Saturday, August 31, 2013

Obama decides 1) to strike Syria and 2) to ask Congress to debate and vote on the question

While he did not go as far as we would have liked, that is to refer the evidence of Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons to the International Criminal Court for their assessment, potential indictment and prosecution of Assad, he did nevertheless bend the arc of American history in the direction of justice, reflection and public debate.
The Congress will debate and vote on the president's recommendation to conduct a military assault on Syria, as an focused attempt to deter others from similar deployment of such outlawed weapons.
This is both an historic and wise decision on the president's part.
He has been blocked for years by this Congress, whose legacy can be summed in one word: "No!"
Furthermore, at least since President Reagan, the White House occupant has conducted "airstrikes" without seeking the approval, or consent of Congress. That arc of American history has been bent in the direction favouring a collaborative decision. And the president, conscious of the dangers implicit his own political high-wire act, to go alone without seeking Congress' voice, has now punted the "ball" into Congress' court.
The actual vote outcome is anything but predictable.
What is not in doubt is that, if the Congress does not and cannot reach a decision to authorize military action, then the President will be able to hang their decision around their neck, and not exclusively around his own. What is also clear is that, while a "time-out" is in effect, the streets of cities around the world will be filled with protesters opposed to any American military action in Syria.
"Hands off Syria" has already become the battle-cry of those protesters on more than one continent, since the Obama announcement earlier today.
Surely, also some member(s) of Congress will actually raise the issue of the United States' failure to sign the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, where this matter can be prosecuted.
If not some member(s) of Congress, then more than a few news outlets, in more than one or two world capitals will be able to have at that argument.
In any case, Obama will proceed to Sweden and then to Russia for the G20 summit, without having Tomahawk missiles raining down on the chemical deployment systems in Syria, or should the targets not be as surgical and as accurate as the U.S. military would like, on the actual storage depots of those weapons, thereby exploding them and devastating more Syrian in the process.
Even Obama and Putin will have the "unofficial" opportunity to speak privately, although Obama has ruled out any private meeting following the Snowden reception by Russia, for one year.
Anyone who thinks what happens in one capital of the world does not impact other capitals need only examine the impact of the parliamentary vote in the United Kingdom where the Labour Party defeated a motion put forward by the Cameron government supporting military action in alliance with the U.S, in Syria....that surely has had a profound impact on the Obama decision today.
And, while the French and the Turkish governments are still "on side" the rest of the world will now wait, hoping that this hiatus from military action by the U.S. will provide needed oxygen for the seeds of a negotiated settlement of the Syrian tragedy to take root.

Two incompatible, irreconcilable numbers collide in U.S. news reports: 470,000 children and $52 billion

Two numbers stood out in the flood of news reports this week, both pointing to a serious cognitive dissonance inside the United States culture and body politic; they also point to a widening and potentially unsustainable crack between two tectonic plates in that culture.
The numbers dropped out of separate and completely disconnected reports, probably from different sources. (They have been so arresting that I literally cannot remember where I first heard them!)
Separately, and individually each number washed over this listener, probably with only a yawn about both of their respective sizes. And then it struck! These numbers are simply incompatible; they cannot and must not be permitted to dwell in the consciousness of any civilized society together at the same time, under the same collective "watch"....and certainly not under the watch of a single president.
First the number 470,000!
It represents the total number of young children who have been ripped out of the support of the Head Start program, through the impact of sequestration, that unwanted and unsustainable, politically designed and "unowned' any of the designers, measure that was never supposed to go into effect, if and only if a more mature, reasonable and sustainable budget-cutting approach could have been reached through mature compromise.
(From Wikipedia:
The Head Start Program is a program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. The program's services and resources are designed to foster stable family relationships, enhance children's physical and emotional well-being, and establish an environment to develop strong cognitive skills. The transition from preschool to kindergarten imposes diverse developmental challenges that include requiring the children to engage successfully with their peers outside of the family network, adjust to the space of a classroom, and meet the expectations the school setting provides.[1]
Launched in 1965[1] by its creator and first director Jule Sugarman, Head Start was originally conceived as a catch-up summer school program that would teach low-income children in a few weeks what they needed to know to start kindergarten. Experience showed that six weeks of preschool couldn't make up for five years of poverty. The Head Start Act of 1981[2] expanded the program.[3] The program was further revised when it was reauthorized in December, 2007. Head Start is one of the longest-running programs to address systemic poverty in the United States. As of late 2005, more than 22 million pre-school aged children had participated.
Without having to claim responsibility for such an overt measure inside the Congress, lawmakers can say they may never have intended for such an impact of their budget-cutting, and thereby claim their hands are clean of the inevitable impact of this cut-back. That is bad enough, that lawmakers do not have to defend the implications of their refusal to reach collaborative and mature compromises that would have left Head Start untouched, regardless of what other social programs were being cut. What is far worse is that those children so impacted by these cuts will, for the rest of their lives, wear the social, intellectual, emotional and even economic scars that their lack of access to the hand-up which Head Start would have, could have and should have provided. It is not their "fault" that their parent(s) life in poverty; struggle to find enough money to feed them healthy foods; struggle to find adequate health care, and then struggle eventually to cope with the potential impact of "second-class" labelling that eventually falls on the foreheads of such children. And those scars will come back to bite the United States' cities,  towns, counties as well as state legislatures and hopefully the national government for its insouciant and irresponsible deprivation of these children.
Of course, those half-million children are scattered through all states and territories and their collective impact will forever lie hidden in the social-workers' notes, the court proceedings and the legal briefs emanating from their life stories, and will not ever reach the status of a 70-point headline in a major daily newspaper, calling for the kind of accountability, transparency and even political sanctions, including electoral defeat that needs to accompany this "default" result of sequestration.
And then there is a second number: $52 billion.
That is the figure released this week, allegedly from the Edward Snowden secreted files on U.S. over-commitment, (it could legitimately be called obsession, neurosis, or even psychosis) documenting the spending on national security only for the year 2013.
This latest monster, funded by the national government in Washington, out of the potential political impact of another "terrorist attack" at home or abroad on U.S. citizens, effectively means that all elected officials in Washington are holding the country, and the country's budget and the country's social programs, even the most needed and worthy, hostage to their political survival, indirectly through the "topsy-like" growth of the Homeland Security Department linked to the many other government agencies like the CIA and the FBI whose funding has been so dramatically increased, almost as surreptitiously as have the "intelligence gathering" approaches on U.S. citizens at home and around the world been conducted by those same agencies.
And so, even with such a mountain of cash being thrown at national security operations, in a government obsessed with its own fear, and the spill-off from another Benghazi, for example, or another "Twin Towers" attack, the country has to watch its own folding within its self, while at the same time attempting to maintain the global posture of international "enforcer" in Syria, with only the French government and the government of Turkey so far even expressing interest in supporting the U.S. should Obama decide on a military strike against Assad, to punish the Syrian dictator for his alleged use of chemical weapons.
"Follow the money" is an oft-used cliché for reporters to determine where a political agenda is pointing. In this case, such a cognitive dissonance in two seemingly unrelated budgetary "impacts" as the one between national security and Head Start cannot and must not be ignored. The freedom of those 470,000 children has been and will be forever negatively impacted by their exclusion from the Head Start program....there is no other opportunity to include them, once they have been is not as if this fall can be recaptured next year, or the following year, in their individual lives. This is an opportunity, once lost, is gone forever. And there is literally no one in public office now or in the future on whose hands or shoulders to hang the loss.
And so the costs of terror continue to embed their way into the psyche, the agenda and the line items of the United States budget, just as have the two unfunded wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly this weekend, even into Syria...and that half-million children will never know what supports they missed because of the irresponsible and even misguided decisions, both direct and indirect taken by adults who are supposed to be "minding the store" and that includes supporting and sustaining the next generation.

Friday, August 30, 2013

This time the "NO's" can't all be wrong...a firm, legal and non-military approach in Syria would shock even Assad and his allies

The British Labour Party, the Arab League, many top officials in the Pentagon itself, the Secretary General of the United Nations, even the government of Jordan, and the government of Egypt (such as it is!)...and even some from the normally hawkish Republican Party in the U.S. itself, say, "No!" to a proposal to launch a military strike against Syria. And this list has to be added to the significant abstentions, Russia and China, both of which countries have signalled they will not support a Security Council resolution calling for such a strike, in the light of the "circumstantial" evidence pointing to the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.
One former U.S. Secretary of Defence, William Cohen, under President Clinton, also a Republican, urges the White House to take the evidence to the Security Council and the General Assembly of the UN, and call for a vote. If the evidence is substantial and credible, and the Russians and the  Chinese vote against taking action, the world will then know the facts.
Anyone in the world who does not now know about the brouhaha around this issue generated over the last several days has been sleeping under a rock. The publicity around it has quite literally taken over the news coverage, around the clock and around the globe.
There is not a sane person on the planet who does not agree that the use of chemical weapons is both heinous and contrary to the treaty banning their use, emerging from World War I, when poisonous gas was used.
However, the fact that the Assad regime has chemical weapons, stored securely everyone hopes, and the fact that AlQaeda-linked operatives have infiltrated both Syria and previously Iraq, and the fact that their motives include getting their hands on the most lethal weapons imaginable and inflicting them on the United States and its agents everywhere, as well as other "western" countries should and must cause deep consternation in all leaders in the international community. A military strike, no matter now surgical, nor how limited, nor how publicly announced in both timing and targets, will inevitably lead to unintended consequences, and those will also include "collateral damage"....
There are too many alternative routes available for Obama, Cameron, Harper, and other western leaders, including the UN (both Security Council and General Assembly), the International Criminal Court, the U.S. Congress which could and likely would support severe sanctions on the Assad regime and bring additional political pressure to bear on Assad and the rebels to bring both sides to the negotiating table, without resorting to a military strike.
And for the U.S. "to go it alone" as the reports now suggest Obama is considering will be the most regressive step of the Obama administration for the U.S. as well as for Syria, not to mention other countries in the Middle East, and will only serve to blacken the eye of the United States, in the eyes of the world while...while once again pointing to the "wild west cowboy gun-slinger" archetype  which Obama has worked so hard, and so successfully to eradicate since assuming the presidency in 2009 and imposing the U. S. military in a foreign country which cannot and is not a direct threat to the United States.
Trust your moderating and visceral instincts, Mr. Obama, as you have throughout the Syrian conflict!
This is no time to throw those instincts under the bus, for the sake of a few hawk cheers from McCain and a few others who believe that only through the deployment of military missiles, and bombs and other incendiary devices can the United States continue to serve as the world's policeman.
Push as hard as you must rhetorically, Sir,  but resist the political impulse to invade, attack, and "punish" Assad.
The whole world, as Grand Jury, supports his indictment on charges of crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court would take up the case, if and when the evidence were presented to it. The world knows that wrong has been committed by the Assad regime and the whole world knows also that the U.S. must be a signatory to the treaty establishing the court. This is the time to make the historic move of "firm" and legal and non-military ACTION, without engaging in a military strike of any kind.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Memo to Obama: bring the evidence of Chemical weapons use in Syria to the International Court and indict not bomb Syria

Chris Matthews, host of Hardball on MSNBC, was disappointed that there was no statement of "action" or policy thrust in yesterday's speech by the President of the United States, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Martin Luther King "I have a dream" speech on the Mall in Washington. Matthews, a democrat, is steeped in Washington politics, and Washington's political culture. It is a culture of taking action, including military action, as nearly the first option, regardless of the situation.
Today, and for the next few days, the President and the country will harbour, consider, ponder, and reflect on whether or not to take military action to "punish the Assad regime" for having used chemical weapons on the Syrian people. With France, Great Britain and the U.S. all concurring in the Security Council that military action (embedded in the resolution proposed by Great Britain, but rejected by both Russia and China) be approved.
However, will all the public talk of a bravado, macho, military, hard power nature, the United States has to face both its long-term and its short-term history, especially in Iraq where war was declared  on the basis of Saddam Hussein's having (not using) weapons of mass destruction, only to discover that the intelligence was wrong.
There is clearly a national and a global need for all countries to bring to the world's attention the detailed, specific and irrefutable evidence that Assad did indeed use chemical weapons, and then there is also a national (U.S.) and global interest and need for a different kind of resolution to the Security Council, one that places the evidence in front of the Council and the world, and provides sanctions against Assad, and charges him with war crimes, and forwards the indictment to the International Criminal Court.
That is what the court was created for. And such a charge, especially if it brought a conviction and appropriate punishment, would undoubtedly have more impact on Assad and any other leader contemplating the use of weapons of mass destruction in the future.
On the other hand, bombing Syria, including her airforce, and perhaps even her chemical weapons storage facilities can only generate the most heinous of probabilities, one of which is that the Al Qaeda elements fighting in Syria could gain control of those weapons and use them against the United States and its people.
How ironic is it that the world's greatest power is not yet a signatory to the ICC fearing that its laws and prosecutions could and would be used against U.S. personnel should such a case arise. Well, if U.S. personnel comply with the international laws and protocols established by the ICC, why would such a fear be necessary.
All the king's horses, and all the king's men, and all the military might in the world, of which the U.S. both has and exports the largest component of any country, will not put those chemical weapons back in storage, nor the people they killed and maimed back together again, nor can they assure the world that deploying even the most surgical strike against Assad will not embolden him, and potentially wreak the most feared and most likely backlash....use of the very weapons the world rightly abhors against the people of the United States.
Mr. Obama, make some history today, or at least this week.
Sign the United States to the membership in the ICC, or if that is not feasible in this time frame, convince one of the signatories to the treaty that established the ICC to bring the evidence to the court, and request an formal indictment of Assad, and let the world see that military hard power has finally shifted to a secondary from a primary weapon of international influence.
Mr. Obama, prove Winston Churchill wrong, by doing the right thing before all other options have been exhausted...and the occasion could not be more timely.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

CIBC Report: Canadian University students choosing liberal arts programs...not those business wants like science, math, business and technology

While the report (noted below) also indicates that there a very small gaps between the rates of employment of high school and university graduates, and also between MA and PhD grads and undergraduates,
it points to a very interesting development, especially when compared with the Canada's southern neighbour.
Canadian students are, if this report is to be believed, are continuing to choose liberal arts course in their undergraduate years, rather than succumbing to the lure of the science, math, business and technology magnet that the corporate world prefers. If reports out of the U.S. are to be believed, there is talk in some quarters about discontinuing liberal arts curricula from many universities, since some believe that the government ought not to be underwriting the costs, through both grants and loans, of students pursuing liberal arts programs, given the needs and the demands of the marketplace.
  1. Do these trends indicate that Canadian students have a greater social conscience, a more development social consciousness, and greater motivation to engage in "people-to-people" careers than American students?
  2. Do these trends point in the direction that Canadian students see more poverty, inequality, injustice and despair in our own country, and around the world, and want to do something about it, than their American peers?
  3. Has the message of some corporate CEO's, that they would prefer an English graduate who has searched and found literary patterns in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, to whom they can teach the details of accounting, financial management...penetrated the Canadian students' individual and collective psyche(s) more than it has the U.S. students?
  4. Is this trend in Canada, one that the CIBC reports disdains, for the obvious reason that graduates will have less to deposit and invest in the CIBC accounts and portfolios, indicative of a silent but nevertheless steady political statement against the takeover of the lives of young people by the corporate behemoth(s)?
  5. Is this relatively sparse data pointing to a nation of young people likely to shape their world in ways that the global markets never imagined, and certainly never hoped for?

Too few Canadian students are choosing to study fields that are in high demand, according to an August 26 CIBC World Markets report.

By Emma Crawford, Business Vancouver website, August 26, 2013

The report says that Canada has the highest proportion of adults with a post-secondary education among all OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries, despite having tuition costs that are double the average of those countries. However, students are increasingly choosing to study fields that don't lead to lucrative careers, it states.
"A higher education may be a necessary condition for a good job in Canada, but it is no longer a sufficient condition," said Benjamin Tal, CIBC deputy chief economist and study co-author.
"Narrowing employment and earning premiums for higher education mean that, on average, Canada is experiencing an excess supply of post-secondary graduates.
"And despite the overwhelming evidence that one's field of study is the most important factor determining labour market outcomes, today's students have not gravitated to more financially advantageous fields in a way that reflects the changing reality of the labour market."
The study found just under half of all recent graduates studied fields such as humanities and social sciences, which it said isn't giving them an advantage when it comes to a career.

Gingrich urges restraint before attacking Syria....consider, "What then?"

It is rare for any Republican to find time and positive coverage in this space.
However, in the last week, Newt Gingrich has taken two positions with which we concur.
First, he lectured the Boston gathering of the Republican Party that they had to become a party with a proposal and a solution for the nation's ills, not merely a voice of "No" against anything and everything President Obama proposes, and even has succeeded in passing in the Congress, like Obamacare.
Today, it is Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, during the Clinton presidency, who is warning against a military strike in Syria. Everyone knows that the follow-out from a bombing campaign of Syria's air force, and possibly her stash of chemical weapons by the U.S. and allies is completely unpredictable and most likely could and would make the situation worse.
This is the same man who, as a candidate for the White House in 2012, financed by a casino owner-operated, who gave voice to the "right" in his attempt to woo the fragmented party to his views.
It is the same man who compromised with Clinton in the 1990's to make government work, to balance the budget, to change the system of welfare from a hand-out to a hand-up, and who now serves as a "goad" to his myopic, insular and narcissistic colleagues in the Republican party.
Is anyone listening?
Is Gingrich the Obama of the Syrian invasion, urging the nation to resist military action?
While the Pentagon is "ready" in Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel's word, and the Secretary of State condemns the use of chemical weapons in the strongest possible way, and the mountain of public opinion seems to favour a "firm" response, to quote the word used in news coverage of the president's conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Harper yesterday, and Senator McCain is and has been urging military action against the Assad regime for months, it is Gingrich, the lone voice of restraint in a world confounded by the Syrian complexities, embedded in the Arab uprisings, dictatorships' coups and the "crap-shoot" into which the Middle East has turned.
Is anyone listening? Or has Gingrich lost his public credibility, given his many outrageous positions during the last presidential campaign?

By Newt Gingrich, CNN website, August 28, 2013
CNN) -- News that the United States is considering a military strike on Syria in response to the Bashar al-Assad regime's suspected use of chemical weapons suggests we could soon see an American bombing campaign on the war-torn country.
The atrocities that took place in Syria recently, such as those that have been taking place there for almost two years, are deplorable and inhuman.
Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich
Before bombing Syria over the regime's latest crimes, however, we should stand back and ask, "And then what?"
A brief bombing campaign in Syria might make the United States and its allies feel like they are doing something, but it will prove nothing.
We have already abstained from getting involved in the civil war for two years and have chosen not to respond to evidence (albeit less clear) of another chemical attack this year.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mark Leibovich: Behind the scenes in Washington...a culture of narcissism, insouciance and extreme conformity to caution

On PBS yesterday, Bill Moyers interviewed Mark Leibovich on his new book, This Town, essentially a scathing indictment of the political culture in Washington. Leibovich cited examples like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused millions of public relations, lobbying and bi-partisan dollars to flow into public relations firms owned and operated jointly by key figures in both Republican and Democratic parties. Given the size of the bounty, and the constant flow of money, whenever there is a political problem that requires public massaging, no one leaves.
In fact, according to Leibovich, people now going to Washington to "get rich" and the city has the largest number of billionaires in the United States.
On the legislative front, extreme caution is the guiding principle. Here is a segment of the interview, from the Moyers and Company website:
MARK LEIBOVICH: .....everything about the Congressional system, whether it's leadership, whether it's how money is raised, is going to reward cowardice. The true mavericks are going to be punished in some ways. If you are going-- if you want to build a career outside of office when you're done, when you're voted out as a lobbyist, as a consultant, as many of them do, you are absolutely in-- you are absolutely encouraged not anger too many people. Not--
BILL MOYERS: Not take a big stand?
MARK LEIBOVICH: Not take a big stand, right. No truth is going to be told here by-- based on any sort of cowardly go along, get along way. And I think that there are many ways in which the money, the system is financed-- the politics are financed the way the media works, that will not under any circumstances reward someone who takes a stand.
Members of Congress especially are never far from a vision of their own answer to the question, "What am I going to do once I leave Congress?" As one former Senator put it, "This is where the money is," when asked why he hasn't left although he retired from his elected post years ago. (His name is Trent Lott, former Republican Senator.)
If the public debate is little more than another piece of theatrics, generating more heat that light, and if the men and women elected to "govern" (that is pass needed legislation for the benefit of both their constituents and the nation) are more guided, even forced to conform to the "cautionary principle" and not indicate any maverick tendencies, in order to pave their "escalator ride" into the lobbying business following their stint at public "service" how can we be surprised when we see nothing really being accomplished in both houses of Congress, and dozens of high profile politicians now occupying cushy and highly remunerative executive posts in the very companies and sectors they once wrote and passed legislation, that favoured those 'special interests'?
We cannot; however, just because the U.S. has the biggest sling-shot on the block of world nations does not make it the most honourable, the most ethical and the most dependable voice of insight, and power when the community of nations seeks to confront an international problem, such as Syria.
If Leibovich is to be believed, and his Senior Editorship of the New York Times Magazine would seem to provide some evidence of credibility, then Washington is not only "out of touch" with ordinary Americans, it is out of touch with most matters that do not directly impact their individual wealth acquisition.
As I listened to Leibovich, I could not help but think of the phrase "political incest" that has overtaken the capital of the "greatest country on the planet" it describes itself for and to anyone who will listen. A revolving door nudges former administration staffers of considerable rank out the door to much more lucrative positions, without all the public scrutiny, on Wall Street. A similar revolving door cushions the exit of elected officials from especially "Appropriations Committees of Congress" where the money is spent, and their respective landings in swank, and highly lucrative positions because of who they know, and what they know about how Washington works.
If the truth is constantly and deliberately trumped by the cowardice and caution and "fitting in" motive of those elected to "serve", then how can the people,  both inside and outside the U.S. borders expect effective leadership to emerge from the votes taken, the bills proposed and the decisions taken by the leaders of the nation.
P.T. Barnum would fit right in; so would Walt Disney! And so would all the playwrights of all the dramatic productions that have come to provide the cultural signature of the United Sates of America.
The only problem with these pictures is that the lives of real people are crimped, repressed, and possibly even ignored while those elected to look out for those very people are narcissistically addicted to their own acquisition of wealth, based on their brief stint "inside" the circles of power.
Little wonder that no one expects any kind of significant change to come from a 50th anniversary march of the original March on Washington, even if the current president stands on the same spot from which Dr. King delivered his famous speech to deliver his one commemorative address.
It will be critiqued as poetic, inspiring, literate, intellectual and hopeful.....and it will likely amount to little more than a mouse roaring, while behind the scenes, the subjection of the first black president to vitriol, to hate, to obstruction, and even to open talk of impeachment, and erasing the nation's first health care bill will continue.
And for this charade, the taxpayer pays billions....and wonders why s/he gets so little for his hard work and playing by the rules.

Now that U.S. reports confirm Assad's use of chemical weapons, what is next?

Reports coming out of Washington indicate that the U.S. government now believes there is little doubt that Syrian president Assad's forces did indeed use chemical weapons against his own people, although reports also suggest that Assad's permission to examine the area was extended to UN observers too late, and even then was limited to a few hours, thereby generating more obfuscation.
In Izvestia, the Moscow newspaper, Assad, of course, denies his forces used chemical weapons, pointing the finger at the rebels. His choice of that news outlet indicates to most observers the continuing support of President Putin and the Russian government for his cause.
However,  back in Washington, now that a second incidence of the possible use of chemical weapons is confirmed, the administration has to do something, along with allies. There is mounting evidence that Turkey would join a coalition of forces, should the UN be unable to pass a resolution calling for some form of push back, and the foreign minister of France has indicated that while all options are on the table, except no action.
The world holds its breath as the community of world leaders contemplates what action(s) would be most effective in bringing this conflict to a ceasefire, a negotiated peace and the removal of Assad.
Interestingly, China seems to be holding her cards very close to the chest, and whatever position she takes could eventually prove critical to any UN resolution that endorses military action against the Assad regime.
Whether the world can and will operate as a "civil society" as the Foreign Secretary of Great  Britain claims requires it to express its anger in opposition to the use of chemical weapons by any government against its own people. Surely, that maxim would also hold in a conflict in which chemical weapons were used by one country against another country against which it was at war.
Or course, the U.S. government and its people are not only war-weary, they are budgetarily constricted and ironically it will be the Republicans in both the Senate and the House that will be supportive of any measure to bring the U.S. military into the fray, taking out the Assad airforce, for example, or providing safe fly zones for refugees to move out of the country. There is, according to most recent reports no indication that Obama and his officials are contemplating "putting American boots on the ground"...code for imposing U.S. armed soldiers on the situation. Nevertheless, U.S. missiles, drones and aircraft carriers from which to launch same, can and would do considerable damage not only to Assad's airstrike capacity but also to the "collateral damage" that inevitably ensues from military intervention of any kind. As one commentator on the Sunday U.S. talk shows put it, "If the U.S. strikes Syria, and Iran, an ally of the Syrian regime, decides they disapprove of such a strike and then decides to drop missiles on Tel Aviv, then what happens?"
Everyone knows there is a boiling cauldron in the Middle East, and the Syrian conflict is an integral part of that boiling pot....
Can the world, through collective and collaborative action, including eventual negotiations, bring the temperature down both in Syria and throughout the region? So far the evidence points to little more than a negative response to that hypothetical. And so, for now, the world, including the Syrian people wait for the world's response. Will it be surgical, measured and discreet? Or will it be the spark the ignites a much wider conflict?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Public interest must return to trumping the interests of the rich, the connected and the powerful... globally

Yesterday, as part of the MSNBC coverage of the Anniversary March on Washington, 50 years after the original march in which Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous, "I have a dream" speech, Andrew Young, former Mayor of Atlanta, for Ambassador to the United Nations and colleague of Dr. King, was asked by the host, "At the time of the original march, your leadership group needed lawyers; what does the leadership group need today?"
And Andrew Young's immediate answer was, "Economists!"
And then he went on to explain that the world is struggling with a nation's capacity to regulate the flow of money given the globalization of the markets, and that there is a profound need for an international forum  to grapple with this new reality.
So, once again, far from merely a march to improve the lot of black folks given the much wider focus on economic equality for all of the original march, yesterday's efforts were also pointed at the inequality in the economy, not only within the borders of the United States, but also on behalf of the voiceless, the poor, the marginalized of all colours, ethnicities and geographies.
Fareed Zakaria, in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs, writes about illiberal democracies around the world...and about why his title epitomizes the failure of liberal democracies to work effectively, while in many countries people are the streets protesting their lack of voice in the governance of their own countries.
It seems to us that the two issues, the globalized economy and the failure of liberal democracies are intimately linked, if not completely enmeshed.
It says here that the 1% in every country have effectively high-jacked the governments of too many nations, while emerging states, or those clinging to any vestige of effective governance, (regardless of how that governance is established, through the vote, or through some kind of hybrid of political appointments and elections) are experiencing their own unique application of an ideology that  advocates strenuously, often militantly for less government, fewer regulations and increased "frontier Darwinism" enabling the uber-corporations, the financial services sector, the lobbyists for these interests and their "allies" around the world, some of them scrupulous, other much less so, to engage in a kind of free-wheeling deal-making in weapons (one of the most active commodities being traded among especially the marginal countries) and drugs, as well as what we might consider legitimate commodities. Even the so-called respectable corporations are paying huge fees for lawyers and accountants to find loopholes for those corporations to escape the taxing authority of the countries of their head offices, preferring instead to shift their profits to locations where there is little or no tax being collected on such profits.
It is, therefore, not merely the antiseptic and hygienic and intellectually highbrow failure of democracies of whatever stripe, but rather a somewhat formal and somewhat informal organized campaign to wrest control of the levers of economic and fiscal power from the hands of governments and place that power into the hands of large corporations, ultra-wealthy individuals some of whom operate their own corporations, while others merely amass mountains of dividend clippings.
It is not economists that the Peoples Marchs everywhere need, with all due respect for Andrew Young, nor is it effective democracies, with respect to Mr. Zakaria; it is rather to find individuals and groups who are committed to building the kind of firewalls that keep private/corporate/lobbying and wealthy donor capital out of the political process.
If and when the political process, including the agents of that process (the politicians), is for sale and being bought with dollars squirreled away from the internal revenue services of many countries, it is more than the failure of the liberal democracies that is at stake. The economy and the internet that supports it, combined with the deliberate initiatives to thwart the will of the people, the sine qua non of all democratically elected governments, and to replace that "will of the people" in both the abstract and in the specific applications that would address the issues of ordinary and struggling people, with the will of the rich, the powerful, the connected and the pockets, cheques, political ideology and personal narcissism of those individuals.
It is no longer legitimate to complain about the corruption in third world states, or in the former Soviet Union, (now Russia) or in the countries where drugs have become the centrepiece of the national economies (Afghanistan instantly springs to mind) or in countries where any form of governance is being implemented for the first time, without also acknowledging the take-over by the 1% of the levers of power, the regulations governing individual nation states, along with the withdrawal of effective support for agencies like the United Nations, by those like former Senator John Kyl of Arizona, who, with colleagues, writes in Foreign Affairs, a few weeks ago, that for the United States to join the international fora such as the International Criminal Court would be to sacrifice its national sovereignty.
So when one combines:
  • the underwriting of the "democratic process" unleashed in its most toxic form in a U.S. Supreme Court decision known as "Citizens United" (one of the most ironic and paradoxical titles the case could wear!) with
  • the deliberate refusal to accept international collaboration at the official level, because of the mindless even ostrich-headed myopia of people like Kyl,
  • and the galloping technologies for which few countries have legislation that "keeps up" with the opportunities provided to those at the front edge of both its development and its deployment,
  • linked also to a "fourth estate" that drinks the same martini 'kool-aid' served by the 1% who own most of their jobs, and their opportunities to continue working, including Mr. Zakaria,

we have effectively replaced a consensus form of liberal democracy in which people of differing ideologies could and did put the "national interests" ahead of their personal agenda, and ahead of the agenda of their funding agents or their respective and traditional voting blocs, with an international cabal of rich and powerful interests and agents whose only interest and purpose is to make it possible to make more and more profit, without having any regard, or having to have any regard for what used to be called "common interests".
There are no common interests any more, as evidenced by the Republican Senate candidate's public statement last week to the effect that if you get cancer, that's your problem not other words that kind of inevitable eventuality, formerly seen as "universal," no longer matters to this man who is seeking to represent the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate. Multiply his perspective with the dozens in the House of Representatives who share his point of view; link that to a judicial system that has, not tilted, but slid completely in the direction of "vengeance and zero tolerance" away from rehabilitation, and a vengeance that is racially coloured against minorities, and you have what amounts to a toxic and debilitating culture that opposes "good government" in favour of "me-ism" on the part of the participants.
Even the president just this week commented in public addressed in upstate New York that the U.S. spends more on prisons than on higher education, something he considers a national priority. However, the Congress has now linked student loans to the current interest rates of the market, thereby demonstrating that money and the pursuit of revenue has replaced the achievement of a legitimate education for the many. In some jurisdictions, a law that was designed to interdict drug dealers, known as "seizure and forfeiture" is being used by state police to stop innocent travellers, and seize whatever cash they may have in their vehicles, for whatever purpose, unless those people sign a statement acknowledging their guilt (for what, they have no idea!) and the proceeds of such seizures are being used to pay bonuses to those very same police officers, whose departmental budgets have been cut by state legislators.
We do not need lawyers, economists, or ivory-tower intellectuals like Zakaria, with respect to his considerable intellect, capacity to gather good minds and elicit solid insight from those guests on his GPS on CNN...what we need are courageous and visionary and ethically and morally authentic individuals and political affiliations who speak the truth to power within their own circles, and especially to the wider "general public"....
It is the common interests, the general public, and the capacity to address the issues most pressing to those ordinary folk that government, democratic, autocratic, appointed, elected or whatever the means of their securing office that needs to return as the focus of governments, including the indisputable need for national governments to compromise some national "autonomy" for the sake of the global constituents...which group comprises each of the people in government in all countries.
Parochialisms, narcissism, NIMBY, theocracies, racism, ageism, sexism, militarism, vengeances and even nationalism....these are going to have to give way to an imperative of collaboration, internationalism even globalism, generosity with restricted means, celebration of 'the other' and a collective consciousness that we all do breathe the same air, drink the same water, and feed from the same land, regardless of the colour of our skin, the diplomas on the wall, the size of our bank accounts, and the connections on our FACEBOOK pages and TWITTER accounts.
And while national governments cannot and will not be organized as virtual governance  in any one country, the technologies will increasingly enable each of us to transition into world citizenship, for which there might even be a "citizenship membership card" enabling each of us to travel to all countries, to submit opinion pieces to the readers in all countries, and to share our common interests, needs, aspirations and the best practices (and worst failures) of the governing bodies in our regions.
And when the playing field is leveled through access to information as well as to "influence" there are more of "us" than there are of the 1%, and increasingly that imbalance will be levelled, through necessity if not through intellectual argument alone.

Friday, August 23, 2013

50th Anniversary of March on Washington planned for the Mall tomorrow....don't look for any historic achievments

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, originally led by Dr. Martin Luther King, and in 2013, on the anniversary, a march, both in celebration of the original, and in search of both joys and enhanced dignity for all, will take place on the Mall in the capital.
This morning, singer Tony Bennett announced that he will attend lending his name and long career reputation to the cause.
The American people are suffering in the middle and at the bottom of the economic ladder. The rich and powerful have never been more endowed with both, and the cost has been devastating.
  • Wars that were not paid for,
  • a prescription bill for seniors passed under George W. Bush that was put on the credit card without adequate funds being allocated by Congress,
  • a job-shift overseas and a virulent conservatism that blocks any attempt to bring government to the assistance of those desperately in need, with public services, including education, police and fire all suffering cutbacks under the umbrella argument of "belt-tightening" but really a concerted attempt to cripple government at state, local and national levels
  • sequestration that has removed some 470,000 young children from the Head Start program,
  • a scurrilous hate-campaign against the first black president, also under cover of the "small government" banner
  • a drug enforcement campaign that has filled U.S. privately administered prisons with black and Latino young men at a rate that far exceed the averages for whites
  • an unemployment rate for black and Latino young men that far exceeds that of whites
  • a large cadre of returning men and women from those wars who desperately need financial and health and emotional supports and will for the rest of their lives
  • what amounts to racial profiling in too many police interventions
  • state laws that impede voter access particularly to minority voters
  • an inordinate amount of public spending on university education, which by definition favours the fortunate ones at the top, while elementary and secondary education continues to suffer severe budget cuts
  • a block to the Senate-passed immigration bill that would ultimately grant citizenship to those 11 million undocumented "aliens" which Republicans in the House call "amnesty" for illegal behaviour
These are just some of the more obvious inequalities and injustices that continue to plague most American cities, towns and villages. And the National Action Network, for which Rev. Al Sharpton is one of the more high-profile voices, is spear-heading the 50th anniversary march.
Even the President is scheduled to speak, and one hopes that the reception he received in Syracuse, where two women were escorted from his address for shouting such barbs as "Free Bradley Manning" (the U.S. soldier sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking thousands of secret government documents to Wikileaks)...yet there is little doubt that protesters of the march and of the president will infect the march of 2013, in ways that they did not fifty years ago.
While the American political scene is never dormant, this demonstration of support for policies and practices, including budgets and bills in Congree that would provide a "hand-up" (not the proverbial and denigrated "hand-out").
There is an attitude, a culture of mean-spirited callousness that has swept over the American political system, evidence in the significant spike in hate groups since Obama became president, and also evident in the wanton disregard for those without health care, without employment, without education and without hope for a better future. The symbol of that mean-spirited attitude is the Tea Party, a so-called Christian fundamentalist group of members of the House of Representatives from the Republican Party who are holding even their own Majority Leader John Boehner hostage to moderate reforms.
Whether this march will galvanize public opinion and support for the modest reforms that President Obama has frequently proposed, only to see them die in Congress, or not even be given respectful consideration, or not is an open question. If I were a betting man, I would not bet that the march will break the log-jam that currently paralyses the U.S. Congress, and that while much media attention will be devoted to the event, its historic achievement will fall far short of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nothing so uber in scope or even in intent seems possible in the Washington of 2013.Nothing of such sweeping and positive benefit seems even conceivable in a government whose truth is rampant racism and whose public posture is for budget cuts and crippling government.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

American youths' summer of discontent: in Oklahoma and in London

Two stories, about American youth, in the summer of 2013, seem to book-end the kind of society that is emerging, and the extremes are not restricted to extreme sports. (See brief news reports below)
In Oklahoma, two youths shoot and kill an Australian student studying, on a basketball scholarship, because they are bored.
In London, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern was found dead in his office, after working three straight days without sleep.
Boredom juxtaposed with intense ambition...both ending in death of a promising young man, robbing the country and the world of the best of what the next generation has to offer.
And while the perpetrators of the Oklahoma shooting will be prosecuted as adults, 'to the full extent of U.S. law' and a public review of the extreme competition that underpins the exploitation of young men and women in unpaid internships, undoubtedly those internships will continue because they serve the profit motive of American business. So on the one hand, the legal system will be taking on another unnecessary case, (in Oklahoma) while the business system will wring its hands and continue to exploit when and wherever it can.
And the mixed messages from these two almost simultaneous reports will bring a few notes in a few commentaries, without in any significant way changing the conditions that led to both tragedies.
At the centre of both stories, young men face an uncertain future: of unemployment and cyclical human tragedies in Oklahoma, and of such intense competition and stress in the American banking system.
These are not the only potential avenues for American men; however, they point out the disparity that the world continues to struggle to reconcile, and not just in America. Some young people are dropping out because they are bored, a word that has been found on the lips of adolescents for decades, if not centuries, while others are over-committing because they 'want to make something of themselves' as the proverbial expression has it.
And we measure the bored kids as rejects, potential criminals and certainly a drain on the public purse, while we hold aloft the commitment, discipline and dependability of those who compete, even to death, as honourable, role models and symbols of the success of the capitalist economic system.
And as the numbers of both grow, in an economy that regards human "capital" as little more than another "raw material" for the purpose of conducting the capitalist business model, for profit, and the achievers continue to prove that they can "take" whatever the system demands in order to earn their place on the ladder of potential economic success and "freedom", cries of less government and 'if you get cancer, that's your problem not mine' can be heard from an aspiring political candidate for Senate in New Jersey.
There is a kind of schizophrenic quality to the message American is sending, in these two stories, and also in many other examples from the front pages of newspapers around the world. On the one hand, America has a tradition of ambition, energy, "making things happen" which has generated mountains of  products, university graduates and profits from those operations. On the other hand, feeling frightened, and overcompensating by more than half, America has built a fortress, and a military culture that knows no equal in human history, exemplifying how the male model of strength and superiority and competition, in the face of all circumstances, even those that do not respond to hard power, is the part of their national character and culture to which they revert when threatened.
And if nothing else these stories, and a plethora of others in the geopolitical arena, demonstrate that America feels threatened on almost all fronts.
First there is the obvious threat of terrorist violence being inflicted, or threatened, from any corner of the world.
Second, there is the displacement of American jobs, industries and both capital and the profits and taxes that capital produces, to other lands and other peoples who are willing to do the same work that Americans have traditionally done in their homeland.
Third, there is the mounting evidence that American students are not keeping pace with students from other countries in their learning of math and reading and critical thinking skills, rendering the competitive advantage which has sustained decades of American education as obsolete, and the students in the current crop as facing bleak prospects on the world stage, unless they over-commit.
Fourth, the American political system has ground to a halt, in Washington, having been purchased in the full light of day by those industrial lobbies that have the excess cash to afford such purchases including the pharmaceutical, insurance, military production and energy sectors.
Fifth, America and the world are facing bleak prospects on the environment front given the collision of short-term energy interests with the global climate deterioration based mainly on human production of CO2, without taking significant steps collaboratively to slow the deterioration for the benefit of all of our grandchildren.
Sixth, the reductionism of the American political debate to a Manichean dichotomy, as evidenced in the two stories that prompted this piece, leaves little or no room for middle ground in any political debate, and the media are complicit in the bi-polarity since ratings rise when issues are presented in black and white, without nuances of colour and tone.
Seventh, in this list, but not in importance, there is a rise of peoples who have lived under tyrannies, many of which were enmeshed with the U.S. for decades, if not centuries, and the U.S. as well as most other countries are not confident making choices of which side to ally with leading to the appearance and perception of chaos and a failure of leadership inside the U.S. and an appearance of both restraint and lack of resolve globally.
Eighth, military might has been replaced by financial muscle, as the dominating theme of world discussions and debates, rendering the intellectual and the collaborative and the compromises that are essential to resolve any dispute as "trash" as the engines of corporate profit and greed consume many of the start-ups that are touted as the real engine of creating jobs everywhere. And so the behemoths are the real winners, although along the way to their selective purchases, a few entrepreneurs manage to make a profit from their start-up. Many others, of course, last a few months, or a couple of years before they simply evaporate under the weight of both costs and competition especially from the behemoths.
Ninth, food production and costs are going in opposite directions given the climate changes and the slide of that industry into the behemoth model, leaving many small and local farmers struggling, although there is a healthy movement among small agrarian producers to reverses that trend, supported by the organic, non-polluted production efforts of many worldwide.
Tenth, the American financial sector experienced a significant meltdown in 2008, and exported that meltdown around the world, capitalizing on the nefarious and still largely unpunished greed on Wall Street, unregulated by a complicit Congress which individually and collectively worships at the altar of corporate profit which funds individual campaigns.
It is not a pretty picture, either domestically, or internationally, for American people and government to confront.
Nevertheless, confront it they must; and the rest of the world must not shut them out, although attempting to negotiate with the biggest bully at the table is often repulsive, if not outright dangerous.
Americans, both in London and in Oklahoma, have drunk the kool-aid of their own propaganda machine, rending some as rejects and others as role models. Perhaps a narrative that demonstrates the value, albeit still hidden and unproductive of those who are currently the rejects, along with the excesses of the "stars" in order to level the playing field might help the country, and thereby the rest of the world (because which country is not watching everything the U.S. says and does?)...and might serve to reduce the crime and health care bills while at the same time clipping the mountains of investor dividends that guarantee their holders tax-free exemption, having squirreled those dividends in off-shore tax havens.

By The Associated Press, on CBC website, August 21, 2013

With the simplest of motives — breaking up the boredom of an Oklahoma summer — three teenagers followed an Australian collegiate baseball player who was attending school in the U.S. and killed him with a shot to the back for "the fun of it," prosecutors said Tuesday as they charged two of the teens with murder.
As the boys appeared in an Oklahoma courtroom, a 17-year-old blurted out, "I pulled the trigger," then wept after a judge told him that Tuesday's hearing wasn't the time or place to sort out the facts of the case.
Prosecutor Jason Hicks called the boys "thugs" as he told Stephens County Judge Jerry Herberger how Christopher Lane, 22, of Melbourne, died on a city street.
Chancey Allen Luna, 16, and James Francis Edwards, Jr., 15, of Duncan were charged with first-degree murder and, under Oklahoma law, will be tried as adults. Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, of Duncan was accused of using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and accessory to first-degree murder after the fact. He is considered a young offender but will be tried in adult court.
"I'm appalled," Hicks said after the hearing. "This is not supposed to happen in this community."
Shot in the back

By CBC, from CBC website, August 21, 2013

The death of a 21-year-old intern working at the London office of Bank of America Merrill Lynch is focusing attention on working conditions for interns in the U.K.
Moritz Erhardt, 21, a German-born intern who was studying business at the University of Michigan, was found dead on the floor of his apartment after working three days straight without sleep, colleagues say.
- Unpaid internships exploit 'vulnerable generation'
- Interns face patchwork of rules, even on Parliament Hill
The bank has called Erhardt a “highly diligent intern at our company with a promising future” but refused to confirm how long he had worked before his death. It said it tries to offer interns “a positive experience” and uses internships as a way of getting to know graduates who are prospective employees.
But U.K. chat rooms were filling up with stories about the culture of long hours and brutal workloads in London’s financial district, including quotes from friends who said Erhardt "worked himself to death." He was in the midst of a 10-week internship.
Since the financial crisis, there are fewer jobs available and the most ambitious students are willing to accept long hours in return for the chance at a well-paid job, human resource experts say.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Was 'poisonous gas' used today in Syria?...apparently

Syrian 'gas attack' prompts UN emergency meeting

By The Associated Press, from CBC website, August 21, 2013

The UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting for later today after Syrian regime forces fired intense artillery and rocket barrages on the eastern suburbs of the capital of Damascus, in what two pro-opposition groups claimed was a "poisonous gas" attack reported to have killed at least 100 people.

UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the council will meet at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday, after Russia and the U.S. made calls for an investigation into the alleged attack.
Del Buey said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is "shocked" at the reported use of chemical weapons in the country.
Reports like these, generating a meeting urged by both Russia and the United States, would have to be  based on some level of verified intelligence, since the two major powers have taken opposite sides in the Syrian civil war, with Russia backing the Assad regime and the U.S. supplying weapons to the rebels.
There is, however, a kind of listlessness to the world's responses to the Syrian debacle. It has taken a long time to bring about any kind of joint effort that would see a process to bring the conflict to a ceasefire, and not just a ceasefire on some piece of paper that both sides are obliged to sign for the purpose of some political photo-op, in which outside parties can seek refuge from the public criticism that has come from many quarters, but a real, permanent, monitored and sustained cessation of the violence, including the use of 'poisonous gas' if there reports are to be given credence.
The Middle East, so turbulent now for the last two years, promising hope and freedom from tyranny in the beginning of the Arab Spring, yet now devolving, perhaps even spiralling into the kind of chaos that so co-mingles the various sides, that it could take some kind of magician's hand to unravel the multiple knots in which the region is becoming tied.
Are the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, sliding into a true terrorist organization, taking on some of the methods and real of AlQaeda?
Is the army in Egypt, for example, merely replicating the Mubarak regime, without the tyrant at the head?
Is Assad, as he seems to want the world to believe, saving his country from terrorists, and protecting the religious minorities, a theme that is gaining traction as the forces vying for an Islamic state, (or multiple Islamic states) struggle with the forces of secular governance, with all sides giving lip service to protecting those minorities, perhaps as hypocritical cover for their real aspirations.
Is the United Nations sufficiently cohesive, and adequately positioned to make any kind of positive impact on the situation in Syria, or in Egypt, for that matter, given the depth and the breadth of the hostilities, and the apparent failure of any of the major powers to make any difference?
Is poisonous gas deployed by either or both combatants in the Syrian conflict really a cry for outside intervention, knowing that sooner or later the truth would "out" and cries of outrage would ensue from the detached and moaning outsider governments?
And what will be the response from the Security Council, and what teeth will there be in whatever resolution it actually passes?
Have the parties in Sryia become so dependent on violence, and so desperate in their pursuit of their conflicting aims, that only death or its near equivalent, exhaustion, will bring this mess to a silent grave?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Full and immediate disclosure needed in cases of nuclear reactor meltdown...including Japan

Japan nuclear plant suffers worst radioactive water leak

By The Associated Press, on CBC website, August 20, 2013

The operator of Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant said Tuesday that about 270 tonnes of highly radioactive water have leaked from one of the hundreds of storage tanks there — its worst leak yet from one of the vessels.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the contaminated water leaked from a steel storage tank at the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi plant. TEPCO hasn't figured out how or where the water leaked, but suspects it did so through a valve connected to a gutter around the tank.
TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono said the leaked water seeped into the ground after largely escaping piles of sandbags added to a concrete barrier around the tank. Workers were pumping out the puddle and the remaining water in the tank and will transfer it to other containers.

This is not the first such leak, although it may well be the most serious.
What is so striking, is the creeping, and we might add creepy, way in which the information, all of it, from day one of the disaster, has been meted out to the world. There is a kind of national pride that seems to be wrapped up in this story that few countries in the world would deem appropriate under the circumstances.
National pride, while useful in some circumstances, is no excuse for withholding deadly information, either from one's own citizens or from the world. And while there is, as there must be, some tolerance for individual country cultural differences, and respect paid to those differences, under normal circumstances, surely the nuclear aspect of this disaster is not and cannot be considered 'normal'.
The survival of individuals, including workers at the Japanese nuclear reactor, and those in a growing radius around the facility, is more important, and must be considered so, than the national pride of those responsible for securing the facility following the tsunami. While the world's heart broke for the Japanese people, at the time of the disaster, and the story became front page news around the world, even then, officials were slow, reluctant even, to release the full scope of the damage to the civilian population and also to the nuclear reactor.
In the case of nuclear reactors, the IAEA needs both the freedom and the licence to require operators to release a full account of the information, as soon as it is verified, in order for the appropriate steps to be taken to protect lives in the region as well as further afield.
The world is playing with highly toxic materials, especially when forty-year-old reactors continue to operate, after many warnings to either shut them down or conduct major retrofits.
Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are two previous examples that come to mind, in which nuclear reactors suffered meltdowns, and in both cases I do not recall the kind of secrecy, even surreptitiousness, about releasing the information on the part of the U.S, and the then USSR authorities. What are the political and the cultural differences between these two cases and the Fukushima disaster?
While the world must respect the significant actions of the Japanese government following the disaster, including reducing dependence on nuclear power by some 40%, there continues to be a bleeding public relations wound in the latest spate of stories about radioactive water escaping from the damaged, and shut-down reactor.
And the further damage to human and both aquatic life will continue so long as the reactor is not fully and permanently sealed.
We are counting on both the Japanese authorities and the IAEA to assure the world that at least that action is fully and transparently completed in the most urgent and most effective manner.
What has the world learned

Monday, August 19, 2013

Desert Storm, an environmental hell is left in its wake....says naturalist

"If hell had a national park, this would be it," mourned the Environmental Protection Agency's director William Reilly on the Today show just after his return from Kuwait on May 7, 1991, just two days after the Gulf War "cease-fire". The fires, of course, had not ceased. It would take months to extinguish all of them, and as each month passed with the fires still burning, the atmosphere absorbed as much as a million tons of sulfur dioxide, 100,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 25 million tons of oil soot--the latter amount being more than four times the monthly emissions from the entire United States. And throe gross estimates of contaminants do not include nerve gasses and other toxins to which soldiers and civilians alike were exposed. President (George H.W.) Bush puffed up whenever he spoke of Desert Storm's swift victory, and he has maintained until this day that the long-term damages were minimal. Unfortunately, his antiseptic war was never that at all; more than a 100,000 were dead within a month, with twice that many wounded, crippled, or contaminated with toxins. Many more people were deprived of potable water and food for months. It is now estimated that only one tenth of all deaths resulting from the conflict occurred during the "official" war. Environmental destruction proceeds on an unprecedented scale, and unsanitary remains will persist indefinitely....
Scars left by military vehicles will be seen in the vegetation patterns and soils for a hundred to a thousand years. In some places, observers found the desert biologically sterile following the war; elsewhere, the plants remaining were covered with a crust of soot oil and wind-drifted sand. Massive defense berms and countless bomb craters interrupted watercourses. Further, the U.S. Air Force admits that it left behind nearly 9,000 tons of undetectable explosive material in desert areas. The culpability is blurred. "Who knows who set what off?" asked Tony Burgess (desert ecologist, professor of Education at BioSphere2) during a telephone interview, Burgess is the desert ecologist who spent three weeks with Friends of the Earth in the Persian Gulf assessing environmental damage. "The country was so trashed. It literally was a vision of hell." (From Cultures of Habitat, by Gary Paul Nabhlan,, Counterpoint, Washington, D.C. 1998, p.129-130)
This scathing indictment of the environmental impact of Desert Storm, not to mention the loss of human lives, coming less than a decade after the "instant war", serves as a cogent reminder that the "west" is virtually continually kept in the dark about such matters, presumably in the hope that a decade later no one will care, if they happen to learn about it.
Information management, what used to be called the propaganda of war, was used to cover over the real and long-term wounds inflicted on a piece of the earth, for which the U.S. had no concern, given the threat posed, in their mind, by Saddam Hussein. Is it any wonder that the trust level in such government institutions as, in this case the Pentagon, and the Bush (#1) White House, let alone the Bush (#2) administration, is at such low ebb as to pose the legitimate question as to whether or not it can be recovered.
It was Colin Powell, then Secretary of State under Bush (#2) who calls his appearance and statement to the United Nations about the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) then held by that same Saddam Hussein, that was prompting the United States to enter the Iraq war, which conflict is still lingering in the headlines, with dozens of deaths on several days last week, through the work of suicide bombers.
How long will it be before the environmental impact of the Iraq War become available to the environmental scientists who monitor such developments? And just how damaging will it prove to have been to the land, water, and atmosphere, as well as to the thousands of casualties, to both death and permanent maiming?
There is a culture of powerlessness, even insouciance, within the United States, that, even under what is normally considered a moderate president, such devastation is inflicted on land too far away and to unimportant for the American conscience to entertain. And it is that culture that pays lip service to "collateral damage" from bombs, drone strikes, and even police firearms on the streets of too many American cities, while continuing to engage in the inflicting of desolation on both people and the environment, apparently willy nilly.
Nabhlan points to an anthropological analysis that says men have turned to violence following a seismic shift from hunting and the many rites of passage within that culture, to farming, when both men and women could perform the tasks of planting, and harvesting equally. Men have, since that time, searched for activities in which they could outperform women, according to the theory.
If the theory holds water, then it is high time men started looking for  a different avenue to release their pent-up energies, regardless of whether those energies are dubbed, in the vernacular, testosterone or simply masculinity.
War must not be used as a replacement for the hunting culture that is so far in the past, it will never return to prominence, unless and until the earth's capacity to produce sufficient food is so damaged that we have to fight for food in order to survive. And who would want to move into that kind of culture and society?

Dryden, N.Y., a glowing example for other aspiring David's against oil and gas Goliaths

Fires burning in the northwest U.S. with floods swamping the southeast!
Record temperatures, record storms in both intensity and in number!
Weather that is both more intense and less predictable!
Water shortages in the southwest U.S. and crop failures due to draught!
What will it take for the U.S. Congress to come to its senses and get serious about global warming and climate change?
Or are we all going to sleep-walk into our own inevitable and easily recognizable throat-crushing demise, fiddling with the Tea-Party's holding government in the U.S. hostage to their denial of science linked to their vacuous "faith" in a God of both mindlessness and mean-spirited vengeance?
And as for Canada, we are obsessed, at least at the level of the national government, with padding the pockets of big oil and gas, in an obsession with money, and the political power that money buys, that our "electorate", except for a few thinking and breathing cells of citizen activism, has gone into a state of somnambulance, sleep-walking its own way into complicity with the government's myopic and self-serving approach.
And we glance at the television screen to hear another oil-baron tell the world that a one-degree rise in temperature, if it were to happen, would be the extent of climate change...and that would be beneficial because it would generate more moderate climate conditions for more people. (Read: it would mean that there would be no emergency and oil and gas companies would continue their stranglehold on the governments of both Canada and the U.S.
In Texas, truckloads of water are snaking their way through communities to dump their precious water into the hands of the fracking companies who are then combining that water with unknown chemicals to pry natural gas from the underground, while leaving the contaminated water in the ground, thereby assuring that the water table will become contaminated. It was the Halliburton loophole, proposed and executed by former Vice-president, (and also former CEO of that behemoth) Mr. Cheney, that makes it both legal and open season  for the oil and gas companies to keep their "little secret" about the chemicals they are putting in the water used in fracking.
In upstate New York, a little town called Dryden has successfully fought off attempts to introduce fracking into their community, by bringing in national supports like Earthwatch and other environmentally sensitive and committed agencies, and has even convinced the town government to pass laws forbidding the fracking operations in their town. David is, once again, making it more troublesome for Goliath, and other "David's" are watching, gaining confidence and skills to bring the fight to their town and county.
Eventually, sanity might prevail in the U.S. where, as Winston Churchill once observed, "they always do the right thing after they have tried everything else!"
In Canada, on the other hand, we do not have a similar cadre of public confidence, public mission and public vision to bring the corporate-government monster to its knees. And we need both opposition political parties to take off their "politically correct" postures, make-up and theatre masks to provide both information on the dangers of embedding the economy in fossil fuels, and of rolling over if and when the oil and gas companies come to frack their way to another gold-rush. And we need the public media, the newspapers and the television station newsrooms to get out of bed with the corporations, and to return to their rightful place as the "fourth estate" on the side of both the public and the land and water that we watching become increasingly contaminated, for the profit of the 1%.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hierarchies generate lemmings of conformity not oceans of ingenuity, creativity and independence

Although this space has been dedicated, recently, to the notion that hierarchical institutions require transformation into more "flat" organizations in which project teams of peers lead, monitor, coach, mentor, cajole and even if needed 'discipline' one another, the reasons for such transformations may not be as evident, given the consensual conventionality of top-down organizations, based on the military model.
When one person (historically most often a male) is "in charge" then all who serve under that command serve also to preserve, protect and defend that "alpha" character at the top, as a stated, or perhaps understood, yet intimate clause, in the job description of all "on the team". Should there be disagreements between team members and the "policy" that directs the team, as in a parliamentary government dependent on "cabinet solidarity", then the individual who does not agree must adopt a position that publicly supports the "policy" decision advocated by the "general" or withdraw, not merely recuse him or herself from that issue, but remove himself (or be removed) from the organization. All discussion, debate and counter-arguments to the position decided by the 'leader' stops once that leader has announced the policy decision for which his term and team takes responsibility, including bricks, bouquets and apathy or disinterest if that ensues.
Action, efficiency, and the exercise of clear lines of both responsibility and authority are at the heart of this method. The method is best suited to situations in which there are clear battle lines of "insiders" and opponents. Trust is the glue that holds the hierarchical order together, and the measurement of the effectiveness of that order is measured in terms of public support in opinion polls, or in sales of the products produced, or in investor shares purchased....some objective index, or even indices to which both supporters and opponents can point to demonstrate their own point of view, in the eternal public discourse, whether inside the organization or both inside and outside.
In war, strategy is determined by those at the top, vetted and signed off by the commander. Tactics are worked out by those "under" the command of those at the top. Execution is carried out by the "drones" at the  bottom of the hierarchical ladder of authority. Proof of loyalty, discipline and trust-worthiness comes only after one has served "one's time" and "earned one's stripes" through a protracted duration of servitude in the lower ranks, gaining the notice of the immediate superior, securing promotion, and the process continues until one has reached the level of both his/her aspiration and the acceptance of the "organization" of his/her mettle.
Sometimes, that progression up the ranks is dependent on providing special service to the one in charge, sometime inside and sometimes outside the clear lines of responsibility of the serving officer. Sometimes, one might achieve promotion through outstanding contribution, valour in war, imagination and creativity in performance of one's duties, design of new approaches to training or implementation of budgetary restrictions, savings to the unit's operating costs or the like.
Within the lines of both politically acceptable, as well as culturally normalized behaviour, should one require proof of growing trustworthiness, from those in charge, one finds expression of the kind of messages that will "impress" those who make 'personnel recommendations' for promotion.
Often, in any complex organization, where the appropriate balance of the achievement of requisite goals and the ethical measures required to implement those objectives, there will be inevitable conflict. And too often, in a culture built on the premise of action, deliverables, efficiencies, and measureable outcomes, the time and opportunities to "get down and dirty" about such disputes is considered wasted time, wasted resources, and wasted energy. It is therefore well know, too often, that to protest a pattern of decisions 'coming down' from above with which one strongly disagrees is useless, or perhaps worse, counter-intuitive to one's political career in the organization.
Having served in organizations that require, indeed expect, absolute loyalty to the 'chief' I have come to the view that such service is counter-intuitive to one's personal, emotional intellectual and ethical health.
Mummies were bound in Egypt in their tombs; soldiers have been bound in their uniforms, and in the discipline of the order of their personal space, and their personal attire, and in their personal vocabulary when on duty for centuries. In fact without such "binding" wars would be impossible.
While there is, of course, a need for an organization to restring from becoming a replica of a poetry-writing workshop in which each participant writes in a genre, a meter, a rhythm and a series of poetic devices unique to his/her expression, the dependence on the dominance/inferiority meme/theme/archetype of power renders too much of human working activity numbing, boring, depressing and sacrificial  both of the resources wasted in the conduct of these processes and in the outcomes, too many of which serve to pad the resume of the people in power at the expense of those who have compromised their values in order to 'fit in' with the culture and to preserve their jobs, their incomes, the needs of their children, and their social status.
Nevertheless, when are some legitimate social science researchers going to find funding for  detailed research projects that demonstrate the human cost of preserving, maintaining and even perpetuating this model of human organization, in the face of exponentially rising health costs, loss of worker safety and rights, loss of respect for the millions of drones at the bottom of all organizations and the societal breakdown resulting from the kinds of self-serving decisions made at the top, without due regard to the implications for the millions dependent on those decisions.
If we let the few "chiefs" take over the hen-house, as it appears we have already done, then who is going to protect the hens, preserve their capacity to lay the eggs on which the farm depends, and share the proceed of the sale of those eggs among both hens and chicken farmers?
We need schools to teach opposition to the authority that is being abused among the students, among the teachers and among the parents whose jobs, incomes, security and health are being eroded by the few "chiefs" with money, power and the authority to impose their will on the rest of us.
We need universities to offer courses in social disobedience, in social disruption, in social confrontation, to prevent the complete erosion of the access to clear water, for example, by the oil and gas companies through fracking.
We need journalism schools to teach their undergraduates the skills of bringing questions that get under the skin of the powerful, through being so prepared and so courageous and so determined and so independent that their first loyalty is not to their publishers but to their editors and their readers.
We need law schools to offer courses in pro bono engagement in public causes, both the rewards and the costs, the dangers and the protections for such efforts. In fact we need law schools that specialize in turning out lawyers committed to the public good, ahead of their personal economic and political benefit.
And we need faculties of education to start teaching their undergraduate students about the public need for their independence, the public need for them to speak up at faculty meetings in which such pablum as "more technology in all courses" is served by principals seeking to become superintendents to their captive audience of instructors and ask the motive and purpose of such directives.

Is Egypt facing an "existential crisis" between the forces of Islam and secularism?

This may be the week, month or perhaps even year in which the world decides how it must deal with the Islamic uprisings in failed states, struggling states and historic states like Egypt. Today, reports form Cairo indicate that the government (read military) is actively considering banning the Muslim Brotherhood. After some 80 years of being "banned" under dictators Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, Egypt held "free" elections a year ago, in which a member of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president.
Mohammed Morsi allegedly overstepped his authority by declaring himself to be above the constitution a document slanted heavily in favour of the establishment of an Islamic state. Morsi was overthrown by the military only weeks ago, in what the U.S. is refusing to define as a "coup" and subsequently Morsi's followers have taken to the street in protest. Today they have taken refuse in a Cairo mosque with the military firing both tear gas and live ammunition into the building in an attempt to rout the Brotherhood from its "sacred refuge". Brotherhood members have allegedly been firing back in which is obviously calculated to generate as much negative publicity for the "government" as possible.
One analyst, a professor in the London School of Economics on Middle Eastern issues, today told CBC Newsworld reporter/host Nancy Wilson that he sees the struggle as an "existential struggle" for survival between the Islamic forces (the Brotherhood) and the secular forces, the government/military. He sees this conflict which could easily become an all-out civil war as determinative of the kind of state Egypt is going to become in the future. On the other hand, the former Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, interviewed by Fareed Zakaria for his Sunday public affairs program in CNN, Global Public Square (GPS) tells Zakaria that the world should support Sisi, the head of the military, as the best hope for the long-term stability of both the Middle East and the state of Israel. Already, conservative pundits in the U.S. are dubbing this the Obama administration's greatest foreign policy failure.
Confusing, complex, and troubling would be mild adjectives to describe the situation.
Dangerous would also seem applicable.
From the London Telegraph today:

Al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri accuses US of plotting removal of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt

Al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri has accused the US of "plotting" with Egypt's military, secularists and Christians to overthrow Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, in an audio recording posted on militant Islamist forums.

In his first public comment on the July 3 military coup, the Al-Qaeda boss, himself an Egyptian, said: "Crusaders and secularists and the Americanised army have converged ... with Gulf money and American plotting to topple Mohamed Morsi's government."

In the 15-minute recording, Zawahiri also accused Egypt's Coptic Christian minority of supporting the Islamist president's ouster to attain "a Coptic state stripped from Egypt's south."

Zawahiri attacked Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Laureate and former UN nuclear watchdog chief who was an opposition leader during Mr Morsi's single year in office.

Mr ElBaradei is the "envoy of American providence," Zawahiri said, labelling the former International Atomic Energy Agency chief as "the destroyer of Iraq."

Zawahiri, who belonged to the militant Egyptian Islamic Jihad group, criticised Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement for going soft on applying strict Islamic law.
What the piece in the Telegraph did not mention is that Ayman al-Zawahiri has a brother in the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed al-Zawahiri, and it would seem both reasonable and predictable that such a powerful link would and could lead to further linkages between the "Brotherhood" and the AlQaeda network currently operating in Syria, as well as in many other countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa.
If the professor from the London School of Economics is right, that this struggle is perceived by both sides as an "existential" struggle for survival, then we  could be witnessing the first formal, open and
perhaps most dangerous theatre in the AlQaeda terrorist movement against the U.S. specifically and the west generally.
While urging the European Union, and not the U.S., to become a bridge between the two opposing sides in the Egyptian conflict, the professor openly acknowledged the declining influence of the United States in the current maelstrom.
Banning 10% of the Egyptian population from participating in elections, public discourse and debate at the official levels, would be analogous to banning all books that disagree with the theological dogma of a particular church, or the banning of all public media that openly criticizes the government, or banning all alcoholic beverages in the age of prohibition: IT SIMPLY WILL NOT WORK!
It will drive the highly organized "Brotherhood" underground into multiple, dangerous and less easily identified and detected cells of violence, in a movement whose tentacles already reach into the streets of dozens, if not hundreds of nations around the world. It will also instantly invoke "martyrdom" status on the organization, a status that carries with it the promise of an eternal life of considerable pleasure, if reports from earlier incidents are to be given credence. And it will provide another powerful recruiting instrument which they can and will deploy in their determination to form a caliphate across much of the world's map. Such a development will not and cannot develop without the preferred instrument of violence already demonstrated to be the preferred methodology of AlQaeda attacks in many countries.
We are sitting on the edge of our chairs, anxiously awaiting the intervention of serious, credible and powerful mediation from the world leadership community. The United Nations, the European Union, the United States, the Arab League.....they all have a deep and incontrovertible and permanent stake in the outcome of the Egyptian burgeoning civil do we all. And our interests are not merely economic, as in tied to the provision of  energy products which could be imperiled if the conflict grows. Our interests are in reaching a permanent, sustainable, balanced entente between the forces of secular governance and the Islamic forces of Sharia law around the world...and that means in individual nations where poverty and political unrest play into the hands of the Islamic terrorist movement.
We are all sitting on the very close sidelines to a conflict whose boundaries can envelop not only the people of Egypt, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, and many other obvious targets, but could infect the conversations among all nations of the world, if they have not already achieved that goal. The world cannot tolerate important conversations about poverty, climate change, the provision of health care and education to all corners of the planet to be contaminated by this existential struggle between the forces of Islamic caliphate and the forces of secular governance.
This may well be a "red-line" that has declared itself, without a single political leader having set it as the agenda for his/her nation's agenda.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

U.S. caught between supporting rebels against a dictator in Syria and support for the military killing civilians in Egypt

Having just watched a fifth-year episode of Aaron Sorkin's television drama, The West Wing, in which a North Korean pianist requests asylum in the United States, in the midst of "serious negotiations" around a nuclear treaty, negotiations that could be thwarted should President Bartlett agree with the request to defect, we listened as all major players called the request "complicated"....and a decoding of that word would have to include "dangerous".
Dangerous would also have to be used to depict the current ironic, ambivalent and "complicated" position of the United States, in openly arming the rebels fighting to depose Syrian dictator, Assad, while at the same time continuing to send $1.5 billion dollars to the Egyptian military who today are reported to have massacred at least 628 of their own citizens and wounded some 4000 others. Mosques are transformed into morgues, filled with unclaimed bodies, and foreign reporters' video shows family members acknowledging that when they remove their deceased family member, they have to sign a document that asserts the death of that family member was "from natural causes" while, in the words of one family spokesman, "there are bullet wounds to his neck that killed him."
And then the president of the United States goes to the podium on Martha's Vineyard to "denounce the use of violence on the streets of Cairo" and cancel scheduled joint military exercises with the Egyptian military in September, as a sign that "things are not normal" between the two countries, without pulling the plug on the $1.5 billion in aid to the Egyptian military.
Calling for reconciliation from the safety and security of Martha's Vineyard, while women wail in the streets of Cairo that bullets bearing the insignia of the United States and, by inference, American complicity in this massacre, will lead to increased recruitment of American enemies seems an appropriate juxtaposition of the two realities.
The U.S. cannot, despite some reported eighteen attempts to broker a compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military over the last three weeks, wash the blood off her hands in both Syria and in Egypt, just as they could not in Iraq where today another three dozen people were killed by roadside bombs, presumably planted and detonated by AlQaeda "knock-offs" to borrow a phrase from the fashion economy.
Closing embassies, while necessary and appropriate in the face of authentic intelligence of their imminent danger, does not address the fundamental Achilles' Heel in the American foreign policy approach. It is an approach that reaches too soon for the hard power of guns, missiles, fighter jets and drone aircraft in a war with terrorists armed with home-made bombs, the ingredients and methods of construction are available to all on the internet. Progressively, American "power" is being seen as less than effectual in Egypt and potentially in the Middle East, if the dozens of calls from the United States Secretary of Defence to the head of the Egyptian military, bolstered by visits from Republican Senators McCain and Graham, to head off this latest blood bath have been shown to be completely ignored by their "allies" in the Egyptian military.
It will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the American government to maintain the ruse that it is not "at war" with Islam, following the slaughter of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters of deposed Egyptian president Morsi. And the "Brotherhood" itself has blood on their hands also, given the reports of stached arms in Brotherhood strongholds, ready for deployment against the Egyptian military who literally razed their protest encampment to the ground before opening fire with first tear gas and soon afterward, assault rifles.
Should today turn out to be a pivotal turning point in relations between the United States and the Middle East, especially with respect to a long-standing ally and supporter, Egypt, the U.S. will have only itself to thank for the debacle and the repercussions that could redound for decades. Egypt is unstable, verging on civil war, with the high handed actions of the military eroding trust in their ability to serve the people of Egypt and the U.S. is fully complicit in this betrayal, if not overtly, then certainly covertly through their support of the military. (And covertly could be even more dangerous in the long run, because when ordinary people in mass numbers perceive a betrayal has been jointly inflicted on innocent countrymen and women, their outrage could be expected to last for decades, and vengeance knows no bounds in such a cauldron.)
Even though the "Brotherhood" itself comprises only 10% of the Egyptian population, it clearly accounts for much more than 10% of the conflagration and the military has clearly been "spooked" by their fear of its return to power, a return that, by definition, means the atrophy of the traditional military power in that country.
Just as in Nigeria, where Christians have been slaughtered by Islamic radicals for months, if not years, today reports from Egypt shone light on the destruction of Christian churches as the beginning of the revenge of the Brotherhood in the midst of their blood-boiling anger.
Hostilities now would appear to preclude anything remotely resembling reconciliation, as both sides harden their position, partly out of fear and partly out of desperation, just another face of fear.
And as one former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Nicholas Burns, put it in an interview on PBS  tonight, this conflict could continue for decades. Given Egypt's strategic significance in the Middle East, and her importance to the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz, and her formerly strict adherence to the peace treaty with Israel, one has to wonder out loud, just how much of history is being overturned and left in a chaotic vacuum of political default tonight, while Egypt's face, reputation, honour and future face triage both at home and around the world.