Thursday, October 31, 2013

Joe Clark to Harper: tell the whole story to Canadians

Headlines may sell papers, but rarely disclose the whole picture.
We have become so accustomed to "tweets" of 140 characters, that our conversations, and our perceptions bounce from tweet-to-tweet, without pausing to reflect on much more than the "rush" of the moment.
We are, addicted to the "rush" of anything that smacks of scandal, poor judgement by others (never by ourselves) and misfortunes of others, especially of their own making.
In our over-painting the canvas of our world view with blotches of "red paint" as accountants would do with red ink on financial messes, we have obliterated space for, and thereby consideration of our part in whatever drama is unfolding.
Children jump from abandoned construction towers, following the persistent taunting and indeed bullying of classmates who told her she should die because no one liked her. Some political leaders, when asked for the name of a single "responsible" person, for some government debacle, as was Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius yesterday in a hearing in the Tea Party controlled House of Representatives, responded, "I am responsible for the mistakes in the roll-out of Obama care." Her expression of responsibility was echoed shortly by the president in Faneuil Hall in Boston where, not incidentally, then Governor Romney had signed the Massachusetts health care bill when he  declared, "I take full responsibility for the problems in the roll out of Obamacare."
On the other side of the 49th parallel, in Canada, when Harper is asked pointed and direct questions about his participation in the Senate debacle, he twists, squirms, dodges and attacks others, including Senator Duffy, former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and most recently, Leader of the Opposition, Tom Mulcair.
Clearly, when everyone can see his fingerprints, indeed footprints, all over this mess, he would like Canadians to believe that he was blind-sided by his own people.
It was former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark, in an interview with Peter Mansbridge of CBC's One-on-One, who clearly and delicately told Harper to "tell the whole story" to Canadians, given the fact that all of the principals in the story are Harper appointees. Clark, a decent, honest and honourable, if somewhat prone to public ridicule for mistaking his "numbers" on a critical vote in the Commons, and for losing his luggage on a world trip, (back in simpler days) added his two cents to the public furor. Not incidentally, former chief of staff to former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, also gave an interview to the CBC, and made the same point of unsolicited counsel to Harper: tell the whole story.
Is there something different about the water Harper drinks from the water Obama and his cabinet secretary drink? Is there something different about the amount of carbon dioxide in the air over the U.S. as compared with that over Canada, that makes it possible for Obama to take responsibility for errors in design and in management that do not come close to issues of integrity, honesty and trust. While it is true that "administration is now enmeshed as part of the policy of Obamacare," nevertheless, there is no indication that anyone involved in its roll-out has deliberately misled the public, although there will certainly be those opponents who will make a concerted attempt to make that case.
Another front-page issue on Obama's desk in the spy story by the National Security Administration, especially its pursuit of private information from allied world leaders, focused specifically on Angela Merkel Germany. Behind the story, days after the rush to judgement of both Merkel and the media, comes news that all countries, even best of friends, are and have been for many years, engaged in spying on their colleagues in political leadership from other "friendly" countries. Telling the whole story, in this case, would take a decade and a mountain of "under-oath" evidence, for which the world has not the time nor the interest.
Harper is the proverbial "frog in the beaker" under which the element is hot, but not yet hot enough to "boil" the frog...and ironically, only Harper, through some comprehensive disclosure of everything he knows, including when he knew it, preferably under oath, can turn the element off under the beaker in which he is starting to writhe. However, his temperament, his history and his self-enshrinement in hubris and in public "control" of his universe, a stance unsustainable by any human being, prevent and will continue to make it impossible for him to morph into forthrightness.
Ironically, with an election looming in 2015, and with the previously accepted notion that Harper would seek another term, one would think he would be more willing to "come clean" whereas Obama does not and will not face another election, so could easily turn aside from the public criticism, and let the chips fall where they may.
However, there is something very different about the two situations: Obama is fighting for something he truly believes in, affordable, accessible and unrestricted by previous conditions health care insurance for all Americans, and getting it right is part of securing the act in history and caring for the vast majority of Americans, many of whom had no health  care coverage without the act.
Harper, on the other hand, is making a "gong show" (the description used by the Liberal leader in the Senate, Senator Joe Cowan) out of his determination to punish those who "abused the public trust" by spending public money on perks to which they were not entitled. Attempting to "wash his hands" clean of the stench to which he has overtly and covertly contributed reminds us of Lady Macbeth whose hand-washing to remove the stain of her murder, while more serious in human terms exhibits the same refusal to come clean and take responsibility. No washing could or ever would remove the stain of blood from the monstrous lady's fingers, just as no washing can or will remove the stain of Harper's hands, boots, mind and voice from the mess in which all Canadians find their government...shamefully!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

UN Population Fund: 95% of the 7.3 million births to women under 18 occur in developing world (2 million to girls under 14!)

"A girl who is pregnant at 14 is a girl whose rights have been violated and whose future is derailed," the fund's executive director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, said in London.
The report looked at births to women under 18 worldwide, the underlying causes of teen pregnancy, and possible solutions to the problem, which the U.N. said is part of a vicious cycle of rights violations.
"Too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant," said Osotimehin in the report. "The reality is that adolescent pregnancy is most often not the result of a deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond a girl's control. It is a consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care." (From CBS website, October 30, 2013, exerpted below)
"Adolescent pregnancy is the result of the absence of choices, and circumstances beyond a girl's control. It is a consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care."
Here are a few notable events that have contributed to a change in the life of young girls in the last year, from The Plan website:

  1. October 9, 2012 - Malala Yousafzai is shot. The Pakistani schoolgirl was shot by Taliban gunmen while returning home from school, targeted because of her passionate crusade for girls’ education. Malala survives the malicious attack and becomes an even more powerful advocate for girls’ education.
  2. October 10, 2012 – Bullying takes the life of Amanda Todd. A teen from British Columbia commits suicide after years of bullying and physical abuse at school. Amanda’s tragic death draws attention to the rise of bullying across Canada, compelling the Canadian government to take action against bullying.
  3. October 11, 2012 – 1st Day of the Girl. Thanks to the leadership of Plan, the Canadian government and people like you, the world celebrates the first-ever International Day of the Girl, a day that highlights the particular needs and rights of girls, and provides an opportunity to advocate for greater action to enable girls to reach their full potential.
  4. December 16, 2012 – Young woman beaten and raped on a bus in New Delhi, India. The death of the 23-year-old victim instigates anti-rape protests and nation-wide debates about the treatment and rights of women and girls in India and around the world.
  5. April 24, 2013 – Garment factory collapses in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The collapse kills more than 1,100, with women making up over half of the victims. The disaster triggers international uproar, calling for the government to improve working conditions and equal compensation across the country.
  6. April 26, 2013 – Gender studies now part of Ontario curriculum. Canada’s Ontario Ministry of Education agrees to include gender studies in all high schools across Ontario. The new curriculum is introduced into classrooms, September 2013.
  7. July 12, 2013 – First youth takeover at the United Nations. and hundreds take part in the first-ever Youth Takeover at the United Nations General Assembly. The youth gather to discuss and create an action plan to support universal education for all children, especially girls.
  8. September 24, 2013 – Canadian teen wins top prize at global science fair. 15-year-old Ann Makosinski from Victoria, B.C. is awarded top prize at Google’s global science fair. Her winning project was a flashlight powered by body heat instead of batteries or electricity, and was inspired by her friend from the Philippines who failed school because she had no light to study after dark.
  9. September 27, 2013 – United Nations breakthrough on child marriage. For the first time in history, the UN Human Rights Council makes unanimous decision with support of more than 100 countries to adopt a resolution dedicated to the issue of child marriage. It’s the first step of many to end the harmful practice.
  10. October 10, 2013 – Jenn Heil reaches golden milestone. Because I am a Girl celebrated ambassador and Olympic champion reaches her fundraising goal of 1 million dollars for girls in the developing world.
However, the profound need for education for young girls around the world, cannot be overstated. And, as the conventional wisdom holds, "When you educate a young boy, you educate a young boy; when you educate a young girl, you educate a whole community!"
7.3 million pregnancies to young girls under fifteen is a number no reasonable and responsible citizen of any country can ignore. It is not only a tragedy for each of those individual lives, both mother and child; it is a tragedy and a growing one, for the planet. These are pregnancies that, with appropriate policies, actions, yes funds too, and collective and collaborative action can be prevented.
We need to bring pressure on governments around the world, to bring their money, their ideas, and their most insightful and creative professionals together to generate a comprehensive, workable, effective, funded and monitored program to provide young girls with the access to education, health care, employment when and where appropriate, birth control information, and alternatives that provide the needed motivation to divert this activity into different activities in those developing countries where the need is greatest.
And while that process is underway, we also need a global approach to feeding, clothing, education and providing health care for those millions of babies and their mothers, still adolescents who have already entered the global population. This is not a problem about which we can declare, "out of sight, out of mind!" It must be brought into our sight, into our full  consciousness and into our workplaces, our corporations and our governments. One might hope that we could include churches in that list, but much of the evidence of ecclesial work is readily overshadowed by the effective work of secular non-profits, who have no interest in prosletyzing, while "ministering" to a specific social need. There is no reason why every elementary and secondary school in Canada could not expand their "global reach" beyond "nets" and the prevention of malaria, into a literal and workable partnership with a school, with a classroom and even with a community in which a school is still missing. Canadian students need to know their colleagues in other parts of the world, where conditions are very different from those in our country. And, also, without patronizing, young children in developing countries would benefit from sharing their stories with Canadian students, and sharing resources mutually, when they are available.

From CBS website, October 30, 2013
Teen pregnancies in the developing world are declining, but more than 7 million girls under the age of 18 are still giving birth each year, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday.


The U.N. Population Fund expressed particular alarm about the dangers facing girls 14 or younger, who account for 2 million of the 7.3 million births to women under 18 in developing countries. According to the report, this group faces the gravest long-term social and health consequences from giving birth as teens, including higher rates for death during childbirth and the complication obstetric fistula, the development of a hole in the birth canal that can obstruct labor.

"A girl who is pregnant at 14 is a girl whose rights have been violated and whose future is derailed," the fund's executive director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, said in London.

The report looked at births to women under 18 worldwide, the underlying causes of teen pregnancy, and possible solutions to the problem, which the U.N. said is part of a vicious cycle of rights violations.

"Too often, society blames only the girl for getting pregnant," said Osotimehin in the report. "The reality is that adolescent pregnancy is most often not the result of a deliberate choice, but rather the absence of choices, and of circumstances beyond a girl's control. It is a consequence of little or no access to school, employment, quality information and health care."

The report said that high rates of adolescent pregnancies correspond with other social problems: "Early pregnancies reflect powerlessness, poverty and pressures - from partners, peers, families and communities. And in too many instances, they are the result of sexual violence or coercion."

The issue is most evident in the developing world -- with 95 percent of births to women under 18 occurring there. Ten percent of women ages 20-24 in the Middle East reported at least one birth before age 18, while 22 percent did in South Asia and 28 percent did in Western and Central Africa, the report says.

Every day, 20,000 girls below age 18 give birth in developing countries. Nine in 10 of these births occur within a marriage or a union - highlighting the scourge of child marriage.

Osotimehin noted a positive World Health Organization report saying that some countries have seen a rapid decline over the past decade in the percentage of women reporting birth before age 15 -- a trend attributed largely to a decrease in early and arranged marriages. But its overall tone set out the case for urgent action.

"The birth or pregnancy in one adolescent is unacceptable. One," Osotimehin told reporters in London. "Whether it's going up or down is not the issue - 7.3 million is huge."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Memo to the Saudi's: Cease all support for AlQaeda

Saudi Arabia is unhappy with the United States, and has slapped her face publicly by rejecting the seat on the Security Council at the United Nations, for which the Saudi's lobbied vigorously.
But wait!
It is the same Saudi's whose 10,000 or so billionaires have been and continue to finance Al Qaeda and who are parading around the Unite States warning about the naivety of the U.S in even entering into negotiations with the Iranians over the nuclear program and for acceding to the Russian influence in exposing and destroying chemical weapons in Syria. While there are or may be some overlapping mutual interests for both Saudis and America, there are clearly some distinct and growing degrees of separation.
If, in Syria, for example, the Iranians are substantially supporting Assad, while the Saudi's are substantially supporting Al Qaeda rebel forces, while the U.S. and western countries attempt to support the moderates who are fighting for the removal of Assad, U.S. interests and Saudi interests are in direct conflict.
If in Iran the Saudi's see the new regime as little more than a wolf in sheep's clothing, while the U.S. is prepared to test the words and the actions, "trust and verify," that famous Reagan slogan, then the perceptions of the Saudi's and the Americans differ qualitatively as well as in degree.
If the Saudi's are warning about a regional conflict, should Assad remain in power in Syria, while publicly chastising the U.S. (whether for American consumption or more likely for Saudi domestic consumption, given the contempt for Americans that runs deeply through the Middle East) one has to wonder whether Obama's pivot of American foreign policy to the far East, to China, Japan and India is not perceived as a  slight to the Saudi's who have provided the U.S. with oil for decades, and now are seeing the American need for that oil diminish.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been making noises that the U.S. will continue to consult with "our Saudi friends" while he knows deeply how much support those same Saudi's are bank-rolling the very enemy, AlQaeda, that has been inflicting terror on anything or anyone that bears a "stars and stripes" in every corner of the globe.
Why is Kerry not publicly thrashing the Saudi's for their persistent support of Al Qaeda?
Why is Obama not taking the bully pulpit to expose the chicanery, under the guise of parenting the United States, by Saudi leaders, and to call for an end to Saudi support for the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists?
Clearly, noting just how intractable and how powerful is the potential suction of outside powers into the vortex that is the Middle East, now and for the foreseeable future, the Chinese are keeping a considerable distance from any engagement in that cauldron, while nevertheless continuing to purchase Middle East oil to fire the engines of their industrial expansion (that is unless and until such expansion chokes the trachea of the millions of Chinese who are attempting to breath the noxious gases that are polluting their cities.
When is the United Nations going to convene an international conference focussing on ways to collectively, permanently and effectively remove both the head and the body of the Islamic terrorist movement(s)? Is there not a mutual interest among many of the world's significant countries to bring this monster to heel?
Clearly, all countries in the west are interested in such a prospect, and that includes Russia, while there is still the prospect of reengage Pakistan who has for decades played and spoken out of both sides of its mouth, siphoning aid from the west, especially the U.S. while also supporting the Taliban...
Once again, is it not time for western leaders to draw down such aid to Pakistan, unless and until she finds the courage and the integrity to make a clear and unequivocal decision to oppose radical Islamic forces regardless of what banner or flag they are fighting under.
We are witnessing a loose cancer, funded, aided and abetted by the Saudi's and others, through willful complicity and overt cash, not to mention the boatloads of weapons, and their arrogance in slapping the face of the United States must not go without rebuttal, and without even more aggressive exposure for the havoc they are wreaking around the globe.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Nuance versus hard power in U.S. foreign policy

We are so entrenched in stereotypes of thought, that it is as if we are all, individually and collectively, like the uroborus snake, with its head in its tail, winding round and round the same trench, without ever changing course.
Republicans believe they own "national security" and "strong defence" as their own strong suits, and Democrats believe they own social policy and care for the disadvantaged and when these stereotypes are threatened, they each become excessively defensive, critical and counter-productive.
Obama, for example, has worked very hard to demonstrate that he is not "weak" in the way history has portrayed former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, continuing the war in Afghanistan, and expanding the Bush level of deployment of drones against Islamic terrorists. However, in a discussion yesterday on Fareed Zakaria's GPS on CNN, a cluster of "talking heads", two from the Wall Street Journal, and one from the Council on Foreign Relations, we listened to different versions of "a failure of American leadership under Obama" based on the evidence that Saudi Arabia is afraid of Iran and wanted the U.S. to take a stronger position against that regime on both its pursuit of nuclear power and its support of Assad in Syria, and the Saudi's contempt for Assad, against whom they wanted the U.S. to take a much stronger position, and consequently, their reasoning followed, that the Saudi rejection of the seat on the Security Council, for which they lobbied and which they were invited to occupy, was based more on its "negative statement" to the United States.
Of course, comparisons to Carter's waffling were also made, as evidence of waffling on Obama's part, without paying any attention to the very different conditions that prevail in this century, especially in the Middle East, from those facing Carter in the 1970's.
Obama, however, faced a world in which contempt for the U.S. over-engagement in war, resulting from an obsessive and frightened response to 9-11, and Obama rightly saw a major part of his mandate to restore some perspective to American foreign policy, and some respectability to American foreign influence throughout the world. Republicans have charged him with "leading from behind" and "embracing Russia" over Syria's chemical weapons, and "going soft" on Iran, especially with the current talks in Geneva...all more of the same kind of "iron- based rhetoric" commonly called "gun-boat" diplomacy, or "spreading democracy at the end of an AK-47." And these were the kinds of phrases that poured from these talking heads yesterday, without allowing that Obama had attempted not only to demonstrate American creativity, collaboration and an integrated approach to world issues.
However, the Obama administration seems to have somehow, perhaps through over-reach of the bureaucracy ("we did it because we could and not because it was a good thing to do" is a phrase that we hear coming from the National Security Administration, on the over-reach on cyber-spying, for example) found its way into a morass of trouble, almost as if the new technology and its capabilities became the newest and latest, the fastest and most ominous fighter-jet surrogate, only instead of firing missiles or drones, the new technology enabled these "gun-slingers" who infest the national security apparatus to engage in some nasty business, through intercepting the cell phones of many friendly leaders. When technology drives policy, as it seems to be doing on both the spying and the Obamacare roll-out, the government is effectively "out of control" and what once stood as responsible and balanced and mature foreign policy leadership, seems to have morphed into its own demise, once again through lack of over-sight.
Are there just too many pots boiling for an chief executive to exercise over-sight?
Are there too many inside enemies of the administration, seeking to blackened its eye, for political purposes?
Are there too many threats from too many different sources just waiting to take advantage of a single gap in oversight to strike at the national reputation?
And is government, like a monster-ship, so hard to turn, from the perspective of the wheel-house, yet so eager to play with the latest technology down in the hole, that the larger mission gives way to the little boys playing with the newest toys?
It does seem rather obvious that a different mind-set and strategy and even ideology would hold true on the upper deck, of any administration from the mind-set and ideology on the lowest deck, and it may well be an open question whether or not any administration has found a way to fully integrate these two very different perspectives.
Professors, like Obama, are interested in the exploration of ideas, of strategies, and of tactics, and are less likely to wield a heavy hand in the manner of their carrying out their duties...and that may well be, on the one hand one of the most conciliatory voices in Washington, and on the other hand, one of the most vulnerable and  targeted voices for the opposition to attack, especially in a culture and history where "hard power" has consistently trumped collaboration, collegiality and compromise.
And it is not only a Washington culture, but a mainstreet culture that demands a macho face and exercise of power on behalf of the nation, even when current complexities call for a very different  approach.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Advocating for a Public "Trial" of all actors, including the Prime Minister, in Canadian Senate scandal

Conservative Senators in Canada who support the removal of three miscreant members of their august body, repeatedly state, "They would be gone in the corporate world."
The three Senators under fire, for allegedly mis-spending public funds, under what most would agree were/are murky and evolving guidelines, moved by those in power to suit their needs, apparently, often mention the phrase they are clambering for: "due process"...or "habeus corpus"...innocent until proven guilty.
Corporate firings cannot and must not be a model for public servants, on any level. Management, in the corporate sector have very different rights and responsibilities than does the government of Canada, especially among those both elected and appointed to serve the public interest. And let's be really frank about this case: It has to be seen in the light of the public interest. And the public interest cannot be measured the same way as the corporate interest of a giant corporation would and could be measured. There, the interest is exclusively in profit, in meeting the expectations of the shareholders.
And everything else is secondary to that goal, purpose and raison d'etre.
In the public interest, however, there are many very different purposes and goals, and ultimately they can never be completely reduced to "spending" of public dollars, otherwise this government in particular would have fallen many years ago, for its waste in prison construction, its waste in attempting to purchase F-35 Fighter Jets, and in its sabotaging of too many public sector jobs most of which were integral to the public interest, in areas like environmental research, gathering and adducing meaning from national statistics, and the list goes on.
So let's not hear Harper and his cronies focus on spending habits as the prime purpose of the national interest.
While it is true that Harper and his cronies in the Conservative Party are determined to replace the appointed Senate with an elected body, this current approach to the achievement of that goal is not merely reprehensible; it is also blatantly illegal, if we are to continue to live under the traditions and laws and processes that have brought this country into this century after many years of honourable and heavy debates, and a legal tradition that places the suspected individual in a place where, at least, the public interest demands, requires and expects, on his/her behalf, a full hearing, a full opportunity to question witnesses, and a full opportunity to have whatever evidence is adduced, produced and documented thoroughly reflected upon by a group of ordinary people, in the court system, called a jury. And even under such scrupulous requirements, considered reasonable and minimal since the passing of the Habeus Corpus section of the Magna Carta in 1215, still there are innocent people who are inevitably found guilty. And for those grievous mistakes, the state remains constantly on guard not to repeat such errors.
Putting the political agenda, that is the goal of abolishing the appointed Senate and replacing it with an elected one, or even of abolishing the body entirely, as the NDP would do, it opposition to the fundamental rights of individuals whose actions, attitudes and even philosophy are not congruent with those of the people who wield power in this country, cannot and must not be an approach that any self-respecting and engaged citizen can or would tolerate. One plank on a political platform can never eliminate or even threaten a fundamental human right of all citizens, even lowly 'scum' like former journalist-Senators, appointed and adored previously by those now skewering them at the public stake for their ability to raise corporate funds for party coffers.
Public opinion, the ultimate jury of the governing class, has to assert itself in this case, and demand that the Senate reject a government bill to suspend without pay or benefits, these three alleged miscreants. It must also demand that all of those involved, up to and including the Prime Minister be subpoenaed to an already existing court of law, whether that be the Supreme Court or a Federal Court, or even a specially generated court of both Senators and Members of Parliament, where all relevant questions can be asked, answered and where the complete process, perhaps excluding the private deliberations of the "jury" as appointed, can and will be televised as one of, if not the most watched political and historic events in this country's history.
A commission, like Gomery, following the sponsorship scandal in the Liberal Party, is not adequate. This situation demands a much higher profile, with perhaps a retired Supreme Court judge presiding, and a jury selected with the acceptance of lawyers for all parties from the members of both houses of parliament, and a televised unedited record available through the services of the parliament of Canada so that all Canadians can listen, evaluate and eventually form a judgement of the guilt and or innocence of the various parties, including the Prime Minister. And should the jury of this "house" decide that it is the Prime Minister and his cronies who have so manipulated the situation for their political games and goals, then the Governor General must prorogue the current session of Parliament and call for a general election.
The very foundations of our constitutional government are being attacked through these three "easy targets" and the people, whether or not they agree with the Senators under fire, or the PMO or the government, require a complete public airing of the background and the implications of these charges and these political expulsions.
They would be , if the Senate votes to suspend without pay or benefits, historically considered, as they are, political expulsions. And political expulsions, even for misdeeds, without an appropriate and balanced and public hearing for the defence, is not how constitutional government has worked in the past and must work in the future.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Over-reach by the state does not provide safe and secure cultures in which to grow our kids and grandkids

Is there a creeping worm among the political class, or it is just that several forces are converging simultaneously, or maybe both?
There is a kind of frightened over-reach that we see in too many political decisions, actions and their negative repercussions. Drone attacks from the U.S. are killing far too many innocents to provide a clean, effective scorched earth approach to the terrorist threat. Spying by national security agencies has reach far too deeply into the private phones/lives of far too many individuals and leaders that it is threatening long-standing relationships of trust. And third, there is a kind of zero tolerance policy and approach to misdeeds, especially to those misdeeds that embarrass political leadership, resulting in a kind of over-reach of power when it comes to discipline. In effect, there is no discipline process, just what my Russian professor of Comparative Education used to call the "Russian method" of elimination of the problem. And of course, the mis-steps and disdeeds of those in power are so micro-reported that we lose sight of their long-term import.
The U.S. model of leadership has been allowed to inflict itself on the world community for far too long. While there is a modicum of perceived security in being able to threaten to "blow up" whomever might disagree with the U.S. policy, there is also a very dangerous kind of "gun-boat-morphing-into-cruise-missile-or drone-or-cyber-invasion" kind of diplomacy that would put any reasonable ally on guard. The mere existence of and the worship of military approaches, as the backdrop to governance, has the extreme capacity to limit our options, and the options of those who oppose us. Power, in the hands of the state, has to be  both monitored and modestly administered, if we are to live in a world that is not threatened by too many potential sparks of conflict, and the kind of culture that breeds those sparks.
We do not live on the "set" of some video game, nor on the "set" of some movie production studio. We live on a fragile planet, with ecosystems and balances that we seem to believe, or at least act as if we believe, can be thwarted by our collective and individual narcissism. We are not supremely powerful, nor should we either wish or expect to be, and yet, more and more public responses from political leaders attempt to creep over whatever modest lines of execution that we might expect them to require in order to do their job.
The treat of annihilation has faced the state of Israel since its inception. It is the proverbial and the archetypal victim-orphan-target of many who simply believe that its existence is unacceptable. And, although heavily armed, the threat does not go away.
Is that the kind of model that we are moving toward for all other countries on the planet...that there are enemies everywhere who seek to obliterate other countries in order to exercise their own power?
If it is, and if it is not stopped, then the terrorists will not have to devise any more IED's, or strap any more underwear bombs to their bodies, or enlist to become suicide bombers because they will have already unleashed so much fear that their mission has already crippled too many significant national and international decisions.
Are we, in effect, watching the creeping decay of over-reach that accompanies the already extant neuroses and psychoses that are especially prevalent among those who seek and who need positions of power?
Merkel is right to be publicly hostile to any attempt to spy on her cell phone. And the implications of such activity can only impede progress to peace and security for us all. And over-reach in one capital is now justification for over-reach in another, given the shrinking world and the 24-7-365 seepage of snippets of undigested and random pieces of information...and the picture that emerges is not one of hope and trust, but one of the increasing deployment of hard power, and the kind of "management" that can only be described as "tyrannical" given the "boiling-frog" evisceration of anything that resembles "due process"....
And we are all the lesser for having watched in silence as this process has invaded our political culture and discourse.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau have NOT lost the battle of public opinion

(Mike) Duffy, (Patrick) Brazeau and (Pamela) Wallin, who has yet to have her day of defence, have likely lost the battle of public opinion, but all three have been pushed into a corner by Harper where they have, predictably, decided to bite back. (Tim Harper, Toronto Star, October 23, 2013)
For years, this space has never been either kind or even impartial toward Mr. Harper. We have, in effect, judged him to be one of, if not the worst leaders this country has ever had, mostly because of his ideological addiction to and obsequiousness to the corporate elite. We have complained bitterly about Harper's fixation on dollars, on cutting costs and his disregard for the human element in the enterprise of government.
Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined Harper being impaled on his own petard...that is victimized by his disregard for human beings, when faced with a choice of keeping the party faithful happy, or throwing previously admired and even cherished fund-raisers and public faces for the "conservative brand" under the bus. However, to be honest, this is certainly not the first time Harper has found it expedient to "throw" people and/or groups under the bus, allegedly in service of his political agenda.
Some of the groups still writing under the rubber of the front tires of that proverbial bus include:
  • scientists,
  • public servants, including statisticians at Statistics Canada
  • public service unions and the collective bargaining process (even this week, removing the right to strike from "essential services" (defined by the government) with only arbitration as an appeal process) 
  • Air Canada pilots,
  • First Nations peoples and their band councils,
  • the Canadian environment,
  • the White House ("We simply will not take "no" for an answer" on Keystone!),
  • the United Nations,
  • the British Commonwealth,
  • the aspirations of Quebec,
  • the provincial premiers especially over health care costs and their federal sourcing,
  • members of his own caucus if and when they became a slight embarrassment
It has taken more than a fleet of 400 newly minted buses, slated for delivery to his beloved tar sands project to accommodate Harper's fetish for throwing people, groups, and issues under the bus.
So when it came time to vomit his three renegade Senators, (not according to Deloitte audits), Harper clearly expected them to go "quietly into the night".... yet not these three (Wallin is scheduled to give her defence in approximately forty minutes from this moment)...
They are, in effect re-creating the famous, and infamous "night of the knives" in which Dalton Camp and others slashed the political neck of a once proud Progressive Conservative Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker for all students of Canadian history to absorb as one of the more intriguing events in our country's less than stellar past.
"Eating their own" is a political archetype that seems to have found root in the Conservative Party, more frequently than in other political parties, although no party is immune. Anthropologists remind us that our species is distinguishable by this single and signal characteristic, that humans devour other humans....
However, we find it extremely discomforting to bring that piece of evidence to the forefront of our consciousness, and to find it blazing in 72-point type from the dailies' headlines is even more disconcerting.
Nevertheless, let his space declare a singular and unequivocal rejection of the Tim Harper opinion at the top, that these three have likely lost the battle of public opinion. Nothing could be further from our view.
In fact, we believe that over time, (and that really means months, not days or weeks) the public contempt for Harper will actually come to a boil, long before this "frog" (in the experimental sense) has become aware of his danger, and will render him lifeless, while his core supporters mourn his demise, and the rest of us merely shake our heads in sadness, not only that politics is the only sport currently operating in which one can kill an opponent without facing criminal charges, and leave that opponent without so much as a whiff of a pension, a health card  of insurance to cover the inevitable PTSD symptoms that have to accompany such assassinations but that even in "civilized societies" eating one's enemies is still accepted as the price one has to pay for government having too much power residing in too few people and places. After all,  those who are still standing, but mortally wounded, especially those who have already been declared outcasts prior to the drama's formal First Act, are mere "collateral damage" to the misguided, or often unguided missile drones that attempt to take them out and have neither public supporters nor benefactors for their trouble, no matter how honourable they were, or appeared, to their former self-proclaimed power-brokers.
Not only is the process we are witnessing veering far from a road that includes "Habeus Corpus" and the right to a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, it is also  giving public airing to a festering tumour of the accumulation of venomous personal power in the hands of too few people, and the public's contempt for the political process, resulting in the removal of strong, public-spirited whistle- blowers. Even Duffy himself public expressed his regret that he had not been more courageous sooner in defying his Prime Minister. Would that we would all eventually come to own our own courage in time to confront those who would dupe us and even destroy us with impunity, at least in their own mind.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Canada-US dance of RSN and CGI in an intermarriage of debacles

Diane  Francis has just released a book that espouses a merger between the United States and Canada, touting, among other things, the sizeable benefits to the U.S. from Canada's undeveloped resource sector and the immediate financial bonus to every Canadian, under one model, of some half a million dollars, as a one-time equalization payment.
While some may want to argue about the merits or demerits of her proposal, there will be others who, just this week will be pondering the extent of the already merging economies.
And in their ponderings, two sets of capital initials will emerge:
  • CGI, the computer company that played havoc with the Ontario health care system, nearly drowning it in faux pas, before committing a similar debacle on the Obamacare roll-out in the United States and
  • RSN, the fracking company from Texas that is finding New Brunswick aboriginal peoples blockading highways and burning RCMP cars to protest what they consider an unacceptable trade-off, their drinking water for underground natural gas. The native peoples believe, and considerable science supports their position, that the chemicals used in fracking (not having to be disclosed in the U.S. because of the Cheney Rule, named after the former Vice-president Dick Cheney, whose ties to the fossil fuel industry, including his former presidency of Halliburton are just part of his infamy) will indeed contaminate the underground fresh water table that supplies their drinking water.
CGI has so bungled the development of the computer infrastructure for the inauguration of the Affordable Care Act in the U.S. that it is conceivable their bungling could result in the complete dismantling of the program, without a single vote in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. And CGI is a Canadian company whose previous incompetence in their handling of the Ontario Health Care attempt to digitize patient records almost collapsed the system. So one has to wonder if those who engaged CGI in Washington had even bothered to ask about their record in Ontario. In the short term, many are calling for heads to roll in Washington, and Kathleen Sabelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, seems to have a target on her back for many. It will be a White House decision about whose heads have to fall but CGI could and should also be cited for failure to deliver on what could have been its rain-maker of an account, had it delivered on its commitments. And who would have thought this debacle would have raised its ugly head south of the border?...only 8 million Ontarians, had any one of us been asked.
But, for the longer term relations between Canada and the United States, everyone would be well served to pay attention to the First Nations people in New Brunswick, and across the rest of the country on the north side of the 49th parallel. These people do not tolerate bullshit, perhaps because they have been silenced and served too many dishes of the stuff for the past two centuries, and they are not going silently into the night ever again. And their commitment to the land, the water and the air are so unshakeable that no amount of money, and no promises of affluence, and no assurances by any government or corporation will undermine their commitment, both for themselves and on behalf of the rest of the people in the world, to a clean environment. And in their public declarations, they make it so simply: "We are not trading our water for gas!"
There are literally hundreds of fracking operations across the continent, many of them a potential risk to the drinking water of millions of people on both sides of the 49th parallel. Yet, it is the aboriginals in New Brunswick who have drawn a line in the sand to halt the proceedings on their land, in spite of the premier's commitment to develop a natural gas industry in New Brunswick.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Saudi Arabia delines seat on Security Council...the act is both gift and threat

While it is a little "old" news, having been announced last week, nevertheless, Saudi Arabia's decline of the UN invitation to take a Security Council seat, one of the revolving seats that are allotted to changing occupants on a short-term basis, is nevertheless worthy of note.
Citing the UN's failure to address the Syrian conflict, after two-plus years of carnage, death, dismemberment and refugee generation and dispersal, among other "failures", the Saudi's have given the UN a much merited black eye, on the world stage, while signalling that unilateral steps taken by medium-sized and medium-empowered states can make a difference.
The intransigence of both Russia and China on all proposals to intervene in Syria, all of them including a clause to remove Assad, perhaps might be taken as a signal that the removal of heads of state, by collective action of the UN, through either or both Security Council resolution or General Assembly vote, and UN military action of some sort, can never be taken as a legitimate step for the world body.
It was only after the Russian leader leapt at the suggestion that Assad give up his chemical weapons arsenal, one of the largest in the world, that movement began to address the Syrian matter, both from the perspective of the release and destruction of those weapons, and this morning, from the perspective of an actual announcement of a date for a meeting of all parties to secure a ceasefire, and potentially a peace agreement.
Of course, such an announcement has to be seen as a very preliminary step, almost like one coming from a laboratory that signals there might be some hope of a discovery that might, after decades of testing, lead to a drug that impedes the growth of cancer cells. In short, we must not hold our breath in anticipation of a peace accord.
The UN itself, is left with a damaged reputation and a weakened prospect for achieving international resolution of conflicts, when any of its members in good standing decline to participate as a sitting member of the Security Council. That is both the threat and the gift of the Saudi decision. On the one hand, the decision points to the hole in UN potential for achieving resolution to extremely tangled and multi-layered conflicts within a single state, when both the state government and multiple groups seeking both havoc and the removal of the dictator are engaged in a bloody and sustained war, sustained by the interventions of both material and personnel from outside forces, like Hezbollah and Iran. Since the whole world knows about the Iranian/Hezbollah support of Assad, why is it not feasible for the international community to cut off that outside support for Assad through police or military action by members of the UN? To many, I'm confident such a suggestion sounds simplistic in the extreme; however, Assad is not the only significant actor in the conflict, and the Iranian government's standing among the world community has been weakened by sanctions over its alleged production of nuclear energy for the purpose of generating a nuclear weapon.
The UN, if it is unable to put an end to the carnage in Syria, should certainly be able to convene an international conference to address the blight on all countries' security and safety posed by terrorist groups, some of whom are aligned with state support, (allegedly even from states like Saudi Arabia to AlQaeda in its binLaden edition). And such a conference would begin to peel away some of the layers of engagement in the Syrian conflict, even if such a conference exposed states like  Saudi Arabia, and their "secret" support of terrorism.
The UN may also need a serious "make-over" in how it operates, one that includes an strengthened provision for both arrest and detention of actors who are actively engaged in the training, planning and execution of plans of terrorism around the world, as an arm of legal enforcement for the International Criminal Court in the Hague. While the court has some credits in its repertoire, leaders like Assad could conceivably be brought to the Hague, for crimes against humanity, provided the international community had resources to accomplish such a move. Perhaps too it is time to reconsider the veto allotted to all five members of the original Security Council. Has that provision outlived its usefulness, and of course, would the removal of that provision result in the withdrawal of either of both Russia and China from participation in the Security Council? Probably.
However, Saudi Arabia has signalled that the last two years of failure by the international community to begin a peace process within the extremely complicated and tangled mess that is Syria today cannot be allowed to be repeated.
And that might be the most important benefit to the Saudi rejection of the UN invitation to sit on the Security Council.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Human Rights Watch: Homelessness now criminalized in Hungary

There is a wind blowing among right-wing circles (mostly in their vacant minds) that is extremely dangerous. In Hungary, the homeless are the latest target, now subject to fines, community service and even jail time, after a vote in the Hungarian Parliament. The far right, clearly also a force for nihilism and human devastation in the U.S. given the impact of both the government shut-down and sequestration cuts to government spending mostly hitting those who are least able to defend themselves, has succeeded in achieving considerable electoral success in Hungary, winning 17% of the vote in the 2010 elections, and now achieving one of their nefarious political clean-up acts of wiping Budapest streets clean of the homeless.
No one feels good knowing there are thousands of homeless living on the streets of our towns and cities, sitting on the main thoroughfares, with their empty hat begging for a few coins from passersby. And yet, criminalizing those people for their ghastly plight, one which none of us would welcome, only shows our refusal to make the needed changes that would make it possible for them to secure a better life, including a home, food, health care and most importantly, honourable work with a decent wage.
And building more prison cells only removes the issue from public view, thereby enhancing our opportunity for denial of our complicity in the plight of the homeless...out of sight, out of mind, as it were.
Punishment, as a philosophy of government, is really a bankrupt imagination seeking absolute control. It refuses to deploy a spirit that would have the courage and the confidence and the insight to look behind the data into the root causes of homelessness. It refuses to acknowledge that there is always an opportunity for creative, partnered and collaborative solutions to almost every social problem, if the political will and the human compassion and creative spirit and energy are available.
The political right wing likes punishments, for a variety of reasons: it is cheap and efficient on the surface; it is absolute in removing the issue from view; it is clinically enforceable under the appropriate legislation; and once written into legislation, it is very difficult to remove....and it expresses complete and absolute control of the problem, but only superficially and temporarily.
It is the superficial and temporary that are really frightening because their approach relies on a very powerful "instant gratification" need and also a "nano-second memory" on the part of the public, thereby enabling both their seductive wooing of votes and their even more dangerous exercise of their kind of political power.
Short-term cost effectiveness, also, breeds social policy that favours the right wing. They can point to the elimination of the problem, as a result of their draconian measures, without having to engage in public debate and discussion over the root causes.
Symptomology, it seems, fits the gnat-like concentration of the public consciousness, as well as the very dangerous and malignant, narcissistic motives of the frightened right wing in politics, on every continent.
And the left, as a voice of reasoned and humane and much more tolerance of complexity, has to find and propose different strategies and tactics as a way of slowing down the right's tidal wave of pursuit of power. We have to engage more voices, more radio and television programs, more books and periodicals and more blogs in our defence of long-term social policies that incorporate both the economic and the human needs of individuals, towns, villages and cities...And because our voices are more diverse and diffuse, and because our cause is funded, if at all, differently and less abundantly, we have an added burden of being a more difficult "sell" to a public grasping for straws.
Nevertheless, we must persist, lest the creeping fascism of the right consumes all the public airwaves, all the affluent pocket-books and eventually all the legislative seats in all our countries.
The right wing, in many countries, although deploying different tactics and strategies than AK-47's and IED's and car bombs of the terrorists, are in many ways just as dangerous, and far more difficult to defend against.
The left must defend against those in left-leaning parties, like the NDP, from eliminating the activists from seats at the table of governments, as was apparently the case in the recently defeated NDP government in Nova Scotia. The story of its demise, while obviously dependent on more than one single cause, nevertheless has been traced back to the exclusion of one prominent, and exemplary activist from that cabinet, when it was elected in 2009.
Here is one account of that serious omission:

Election Nova Scotia: Orange crush to red tide

By Christopher Makka, in, October 12, 2013
Christopher Majka studied oceanography, biology, mathematics, philosophy, and Russian studies at Mount Alison and Dalhousie Universities and the Pushkin Institute in Moscow, and was a guest researcher at the Edward Gray Institute at Oxford University. He has written articles for many national and international publications. His scientific work includes over 150 scientific papers and contributions to five books. He is a review editor for four international publications, a research associate of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS, a recipient of the Tom Brydges Award from the Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network, and was included as one of Canadian Geographic's Environmental Scientists of the Year in 2010. Majka is a member of the Project Democracy team.

Its dissolution began at the instant of its creation.
I clearly recall being in the cavernous Cunard Centre on the Halifax waterfront where Darrell Dexter chose to present his new cabinet on June 19, 2009, shortly after the triumphant Nova Scotia election that brought the first NDP government in history to power -- and a majority one, at that. It seemed an auspicious occasion and location. Just as shipping magnate Samuel Cunard had launched what was arguably the most successful steamship company of all time from this spot on the Halifax waterfront in 1840 when the RMS Britannia began to ply the waves between Liverpool and Halifax, so a new ship of state was poised to set sail -- an NDP government in Atlantic Canada, a new political phenomenon. Social-democratic anchors away!
After a literal or figurative drum-roll (I've now forgotten which; perhaps it was bag pipers …?) the cabinet ministers filed into place behind the newly minted provincial premier. There was a moment of confusion and then an audible gasp swept through the audience -- where was Howard?
MLA Howard EpsteinHoward, of course, was Howard Epstein; lawyer, law professor, and peerless environmental activist. Epstein was also a former city councillor, and one of the NDP Young Turks elected in 1998 when the party came within a hair's breadth of taking power under then provincial leader Robert Chisholm (the Liberals and NDP tied with 19 seats, however the Liberals, by the prerogative of incumbency, went on to form government). Running in the riding of Halifax Chebucto, Epstein became one of the most successful and popular politicians in the province, re-elected in 1999, 2003, 2006, and 2009. His encyclopedic knowledge, uncompromising integrity, relentless activism, and genial and engaging manner had won him supporters throughout the province as the de facto standard-bearer of the progressive, activist wing of the NDP. With great oratorical gifts, a strong following, stellar legal and environmental skills, he was an extraordinary political asset for the party.
After the 2009 NDP victory, the talk in activist circles was which portfolio Epstein would receive. He would make an environment minister the like of which Nova Scotia had never known, although his considerable gifts would be well utilized as Minister of Natural Resources, Minister of Energy, Justice Minister, or even Deputy Premier. The notion of Epstein, one of the most-talented and longest-serving NDP politicians, being shut out of cabinet was simply unthinkable. Yet, there he wasn't on stage, a glaring omission, conspicuous by his absence. I still recall a momentary confusion as those gathered for the ceremony looked to one another thinking there must be some mistake, and then the flushes of anger, people stalking out of the hall.
Howard Epstein is a friend, but I recount this story not to dredge up arcane minutiae of past political maneuverings, but because of what was signalled to the progressive, activist wing of the NDP, namely that they would have no voice at the cabinet table. And so, it came to pass. And, arguably, this exclusion of an activist agenda was precisely what led to the spectacular flameout of the NDP on October 8, 2013 when it sank from being a majority government with 31 members, to third party status with a mere rump caucus of seven, thereby becoming the only government in Nova Scotia's history not to have won a second mandate. It was a stellar rise followed by an even more spectacular fall, all the more perplexing because the NDP actually accomplished much of significance.

Hungary passes law criminalizing homelessness

By Rick Westhead, Toronto Star, October 19, 2013

As if being homeless wasn't bad enough.
Hungary is a country whose government has been making news for unfortunate reasons recently. Many Roma from Hungary have fled to Canada, claiming they have been persecuted by both the government and its supporters.
HRW and other human rights activists have been worried by what they've seen happening in Hungary since the country's 2010 elections, when the far-right political party Jobbik won 17 per cent of the popular vote, stoking mistrust of Roma and whipping up anger over alleged "Gypsy crime."
Now, Hungary seems to have its sights set on the homeless, another vulnerable group.
Hungary has passed a new law that criminalizes homelessness. (Hungary has about 30,000 homeless.) Parliamentarians voted 245 to 45 for the new bill, Human Rights Watch reports.

"Municipalities across the country now have a green light to impose fines, community service, and even jail time (if convicted twice within six months) on the homeless," HRW researcher Lydia Gall writes. "And it’s straight to jail for those convicted of erecting makeshift shelters."
The new law follows a decree passed this summer by the city of Budapest that banned "dumpster-diving." That law introduces fines of up to 150,000 Hungarian forints ($655), or even jail sentences for repeated violations.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead


Friday, October 18, 2013

Reflections on philanthropy and education in Canada

It was with mixed feelings that I watched a brief episode of "Dragon's Den" on CBC last night. In this episode a British Columbia man introduced his company, Wealthy, to the panel of potential investors. His idea, currently endorsed by some 100 schools in his home province, is to bring a variety of "household items" to the list of previously banal products offered to schools to  raise additional funds to enhance their ability to operate. Two "dragons" partnered and signed on to the project, elevating its initial value considerably.
On the one hand, bringing products that all homes require repetitively and consistently, and not just the usual chocolate bars and greeting cards that have little to no "repeat value" as purchases and thereby as funding sources for schools, is ingenuous, and probably long overdue.
The individual making the "pitch" indicated that there was also a profit side to his venture, thereby convincing the dragons to engage.
On the other hand, the public purse, so strained (or should we say drained?) by such mounting costs as health care, social services, education and infrastructure, is unable to provide adequately, apparently, for the approximately 116,000 schools across the country. And that dismal landscape includes the revenue from the granting of licences for casinos to operate in most provinces and territories, sadly, too frequently on First Nations' reservations.
Would I purchase margarine and butter from a source donating 10% to the neighbourhood school? Probably.
Would I purchase the bread and peanut butter, the lasagna and vegetables for our diet, from a school supplier in order to move some dollars into the school council coffers? Again, probably.
Would  I consider this a philanthropic gesture of which I might be proud....well...not so much.
Would I volunteer at the neighbourhood school to help launch this project? Probably, because I can see that schools needs have to be met using whatever resources are available (within obvious parameters of legality and ethics) and the local community's daily needs are one innovative route to those funds.
However, the larger question is what kind of society are we becoming, even with projects like Wealthy Schools?
Everyone knows that fundraising has become increasingly competitive, increasingly almost desperate, and that family budgets are growing strained, if not in many cases broken, through the combined forces of higher prices and lower wages, salaries, fees and benefits for too many workers.
Fifty years ago, as a member of student government at an Ontario university, I recall a discussion among council members over whether or not to endorse and engage in a fund raising initiative, for an outside charity, separate from the normal fees at the university, like athletic fees, book store costs, cafeteria costs, and housing costs. Naturally, university students' pocket books are not replete with excess cash, in most cases. And naturally, also, the university student body is a vineyard ripe for the picking of ready, available, articulate and often potentially committed volunteers eager, especially today, to pad their resume with philanthropic initiatives.
So there is a potentially rich resource ready to be tapped among the student body, while at the same time, we see, in such cities as Kingston, where this is being written, the local council having passed a resolution effectively eliminating the student body of Queen's University from the opportunity to vote for the local council and mayor candidates. The matter is being appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, for hopefully, a needed over-turning. Charities both need and welcome their student volunteers, as cities need to build bridges between their municipal operations and their campus colleagues, so that both benefit from the relationship, both formal and informal.
Long ago, in another life, I listened to the then Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, Stephen Lewis, addressing a group of OSSTF members in northern Ontario, on a professional development day. He lamented in his address, the reduction of education to two sets of numbers: how many dollars are being spent, and how many students are graduating.
Seemingly, in the intervening half-century, we have moved much closer to a world in which those numbers, and the numbers that support the reduction of the first and the increase in the second number respectively, have reduced even further the educational operation in Canada, to the objective analysis of how to achieve those goals, without considering the even more important and much more challenging task of "educating" the young people who inhabit our classrooms. They see individual competition at levels our generation could not have imagined; they see corporate largesse on their campuses to a degree we could and would never have anticipated. There is a significant difference between the "Metras" stadium, potentially named for the famed coach of the Western Mustang football team, and the TD stadium, its current public moniker and the difference is not merely in the  size or number of the letters. Of course, the TD bank wants to sell bank accounts to every student attending Western, and all other campuses and of course, there is a considerable tax benefit for  paying the fee to have their name on the football stadium. And, also, of course, the university benefits directly and immediately from the "donation"....
And, one has to wonder if too many of us, in too many educational institutions, have not succumbed to the "direct and immediate" seduction of the flow of instant cash, no matter the source or the long-term implications. Our students are not merely numbers to be exploited by campus career counsellors, or their corporate hiring agents. Yet, from all reports, our universities have become little more than vocational training schools, leaving the liberal arts, including the performing arts, on the sidelines.
In the course of that headlong pursuit of corporate dollars, have we not lost more than the "public" contribution to the development of those students? Have we potentially lost the perspective that we really are all in this together, and that such a phrase is not merely a political slogan.
Are we losing, or have we lost, the perspective that philanthropy benefits both donor and recipient, as well as the society and culture at large? Are we in danger of looking for, needing and developing only models that are based on profit, when their ultimate purpose is philanthropy?
Are we in danger of ceding to the profit motive the higher ground above and beyond the ground allotted to philanthropy? Perhaps....and while we wish "Wealthy Schools" success, we hope that public educators will not witness a further decline in their resources from the public purse, and thereby an even more dangerous decline in public participation in the education process, as money and the objective parameters swamp what have become "less aspirational" personal and community goals.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tea Party, Dulles Brothers...both expressing a narrow, calvinist, narcissistic and myopic agenda...tragically

Churchill: The United States will eventually do the right thing, after it has exhausted all other options.
Cruz: The House showed extreme courage in this fight.
Reid: This is not a time to spike the ball.
Boehner: I have said for months that default would be wrong.
Cokie Roberts: We all knew it was going to end this way, but it should never have happened.
Chris Matthews: It is time for all elected representatives to become adult and do the job they were elected to do.
Whomever we listen to or read, this exercise of the last seventeen days in the United States was still a version of brinkmanship or chicken, to use its more perjorative word.

From Wikipedia:
The term "brinkmanship" was originally coined by United States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles during the height of the Cold War.[citation needed] The term came from the political Hungarian theory of pushing the military to the brink of war in order to convince another nation to follow your demands. In an article written in Life Magazine, Dulles defined his policy of brinkmanship as "The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art." [1] During the Cold War, this was used as a policy by the United States to coerce the Soviet Union into backing down militarily.
In the spectrum of the Cold War, the concept of brinkmanship involved the West and the Soviet Union using fear tactics and intimidation as strategies to make the opposing faction back down. Each party pushed dangerous situations to the brink, with the intention of making the other back down in matters of international politics and foreign policy, to obtain concessions. Nevertheless, in the Cold War both parties were confronted with devastating consequences since the threats of nuclear war were unmanageable in any situation. By escalating threats of nuclear war and massive retaliation, both parties were forced to respond with more force. The principle of this tactic was that each party would prefer not to yield to the other, however one would simply have to yield since if neither of the parties yielded, the outcome would be the worst possible for both. The problem, however, was that yielding would result in being labelled as the weaker of the two and in the Cold War both the Soviet Union and the United States had a reputation to uphold to both their populations and their neighboring countries or allies, thus making brinkmanship utterly risky. Since neither country would budge, the only way to avoid mutually assured destruction (MAD) was compromise. Philosopher Bertrand Russell likened it to the game known as "chicken":[2]

In his new book, The Brothers, Stephen Kinzer, interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, documents both their view of history (based on a Calvinist background) and their use of brinkmanship, to serve the triumph of the "good" and the defeat of the "bad".
This last two-plus weeks have demonstrated that the United States has not moved very far from how it worked under Eisenhower, only this time the "white nights" (Tea Party) inflicted their Manichean,  narcissistic, anti-intellectual and myopically Calvinist world view on their own people in their misguided attempt to "save the government" from Obama, from Obamacare, and one has to assume, from the ravages of big government, that does not cater to their narrow and tight-fisted view .

From the Fresh Air website, and the interview of Stephen Kinzer by Terry Gross, October 16, 2013
The Dulles brothers came from a long line of missionary Calvinists. They grew up in a parsonage; their father was a clergyman; they had missionaries for dinner very often; and they had to go to services every day — three on Sundays — and take notes about the services so that they could discuss the sermons with their father. They sang hymns at home and spent a lot of time in prayer. The particular religious tradition they came out of — Presbyterian Calvinism — was one that did see the world in these two ways: that there were good Christians and then there were heathens and savages. Christians, under this doctrine, did not have the luxury of sitting at home and hoping for the triumph of good; they had to go out into the world and make sure that good triumphed.
When you have that view about your religion, it's a very small step to applying the same schema to politics. You think there are good and evil leaders in the world, good and evil regimes in the world, and this is a very different concept than the concepts that many cultures and many other peoples have. It's a widespread belief in many parts of the world that every person and every government is made up of good and evil impulses, and they come out in different proportions depending on circumstances. But the Dulles brothers didn't believe that. They had grown up in a religious tradition that saw a division between good and evil, and when they came to political power, they saw the world that way.

Inflicting a self-righteous, narrow, and even "holy" (as they conceptualize it) ideology on either  the outside world, or the inside world, is a very old approach to public service. The Dulles brothers practiced it under the beneficient and indolent eye of President Eisenhower, until Allan Dulles was finally fired after his one and only project for President John Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs, which was an ugly debacle. His brother John Foster, who had been Secretary of State during the Eisenhower presidency, died in 1959.
Kinzer points out that the Dulles brothers would paint a picture of the dangers they "saw" in a particular country, through the U.S. media, the CIA, under his brother Allan, would then secretly and obviously discreetly conduct covert operations in that country, bring down the government and John Foster would announce that "the people" of that country had succeeded in overturning their government. So in some ways, the Dulles brothers were playing a much higher stakes game than that being played these past two-plus weeks.
However, let's not forget, or gloss over the depth to which the Manichean, Calvinist and self-righteous segment of United States public opinion, and its advocates, has played in U.S. internal and external politics.
And, what is more, it will take a library of books on the theme, as Kinzer's, before the nation will finally come to see the danger that this faction of public opinion continues to pose, as they usurp both God's will (as they see it) and the country's better angels, to advance their increasingly vanishing view of "the good", the "holy" and the "just".

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Letter to UN Envoy on Aboriginal Peoples: Canada guilty of genocide?

What Canada committed against First Nations was genocide. The UN should recognize it

On Monday, Oct. 14, we have the unique and historic opportunity to meet with Professor James Anaya, the Special United Nations Rapporteur for Indigenous People. It is our conviction that Canada’s history with First Nations people was not just dark and brutal, but in fact constituted a “genocide” as defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. Unresolved issues regarding genocide can have the effect of holding back real progress in economic development in any community.
Genocides rarely emerge fully formed from the womb of evil. They typically evolve in a stepwise fashion over time, as one crime leads to another and another.
The Holocaust is the undisputed genocide of all genocides, and it has been argued passionately by many historians that no other dark period in human history quite compares to it. Although qualitatively true in some aspects, modern historians no longer need to rely on shades of darkness in order to analyze genocide.
The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) was adopted on Dec. 9, 1948. It gives a very clear definition of what is and what is not a genocide. Stated another way, since 1948, social scientists have had the necessary tools to determine if genocide has occurred. It should also be pointed out that under the CPPCG, the intention to commit genocide is itself a crime, and not just the act of genocide.
It’s clear that Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. MacDonald’s policy of starving First Nations to death in order to make way for the western expansion of European settlers meets the criteria of genocide under the CPPCG.
Similarly, the entire residential school system also passes the genocide test, in particular if you consider the fact that the Department of Indian Affairs, headed by Duncan Campbell Scott, deliberately ignored the recommendations of Peter Bryce, Canada’s first Chief Medical Officer, regarding the spread of tuberculosis in the schools. Such willful disregard for the basic principles of public health constitutes an act of genocide by omission, if not deliberate commission.
Finally, we have the very recent and painful memory of forced removal of First Nations children from their families by Indian Agents which occurred in the 1960s, also known by the popular term “Sixties Scoop.” This is an act of genocide that clearly meets the CPPCG test, and also fell outside of the residential school system.
Our conviction is that Canadian policy over more than 100 years can be defined as a genocide of First Nations under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.
We hold that until Canada as represented by its government engages in a national conversation about our historical treatment of the First Nations; until we come to grips with the fact that we used racism, bigotry and discrimination as a tool to not only assimilate First Nations into the Canadian polity, but engaged in a deliberate policy of genocide both cultural and physical; we will never heal.
The fact that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples have not been wiped out, and are indeed growing in numbers, is not proof that genocide never occurred, as some would have us believe. The historical and psychological reality of genocide among our Aboriginal communities is very much alive and a part of living memory. The sooner we recognize this truth, the sooner both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians will be able to heal from our shared traumas.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Does psychiatry need to cut back on mental illness?

Reducing mental illness to biology, as part of a larger trend in research circles, without adequate evidence for such a reduction, could well constitute medical mal-practice. The medical fraternity has been so inundated by pharmaceutical corporations and insurance companies, that, for example, in the U.S. only those patients whose condition qualifies under the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) will receive insurance coverage for their psychiatric treatment. The latest example is the qualification of mourning following the death of an important loved one as part of a group labelled Major Depressive Disorder. Previously, it was considered normal "grief".
Even members of the psychiatric profession recognize and acknowledge that, in the dramatic spike of illnesses covered in the DSM, originally there were 14 mental disorders, whereas now there are 250, the profession is over-reaching, driven by the profession's grasp for new business (covered by insurance) and the pharmaceutical industry's galloping greed for new consumers of their newest products, whose specific deployment does not and cannot work effectively for all patients.
It was President Dwight Eisenhower who warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Who will it take to warn effectively of the equally dangerous, if not even more dangerous, impact of the psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex?
We are medicating ourselves into a Huxleyan stupor with technology and both prescribed and non-prescription drugs. And our doctors, both family practitioners and psychiatrists, are responding more and more to "consumer demands" for "that drug I heard about in the evening news last night" for whatever it is that is ailing us.
We have argued in these pages previously that a health care system built on the model of doctors' compensation for prescriptions written and a piling up of office visits in numbers not in effective treatments points us in the direction of over-medication, and almost telegraphic encounters in which one or two symptoms that jump out at the doctor are medicated, while the gestalt of the patient's life is practically never even considered, even if and when the patient is prepared to have a full discussion. The doctor can't afford the time for such an exploration, because of the remuneration structure of the health care system.
In short, the system itself is sick, and requires serious re-structuring, based on an objective outcome of  healthy patients, and not on a sickness/symptom model reinforced by a doctor compensation model of volume as opposed to quality.
We have reduced human lives, and their current condition, in the doctor's office, to another push-button instant remedy....almost like the proverbial "take this pill and call me in the morning"  of yesteryear.
This is not to argue that there are not seriously ill humans who require and deserve the best possible treatment from the most appropriate medical practitioner(s) even if that treatment requires a full complement of professional training. Yet, today, when the doctor's visit is compressed into a matter of seconds, not even minutes in most cases, how can the best and most effective treatment be the order of the day, given the primary motivation of the practitioner to turn over as many face-to-face encounters in a given hour as possible.
Add to that the ease with which prescriptions are  both available and demanded and it is not rocket science to discern a medical profession simply responding to "consumer demand" and then covering their backsides with a DSM for both legal and insurance purposes. And, it is well known and even acknowledged by many physicians that most professional education following graduation is sourced in the pharmaceutical industry, whose "educators" lay on extravagant retreats in luxurious hotels in romantic locations, free to the doctors and their partners, in the hope and expectation that such training sessions will produce sales spikes in the latest "wonder drug".
And ordinary people, as patients, are the consumers driving the the slightest sign of something being amiss.
The medical profession, and in this case, psychiatry, must bear a heavy portion of the burden of their own over-reach, recalibrate their focus and de-couple their profession from the voracious, even insatiable appetite for new patients and new diseases of the pharmaceutical behemoth.

Dozens of mental disorders don't exist

By Cherrill Hicks, The Daily Telegraph, from Ottawa Citizen, October 8, 2013

In his riveting tale of how psychiatrists "medicalise" human suffering, Gary Greenberg recounts that, in 1850, a physician called Samuel Cartwright reported a new disease in the highly respected New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal. Cartwright named it drapetomania, from the ancient Greek drapetes for a runaway slave; in other words, here was a disease that "caused Negroes to run away". It had one primary diagnostic symptom - "absconding from service" - and a few secondary ones, including "sulkiness and dissatisfaction just prior to flight".
Drapetomania was, of course, consigned to the dustbin of medical history. It never made it into the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the leading authority on mental health diagnosis and research. But, Greenberg suggests in his scathing critique of the DSM, it might well have done - had the manual existed at the time.
After all, he notes, homosexuality was listed as a "sociopathic personality disorder" when the DSM was first published in 1952, and remained so until 1973. "Doctors were paid to treat it, scientists to search for its causes and cures," he writes in The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry. "Gay people themselves underwent countless therapies including electric shocks, years on the couch, behaviour modification and surrogate sex."
Greenberg, 56, is a US psychotherapist of 30 years' experience and a prolific writer on mental illness (including his own depression after the collapse of his first marriage). But the target of his latest book is the DSM itself, the so-called "psychiatrist's bible", which aims to provide a definitive list of all mental health conditions, along with their diagnostic criteria.
Updated at regular intervals - DSM-5, the fifth edition, was published in May - it has considerable influence worldwide, including in the UK, where it underpins several clinical guidelines on mental health. Yet Greenberg holds that by imposing a pseudoscientific model on our "hopelessly complex" inner world, it creates a "charade" of non-existent disorders.
As World Mental Health Day approaches this week, he argues that, thanks to the DSM, "countless millions" are hooked on powerful antidepressants to cure a mythical "chemical imbalance", while rates of mental disorders in children, including autism, bipolar illness and ADHD, have rocketed. The DSM is, he says, a "fiction" which medicalises human experience and allows psychiatrists "dominion over the landscape of mental suffering".
Greenberg's language may at times sound overblown but he isn't alone. DSM-5, 14 years in the writing, has been criticised by many for the unhealthy influence of the pharmaceutical industry and its tendency to medicalise behaviours and moods that many would argue fall within the normal range.
"Few professionals are happy with the DSM," Greenberg says on the phone from his home in Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, teenage son, cat, dog and "a dozen or so" hens. "We are forced to engage with a charade of diagnostic disorders that we don't believe our patients have for the crassest of reasons - money." (In the US, people have to have their diagnosis confirmed by the DSM to access insurance funds for treatment.) "It's not just psychotherapists - even psychiatrists admit this is a deeply flawed document."
The rot set in during the 19th century, he says, when expectations of medicine changed dramatically after the discovery of micro-organisms. "It created a desire for all mental suffering to be understood in the same way as physical suffering, such as smallpox or cholera. To consider craziness as another treatable disease which originates in biology had tremendous appeal."
Playing into this is another factor, the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. Despite an attempted clean-up in recent years by the American Psychiatric Association, 67 per cent of the "task force" members responsible for DSM-5 are reported to have industry links.
Yet Greenberg believes that many psychiatrists - and even drug reps - are well-meaning. "It is intellectual rather than financial corruption. The idea that human suffering can be reduced to a biochemical imbalance - this is about ideology rather than money."
Greenberg's book tracks in painstaking detail how the DSM's decisions have created "false epidemics" of over-diagnosis and over-treatment. In 1994, for example, the diagnostic threshold for bipolar disorder was lowered to cover people without full-blown mania (instead, they have elevated moods that doctors call hypomania, but which Greenberg describes as exuberance). As a result, bipolar diagnoses soared, as did prescriptions for mood stabilisers and antipsychotic drugs, which in the US were for the first time being advertised directly to the public. "Suddenly, everyone and his brother was bipolar," says Greenberg. About six million people are now diagnosed as bipolar in the US, and in the UK, it's one in 100.
He also describes how a loophole in the DSM criteria was exploited "by one of the few real bad guys in psychiatry" to establish a juvenile version of the disorder, without any solid evidence. This was at a time, coincidentally, when powerful antipsychotics were being rebranded as mood stabilisers. As a result, diagnoses of child bipolar illness increased 40-fold over a decade. "In 2007 alone half a million children, 20,000 of them under six, were prescribed drugs that a decade before would have been prescribed only in the most dire circumstances," says Greenberg.
The side effects of some of the drug cocktails children were prescribed included obesity, diabetes and suicidal thoughts.
In an attempt to reduce bipolar diagnoses in children, DSM-5 has introduced a new illness, called Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), to cover intensive temper tantrums. But this too is proving controversial, with fears that it may capture some children who may be volatile, but who are not ill. "Clinical trials of treatments for DMDD are probably already under way and may well lead to another treatment epidemic," he says.
A different tale concerns Asperger's syndrome, which was first included by the DSM in 1994. Greenberg explains that this had some beneficial effects. "It may not have been a disease but calling it one gave a hitherto neglected group of children access to support and educational services, as well as a sense of identity and community." The result though, was that from a worldwide prevalence of four in 10,000 for autism disorders (including Asperger's) in 1988, 20 years later this was one in 88. Alarmed at diagnostic rates "getting out of hand", DSM-5 has removed Asperger's, replacing it with the umbrella term Autistic Spectrum Disorders. This means a "higher threshold for diagnosis", according to Greenberg, and possibly less access to educational benefits for future generations.
He is unimpressed with the DSM-5's new Hoarding Disorder - "Is an eccentric old man living amid his junk sicker than a billionaire who is always thinking of the next way to make a buck?" - and argues that anyone over the age of 50, including himself, would qualify for another new entry: Mild Cognitive Disorder.
Greenberg is particularly dismissive about DSM-5's changes to the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Until now, this diagnosis was specifically excluded in cases of recent bereavement, on the grounds that grief is normal. That exemption has been removed in DSM-5, leading critics to argue that grief has been medicalised.
"The exemption clause was an embarrassment because it challenged the idea that depression is caused by biology and led critics to demand that other external factors, such as divorce and redundancy, be exempt too," he says. "So they got rid of it, which means that if you are depressed while bereaved you can be classified as mentally ill." Not that bereaved people who are depressed shouldn't be helped, he adds. "But is it really a medical problem?"
So what needs to happen? Psychiatrists, he believes, must narrow their scope - to make a "reasonable claim" for certain mental illnesses falling within their domain. "When the DSM was published there were 14 mental disorders and now there are 250 - it needs to scale back."
There is a place for drug treatments, he says, although "you only have to look at the clinical trials to see they help some people but not all."
Above all, psychiatrists need to be more honest with their patients, he believes. "They shouldn't tell people their illness is caused by a chemical imbalance when there is no evidence this exists. Psychiatry has little knowledge of the underlying processes governing mental health and it should not pretend otherwise."
'The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry' by Gary Greenberg is published by Ingram International Inc