Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Thank God for the International Joint Commission's decision to restore water levels to Georgian Bay, and Lakes Huron and Michigan

Great Lakes to get relief from low water levels: Porter

The International Joint Commission has recommended restoring 13 to 25 centimetres of water to Lakes Huron and Michigan, likely through flexible structures in the St. Clair River, after doing an environmental assessment and cost-benefit analysis.

By Catherine Porter, Toronto Star, April 29, 2013
If you love Georgian Bay, as I do, I have good news for you.

We might be getting more water soon. Or, more aptly: we might stop losing as much water as we have been these past 14 years.
After years of cheerleading the “do-nothing” approach to the frightening drop in water levels on Lakes Huron and Michigan, the binational referee of water levels, the International Joint Commission, did a stunning about-face last Friday.
It instructed the Canadian and American governments to do something. In particular, research putting an adjustable plug in the St. Clair River, which drains water from Lakes Huron and Michigan down toward Lake Erie.
Let me take a step back for those readers who from misfortune or folly have not yet set bare foot on a hot granite rock of Georgian Bay. The bay is a large lobe of Lake Huron, which is actually joined to Lake Michigan by the Straits of Mackinac.
You can get there in 1.5 hours, if you drive fast out of Toronto, up Highway 400, preferably at dawn. When the wall of trees on your left opens up to a tableau of rocky islands, fainting red pines and blue water, you have arrived.
It is a place I go every summer to confide my city troubles to the ducks and snapping turtles.
It is paradise. It’s in trouble.
Lakes Huron and Michigan, and therefore Georgian Bay, hit a record low water level (175.57 metres) this past January. That’s the lowest the water has been since the 1860s. Plus, it came during a record slump in lake levels. We are in a 14-year period of low water.
Some context: As a kid, I could dive off the end of the dock at my family cottage. If I’d tried that last October, I’d be crippled. The water barely reached my knees.
Since its high point in 1997, we’ve lost two metres of water.
Most of that is natural — the Great Lakes oscillate between wet and dry spells. But a healthy amount of that water will never come back, because we’ve been dredging the St. Clair River for years, to make way for bigger ships.
Some 150 years ago, the St. Clair River was only six metres deep. Now, it’s 8.2 metres deep. Put a bigger hose on your water tank and you’d expect to spurt out water quicker (at least until the pool it was spurting into was so full, it had more pressure than the water in the tank.)
After the last big dredging in 1962, the Army Corps of Engineers was supposed to put speed bumps on the river floor to damper the drain. But that never happened.
For years, it seemed like it never would, despite the screams of cottagers, marina operators, environmentalists, freight operators and the mayors of 96 cities around the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.
But on Friday that all changed.
“The middle lakes need some relief,” explained IJC science and engineering director Ted Yuzyk during a follow-up teleconference Monday.
The recommendation: Restore 13 to 25 centimetres of water to Lakes Huron and Michigan, likely through flexible structures in the St. Clair River. But, do an environmental assessment and cost-benefit analysis — both of which could take three to five years, Yuzyk estimated.
In the latest IJC study on the subject, experts suggested the cost of putting things like underwater sills or turbines into the St. Clair River could range from $30 million to $170 million. They also flagged environmental concerns, including the precious spawning grounds of sturgeon in the river.
Finally, they said it would take 30 years to fully restore that amount of water to Lakes Huron and Michigan. On Monday, Yuzyk said it would likely be eight to 10 years.
We are in for a long process, either way. But, at least we are on the way.

An Anglo Saxon's view of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's "God Damn America"

I am increasingly uncomfortable whenever I hear a United States politician utter the words, "God Bless these United States of America" as the closing line in a public address.
In years past, as a Canadian whose home town depended on the American tourist dollars for its retail survival, when "tourist" included both travellers by boat and auto as well as owners of many of the summer resort properties on Georgian Bay we commonly call cottages, although some would have been better dubbed 'estates', we welcomed both the friendly people and their abundant and flowing dollars.
They came, with their multicolored state license plates ("tags" to them) and their Buicks and their Cadillacs and their Chrysler Imerpials and they quite literally infused the local economy with their cash injection, probably in the millions of dollars each year.
As a child I remember, with some distaste that has developed over the decades, penny scrambles on the local town dock when the "cruise ships" originated from Duluth Minnesota would bring their passengers to our town on Thursday afternoons, as part of their Great Lakes Cruises, and the tourists would throw loose change onto the dock as the local kids scrambled to grab whatever we could, in the mode of something formerly known as a "peanut scramble" only this was real money and it was American money to boot. And this, after those some tourists has walked the few hundred yards uptown to throw even larger amounts of cash into stores selling Hudson's Bay Import Coats, blankets, and English bone china, all as treasures of the American visits to our little town, before returning to their ship for their overnight stay before departing for the  next Great Lake town or city.
It was all very "quaint" and, for the business operators, highly lucrative.
Spreading money, as a model of American affluence and sometimes generosity, is a signature piece for the American culture and history, given the large quantities that their ingenuity and their drive for profits and earnings have generated. The Marshall Plan, for example, poured billions into the recovery of Europe following the Second World War. Similarly, in Viet Nam, American dollars have helped to build a thriving national economy, among equally or perhaps even more industrious people. Rebuilding Japan, also following the Second World War is a significant accomplishment, with the American signature all over it, in cash.
However, a strange thing has happened on the way to the twenty-first century: American largesse and generosity has become American purchasing power over the hearts and minds of people who came to resent their being patronized.
Paralleling the American doling out cash to hardpressed regions and even preceding it, religious zealots worked to "convert" innocent peoples to the Christian gospel, as an integral component of the American capitalistic enterprise. Linked to code words like "freedom" and "democracy" and "individual rights" and love of country (code for America) this prosletyzing by Christians has somehow fused into a religious zeal that incapsulates both capitalism and some forms of adherence to the New Testament, that in the United States itself, appears as a morphing hybrid known as the "prosperity gospel" which holds that God wants everyone to be rich, and churches that espouse such a view are filled with literally thousands every Sunday.
However, marching to that drum, toward family prosperity and business prosperity, as a Christian value system, linked so intimately as to be literally enmeshed with it, is a Pentagon comprising the largest, most advanced and fastest growing "killing machine" the world has ever known. Undergirding that killing machine, is the largest weapons manufacturing and distributing industry on the planet, dedicated to the spread of smaller "killing machines" in so many various forms and sizes that there are some 200,000,000 of them in homes, offices and factories owned by individuals across the United States, not to mention the millions of killing machines with American insignia on them in the hands of killers around the world.
The United States has also sold extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction to various buyers, including the hated and now deceased Saddam Hussein of Iraq (when Iraq was an ally to America in another conflict with Iran), and so their capacity to "capitalize" on their business acumen, linked to their obsession with both weapons and profits, has quite literally armed the world's most dangerous individuals and groups not only with the material to conduct violence but also the mindset that is needed to carry out such acts of violence.
 It is not a stretch to say, with over 80 people killed every day by gun violence within the United States, spiking periodically into mass killings far too frequently in schools, theatres, and on street corners, and with drug gangs peddling their poison in every city and town across the continent, feeding an addiction whose dimensions can only be termed "texan" in their scope, and their entertainment industry that has been known as the propagator of the most exciting and dramatic and courageous and visionary the world has ever known, is birthing a full menu of violent games, movies, television shows and generations of young people who know that violence, along with sex, sells whatever it is the American enterprise wishes to profit from.
And so, with the largest economy, the largest army, navy and air force, and now the largest supply of secret weapons and the capacity to deliver them anywhere on the planet, without lifting a hand at the scene of the violence, the nation is embroiled in activities that can only be described as violent self-sabotage.
Long past has the tipping point been reached, whereby the American culture could pull back from this obsession with both violence and the pursuit of money, profit, in all of its various forms...(McMansions, and BMW's and yachts, and country estates and the purchase of acolytes whose life depends on their obeisance to the money they take home to feed their children in meagre wages while waiting on the new generation of the rich and famous.
We have, indeed, entered a new guilded age, with all of the predictable Gatsby's attempting to recover a long-lost past, with money of course, because Americans know only Buying their way into the affections of "others" as their political creed, supported by their prosletyzing religion and their corporate profit-seeking mode, similar to their vaunted "heat-seeking missiles" in the military trade.
There is no president, and no Congress capable of managing the monster the U.S. has created; there is no town or city that can handle the complexity of profit-seeking measures enmeshed with underhanded means, and the new "national security" aparatus that has been generated out of fear following 9/11, and the monster that once threw pennies on a dock in Georgian Bay has become both the feeding animal that is so all-consuming that it is eating its own within, and attempting to protect that addiction from being attacked from without.
The American culture is in danger of falling into a pit of greed, wealth so thinly distributed that millions will not survive, and a form of religion that anyone from the Gospel times who might revisit would be hard pressed to recognize a single act of "Christian forgiveness and charity" especially for the "least of those among you"....as to be chagrined and disenheartened with the turn of mind and heart that is quickly hardening into a mere shadow of its former glory.
And only a return to the small, the local and the aacountable...in all aspects of the American culture will provide a new and badly needed critical examination of how the whole thing went awry.
And it has certainly gone awry!
And, it may have to explode, like a multiple-metastasizing tumour, before the toxicity can be excised from the patient's body politic.
And in the meantime, it would do Americans well to cease their incessant and ritualistic chant, "God Bless America" and listen to some of the exhortations of the Sermon on the Mount, instead of shouting their perverted "Christianity" as their insurance policy against their own insidious intentions to power and dominance, through whatever means are available, and also through their seduction of whatever poverty of mind, body and spirit might lie in innocence waiting for American rescue.
The American hero is dead, and needs rescuing from all of his addictions to power, money and medications.
However, as a Christian clergy colleague once commented when confronting the charge that too many hypocrits were sitting in the pews, "What better place could they be in than in the church pew still seeking God's guidance and wisdom, love and forgiveness, while they struggle with their own hypocrisy? For after all, God loves hypocrits too, otherwise none of us would have any hope of reconciliation!"

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The demise of trust in negotiations....sacrificed to the "deal"....

Trust....a word that sees very little light of day, in the daily press, in the political conversations, in the coffee shops. It has become a anachronism, belonging, apparently, to a different time and place.
"Harper should be talking more gently, and Trudeau should be attacking"...runs the David Frum headline in the National Post, in reference to the week's political attack ads from the two party leaders.
Image is all that matters, and how the public "perceives" the political leader, as if those perceptions had little or nothing to do with whether or not the public can and does trust the leader.
Similarly in business...make the sale, hit the quota, beat the predictions....never mind whether the client continues to trust you in the process!....This is the genius of business...it carves away all the extraneous matters, like human trust in both the negotiating party on the other side of the table and in the process that has been and is being created by both sides committing to a full disclosure of all the issues between the parties. And what is left is whether or not the sales contract has been signed, co-signed and submitted to the legal and accounting departments for execution and pay-out.
"Not so fast," it says right here!
It is long past time for the client, whether that means the customer, or the worker, depending on the nature of the discussion, to speak up about the core values of business, politics, medicine, law, architecture, and academia, not to mention the practice of religion.
And if those core values do not start and end with "trust" then why would anyone even consider walking onto the playing field.
Negotiations that tell the client how "swimmingly" is the process proceeding, only to be unceremoniously thrown on its ear, by a complete reversal of everything that has been said so far, in effect terminates such negotiations....and the reason for the termination is that trust is completely lost, if there ever was any authentic trust in the first place.
Compliance with normal expectations, in a formal negotiating process, has to be coming from both sides, and has to continue to come from both sides in order for the process to continue. And when "selling", or making the deal, or filing the commissions, or building the business....all of them legitimate, take precedence over the integrity of the negotiating process with the meagre little client, the nitty gritty details of the day-to-day openness, frankness, disclosure and the cumulative building of trust, then there is no trust left in the process.
There is a growing shift of power in what used to be assumed to be "trusting" business relationships, in favour of the business, and against the consumer. The business operator assumes that s/he is more important than the client the business serves. And once that equation has been tilted in favour of the business, the business has already begun to atrophy.
There is a phrase well known in politics: governments defeat themselves.
Similarly, businesses defeat themselves when they conceive of themselves as being able and willing to
negate whatever trust has been accumulating over weeks or months, in a single phone or text message that completely contradicts everything previously communicated in the transaction.
And when that contradiction is confronted, by a completely disarmed and shocked client, it is the client who "has the problem," certainly not the business executive who set the process reeling downhill with the reversal.
Compliance with the abuse of power, whether that power is vested in the business negotiator, or in the surgeon, or in the bantam hockey coach, or in the hospital housekeeping staff, or in the employer's treatment of the workers...is never an appropriate response. And, sadly, Canadians are known for their over-compliance in order to present a "politically correct" face to the world, and to not be a "trouble-maker"....
And the process begins in the public school system, where teacher control and principal support for that control trumps the educational process, to the detriment of every student it serves.
We need educators, parents and mentors who are committed to preserving the voice and the muscle to use that voice, in the face of the erosion of trust in all situations....without trust, we are merely pawns in a much larger, more impersonal and less ethical process in which "the deal" dominates and the "relationship" means little to nothing.
And in order to "model" such muscle and such voice, the teachers, parents and mentors have to have the courage of their convictions to practice what they must deliver to their charges. And that means refusing to comply with a business relationship that puts the "deal" ahead of the "relationship"....for the purpose of the commission, the business-building and the profit-seeking.
I learned something about the difference when I listened to my hardware-entrepreneur father tell his customers, "You really don't need that expensive tool; this less costly and equally effective one will do the job just as well!"
And they always kept coming back!
Wonder why!

Friday, April 26, 2013

"Macho male" attack ads targetting Trudeau's masculinity? Probably

“Men who exhibit non-traditional gender behaviours or engage in non-traditional male activities or work, tend to get positioned as less manly,” said (Christoper) Greig, a professor of education at the University of Windsor. |(from "Stars and sparkles: Are latest Conservative ads an attack on Justin Trudeau’s masculinity?" by Jennifer Ditchburn, Candian Press, in National Post, April 25, 2013, excerpted below)
And what the quote does not say, but could with equal validity, is that it is mainly men who make such assumptions. It is men who push other men away from non-traditional male activities, fathers to sons, for example, or uncles to nephews,  big brother to little brothers....and not women so much.
Remember George W. Bush painting John Kerry as "waffling and indecisive" in the 2004 presidential campaign. Remember Harper's painting previous liberal leaders as "weak" "self-indulgent...not here for you"...and the list is really endless.
How many male artists have been literally shoved into vocations in which they had little or no interest, just to avoid being dubbed "gay" or a "fairy" or some other equally offensive tag by those whose perceptions of their bigotry ran about as deep as frost on a car windshield in Spring, and just as easily erased so as not to be noticed?
The narrowing of what it means to be a "man" by men especially, in order to conform, comply, fit in, and become a professional success has resulted in the voluntary (and involuntary) closetting of millions of authentic gay men, and the repressing of too many skills and talents to count.
And politics is one of the more public stages for this drama to unfold.
Athletics is another.
The theatre, and the art schools, however, along with the Music Conservatories, welcome both genders with open arms, happy to find both genders willing and able to devote many hours to the kind of disciplined practice and study in order to fully develop as the artist they were meant to be.
Sadly, the philistines in politics, where image dominates, are so tightly bound to the male stereotype that it could take decades, if not centuries, for the necessary changes to welcome multiple masculinities in our public arenas.

Stars and sparkles: Are latest Conservative ads an attack on Justin Trudeau’s masculinity?

By Jennifer Ditchburn, Candian Press, in National Post, April 25, 2013
Christopher Greig, co-author of the book Canadian Men and Masculinities, also believes the Conservatives are trying to frame Trudeau as “unmanly” in their most recent flyer. He explains that society has certain views on what an appropriately masculine identity is.

“Men who exhibit non-traditional gender behaviours or engage in non-traditional male activities or work, tend to get positioned as less manly,” said Greig, a professor of education at the University of Windsor.
“In the Justin Trudeau case, the mention that he was a drama teacher sort of plays into those anxieties around being appropriately male, where drama has been historically gendered feminine.”...
Greig notes that in politics, leadership is often equated with masculine attributes. He points to athleticism and an embrace of the outdoors as the Canadian angle on those ideals.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has used several traditionally masculine backdrops over the years. His media advisers have made sure he was seen riding an ATV in the North, playing hockey and watching hockey games. That kind of image-building was not lost on the prime minister when he was asked by a reporter whether he would ever get on a motorcycle with wife Laureen, who is a riding enthusiast.
“You’ve got to worry about image,” he said in 2006. “I don’t want to be on the back with my wife driving.”

Was Sarin used in Syria? if so, by whom and for what purpose?

“Our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin,” the White House said in its letter, which was signed by Obama's legislative director, Miguel Rodriguez. (from "Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons, U.S. says" by

Robert Burns and Julie Pace, The Associated Press, in Toronto Star, April 25 2013, excerpted below) 

Immediately  the American Enterprise Institute, along with red-neck hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, accuse the Obama administration of "waffling" on the issue, demonstrating weakness and refusing to take appropriate military action.
Let's see....Could there be some cause for caution when judging the reports of the intelligence community, given the disaster that was the Iraq war, when it was George W. Bush who took the world into that conflict "because of weapons of mass destruction" which were never found?
Could it be that Obama, on the very day he celebrated the opening of the George W. Bush Library and Institute at Southern Methodist University in Texas, was taking both the more cautious and more prudent road, precisely because of the extremely high costs and ultimately futility of that war?
Could it be that Obama is working for time, yes, to gather more conclusive information and also to assemble a larger cadre of nations with whom to approach the United Nations for a resolution condemning the use of saran gas by the Assad regime before taking military action in Syria?
There was a very insightful and cogent observation made by Richard Engel, foreign correspondent of NBC, appearing yesterday on the Chris Matthews' program on MSNBC, Hardball, which indicated that if and when saran gas is used, it usually results in hundreds of dead people. Given that this case so far demonstrates only a small number of people who have tested positive for the deadly chemical, saran, Engel agreed that the chemical could have been "strategically" placed and found and reported, in order to push, shove, induce, coerce the United States into entering the civil war on behalf of the rebel forces.
Manipulation of evidence in support of whatever causes deem such manipulation necessary, is clearly a strategy and a tactic of war. Seemingly, it is becoming more commonplace even among non-combatants, given the "co-incidental" timing of the arrest of two men in Canada by a Canadian government simultaneously driving a terrorist bill through the House of Commons...looks like very suspicious timing indeed.
Without skipping a beat, the American "right" in its traditional "macho" mask, will use whatever evidence it can and does find to promote military action, if for no other reason than to show the world that the United States is not to be taken lightly, and to demonstrate its proud tradition of hard power.
Obama, on the other hand, prefers a more subtle, more nuanced and also hopefully more collaborative approach, especially following two major, lengthy and costly wars. The 'right' neurotically stakes out the "hard power" side of masculinity, as its own, so that it will demonstrate "power'n'leadership" in its own mind, and thereby command the respect (votes) of a majority of the public.
Fortunately, that assumption may be losing its cache. Obama's approach, condemned by former Secretary of State, Condolessa Rice, speaking on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the last presidential election as "leading from behind"..something Rice claimed was impossible...
The world can only hope first that reports of the use of saran on its own people by the Assad regime prove to be inconclusive and that, if reports turn out to be valid, any action to bring Assad down, and to attempt to rebuild Syria will have active, committed and sustainable participation from many quarters, including both Russia and China, as well as at least some of her Mid-East neighbours, along with the U.S., the U.K., France, and Europe.
Iran's support for Assad can never be discounted or minimized, and it may well turn out that her agents are responsible for the limited evidence of saran, in order to provoke the U.S. into retaliating, thereby giving Iran a reason to ramp up their military and intelligence support of Assad. Of course, that is pure speculation for which evidence must be found, if there is indeed any to be found.
If we had learned anything about international relations, it is that they are fraught with both complexity and subtlety, with multiple players with multiple motives, with often mixed alliances and conflicted goals and the job of untangling and unpacking and interpreting the evidence cannot proceed too  quickly nor too superficially...especially if those engaged in the process are already predisposed to quick military action.
Fortunately, in this case, that is not Obama's nature to move quickly, rashly and intemperately.
Eventually, however, he may be forced into the Syrian conflict, and the world will be both watching and holding its breath as that chapter of this cancer unfolds.

Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons, U.S. says

The White House disclosed the new intelligence Thursday in letters to two senators, and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, travelling in Abu Dhabi, also discussed it with reporters.

By Robert Burns and Julie Pace, The Associated Press, in Toronto Star, April 25 2013

WASHINGTON—U.S. intelligence has concluded “with some degree of varying confidence” that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons in its fierce civil war, the White House and other top administration officials said Thursday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Syrian regime launched two chemical attacks.
However, officials also said more definitive proof was needed and the U.S. was not ready to escalate its involvement in Syria. That response appeared to be an effort to bide time, given President Barack Obama's repeated public assertions that Syria's use of chemical weapons, or the transfer of its stockpiles to a terrorist group, would cross a “red line.”
The White House disclosed the new intelligence Thursday in letters to two senators, and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, travelling in Abu Dhabi, also discussed it with reporters.
“Our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin,” the White House said in its letter, which was signed by Obama's legislative director, Miguel Rodriguez.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Liberal Senator holds "court" on Bill C-377 for 85 minutes...ripping it to shreds

Senator shows why ‘sober second thought’ matters: Goar

Liberal senator holds the floor for 85 minutes, taking apart Tory anti-union bill clause by clause. Six Conservatives applaud.

By Carol Goar, Toronto Star, April 24, 2013
Normally a speech in the Senate would attract as much attention as an avalanche in Antarctica. But on April 16, word filtered out that Opposition Leader James Cowan had something important to say.

Economist Armine Yalniznyan, tipped off in advance, listened.
Cowan delivered the kind of speech rarely heard in Parliament these days. It was sweeping in its scope and rich in detail. Having practised law for four decades before his Senate appointment, Cowan knew how to build a case, back it up with credible evidence and use his rhetorical skills to hold the attention of his audience. When he reached the end, six Conservative senators joined their Liberal colleagues in applauding.
The focus of Cowan’s speech was Bill C-377, one of the rare private member’s bills approved by the Commons. It was introduced by Conservative backbencher Russ Hiebert and whisked through all stages of Commons debate in a single year.
It would require unions to make public all expenditures exceeding $5,000 and every paycheque over $100,000. They would also be required to disclose what percentage of their funds they used for lobbying and political activities.
The Liberals hope to hold up the legislation in the Senate long enough that it will die on the order paper.
Cowan began his speech by putting Bill C-377 in context. “It’s part of a larger story, one in which the government of Stephen Harper is trying to systematically silence individuals and organizations that dare to challenge it publicly,” he said.

Then he set out his proof:

•Since 2006, the government has systematically cancelled funding to groups that question its priorities; women’s organizations that promote gender equality; the Canadian Council on Learning, which advocates education beginning in early childhood; foreign development agencies that side with impoverished Africans and Asians against western development of their resources, and anti-poverty groups at home.

•Next it went after environmental groups, threatening to revoke their charitable status if they delayed pipelines or advocated sustainable development.

•Then it muzzled federal scientists, record-keepers and librarians.

Now it has set its sights on organized labour, promising to make unions accountable to their members. But laws already exist to do that, Cowan pointed out. Both the Canada Labour Code and provincial statutes require unions to provide their members with up-to-date financial statements and any other internal document on request at no cost. “The bill is simply not needed.”
After questioning the bill’s rationale, he proceeded analyze it clause-by-clause, showing the consequences of each provision.
He clarified how many people would be caught in its net; not just a handful of union bosses, but tens of thousands of suppliers and contractors — from caterers to computer technicians — who do business with unions. He refuted the Tory contention that the bill would cost taxpayers nothing, pointing out Revenue Canada would have to collate, process, verify and publish much more information than it has ever done, which would require either more employees or large overtime payments. He reminded listeners the bill would impose an onerous administrative burden on unions — especially small locals — pushing aside their members’ needs. It would rip open the privacy of anyone who worked for or provided services to unions and give firms seeking to undercut a union supplier a gold mine of previously confidential information.
“I want to be absolutely sure that we will be voting with our eyes wide open on this private member’s bill,” Cowan concluded, thanking fellow legislators for their patience.
The speech was an oratorical tour de force. To Yalnizyan, it represented “an important moment in our political and parliamentary history.” She emailed the text to all her contacts and asked them to circulate it widely. It has now spread through the women’s movement, the academic community, the anti-poverty network and social media.
It is unlikely Bill C-377 will go down in the Senate. The Conservatives hold 63 of its 105 seats. But it will be debated thoroughly and it may be amended extensively. All the while, the clock will be ticking down to an election.
Cowan knew one senator couldn’t turn the tide. But for 85 minutes on a Tuesday afternoon, he made the “chamber of sober second thought” matter.

Thomas Freedman: a carbon tax for both the economy and the environment

Tom Friedman On Carbon Tax
Tom Friedman lays out why a carbon tax could save America.

From NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook website, April 24, 2013
The country’s in trouble and we all know it, says New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. We’re drifting, just when we need to be rebounding. We’re weakening, just when the world needs the American experiment with tolerance and pluralism to succeed. And, says Friedman, we’re not reaching for bold solutions big enough to address our problems.
He’s got one. A carbon tax, on gas, oil, coal. To balance our books, rebuild the country, bring America back, and save the climate, the planet.

It is a responsible, reasonable and legitimate recommendation for Friedman to pose to a country flat on its back with political sclerosis, economic pneumonia and visionary myopia, obsessed with both the weapons and the acts of violence.
Every idea has its time, and this idea is long overdue. Even China is considering the imposition of a carbon tax, because, as Friedman says, "They can't breathe!"
Friedman's argument, bolstered by economists on both sides of the political spectrum, is that a carbon tax would generate considerable revenue, much of which could and should be spent on research and development, infrastructure, and even rebated to the poorest Americans. having recently visited a the Department of Health and Human Services, Friedman was shocked to learn that one of the least known benefits of the Obama Health Reform Act is the proliferation of small research and development companies engaged in initiatives like the digitizing of health care records. He cites this evidence in support of his carbon tax proposal.
Central to his argument is that the carbon tax would and could also be used to offset the deficit, another consuming itch among the American political class.
So, for both economic and ecological reasons, to clean up the rapidly declining global environment, Friedman posits a political solution, a new tax on carbon, as a prophetic, optimistic and even somewhat visionary voice on the American media.
However, Friedman's recommendation is not only valid in the United States; it is also valid in Canada, where the Harper government panders to the "rise in prices" argument the please consumers and not incidentally voters, in their steadfast opposition to even the hint of a carbon tax, while ridiculing Tom Mulcair, the Leader of the Opposition, for supporting such a tax.
Friedman's carbon tax proposal would also have to be implemented in all major industrial countries like India, China, Brazil, Russia and The European Union which has gone farther toward environmental protection than most other regions.
Lest we get too far out in front of ourselves, and think or imagine that Friedman's proposal would easily gather political traction in a Congress obsessed with the retention of personal power, and the obsessions of fund-raising that undergird that personal ambition, don't look for headlines in major dailies across the U.S. to herald a change of heart among the members of either the House or the Senate toward support for the measure.
While the U.S. and most western nations are not yet finding it hard to breathe, there is a growing spectre of climate change and global warming that is "hanging" over all of us, with little or no appetite for addressing the question. Corporate, capitalistic, globalization of markets also includes the pursuit of profit above all other formerly normal social and political agendas. So, a carbon tax imposed by any government with both courage and vision and foresight, would be immediately resisted by a force of political action and fundraising from the big wallets on the "right" so that they and their associates can continue to grab the cream off the economic and fiscal bottle, while leaving the world breathing more and more polluted, contaminated and suffocating oxygen, and all the while also resisting "any new tax" with a force and a venom that posits "primarying" for any politician so foolish to support such a measure.
It will be a long time, perhaps until the planet is so enveloped in carbon dioxide and methane (twenty-time more toxic than carbon dioxide) that we are all struggling to breathe before the U.S. Congress becomes amenable and open to the Freedman prescription....and it will be even longer before Harper and his gang of neanderthals wake up to the reality of our collective shortness of breath.
And by then, it may well be too late, especially for our grandchildren!
Some legacy!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Al-Qaeda rejected by Syrian rebels; Imam tips police on VIA-Rail terror plot...

We don’t want them in our revolution’: Syria rebels decry Al-Qaeda interlopers

By Michael Stors, The Media Line, in National Post, April 23, 2013
ALEPPO, Syria — When the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra announced it was joining al-Qaeda, Syrians in rebel-held territories cringed. “Now everyone will think our revolution is nothing but a jihadist power grab,” complained 28-year-old Muhammad Ansari. “Who will support us now?”

With the Syrian revolution faltering and secular rebel groups disintegrating amid infighting and civilian abuses, it is the jihadists who have benefitted most. Syrians believe these groups have hijacked a secular revolution.
Like many in the town of Maarat Numan, Mr. Ansari fought to dislodge regime troops hunkering down in the city centre last year. Since then the municipality has endured months of punishing airstrikes by regime fighter jets and long-range shelling. For most of the ordeal, it was homegrown rebels who were directing the fight. But recently, Jabhat al-Nusra fighters have poured into the town, hoping to turn it into a base. Maarat Numan connects a number of cities in northwest Syria, making it a key locale coveted by the warring parties.
“We don’t want them here,” shouted Ahmad Fartawi, 35, when queried about the organization. “We don’t want them in our revolution. These people don’t help our cause,” the computer peripherals salesman explained bitterly while biting into a falafel sandwich.

Syrian rebels do not want Al-Qaeda affiliates, associates, collaborators....infiltrating their cause!
A Toronto imam showed so much courage that he tipped the RCMP off about the alleged terror plot to derail a VIA-Rail train leading to the arrest of two men living in Canada.
This is a growing indication that there are forces, however disparate, working together against the Al-Qaeda forces in all of their many incarnations around the world, to wrestle the monster to the ground, and to total and utter impotence, emasculation and eventual death.
Nothing short of the death of the Al-Qaeda movement, including its violence, its belief system, its recruiting and brainwashing activities, its websites that "teach" adherents how to make "pressure-cooker" bombs, and likely many other things that no civilized society can tolerate, and its penchant for narcissistic publicity can be the goal of individuals in every country, of all governments, and of all international organizations.
A call from a Boston listener to the On  Point radio program, with host Tom Ashbrook, made the point recently that given the fact that America deploys violence, celebrates violence, trades in violence video games, and arms around the world, as well as kills many innocents in the course of carrying out its foreign policy, and its revenge and its domination, Americans should not be surprised when such violence is meted out against their people. Just as it is true that Al-Qaeda must be defanged and brought to heel, so too America must rein in her violence in all of its many forms, and against all of its many innocent bystanders in so many violence theatres of conflict.
It was the eight-year-old Martin Richard, whose memorial was held yesterday, following his death in the Marathon Bombing last Monday, who earlier had prepared a poster he held in a photo circulated around the world, both in the public media and on the internet, that provides the kind of "child" leadership we all need to read, reflect upon and seek to foster. It read: "No more hurting people!"
Can the world recognize and commit itself to both the inspiration and the wisdom in his prayer?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Radical Islamic plot to derail VIA-Rail train foiled...we need more international efforts to stop this scourge

Al-Qaeda linked terrorists allegedly planned to derail VIA passenger train on New York-to-Toronto route

By Stewart Bell, Joe O'Connor, Sarah Boesveld and Adrian Humphreys, National Post, April 22, 2013

An al-Qaeda-linked plot to derail a VIA Rail passenger train on the New York-to-Toronto route was disrupted by police Monday, when two foreign nationals were arrested following an eight-month counter-terrorism investigation that was aided by members of Canada’s Muslim community.

Chiheb Esseghaier, a 30-year-old Tunisian living in Montreal on a student visa, and Raed Jaser, 35, a Palestinian with landed immigrant status who lives in Toronto, were to appear in a downtown Toronto courtroom Tuesday to face charges of conspiracy to commit murder in association with a terrorist group.
The attackers had allegedly received what police called “direction and guidance” from the core of al-Qaeda, operating out of Iran, where some members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group have operated since fleeing Afghanistan. There was no evidence the plot was sponsored by the Iranian regime. The RCMP said the plot was in the planning stages but not imminent.

Foiled terrorist plots, arrested men, both with radical Islamic leanings, based on evidence that a VIA Rail train from New York to Toronto was to be derailed....and the drama of Islamic radicals holding the world hostage to their beliefs, and their political agenda continues to seep into every corner of the globe.
There are radical elements in all religious faiths; some involve the murder of doctors and nurses who provide therapeutic abortions; however, only among Islamic radicals is the act of terrorism based on the goal of establishing more and more Islamic states under Sharia Law, and in the minds of those holding radical beliefs, martyrdom is the reward for their heinous efforts.
While the rest of the world, non-radical Islamists, can pursue and charge and convict and even "derail" their nefarious plots and plans, it is only other moderate members of Islamic mosques who can and will impact their violence and their disregard of human life, in order to achieve their political/religious goals. And it would seem that from some of the stories emerging from the Boston Marathon bombing, that these perpetrators were shouted down when they railed against the moderate views expressed by the imam in a mosque, and they refused to be "corralled" by the moderates within the mosque.
The containment of this "scourge" of hate crimes against humanity, inflicted by radical Islamists randomly on innocents, especially innocents whose death and dismemberment could garner global publicity as in the Boston Marathon incidents, has to be met with more than surveillance cameras, police dogs and assault weapons...and courts.
It has to be met with persuasive arguments from respected thinkers and imams within the Islamic faith and the work would seem, to an outside observer, to be mountainous....given the numbers and the degree of hard-held beliefs among so many different Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood currently in power in Egypt and threatening in other Middle Eastern countries, the Iranian Revolutionary Army, Al-Qaeda in all of its many forms, Al-Shabab, Boko Haran, and all of the off-shoots that spring up when two or three radicals decide to become violent, "in the service of Allah!"
When and where is the international initiative to bring the world's governments and the world's courts to bear on this scourge? When will the leaders of the world actually come together to discuss, among themselves, and with Islamic leaders, how this scourge can be diminished if not completely eradicated?
Where are the world leaders who have the courage, the vision and the diplomatic skills to convene such a dialogue, formally, openly and as frequently as necessary to bring these "hate crimes" to an end?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Our Earth Day Heroine: Sandra Steingraber!!....she is an inspiration for us all!

Environmentalist Sandra Steingraber in jail for fracking protest: Porter

After years of protesting fracking through words, Biologist and poet Sandra Steingraber used civil disobedience. Now she’s in jail.

By Catherine Porter, Toronto Star, April 22, 2013
For Earth Day, I picked up cigarette butts and juice bottle lids in a nearby park with my kids.

Four hours away in upstate New York, Sandra Steingraber kissed her kids goodbye and went to jail.
I was ashamed of my paltry contribution to what I’ve come to see as a paltry day of action. But never more than when speaking to Steingraber’s son, Elijah.
He is 11.
“People think of my mom as a nice person who writes books. I think that she went to jail makes people shocked,” he told me over the phone while his dad drove him to Reading jail, where he was going to visit her for the first time. “It’s one big step to help the end of fracking.”
Steingraber is the poet laureate of today’s environmental health movement. Her trilogy of books, documenting the toxic cycle of carcinogens from us into our environment and back into us as fetuses (Having Faith), children (Raising Elijah) and adults (Living Downstream), have been compared to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which led to a ban on DDT. She has a doctorate in biology and a master’s degree in poetry, so she doesn’t write dryly about organogenesis or gene expression. She describes the origami of a fetus’s growth and the concert sonata of DNA expression.
Since Steingraber was diagnosed with bladder cancer at 20, she’s examined the effects of pollution with a personal lens. She’s not just interested if toxic chemicals can generically cause cancer, but whether they caused her cancer, the potential prepubescence of her daughter or asthma in her son.
That’s what makes her so powerful. She’s got skin in the game, as we all do. Her main conclusion: industry should be forced to follow the precautionary principle, proving their products and byproducts are harmless before they are allowed to mass produce them. Preposterously, that’s not the case.
Around three years ago, Steingraber turned her scientific eye and mother bear instinct to the practice of hydrofracturing, or fracking. She was increasingly disturbed by what she learned: that blasting shale with chemical-laced water to extract the embedded natural gas bubbles creates a slurry of toxic chemicals no one knows how to treat. Plus the methane gas that often escapes is a very potent climate change gas.
And no one is tracking it.
Since 2005, fracking has been exempt from federal environmental regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act. In Canada, we’re fracking in northern British Columbia, where it’s also exempt from the environmental assessment act, Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart tells me.
After years of writing articles about the imminent dangers of fracking, giving expert testimony, delivering speeches, drafting petitions, even launching a coalition protest group called New Yorkers Against Fracking, Steingraber went old school last month. She practiced civil disobedience.
An energy storage and transportation company, Inergy Midstream, bought some old salt caverns along and under Seneca Lake, N.Y., not far from her home. Steingraber knows many of the 100,000 people who drink that lake water. Elijah was born on the lake’s edge.
Inergy plans to pump propane, butane and methane from distant fracking fields into those caverns, Steingraber says. So, one frigid day in March, she linked arms with a group of other protesters and blocked a company truck from getting to the site.
Exhausted with words, she used her body in protest.
“In my field of environmental health, the word trespass has meaning. Toxic trespass refers to involuntary human exposure to a chemical or other pollutant. It is a contamination without consent,” she told the judge. “It is my belief, as a biologist, that Inergy is guilty of toxic trespass.”
Last week, she was sentenced to 15 days in jail for her crime.
Elijah went to see her for the first time on Monday. It was their Earth Day celebration.
“She’s been locked up in solitary confinement for five or six days now. It’s probably been really tough for her,” Elijah said. “I’m excited to see her. I want to tell her I’m proud of her.”
When I was a teenager, Earth Day was a big deal. I remember feeling empowered, marching with my friends arm in arm in protests, drawing globes on sidewalk corners with chalk. That was before we knew about climate change. Now picking up garbage in the park feels like dropping a twig on a train track. I left feeling feeble and depressed.
Steingraber calls this “informed futility syndrome” — incapacitation by knowledge. The antidote, she says, is heroism. Civil rights came not just from talk, but from acts of civil disobedience.
So will ecological rights.
Maybe picking up garbage instilled a seed of environmental respect in my children. But the organic fertilizer will be to tell them a bedtime story about Steingraber and Elijah, who has started his own protest group called Kids Against Fracking. So far, he’s written some 20 protest letters to U.S. President Barack Obama, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and local newspapers, he says.
His mother is a hero, but he’s becoming one, too. On Earth Day and every day, our Earth needs all the heroes it can get.

"Cut the budget"....send out the pink slips to the music teachers! The philistines are in charge of the hen house

Of course, the philistines on the school boards, most of them with 'tin ears' will cut music....it does not profit anyone in the pursuit of a job! And, after all, that is the sole reason for the existence of the public school system, to produce graduates who can and do find work!
Notice, too, how supportive the corporate class is of programs in sports for kids....Canadian Tire and Hyundai both have programs to help disadvantaged kids play hockey....as does Scotiabank, Esso, RBC, and many others.
Have you noticed a comparable Canadian corporation forking over truckloads of cash for music programs, for the purchase of musical instruments for use in schools, for the acquisition of music lessons, for the formation of school choirs, bands, orchestras?
Have you also notices the stampede of corporate dollars to underwrite the former "Kiwanis" Music Festivals, of which there were some 90+ within in the last couple of years? No!
And that's because they believe that there is no "payback" for such sponsorship.
The public, generative of the philistines on the school boards, also of the 'tin ears', are not interested in the cultural development, preservation, enhancement that results from the inclusion, not as tokenism, but as an integral component in the curriculum for every student, of music, both instrumental and vocal....and of course, they each complement the other.
There are pendulum swings in the culture, and right now we are living in the vortex of a hurricane of math and science obsessions from legislators, parents, employers and eventually students. The digital age is also the algorithm age, and algorithms are more likely to be encountered in calculus classes, for which math and science are usually prerequisites.
And, graduating from high school without completing the required number of math and science courses would be like travelling to Rome without visiting the Vatican and the Colisseum.
Music, the sound and ryhthm of the human soul, the human heart and the human spirit, also beats throughout the natural world, among the insects, the birds, and the vertabrates....as it beats through the deciduous leaves and the needles of the coniferous with the help of the wind. It also beats on the shores of every body of water, soothing and calming the human angst. Music brings exiled musicians together to form orchestras, "simply to stop the Third Reich from destroying music"....as we witnessed on the PBS documentary yesterday.
Music gives voice to the manuscripts of many of the most creative and expressive composers in history, revisited every generation, if not more frequently...and in the process opens the eyes, ears, minds and spirits of all those honoured with the privilege of performing those scores, especially for their peers. After all, music is a performing art, transcending the Babel of languages, the cacophony of religions, the piercing dissonance of opposing ideologies, and the beginning and endings of centuries....never too old to be revisited, reinterpreted, and re-performed, so long as there are human hearts longing for its comfort, its challenge and its inspiration.
Our school system is analogous to a train on a run-away gallop down a mountain, out of control, without an engineer or a station master to monitor and direct its passage....and our children are the victims of our disinterest, dispassion and detachment....and the atrophy of the music component in the curriculum is merely one sign of the derailment of the system....
However, once again, there will be no public outcry...because to do so would render one a 'snob' in the eyes of the public whose degree of both conformity and compliance with whatever is "decided" is both mind and spirit deadening!

Fewer music teachers in Ontario schools, report finds

People for Education survey of Ontario schools says less than half of Ontario schools have a music teacher.
By Kristin Rushowy, Toronto Star, April 22 2013

Less than half of Ontario schools have a music teacher, says a new report by People for Education.
The advocacy and research group surveyed more than 1,000 schools across the province and found that just 44 per cent have a music teacher.
It also found that one in three schools has neither a specialist teacher nor access to what is called an “itinerant,” a musician who travels from school to school teaching students or training staff for the complex music curriculum. That person may or may not be a certified teacher.
Just last week, the Toronto District School Board issued notices to 24 itinerants that they may be laid off in the fall. The hours of some 83 others could also be reduced because of budget cuts.
The potential cuts drew the attention of some high-profile musicians like Canadians Anne Murray and k.d. lang, and in the U.S., former Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum.
The instructors have also started an online petition.
If the job cuts go ahead, recorder, vocal music and Orff instrumental programs at elementary schools would be at risk.
Cuts to the class time of others would affect strings, band and steel pan.
Staff proposed the music cuts to help battle the board’s $27-million deficit — strings instructor David Spek estimates they might save $2 million.
Under the provincial curriculum, elementary teachers must cover some form of instrumental music between grades 5 and 8. As it’s difficult to teach the recorder or read music without training, the board hires the 24 musicians to coach teachers side-by-side in class over two years as a form of “staff development.”
People for Education, which released their report at Dewson Public School in Toronto, also found that principals in both elementary and secondary schools charge students fees for visual and music courses.
Students living in wealthier areas — where parents fundraise more money — “are much more likely to have the opportunity to participate in a band, choir and orchestra,” the report says.

Extreme Islam strikes everywhere....when and how will it be stopped?

Integral to the radical element of Islam is a commitment to establish, through martydom and violence, Islamic states under Sharia Law. So the latest killings in Nigeria is just  another chapter in what amounts to a holy war against the rest of the world.
Riding a wave of multple incidents, communicated instantly throughout the planet, radical Islamists are being "grown and developed" through various means, including radical imam preaching, terrorist training camps, and even through radical websites and those dedicated to the production of home-made IED's, or even pressure-cooker bombs filled with shrapnel.
And they are wreaking havoc when and wherever they strike.
And there is not a single city or town or village or church or school that is immune!
When it happens in North America, or where a large international media component is available, as it did one week ago today in Boston, it garners the kind of publicity that would otherwise cost billions, without spending more than a few hundred dollars.
And yet, as in Boston, their strikes are never going to make the kind of permanent change that is desired; however, these cowardly and unpredictable and heinous crimes are going to continue to kill innocent men, women and children no matter what the legal consequences to the perpetrators.
Radical Islam is a current scourge running amok in every corner of the planet, and there is a growing need for international collaboration to bring it to an end, and that effort begins with the moderates in Islam rising up and saying to their more radical colleagues, "Enough!"

At least 185 people killed in hours of fighting between Nigeria’s military and Islamic extremists

By The Asociated Press, in National Post, April 21, 2013 Fighting between Nigeria’s military and Islamic extremists killed at least 185 people in a fishing community in the nation’s far northeast, officials said Sunday, an attack that saw insurgents fire rocket-propelled grenades and soldiers spray machine-gun fire into neighborhoods filled with civilians.

The fighting in Baga began Friday and lasted for hours, sending people fleeing into the arid scrublands surrounding the community on Lake Chad. By Sunday, when government officials finally felt safe enough to see the destruction, homes, businesses and vehicles were burned throughout the area.
The assault marks a significant escalation in the long-running insurgency Nigeria faces in its predominantly Muslim north, with Boko Haram extremists mounting a coordinated assault on soldiers using military-grade weaponry. The killings also mark one of the deadliest incidents ever involving Boko Haram.
Authorities had found and buried at least 185 bodies as of Sunday afternoon, said Lawan Kole, a local government official in Baga. He spoke haltingly to Borno state Gov. Kashim Shettima in the Kanuri language of Nigeria’s northeast, surrounded by still-frightened villagers.
Officials could not offer a breakdown of civilian casualties versus those of soldiers and extremist fighters. Many of the bodies had been burned beyond recognition in fires that razed whole sections of the town, residents said. Those killed were buried as soon as possible, following local Muslim tradition.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Freedland: author of "Plutocrats"...a credible canary in a global 'coal-mine'

As this plutocratic elite starts living more and more in its own world, able to create its own services, its connection to the rest of society and willingness to fund what the rest of society needs decreases. I feel that very much living in the United States and I see a really big contrast with Canada. I went to public schools; the longer I live outside a national health care system, the more I see its great benefits. But if you’re living in a place – and more and more the plutocracy is – where your kids go to private school, where you have private health care that is super Mercedes excellent, maybe where you’re even flying on private jets, your willingness to invest in all of that social infrastructure that everyone needs decreases. Not because you’re a bad person, just because you don’t have the same connection to it.

The other thing is that this group is really global. These guys live truly international lives. Their investment decisions are truly international. And that makes it really difficult for the nation state to regulate and to tax them. (Chrystia Freedland, in conversation with the editorial board of the Toronto Star, April 17, 2013, interview excerpted below)
We all know that political power is umbilically attached to money, no matter which language is spoken, or which church, synagogue or mosque is attended, or even if none is attended. The shrinking capacity of the nation state to regulate the plutocrats is emblematic of the shrinking capacity of the national politicians to rein in the power of the plutocrats. In fact, for the most part, politicians, by definition want to cozy-up to these plutocrats...so the political incest is, in effect, mutually arranged.
The political class will not be very interested in campaign finance reform so long as the plutocrats cherry-pick candidates for office that are willing to serve as the "Charlie McCarthy" for their Edger Bergen, and enough of them can find their "sugar-daddy" to get re-elected. Nevertheless, campaign finance reform is a place to start cutting the cords that bind the plutocrats to the political class.
Another approach that merits consideration is the need for international bodies, such as the IMF, and the World Bank, and the new BRIC Bank among the emerging nations to research and propose international monetary frameworks that would bring these "outlaws" (to national tax laws) back into the fold where they participate in funding the services needed by the people they literally don't care about.
So, strengthening, not weakening, the United Nations, would be another place for nations to look to bring about changes that would support and encourage the development of international norms, for example of nation state funding of global warming preventive measures, provision of clean air and water, extending access to quality health care and education to those not now able to benefit from such "human rights", as well as labour laws that would apply across the globe, so that worker protections are not sacrificed as these plutocrats gain power and momentum.
Increased funding of the International Labour Organization would also seem to flow into a concerted international action plan to balance the power of the mighty with the needs and rights of the powerless.
Increased education exchanges, of the kind the Rotary clubs of the world have been conducting for decades, but on a much larger scale, supported by national budgets and international co-operative monitoring, would open the eyes of many future leaders to the inequality faced by the global community, and bring the "gated-community" mentality out of the "closet" of their gated-ness.
Similarly, research projects conducted by graduate students from various universities around the world, together, using the digital platforms now available, would enhance the dissemination of their results into the farthest corners of the planet, for all to read, study and build upon.
Call all of this "pie-in-the-sky-idealism" if you like; nevertheless, there will need to be a series of responses to this growing chasm between the extremely wealthy and the rest of us, if we are to survive...their short-term goals are utterally incompatible with the long-term survival of the eco-system that sustains even the most indigent, whose existence is little more than a statistic for these plutocrats.

‘It’s impossible not to be worried’: a Q&A with Chrystia Freeland about income inequality

Chrystia Freeland, the winner of this year’s Lionel Gelber Prize, met with the Star’s editorial board to discuss her award-winning book, Plutocrats.

From Toronto Star, Ap;ril 17, 2013
Earlier this week, Chrystia Freeland took home the $15,000 Lionel Gelber Prize for the best English-language book on foreign affairs. Before picking up her award, Freeland, who is the managing director of Thomson Reuters, met with the Star’s editorial board to discuss her book, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else , and how to manage rising income inequality in a changing world.

Here is a partial transcript of the conversation:
How are the so-called plutocrats you cover in your book – today’s super-rich – different from the extremely wealthy of the past?
The biggest difference is the gap has grown so much greater. The core reason for writing the book was to say to people that things are different now, that this is not your same old income distribution. There’s been a huge surge in inequality and it’s pretty recent. It’s over the past 30 years that you’ve seen this gap really grow into a chasm. It hasn’t been this big since the Gilded Age – and some economists think it’s bigger today than it ever has been.
Let’s pause and reflect on what a huge statement that is. Whether or not you agree with those economists, crucially, it’s bigger than it was at any time during the period that mass democracy really swung into gear in the world – that post-war era. And that happened to be an era – and I don’t think it’s a coincidence – that was a time when income inequality was actually decreasing. So I think it’s really important to pause, take note and start thinking about the implications of the fact that over the past 30 years, we’ve been living through the opposite trend – this surge – and, by the way, even post-financial crisis that trend is continuing.
What’s the significance of the increasing concentration of wealth among the 0.1 per cent for the rest of us?
That’s the big question. I think it’s impossible not to be worried. And the biggest thing about the consequences that I worry about is that when you have this growing gap in economic power, it’s really hard to imagine it won’t translate into a gap in political power. And you don’t just have to use your imagination to think about that; I think we’re seeing it already. And that becomes really worrying.
It’s not worrying because the rich are bad. (And this is something the left sometimes has a hard time dealing with.) This age of plutocracy also happens to be an age of increasing meritocracy. More than in previous times, these really are guys who built it themselves, who are meritocrats, who are running businesses they created. But even if you’re that kind of person, the desire to start tilting the rules of the game in your own favour is a natural human desire and a very natural business desire. And I think that is a danger for society as a whole.
As this plutocratic elite starts living more and more in its own world, able to create its own services, its connection to the rest of society and willingness to fund what the rest of society needs decreases. I feel that very much living in the United States and I see a really big contrast with Canada. I went to public schools; the longer I live outside a national health care system, the more I see its great benefits. But if you’re living in a place – and more and more the plutocracy is – where your kids go to private school, where you have private health care that is super Mercedes excellent, maybe where you’re even flying on private jets, your willingness to invest in all of that social infrastructure that everyone needs decreases. Not because you’re a bad person, just because you don’t have the same connection to it.
The other thing is that this group is really global. These guys live truly international lives. Their investment decisions are truly international. And that makes it really difficult for the nation state to regulate and to tax them.
To what extent is this wealth-concentration trend reversible?
I thought the financial crisis was going to end the trend. In October 2008, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to write this book; I thought I was going to write a book called Survivors about what emerged post-financial crisis. But by January or February 2009 it started to become clear that this big trend was not going to change.
For me, one of the most striking data points comes from Emmanuel Saez, who I think is the leading economist on the statistics of income distribution. He does a data set that he updates every year, on income distribution. The 2009-2011 numbers showed that more than 100 per cent of the recovery in income over that period went to the top 1 per cent. You might ask, How can more than 100 per cent go to the 1 per cent? And it’s because the 99 per cent’s income shrunk over that period. It’s just shocking to me. This is after the financial crisis that was supposed to say to us that things are going wrong. And Obama is the president – he’s a pretty progressive guy. And yet, on his watch, we’re seeing more than 100 per cent of the income gain go to the top 1 per cent. That says strikingly that the underlying forces are very strong.
But, yes, of course it’s reversible. There have been bleaker moments in human history. There was serfdom; there was slavery; there used not to be democracy. Things have been worse and collective human action has improved things. But I think, both at a level of mass mobilization and at a level of ideas, we aren’t collectively sufficiently aware that there’s a big problem that requires new, big, bold ideas. It’s not going to be enough to go back and reheat FDR. It’s new times and it takes new thinking. Big social change takes decades of people thinking about it and fighting about it and decades of grassroots mobilization. I think there’s a broad feeling of discontent, but we’re only at the beginning of that process of thinking and agitating.
Critics of this trend – progressives, the left, whatever you want to call them – seem to be completely at a loss about how to react to all this other than that they lament it. Why do you think the left is so bereft of ideas about how to deal with this phenomenon?
I do agree with that starting point. I think one piece has been that left-leaning people haven’t thought enough about business and how business works and how the economy works. There’s been much more of a focus on expansion of individual rights – which I don’t think is bad; I’m a feminist – and as a result maybe less thinking about corporate governments.
Also, these are new issues. As the facts change, as the world changes, you have to change the set of policies you think are right. It takes a long time – decades – to adjust these ideas.
What could be some elements of an effective response to these issues? And can it be a national response or does it have to be an international one?
I don’t have even a partially perfect response. But there are a few directions in which we should be thinking. One is, absolutely, this is the opposite of a moment in which we can retreat into the nation state. Anyone who thinks that is missing this really powerful change in the world. Business is global; governance needs to be global too. The issue of tax havens is a great example of that, so is banking regulation. So you do need to start working on global institutions – and I think we’re in political retreat from them. Multilateralism is hard. But this is a moment to reengage with it.
Another thing: I asked George Soros about this – my next book is a biography of him. I asked George if he was worried about the technology revolution and how it’s going to change income distribution. And his response was really interesting. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s an easy problem. It’s not complicated at all.” I said, “What do you mean, George? It’s really hard!” But he said the technology revolution is not a problem at all. It will mean extreme concentrations of income but that’s not technocratically hard to solve. All you need is a state that has the power to do a lot more redistribution and everything will be fine. For him, maybe the politics was complicated, but the answer wasn’t.
The third thing is that we in the big middle class are moving toward a world where the kind of structure of work that we’re used to, where you get a good job, working for a good solid company, that pays you the benefits and the good pension, that’s not going to be there for more and more people. And more and more of us will be working in what Tina Brown calls the “gig economy.” More and more of us are going to have to cobble together bits and pieces to make a living. And I think public policy needs to start making that easier. Canada actually has a head start. Having a national health care system is a huge step in that direction. But we should be thinking about more and more ways to let people do that. Because standard jobs are increasingly not going to be there.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ordinary people, the latest "endangered species" at the hands of the wealthy

There is a now embedded attitude in the contemporary culture on both sides of the 49th parallel that says, "I have money so I will simply get my way!"
It shows up in television phoney's like Kevin O'Leary, and it shows up in political campaigns with people like the Koch Brothers, and it demonstrates itself in the utterly contemptuous manner in which some people negotiate a business transaction. The "manner" is to heap contempt on the other party, as if the other party is merely an inconvenience to the force of will of the person with the money. Anything, it would seem, that stands in the way of the person who has more than the other 99% of the people on the planet, rendering that 1%, probably in their own minds, as "platinum stars" while the rest of the mortals who breathe the same air and who drink the same water, and who mostly do the grunge work getting our hands dirty, and our backs sore, and our lungs filled with whatever chemical contaminant that infects the workplace, and whose "take-home" pay envelope provides barely enough to feed the family, keep the heat on and put a minimum of clothes on everyone, and experience that "patronizing" and utterly arrogant look and attitude from the 1%, who may or may not even know what they are doing.
These individuals, coming from wealth through inheritance, or coming to wealth through their own commitment to its attainmment, with or without the kind of celebrity that accompanies both O'Leary and the Koch's, stride the planet as if they were the most recent rendition of a colossus. The rest of us, it seems, are here to serve their every need, through our compliance with their political agenda, or with our compliance with their superior attitude, their "air" of contempt for those of meagre means, by remaining silent as they speed past us in their own traffic lane, aided and abetted by the political class, whose very existence is, in turn, directly dependent on the largesse of the cheques these rich folk write, to underwrite the campaigns for election.
So, the corporations pour billions into lobbying efforts to pad their revenue streams, or to avoid paying their fair share, while wealthy individuals hire the best and the brightest lawyers and accountants to preserve their exclusive access to loopholes, and to dodges that would make them an integral part of the society and culture in which they live.
These people are not members of any national state society and culture; they are the new "uberclass" that literally moves their money around without having to pay adherence to state boundaries, to state laws, to state taxs requirements and to building the kind of infrastructure that has held our society and culture together for at least the last two hundred years.
They don't care about the existence of and access to quality health care for all; after all they have their own hired physicians who have access to their own hospital facilities when needed.
They don't care about the existence of and access to quality post-secondary education; they, after all, have their own private institutions to which they donate substantially, in order for their own offspring to have the same "advantages" they have enjoyed.
They don't care about some climate catastrophe or some act of terrorism so long as they are not directly and personally impacted; after all, they live in gated communities, with their own security protection, with their own clubs and social lives, hob-nobbing with others who can afford to "pass not only the Joneses" but eviscerate them on the way up.
They don't care about their spiritual lives, (being joined at the political hip with those in the ecclesiastical hierarchy) and actually glaze over when asked about the direction, need and aspirations for their spiritual growth.
They could care less about the school crossing guards; after all, their children either live in residence in some private school somewhere, or are driven to school by their family chauffeur.
They also could care less about the fire and police protection of the rest of us, and the quality and performance of their public school teachers and administrators, not having to interact with any of these people, preferring to hire their own surrogates, and thereby avoid enmeshment with the ordinary folk.
If there is some book, or periodical which has garnered some stir among those of their class, they might ask for an executive summary, from one of their staffers, but otherwise, they could care less about the quality and quantity of excellent writing that is emerging from the many cultural hubs around the world.
With respect to science, they are interested in investing in those researches that might prove profitable in the capitalist market, through which initiatives, owned and reserved to their capitalist empires, they might pile more profit and wealth on their already substantial piles.
Similarly with advances in medicine, where their philanthropy might initiate some research (with a required tax break!) they are again looking for their "profit-edge" in the final outcomes, not some development that might cure disease or relief pain and discomfort of the other 1%.
Should they be engaged in other forms of philanthropy, as in funding museums and art galleries, (family names prominently displayed as epitaphs to their wealth and legacy) they are both discreet and even secretive about the hidden agendas to which their recipients must pay obeisance.
Consequently, they are obsessed with the embedding of their value system, the value system of pursuing capitalism, for profit ventures, avoiding social responsibilities both personally and corporately, to the point that they are in effect conducting a scorched-earth war against the labour movement, the environmental movement, the United Nations and all forms of international co-operation, the removal of a social conscience from all public and private institutions, the elimination of all those who refuse to "dance their ballet" through resisting their private funds for political office, and their private funds for support for specific causes or issues.
Without firing a single weapon, and without conducting a single national or international referendum, these "magnates" or "potentates" are, at a speed that would utterly amaze the contemporary "toynbee's" of the history departments in the best universities, conducting what amount to nothing short of a coup-d'etat, only not it is not merely a single "state" that they are taking over, it is the world's economy and political system that they are making the instrument of their own agenda.
And the rest of us, those idealists among us who actually believe that clean air and water, and land, and access to quality health care and education, as well as the dignity of work in a workplace that respects its labour are becoming like the do-do birds, extinct, not withstanding the volume of our voices, indiviudally and collectively, nor the insight and the poetry of our commitment, nor the persistence and the life-giving striving of our sisters and brothers in every corner of the planet.
And there is not even a formal study to determine the date by which our kind will have completely disappeared, just like all the other languages, dialects, species and ecosystems that have atrophied, or actually gave up on life, after resisting the rape and pillage of these social, political and cultural dinosaurs, whose greed, and appetite for more cannot be even curtailed, let alone stopped.
We are facing our own demise, and like Hagar Shipley in Margaret Laurence's "The Stone Angel" we will never stop fighting for what we believe, for what we know is our birthright, for what we know is our legitimate inheritance, no matter how many millions of wealthy scions are produced like sausages in the top business and legal schools in the world.
They are not the reason our forefathers fought and struggled to plant their foot on the soil we know as our homeland; they are not the reason that we graduated from our own undergraduate and graduate schools; they are not the reason that we and our forefathers and mothers built the cathedrals, or wrote the oratorios, or dictated the epic poems, or enacted the tragedies and comedies of the Globe Theatre when they were written by the great bard.
In fact, the ordinary people populated those performances, 'in the pit' having forked over the smallest 'ticket price' because they "got it" and were able to appreciate what the great bard was saying.
And it will be ordinary people, those of us without the gates in front of our neighbourhoods, without the four car garages on the sides of our houses, without the private school emblems emblazoned on our foreheads, without the 'special' rings of graduation on our fingers that guarantee employment from those previously granted those special rings, without the retirement accounts that could feed the starving and cure the dying of their multiple diseases.
And we will never stop making our own case, in our own meager and humble manner....very different from the manner in which we are treated by those who know only contempt for us and our failures to accomplishment by their standards.

Grief, compassion, anger and powerlessness to stop what happened in Boston yesterday

Yesterday in Boston, some 27,000 marathoners from around the world (over 100 countries represented) were engaged in a friendly competition, enthusiastic, encouraging each other, supported by family and friends, until....
four hours plus into the race, just about the time when the peak of the bell curve of ordinary runners would be crossing the finish line, two bombs, fifteen seconds apart, exploded on Boylsen Street.
Of course, as part of the 'normal' preparations, there were hundreds of both security staff, including police, and medics to look after the exhausted runners....who quickly shifted the focus of their activities on victims of the shrapnel that rained down on people randomly killing three and sending well over 100 to hospital, many of them with severed limbs.
As an act of political terrorism, if that is what it is, this stands as nothing short of cowardice, and links one of the oldest marathons in the world to the kinds of terrorist acts that are being perpetrated on too many streets in too many cities in too many countries far too frequently. And yet...
No one knows how to stop this madness!
And whether it is an act of political terrorism or not, this is madness, and we must resist the temptation to return madness with madness.
There will be thousands of security checks into millions of back-packs in cities across the United States, and around the world, following this insanity, especially in London where another marathon is about to be run on Sunday. There will be lock-downs in Boston, certainly, and likely in other venues where suspected acts of terror are about to unfold. And there will be forensic scientists poring over millions of objects, video, tweets, facebook entries, and oral accounts of what people saw and experienced yesterday.
And that kind of national security "beavering" is absolutely necessary and appropriate.
However, human beings, including all governments, and organizations dedicated to the enhancement of life on the planet must keep digging into the root causes, into the minds of people who could and would and will again perpetrate this kind of random, unannounced, unsophisticated and stateless horror.
Revenge, hate, powerlessness, jealousy and the kind of mind that obsesses over its own victimhood will inevitably transform itself into a killing machine. Radicalism, as a formal training is also unlikely to stop, given the numbers of people willing and eager to conduct such training, for their own idolatrous purposes....
I hate the kind of world we are leaving to our grandchildren, given examples of human inhumanity as occurred in Boston yesterday. We all hate what happened in Boston yesterday. And we all know that it was one or a group of human beings who conceived, planned and executed this act of what they hoped would be a mass killing, spread instantly around the world on the orchestra of digital media that "play" 24-7-365.
The legal and security systems will have to do their necesary work.
However, when their work is completed, even if the perpetrator(s) are found, charged and found guilty, these acts of terror will continue.
And that is what our collective efforts need to be focused on: the kind of education that brings these violent acts down before they occur, regardless of the intensity of the mental, spiritual or belief systems of the people who would enact them....
Even writing those words, one knows that they are hollow, and unlikely to have the kind of impact that is both desired and needed...
And our own powerlessness, in the middle of our grief and our anger and our revulsion, is what is so appalling...not that we don't care and don't do enough...but that we don't know what to do to stop this violence!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tata and Kony: "lamb" and "tiger" in two very different human enterprises

It was Shakespeare who wrote the words, "What a piece of work is man!"
And it was William Blake who asked, in his poem, The Tiger, "Did he who made the lamb make thee?"
There were introductions, via television, to both the human tiger and the human lamb in yesterday's offerings, one from the corporate world in India, the other from the jungles of Central Africa.
First, from India, Ratan Tata, spokesperson for the large mega-corporation operating under the family name Tata, whose members own barely two percent of the shares while non-profit agencies caring for the poor, providing medical care and education for India's poorest own approximately 65% of the shares of the many companies that constitute the Tata "empire".
A complex of corporate operations in multiple sectors, including industrial, agricultural, hospitality, Tata, although it has bought out many corporations, has never undertaken a hostile take-over. "If the company does not want us, we do not wish to take them over," commented their family's spokesman on CNN's GPS with Fareed Zakaria, yesterday morning. Also, when anyone of the 450,000 employees does not comply with the high ethical standards of the many companies, Tata has been known to pursue such an employee into the courts through prosecution and even to a jail sentence, to demonstrate their commitment to high ethical standards for all others in their employ.
With two thirds of the shares owned by charitable trusts, that means that the same two thirds of the profits go to their efforts, what Ratan Tata declares as a 'noble purpose' of the work that the group of companies does. "What we are doing is plowing the profits back to the people of India," a concept almost unknown and unheard of in the current operations of most corporations whose existence seem depend on the drive for profit, while a minimal percent is dedicated to charitable purposes.
Imagine the major corporations of the world turning two-thirds of their shares over to charitable trusts, along with two-thirds of the profits just what kind of world that would create....very different from the kind of have's versus have-nots that we see today.
On the opposite side of the human equation, we met Joseph Kony, warlord, child abductor, terrorist, and cult leader operating in four African countries, raping, cutting ears, lips and limbs from people to instill fear, and conducting havoc for his own personal acquisition of power. His introduction came from the CBS program, "60 Minutes," with host Lara Logan, who accompanied the U.S. Colonel who now leads a Special Forces unit charged with helping the African militaries to find Joseph Kony and to put an end to his recruitment of child soldiers, some of who have defected, and are now helping with his capture. Kony has abducted some 25,000 young boys and girls, turning the boys into soldiers and the girls into slaves in a sex trade.
Starting in Uganda, Kony has put on a religious "mask" in his attempt to seduce young boys and men to joining his "campaign of terror". The jungles where he hides are so thick that Kony and his army are very difficult to find, in an area being searched comparable to the size of Texas.
Literally, a human "beast", Kony presents precisely the opposite of the image presented by Ratan Tata, former executive in the Tata Group of holdings, and after two decades, the United States has finally decided to enter the search for Kony and his brigade.
The world will continue to evolve, hopefully in a manner that enhances the lessons being taught through action by companies like the Tata group, and also in a manner that reduces the emergence of the kind of activity and desperation that is emblematic of Joseph Kony. We also need more urgency from more sources to combat the Joseph Kony's and more education in the history, tradition and ethical standards and principles that are incarnated by the Tata group of companies.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless struggles to find home

Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches

Ontario sculptor struggled to find a home for his haunting sculpture of Jesus sleeping on a bench.

By Leslie Scrivener, Toronto Star, April 13 2013
Jesus has been depicted in art as triumphant, gentle or suffering. Now, in a controversial new sculpture in downtown Toronto, he is shown as homeless — an outcast sleeping on a bench.
It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.
Despite message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Jesus The Homeless, photo by Carlos Osorio, Toronto Star

“Homeless Jesus had no home,” says the artist, Timothy Schmalz, who specializes in religious sculpture. “How ironic.”
Rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the bronze piece and showed Schmalz possible locations, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, he says.
“It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague,” he says. He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”
The Toronto archdiocese tried to help him find an alternative location, including St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. But Schmalz, who describes his work as a visual prayer, wanted to reach a wider, secular audience. “I wanted not only the converted to see it, but also the marginalized. I almost gave up trying to find a place.”
Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.
Bill Steinburg, communications manager for the Toronto archdiocese, says the decision not to accept the sculpture at St. Michael’s may have had to do with renovations at the cathedral and “partly to do with someone’s view of the art.”
To some who have seen it, it speaks the message of the Gospels. When theologian Thomas Reynolds came upon it he felt “the shock of recognition.” He quoted the biblical passage: “ … the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
“I’m so used to seeing images of Jesus that are palatable,” says Reynolds.
But recent depictions of Jesus in political and social contexts have spurred controversy.
At Emmanuel College, the educational arm of the United Church where Reynolds teaches, there is a graceful sculpture showing Jesus’ suffering in a crucified woman. Schmaltz says he intended that his Jesus the Homeless can be interpreted as either male or female.
At Regis College, there is a small crucifix of Jesus as a landmine victim, missing a leg; another at the college shows Jesus as an Aztec.
A sculpture in a church in Uckfield, England, shows a euphoric Jesus wearing jeans and a collared shirt.
In 2011, British sculptor David Mach, created an agonized, shouting Jesus out of 3,000 straightened coat hangers that emerge like barbs from the body.
Jesus the Homeless is provocative, says Reynolds, because it ‘punctures the illusion of normalcy.
“In certain ways, Christian communities have been privileged and considered themselves the norm in society and that has made Christians comfortable in our complacency.”
Schmalz, 43, roots the sculpture in his experiences in Toronto, where he trained at the former Ontario College of Art. “I was totally used to stepping over people. You’re not aware they are human beings. They become obstacles in the urban environment and you lose a spiritual connection to them. They become inert, an inconvenience.”
He now lives with his wife and family in St. Jacobs, Ont. When he returns to Toronto, he sees the city differently.
“A lot of people who don’t live in Toronto or a big urban place are shocked to see human forms under blanket on too many street corners.”
The Regis sculpture shows Jesus as a wanderer who depended on the hospitality of others, says Reynolds. “The counternarrative in Christianity is Jesus the outsider.”
Not all embrace this interpretation, as Bryan Stallings and his wife Amy discovered. They run a mission in Branson, Mo., called Jesus Was Homeless, where they serve about 1,000 people a week, many of whom live in the woods and extended-stay motels. They’ve been criticized for the mission’s name.
“People who have issue with it are usually the staunch religious people,” says Stallings, “especially those who follow prosperity teaching and doctrine that says if you are homeless or poor you don’t have enough faith.”
Critics tell him that Jesus wasn’t homeless. “Then we reference Scripture and it sparks tons of conversation.”
The Toronto sculpture, funded by Kitchener real estate developer Peter Benninger, is situated near the front entrance to Regis College. “It’s one of the most inviting and authentic representations of Jesus,” says Rev. Gordon Rixon, dean of the college. “There’s the suggestion there is the king and he is answering our culture with his poverty, vulnerability and weakness.”
Though the slender figure occupies most of the two-metre bench, Schmalz purposely left space at the end for someone to sit close to the slumbering figure, “as uncomfortably as possible.”