosy. One of its provinces has gone rogue, trampling basic democratic rights in an effort to end student protests against the Quebec provincial government’s plan to raise tuition fees by 75 percent.
On May 18, Quebec’s legislative assembly, under the authority of the provincial premier, Jean Charest, passed a draconian law in a move to break the 15-week-long student strike. Bill 78, adopted last week, is an attack on Quebecers’ freedom of speech, association and assembly. Mr. Charest has refused to use the traditional means of mediation in a representative democracy, leading to even more polarization. His administration, one of the most right-wing governments Quebec has had in 40 years, now wants to shut down opposition.
The bill threatens to impose steep fines of 25,000 to 125,000 Canadian dollars against student associations and unions — which derive their financing from tuition fees — in a direct move to break the movement. For example, student associations will be found guilty if they do not stop their members from protesting within university and college grounds.
During a street demonstration, the organization that plans the protest will be penalized if individual protesters stray from the police-approved route or exceed the time limit imposed by authorities. Student associations and unions are also liable for any damage caused by a third party during a demonstration.
These absurd regulations mean that student organizations and unions will be held responsible for behavior they cannot possibly control. They do not bear civil responsibility for their members as parents do for their children.
Freedom of speech is also under attack because of an ambiguous — and Orwellian — article in Bill 78 that says, “Anyone who helps or induces a person to commit an offense under this Act is guilty of the same offense.” Is a student leader, or an ordinary citizen, who sends a Twitter message about civil disobedience therefore guilty? Quebec’s education minister says it depends on the context. The legislation is purposefully vague and leaves the door open to arbitrary decisions.
Since the beginning of the student strike, leaders have told protesters to avoid violence. Protesters even condemned the small minority of troublemakers who had infiltrated the demonstrations. During the past four months of protests, there has never been the kind of rioting the city has seen when the local National Hockey League team, the Canadiens, wins or loses during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The biggest demonstration, which organizers estimate drew 250,000 people on May 22, was remarkably peaceful. Mr. Charest’s objective is not so much to restore security and order as to weaken student and union organizations. This law also creates a climate of fear and insecurity, as ordinary citizens can also face heavy fines.
Bill 78 has been fiercely denounced by three of four opposition parties in Quebec’s Legislature, the Quebec Bar Association, labor unions and Amnesty International. James L. Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, called Bill 78 “a terrible act of mass repression” and “a weapon to suppress dissent.”
The law will remain in force only until July 1, 2013. The short duration says it all. It amounts to a temporary suspension of certain liberties and allows the government to avoid serious negotiations with student leaders. And it grants the authorities carte blanche for the abuse of power; just hours after it passed, police officers in Montreal began to increase the use of force against protesters.
Some critics have tried to portray the strike as a minority group’s wanting a free lunch. This is offensive to most Quebec students. Not only are they already in debt, despite paying low tuition fees, but 63 percent of them work in order to pay their university fees. The province has a very high rate of youth employment: about 57 percent of Quebecers between the ages of 15 and 24 work, compared with about 49 percent between the ages of 16 and 24 in the United States.
Both Quebec and Canada as a whole are pro-market. They also share a sense of solidarity embodied by their public health care systems and strong unions. Such institutions are a way to maintain cohesion in a vast, sparsely populated land. Now those values are under threat.
Americans traveling to Quebec this summer should know they are entering a province that rides roughshod over its citizens’ fundamental freedoms.
A little leaven, to these words from French political scientists, teaching at the University of Montreal.
1) Comparing the Quebec bill 78 to Russia's Putin, is somewhat over the top.
2) There have been fourteen weeks of uninterrupted protests by student demonstrators, against a hike in tuition fees, without a negotiated, mediated or arbitrated resolution.
3) While the premier and Quebec government have shown poor political judgement, there is no question that these protests will neither bring about a lowering of the proposed hike in tuition, although the government has indicated it will be prepared to stretch the time frame for implementation to seven from five years, mitigating the impact of the fee hike.
4) There are, undoubtedly, political activists, including provincial labour unions, as well as national labour unions who are attempting to manipulate this "social protest" into a full-scale political attack on Premier Charest and his government, a government that has proven some considerable lack of sound judgement in not calling, for example, for a Public Inquiry into the patronage in the construction industry in Quebec, while select individuals are being arrested for their activities allegedly involving relationships with politicians and public projects.
5) There is also a separatist party, waiting not so far in the wings, for a provincial election, in which they hope to wrest power from the Liberals, and enact their agenda for a sovereign state in Quebec and there is no reason to think that some of these people would not be inciting protesters to keep up their fight with the government by taking to the streets.
6) With over 2000 arrests already, there is considerable risk to someone (or more than one) being injured seriously or even killed, given the size of the protest crowds on both the streets of Montreal and Quebec city, and at that point, all talk of tuition fees will disappear in the face of what could be termed a potential insurrection, at which time the federal government could be called to restore order.
7) The political views of the writers of the New York Times piece might well include considerable active opposition to the current government, and clearly, aligning themselves with the students could also be considered a slightly self-interested position.
8) Some writers outside Quebec have dubbed the students, "the Greeks" of Canada, for their self-indulgence and their pettiness in resisting what most agree are needed funding reforms to the Quebec university system, as most universities in Canada, a publicly funded system.
While attempting to control public demonstrations, 'after the horse has left the barn,' the Quebec government may have lost control of the situation, and forced the city police in both Montreal and Quebec city to bear the brunt of the conflict in their daily, nightly and even hourly confrontations with the protesters, when their leaders and supervisors have urged them to exercise wise discretionary judgement in when and how they act when dealing directly with the protesters.
This is a boiling cauldron, that, with a single spark of violence, no matter how it originates, resulting in serious injury or death, will escalate beyond even the expectations and wishes of both sides, and unravel to the detriment of all parties, including the maintenance of order and good government, at the heart of the Canadian constitution.

Why is apocalyptic thinking OK for politicians and economists and not environmentalists?

By Eric Reguly, Globe and Mail, May 23, 2012
The crisis in the euro zone has lurched into its most dangerous phase yet, putting intense heat on leaders to stabilize Greece quickly, or ensure its exodus does not trigger an economic catastrophe.

Until now, the focus has been on rescuing Greece and saving the 17-member monetary union in its entirety. But Wednesday, Germany’s central bank broke a taboo among monetary officials by raising the spectre of Greece leaving. This came amid reports, denied by Greece, that the group’s individual finance ministries were drawing up contingency plans.
Heightened fears of a break-up of the euro zone, potentially wrecking the European banking system and plunging the continent into deep recession, pummelled the currency and sent stocks tanking. This came as EU leaders met in Brussels for a summit that, yet again, took on a crisis flavour just two months after Greece accepted €130-billion in fresh bailout loans in exchange for severe austerity commitments.

After a two-day rally, London’s FTSE 100 lost 2.5 per cent while the Eurofirst 300, which tracks the performance of Europe’s biggest public companies, shed 2.2 per cent. North American stocks recovered lost ground late in the day.
Sometimes, it seems as if the stock market readings are more like a simple basketball game, where the shocks and quivvers, the changes in momentum, mood and even anxiety are more important than the structural and long-term "health" of the market and its potential to endure. We have made an unending drama out of the movement of the "ticker" as if we could predict the short-term future based on the latest nano second's reading of world events.
We all know that both politics and economics are very imperfect and unsubtle and unsophisticated sciences.
Even more blunt and un-nuanced than the law, we watch these stories, which not so incidentally, impact the political debate more than they should, and wonder how such pressure to perform, as if every moment were the apocalypse's entrance, could possible contribute to the healthy debate of mature, honourable and visionary leaders.
Martin Luther King used to say that when a man knows clearly what he will die for, he is then prepared to live life fully. But knowing what one would die for is quite different from facing a faux apocalypse, created for the purpose of keeping those responsible for market strength and health "on their toes"...
Imagine a surgeon in the middle of the most delicate and complicated procedure, seeing on the heart monitor, that the patient's heart has stopped. Now that's a crisis, and I have never heard an adequate explanation of why the market has to operate at that same crisis point every moment of every day of every month of every year...
Especially, when we all know that decisions taken under such circumstances, by those untrained to meet such exigencies, are not necessarily in the best interest of either those making the decisions, nor of the rest of the world community. That's why we have professionally trained, and experienced doctors operating in a small  room, with other expert doctors at their side, making decisions in the best interests of the patient, knowing that whatever the result, they will have to "report" to the patient's family the result of their work.
That's accountability, and it makes for enhanced responsibility.
To whom to the leaders of the EU have to report, should Greece fail, and the EU dissolve, in the same sense that that surgeon has to face the family of his/her patient.
Markets have a way of sliding, willy nilly, without the control of a single pair of hands at the tiller, to mix the metaphor. And the media does no one, and no country and no company a favour by reporting every blip on the market's heart monitor.
Let's grow up, stop worshipping at this phoney, man-made altar of power, and start looking down the road, for better, more mature and less pressured long-term economic solutions, in a spirit of confidence, and balance, not from a perspective of self-generated "terror".
And to think it was the economic, financial and political community that dubbed the global warming and climate change predictors as apocalyptic, in order to render the importance of their arguments for change, some two decades ago.
Have they no shame for their hypocrisy?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Marry not date" immigrants to Canada...persons not mere economic units

By Gillian Hewitt Smith, Globe and Mail, May 23, 2012
Gillian Hewitt Smith is the executive director and CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

Ultimately, we must address the question of Canadian citizenship, its value and meaning.

Immigrants are more than bodies and minds imported to solve short-term economic imperatives. First and foremost, they are people whose successful integration into the social, cultural and political realms of Canadian society, along with its economic sector, is of critical importance.
Canadians agree with this point. In its 2011 Focus Canada survey, the Environics Institute found that Canadians put lower priority on immigrants becoming economically self-sufficient than on adapting in other ways to Canadian society.
Integrating into the labour force is only part of the picture. People everywhere have an innate need for connection, belonging and a sense of welcome no matter where life’s lottery assigned their birthplace. True, some of these needs are satisfied by meaningful work, but life is much more than a job or career.
Through the work of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship with tens of thousands of new citizens and more than 1,000 cultural attractions across Canada, we hear endless stories that make it abundantly clear that those newest to our country crave more than jobs. We hear how meaningful it is for a new citizen to discover a national park, how volunteering at a child’s school enables a new citizen to make friends in the community, and how visiting a museum helps them to connect to Canada.
A simple focus on immediate economic needs cannot come at the expense of longer-term nation-building.
The fact is, Canada naturalizes a far higher percentage of immigrants than any other country on Earth, with roughly 85 per cent of those eligible eventually becoming Canadian citizens. Landing and settling here are, for most newcomers, temporary points along the road to becoming a citizen.
Indeed, we look to marry, not casually date, those who choose to come to Canada. In a groundbreaking national survey on attitudes toward citizenship, Canadians on Citizenship (in which the ICC was a partner), foreign-born Canadian citizens and permanent residents were asked when they first felt “Canadian.” The overwhelming response: the moment they arrived in Canada. Immigrants arrive pre-wired for engagement in Canadian society.
It’s clear that Canada’s long-term stability, success and peaceful cohesion depend on creating engaged and active Canadian citizens, not just on employing immigrants.
This isn’t difficult. In Canadians on Citizenship, Canadians also identified that citizenship is far more than voting, obeying the law and paying taxes. They named community engagement, volunteering, acceptance of difference, protecting the environment and many other activities as essential acts of citizenship.
So then what of the Canadian-born? As a 13th-generation Canadian, I read the series (in the Globe and Mail) wondering if the “immigrant answer” gave me an automatic bye from contributing to the health and vitality of my nation.
By focusing on the immigrant answer, we are placing an undue and unfair burden on the newly arrived that we don’t place on ourselves.
Newcomers and new citizens are actively encouraged to participate in community life, while Canadians generally are volunteering in ever-decreasing numbers. We stress the importance of voting and political participation with those newly able to cast a ballot. Yet Canadians overall are less engaged in the political process than ever before. The test we make our citizen candidates answer before becoming Canadian citizens is filled with questions many Canadian-born would struggle to answer correctly.
In order to succeed, all Canadians must accept the responsibilities we impart to those who choose to make Canada their home and native land.
Three cheers from this corner of the arena, for Ms Hewitt Smith's prescient challenge to all Canadians to confront the "economic unit" argument of the government when contemplating immigration policy changes.
"We look to marry, not casually date" those who come to as pragmatic and idealistic a phrase as one could muster in the situation.
And integration, as anyone knows who thinks about it, requires the active participation of both parties to the act. It is not up to government only to do the work of integrating newcomers to this country. Nor is the current government's definition of a potential immigrant as one with the skills needed for successful employment, and thereby earning an income and thus avoiding any assistance from the public purse (which has to be at least as important to this government as filling the holes in the labour market) sufficient, or even supportable as a public policy goal.
The Canadian culture, while publicly championing the accessibility of our country to those from other lands, cultures, languages and faiths, is not nearly as "open" and receptive and welcoming as our public face would seem to suggest. We do a miserable job of matching already achieved education with our professional educational requirments thereby facilitating the process, for example, of integration into the profession of the immigrant into the Canadian cadre of that profession. Hence, doctors and lawyers from other countries are forced to drive taxis in our major cities. Of course, the professional associations have both their pride and their gate-keeping requirments; yet these could and should be negotiated by the provincial governments with their professional associations.
On another level, we find that most activists in the field of immigration are either former civil servants retired to the bounty of "consulting" for substantial fees, or church-affiliates and ethically motivated citizens who comprehend the importance of "national hospitality".
When there is a tragedy, Canadians do respond to their neighbours. However, we tend not to see the landing of a family on our shores, or at our airports as analogous to "tragedy" when, in fact, that may well be the case. We consider more our pride in their chosing to come here, than our need to support their entry, and then their adaptation to our country's ways.
It is Canadians whose role as active, committed, informed and compassionate "hosts" that can and will demonstrate to the government and to the immigrants themselves, that any reduction of their "personhood" to a mere economic unit, with the right skills to fill the job holes in our corporate marketplace, is completely unacceptable to Canadians, and through our commitment to our country and to the immigrants we can push back against a government whose vision is so one-dimensional and so reprehensible.