Friday, August 31, 2012

Will the Parti Quebecois form the government after Quebec's vote on Sept. 4?

“We won’t be satisfied with just getting more powers. What we want is Quebec sovereignty. And until we achieve it following a referendum, what we want is to get more power on what makes us different as a people.” (Pauline Marois, running as leader for the Parti Quebecois, in the Quebec election on Tuesday, September 4, 2012, quoted in Globe and Mail, August 30, 2012, excerpt below)
It was Edmund Burke who reminded us that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely"
and Marois' party's pursuit of absolute power, as would accompany an independent nation state, could and would be possible only if the rest of Canada were sleeping through this Quebec election and the ensuing fight between Quebec city and Ottawa, the respective capitals of the province and the country.
There is every reason for the PQ to think that, once again, power in the form of at least a minority government is within its grasp. However, these are not the times that accompanied the ascension to the premier's chair by Rene Levesque decades ago.
These are times when the federal government neither understands nor really cares about the legitimate aspirations of the people of Quebec, fixated as it is on its corporate agenda. At the same time, the options on the ballot for the Quebec voters are not so appealing. The Liberal party brand is so despised in Quebec, both provincially and federally, that Premier Charest is reported to be on his way to another party decimation on Tuesday. The third party is led by a former member of the PQ who has split with Marois and the PQ, and is attempting to grab the disaffected Liberals who refuse to join the PQ agenda.
However, as one Quebec city entrepreneur told us in July, 'independence for Quebec is definitely going to happen within the next ten years, and what the rest of Canada thinks or wants no longer matters.'
Were all those stories in all those history books about how singularly honourable and erudite gentlement from both francophone and anglophone communities and cultures who forged this country's laws, constitution and provincial responsibilities really only using what amounts to political "duck tape" to hold their model of responsible government together, as a charade and not as a legitimate and sustainable political entity?
Were all those generations of Canadian students who read all those history books reading a mere sham, based on the fragility and the disaffection that apparently is endemic among the people of Quebec?
Are the people and the federal government of Canada once again about to be thrust into another round of political theatre, the outcome of which can relatively easily be predicted, if such predictions are based on the degree of apathy and carelessness about what Quebec wants or does in the rest of Canada?
Is Canada about to sacrifice what is generally considered to be one of the strongest political and economic equations to emerge from the recent 2008 collapse of much of the world's economy, to a political, cultural and linguistic struggle for the independence of one of her provinces?
And if so, as we asked, somewhat more rhetorically on June 30, "Who will speak for Canada in such a conundrum?"

PQ Leader Marois lays out plans for 'sovereigntist government'
By Rheal Seguin and Les Perreaux, Globe and Mail, August 30, 2012 Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois is opening a new front in her bid to become Quebec premier, saying if Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t meet her demands for more provincial powers it proves that Ottawa’s recognition of the “Québécois as a nation” is meaningless.

In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Marois said that if she is victorious in next Tuesday’s election, she will form a “sovereigntist government” – and will waste no time in confronting the Conservative government in Ottawa.
Liberal Leader Jean Charest, who is running third in most polls, launched a new strategy of his own, recasting the Liberals as the only force that can block the separatist Parti Québécois from taking office.

If elected premier, Ms. Marois said she will immediately request a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Harper to outline her demands and to make it clear that her ultimate objective is to achieve sovereignty.
In the meantime, she said, Ottawa will have to treat Quebec like a nation – not a province – and give it full authority over jurisdictions such as language, culture and the employment insurance program.
“I will go as fast as possible in asking for these powers,” Ms. Marois said. “I expect him to listen and consider what I will be proposing and I expect Mr. Harper to think about it in order to begin real discussions, real negotiations with us.”
Should Ottawa refuse, it will demonstrate that Quebec can never fulfill its aspirations within Canada.
“We are not yet sovereign, so he has the responsibility of being the Prime Minister of Quebeckers. He voted a motion recognizing Quebec as a nation. It must be backed by concrete measures,” Ms. Marois said.
“We won’t be satisfied with just getting more powers. What we want is Quebec sovereignty. And until we achieve it following a referendum, what we want is to get more power on what makes us different as a people.”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chris Hedges Reviews "A Hologram for the King" by Dave Eggers

By Chris Hedges, from, August 27, 2012
“A Hologram for the King”A book by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers’ gem of a book, “A Hologram for the King,” is a parable about the decadence, fragility and heartlessness of late, decayed corporate capitalism. It is about the small, largely colorless men and women who serve as managers in our suicidal outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and the methodical breaking of labor unions. It is about the lie of globalization, a lie that impoverishes us all to increase corporate profits.
“A Hologram for the King” tells the story of Alan, a lackluster 54-year-old consultant who is desperately trying to snag one final big contract in Saudi Arabia for Reliant, a corporation that is “the largest I.T. supplier in the world,” to save himself from financial ruin. Alan has come to realize that managers like him who made outsourcing possible will be discarded as human refuse now that the process is complete, left to wander like ghosts—or holograms—among the ruins. And Eggers’ novel is a subtle, deft and poignant look at the horrendous toll this corporate process takes on self-esteem, on family, on health, on community and finally on the nation itself. It does so, like parables from Greek tragedy or George Orwell, by finding the perfect story to make a point that is universal.
Eggers, who showcased his talent as a writer of nonfiction in “Zeitoun” about Hurricane Katrina, combines fiction and reporting to create a small masterpiece. The book works because of its authenticity, its close attention to detail and Eggers’ respect for fact. I spent many months as a correspondent in Saudi Arabia where the novel is set. Eggers captures in tight, bullet-like prose the utter decadence, hypocrisy and corruption of the kingdom, as well as its bleak landscape, suffocating heat and soulless glass and concrete office buildings. He is keenly aware that the outward religiosity and piety mask a moral and physical rot that fits seamlessly into the world of globalized capitalism.
 Eggers conjures up the bizarre incongruities of Saudi Arabia from his image of a Saudi soldier in a beach chair cooling his bare feet in an inflatable pool next to a Humvee, to a wild embassy party where drunken expatriates in their underwear dive into the swimming pool for pills. At one point Alan mistakenly stumbles onto an unfinished floor of a luxury condo where 25 foreign laborers from Malaysia, Pakistan and the Philippines, crammed together as if on a slave ship, are fighting over a discarded cellphone. This scene captures the outward illusion of prosperity of global capitalism and the internal and brutal oppression of workers who make the illusion possible.
“Alan opened the fire door and a roar of echoes flooded through. He was in a large raw space full of men, some in their underclothes, some in red jumpsuits, all yelling. It looked like pictures he’d seen of prison gyms converted to dormitories. There were fifty bunks, clothes hanging on lines between them. The beds were empty, though—all the men were gathered in the center of the room, barking, pushing. Alan had interrupted some kind of fight.”
Alan’s attempt to intervene backfires. The workers yell in his face. He is pushed. He turns and runs.
Alan’s professional life follows the trajectory of American manufacturing. He was an executive with Schwinn when the company broke the union, tried to set up a plant with nonunionized workers in Mississippi, which failed, and then shipped its production to China. Alan then moved his professional career “from Schwinn to Huffy to Frontier Manufacturing Partners to Alan Clay Consulting to sitting at home watching DVDs of the Red Sox winning the Series in ’04 and ’07.”
Alan, like Willy Loman, has the reservoir of stock salesman jokes, the upbeat optimism that studiously ignores reality, and his uniform: khakis and crisp white shirts. He dropped out of college to sell Fuller Brush products. He applies what he learns from an older, experienced Fuller Brush salesman named Trivole to life. Trivole says that there are four basic appeals to people: Money. Romance. Self-Preservation. Recognition. Alan sells bikes the same way he sold Fuller Brush products. “All the principles applied: the bikes were practical (Money); they were beautiful, glittering things (Romance); they were safe and durable (Self-Preservation); and they were status symbols for any family (Recognition).”
Alan marries a firebrand activist, Ruby, whose personal bitterness and cruelty, as well as passion for social justice, expose his timidity, blandness and intellectual limitations. But Alan, who lacks much of a conscience as well as a sense of direction, is redeemed in Eggers’ eyes by his love for his only daughter who, if the deal falls through, which it does, will not be able to go back to “a very good and expensive college.” It is Alan’s fragility, including his concerns about a cyst on his neck that he lances open with a serrated dinner knife, which remind us that he is human, that like most of us he is at once culpable and a victim. Alan has been rendered, in this new globalized world, impotent. He is no longer capable of sex. He has two disastrous encounters with women during his trip, moments of acute embarrassment and shame. At night he often sits alone in his hotel room on the 10th floor of the Hilton in Jeddah getting drunk on homemade grain alcohol and composing letters he will never send to his daughter Kit.
Alan, Eggers writes, did well in the old America, the one that made things and sold them, the one that paid its workers fair wages with pensions and benefits, the one that made possible a middle class. But that America is gone, destroyed when “he and others decided to have other people, ten thousand miles away, build the things they sold.” And Alan must confront in the novel the fact that he was deeply complicit in his own demise, that he “helped scout a new, non-union location for Schwinn, had met with suppliers in China and Taiwan, had contributed not insignificantly … to all that undid Schwinn and the 1,200 workers employed there.”
His “decisions were shortsighted, foolish or expedient,” he admits. “He and his peers did not know they were making decisions that would leave them, like Alan, as he now was—virtually broke, nearly unemployed, the proprietor of a one-man consulting firm run out of his home office.”
Alan’s father Ron is a World War II vet who still has shrapnel in his body and lives on a farm in New Hampshire. Ron, whose crude vitality and generous union pension intimidate his son, barks at Alan over the phone:
“Every day, Alan, all over Asia, hundreds of container ships are leaving their ports, full of every kind of consumer good. Talk about three-dimensional, Alan. These are actual things. They’re making things over there, and we’re making websites and holograms, while sitting in chairs made in China, working on computers made in China, driving over bridges made in China. Does this sound sustainable to you, Alan?”
The hologram becomes the perfect metaphor for the insubstantial nature of the American economy. None of it is real. It is a mirage. It is held up by credit, by debt, by the printing of endless amounts of new money and by vast schemes of financial speculation and casino capitalism that evaporate as swiftly as a hologram. The development project Alan and his team are bidding on is itself a mirage. He and his team of three snotty young careerists, who look at Alan with scorn and pity, have cooked up a holographic teleconferencing system where a sales representative in London will appear before the Saudi king as a hologram in a tent in the barren wastelands of a planned city with only three buildings, including a two-story welcome center known as King Abdulla Economic City. The holographic sales representative will walk on the stage and speak in Arabic and English and then disappear for the king. And they are sure that this bit of magic will save them.
Alan and his co-workers wait 11 days for the king. “One Man’s Vision, One Nation’s Hope,” the billboard advertising the development reads. The king, when he does arrive, watches the hologram impassively and promptly gives the contract to a Chinese firm. And the bubble for Alan, as it has for most of us, bursts. He too becomes a hologram.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Truth-telling omissions from the Chris Christry key-note address last night

So, let's take Jew Jersey Governor Chris Christy at his word and "tell the truth" as he said both he and Romney/Ryan are going to do:
  1. Where is the truth-telling about the obstructionist House of Representatives, who have religiously blocked every single piece of legislation proffered by the Obama White House, since the 2008 election?
  2. Where is the truth-telling about the two wars that Dubya got the U.S. involved in following 9/11 without finding the funds to conduct either or both of them?
  3. Where is the truth-telling about the Dubya-sponsored Senior drug plan that was also unfunded?
  4. Where is the truth-telling about the years of de-regulation, especially at that applies to the Financial Services sector, and the debacle of the housing bubble and the credit defaults that also occurred under Bush-Cheney?
  5. Where is the truth-telling about Senate Minority Leader McConnell's widely publicized declaration that his sole purpose was to "ensure that Obama was a one-term president"?
  6. Where is the truth-telling that Obama did not "steal" from Medicare some $716 billions, but rather that those savings are recovered from efficiencies in hospitals and insurance company deliveries of health care, and not from patients with vouchers, as Ryan and the Republicans prefer?
  7. Where is the truth-telling about the Obama initiative to help to resuscitate the auto industry, in the form of federal loans to General Motors and Chrysler, both of which companies are now profitable, providing thousands of jobs that would have been lost without the bail-out, and both companies have also paid back most of those loans, with interest?
  8. Where is the truth-telling that under "Obama-care" insurance companies can no longer refuse to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions?
  9. Where is the truth-telling that young people can now, under Obama-care, be covered under their parents' insurance policy until they reach age 26?
  10. Where is the truth-telling that some 30 million of the previous 47 million of American citizens are now or will be covered as a requirement of Obama-care?
  11. Where is the truth-telling that American businesses are withholding millions in their cash accounts, as a deliberate move to hold the American economy and people hostage, to be released upon the hoped-for election of the Republican presidential ticket?
  12. Where is the truth-telling that American corporations are funnelling millions of their profits into foreign bank accounts, as a way to avoid legitimate U.S. corporate taxes, thereby depriving the American treasury of millions in legitimate and expected tax revenue?
  13. Where is the truth-telling that Republicans in Congress are absolute about their insistence on tax cuts for the very wealthy, as contained in the Bush tax cuts?
  14. Where is the truth-telling about the Republicans in Congress refusal to cut the budget of the Pentagon, 40% of which is secret, according to reliable sources?
  15. Where is the truth-telling from the Republican party about the exponential growth in the budget of the Homeland Security Department, a department originated by Bush-Cheney?
  16. Where is the truth-telling about the "recovery" in New Jersey, your home state, that still lags near the bottom in both job creation and income disparity?
You may have attempted to "rouse the base" of the Republican party last night; however, not only did you completely deconstruct Ann Romney's exhortation about love, by underlining 'respect' as its trump,
but you raised many more questions about your own commitment to the truth, as well as that of your party.

Suicides among adolescents more than a school problem!

One in 10 young people say they have attempted suicide, and it is estimated that as many as 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by mental illness or disorders. Experts say that 70 per cent of these mental disorders can be diagnosed before the age of 25. Schools, they say, provide an ideal setting to identify and start treating children. (From the Alphonso/Cummins piece on education's approach to teen suicides, Globe and Mail, August 28, 2012, excerpted below)
While these numbers are startling, they are indicative of a much larger problem than the relationship of students to their schools. And, while the schools are an appropriate locus for confronting some of the thoughts, feelings attitudes and hopelessneses, we need to change how we think about, discuss and take responsibility for the kind of culture we are "providing" for everyone.
When the accumulation of dollars and the percs that those dollars can buy is the highest achievment we offer our children, we are committing a serious error in judgement. Especially when, inside the book with that cover on the outside, is the real story that we really don't seem to care for each other, and especially for those whose lives don't measure up to the high standards of financial, political and status goals that society considers appropriate. Education for dollars, for virtually all students, is a hollow and vaccuous pursuit. And most adolescents are not going to believe such a pursuit is going to provide meaning (in the Viktor Frankl sense of "meaning").
  • When the federal government bends and twists itself into another corporation, leaving the social issues and the human beings in the land struggling more on their own than at any time in the last century, and
  • when the provincial governments champion another factory rather than another artistic, cultural or intellectual achievement of considerable proportions, and
  • when every town in Ontario sees its box-store parking lots filled and many of its downtown boutiques either empty or struggling, and the parking lots in that area filled only on special sale days, and
  • when the connection of both adults and children to projects that can be legitimately considered "good will" projects, in terms of serving a demonstrated and legitimate social need, and such projects have been replaced with part-time jobs, or for a few, athletic exercises, (both useful and worthy) but not without a community context,
  • when the service clubs and churches are literally evaporating, and along with them the kinds of connections, not based exclusively on dollars, competition and winners/losers as their primary purpose
  • and when the prospects for the kind of uber-earnings that come with "star" power in entertainment and athletics for the very few, seem dim at best and non-existent for the majority
  • and when teachers are more interested in their pensions than their lessons and their relationships with their students (not all, but too many!)
  • and when parents are clutching and grabbing for their own rung on the ladder of fiscal and social and political success, as measured once again by the accumulation of dollars
is it any wonder that students will face the question, "Can I do this anymore?" when the kind of "treatment" they witness through bullying and emotional violence of the invasions that are both possible and carried out on social media and in personal interactions. Where is the counter-evidence of compassion, caring, support and encouragement  that all children and adolescents (and even adults) need?
They have been ripped from the social fabric, by either the actions or the complicity of a social culture that serve "for the moment's gratification" and such a culture can and will only see more mental health and more suicides, notwithstanding the education sector's urgent attempts to stem that tide.

Teen suicides bring mental-health into the open
By Caroline Alphonso and Julianna Cummins, Globe and Mail, August 28, 2012

Deeply shaken by a series of teen suicides, the Peel District School Board hopes the four-minute dramatization will help address the still-taboo topic of mental health in a more open manner. It’s part of a small, but growing movement across Canadian schools to build education about mental health and suicide into the curriculum.

As the video continues, the young man’s missives are spotted by another teen, who replies with a message of her own. She sends the number for Kids Help Phone, then adds “#ChangeisComing #iPromise.”
The suburban board’s pro-active approach to mental health comes after a difficult academic year: Two of its high-school students died in what police called a murder-suicide, and three more teens at another school committed suicide.
One of the those teens, a 17-year-old Brampton student, mentioned suicide twice on a social-networking account just days before he died.
“We’re trying to take mental health out of the closet,” said Peel’s director of education Tony Pontes, “and see it as very real, see it as something that is affecting both our children’s well-being and their achievement, and also see it as something we can have an impact on.”
One in 10 young people say they have attempted suicide, and it is estimated that as many as 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by mental illness or disorders. Experts say that 70 per cent of these mental disorders can be diagnosed before the age of 25. Schools, they say, provide an ideal setting to identify and start treating children.
Nova Scotia will integrate a new mental-health program in its Grade 9 curriculum this year. Alberta will expand its mental-health strategy in Grades 4, 5 and 6 to junior-high students. The Ontario government has provided some funding for mental-health initiatives in schools. And the British Columbia Medical Association is linking with schools around mental-health projects.
Stanley Kutcher, an expert in adolescent mental health based in Halifax, said Canadian schools are starting to understand that good psychological health helps students learn. School health programs, he said, have always focused on physical education, sexuality and nutrition but mental health is starting to be included more.
“People are finally realizing that the brain is not disassociated from the body and that we have to look at the whole child together,” Dr. Kutcher said.
Peel’s focus on the issue is so strong that Mr. Pontes on Tuesday instructed a room full of school principals and administrators to lead talks on mental health in their classrooms. The video is just one part of the board’s strategy; it has also launched a new online resource for students, parents and staff that lists places they can turn to for help.
Mr. Pontes said the hope is that principals, teachers and school staff will develop relationships so that honest conversations can take place between students and trusted adults.
“We want every staff member to be aware and to be looking for children who are having difficulties,” he said. “We don’t expect our teachers and staff to be clinicians. What we want is for them to provide a caring, safe person that children can feel comfortable speaking to, and in that way, as we discover their story, then to make referrals to the appropriate people for support.”
Jim Van Buskirk, chief social worker for the board, said in the past, staff did the best they could do with the resources on hand. The new approach is much more coherent across the system, he said, and it forces schools to make mental health part of their mandate.
“There was a time many years ago when school boards wouldn’t have seen this to be their purview. Our job is to educate kids and that’s what we do,” Mr. Van Buskirk said. “There is a greater awareness now that life is much more complex and students spend five days a week with us.”
He added: “We’re in a terrific position to be aware of concerns and, when necessary, direct folks to the kind of services that might help them.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Slaughter: The new cold war is information...points to need for international collaboration

In the many manifestations of the ongoing and growing information war(s), the pro-freedom-of-information forces need a new weapon. A government’s banning of journalists or blocking of news and social-media sites that were previously allowed should be regarded as an early warning sign of a crisis meriting international scrutiny. The presumption should be that governments with nothing to hide have nothing to lose by allowing their citizens and internationally recognized media to report on their actions.

To give this presumption teeth, it should be included in international trade and investment agreements. Imagine if the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and regional development banks suspended financing as soon as a government pulled down an information curtain. Suppose foreign investors wrote contracts providing that the expulsion and banning of foreign journalists or widespread blocking of access to international news sources and social media constituted a sign of political risk sufficient to suspend investor obligations. (From Anne Marie Slaughter's piece, The 'new cold war' is an information war, in Globe and Mail, August 25, 2012, below)
While giving a presumption of "sunlight" and the free flow of information some "teeth" for both enforcement and reinforcement is a good idea, there is some risk to tying such a presumption to the flow of dollars from any agency.
What we have in every country, at the state level, including the United States, is a system of classified information (for 'national security' reasons) and an even more nefarious presumption that, for example, by paying mercenaries in conflicts, we can prevent the state from both accountability and legal attack, because we are not responsible for the actions of those state funded mercenaries. So while there is a real divide between state control of information and the private flow of information from individual sources, there is also the question of international monitoring the flow of state provided information, and the "power" to repress publication of such information.
States will have to give up complete control of their information flow, as they will their access/rejection to legal tribunals, in a world in which the international community establishes standards that support a "sunlight" principle.
And with regard to the flow of private monies, for example, the world community has been singularly ineffectual in providing guidelines, monitoring and even normal taxation enforcement to support the legitimate needs of both states and individual money-holders, investors, corporations as well as separating the flow of "legitimate" monies from terrorist-funding.
We have such an interconnected and interdependent and complicated set of relationships, between and among the various state, corporates, individuals and each of their various networks and alliances and treaties, without the necessary internationally agreed and enforced terms for the open, clear and free flow of anything, including information, money, arms, criminals whose acts affect all of humanity in their "crimes against humanity" aspect. And, it would seem that the kind of disparity that exists between members of the United Nations on, for example, global warming and climate change, will also prevail in such files as the flow of information, the flow of funds, and the insertion of mercenary forces that are immune to international standards, like the Geneva Accords on the treatment of prisoners of war.
Of course, the access to and the availability of reliable information in a digital age will be both more difficult to control by state regulation, just as is the current flow of monies in this digital age. And that very fact means state control are not adequate to protect both competing states and individuals from the abuses that we are already witnessing in what could be called "tax havens" or less diplomatically "tax evasion" depending on your perspective. In this increasingly more complex and interdependent world, we need to give more and more attention to our collective need for collaboration, co-operation and the relinquishing of 'national' powers to an internationally agreed body or bodies who have the kind of support both fiscally and legally to carry out the kind of protections that citizens of all countries deserve and need.
And such a prospect is not likely to be found in the current  international climate and culture of competing, and secret and undercover operatives from all of the major players.
The ‘new cold war’ is an information war
By Anne Marie Slaughter,Globe and Mail, August 25, 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.

An information war has erupted around the world. The battle lines are drawn between governments that regard the free flow of information, and the ability to access it, as a matter of fundamental human rights, and those that regard official control of information as a fundamental sovereign prerogative. The contest is being waged institutionally in organizations like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and daily in countries like Syria.

The sociologist Philip N. Howard recently used the term “new cold war” to describe “battles between broadcast media outlets and social-media upstarts, which have very different approaches to news production, ownership and censorship.” Because broadcasting requires significant funding, it is more centralized – and thus much more susceptible to state control. Social media, by contrast, transforms anyone with a mobile phone into a potential roving monitor of government misdeeds. Surveying struggles between broadcast and social media in Russia, Syria and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Howard concludes that, notwithstanding their different media cultures, all three governments strongly back state-controlled broadcasting.

These intramedia struggles are interesting and important. The way that information circulates does reflect, as Mr. Howard argues, a conception of how a society/polity should be organized.
But an even deeper difference concerns the fundamental issue of who owns information in the first place. In January, 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that the United States “stand[s] for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to information and ideas.” She linked that stand not only to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects freedom of expression and freedom of the press, but also to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which holds that all people have the right “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Many governments’ determination to “erect electronic barriers” to block their citizens’ efforts to access the full resources of the Internet, she said, means that “a new information curtain is descending across our world.”
This larger struggle is playing out in many places, including the ITU, which will convene 190 countries in Dubai in December to update an international telecommunications treaty first adopted in 1988. Although many of the treaty’s details are highly technical, involving the routing of telecommunications, various governments have submitted proposals aimed at facilitating government censorship of the Internet.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been open about his desire to use the ITU “to establish international control” over the Internet, thereby superseding current arrangements, which leave Internet governance in the hands of private groups like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the Internet Engineering Task Force.
On the ground, governments are often still primarily focused on blocking information about what they are doing. One of the Syrian government’s first moves after it began shooting protesters, for example, was to expel all foreign journalists. Several weeks ago, the government of Tajikistan blocked YouTube and reportedly shut down communications networks in a remote region where government forces were battling an opposition group.
These more traditional tactics can now be supplemented with new tools for misinformation. For close followers of the Syrian conflict, tracking key reporters and opposition representatives on Twitter can be a surreal experience.
Two weeks ago, Ausama Monajed, a Syrian strategic communications consultant who sends out a steady stream of information and links to opposition activities in Syria, suddenly started sending out pro-government propaganda. The Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al Arabiya has also reported the hacking of its Twitter feed by the “Electronic Syrian Army.”
In the many manifestations of the ongoing and growing information war(s), the pro-freedom-of-information forces need a new weapon. A government’s banning of journalists or blocking of news and social-media sites that were previously allowed should be regarded as an early warning sign of a crisis meriting international scrutiny. The presumption should be that governments with nothing to hide have nothing to lose by allowing their citizens and internationally recognized media to report on their actions.
To give this presumption teeth, it should be included in international trade and investment agreements. Imagine if the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and regional development banks suspended financing as soon as a government pulled down an information curtain. Suppose foreign investors wrote contracts providing that the expulsion and banning of foreign journalists or widespread blocking of access to international news sources and social media constituted a sign of political risk sufficient to suspend investor obligations.
Americans say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Citizens’ access to information is an essential tool to hold governments accountable. Government efforts to manipulate or block information should be presumed to be an abuse of power – one intended to mask many other abuses.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Former Republican Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, endorses Obama!

By Konrad Yakabuski, Globe and Mail, August 27, 2012
Tampa may have escaped the worst of tropical storm Isaac, but Republicans arrived for their convention to find another kind of tempest brewing over the direction of their party.

Florida’s former Republican governor, Charlie Crist, stole almost as much of the convention’s thunder as Isaac by formally endorsing President Barack Obama over GOP nominee Mitt Romney on Sunday. He lashed out at the GOP for moving so far to the right that moderates like him have been left with no other choice but to quit the party.
“An element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people,” Mr. Crist wrote in a Sunday op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times. “The truth is that the party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.”

Mr. Crist’s critique comes as Republicans prepare to formally adopt a platform that, more than any other in recent history, bears the imprint of social conservatives and Tea Partiers. For the first time, the GOP program promises to subject the Federal Reserve to a full congressional audit, a move critics say would threaten its independence.
Mr. Crist is among a chorus of disaffected Republican leaders who have either left the GOP since the rise of the Tea Party movement or distanced themselves from the party.
Former senator Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee, said in a weekend interview that he worried the party was not doing enough to appeal to “mainstream” voters and attract support among Hispanics and young people.
“We have got to be open,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “We cannot be a single-issue party or single-philosophy party…There’s a big split in our party. There’s this undercurrent of rigid conservatism where you don’t dare not toe the line.”
Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, who lost his state’s May GOP primary to a Tea Party candidate, also took issue on Monday with the party’s unwillingness to compromise.
“Independent voters who decide many elections are looking for competence, seriousness of purpose and trustworthiness. They are looking for leaders who will not be dissuaded from compromises that might be necessary to govern effectively,” Mr. Lugar wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today.
The comments of Mr. Dole and Mr. Lugar echo those of Mr. Crist’s successor as Florida governor, Jeb Bush, who criticized the harsh Republican rhetoric on illegal immigration. Most Hispanic voters, who form the fastest growing block of the electorate, have a relative, friend or neighbour who is in the country illegally.
“You can’t ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that you’re really not wanted. It just doesn’t work,” Mr. Bush said on Meet the Press on Sunday.
Unlike Mr. Crist, Mr. Bush is in for the long haul. Most observers expect him to seek the GOP nomination in 2016 if Mr. Romney loses in November.
In Mr. Crist’s case, however, it is as much a question of whether he quit the GOP or was shown the door. Trailing Marco Rubio in the 2010 GOP Senate primary, he opted to run as an independent candidate. Despite winning the support of many moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats, he still lost the November election to Mr. Rubio.
Even so, Mr. Crist’s endorsement may give Mr. Obama a boost in a critical swing state. The Real Clear Politics average of presidential polls in Florida shows Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney in a dead tie, each with the support of 46.3 per cent of voters.
“For Charlie Crist to pull this Obama stunt while Florida faces a hurricane only proves Charlie Crist cares about only one thing: Charlie Crist,” retorted Lenny Curry, the GOP state chairman, said in a Monday interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
While other top Republicans accused him of abandoning his principles, Mr. Crist insisted to the contrary: “I haven’t changed. The Republican Party has changed.”
The real question for this week's Republican convention in Tampa, is, "Why is this race even called a "dead heat" when all reasonable and responsible people are or ought to be voting Democratic in November's presidential election?
Crist, Dole, Lugar, and even Jeb Bush are neither stupid nor out of touch with reality.
It is the Republican party that has lost both its heart and its rational mind...that part of the mind that voters deserve to be offered, if the party is serious about seeking public support, not merely the trucks of cash from very engaged, and demanding donors.

The insanity plea for political crimes...or are they "hate crimes"?

"To label politically motivated crimes, no matter how reprehensible, acts of insanity denies the reality of the challenge they represent to the dominant political model. No wonder that totalitarian regimes such as the former Soviet Union and China, the latter even today, prefer to impose psychiatric hospitalization on dissenters rather than respond to their dissatisfactions. Many observers thought Norway’s prosecutors were seeking a similar goal in the Breivik case, trying to exclude anti-immigration sentiment from a place in political discourse." (From Paul S. Applebaum's piece in the Globe and Mail, included below)
There is an obvious meeting of a horrendous criminal act inside a 'dominant political model' at the heart of Dr. Applebaum's argument. In Breivik's case, the motive, publicly stated by Breivik, was to forestall Islamic colonization of Europe. It seems to me that the question is not so much, "Is or was Breivik insane?" but rather, "Was this a hate crime?" And if it was declared to be a hate crime, then it would seem to warrant a far greater punishment than a mere twenty-one years, with the possibility of early discharge, unless he is demonstrably "dangerous" to the society.
Legal definitions, by their nature, frame all cases.
And legal definitions, also by their very nature, are limiting both to the individual and to the specific act that was allegedly committed.
Timothy McVey, like the mathematical genius, the unibomber, and like Breivik, and potentially the several suicide bombers all share a common thread of a similar motivation. And while we have a category of crimes designated as "war crimes" for cases tending toward the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the issue of "hate crimes," while at least in the incubator of legal discussions, has not received the kind of attention that the last decade-plus would seem to warrant.
While no law can or will excise "hate" from our society, or that of any country, it would seem that most civilized countries would like to have some common international definition and procedure and punishments for what are clearly able to be designated as "hate crimes."
The society that we all grew up in has changed. Hitler's gang was clearly guilty of "war crimes" as have other dictators been found to be, by the court in the Hague. However, it would seem that an international approach to the kind of act that was perpetrated by Breivik in Norway, would be far more appropriate, and potentially far more repressive of similar acts for similar motivations in other countries, without having to deal with the limited, and highly visible and extremely highly emotional court cases in the very cities in which these "hate crimes" are being committed.
The question of insanity, in the cases where "hate crimes" are perpetrated seems to require lower billing than the nature of the crime being designated a "hate crime" and for this reason, while Dr. Applebaum's case is worthy of consideration, it does not go far enough.
Never label political crimes, like Breivik’s, acts of insanity
By Paul S. Applebaum, Globe and Mail, August 25, 2012
Paul S. Appelbaum is Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Law at Columbia University in New York.

Survivors of Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous rampage in Oslo last year, along with family members of the 77 people he killed, finally have some closure on the nightmare. Friday, a panel of five Norwegian judges found him sane and guilty of the murders, and sentenced him to 21 years in prison. It is likely that he will be detained on the grounds of dangerousness for the rest of his life. With court proceedings at an end, survivors and family members understandably expressed relief and a desire to get on with their lives.
A verdict of guilt and a prison sentence, however, were not foregone conclusions. Although there was no doubt that Mr. Breivik had committed the murders, the question of his sanity dominated the trial. Successful insanity defences are rare, especially for heinous crimes, but when insanity is claimed, it is almost always the defendant who raises the issue. Life in a psychiatric hospital seems preferable to many defendants to incarceration in a prison, and the possibility of release in the event of recovery – even if the prospect is remote – adds to the appeal.
However, Mr. Breivik’s trial offered the unusual spectacle – apparently without precedent in Norway – of a defendant who insisted that he was sane, while the prosecution argued for a finding of insanity. Two teams of psychiatric experts hired by the court reached differing conclusions as to whether he had been psychotic at the time of the crime. In essence, the prosecution was attempting to have an insanity verdict imposed over the objections of the defendant, in the face of conflicting evidence about Mr. Breivik’s state of mind. How do we explain this odd turn of the tables?
For legal systems like Norway’s that allow findings of insanity even against the wishes of a defendant, the motivation is clear. People suffering from severe mental illnesses often deny that there is anything wrong with them and hence may reject a defence of insanity. Courts would be faced with the prospect of punishing seriously ill persons whose behaviour was driven by psychosis, rather than sending them to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. Most people share the intuition that it is unfair to punish someone who did not understand the wrongfulness of their actions, and imposing an insanity verdict avoids having to do so.
Mr. Breivik’s case shows why that is a bad idea. As horrifying as was his behaviour, he had an overtly political end in mind. Concerned about what he called the “Islamic colonization” of Europe, he sought to kill young leaders of the Norwegian Labour Party, whose policies he believed encouraged Muslim immigration, at their summer retreat on an island in a lake near Oslo. Mr. Breivik thought his actions were justified by the legal doctrine of “necessity” to call attention to a situation that threatened the future of his country and of Europe.
To label politically motivated crimes, no matter how reprehensible, acts of insanity denies the reality of the challenge they represent to the dominant political model. No wonder that totalitarian regimes such as the former Soviet Union and China, the latter even today, prefer to impose psychiatric hospitalization on dissenters rather than respond to their dissatisfactions. Many observers thought Norway’s prosecutors were seeking a similar goal in the Breivik case, trying to exclude anti-immigration sentiment from a place in political discourse.
Moreover, viewing political crimes as manifestations of mental disorders may steer society toward inappropriate responses. After all, neither the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995 nor the London Underground attacks in 2005 would have been prevented by better psychiatric treatment. Appropriate responses required recognition that right-wing militia members in the United States and Islamic militants in Britain both pose risks of terrorism and need to be monitored to prevent future violence.
Unless we choose to deceive ourselves about the motives behind such shocking crimes, defendants should not be subject to imposed verdicts of insanity. Those who are too psychotic to recognize that they are ill should be considered incompetent to stand trial, and court proceedings deferred until their competence is restored. Friday’s verdict in Oslo, as victims and family members concurred, brought Mr. Breivik’s foray into political terrorism to its appropriate end.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Towers Watson Study: Canadian employers failing workers..losing productivity

To be highly engaged in today’s challenging workplace, employees must also be given the capability to excel (which we call enablement) and the capacity to maintain their efforts over time, (which we call energy). Employers are failing to create this combination of discretionary effort, enablement, and energy — the combination that forms sustainable engagement and yields a significant performance advantage over time. (From Ofelia Isabel's piece in National Post/Montreal Gazette, August 21, 2012, below)
We have heard, too often, that the market place generally is reactive, and in nano-second dimensions.
That means too things: first, it never takes action to prevent a problem, only to "correct" a problem after it has become evident, and too costly to ignore and
second, short-term thinking is really an oxymoron, especially in the world of business. (It is really a non-starter as well as a non-sequitor!)
Canadian culture, as epitomized by such systems as the health care system, is so bent on frugality, even penuriousness that we elevate the Auditor General to the highest point on the value scale of civil servants (excluding many with legitimate, pragmatic and useful visions for the country!)

Businesses, naturally in the Canadian context, are more interested in "saving" or in "cutting costs" than in making decisions that would be demonstrably more useful in generating both enablement and energy and hence increased productivity.
Canadian business leaders sabotage their own businesses, albeit with impunity and anonymity, through such Scrooge-like thinking and policy-making, and "administrative" implementation, giving all three an elevated "importance" verging on the sacred. Business leaders scream at the mention of increased spending to enhance worker performance, which obviously includes worker enablement and energy, and, like too many church mice (archetypally epitomized in the hundreds of church treasurers who keep a tight-fisted grip on the purse strings, thereby emasculating any attempt at real ministry and any hope of either enablement or energy from people in the pews, a non-literal transliteration of the hope promised by a Resurrected and forgiving Christ!).
While U.S. pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than on research, a clear abdication of their professional, ethical and moral obligations, Canadian companies, for the most part, run to the hills at the mention of sprucing up their marketing campaigns, believing I guess, that to do so would only be "sexing" up their presentation. How dreadfully dungy is such thinking.
People, workers in any organization, are the beating heart of that organization. And if the organization is operating on a shoe-string mentality, really a poverty/victim/scrooge mentality, all workers, just like as children in any family, will instantly and intimately know that truth, and operate accordingly.
What does "accordingly" mean in this context?
It means doing nothing more than is the minimum needed to keep the job.
It means doing nothing to contribute to the potential excellence of the company's performance.
It means doing nothing to generate a discussion of current practices, policies and attitudes, in order to avoid being dubbed a "trouble-maker"....we are bankrupting our companies most important resource..the imaginations of the people in the employ of those organizations, through our studious avoidance of those resources.
And it also means that "minimum" itself is a reducing equation, based on a disengagement of worker from organization.
In the administrative texts, it was a man named Macgregor who dubbed these issues "the human side of enterprise" in his discussion of leadership: initiating action and enabling, encouraging and energizing the workers.
Some workers, such as scientists in their labs, or surgeons in their operating rooms, or many athletes in their arenas, would likely do their work enthusiastically "for the love of it" because of their innate passion and commitment to their chosen calling.
Hundreds of thousands, even millions, however, do work "they have to do" to pay the bills. Consequently, the attitude of their employers is critical to their health, both literally and figuratively, and directly and indirectly impacts the health care budgets of every province and the country generally.
Employers who consider their workers as little more than a "high-maintenance machine" that gets sick, stays home, makes mistakes, causes friction, requires benefits and refuses to offer useful and profitable suggestions are quite literally "blind" to the resources they are blocking from the success of their enterprise. And resistance to change, "because this is the way we've always done it" is one of the most common rationalizations that covers this prejudice, this blindness, this 'false superiority' of management.
Look at any organization for the way it relates to the brightest among its workers, and you will be able to read the balance sheet, without even opening the hard disc on which it is written. Those who listen, encourage, enable and energize the people, all the workers, will have a balance sheet that is both growing and greener, in both environmental and profit-measures, as well as fewer absentees, fewer complaints, fewer conflicts to resolve, fewer mistakes and accidents, and better prospects for investors.
Such thinking, the non-listening, non-encouraging, non-engaging, non-enabling, and non-energizing also has its own decline in performance on the part of its leadership: less expectation, less information, less listening, less respect and less valuing of the work force...and that is another spiral that the piece below does not mention. And when we  communicate with our workers only when they "screw-up" and therefore only in negative terms and punishments, we are, in fact, encouraging, by our mishandling of the issue, more screw-ups, to feed the files of the workers whom we seek to dismiss.
Enabled, energized and sustained workers have fewer accidents, fewer customer/client complaints, fewer problems with co-workers, fewer complaints about their workplace and fewer illnesses.
It only makes "business" sense to pay attention to these dynamics, and we all know that the business schools are not "schooling" their graduates in these disciplines with the kind of vigour they give to "investor relations" for example.
And with fewer than 33% of Canadian workers being currently enabled and energized (sustained) it is little wonder that our productivity lags, and our health care bills are spiking, while we smuggly plod along blind to our own resistance to the positive potential influence of "the other".
It is a national pandemic that includes government, business, education and the public sectors.
Sad, but true.
And how much did it cost for the study that disclosed what we all know before hand, but did not have the "authority" to be considered worth listening to?
Canadian workers lacking resources and engagement needed to get job done
By Ofelia Isabel, National Post, in Montreal Gazette, August 21, 2012
Ofelia Isabel is Towers Watson’s Canadian leader for talent and rewards.
Canada’s productivity gap continues to present questions for organizations trying to become more competitive.
Towers Watson’s latest study of employee attitudes and concerns around the world, which included more than a thousand Canadians, reveals what could be a hidden contributing factor: a lack of sustainable engagement in the Canadian workforce.
Traditionally, engagement has been recognized as employees’ willingness to give discretionary effort to their jobs. While most employers intuitively understand the value of an engaged workforce (and many have programs in place to measure and support engagement), the research shows the steps organizations are taking to improve engagement are falling short.
What organizations fail to take into account is that engagement today concerns more than giving extra effort. To be highly engaged in today’s challenging workplace, employees must also be given the capability to excel (which we call enablement) and the capacity to maintain their efforts over time, (which we call energy). Employers are failing to create this combination of discretionary effort, enablement, and energy — the combination that forms sustainable engagement and yields a significant performance advantage over time.
Sustainable engagement matters because it is the proverbial canary in the productivity mine
Sustainable engagement is at risk globally due to prolonged economic turmoil and work environments in which people have been doing more with less, and for less, for more than half a decade — and Canada is no exception. Prospects for improvement anytime in the near future seem limited. The result is a workforce that is anxious, stressed and risk averse. These are not good traits for a company or a country trying to grow.
Sustainable engagement matters because it is the proverbial canary in the productivity mine. A growing body of evidence — both empirical and anecdotal — shows the clear value of sustaining engagement over time.
When we look at productivity and retention metrics relative to sustainable engagement, we see that organizations with high levels of sustainable engagement have less absenteeism and lower “presenteeism” (lost productivity at work) than those with high levels of disengagement. Organizations with high sustainable engagement also have less trouble retaining employees than those with disengaged workforces.
In Canada, the advantages are startling for companies whose workforce exhibits high sustainable engagement. Companies lose an average of 8.8 days annually to presenteeism for employees with high sustainable engagement versus 17.7 days for the disengaged. For absenteeism, companies lose an average of three days per year for employees with high sustainable engagement versus nearly six days for the disengaged.
And when it comes to the important productivity measure of employee retention (losing experienced employees is a significant drain on productivity), only 14% of sustainably engaged employees in Canada are high-retention risks compared with 58% of disengaged employees.
How do sustainable engagement data fall to the bottom line? Towers Watson studied the performance of a group of 50 global corporations and compared their engagement data with their specific financial results. Those with the highest level of sustainable engagement had average operating margins three times greater than those organizations with low levels of engagement.
The disturbing issue for Canada, considering how sustainable engagement affects absenteeism, presenteeism and retention, is that only 33% of Canadian workers are sustainably engaged.
But there is good news for Canadian employers: An additional 24% of workers are considered “the unsupported” — engaged in the traditional sense (willing to put in the effort) but stymied by organizational barriers to enablement and energy. Canadian workers either don’t have the tools and resources to do the job, or don’t have the capacity to do it. That presents a huge opportunity for employers to take measures to address the productivity needs of their employees, and to think about managing to sustainable engagement — a far more robust 21st century form of engagement.
Among sustainable engagement’s three components (traditional engagement, enablement and energy), the most actionable focus area for addressing the unsupported is enablement. Driving enablement entails removing the barriers that make it easier for the unsupported to become sustainably engaged. It requires giving employees the tools, resources and support to get work done efficiently.
Examples of enabling unsupported employees might include prioritizing and organizing work for employees whether they are in the office or working from a remote office thousands of miles away. It might include making sure employees have access to efficient technology that works. It could be encouraging and rewarding a collegial work team that is ready to jump in to help; or, providing online tools and processes — with ready guidance and support — that give workers access to information to make rapid job-related decisions that promote customer satisfaction.
Energy, the third leg of sustainable engagement, entails actively supporting employees’ physical, emotional and interpersonal well-being. In this kind of environment, people come to work early and stay late, not simply because they have to, but because they’re involved in what they’re doing.
To move a larger group of employees into the sustainable engagement camp, employers need to understand and respond to what drives sustainable engagement in their organizations. The particulars will be unique for every company, but we know the top drivers of sustainable engagement among Canadian workers are related to leadership effectiveness, stress management and work-life balance, and career development. Employers need to involve their employees at every level — leader, supervisors, human resource officials and departments and employees themselves — in addressing these areas.
There is a real imperative for change right now. The way companies do business is undergoing radical shifts, but our people-management programs and practices have not kept pace. The risks of continuing to manage the traditional way are just too great from a performance perspective.
Ofelia Isabel is Towers Watson’s Canadian leader for talent and rewards.
© The Financial Post
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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Excerpt: Terry Gross' npr interview with Seth Rosenfeld, author of Subversives

If you thought you got a glimpse into the workings of the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, by watching the Hollywood film,"J.Edgar," this interview will open your eyes much wider.
Not only is Terry Gross one of the best interviewers in North America, by bringing intellect, insight, wit, humour and sensitivity to her encounters but her subjects invariably come pregnant with new and dramatic information, in this case, about the super-cozy relationship between one of America's heroes, Ronald Reagan, and the FBI, even though much of that relationship was kept under wraps for decades, prior to the release of his book.
From the npr website, August 21, 2012
During the student protests of the 1960s, many activists suspected that the FBI was spying on them and trying to undermine their efforts. My guest, Seth Rosenfeld, has massive evidence that this was true at the University of California at Berkeley, the college that led the way in student protests and that according to Rosenfeld was the target of the most extensive covert operations the FBI is known to have undertaken in any college community.

Rosenfeld filed five Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the FBI, resulting in the release of more than 300,000 pages of records about events on and around the campus from the 1940s to the 1970s. He reports that these documents show that the FBI mounted a covert campaign to manipulate public opinion about events on the Berkeley campus, it spied on and harassed students, helped force out the university's president and ran a secret program to fire professors whose political views were deemed unacceptable.
These documents also reveal the mutually beneficial secret relationship between the FBI and Ronald Reagan covering the years when Reagan informed on fellow actors through his efforts to suppress the student movement when he was governor of California.
Rosenfeld's new book is called "Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power." Rosenfeld has been an investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. Seth Rosenfeld, welcome to FRESH AIR. We should just start with an explanation of the what the free speech movement was about at the University of California, Berkeley.
SETH ROSENFELD: Yes, the Free Speech Movement occurred in 1964. It was one of the first major campus protests of the 1960s. It was a nonviolent protest, and it was protest against a rule at UC Berkeley that prohibited students from engaging in political activity on campus. For example, if students wanted to hand out a flyer or collect quarters for the Republican campaign for president, they were prohibited from doing that.
If they wanted to hand out flyers for the civil rights movement, they couldn't do that, either.
GROSS: So there was a big protest. The campus police got involved, the police-police got involved, and why did J. Edgar Hoover, then head of the FBI, care? What was his concern about this student movement?
ROSENFELD: Hoover had long been concerned about alleged subversion within the educational field, and he'd been particularly concerned about the University of California at Berkeley, which was the nation's largest public university at that time and had been involved in the production of nuclear weapons that brought an end to World War II.
So he was particularly concerned about dissent and alleged subversion at UC Berkeley. When the Free Speech Movement happened, he saw this as further evidence of the communist plot to disrupt the nation's campuses.
GROSS: And he eventually was told by his agents that it wasn't a communist plot, that there were in fact some communists and some socialists who were participating in the protest, but they were kind of, like, incidental. They weren't leaders; the protests would have happened with them or without them. They were just, like, people who showed up.
ROSENFELD: Hoover instantly ordered a major investigation of the Free Speech Movement and assigned a lot of agents to look into it and whether it was a subversive plot. And they determined that while there were a few communists and socialists involved in the protests, it would have happened anyway because it was really just a protest about this campus rule. His agents repeatedly told him that it would have happened anyway, and it wasn't a subversive plot, but Hoover ordered further investigation and beyond that dirty tricks to stifle dissent on the campus.
GROSS: So two of the FBI sources within the university were a security officer and a vice chancellor named Alex Sherriffs. So was their relationship with the FBI legal or illegal? Was it legal for the FBI to be going to them and getting information?
ROSENFELD: It was legal, but what is questionable is whether it was appropriate and consistent with the FBI's mission. And as the federal courts ruled in my Freedom of Information Act suit, the FBI's investigation using Alex Sherriffs and using the security officer William Wadman to gather information had no legitimate law enforcement purpose because those investigations had turned into political spying.
GROSS: And what do you mean by political spying?
ROSENFELD: These were investigations that didn't focus on national security or violations of criminal law. They focused on what people were saying or what they were writing or who they were meeting with in regard to positions they took on matters of public policy. So essentially, it was spying on constitutionally protected activity, such as circulating petitions or holding a rally or going to a demonstration.
GROSS: I want to ask you about one of the people who at the FBI's request infiltrated part of the activist movement in Berkeley, and this is Richard Aoki. And you say he had successfully infiltrated several Bay Area radical organizations. I'm particularly interested in hearing what you learned about his not only infiltrating the Black Panthers but in supplying them and helping them get guns, helping them arm.
ROSENFELD: Well, at first Aoki informed on the Communist Party, then he focused on the Socialist Workers Party. And he did that for a number of years and established his credentials as a leftist. Then in the mid-'60s, he was a student at Merritt College in Oakland and he met Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who were also students there.
He began to talk politics with them, and when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party in 1966, they went to see Richard Aoki, and they asked him for guns. They knew that Aoki had a collection of guns, that he was a firearms expert from his days in the Army. Aoki gave them several guns, as well as firearms training.
The Panthers proceeded to use weapons in what they called community patrols of the police. The Panthers were very concerned about police brutality in Oakland, and to try and reduce that, they began these community patrols, in which they would follow police officers around Oakland and observe them as they stopped or made arrests of people.
The Panthers were carrying guns and cameras while they were doing this, and some of those guns came from Richard Aoki. But the Panthers later had a lot of problems concerning guns. They were involved in shootouts with Oakland police. At least one Oakland police officer was killed; several Panthers were killed. And by the end of 1968, 28 Panthers had been killed in shootouts with police around the country.
GROSS: So what you're suggesting here is that the FBI, through this informant, actually helped arm the Panthers.
ROSENFELD: What we don't know is what the FBI knew about Aoki giving the Panthers guns. What we do know is that Aoki was a paid informant for the FBI before, during and after the time he gave the Panthers guns.
GROSS: One of the things you learned is that the FBI did spy on Mario Savio, one of the leaders of the student movement at the University of California Berkeley, and they tried to sabotage him. What did they do to try to sabotage him?
ROSENFELD: The FBI saw Savio as a potentially dangerous person because he was a very charismatic leader. He was very effective in rallying students and, even more broadly, members of the public to the cause of the Free Speech Movement. Hoover tried to counteract that by taking certain steps that would discredit Savio by portraying him in news stories as an associate of communists and socialists.
At one point, the FBI designated Savio as a key activist, putting him on a list of people whom the FBI would attempt to neutralize through intensive surveillance and harassment. At one point, an FBI agent contacted Savio's employer, and sometime later, Savio lost his job.
GROSS: One of the things you did while researching this book was present the Freedom of Information Act files that you found on people to those people. And you did that with Mario Savio before he died. He must have suspected that the FBI had investigated him because I think all student activists suspected that, whether it was true or not. What was his reaction when you told that you'd gotten his files and showed them to him?
ROSENFELD: I should explain. I had some files that I was able to show Mario before he passed away in '96, but most of the files I got were after he passed away. But some of the first files I got showed that the FBI had investigated the free speech movement and attempted to discredit it, and when I showed these to Mario Savio, he was - he said: Well, we always figured that the FBI was spying on us, but we never suspected that they would attempt to disrupt us.
I also obtained a lot of FBI files concerning the president of the university, Clark Kerr, and when I met with Clark Kerr and showed him some of his FBI files, he was quite astonished that the FBI had tried to get him fired from his job as university president.
The documents showed that J. Edgar Hoover had ordered agents to leak information to members of the board of regents in an effort to convince him that Clark Kerr was not being tough enough on student protesters and that he had to be fired.
GROSS: Clark Kerr is such an interesting character in your book because as the president of the university, he felt that he did a lot to open up the campus to more speech. He allowed communists to speak on campus. He refused to punish people for dissident speech. But to the student activists, he was the establishment, who was not allowing them, like, sufficient free speech on campus, but to the FBI and to Governor Reagan, he just wasn't tough enough.
So he lost on all sides, like, to the left and to the right, everyone was against him.
ROSENFELD: Clark Kerr was the man in the middle, and he had done so much for the university. He is one of the towering figures in American higher education. He expanded the university, and he also developed the master plan for higher education, the system of colleges that's now used not only around the country but all over the world.
He also opened the campus to free speech in many ways, but when the student movement in the early '60s began, he was taken by surprise. He didn't expect the students to be as aggressive as they were, and he was not quick enough to more fully open the campus.
The Free Speech Movement was ultimately successful. It reversed the rule against students engaging in political activity on campus. Kerr later said he regretted that he had not acted more swiftly to lift that rule

Death by China...coming to a theatre near you!

From best-selling author and filmmaker, Peter Navarro, comes DEATH BY CHINA, a documentary feature that pointedly confronts the most urgent problem facing America today – its increasingly destructive economic trade relationship with a rapidly rising China. Since China began flooding U.S. markets with illegally subsidized products in 2001, over 50,000 American factories have disappeared, more than 25 million Americans can’t find a decent job, and America now owes more than 3 trillion dollars to the world’s largest totalitarian nation. Through compelling interviews with voices across the political spectrum, DEATH BY CHINA exposes that the U.S.-China relationship is broken and must be fixed if the world is going to be a place of peace and prosperity.(From Death by China website)

This is the code for the official trailer for the film, from the website Death by China:

Listening to Mr. Navarro on MSNBC's Morning Joe yesterday morning, I heard him say that the Chinese currency is 40% undervalued, providing them with a significant trade advantage. In addition, he mentioned fewer environmental restrictions for Chinese manufacturers, as well as the proverbial lower wages, longer days and fewer benefits for Chinese workers whose jobs, in many cases, have replaced American jobs, while simultaneously flooding the U.S. marketplace with Chinese-produced goods and underwriting the U.S. Treasury making the U.S. a debtor nation to China.
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Navarro is taking his nearly messianic campaign to the American heartland, where he will show his film to impoverished American cities from which many of those manufacturing jobs have evaporated.
Interestingly, the presidential campaign is not focussing on the issue of the trade deficit which brings the spotlight inevitably on Chinese trade practices.
He accuses China of stealing American technology, of not playing fair in terms of trade practices, of draining the blood out of Europe and now America. And he suggests that  China needs a strong consumer base, with health care for workers, and also needs to begin fair trade practices, as well as eliminate its currency manipulation.
Should this film become fodder for the presidential campaign, it will undoubtedly signal a seismic shift in the kind of debate between the two presidential candidates, both in style and in content.
Ironic, isn't it, that the most "powerful" nation in the world has permitted its relationship with China to demonstrate its negotiating weakness, it's naive opening of the door to the WTO (World Trade Organization) to China, the gutting of its middle class, while, like the proverbial mosquito scratching itself to death, following an encounter with the powder of an insecticide, it debates the fringes around the core problem like "socialism" and taxes reductions for the rich, and how medicare will survive in the future, without coming to the underlying embarrassment that China has, in effect, out-manoeuvred the rest of the world in both trade practices and by loaning billions to the American treasury.
Let's keep watching the presidential campaigns, to see if Navarro's film cuts into the coverage over the next ten weeks.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hedges: From "The War in the Shadows"

By Chris Hedges. from, August 20, 2012
The CIA has become a huge private army, as Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his book “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic,” that is “unaccountable to the Congress, the press or the public because everything it does is secret.” C. Wright Mills called the condition “military metaphysics”—“the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military.”
Since the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)—which includes the Green Berets, the Army Rangers and the Navy SEALs—has seen its budget quadrupled. There are now some 60,000 USSOCOM operatives, whom the president can dispatch to kill without seeking congressional approval or informing the public. Add to this the growth of intelligence operatives. As Dana Priest and William M. Arkin reported in The Washington Post, “Twenty-four [new intelligence] organizations were created by the end of 2001, including the Office of Homeland Security and the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Task Force. In 2002, 37 more were created to track weapons of mass destruction, collect threat tips, and coordinate the new focus on counterterrorism. That was followed the next year by 36 new organizations; and 26 after that; and 31 more; and 32 more; and 20 or more each in 2007, 2008, and 2009. In all, at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11.”
There are now many thousands of clandestine operatives, nearly all of them armed and equipped with a license to kidnap, torture and kill, working overseas or domestically with little or no oversight and virtually no transparency. We have created a state within a state. A staggering 40 percent of the defense budget is secret, as is the budget of every intelligence agency. I tasted enough of this subterranean world to fear it. When you empower these kinds of people you snuff out the rule of law. You empower criminals and assassins. One of these old CIA operatives, Felix Rodríguez, was in El Salvador when I was there during the war in the early 1980s. He wore Che Guevara’s Rolex watch. He had removed it from Guevara’s body after ordering Guevara to be executed in the Bolivian jungle. I would later run into clandestine operatives in the Middle East, Africa or Yugoslavia I knew from the wars in Central America. We would invariably chat briefly in Spanish. It was a strange fraternity, even if I was the outsider. The Great Game.
These black forces have created as much havoc, or blowback, in the Middle East as they did in Latin America. And by the time they are done there will be so many jihadists willing to blow themselves up to vanquish America, the Islamic radicals will be running out of explosives. These clandestine operatives peddle a self-fulfilling prophecy. They foment the very instability that allows them to continue to proliferate like cockroaches. The dozens of CIA kidnappings—“extraordinary renditions”—of radical Islamists in the late 1990s, especially from the Balkans, many shipped to countries such as Egypt where they were tortured and murdered by our allies, was the fuse that lit the al-Qaida bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the attacks on the Navy destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. Militant Islamists had publicly vowed reprisals for these renditions.
Privatizing the military, as Bush did in Iraq, serves at least two nefarious purposes:
  • It eliminates the need to "report" to Congress, and thereby to be accountable
  • It provides an unfair and capitalistic model against which to ridicule the official military
And that does not address the budget implications of privatizing military operations. If Hedges is right, that approxiamtely 40% of the Pentagon budget and every other security agency is "secret," then who knows what actions are being taken on behalf of the nation, and thereby eradicating any pretense of accountability to the public whose taxes are funding those actions.
Is there a "behind the curtain" set of operations and personnel that has been created in order to provide the kind of "national security" that would permit Americans to "sleep" well every night? And if there is, just how extensive is their operation? In what corners of the globe are they operating and to what effect?
Is Hedges correct that Americans have created a "state within a state"?
And if that is factually correct, then who votes for the "interior state" within the public one?
Has democracy become the victim of the workings of the interior "national security network"?
And if there is any truth to Hedges contentions, then it is long past time when these facts, figures and narratives are made public, not only by Hedges but also by the responsible media, starting with the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Public relations, the game of politics and politicians, is, as we all know, the conventional approach to "power" in the democratic sense. And we also know that "s/he who plays that game most effectively wins."
And public relations is like make-up, in that it seeks to make the face look much prettier than it actually is. The good stories are front and centre, while the warts, and the zits and the deformities are  minimized and if possible covered up.
If a nation's culture is dedicated to the entertainment industry's archetypes in both character and method, such a nation is well placed to develop a parallel force of operatives "under the radar" yet still with public monies.
And therein lies the betrayal of the democratic ideal.
It would seem that there are a myriad of questions that need to be asked in an even larger number of board rooms, by another army of investigative reporters whose words can help to shed some light on these many shadows.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How will the world silence Ahmadinejad and the Iranian defamation of Israel?

Mr. Ahmadinejad called Israel “a corrupt, anti-human organized minority group standing up to all divine values.”
“Today, confronting the existence of the fabricated Zionist regime is in fact protecting the rights and dignity of all human beings,” said Mr. Ahmadinejad, with a black and white scarf many Palestinians wear around his neck.(Quote from Dareini piece in Globe and Mail included below)
Calling the holocaust "a myth" and calling for the elimination of the state of Israel, is nothing short of a revisit to the days of the late 1930's and 1940's when Hitler did in fact work very hard to wipe Jews from the face of the planet.
Talk about an existential threat!
And for what purpose?
How can such contempt exist and continue to parade across the headlines of the international press without being considered and acted upon as a criminal "defamation of character" of the Israeli people?
Is this most recent statement by the Iranian president very little less than a formal declaration of war?
Is the statement sufficient grounds for a "crimes against humanity" defamation charge?
And is such a statement worthy of litigation by the World Court in the Hague?
When is the world going to be rid of this venom, venom that gives cover to other similar, and equally heinous threats on a smaller scale perhaps, compared with the impact an Iranian/Islamic attack on Israel would have on the world community, but nevertheless still heinous, defamatory and worthy, more of a legal response than a military response?
Of course, the answer is never; however, by tolerating the continual, excalating repetition of these "hate statements" on the part of a head of any state, is the world community not complicit in the poison they inject into the geopolitical debate?
What if, for example, another nation were to make such statements about our country, Canada?
What action would Canada take if we were to learn that our country, our state, our civilization were about to be wiped from the planet?
What action would the U.S. take, if they were to learn that their country were to be wiped from the planet?
What action can and will the United Nations take in the face of the most recent, and most vitriolic statement yet from the pip-squeek who pompously parades his blatant racism, bigotry and even military threats against Israel and its people?
And to learn, as well, that the IAEA is discovering that Iran has been "covering up" its nuclear facilities by tearing down buildings and moving much earth, before it will agree to IAEA inspections is just another sign of the depth of the hate, contempt and even virulence of the Iranian official position.
It is the Iranian leader's career and position that the world must remove, not the state of Israel.
It is the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons that the world must confront, not the state of Israel.
It is the Iranian lies, contempt and defamation and threats to the Jewish people that the world must confront, not the state of Israel.
And the clock is ticking!
Israel’s existence ‘insult to all humanity’: Iranian president
By Ali Akbar Dareini, The Associated Press, in Globe and Mail, August 22, 2012
Israel’s existence is an “insult to all humanity,” Iran’s president said Friday in one of his sharpest attacks yet against the Jewish state, as Israel openly debates whether to attack Iran over its nuclear program.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said confronting Israel is an effort to “protect the dignity of all human beings.”
“The existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. He was addressing worshippers at Tehran University after nationwide pro-Palestinian rallies, an annual event marking Quds (Jerusalem) Day on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.
Israel considers Iran an existential threat because of its nuclear and missile programs, support for radical anti-Israel groups on its borders and repeated references by Iranian leaders to Israel’s destruction. Mr. Ahmadinejad himself has repeatedly made such calls, as has Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran has denied allegations that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at producing electricity and radioisotopes used to treat cancer patients.
Israel has been carrying on an increasingly public debate about whether to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel’s official position is to favour diplomatic and economic measures to persuade Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program, but Israel insists that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. Israeli leaders say “all options are on the table,” a clear reference to a military strike, if they determine that other measures have failed.
Iran has warned it would hit back at Israel if it is attacked, also threatening to strike at American interests in the region.
Mr. Ahmadinejad called Israel “a corrupt, anti-human organized minority group standing up to all divine values.”
“Today, confronting the existence of the fabricated Zionist regime is in fact protecting the rights and dignity of all human beings,” said Mr. Ahmadinejad, with a black and white scarf many Palestinians wear around his neck.
Iran and Israel have been bitter enemies for decades. Ayatollah Khamenei has called Israel a “cancerous tumour” that must be wiped out.
Tensions between Iran and Israel have intensified since 2005, when Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a speech that Israel will one day be “wiped off the map.” The Iranian president has also described the Holocaust, when six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during World War II, as a “myth.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Roman Catholic church versus American women: the new face of the U.S. election?

Has the U.S. presidential vote turned into a referendum on the conservative positions of the Roman Catholic church?
With both Ryan and Romney public opposed to abortion, and on record as firmly committed to passing a law that would make abortion a criminal offence, and with the Tea Party representatives in the Republican party already committed to the requirement of an ultrasound for any woman considering an abortion, including the requirement that the mother witness the images of the ultrasound, and now with Missouri Republican Senate candidate, Akin having gone on public record, not only opposing abortion for women who have been subjected to both rape and incest, as a "pro-life" candidate, has the Republican party, despite the best efforts of their "senior" suits to disown both Akin and his outrageous comments and to force his withdrawal from the Missouri race, not only fallen into the trap of their own design by turning the campaign into a referendum on pro-life versus a woman's right to choose, and access to therapeutic abortions?
Certainly the Democrats have emboldened their "speaker list" for their convention to include more leading women as featured speakers, believing that President Obama, currently leading Romney by a sizeable percentage among women voters, speaks for the majority of American women, and that the Republican ticket is now saddled, permanently with a plank in their party's platform that would outlaw abortion completely.  Democrats want to ride this horse all the way to the vote in November, believing rightly, from the evidence of the various polls, that women and blacks and Latinos hold the key to the re-election not only of the President, but also of the many Democratic candidates for both Senate and the House of Representatives.
Isn't it rather ironic, that the most powerful country in the world, with the largest and strongest economy among world economic powers, is being reduced to a parochial issue like abortion, an issue that certainly unites the religious right, the Tea Party and many members of the Roman Catholic church(Romney panders to this slice of the electorate also.) However, if I were a betting man, and I had to wager on a fight between the Roman Catholic church and the women of America, many of whom are also practicing Roman Catholics who have already abandoned the church's position on birth control, I would bet on the women rejecting the church's position on abortion as well. This Republican party, that so vehemently seeks a smaller, less invasive government, is parading their campaign as one to establish the government's option to remove a fundamental right from women, the right to choose. So much for their "smaller and less invasive government" or is that argument only appropriate when they want to delete government programs from the most needy among the nation's poor, less educated, under-employed, sick and elderly?
So much also for the high-minded debate that was to be offered by the selection of Paul Ryan as Vice-presidential nominee for the Republicans, given his personal support for a bill, already in the house, that would outlaw abortion, except in the case of rape, incest or if the woman's life in endangered by the potential delivery.
So much for the debate on tax policy, on defence spending, on foreign policy and on the need to generate jobs in the clean energy sector and to protect the environment from the ravages of global arming and climate change in this, the hottest decade on record in North America....all of those debates are for a presidential race in 2032, I guess.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Honouring Jack Layton, on the 1st anniversary of his death, August 22, 2012

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the death of Jack Layton, former head of the New  Democratic Party, and Leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons, immediately prior to his untimely death.
My wife and I have just watched a CBC interview with Layton's widow, Olivia Chow, who will unveil a bust of Jack tomorrow that she has created. In a former life, Ms Chow was a sculptor who became more and more involved in "changing the world," as she puts her commitment to political life, and has not engaged in her former art since her mid-twenties.
When asked if she is as passionate, politically, as before his death, now that Jack and she no longer are able to motivate each other, she replied, "I think I am more passionate...there are still children going to bed hungry and I know that I cannot go to sleep if I am hungry so I can only imagine what it must be like for them to go hungry, and now that we don't have Jack's voice I have to speak more loudly or find more voices to continue the work he started!"
It may seem like a very simple and uncomplicated statement about child hunger coming in an anniversary interview one year after Jack Layton's death, but, as I asked my wife, "Who else is saying anything meaningful about child hunger in this country, on the national political stage?"
And why not?
Is it because the issue of child hunger, while being addressed by a company like Coca-Cola, through its breakfast program in conjunction with Minute Maid juices, one of the companies owned by Coke, does not have any sex appeal, because it does not rate very high on the political agenda of either the media or the political class?
In one of the richest countries in the world, Canada still pays little or no attention to hungry children, to children who have limited access, at best, to health care that most of us take for granted, that many children grow up in both poverty and hopelessness, without rating a significant place on the national agenda. This is not only an outrage and shameful. It is, also, primarily race-based. Most of the poorest children in Canada live among First Nations people, many of whom are struggling to make a decent living, find reasonable health care, feed their children and provide both hope and comfort for their future...and future that is intimately connected to the futures of all Canadians.
So, after much thought, and much reflection, and much vacillating, I have decided to add my small voice to that of Olivia Chow, to join the NDP, and to begin a voyage into the political wilderness that, in many ridings, is fraught with fear and rejection because, in those ridings the NDP is still considered "too radical" and "not-establishment-enough" to warrant a majority of votes.
That sentiment is now too old and out-of-date for my limited time on the planet.
That sentiment is now unwarranted, if for no other reason than there are too many signs of both political and economic maturity within both the people and the policies of the NDP, for it to continue to have merit.
Workers are watching hard-fought benefits erode at the hands of corporate boards whose contempt both for workers and for the labour organizations that fought for those benefits.
The environment is crying out for TLC that cannot, and will not, ever come from the neo-cons in charge in Ottawa.
The world's geopolitical community needs more of the peace-keeping, compassionate, maturity it once received from Canadians like Mike Pearson, as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Nobel Prize recipient.
The tax code, the health care system, and the future of Canadian youth are all in need of both support and revisiting, in order to assure both sustainable development and fairness, words that have receded from public debate, both in the House of Commons and in the national media, with rare exceptions, like Carol Goar, columnist in the Toronto Star.
And, while hoping for the Liberals to revive seems a distant and receding dream, at this juncture, and merger with the NDP remains a viable option, at least for some of us, I believe that any energy I can summon on behalf of the voiceless in our communities can best be channeled through the NDP.