Monday, July 30, 2012

In Memorian to "Mark"

This is going to hurt, both to write and to read.
It is going to make a lot of people quite angry, upset and potentially dismissive of what they read.
Nevertheless, it has to be said.
Having just returned from the death of a forty-seven-year-old family member to the devastation of cancer, in spite of some of the best treatment facilities (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York City), and some of the best medical doctors in the world, I am struck by the overwhelming sensation that the western world is effectively killing too many highly talented, highly educated and extremely highly productive of our people, through both conscious and unconscious attitudes and behaviours that lead to boredom, repression, under-utilization and under-deployment.
It is a cliche in the business world that "workers will only use about 20% of everything they have learned in their education, while doing their job." It is also very well known that the corporate world depends on employee dedication and loyalty to the "brand" which includes the products or services from which the company generates its profits, as well as loyalty to the corporate culture. It is also well documented that up to 90% of all new executives fail in their new positions within the first 90 days of assuming the position, mainly because they either did not learn, or did to comply with the corporate expectations, which include among many things:
  • fitting into the "way we do things here"
  • not creating any waves about innovation for at least the first five years
  • not finding new insights about how to improve the corporate, or branch, or team performance at least for the first one or two years, until after everything has been learned about what is already working
  • socializing with the right people, in the right places, doing the right things that will shine a positive light on the corporation/organization/ school/ university where one is employed
  • making donations to the right charitable organizations, demonstrating leadership in volunteer positions, thereby developing the kind of confidence that university professors used to have to develop through publishing their papers, and, from all reports, still have to
  • marrying the right kind of partner who also "fits" into the corporate culture/brand/group/ethos  and "fits" extremely well into whatever groups that other spouses participate in
  • entering a team in whatever sports activity is being offered at the "office" on whatever weekend it is scheduled and participating at a level commensurate with the CEO's expectations
And when all of those often unstated, and often obscure "rules and regs" of the workplace have been fulfilled, then possibly there will be an opportunity for supervisors to ascertain what contribution can be expected....keeping in mind that no previous "leader" of the firm can ever be besmirched with a suggestion or recommendation that might overturn whatever basic principles, products or cultural contributions were established under his/her leadership.
And at home, many of the "issues of the workplace" are left at the office, so that another set of rules and regs can begin to operate, in the best interests of both the collective of the family, and the individual needs of each of its members. And, once again, it is conformity, complicity and "support" of the established patterns that is the litmus test for success, always obviously including a regular, substantial pay-cheque, so that the family can and will be rewarded for belonging, and for supporting this "bread-winner" either or both male and/or female.
And, especially for males, bright males, imaginative, creative and courageous males, these strictures bind more than they free the "person" of the worker/parent/partner/community member.
And, add to these stressors, the digital wiring of the I-Pad, I-Phone, and whatever applications may be included, attaching the individual to another set of "responsibilities" through the "social media" that, like the other criteria, demonstrate that s/he is appropriately connected to the appropriate number of friends, acquaintances, tweets, facebook messages, LinkedIn Associates and whatever other "establishment" devices and programs are considered "in" in whatever spheres of influence s/he is connected to.
Connectivity, in whatever form, is a significant criterion for belonging.
So we have conformity, fitting in, compliance with the rules and regs of office, home, charity, church and schools where children attend, learning the minor eccentricities of the significant people in all of those groups, negotiating within the networks of those various groups, and finding personal time, or "down" time, in order merely to revive...all of it contributing, ironically, to the "life" of the corporate worker.
With such an itinerary, there is little energy, scope or expectation for creativity, for challenging the status quo, for rebelling, or for eccentricitiy that is not contained in the basement electric railroad set, that might be a hobby of our harried worker. Singing in the community choir, or playing in the local orchestra, if our subject happens to have either or both a music education or talent is possibly squeezed into an evening each week, where more compliance with both the scores and the conductor/culture is expected, if not demanded.
With so much expected compliance with the "other" guidelines, and so little expectation of original thought, even though the brightest and best might be assigned to a "project" group of "advanced thinkers" within the organization, so little attention is paid to the group and its work, except when and if the corporation wishes to blow its horn in whatever "public" venue it deems appropriate, that such appointments are like "costless seduction" of the worker, who can brag about his/her selection, without actually gaining the challenge to show his/her "stuff" in intense and productive debate and discussion, not to mention the kind of learning that can come both as preparation and as "rubbing off" from other equally bright and challening members of the project groups that is possible.
And, so, both lethargy and a sense that all of "this" does not really matter much to anyone can and often does set it, leaving the individual wondering, "What's it all about, Alfie?" as the song reminds us.
Just as Arthur Miller pointed out in the 1950's in Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, the salesman archetype of the corporate world, is dying from a lack of challenge, a lack of interest from his employer who is only interested in the sales orders he once submitted and no longer submits.  Today, the same employee may not be a salesperson, although most positions require a considerable amount of "selling" of either an idea, a person or a project...and the ennui is even more exaggerated, along with the even more exaggerated number and degree of conflicting demands, expectations, rules and regs...all of them without much if any recognition for  outstanding contributions, especially given the uber-importance of the bottom line and the profit the expense of all workers at all levels.
And compliance with the 'rules and regs' is measured in nano-seconds, through invasive technology and monitoring, while an expectation of perfection pervades the whole culture and society so that each individual "expectation" has to be met at an extremely high level. We are also a non-forgiving culture of even the most minute mis-steps, at all levels of the hierarchy in the workplace.
And, in a world gone mad with money, with expectations of achievement of both social status and domestic status and employment status, and an even decreasing emphasis on who and how the individual's life is unfolding, and even often watching the company being sold, divided up and the workers' interests, needs and perspectives trashed in the process, is it any wonder that the health care budget is straining to the breaking point?
All of these people are "sick" or are getting sick, especially if they have an inkling of an injured "core self" that might not always operate at the most healthy beat of the life metronome, and especially if they suffer a devastating loss of an important employment position that denies them their "identity" (and this is especially true for men!) through which experience they fall into depression, often into abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, affairs, and other medicating escapes. Add to this equation, the biological reality that men hate doctors, hate visiting their doctors, and refuse almost categorically to identify their need for support from any health care professional.
To admit their legitimate need would be a denial of the alpha-male identity, and would rob many of them of the few shreds of dignity they are pretending to have, now that they have lost their job.
So through a combination of low expectation and low priority of the intellect, in most professional positions, high expectations of compliance with organizational demands, minimal recognition of outstanding potential and even less money and energy directed to developing those with potential, extremely high expectations on the 'home front' both for status and income, and eventually their children's education, and given the corporate world's ethic of regarding the human "component" to the profit-making process as analogous to the "raw material" used in the manufacture of the company's products, disposable if and when necessary, collectively we are participating in, and complying with the death of hundreds of thousands of the brightest and best people through their choices, sometimes of suicide, sometimes of bad choices of "medications" to dull their inordinate pain and even cancer. And all of this happens with complete impunity on the part of  those same coporations, their boards of directors and their executives, unless and until the worker dies, after being ravaged by a cancer that could easily have incubated in a body/mind/spirit plagued with boredom, ennui, lethargy, hopeless and under-deployment.
And we are all complicit in our doing and saying nothing to confront the dynamic.
Mark was, in my view, one such bored and underdeployed and under-appreciated worker by his employers, although revered by his neighbours, band-members, students, gardening colleagues, daughter and wife, and all those whose lives he enhanced, just by touching theirs.
And I weep for his loss, and for all the preventable causes of its untimely happening, and for my own silence in  not having earlier confronted our cultural disposal of such platinum human beings without a hint of responsibility or guilt.
Donations in Mark's memory can be made to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre (specify melanoma) at

Thursday, July 26, 2012

US Senators threaten to veto a UN treaty on International Arms sales

The National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, opposes the treaty, saying its members will never surrender the right to bear arms to the United Nations. (This quote is taken from the piece by Donna Cassata, of The Associated Press, included below for readers.)
What that really means is that a legitimate UN treaty to inhibit the international sale of arms to terrorists could effectively be blocked by some blockhead Senators who are themselves, being held hostage by the NRA.
My question for the NRA is this: Which agency is more dangerous to the safety and security of the U.S. and the world, the Islamic radicals or the NRA?
This situation in the U.S. Senate is categorically absurd, tragic and competely unacceptable.

 By Donna Cassata, The Associated Press, in Globe and Mail, July 26, 2012
A bipartisan group of 51 senators on Thursday threatened to oppose a global treaty regulating international weapons trade if it falls short in protecting Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms.

In a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the senators expressed serious concerns with the draft treaty that has circulated at the United Nations, saying that it signals an expansion of gun control that would be unacceptable. Gun control is a politically explosive issue in the United States, where it has re-emerged since last week’s shooting a Colorado theatre killed 12 people.
The world’s nations are pressing to complete the first legally binding treaty dealing with the arms trade and preventing the transfer of weapons to armed groups and terrorists. The 193-member UN General Assembly is expected to approve the treaty this month.

The senators said as the negotiations continue, “we strongly encourage your administration not only to uphold our country’s constitutional protections of civilian firearms ownership, but to ensure – if necessary, by breaking consensus at the July conference – that the treaty will explicitly recognize the legitimacy of lawful activities associated with firearms, including but not limited to the right of self-defence.
“As members of the United States Senate, we will oppose the ratification of any Arms Trade Treaty that falls short of this standard,” they wrote.
The lawmakers insisted that the treaty should explicitly recognize the legitimacy of hunting, sport shooting and other lawful activities.
They also raised concerns that the draft defines international arms transfers as including transport across national territory while requiring the monitor and control of arms in transit.
The National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. gun lobby, opposes the treaty, saying its members will never surrender the right to bear arms to the United Nations.
The treaty has been in the works since 2006. Abandoning the Bush administration’s opposition, the Obama administration supported an assembly resolution to hold this year’s four-week conference on the treaty.
In April, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, Thomas Countryman, reiterated U.S. support for a treaty.
“We want any treaty to make it more difficult and expensive to conduct illicit, illegal and destabilizing transfers of arms,” he said. “But we do not want something that would make legitimate international arms trade more cumbersome than the hurdles United States exporters already face.”
The UN General Assembly voted in December, 2006, to work toward a treaty regulating the growing arms trade, now valued at about $60 billion, with the U.S. casting a no vote. In October, 2009, the Obama administration supported an assembly resolution to hold four preparatory meetings and a four-week UN conference in 2012 to draft an arms-trade treaty.
Adoption of a treaty requires consensus among the 193 UN member states – a requirement the United States insisted on in 2009 – and diplomats said reaching agreement will be difficult.
With the conference scheduled to end on Friday, negotiators have been trying to come up with a text that satisfies advocates of a strong treaty with tough regulations and countries that appear to have little interest in a treaty including Syria, North Korea, Iran, Egypt and Algeria.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, told The Associated Press earlier this week that the United States wants export controls to prevent illicit transfers of arms and has been making clear its “red lines, including that we will not accept any treaty that infringes on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.” The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.

Faith in hard work and support for capitalism both suffer in Pew Research

Faith in work is particularly weak in Lebanon, where only 32 percent of the public anticipates rewards from hard work, and in Russia (35 percent), Japan (40 percent), Italy (43 percent), and Greece (43 percent), all countries that have suffered greatly in recent years.

Victims of recent hard times in Europe and Japan are especially skeptical of the work ethic. Half or more of those who say their personal economic situation isn’t good also think hard work is no guarantee of economic achievement in Japan, France, Germany, Britain, Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic.
The global economic crisis has eroded support for capitalism. Such disenchantment is particularly acute in Italy (where support for a free market economy is down 23 percentage points since 2007), Spain (down 20 points) and Poland (down 15 points). Similarly, such belief is down 10 points in China and Mexico since 2010 and down nine points in the United States since 2009. The biggest skeptics of the free market can be found in Mexico, where only 34 percent believe in capitalism, and in Japan, just 38 percent. Support for free markets is greatest in Brazil (75 percent), China (74 percent) and Germany (69 percent) (although East Germans are less supportive than West Germans).

These quotes come from a piece written by Bruce Stokes, of the Pew Research Centre. (His piece is included below for our readers.)
If both rewards for work and capitalism are showing signs of falling public support in many countries, especially in those countries where the recession has hit hardest, one is not surprised.
In fact, those whose incomes have risen most since 2008 would do well to read and carefully digest these trend lines. Their current rate of success may well be about to slow, if not stall, unless and until the public confidence that has legitimately been eroded by the chicanery of Wall Street et al, recovers.
And, until that confidence returns, ( and we don't expect that for at least another two years at best), expect figures like productivity and investment income to slow, or at least flatline. Then, perhaps, some of those who have levers to change the way capitalism treats its workers, and also the way the system runs roughshod over legitimate tax revenues for legitimate state governments, will awaken to the ravages that capitalism have inflicted on human lives, and on the necessary ingredient of willing compliance of both workers and investors to drive the capitalist engine.
That can only mean an increased focus on worker safety and security, including legitimate benefits like health care, pensions and environmental protection, as well as a much more disciplined effort by those guru's of the capitalist ideology to achieve higher standards of ethical behaviour, with less compulsion to generate profits at all costs.
If both of those conditions, enhanced worker rights and protections, and higher ethical standards linked to the pursuit of profits, were implemented, some of the loss confidence and energy to both enter and to perform at a much higher level, on the part of workers would only improve the effectiveness and the sharing of the profits generated.
Capitalism, while it has many faces around the world, state capitalism (as in China for example) being one of those faces, is not the only way to "run a railroad," although most Americans continue to worship at its altar, literally and figureatively.
And that is another sliding number, the ascendancy of the U.S. in both political and economic terms, in world influence.
And that sliding number could negatively impact the level of confidence generated by capitalism and its concomitant, work, around the world, given how cavalierly U.S. capitalists have treated both their workers and their "brand".
This new set of numbers from the Pew Research Centre is a small sign of hope that "the people" are voting with their opinions and their attitudes, although those opinions and attitudes are not yet reflected in front page headlines. Democracy, as a form of government, relies on the sound judgement of the ordinary folks, everywhere, for its effectiveness and its reputation. When democrats (not members of the U.S. Democratic Party) become complaisant about their values, including the value of individual workers and the value of the capitalist engine that drives the economy in countries where the political system assumes the 'democratic' mantle, both the political system and the economic engine need a complete retrofit.
And that could be the case very soon, if the story told by these numbers is made clear to both political and corporate leadership, as it must be.

By Bruce Stokes, on GPS on CNN website, July 26, 2012
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

Add faith in the work ethic and in capitalism to the lengthening list of casualties from the Great Recession. Four years after the Lehman Brothers’ fiasco and the ensuing global economic downturn, the idea that effort in a competitive economy can lead to success is seriously questioned in a number of major economies, including Japan, Russia and Greece, especially among those who have suffered the most.

In eight of 21 countries recently surveyed by the Pew Research Center, fewer than half believe hard work is a guarantee of success for most people. And in 11 of the 16 nations for which there is trend data since 2007, before the financial crisis began, support for capitalism is down. A notable exception is the United States, where 77 percent of the public still thinks that effort leads to accomplishment and 67 percent have confidence in free markets.
With worries mounting about a double dip global recession, attention has rightly focused on the potential human cost of such a renewed slump. But the low levels of belief that work leads to economic success, especially in a competitive economy, could imperil the rebound from any economic slowdown.
Faith in work is particularly weak in Lebanon, where only 32 percent of the public anticipates rewards from hard work, and in Russia (35 percent), Japan (40 percent), Italy (43 percent), and Greece (43 percent), all countries that have suffered greatly in recent years.
Victims of recent hard times in Europe and Japan are especially skeptical of the work ethic. Half or more of those who say their personal economic situation isn’t good also think hard work is no guarantee of economic achievement in Japan, France, Germany, Britain, Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic.
However, such pessimism may be a first world disease. In Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, India, Pakistan, Brazil and Mexico, half or more of those who say their personal finances aren’t faring well still believe that hard work can bring economic rewards. Moreover, the work ethic is no longer, if it ever was, a uniquely Western value. It’s a widely held tenet in the Middle East, on the Indian subcontinent and in Latin America.
The global economic crisis has eroded support for capitalism. Such disenchantment is particularly acute in Italy (where support for a free market economy is down 23 percentage points since 2007), Spain (down 20 points) and Poland (down 15 points). Similarly, such belief is down 10 points in China and Mexico since 2010 and down nine points in the United States since 2009. The biggest skeptics of the free market can be found in Mexico, where only 34 percent believe in capitalism, and in Japan, just 38 percent. Support for free markets is greatest in Brazil (75 percent), China (74 percent) and Germany (69 percent) (although East Germans are less supportive than West Germans).
In most countries, people’s personal economic experience shapes their view of a competitive economy. Those who are suffering are far less likely to think people are better off under capitalism than are those who are well off. This is particularly the case in Russia, Poland, China and Japan.
The link between the work ethic and support for capitalism, first discussed by German sociologist Max Weber, is borne out by the survey. In 14 of 21 countries, those who have faith that hard work leads to economic success are also more likely to think people are better off in a market economy even though some are rich and some are poor. This linkage is most clear in China, Russia, the U.S. and Britain.
Skepticism about the benefits of hard work and the backlash against capitalism might be subject to quick reversal once economic fortunes turn around. But there’s no evidence that the world economy will be picking up any time soon, according to the International Monetary Fund. In fact, the clear downside risk in the months ahead is that global economic conditions will worsen before they get better, possibly further undermining many peoples’ commitment to hard work and support for capitalism, making recovery all the more difficult.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

China flexes muscle in South China Sea...

China takes the gloves off
By Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt is the Beijing-based China and Northeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group. The views expressed are her own.
As tensions rise in the South China Sea, the gloves are coming off in Beijing. When it comes to exploiting the weaknesses of its rivals in Southeast Asia – smaller nations also laying claim to the South China Sea – China doesn’t pull any punches.
Until recently, it followed a line of “reactive assertiveness” – responding forcefully to perceived provocations in this disputed body of water. Now, there are signs that China has shed the “reactive” part of its approach.
Beijing took reactive assertiveness for a test drive during the Scarborough Shoal standoff with the Philippines that began in April. While faulting the Philippines for turning a typical fishing run-in into a crisis by sending in a warship, China took the opportunity to defend its claim over the disputed shoal by deploying non-military law enforcement vessels and allowing them to linger in the area. Beijing also didn’t hesitate to wield its clout over Manila’s perennially struggling economy, tightening regulations on imports of tropical fruit that resulted in an estimated $34 million in losses for the Philippines.
Beijing used reactive assertiveness again in response to a maritime law Vietnam passed last month that introduced new navigation regulations covering the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands. Before the ink on the law could dry, China announced the establishment of Sansha City, a sprawling administrative entity which incorporates some of the territory disputed by Vietnam and the Philippines. Earlier this week, Beijing authorized the Guangzhou Military Command of the People’s Liberation Army to form a garrison in the newly created city.
Also part of this more forceful approach was Beijing’s decision in late June to allow one of its state-run oil firms, the China National Offshore Oil Company, to invite foreign energy companies to bid for joint exploration in parts of the South China Sea that fall in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. These moves not only signal that Beijing won’t back down in the dispute, but they also show that Beijing will continue to reassert control over its once uncoordinated South China Sea policy. Coordination began to improve in mid-2011 when Beijing started to place greater emphasis on diplomacy in the sea. Previously, China’s assertiveness in the area had been an outgrowth of discordance and a lack of restraint among its legion of self-interested military, maritime, corporate and local government actors.
As China increasingly outdoes the Philippines and Vietnam in this dangerous game of tit-for-tat, one would expect ASEAN states to stand behind its members. But quite the opposite has been true. At the foreign ministers’ meeting held earlier this month in Phnom Penh, China pounced upon divisions already debilitating the organization. It used its sway over Cambodia, the organization’s chair, to prevent meaningful discussion on the South China Sea dispute, which made even a standard joint communiqué impossible for the first time in 45 years.
As the meeting in Phnom Penh fell apart, reports surfaced that a Chinese navy frigate had run aground near Half-Moon Shoal, a mere 110 kilometers from the Philippine island of Palawan. While an embarrassing blow to the Chinese military, the Ministry of Defense stated that the vessel was simply conducting routine naval patrols, albeit in an area squarely within the Philippines’ EEZ. This frigate was likely part of the patrols, described by a defense ministry spokesperson as “combat ready,” that Beijing started late last month in the South China Sea in response to Vietnamese air patrols over the Spratlys.
Sending military vessels to make rounds in disputed waters may well be an indication that China has shifted from using law enforcement vessels to respond to recent incidents like Scarborough. This is particularly troubling as a dispute involving an armed military vessel would undeniably be much more difficult for China to walk back.
China’s more brazen approach can be explained in part by the fact that it wasn’t satisfied by the gains from its tactical shift in 2011 to greater diplomacy, followed by reactive assertiveness. Domestic politics also contribute to China’s hardening stance on the South China Sea. Previously, as the Chinese public was left bewildered by the Bo Xilai scandal, the Scarborough Shoal incident offered a convenient distraction. Now, China is once again flexing its muscles in the sea, partly to dispel fears of fragility stemming from its fast approaching change in leadership.
Yet China’s leaders should be careful of what they wish for. A tough approach could easily backfire. It could give Washington’s Asian pivot an added boost by pushing Vietnam and the Philippines further into the arms of the United States. Moreover, as territorial disputes strike at the heart of nationalist sentiments, a riled public could pressure the government to up the diplomatic ante. The Chinese government could find itself trapped in a position where it’s forced to act aggressively, even if just for show. Being cornered, without a way to sidestep military confrontation, is the last thing Beijing wants.
"Play with fire, get burned!"
"Put on a grand "show" of power and force, in the face of much weaker neighbours, and find your back wearing the sign, "BULLY!"
The sign, already painted on the back of the U.S., thanks to eight years of George W. Bush, has only recently faded a little since Obama became president
Sabre-rattling is a game, currently being played with some relish and very few, if any, impediments, by Iran with support from both Russia and China.
There are already too many stories in diplomatic history demonstrating the "distracting" technique of playing one theatre to assure the public does not notice the theatre that is most embarrassing to those in power. If this is another such development, then China might want to show some of its long-held and deserved wisdom of the ages, from her many thinkers and leaders. Adopting slick and deceptive and disproven tactics of short-term planning may distract, but only until the distraction becomes apparent, and in a population quickly becoming both educated and knowledgeable about the wider world, in spite of the internet restrictions in China, those people will not be fooled for long, or very often.

Hedges: bureaucrats make crimes of history possible...

By Chris Hedges,, July 23, 2012
The Careerists

 The greatest crimes of human history are made possible by the most colorless human beings. They are the careerists. The bureaucrats. The cynics. They do the little chores that make vast, complicated systems of exploitation and death a reality. They collect and read the personal data gathered on tens of millions of us by the security and surveillance state. They keep the accounts of ExxonMobil, BP and Goldman Sachs. They build or pilot aerial drones. They work in corporate advertising and public relations. They issue the forms. They process the papers. They deny food stamps to some and unemployment benefits or medical coverage to others. They enforce the laws and the regulations. And they do not ask questions.
Good. Evil. These words do not mean anything to them. They are beyond morality. They are there to make corporate systems function. If insurance companies abandon tens of millions of sick to suffer and die, so be it. If banks and sheriff departments toss families out of their homes, so be it. If financial firms rob citizens of their savings, so be it. If the government shuts down schools and libraries, so be it. If the military murders children in Pakistan or Afghanistan, so be it. If commodity speculators drive up the cost of rice and corn and wheat so that they are unaffordable for hundreds of millions of poor across the planet, so be it. If Congress and the courts strip citizens of basic civil liberties, so be it. If the fossil fuel industry turns the earth into a broiler of greenhouse gases that doom us, so be it. They serve the system. The god of profit and exploitation. The most dangerous force in the industrialized world does not come from those who wield radical creeds, whether Islamic radicalism or Christian fundamentalism, but from legions of faceless bureaucrats who claw their way up layered corporate and governmental machines. They serve any system that meets their pathetic quota of needs.
These systems managers believe nothing. They have no loyalty. They are rootless. They do not think beyond their tiny, insignificant roles. They are blind and deaf. They are, at least regarding the great ideas and patterns of human civilization and history, utterly illiterate. And we churn them out of universities. Lawyers. Technocrats. Business majors. Financial managers. IT specialists. Consultants. Petroleum engineers. “Positive psychologists.” Communications majors. Cadets. Sales representatives. Computer programmers. Men and women who know no history, know no ideas. They live and think in an intellectual vacuum, a world of stultifying minutia. They are T.S. Eliot’s “the hollow men,” “the stuffed men.” “Shape without form, shade without colour,” the poet wrote. “Paralysed force, gesture without motion.”
It was the careerists who made possible the genocides, from the extermination of Native Americans to the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians to the Nazi Holocaust to Stalin’s liquidations. They were the ones who kept the trains running. They filled out the forms and presided over the property confiscations. They rationed the food while children starved. They manufactured the guns. They ran the prisons. They enforced travel bans, confiscated passports, seized bank accounts and carried out segregation. They enforced the law. They did their jobs.

Political and military careerists, backed by war profiteers, have led us into useless wars, including World War I, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. And millions followed them. Duty. Honor. Country. Carnivals of death. They sacrifice us all. In the futile battles of Verdun and the Somme in World War I, 1.8 million on both sides were killed, wounded or never found. In July of 1917 British Field Marshal Douglas Haig, despite the seas of dead, doomed even more in the mud of Passchendaele. By November, when it was clear his promised breakthrough at Passchendaele had failed, he jettisoned the initial goal—as we did in Iraq when it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction and in Afghanistan when al-Qaida left the country—and opted for a simple war of attrition. Haig “won” if more Germans than allied troops died. Death as score card. Passchendaele took 600,000 more lives on both sides of the line before it ended. It is not a new story. Generals are almost always buffoons. Soldiers followed John the Blind, who had lost his eyesight a decade earlier, to resounding defeat at the Battle of Crécy in 1337 during the Hundred Years War. We discover that leaders are mediocrities only when it is too late.
David Lloyd George, who was the British prime minister during the Passchendaele campaign, wrote in his memoirs: “[Before the battle of Passchendaele] the Tanks Corps Staff prepared maps to show how a bombardment which obliterated the drainage would inevitably lead to a series of pools, and they located the exact spots where the waters would gather. The only reply was a peremptory order that they were to ‘Send no more of these ridiculous maps.’ Maps must conform to plans and not plans to maps. Facts that interfered with plans were impertinencies.”
Here you have the explanation of why our ruling elites do nothing about climate change, refuse to respond rationally to economic meltdown and are incapable of coping with the collapse of globalization and empire. These are circumstances that interfere with the very viability and sustainability of the system. And bureaucrats know only how to serve the system. They know only the managerial skills they ingested at West Point or Harvard Business School. They cannot think on their own. They cannot challenge assumptions or structures. They cannot intellectually or emotionally recognize that the system might implode. And so they do what Napoleon warned was the worst mistake a general could make—paint an imaginary picture of a situation and accept it as real. But we blithely ignore reality along with them. The mania for a happy ending blinds us. We do not want to believe what we see. It is too depressing. So we all retreat into collective self-delusion.
In Claude Lanzmann’s monumental documentary film “Shoah,” on the Holocaust, he interviews Filip Müller, a Czech Jew who survived the liquidations in Auschwitz as a member of the “special detail.” Müller relates this story:
“One day in 1943 when I was already in Crematorium 5, a train from Bialystok arrived. A prisoner on the ‘special detail’ saw a woman in the ‘undressing room’ who was the wife of a friend of his. He came right out and told her: ‘You are going to be exterminated. In three hours you’ll be ashes.’ The woman believed him because she knew him. She ran all over and warned to the other women. ‘We’re going to be killed. We’re going to be gassed.’ Mothers carrying their children on their shoulders didn’t want to hear that. They decided the woman was crazy. They chased her away. So she went to the men. To no avail. Not that they didn’t believe her. They’d heard rumors in the Bialystok ghetto, or in Grodno, and elsewhere. But who wanted to hear that? When she saw that no one would listen, she scratched her whole face. Out of despair. In shock. And she started to scream.”
Blaise Pascal wrote in “Pensées,” “We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us from seeing it.”
Hannah Arendt, in writing “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” noted that Adolf Eichmann was primarily motivated by “an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement.” He joined the Nazi Party because it was a good career move. “The trouble with Eichmann,” she wrote, “was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.”
“The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else,” Arendt wrote. “No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.”

Gitta Sereny makes the same point in her book “Into That Darkness,” about Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka. The assignment to the SS was a promotion for the Austrian policeman. Stangl was not a sadist. He was soft-spoken and polite. He loved his wife and children very much. Unlike most Nazi camp officers, he did not take Jewish women as concubines. He was efficient and highly organized. He took pride in having received an official commendation as the “best camp commander in Poland.” Prisoners were simply objects. Goods. “That was my profession,” he said. “I enjoyed it. It fulfilled me. And yes, I was ambitious about that, I won’t deny it.” When Sereny asked Stangl how as a father he could kill children, he answered that he “rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass. … [T]hey were naked, packed together, running, being driven with whips. …” He later told Sereny that when he read about lemmings it reminded him of Treblinka.
Christopher Browning’s collection of essays, “The Path to Genocide,” notes that it was the “moderate,” “normal” bureaucrats, not the zealots, who made the Holocaust possible. Germaine Tillion pointed out “the tragic easiness [during the Holocaust] with which ‘decent’ people could become the most callous executioners without seeming to notice what was happening to them.” The Russian novelist Vasily Grossman in his book “Forever Flowing” observed that “the new state did not require holy apostles, fanatic, inspired builders, faithful, devout disciples. The new state did not even require servants—just clerks.”
“The most nauseating type of S.S. were to me personally the cynics who no longer genuinely believed in their cause, but went on collecting blood guilt for its own sake,” wrote Dr. Ella Lingens-Reiner in “Prisoners of Fear,” her searing memoir of Auschwitz. “Those cynics were not always brutal to the prisoners, their behavior changed with their mood. They took nothing seriously—neither themselves nor their cause, neither us nor our situation. One of the worst among them was Dr. Mengele, the Camp Doctor I have mentioned before. When a batch of newly arrived Jews was being classified into those fit for work and those fit for death, he would whistle a melody and rhythmically jerk his thumb over his right or his left shoulder—which meant ‘gas’ or ‘work.’ He thought conditions in the camp rotten, and even did a few things to improve them, but at the same time he committed murder callously, without any qualms.”
These armies of bureaucrats serve a corporate system that will quite literally kill us. They are as cold and disconnected as Mengele. They carry out minute tasks. They are docile. Compliant. They obey. They find their self-worth in the prestige and power of the corporation, in the status of their positions and in their career promotions. They assure themselves of their own goodness through their private acts as husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. They sit on school boards. They go to Rotary. They attend church. It is moral schizophrenia. They erect walls to create an isolated consciousness. They make the lethal goals of ExxonMobil or Goldman Sachs or Raytheon or insurance companies possible. They destroy the ecosystem, the economy and the body politic and turn workingmen and -women into impoverished serfs. They feel nothing. Metaphysical naiveté always ends in murder. It fragments the world. Little acts of kindness and charity mask the monstrous evil they abet. And the system rolls forward. The polar ice caps melt. The droughts rage over cropland. The drones deliver death from the sky. The state moves inexorably forward to place us in chains. The sick die. The poor starve. The prisons fill. And the careerist, plodding forward, does his or her job.  (

And there is this poem by Margaret Avison, from University of Toronto Libraries, Canadian Poetry on Line
The Swimmer's Moment
By Margaret Avison
From: Winter Sun. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962. pp.36

For everyone
The swimmer's moment at the whirlpool comes,
But many at that moment will not say
"This is the whirlpool, then."
By their refusal they are saved
From the black pit, and also from contesting
The deadly rapids, and emerging in
The mysterious, and more ample, further waters.
And so their bland-blank faces turn and turn
Pale and forever on the rim of suction
They will not recognize.
Of those who dare the knowledge
Many are whirled into the ominous centre
That, gaping vertical, seals up
For them an eternal boon of privacy,
So that we turn away from their defeat
With a despair, not for their deaths, but for
Ourselves, who cannot penetrate their secret
Nor even guess at the anonymous breadth
Where one or two have won:
(The silver reaches of the estuary).

Let's hope Homer-Dixon is not a voice crying in the wilderness on climage change!

Thomas Homer-Dixon
By Thomas Homer-Dixon, Globe and Mail, July 25, 2012
Thomas Homer-Dixon is director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation and CIGI Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ont
In the mid-1980s, when I was a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and beginning to study climate change, I attended a lecture by a specialist in plant physiology at nearby Harvard University. He spoke about global warming’s impact on crop productivity. He was quite optimistic. More carbon dioxide in the air, he explained, causes certain kinds of plants to grow faster. So, on balance, food output should rise in a warmer and CO2-rich world.

I chased him down after the lecture and pressed him on things that could make plant response more complex. If plants absorb more CO2, I asked, won’t that change the nitrogen-carbon balance in their tissues and make them less nutritious? And what about other factors that might change in a warmer world, such as soil moisture and the distribution of weeds and pests – shouldn’t we take them into account, too?

He agreed that the issue was more complex than he’d suggested. “But we don’t have good data on these other factors yet,” he said, “so I didn’t talk about them.”
Almost three decades later, we have vastly more data, and the picture is far less rosy. We’ve learned that in the real world, unlike in experimental plots that control everything except ambient CO2 concentration, factors like drier soil and worse pest infestations can swamp carbon dioxide’s positive effect. And one thing that didn’t figure much in experts’ analysis in those days, and which I didn’t ask the Harvard speaker about, turns out to be a really big deal: heat shock.
In the past few years, agricultural scientists have shown that crops critical to humankind’s caloric supply – including corn and soybeans – are extremely sensitive to even short periods of high temperature. Output of these crops increases as the temperature rises to about 30 Celsius, but then it falls sharply as the temperature keeps rising. For instance, just one day of 40-degree weather will produce a 7-per-cent drop in the annual yield of corn compared with its yield if the temperature stays at 29 through the growing season.
In the past, 40 degrees might have seemed unusual, but nowadays it isn’t. In recent weeks, temperatures have topped this level repeatedly in key corn-growing states such as Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. The U.S. grain-growing regions are being hit, in fact, by a particularly brutal combination of drought and high heat.
Climate-change skeptics will dismiss this summer’s North American weather as just that – weather. They’ll argue it says nothing about longer-term climate trends. It’s true that the U.S. droughts of the 1950s and 1930s were worse than the current one, at least so far. But even without getting into the causes of this unusually hot and dry summer, data clearly show that the frequency of extreme weather is soaring around the world. For example, in the 1950s, summertime heat events that scientists classify as abnormally severe – technically, those that are at least three standard deviations from the average temperature and that experts call “three-sigma events” – affected less than 1 per cent of Earth’s land area. Now, in any given summer, three-sigma events affect about 10 per cent of our land area.
What’s happening in the United States is a window on the future. If humankind continues on its current emissions path, and if countries don’t invest far more in research to develop crops resistant to drought and high heat, climate change will depress global food production in the coming decades, just when our population is climbing toward 10 billion.
It sounds harsh, but in light of these realities, this year’s U.S. drought is good news. The sooner we get serious about climate change, the better our chances of keeping temperatures from rising too high. The drought and heat wave have already led to record corn prices. The world’s integrated grain markets will transmit these higher prices around the world, in time affecting just about everyone.
People may not care much about climate change, but most do care about the price of food because it affects their everyday lives. Fears about imperiled food security may be our best hope for breaking through widespread climate-change denial and generating the political pressure to do something, finally, about the problem.
Thank you, Dr. Homer Dixon!
We all know, however, that Mr. Harper is neither listening, nor reading such pieces. Neither apparently is Peter Kent, the current occupant of the office of Minister of the Environment, an apparent revolving door to the office continues to swing and no one knows the length of Kent's tenure..or if he even has any.
We also know, sadly, that the corporate culture of profit-seeking at the expense of both worker safety and environmental protection is, like the NRA in the U.S., the supreme agenda-setter for cultural norms.
Just as 'the U.S. has surrendered to the NRA" (see Lawrence Martin's column in the Globe and Mail, July 25, 2012) so too has the Canadian political culture surrendered to the corporate/Harper cabal, in its refusal to move to impose limits on carbon emission, or any real effective standards on the environmental impact of the tar sands heavy crude extraction.
Finding some positive news in the current drought, and the impact it is going to have on food prices, and thereby on the conversation at every kitchen table in North America, in the hope that such conversations will finally awaken the public to the political negligence being committed consciously and deliberately in both Washington and in Ottawa, is like finding a nugget of gold in the Ottawa River, which, if I read history correctly hasn't seen gold in the history of this country, a little exaggerated.
Nevertheless, one can and does always have hope, even if it hangs like a popsicle on a thread in 100 degrees F, in Southern Ontario in July of 2012.
One might have hoped, instead, that we would not have to commodify the environmental impact of climate change (on the price of food, for example) to arouse the public's concern, even compassion for all, to demand that significant actions be taken by governments on both sides of the 49th parallel. However, since cigarette smoking continues to rise among young people, especially young women, in the face of incontrovertible and legitimate data of the impact of smoking on both health and length of life, why would anyone wonder that an even more abstract notion like climate change and global warming would have any impact on an "instant gratification seeking" narcissistic electorate, whose concerns and fears have so many magnets drawing them in so many different directions.

Kudo's for Engineers without publishing their failures, simply revolutionary

By Bob Ramsay, Globe and Mail, July 25, 2012
Bob Ramsay is a Toronto communications consultant and host of the Ramsay Luncheons.

Disaster lurks everywhere. Buildings collapse. Helicopters crash. Mines explode. It’s only afterward that we realize the role organizational cultures can play in a disaster.

Central to many of these cultures is an inability to admit failure. But if failure is our greatest teacher, why do we exert herculean efforts not to talk about it?
The answer may lie in something a tiny Canadian non-profit is doing that no other organization anywhere has dared.

For the past four years, Engineers Without Borders (Canada) has published the world’s first annual Failure Report. We would do well to follow their lead.
The first report in 2008 was more a pamphlet than a full-fledged confessional. It discussed only “a few of the mistakes” EWB’s field staff made during the construction of roads, wells and schools in developing countries.
Last year’s report grew to 32 pages and four colours and covered 14 different failures, each written up by the person responsible for the failure. We’re not talking here about bridges buckling or boats sinking. Rather, the kind of failures we see every day in corporate Canada: Head office doesn’t stay in touch with the regions; two very disparate cultures for a partnership, only to discover they have wildly different beliefs; or being on the ground but not bothering to learn firsthand from the people who work and live there.
This challenge – to tell the truth, or let the bad news go unsaid – shouldn’t be limited to Engineers Without Borders. What if we were to take this tiny example of utter transparency and see if it would work elsewhere? What if companies had to issue their own annual failure reports? Why not mandate this for the people who already issue reports every year?
What if Canada’s financial regulators mandated that every public company’s annual report had to include a failure report that would detail the 10 most consequential failures the organization faced over the past year? And what if those failures were chosen not by management alone, but by management with approval of the board?
Yes, the lawyers would scream about revealing competitive information, not to mention the potential litigation that would trail each and every confession of failure.
But I have a feeling that the first major company out of the gate with a failure report would garner huge public and shareholder interest. Their failures would be washed away in a tide of goodwill.
After all, our cynicism about governments and corporations only grows because their means and ends aren’t what they profess. And if companies regularly confess to failing, they would end up being just like – well, just like people.
Organizations today profess to be more honest, open and transparent than in years past. Some actually are. But were they pushed or did they leap? Indeed, perhaps reporting failure isn’t just a regulatory issue. Compliance officers groan under the mountains of regulations their companies have to adhere to, and prosecutors are busier than ever.
No, I’d suggest that talking about your failures is one part integrity issue and one part competitive tool. As the world’s first and only annual Failure Report says: “For some, admitting failure can be nearly impossible, never mind learning from it … In some quarters, there is such cynicism … that conceding defeat, even for an instant, is inconceivable.
“Yet, try as we might to eliminate failure from the natural process of achieving any goal, we instinctively seem to know that learning from it has a transformative, irreplaceable, propellant power.”
Bob Ramsay is a Toronto communications consultant and host of the Ramsay Luncheons.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Northern Gateway Pipeline: a B.C./Alberta showdown over revenues?

By Ian Bailey and Josh Wingrove, Globe and Mail, July 23, 2012
British Columbia has triggered a showdown with Alberta over energy royalties, saying it won’t support the controversial $6-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project unless it is given a bigger cut of tax revenues.

Alberta, however, quickly fired back, saying it won’t be cutting its neighbour a cheque.
“Absolutely not,” Premier Alison Redford told The Globe and Mail, saying jurisdiction over resources, and resource revenue, is “fundamental to Alberta.” Tinkering with it would amount to nothing less than an overhaul of Confederation, Ms. Redford argued, saying B.C. already benefits by the billions the province sends to Ottawa each year.

“To actually introduce the idea that we would renegotiate Confederation is quite troubling to me. At the end of the day it is true that we have resources in this province and we collect revenue from those, but those revenues are shared across the country,” Ms. Redford told The Globe.
The battle comes as premiers, including B.C.’s Christy Clark and Ms. Redford, gather in Halifax for talks this week. Ms. Redford will continue to push for a Canadian energy strategy, which would be meant to streamline major energy projects such as Northern Gateway.
The demand for a “fair share” of cash – a figure B.C. hasn’t finalized – was one of five conditions that B.C. laid out Monday as stipulations of its support for the project, which would see Alberta oil sent to Kitimat, B.C., and loaded onto tankers bound for Asia.

The other conditions include that the North Gateway project pass an environmental assessment by the National Energy Board joint review panel, which is already underway; have “world-leading” plans to respond to both marine and oil spills; and address first nations concerns and treaty rights.
Companies must go “beyond their minimum legal obligations to first nations,” said Mary Polak, B.C.’s aboriginal relations minister. Enbridge argues it’s already doing that, with 60 per cent of first nations groups signed on to support the deal.
With the B.C. premier's announcement, reasonable in all details, with the possible exception of the "tax grab" as it is seen by the Premier of Alberta, and with the B.C. NDP totally opposed to the pipeline, it may take more than an environmental assessment and Enbridge's complete agreement to the most stringent protections in the event of a spill or other form of accident, to make the Northern Gateway Pipeline become a reality.
Only recently, Enbridge has received some bad press for its handling of another spill in a pipeline in Michigan, and that event has sullied Enbridge's reputation for clean-up protection, while providing added incentive to the pipeline's opponents.
Meanwhile, the federal government has introduced legislation that would short-circuit the environmental assessment process, citing "foreign money" supporting the opponents of the proposal, as unacceptable.
The Harper government, however, does not seem to mention the "foreign money" that sustains the oil and other resource companies, as objectionable. Nor do they mention the 'foreign money' that buys Canadian companies seemingly at will. It seems they object only if and when "foreign money" is used to oppose a project favoured by the government, especially one that shows up the federal government's vaccuity of environmental protection policy and intent.
As boundaries for the flow of cash vanish, in a globalized trading world, the federal government's argument seems to vanish with those boundaries. The capitalists can't have it both ways: favouring the unimpeded flow of investor, sales, salary and profit monies across national borders (often to avoid taxes) while opposing the influx of cash from those seeking to protect the environment.
There is a battle over the Northern Gateway Pipeline that will not be resolved in the upcoming premiers' conference in the next few days and the federal government's unabashed and somewhat bullish push to have the hearings abbreviated, if not actually aborted, hardly qualifies as national leadership. Canadians need a government that is willing to take serious consideration of the multiple complex factors, including environmental protection, trade and trading conditions between provinces, in the spirit of the growing agreement between the western provinces, and revenue sharing especially with respect to resource development.
For example, why can the federal government not work with the provinces to encourage an east-west pipeline from Alberta to eastern provinces where the heavy crude from the tar sands (oh how they hate that term!) could be refined before it is shipped abroad, whether to the U.S. or to the far east?
Why can the federal government not advocate for very high environmental protection standards, thereby pre-empting the environmentalists' expectations, and bring the national position in line with the most advanced standards in the industry, while continuing to demand that the industry conduct research right here in Canada on new protections, that can then be produced and made available to prospective global customers, benefiting from Canadian research in an industry we know a fair bit about?
And why is the federal government not moving to advocate for a national energy strategy, that would provide, as a minimum, dispute processes (outside the courts) for the resolution of the kind of conditions that the B.C. premier is demanding, and the Alberta premier is resisting. Of course, that would bring the federal government into the area of "provincial politics" where it might get its hands dirty dealing with the minutiae of enhancing the way the federation operates, in the national interest, and it might also demonstrate the fact that party politics is more important to the Harper gang than the national interest.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Assad threatens to use chemical and biological weapons....who will stop him?

By Elizabeth Palmer, CBS News, July 23, 2012
(CBS News) LEBANON - The Syrian dictator threatened Monday to use chemical weapons and biological weapons against any aggression from foreign powers. It's the first time Syria admitted it has weapons of mass destruction.

A Syrian government spokesman drew a line, though, saying the dictatorship would not use those weapons against Syrian civilians.
President Obama had a warning for Assad on Monday: "Given the regime's stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons."
First, in Syria, how would anyone really know which people represented which group...the Free Syrian Army, the undocumented rebels, outside agitators and Syrians fighting for the regime of Assad?
This statement is nothing more than a public declaration of an intent to throw all the legitimate conventions of war to the winds, along with the kind of biological and chemical weapons that would accompany such a declaration. And it will be those biological and chemical clouds that will result in many more casualties, and the U.S. cannot and must not act alone in any kind of reprisal against such a move.
The escalation of this civil war, also known as a proxy war, with major powers having already taken sides, has already resulted in more than 17,000 deaths in the past seventeen months, with July being the most horrific in terms of numbers of casualties. This new "threat" can neither be taken lightly, nor ignored. And everyone around the world has to see clearly that it is a threat too far.
Using biological and chemical weapons on anyone, including so-called foreign interlopers, would constitute a most dangerous escalation, "up with which the world community cannot put" to paraphrase Churchill.
There is already a red line in front of the Iranian nuclear development program, banning the production of nuclear weapons, and now another red line has to be drawn in front of Iran's ally, Syria, in the event that Assad makes good on his cold-blooded threat.
The real question for diplomats is, "Can either or both of these red lines be sustained?"
"Will there by enough resolve among the powers against whose wishes both of these actions are likely to be carried out?" Is there a world leader who can and will tolerate the use of these weapons, chemical, biological in the case of Syria, and nuclear, in the case of Iran?
Is this obviously calculated and co-ordinated campaign by both Iran and Syria conspiratorially, a campaign to unseat President Obama, in the event that military action is no longer avoidable on either one or both fronts?
How does the world community face such a threat(s) without formally engaging in military action that would clearly damage both sides, while murdering hundreds if not thousands?
There is a kind of chilling reaction in the body, for anyone who actually listens to the news that CBC reported tonight, that, taken along with all of the other unsettling stories, adds more fuel to the already warm embers of international conflicts, and heightens the anxiety of people living everywhere.
Will somebody, or a group of leaders somewhere, please take decisive steps to turn the heat down on the thermometer of international tensions, and soon?

Complexity, chicanery in a world of impunity...and increasing surveillance

Complexity amid rapidly changing events tends to favour avoidance of personal, corporate, organizational and governmental responsibility. There is so much going on that smacks both of change and of disruption in many of the things once taken for granted. And much of what is going on is so complex that "ordinary" people (as opposed to technocratic experts) cannot be expected to know, in detail, what is going on. And when finally the fine details of some stories emerge, the public's ignorance (ignoscere: not to know) is not only hanging out there for everyone to see and is another chapter in convincing those who seek to harm, to perpetrate their devilishness, and then participate in the normal minimizing, or even denial of their participation in the evil.
Such a dynamic could be reasonably derived from the scant evidence around the credit default scandal resulting in the bundling of bogus mortgages and their sale to unsuspecting buyers around the world. Another scandal of the same ilk is the fixing of interest rates by major banks, starting with Barclay's in Great Britain, for the benefit of their "colleagues-in-crime," the other banks and, in the process, resulting in the deprivation of what would otherwise be normal public services in many urban centres, notably Baltimore, MD, whose mayor has threatened to pursue legal means to recover her city's loss.
Today, one columnist in the New York Times even  recommends that, if big banks are too big to fail, they must be nationalized. Now, we all know that, in the current political climate in the U.S. where right-wing extremists are holding all proposals to restore the health of the middle class in Congress hostage to their narrow pledge to hold the line on all attempts to raise taxes, nationalizing the big banks, the best friends of the Republican party, will not happen, without such a hypocritical about-face by those same Republicans that would amount to a political coup, and potential mass protests in the street.
However, at least today, we learn that the U.S. Justice department is preparing to charge one big bank with participating in the interest-fixing scam, and is apparently investigating the actions of others of their competitors with a view to more charges.
Drug companies produce and promote drugs with a minimum of clinical trials, atempting to foist drugs on an unsuspecting, naive and often very ill and hence very dependent public, without so much as a "nod of the head" to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) if they can get away with it.
Resource companies, (read oil, gas and coal) pour billions into their lobby against any government initiative that would begin to address global warming, once again hiding under the umbrella of "unproven science" or the "loss of jobs" or "the rising prices" that will result...leaving the rest of the population gaping in dismay at the negligence, the dispassion and  the impunity of those same companies.
And, given the instability of the world's geopolitical relationships, including the rogue states of Iran, Syria, North Korea...and the support they can and do count on from either or both Russia and China, ordinary folks are, once again, held hostage to both political agendas and national interests about which we are permitted to know very little, until "all hell" breaks out, and then the story becomes a front-page headline.
There are definitely two America's, the rich and the poor.
There are definitely also too political camps, those in the know, and the rest of us, in the dark.
There are also, apparently, if Syria is any reliable evidence, two geopolitical camps, not to mention opposing camps within the Islamic world, with the radical Islamists having recently succeeded in deposing the democratically elected president of the Maldives, just yesterday appearing on GPS with Fareed Zakaria.
If we think the chicanery in the financial services sector is appalling, just try to get your mind around the geopolitical chicanery, the lying, the deceptions and the double-dealing within and between countries easily disposed to such behaviour, knowing they are unlikely to pay a price concomitant to their devilment.
Just last week, CBC aired a documentary detailing the double-dealing game that has been played by Pakistan for the last decade plus, both "befriending" the U.S. and accepting their billions in aid, while simultaneously co-operating with the Taliban in Afghanistan against the Americans...with little or no evidence of anything more than displeasure on the part of the Americans.
Complexity, chicanery, personal ambition, revenge, greed and impunity...these boiling ingredients make for a dangerous political "soup" and there are new ingredients being added to the pot every day, without our knowledge or oversight.
Little wonder, national intelligence is one of the fastest growing industries, through technology, in the world...we are begining to live in what could easily develop into a surveillance state that is, itself, global, just as is the world's trading activities. And there are neither laws, nor cultures nor leaders who can or will master all of the complexities, leaving most of us vulnerable to those who seek to do evil against us.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cash hoarders, nothing less than passive-aggressive terrorists seeking total control

Canadian companies have piled up more than $525-billion in cash reserves – almost a third the size of the entire economy – up from little more than $150-billion a decade earlier. According to a recent analysis by the Gandalf Group, at least 45 per cent of Canada’s biggest companies are hoarding cash rather than investing in employment or capital....
That’s nothing compared to the United States, where the Federal Reserve estimates that a staggering $5.1-trillion – an amount larger than the economy of Germany – is piling up in American corporate cash holdings.

In Britain, companies have accumulated almost $1.2-trillion in cash and deposits, equivalent to half the entire economy. And, no surprise, investment there grew by only 1.2 per cent last year, during what was supposedly a recovery. Indeed, it appears this frugality has tipped Britain into another recession. And this pattern sadly extends across Europe.
(This quote is from a piece by Doug Saunders, about the mounting "stashes of cash" accumulating around the world, included for readers below.)
Columnists, politicians, and bankers, along with corporate executives and all those engaged in the generating of eonomic activity and the conditions that promote or hinder economic activity will have to stop calling the situation either a debt or a deficit crisis, or even an unemployment crisis.
This behaviour is nothing short of an immature, narcissistic demonstration of passive-aggressive neurotic terrorism. If this were happening in a family, the family would be seeking support in the form of either family therapy or a court order. There seems to be a kind of passive-aggressive terrorism, inflicted by those hoarding what Saunders calls "mountains of cash" while they demand "certainty" through clear rules and regulation, that can only be arrived at through political compromise, an ingredient that the political operatives of these "hoarders" categorically refuse to accede to, to consider, and certainly to provide.
There is now, according to the evidence presented in Saunders' piece, a new gated community, above the law because it is outside the law, connected through digital technology and through the use of the same consultants and 'brain trust' and employing a cadre of tax lawyers and accountants that keep these hoarders 'just a hair's breadth' from criminal complicity. The gates are up on the new community of this range of mountains filled with cash, with their own security department, their own "have" culture and their own minimal, "public conscience" in a trickle of funds to an appointed and publicly advertised charity that provides a veneer of respectability.
Meanwhile, the profit motive for these hoarders is being met through the dividends they 'clip' from their shares, and the "social accountability" phase of their businesses, in the form of employment, investment in capital and equipment thereby generating employment and economic activity for a broad range of "others", has literally dried up, leaving the rest of the economy, the "have-nots," staggering into the ditch of poverty, hopelessness and eventually despair.
This divide is like two tectonic plates, one moving the other static, as if those plates were disconnected, and the movement of one would not impact the static condition of the other. The force of the "have" plate is, at this moment, having a much greater impact on the static plate, than the reverse.
However, this is another example of extremely short-sighted vision of fear, on one hand, and its corrolorary, the bully, on the other.
Arguing that "we don't know what the conditions will be in a year or two so we can't invest with any degree of security and confidence that those investments will prove 'wise'" is merely another public relations scam for the word's, "We are going to hold the economy hostage unless and until we have our chosen political leaders, who believe in the sanctity of the corporate state and its need for complete control of the levers of power, the regulations on taxes, and the size of government, (and whose numbers include all those American Republicans who have already signed the "pledge" not to raise taxes) and we are effectively determined to tranform the world's economy into our instrument, since government has proven itself unable to govern!"
In a marriage, if and when one partner refuses to engage with the other, and disengages from activities that formerly both enjoyed together, including intimacy, there are no bruises, and not even any open disagreements, only the party "left out" grows increasingly weak, his or her commitment to the relationship atrophies, and often the "left out" partner degenerates into some form of compensating behaviour like alcohol, to kill the pain of the estrangement. That is, until there is a complete divorce and an ugly dividing of the residue of the matromonial home.
However, when the corporations collectively hold the many states hostage to their control, and the political operatives have already surrendered their political activities to the funding control of those same "have" leaders, the other partner in the social contract, the workers, the middle class families whose only hope and dream included the capacity to make a decent living and to live in a decent home and to educate their children to the extent of their ability, soon become the "left out" partner in the contract. And the atrophy of those families, and their potential to give to the broader economy withers and dies with the death of their opportunities.
And it is much more than a legal contract.
It is a culture in which, not only is profit made by the corporations, but in that process those corporations provide decent wages, working conditions, and in some countries benefits like pensions, health care and unemployment insurance to eass the shock in the event of changes in the operating conditions of the corporation.
Clearly, the working conditions, wages, pensions and job security have all disappeared. And along with those attributes of the health workplace, all forms of worker organization, especially labour unions, have disappeared. And, with both labour and the political sector "emasculated" (and this has been a deliberate and sustained campaign, conducted through the collusion of those same corporate "suits") now the field is empty of any roadblocks to the activity of the managers of these mountains of cash.
Governments have no legitimate income, based on a reasonable tax on corporate profits, those profits having already been shifted offshore to countries where they pay no tax, and  the original head office country is unable to retrieve what formerly were legitimate and reasonable revenue from the corporate sources. And without income, governments are increasingly defaulting on debt, and generating mountains of deficit, while, on the other side of the ledger, the cash sits idle in the bank accounts of the countries with little or no tax, given their co-dependent slide into complicity with the very rich, as a veneer of marketing respectability, for other very rich to visit, and drop their unwanted cash.
And what is happening, at a pace too fast to provide legal restraints, is that the world's economy is becoming the solitary "board game" (read Monopoly) of the corporations, while governments literally atrophy through the lack of blood and oxygen necessary to sustain their life and the programs that would both support the indigent and restrain the voraciousness of the corporations. And how long will such a ruse be permitted until the 99% take back the governments first, and then deploy the agents who have enough confidence to confront the corporate magnates, whose malfeasance has, for the most part, been the primary agency of the credit crisis and the economic depression that descended in 2008, and its impact continues?
The public needs an army of Ralph Nader's, Chris Hedges, Jeffrey Sachs, and yes, Barack Obama's, and Christine Lagarde's  and other world leaders who can see what is happening and who can mount a concerted campaign to counter the greed, narcissism and exclusivity of the corporate "cabal" and provide the arguments and the confidence and the necessary artillery to take back the governments by the people.
And Canada is clearly one of those countries slipping inexorably into the corporate camp.

By Doug Saunders The Globe and Mail,  July 21 2012
 We’re still calling it a “debt crisis.” And when we feel the jobs sweeping away and the cold hand of stagnation choking off the economy and threatening recession, we tend to search for an explanation by peering into the bottomless pit of debt.
But in most parts of the world, including Canada, debt is not the major problem. That was four years ago. Today, a far bigger threat is pouring down from atop the most prominent and least remarked-upon new addition to our financial landscape: all those teetering mountains of cash.
The cash pinnacles are far higher and more numerous than the debt canyons, and their damage more tangible. Never before in the history of the world has so much cash been hoarded in so many places by so many large organizations. Never before have so many opportunities been missed, so many careers wasted, because money is simply being put aside.
The cash hoards are a consequence of the debt crisis, but that is no longer a credible excuse. Before 2008, companies loaded themselves with debt. Then, in the worst months of the “credit crunch,” when overnight interest rates shot upward and banks stopped lending, companies packed their bank accounts in case credit dried up completely.
Canadian companies have piled up more than $525-billion in cash reserves – almost a third the size of the entire economy – up from little more than $150-billion a decade earlier. According to a recent analysis by the Gandalf Group, at least 45 per cent of Canada’s biggest companies are hoarding cash rather than investing in employment or capital.
None of it is going into research and development, expansion of market share, new offices and factories or, crucially, on employing people. Nor is it going into tax revenues, since cash reserves – and some of the earnings that contribute to them – escape the taxman, giving companies an incentive to not invest.
c“Until these companies stop stashing the cash and start increasing levels of investment and dividends, the economy will remain on the critical list,” warns Peter Spencer, a British analyst with Ernst & Young.
It’s strange, because this should be a great time for companies to invest: low prices, low interest rates, cheaper labour costs. A sensible company would build up cash during boom times – when investments are more expensive – and spend it during recessions, when consumer demand is weak and capital is cheap.
Yet this is the precise opposite of what actually happens. Companies look at the low consumer demand and become terrified, failing to recognize their own role in creating it.
This has become a public issue. There are some very important reasons why we need investment and spending now – and why chopping down the cash mountains should come before filling in the debt pits.
Unemployment is threatening to cripple an entire generation in many countries. The worldwide food crisis has returned, for no good reason; with more investment, the world could produce more than enough food. There are serious housing shortages in most Western countries. The drive to reduce carbon emissions has stalled, due to a shortage of investment in nuclear and alternative-energy power sources.
If the economy doesn’t start moving, there is something else we could do: start taxing those cash reserves – especially those held overseas. If we make hoarding expensive, companies will find it more desirable to use earnings to increase market share, improve products through research or expand into new markets.
The sinking U.S. dollar and untrustworthy euro have helped: Suddenly, low-return investments, such as African infrastructure, are more appealing than cash in the bank. Governments like China’s see this now. A tax could make companies see it, too.
And if they don’t, then governments will get a bit of cash from them to plug into their debt holes. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but it’s equally opposed to a teetering heap.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

U.S. feminist theory of history sabotages achievment of their legitimate goals

Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in The Atlantic, about how 'women cannot have it all' captivated millions of readers. It pointed to many reasonable reforms that could and would make a woman's access to equal opportunity with men more available. However, achieving those goals will require a revised theory of history on the part of feminist leaders. (Her response to the millions of responses provoked by her piece is below.)
It is not that the access to the same options that man "enjoy" ought not to be available to women everywhere, but the feminist "framing" of the political pursuit of those options has pitted, or at least has seemed to pit, women against men.
Competition between the genders, for the same goals, using the same measuring instruments and the same criteria for "admission" has been both short-sighted and counter-productive. And that, in part, can be attributed to the depth of the American culture's dependence on competition as a social value and American feminism's willing adoption of that value, as one of the principal means of conducting their campaign.
And, by making the issue one of competition between men and women, in the American, capitalist, survivalist, Darwinian, military, athletic, win-or-lose mind-set, feminists in the U.S. have made the issue more contentious than it would have been if both men and women were equally advocating for the same goals.
Feminism, as advanced by American feminists, then, has to take responsibility for the blind spot that attaches to too many American initiatives, that it celebrates winners and "trashes" losers, in an epic, Manichean way, that leaves both people and organizations either "successful" or "losers".
Reality, including the reality of change, has a much more complex process, when "opposing" views are brought together and the talking continues and continues until the views are both accommodated and all parties continue to strive for common goals.
The indigenous people of North America, by tradition and reputation, when in serious conversation, one-on-one, never face each other, but both face a common horizon as the conversation proceeds so that the long-term perspective, available while both share a common horizon, is able to be a part of the conversation. That tradition does not deny that there might be differences between the participants, nor does it presume that either party has 'the upper hand' in the conversation. But equals talking with each other can and will accomplish much more, that combatants beating each other to the finish line, although, admittedly, the 'equals' will likely take longer to achieve mutual goals.
And one of the reasons it will take longer, using the First Nations approach, is that both parties to the dialogue will have to spend time outlining the meaning(s) of the words they are using, to attempt to reduce the conflict between meanings that people of different tribes ascribe to similar words. No assumptions about those meanings will be tolerated, and both will have to arrive at an understanding of the depth and complexity of both the words and their intent on the part of both parties.
Women, it would seem, would have better access to this complexity that men, in general, and on looking back might have been able to bring some of this complexity to the public discourse in their respective spheres of influence. Men, on the other hand, might have been a little more willing to engage in the conversation, if they had not been seen by some many early and radical and strident feminists.
It is the feminist theory of history, "that men deliberately and patronizingly conspired to construct social policy and law to abuse women and that therefore, men are, by definition, the enemy" that is so removed from historic reality as to be laughable, insulting and naive.
Men have proven in history, that unless and until they are attacked or about to be attacked, they can no more be made into a conspiracy than cats can be herded. Men, I am confident, over the last two thousand years, have not had a single conversation about how to "abuse" women by keeping them "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen" as some European cultures cliches put it. Proud and arrogant and insensitive men have, however, had too many conversations about the number of "notches" on their belts, as if women were medals to be acquired in sexual conquest. And that, in purely sexual terms, needs to be addressed even today, because, feminism for all that it has accomplished, has not removed the sexual conquest from many male-female encounters. Too many men, also, have not learned the difference between love and respect for women, on the one hand, and "trophies" as partners they can parade at their social and political and corporate functions.
However, women, too, have too often manipulated men for their own "power" if for no other reason than to compete with another woman for the same man, or, too much like men, to prove their ability, capacity and willingness to use their female bodies, and seductive "skills" to win over the naive and unsuspecting and somewhat innocent man of their momentary choice.
Innocence, in the raising of children by parents, about the dangers of the opposite gender, is no substitute for adequate parenting. And, for the most part, men have been raised to expect women's attention and love to be authentic, just as was their mother's for their father. And women, too, have been raised to believe that men will pay attention and respect them, just as their father does their mother. When one learns the messy and far less pleasant reality that too often those parenting relationships were, to be blunt, charades, it is then and only then that the innocent glasses come off and the pain begins.
And, the capacity to cut through the charades, by both men and women, can be assessed, by most, as deferring to women, given their collective and individual commitment to the complexities of human relationships between men and women and their ability to navigate those complex eddies, and tidal waves as they develop. Men, on the other hand, are most likely too busy and too disinterested in those "complexities" like emotions and sensitivities and sensibilities, and melodrama (as they see it) to spend the kind of time and energy required to enter that arena. Our hard wiring is more focussed on earning a pay-cheque, and on keeping the furnace running and the house warm, and the grass cut and the snow plowed.
And those kind of hard-wiring differences will never be removed by centuries of political fighting by feminists for better working and social conditions in their attempt to reach better balance between work and family.
And it is the American "either-or" of family or work that is a large part of the problem. Once again, the Manichean perception, or world view, is not an agency for resolution of disputes. Most disputes get put over until some mechanism, like voting, puts one group in power until they abuse that power, and then they are replaced by another. Why would any CEO, or any board of directors, wish to implement policies that do not permit or encourage a healthy balance between work and family? And why would such debates, as does everything else in American culture, get reduced to the dollar cost, when the dollar contribution of a worker who is happy at home cannot be adequately measured.
So, if America really wants to address the issues of balancing the opportunities for men and women, they will have to openly debate moving to a different world view, to one of different assumptions and different methods, in their families, their schools, their churches (often the most competitive of corporations!) their universities and their political discourse.
And the media will have to learn to withdraw from their addiction to the 72-point headline that portrays another epic conflict, as their seductive method of selling the news. And instant gratification will have to be replaced by a much longer view of history, as will a cancerous, fear-based, insulting theory of history have to be replaced by a more realistic theory and vision of less conspiratorial motivations and more complex inter-connectedness of influences, from both men and women, starting with their respective hard wiring, in biological terms.
By Anne-Marie Slaughter, Globe and Mail, July 21, 2012
Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department, is professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

When I wrote the cover article of the July-August issue of The Atlantic, titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, I expected a hostile reaction from many American career women of my generation and older and positive reactions from women aged roughly 25 to 35. I expected that many men of that younger generation would also have strong reactions, given how many of them are trying to figure out how to be with their children, support their wives’ careers and pursue their own plans.

I also expected to hear from business representatives about whether my proposed solutions – greater workplace flexibility, ending the culture of face-time and “time machismo” and allowing parents who have been out of the work force or working part-time to compete equally for top jobs once they re-enter – were feasible or utopian.
What I did not expect was the speed and scale of the reaction – almost a million readers within a week and far too many written responses and TV, radio and blog debates for me to follow – and its global scope. I have done interviews with journalists in Britain, Germany, Norway, India, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands and Brazil; and articles about the piece have been published in Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Bolivia, Jamaica, Vietnam, Israel, Lebanon and many other countries.
In many ways, reaction has been a litmus test of where individual countries are in their own evolution toward full equality for men and women. India and Britain, for example, have had strong women prime ministers but now grapple with the “woman-as-man” archetype of female success.
The Scandinavian countries know that women around the world look to them as pioneers of social and economic policies that enable women to be mothers and successful career professionals and that encourage and expect men to play an equal parenting role. But they are not producing as many women managers in the private sector as the United States is, much less at the top ranks.
The Germans are deeply conflicted. One major German magazine decided to frame my contribution to the debate as “career woman admits that it’s better to be home.” Another (more accurately) highlighted my emphasis on the need for deep social and economic change to allow women to have equal choices.
The French remain studiously aloof, even a little disdainful, as befits a nation that rejects “feminism” as an American creation and yet manages to produce a leader who is simultaneously as accomplished and elegant as Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund. Of course, the example of her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and other stories about French male behaviour suggest that perhaps a bit more féminisme à la française is in order.
Japanese women lament how far they must still go in a relentlessly male and sexist culture. The Chinese now have a generation of educated, empowered young women who are not sure whether they want to marry at all.
Brazilian women point with pride to President Dilma Rousseff but also underscore how much discrimination remains. In Australia, with its robust work-life debate, women point to the success of Julia Gillard, the first woman prime minister, but note that she has no children.
The global debate demonstrates at least three important lessons. First, if “soft power” means exercising influence because “others want what you want,” as Joseph Nye puts it, then women the world over want what feminists in the United States and elsewhere began fighting for three generations ago.
Second, Americans have much to learn from other countries’ debates, laws and cultural norms. After all, women have ascended the political ladder faster in many other countries. The United States has never had a woman president, Senate majority leader, treasury secretary or defence secretary.
Finally, these are not “women’s issues,” but social and economic ones. Societies that discover how to use the education and talent of half their populations, while allowing women and their partners to invest in their families, will have a competitive edge in the global knowledge and innovation economy.
Of course, hundreds of millions of women around the world can only wish that they had the problems I wrote about. Worldwide, more than a billion women confront physical violence and overt gender discrimination in education, nutrition, health care and salaries.
Women’s rights are a global issue of the highest importance, and it is necessary to focus on the worst violations. Still, consider a recent report from a sober and respected American magazine. The National Journal observed that women working in Washington have come a long way, but “still face career barriers, and often the biggest one is having a family.”
If “having a family” is still a career barrier for women but not men, then that, too, is a matter of women’s rights (and thus of human rights). In the global debate about work, family and the promise of gender equality, no society is exempt.