Wednesday, April 30, 2014

IRFAN-Canada declared a 'terrorist organization' by Canadian government

It is a very rare moment indeed for this space to document anything, any policy or initiative taken by the Harper government, with which we agree. However, when it moves  boldly to declare what looks like a papier-mache philanthropic that really raises money for terrorism in the Middle East ineligible for charitable status, and then moves to have the RCMP investigate the organization for allegedly moving some $14+ millions of Canadian dollars offshore into terrorist activities, we applaud heartily.
Any even remote support for organizations like Hamas, especially by a Canadian front, must be both exposed and shattered.
Dubbed the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN Canada)*, few would have suspected its real purpose. And Canadians, by and large, are modestly generous and supremely detached from the nefarious purposes and organizations that support those purposes, such as Hamas.
While it seems like a non-story perhaps to the rest of the world, if this kind of activity can and does occur in Canada, there is no country that can consider itself immune from such activity.
Recall, it was just last week that Hamas and Fatah declared a truce and agreed to work together to achieve common goals, one of which ( at least for Hamas) has been the destruction of Israel. It has been Hamas rockets that have rained down on Israeli citizens; it has been Hamas initiatives to secure weapons and military support from those willing to support them in their efforts to obstruct the peace negotiations with Israel.
And while Canada has historically taken the position of the 'honest broker' in negotiations between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel, the Harper government has openly and somewhat blatantly decided that it supports Israel in this situation. Whether that position is supportive, in the long run, for Israel, only time and the unfolding of events will tell.
Today, however, IRFAN Canada, (even the name suggests that it likely has headquarters in other countries) finds its wings "clipped" and its future in some jeopardy, under at least the cloud of an RCMP investigation.
Now, if the Harper government would also move to re-open the Canadian Embassy in Teheran, so that we could participate in finding and reporting information from Iran that could and would serve the interests of the world's leading powers in their effort to discontinue Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, we would have another opportunity to bear witness to the Canadian government's actions on the international stage.
Clearly, by contrast with the IRFAN initiative, sending 6 F-18 jets into Romania, in support of NATO's efforts in the Ukrainian crisis, as the Canadian government did yesterday, is not only useless, but perhaps even foolhardy, given the clear and unequivocal call for serious and deeply cutting sanctions against Putin and his cronies as the only way to "hurt" him and perhaps bring him back from his misguided attempt to strut Russian hegemony while the west rejects military action in Ukraine.

*Ottawa hit a Canadian charity for Palestinian aid with a double blow Tuesday, declaring it a terrorist organization and launching an RCMP “terrorist financing investigation” that included a wide-ranging search operation at its Mississauga and Montreal offices.
The moves came a week before the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN-Canada) was to launch a Federal Court appeal against a Canada Revenue Agency decision to revoke its charitable status because of alleged links to Hamas and failure to keep adequate records.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs welcomed the actions, saying “all Canadians should be alarmed that millions of dollars were raised in Canada to support a foreign terrorist group with a long record of suicide bombings and other attacks against civilians.”
But Yavar Hameed, an Ottawa lawyer for IRFAN-Canada, said the allegations were “vague and unsupported,” and appeared unconstitutional. There was “no specific instance (given) of money being used for terrorist purposes.”
Hameed also questioned the timing of the moves against IRFAN. “We were preparing to appeal on IRFAN’s charitable status, and they could have been reinstated,” he said. “Now they are saddled with this and the government has shifted the train massively.”
On Tuesday Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney announced that the group was listed as a “terrorist entity” under the Criminal Code. “Between 2005 and 2009 IRFAN-Canada transferred approximately $14.6 million worth of resources to various organizations associated with Hamas, a listed terrorist entity,” said a statement from his office.
It said that IRFAN’s actions “meet the legal threshold set out in the criminal code,” that it “knowingly participated in or facilitated a terrorist activity.” (By Olivia Ward, Canadian Muslim charity listed as “terrorist” organization, Toronto Star, April 29, 2014)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Chlorine gas used in Syria this month?...what happened to the chemical weapons accord?

If there is not enough turbulence swirling around the world's political events, with a Jewish mayor being shot in the back in a city in eastern Ukraine, the Prime Minister of South Korea resigning over the mishandling of the ferry disaster where hundreds of adolescents and their adult mentors died and many will never be found, word comes out of Syria on two despicable fronts:
1) Assad has declared he will run in the upcoming elections
2) evidence points to chlorine gas attacks by the government this month in direct contravention of the agreement to dispose of all chemical weapons by Assad, by the end of June.
 (Reuters) - Chlorine gas attacks in Syria this month, if proven, expose a major loophole in an international deal to remove chemical weapons from the war-torn country and suggest chemical warfare could persist after the removal operation has finished.
President Bashar al-Assad agreed with the United States and Russia to dispose of his chemical weapons - an arsenal that Damascus had never previously formally acknowledged - after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack on the outskirts of the capital last August.
Washington and its Western allies said it was Assad's forces who unleashed the nerve agent, in the world's worst chemical attack in a quarter-century. The government blamed the rebel side in Syria's civil war, which is now in its fourth year.
 
 
Syria has vowed to hand over or destroy its entire arsenal by the end of this week, but still has roughly 14 percent of the chemicals it declared to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In addition, chlorine gas that was never included on the list submitted to the OPCW is now allegedly being used on the battlefield, leading some countries to consider requesting an investigation, possibly through the United Nations.
Attacks this month in several areas of the country share characteristics that have led analysts to believe that there is a coordinated chlorine campaign, with growing evidence that it is the government side dropping the bombs. (By Oliver Holmes, Syria's chemical weapons wild card: chlorine gas, Reuters, April 22, 2014)
The question of trust hangs over the continuing conflict in Syria. Does anyone except Putin trust Assad?
Does anyone but Assad trust Putin?
This little cozy relationship is proving to be quite dangerous, apparently, given the kind of fall-out emerging from both the chemical weapons accord, and the Geneva accord, also including Putin on Ukraine.
And if the actions of those with whom the world has to negotiate counter the words of those people, as evidence in both arenas (Syria and Ukraine) seems to suggest, then what kind of confidence can the rest of us have in the work being done behind closed doors by our representatives.
Trust and verify used to be the mantra of President Ronald Reagan over nuclear weapons treaties.
Now it would seem that both sides of that mantra are in tatters, simply because the political rhetoric has dropped to a very low level of authenticity and expectation in too many quarters.
If we cannot trust the words of those with whom we negotiate, then one has to ask why are we sitting at the table with the expectation that any agreement will be worth its salt afterwards.
Given the level of espionage and cyber-scrutiny of which all major countries are capable, many details are piling up into mountains of evidence that would seem to assure that no signatory to any international agreement would risk sabotaging such agreements.
However, brazen disregard for the responsibility for following through on commitments, linked to excessive ambition and narcissism that "because we can, we will" has also crept into the unconscious of too many people in power, and the result is a system in which the public no longer takes seriously.
Observers in Ukraine are detained, and then released in a drip-by-drip fashion as if those detaining were clinging to their power by abuse of their hostages. Documents signed in Geneva are later trashed in the streets in eastern Ukraine. Today, word from Moscow is that Putin has told the Pentagon that he has no intention of invading Ukraine.
Take that to the bank, and I have some wonderful swamp-land  I would like to offer you in Florida.
We are not only living on a precipice with the unravelling of events that seem to be taking on a life of their own and will move in directions and toward outcomes no one wants. We are also living in a time when those responsible for leading our political negotiations are demonstrating that they care only for what they need to do to advance their personal agendas and that words are merely another of the 'bullets' in their arsenals.
When words replace bullets, shattering their own veracity and authenticity, while the conflict may shed less blood, in the end we will be further behind than when we began, because those denigrating the commitments they have made will also be laughing at our gullibility and our naivety and our demonstrated innocence, while they drink to their own macho bravado, at our expense.
Coming clean, if it is not demonstrated by those in leadership, will inevitably become a way of life for those of us observing from afar. And the stakes are too high to risk such irresponsibility.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Anti-Semitism on rise in Europe...Netanyahu asks, "Has the world learned lessons of history?"

Netanyahu Warns World On Holocaust Memorial Day
By The Associated Press, on npr website, April 28, 2014
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the country's annual memorial day for the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust by issuing a stern warning Sunday to the world to learn the lessons of the past and prevent another Holocaust.
At the opening ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Netanyahu linked the Nazi genocide to Iran's suspected drive to acquire nuclear bombs and its leaders' repeated references to the destruction of Israel and its denial of the Holocaust. Netanyahu said that just like before World War II, there were those in the world today who refused to face uncomfortable truths.
"In this place I have said many times that we must identify an existential threat in time and act against it in time and tonight I ask 'why in the years before the Holocaust did most of the world's leaders not see the danger ahead of time?' In hindsight, all the signs were there," he said.
"In this place I have said many times that we must identify an existential threat in time and act against it in time and tonight I ask 'why in the years before the Holocaust did most of the world's leaders not see the danger ahead of time?' In hindsight, all the signs were there," he said.
"Has the world learned a lesson from the mistakes of the past? Today we are again faced with clear facts and before a real danger. Iran calls for our destruction, it develops nuclear weapons."
The stated links between the Holocaust and Iran showed how more than six decades later, the mass murder of Jews during World War II is still a central part of Israel's psyche. The nation was created just three years after the end of the war, and hundreds of thousands of dazed survivors made their way to Israel.
Six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust, wiping out a third of world Jewry. Today, fewer than 200,000 elderly survivors remain in Israel.
The annual memorial day is one of the most solemn on Israel's calendar. Restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment are shut down, and radio and TV programming are dedicated almost exclusively to documentaries about the Holocaust, interviews with survivors and somber music.
On Monday morning, Israel will come to a standstill as sirens wail for two minutes. Pedestrians typically stop in their tracks, and cars and buses halt on the streets while drivers and passengers stand with their heads bowed....
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, an umbrella group representing Jewish communities across Europe, expressed concern over the increasing popularity of far-right parties, especially in France, Hungary and Greece, where they are expected to make big gains in European Parliament elections next month.
He also mentioned the situation in Ukraine, where Jews are caught in the middle of the conflict between nationalists and Russian separatists, with both sides using anti-Jewish rhetoric while accusing each other of harboring anti-Semitic supporters.*
In his comments, Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke of his own family's destruction in the Holocaust and said Israel was the deterrence against another one happening.
"We must not ignore any occurrence of anti-Semitism, any desecration of a synagogue, any tombstone smashed in a cemetery in which our families are buried. We must not ignore the rise of extreme right-wing parties with neo-Nazi tendencies who are a danger to each of us and a threat to every nation," he said.
"A strong Israel is our response to the horrors of anti-Semitism but it does not excuse the rest of the world from its responsibility to prevent this disease from returning to their own homes."

*In the information  war (in Ukraine) no one is hurt more than the Jews, since mobilising the global memory of the Holocaust has real costs for actual people. From the very beginning of the revolution, they were an object of Russian propaganda. The current Ukrainian government, we were told, was composed of antisemites, fascists, and Nazis. Russian intervention was required, went the argument, to rescue the Jews of Ukraine.
This version was peddled to the west, where it had some effect, but interestingly it failed entirely in Ukraine itself. Putin seems to have believed that Jewish people in Ukraine would identify with Russia, especially in times of threat. This was one of his many mistakes.
Ukrainian Jews, especially those from the major communities of Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk, made clear to me that they had no desire to be protected by Russia. Jews in Ukraine understand Russia far better than anyone in the west Jewish or otherwise..
But this is not just a matter of a more accurate sense of threat from the outside. It is also a sense of being inside. Many and probably most Jews have moved towards a distinct identity of their own over the 25 years of Ukrainian independence, a trend that has accelerated dramatically in recent months.
The Jews of Kiev generally sided with the protesters of the Maidan, and indeed were present in the protests from beginning to end. When the Viktor Yanukovych regime tried to install a dictatorship in January, Jews were among those who resisted violence with violence. There was even a Jewish fighting unit, or sotnia. Ukrainian Jews returned from Israel and applied their Israeli Defence Forces training. Ukrainian Jews in Israel sent messages of support by social media, and challenged one-sided coverage of the protests in the Israeli press.
When the Yanukovych regime, under Russian pressure, carried out a sniper massacre of the protesters in February, one of the people shot was a Ukrainian Jew. On the Maidan itself, a Ukrainian artist of Jewish origin created an extraordinary sculpture called the Wall.
Today, in the tentative new order, Jews are present in Ukrainian public life. One is a deputy prime minister, another, Ihor Kolomoisky, is governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. He returned from a perfectly secure life in Switzerland to take responsibility for an east Ukrainian territory at the edge of Russian aggression. He clearly relishes the challenge, deliberately adopting symbols of Ukrainian nationalism as his own, deriding Vladimir Putin as a "schizophrenic of short stature", and offering a bounty for captured "little green men" – who, thus far anyway, seem to be steering clear of his territory.
Yet the greater point is not that all Jews supported the Ukrainian revolution. Mykhailo Dobkin, perhaps the most prominent pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, is Jewish. But he, like his political opposite Kolomoisky, is an active and powerful figure in civil life, no victim and no symbol.
When presidential elections take place next month, it is unlikely many Jews will vote for the Jewish candidate. The commitment of the vast majority of Ukrainian Jews to Ukrainian independence is a matter of civic, rather than ethnic, identification. Reducing Jews to their ethnicity is the first step towards making them a collective symbol in a propaganda story, in a situation where those who use the most violence get to tell the story first. Whichever side they are taking, Jews in Ukraine defy every day our reflexive assumption that Jewish minorities in eastern Europe are nothing more than tomorrow's headlines, the future victims of some greater power.
Jews can be victims, of course, and if the Russian invasion continues they likely will be, along with the Roma and the Crimean Tatars who are already suffering where Russian troops control Ukrainian territory, along with Ukrainians and everyone else. The pamphlet released last week in an area under Russian control, asking all Jews to register with the separatist authorities – although later widely described as a provocation – understandably raised fears. The history of the Holocaust demonstrates that few things are more risky for Jews than the destruction of state institutions and the rule of law, which is openly the goal and the consequence of Russian policy. Jews in the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russia is in control, can no longer count on the predictability of the rule of law. The immediate consequence of the Russian intervention has been gangsterism.  (By Timothy Snyder, Russia's propaganda war is a danger for Ukraine's Jews,  The Guardian, April 27, 2014)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blair raises Radical Islam as primary threat ahead of global warming and economics

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, appearing today on NBC's Meet the Press with David Gregory, painted the picture of the dangers of radical Islam, an ideology Blair calls a perversion of the Islamic faith. While the world faces the important danger of global warming and climate change, and while the world's economy requires attention, according to Blair, as long as new recruits and more students are being taught to kill and hate, in training camps and madrassas respectively, around the world, we have to confront this cancer, collectively, creatively and not necessarily militarily, according to Blair.
In response to Gregory's critical questions about the west having originated the problem through the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, both of which were supported and joined by the then British Prime Minister, his guest, Blair repeated the phrase, 'we must become liberated from thinking that we are responsible for this terrorism. He noted, correctly and pointedly, that radical Islam existed prior to both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and that the west is not responsible for its continuing rampage.
He did, however, acknowledge that we must find different and more effective ways to confront the threat, short of military engagement.
Bringing radical Islam into the spotlight, while neither comfortable nor conventionally and politically correct, demonstrates a degree of both courage and detachment to which Blair is 'entitled' having relinquished an elected position all of which bring with them the requirement to make difficult and troubling decisions while in office. However, his decision to attempt to raise the level of awareness and importance of radical Islam is not something most western leaders are either prepared or free to do. And in that light, Blair demonstrates the latitude that former western elected leaders have to continue an active role in public affairs.
As the United Nations 'point-person' in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now at a standstill, Blair rejected Gregory's suggestion that withdrawal from the process is in American interests, and that President Obama could now move Secretary of State Kerry into other conflicts on which there was more likelihood of success, and more immediate need
If I had taken that approach especially when the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland was at its bleakest point, we would never have achieved the peace and reconciliation that we did, was Blair's pointed and incisive retort to the suggestion of withdrawal.
Singularly, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is the most consistent and loudest voice in opposition to radical Islam, given his country's history of having to defend against the rockets and missiles from radical Islamist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. And in the same week in which Hamas and Fatah, the current name for the PLO, agreed to unite and pursue common goals, prompting Israel to withdraw from the peace process with Fatah, Abbas is quoted as calling the holocaust the worst incident in the modern era, something that other Islamic leaders, including the former President of Iran, have continued to deny.*
Call the Abbas statement "pandering" to Israel in order to bring her back to the negotiating table if you like; it is nevertheless a minimum of an attitude that will be needed if and when the Israeli-Palestinian peace process resumes. And there are so many other minimal steps required from the Islamic side of the conflict in order to establish a level of confidence that any Israeli leader might even consider re-entering the negotiations.
Unfortunately, however, if the west is 'war-weary' following Iraq and Afghanistan, it is also "numb" to the potential of  Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations given the decades of recurrent high's and low's without a final agreement to which the world has been treated.
Blair's perception that radical Islam is at the top of his list of world threats and dangers, cancers if you like, does not come from a position of ignorance or an absence of fervor for the world to pursue reasonable, responsible and sustainable agreements with the appropriate leaders of the Islamic 'world' to bring this monster 'to heel.' That is a process that we continue to urge upon all members of the Islamic faith, even if, as one of their prominent spokespersons in the United States says, as she did recently on the Melissa Harris Perry show on MSNBC, that she does not consider the men who committed the atrocity of 9-11 to be members of her faith.
Through a combined political commitment to acknowledge and to confront the dangers of enhanced radical Islam, to the whole world and to all of its people, and a commitment from the imams and the people in the mosques around the world, it might be possible to envisage the closing of the madrassas, and the recruitment encampments for terrorists, and the termination of the imperialistic designs and the violence to which some people engaged in the ideology that we know as radical Islam are committed 'to the death' Their's is a religious fervor and insanity (although that word is not used either lightly nor clinically) that begs the question of how those people ascribe the sanction and approval of their Allah.
It is not only the threat to the prospect of peace between Israel and Palestine that is wrought by radical Islam. Radical Islam also targets the political and economic stability and the peace and security of the people of all countries especially those inhabited primarily by Christians and Jews. They have stated that publicly; so we ought not to be surprised when they seek to carry out their heinous violence. The reticence of western political leaders and pundits  to publicly disdain the ideology and the people so emotionally and spiritually committed to its caliphate achievement has no and will not serve the purpose to which Tony Blair dedicated his few minutes on Meet the Press. Are they listening to his plea?

*President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority issued a formal statement on Sunday calling the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era” and expressing sympathy with victims’ families.
The statement, which grew out of a meeting a week ago between Mr. Abbas and an American rabbi who promotes understanding between Muslims and Jews, is the first such offering of condolences by the Palestinian leader.
Mr. Abbas has been vilified as a Holocaust denier because in his doctoral dissertation, published as a book in 1983, he challenged the number of Jewish victims and argued that Zionists had collaborated with Nazis to propel more people to what would become Israel. A senior Israeli minister, incensed at quotations from Hitler highlighted on Facebook pages affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, denounced Mr. Abbas earlier this year as “the most anti-Semitic leader in the world” at a conference in Tel Aviv.
Mr. Abbas had already backtracked from the book, saying in a 2011 interview that he did “not deny the Holocaust” and that he had “heard from the Israelis that there were six million” victims, adding, “I can accept that.”
But the statement published in English and Arabic on Sunday morning by Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, goes further, describing the Holocaust as “a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism, which the Palestinians strongly reject and act against.”
“The Palestinian people, who suffer from injustice, oppression and denied freedom and peace, are the first to demand to lift the injustice and racism that befell other peoples subjected to such crimes,” Mr. Abbas said. “We call on the Israeli government to seize the current opportunity to conclude a just and comprehensive peace in the region, based on the two states vision.”
Yad Vashem, the center for Holocaust research in Jerusalem, said in an email on Sunday afternoon that Mr. Abbas’s statement “might signal a change” from a situation in which “Holocaust denial and revisionism are sadly prevalent in the Arab world, including among Palestinians.” The email said “we expect” the new approach to “be reflected” in Palestinian websites, school curriculums “and discourse,” and encouraged the use of its Arabic-language websites and YouTube videos.
By Jodi Ruorden, New York Times, April 26, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mulcair paints vision for Peace, Prosperity and Global Leadership for Canada at Queen's

If Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair's job is to win over the middle class in all other provinces and territories outside Quebec, while holding his ' base' in that province, he made great strides yesterday in delivering the Dow Lecture at Queen's University in Kingston. Multiple ethnicities, and a rainbow of ages were represented by the crowd who, while somewhat polite and reserved, were nevertheless open to his proposals and receptive to the needed change in leadership and direction in Ottawa in 2015.
Sponsored by the School of Public Policy, and named after the founder of the school, the lecture brings in a prominent leader from the Canadian policy arena each year. Mulcair did not disappoint an overflow audience in the auditorium in the Biosciences Complex at 4.00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Something seems to be stirring about the need to turf the Harper government in 2015, and Mulcair is clearly 'up' for the job of replacing Harper.
Here are some of the highlights of the lecture entitled, Canada in the 21st Century: A Vision for Peace, Prosperity and Global Leadership:
Under Mulcair's leadership the NDP  will:
  • actively participate in international deliberations including the United Nations and the G20
  • commit to achieving the Pearson doctrine of .7% of GDP to foreign aid
  • as Prime Minister Mulcair will attend the conference planned for Paris in 2015 on global warming and climate change
  • NOT raise taxes on individuals in Canada, but will raise the level of corporate tax to an average of all OECD countries
  • introduce a cap-and-trade policy to reduce emissions in Canada
  • introduce a national day-care policy with reasonable costs, similar to that already operating in Quebec
  • enter candidates in all ridings without collaborating with the Liberals, following Michael Ignatief's comment when a coalition was ready to bring down the Harper government in 2008, "There is a only a red door and a blue door!"
  • read and look for clauses in international trade agreements that protect workers in Canada, that protect the environment and that limit the right of foreign corporations and governments to take legal action against the Canadian government and erode Canadian sovereignty
  • balance national interest with international responsibility through policy choices that are not linked to ideological purity by returning Canada to a respected and responsible participant in international development
  • fight to maintain the federal government's 50% share of the costs of health care in Canada, projected after 2016 under Harper to fall to some 12%
  • continue to pursue the abolition of the unelected Senate through a constitutional amendment
  • require that all proposed federal legislation complies with all treaties with First Nations signed two centuries ago
  • negotiate all natural resource development projects with all sectors, protecting both the business and the environment, in order to earn the trust of trading partners who demand responsible development
If there are still, and there clearly are, Canadians who would see such an NDP-driven prospect for Canada over the next decade as "dangerous" and "radical" they were not in that auditorium yesterday afternoon. This audience included many demographics including both young and old, and multiple ethnicities and warmly responded to his energetic and revitalizing performance
Mulcair is conscious of the changing conditions inside and outside Canada, providing strident examples of data like the fact that in Toronto today, 50% of families are dependent on two part-time incomes, where the two parties barely see each other as they continue to work and raise their family. He points to the "scrubbers" installed by Inco on the 'stacks' in Sudbury as an example of corporations moving when the costs of making the needed improvements to environmental protection are as high as the cost of continuing to emit carbon dioxide. On the international front, Mulcair notes that 'national interest,' the previous determining factor in foreign policy, is no longer adequate in a world in which two times the world's total GDP crosses international boundaries twice each week and where conflicts are no longer the actions of state actors alone but now include non-state actors. He sees the complexity of blending cultures, languages and ethnicities in many countries as one to which Canada can make a significant contribution, and should, given our history of attempting to balance and respect the interests of two national languages, and the needs of many ethnicities.
Restoring Canadian embassies in African countries where they have been closed under Harper, is another commitment, congruent with Mulcair's goal of restoring Canada's reputation among the world community to one of predictability and respect, not one based primarily on ideology. Engagement with partners, both inside the country and around the world is, according to Mulcair, a significant shift from the withdrawal and ideological commitments currently underway with Harper.
While Mulcair's passion, dedication, sense of humour and intellectual acuity are the sauces that graced the menu yesterday afternoon, make no mistake that Tom Mulcair is more than adequately prepared and ready and eager to replace Stephen Harper in 24 Sussex. And there is no longer any doubt that, along with a significant shift in the direction Canada would pursue under Mulcair's leadership, there is simply no reason to put any stock in the Conservative arguments that the NDP is radical, opposed to business, enmeshed with labour at the expense of the rest of the Canadian society, and dangerous for the economy. In fact, given the record of provincial governments headed by the NDP, sound public administration, balanced budgets and fair policies could and would be expected by both the people responsible and the electors themselves.
Whether that message can be distributed, digested and debated thoroughly over the next several months, in all of the pubs, coffee shops, train and bus stations, airports and campuses, supported by the Canadian media who may like Mulcair but continue to be restrained by their corporate bosses, is the outstanding question. This is one small space that will continue to strive to spread the NDP message, and to support the election of an NDP government in Ottawa in 2015.
We share a vision of a Canada that depends on and provides a more fair and equal access to opportunity and a share in the abundant natural resources in Canada for all, including the human component of those resources. We also share in the commitment made to the planet's environment yesterday by Mulcair, and we also share in the profound need to remove the Harper Conservatives from power, and to replace them with the first national NDP government.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Instant gratification, as a poltical motif, serves only the practitioners, and not the long-term interests of the people

Sanctions on Iran...Sanctions on Russia with threats of a reciprocal blockade from the Kremlin should companies leave Russia over sanctions that they will not be permitted back....Sanctions on Sudan contemplated by the United Nations....Sanctions everywhere and yet...are they really effective?
While agreeing that sanctions trump more violence and military action, if they prove effective, we also wonder about the application of an oft' told story about children falling into a cataract and people rushing to the bottom to pull them out. Are too many people in the world too interested in "pulling the children from the bottom of the waterfall" and not enough people, governments, agencies interested in determining why the children are falling in the first place?
In the social services world, we have armies of agents who move into a crisis to remove children from the exigencies they are experiencing and budgets to cover the cost. Yet, we have very few people and resources working to prevent those emergencies in the first place. We have become, in our view, a crisis-management society, and have ignored, denied or simply refused to take our responsibility for the prevention of so many social, and eventually political issues.
As one corporate manager put it recently, "We usually wait until something happens that requires a policy or a practice change before it is made; we are not proactive!" We seem to be a culture that is addicted to cleaning up after crises, but clearly not one that seeks aggressively to prevent those crises.
And, there are simply not enough "fingers" to plug the holes in the dykes that are springing free.
After a major hurricane, we build more substantial preventive structures for another.
After a major earthquake, sometimes, we insist on buildings that will withstand a higher level of quake, but continue to permit construction where we know there will be more tectonic shifts.
After Lac Megantic, and the devastating fire and destruction that befell that little town, we then move to higher standards on the rail cars that carry hazardous materials. A good move, but once again, too late.
In municipal politics, only after decades and in some cases centuries, do we replace infrastructure long ago worn thin by overuse, thereby suffering the indignity of pandering to the politicians insistent demands "not to raise taxes" so that they can be re-elected. And, of course, decades later, that same infrastructure now bears exponentially higher costs than would have been incurred decades earlier.
We have stock prices crawling over the television screens and throughout the markets, like sacralised digits in our addictive pursuit of the latest "gains" or our addictive pursuit of preventing losses.
We are an "instant-gratification" culture that seeks not to take the long, preventive and perhaps more costly, initially, course, and in the process, we are pouring billions, if not trillions into "crisis management, without bending the curve of our habits foreward in our own interests.
Let's look at health care and the differences between preventive medicine and crisis intervention. If people either cannot afford or do not choose to take preventive measures to achieve good health, preferring to avoid the discipline and the 'costs' of such an approach, then we will eventually become a "code red" or whatever colour the hospitals select for their "crisis" cases. And while it is much more exciting and sexy to intervene in a crisis than it is to watch the pounds drop off, or the cigarettes stop 'firing' or excess kilo's of red meat being replaced by greens in our frying pans...it is nevertheless a very short-sighted and crisis oriented mind-set that sustains this culture.
We love headlines and the drama of those events that continue to march, like armies of digital calamities across our eyes and ears and we think that, in attempting to keep up with those events, we are 'staying current' as the vernacular puts it, yet we are, like those people at the bottom of the waterfalls, merely picking the children out of the water and not taking the steps necessary to prevent their falling in the first place.
Our schools and our families, our churches and our corporations, our colleges and our universities, even our cities, provinces and national governments, have, at best, something called a five-year plan,
that merely sets out proposals for how the next few months will be conducted barring emergencies.
Some even have 'contingency plans' in the event of an abnormal "winter" of excessively low temperatures and high snow falls. And of course, then the question becomes what to sacrifice from the original plan in order to pay those bills.
I recently heard the mayor of one city tell his citizens that there was no money in the budget to fix the thousands of pot-holes that resulted from this past winter, but the plan to create more parks was going ahead. And I thought, "A family cannot purchase a new television set, when the roof has a hole that permits a cascade of water every time it rains!" What is that mayor thinking about?
So balancing both the immediate needs, whether they be political, domestic, military or intellectual, with the long-term health of individual people and the systems that sustain that health, requires a significant shift, in our view, from the short-term to the mid-and longer term emphasis. And that starts with our perception/conception/cultural imprint on time.
In the west, especially, we are so "instant" oriented that we have also become instant reactors, trundling through the streets of our urban centres glued to the little screens on our palms, with those dancing digits and pics that generate our instant thrill, as if that were the  meaning and the purpose of our lives. And, naturally, that instant-fixation infects most of the events and exchanges in our days.
So does it infect the days and the words and the thoughts of too many politicians, who, as expected, use our instant orientation both to escape really large gaffs because we will so quickly forget, and to pander to our addiction with the last "announcement" that satisfies the media's appetite for the latest sound-byte.
We have become little ants crawling around an increasingly crowded 'hill' looking for the next thrill, narcissistically clawing our way out of our latest 'crisis' and seeking the next thrill.
In fact, there is a real danger that 'crisis' and 'thrill' have morphed into each other...as the popular song puts it "whatever is going to kill me makes me feel alive"....
And, consequently, we will continue to be dependent, not on the political pandering, but on our own appetite for instant security blankets of moves that seek, not to stop the danger before it occurs, but to maximize its benefits for the needs and the purposes of those who have to manage it.
And we wonder why there is such a small voter turn-out on election day....we know we have been had, and we also know that we have participated in this charade for far too long, and we are not quite sure how to stop it.
First, we have to acknowledge the disease; and they we have to begin to take steps, no matter how rigorous nor how mundane, to turn our own eyes from those little screens and start looking into that horizon of the next fifty or one hundreds years, and the kind of lives and culture and security our grandchildren will face....and attempt to bend the curve of our own narrow and narcissistic appetites into something far more compatible with the needs and aspirations of those generations...and not just for their 'trust account' needs either.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Posturing and pretense in Ukraine, at the expense of the Ukrainian people

Finger-pointing is an exercise from the earliest grades in elementary school.
"He started it!"
"No, he started it!"
"Alright, both of you go to the principal's office, and find out who started the fight!"
Were there individuals among the street protestors who were radicals of various stripes, prior to the 'expulsion' of former Ukrainian president Yanukovich? Probably.
Were there also legitimate grievances among the Ukrainian people calling for the removal of the former president? Of course.
Was there pressure from the EU for Ukraine to move closer to the west, prior to the removal of Yanukovich? Certainly.
Was the United States both aware of and supportive of the move to bring Ukraine closer to the EU, with possible membership in the offing? Undoubtedly.
Was Putin waiting until immediately after the Sochi Olympics before moving into Crimea? Most likely.
Is Putin's claim that the U.S. is responsible for what is occurring in eastern Ukrainian cities where a majority of the population has a Russian heritage and language legitimate? Somewhat.
However even with all of that being said, it is U.S. Vice-president Joe Biden who carries the freight for the White House in to Kiev yesterday, calling on the Russian leadership to "stop talking and start acting" in what could be termed one of the most hollow and most blatantly ironic public statement by a world leader in decades.
Acting is precisely what Putin is doing!
Talking, on the other hand, is precisely what the 'west' is doing!
Kiev: US Vice-President Joe Biden warned Russia on Tuesday that “it’s time to stop talking and start acting” to reduce tension in Ukraine.
Standing alongside acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Biden called on Moscow to encourage pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine to vacate government buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty and “address their grievances politically.”
Biden said Russia needs to act “without delay,” adding, “We will not allow this to become an open-ended process.”
Yatsenyuk was harsher in his characterisation of Russia. “No country should be able to behave like an armed bandit,” he said. “Russia should stick to its international commitments and obligations. They should not behave as gangsters in the modern century.” (By AP, Biden: Russia must ‘stop talking and start acting,’ in gulfnews.com, April 22, 2014)
There is a real and present danger in this situation that another proxy conflict actually does break out, with the Ukrainian people being the pawns in the strategy on both sides, neither of whom see the people first, and see the abstract political ambitions as foremost.
For the Kremlin, the restoration of Russian "pride and grandeur" on the world stage seems to be a driving motive.
For the west, enhancing the range and scope of the European Union and "freedom and democracy" trump the interests of the people on the streets of Ukrainian towns and cities.
And yet, both sides are trumpeting the "freedom of the Ukrainian people" to decide their own fate.
When we were kids, one of the most fake 'sports' to come to town was the circus of wrestling, in which everyone knew the bodies blows were "acted" and the falls and pins were also the result of considerable rehearsal by actors whose bodies, not their voices, were the instruments of the show.
No one took the charade seriously, really, and yet, there were people in the hundreds who paid good money to watch people from outside the town set up the stage (ring), put on the costumes (shorts and high boots),  submit to the make-up and hair-dressing professionals to preserve and enhance the image, and then, flail away in melodramatic gestures of combat, huffing and puffing and "blowing your house down" with a winner and a loser in each bout. The referee was there to carry out his part in the staged drama, yet his influence over events was less than a footnote, more like the asterisk that denotes the footnote.
Today, on the world stage, there is a more than faint odor of the former wrestling matches to the struggle for Ukraine, if it were not for the underlying implications of the potential results.
If, for example, as many suspect, Putin's masked "persons of no country of origin" continue their march into and over the legitimate government buildings and into the mayor's chairs, and the council chambers of individual cities, and generate "plebiscites" that re-shape the country's borders and the allegiances of the people, while both the 'west' and the fledgling government in Kiev remain sidelined, or perhaps even scratched as "unhealthy" for this encounter, then the future of many satellite 'countries' could be un doubt, since the rules of the game will be so altered that international commitments and norms no longer matter.
Sanctions against individuals, and even against the Russian corporations that generate income from exports of energy, could turn the lights and the industrial engines off in Europe, such as they are. Since the world has turned its eyes, face and mind over to the pursuit of money, as the international Olympics for governments, it would seem more than both ironic and inevitable that economics would eventually become the 'ring' for international tensions and emerging conflicts, (in addition to the rampant and quickly spreading terrorism that spills blood of innocents whenever and wherever it can!)
Peacocks and wrestlers are known for their strutting. "Strutting" does not become Putin, or any other world leader, no matter the motive driving such pretense. And Biden, for all of his worthy service in the Senate foreign relations committee prior to the election of 2008, risks a similar fate of the hollow man, and would drag the United States along if he were to continue to utter hollow and highly ironic headlines just because 'he can'. Rejecting military intervention does not and must not mean that the only or even primary vehicle for the 'west', and especially the United States, is rhetoric underscored with a few sanctions, even though they may be as strong or stronger as those that many argue have brought Iran to the negotiating table on the future of her nuclear ambitions.
Public lectures against "talking" while calling for "acting" do not become a world leader, especially when that leader is attempting to embolden and support the Ukrainian government and their people and when those very words describe his own government's stance.
And, like the wrestling referee, the United Nations makes hardly an entrance into this conflict, given Putin's ignoring all overtures to draw back.

 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hedges: exposing American addiction to violence.

News reports, historically, distort the human story, by focusing on the obtuse, the "man bites dog" stories that make the listener/viewer/reader surprised, outraged, amused, or even dejected.
We learn of landslides, droughts, floods, hurricanes, fires, ships that capsize, planes that disappear, leaders who have affairs or 'do crack' or drive 'under the influence', people who fall from the tops of stadia while watching professional sports, and occasionally the more mundane ideological arguments that comprise the goings-on of city councils, provincial and national governments. We also learn of boundary incursions, budget shortfalls, tax hikes and terrorist bombings. Occasionally, in a more contemporary and less assaulting kind of story, we learn of 'real heroes' who have overcome some significant obstacle such as the loss of both legs in the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, and in 2014 attended on two prosthesetic legs to celebrate their daughter's completion of the race.
Rarely, if ever, is a news report, or even an opinion piece, dedicated to the theme of the American engagement in, even drowning in, violence, as a cultural norm.
There is a provocative thinker and writer, former New York Times correspondent who has covered the war in Bosnia, and some of the inhumanities of the African tragedies, who continues to plead his case for the turn-around, something he is increasingly calling 'the revolution' that does not depend, or even use violence, to replace the corporate, and government dependence on violence, embedded in the language of violence that he believes is choking the life of the American dream.
Chris Hedges is the name of the writer and his writings, in several books, more regularly appear in an on-line publication that has achieved acclaim, and is nominated again for another 'tebby' award.
Here is a quote from his latest piece, posted on April 20, 2014:
At least nine people were killed and at least 35 others were wounded in shootings across Chicago on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Thursday police announced that a man had been arrested on charges of firing on a number of motorists recently, wounding three of them, on Kansas City-area highways. On April 13 three people, including a child, were murdered at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Overland Park, Kan., leading to the arrest of a white supremacist. On April 12, armed militias in Nevada got the federal government to retreat, allowing rancher Cliven Bundy to continue to graze his cattle on public land. All this happened over a span of only nine days in the life of a country where more than 250 people are shot every day. In America, violence and the threat of lethal force are the ways we communicate. Violence—the preferred form of control by the state—is an expression of our hatred, self-loathing and lust for vengeance. And this bloodletting will increasingly mark a nation in terminal decline.
Violence, as H. Rap Brown said, is “as American as cherry pie.” It has a long and coveted place in U.S. history. Vigilante groups including slave patrols, gunslingers, Pinkerton and Baldwin-Felts detectives, gangs of strikebreakers, gun thugs, company militias, the White Citizens’ Council, the Knights of the White Camellia, and the Ku Klux Klan, which boasted more than 3 million members between 1915 and 1944 and took over the governance of some states, formed and shaped America. Heavily armed mercenary paramilitaries, armed militias such as the Oath Keepers and the anti-immigration extremist group Ranch Rescue, along with omnipotent and militarized police forces, are parts of a seamless continuation of America’s gun culture and tradition of vigilantism. And roaming the landscape along with these vigilante groups are lone gunmen who kill for money or power or at the command of their personal demons. (By Chris Hedges,The Rhetoric of Violence, truthdig.com April 20, 2014)
Many readers may consider this kind of observation extreme. Indeed, it is!
However, is it more extreme than the flooding river of history that is rolling through the American heartland?
There is a kind of unconscious, and even more frighteningly conscious, hubris that covers the American cultural reality, in a vain attempt to deny the underbelly of its Shadow. It permits and encourages violence in its own narrative, as if to deploy more peaceful means of pursuing the nation's goals would not be sufficiently "manly" or masculine or even, God forbid, could and would be considered effeminate. Even Hillary Clinton has taken more hawkish positions as she prepares, plans, contemplates another run for the White House in 2016, knowing full well that, in order to win the top prize, she will have to attract voters whose personal political persuasion includes the use of violence in the pursuit of American national interests. For weeks now, Obama has been fending off criticism that Putin has taken advantage of his "weakness" in Crimea, and now in Eastern Ukraine, and before that Obama was also "weak" in Syria, and Egypt...because he refused to engage in another military exercise, preferring to 'lead from behind' and provide support to others, as he pivoted American engagement from two wars to more creative and potentially more effective methods of engagement.
Hedges, while explicitly denouncing the use of violence, in both rhetoric and in the streets, in order to promote his envisioned "revolution" comes dangerously close to self-sabotage, in his prose.
Compiling and compounding the fractures of the American historical record on violence, for many, will serve merely as justification of its continued, and even expanded use. And, too many American lives have already been sacrificed to wanton and irresponsible violence, both in fact and in language, that the American economy is now too dependent on its propagation, both on battlefields, oceans and in the air, as well as in the virtual planet.
And linked to the violence, is, in some quarters, a religious fanaticism that sees the biblical history and writing as proof of God's already having sanctioned violence in the pursuit of His Kingdom...something so perverse as to make the contention itself, another form of the American psyche.
At base, also, is a American belief in and engagement in "competition" to the nth degree....where there can be only winners and losers....in a kind of self-imposed dichotomy that, itself, is a violent reduction into Manicheanism.
While we support Hedges' call for reform, revolution if he has to use that word, believing as he likely does, that "born in revolution...perhaps Americans can and will identify with his call to all other forms of political activism, we question his own rhetoric, but clearly not his facts nor his commitment and passion and compassion in the detailing of his arguments. Prophets, historically, have had a difficult time in their own land. Hedges, we suspect, will and already has, become an icon of that historic truth.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thomas Piketty, scholar/economist, exposes myth that "capitalism raises all boats"...

Some of us learned, very early, a cracker barrel aphorism that went something like this:
"them that has gets, and them that haven't lose"...a street reference to how the rich always seemed to be getting richer while the poor were getting even poorer. We did not understand the nuances of such a perception, but we did firmly believed that it was true, and that it would likely always be true. Right up there with aphorisms like " red sky in the morning-sailor's warning" or "an east wind blows storms" or "too soon old, too late schmart" one of my father's favourites, the notion of the rich getting richer while the poor got poorer held considerable sway in a small town in Ontario where evidence of these bromides seemed irrefutable.
In fact, seeing that there was a kind of inevitable immutability baked into the social, political and economic cake prompted some of us to challenge that inevitability. Why, we asked, was the economic system determining the lives of too many people by sentencing more than a single generation to poverty and hunger? Why, on the other hand, were people not more important than some economic system and why were those making 'big' decisions not thinking about how to accomplish that reversal? Why were the families of the rich always admitted to the universities, and then to the local elite, almost, it seemed to innocent eyes, irrespective of their intellectual capacity or their dedication to the discipline required for graduate school? And, on the other hand, why were there too many occasions when teachers would look at the name on a new class list and comment, 'we can't expect much from him/her, given the poverty of that family!' Of course, the world has changed, and one of the changes that we are witnessing is the accumulation of mountains of data, meta-data, making it much easier to discern patterns of relationships between various previously unconnected and therefore presumed unrelated phenomena.
Looking into the history of decades of development, for example, through the lens of computer-acquired and hard-disc-stored data, a new 'economist' by the name of Thomas Piketty has developed, in his new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the theory, or perhaps the reality that capital growth (the acquisition of income from capital investment) exceeds the rate of economic growth and that income inequality is likely to be with us for a very long time. Naturally, that premise calls for a different and far more radical demand that governments begin to think differently about their role in the 'equation'.
Some, like Paul Kruggman, call this book one of, if not the most important book on economics of this century.
The New York Times has provided its readers with a primer on the book, through their reporter, Steven Erlanger. Here are a few quotes from his recent piece:

In his new book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (Harvard University Press), Mr. Piketty, 42, has written a blockbuster, at least in the world of economics. His book punctures earlier assumptions about the benevolence of advanced capitalism and forecasts sharply increasing inequality of wealth in industrialized countries, with deep and deleterious impact on democratic values of justice and fairness.

The rate of growth of income from capital is several times larger than the rate of economic growth, meaning a comparatively shrinking share going to income earned from wages, which rarely increase faster than overall economic activity. Inequality surges when population and the economy grow slowly.....

We are now back to a traditional pattern of returns on capital of 4 percent to 5 percent a year and rates of economic growth of around 1.5 percent a year.
So inequality has been quickly gathering pace, aided to some degree by the Reagan and Thatcher doctrines of tax cuts for the wealthy. “Trickle-down economics could have been true,” Mr. Piketty said simply. “It just happened to be wrong.”
His work is a challenge both to Marxism and laissez-faire economics, which “both count on pure economic forces for harmony or justice to prevail,” he said. While Marx presumed that the rate of return on capital, because of the system’s contradictions, would fall close to zero, bringing collapse and revolution, Mr. Piketty is saying the opposite. “The rate of return to capital can be bigger than the growth rate forever — this is actually what we’ve had for most of human history, and there are good reasons to believe we will have it in the future.”
(By Steven Erlanger, Taking on Adam Smith (and Karl Marx), New York Times, April 19, 2014)
 
Clearly, if Piketty's work is worthy of serious consideration, and for many it will be until it is tarnished by new evidence, a growth rate of some 1-2% linked to a pattern of investment returns of 4-5% will continue to provide more capital for "them that has" and less for "them that don't have"....

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter reflections of a rebel

In the current edition of Cornell Report, one of her graduates writes about the value of a liberal arts education and John Steinbeck. The essay, entitled "A liberal arts education, John Steinbeck and me," recounts Steinbeck's rejection of Stanford (University), where he attempted and failed to acquire a liberal arts education and draws parallels from her own four-year college experience at Cornell. In the essay, Susan Shillinglaw* refers to a quote written in 1964 by Steinbeck to a college friend. Here is her sentence including that quote:
“I think rebellion is man’s highest state,” he wrote to a college friend a year before he left the university. He would stake his career on that notion of freedom.
Also in the essay, is a quote from one of Steinbeck's creative writing teachers:
He sent his stories to  Edith Mirrielees (at Stanford), his creative writing teacher—one of “about three” of his great teachers.
“[S]he had only two rules—know what you want to say … say it.”
Rebellion, clarity of thought and courage to express it....these are hallmarks of both a liberal arts education and John Steinbeck, notwithstanding his withdrawal from Stanford without completing a degree.
Giving time, reflection and patience to the process of discerning and accepting one's own often unconscious commitment to rebellion, clarity and courage seems relevant on an Easter Sunday in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
A rumpled-suited English teacher, a loud plaid-shirted, big-booted lawyer, a debonaire and slightly disfigured yet brilliant elocutionist professor of English and a black, sophisticated Bahamian pastoral theology faculty advisor are four of the men whose shoulders I have had the privilege and the honour to tread over some sixty-plus years of this pilgrimage. Ken Fulford, Bill Green, John Graham and Romney Mosley, respectively, forged an unlikely path of creativity, courage, clarity and yes, rebellion, of the non-violent kind. Each man said what he thought, believed, and practiced in a highly articulate way. Each man, in his own way fit into, and provided a thrust forward, for a backward, awkward, heavy-set and often flaylingly insecure kid from the lower middle class of an isolated, and somewhat somnambulant, small Ontario town. And each man also coloured outside the lines, to use the vernacular of the street.
Fulford walked with a kind of casual and off-hand gait that embodied his ever-present smile and impish, searching and curious eyes. His worn briefcase served as his "lectern" for his class lectures.
His diversions from the Shakespearean text out the window to his amazement at the beauty and the uniqueness of the smallest sparrow will remain a signature of my encounter with his presence forever.
Green's pipe, alive with Wakefield tobacco, was literally embedded in his mouth, only to be removed to offer a friendly greeting as he passed from his office to the registry office or court house. His wardrobe was an eclectic amalgam of colours and patterns that painted a picture of carefree and yet carefully crafted disdain for high fashion that too often attired his profession. His mind, on the other hand, was tightly knit with keen, focused and penetrating questions that bore deeply into the client's problem, as the most effective and efficient method of dispatching that problem.
Graham's permanently deformed arm, a birth defect, restricted his access to athletics in his youth, providing more opportunity for reading. His also brilliant mind devoured his own and his professor father's library, culminating in his doctoral dissertation on Virginia Wolfe, at twenty-four. As I was then a late teen, the accomplishment seemed monumental, and prompted me to enrol in four of his courses during my 'stay' at Western. However, his rejection of the then-current absolute requirement of professors to "publish or perish", preferring instead to devote his time to preparing his classes, also found a prominent and permanent place in my lexicon of important values, principles and clear, rebellious courage. Presumably, for him, "they" made an exception, since he retained tenure until his retirement in the late 1980's, after a career of more than thirty years.
Mosley's rejection by the Bishop of Massachusetts for ordination to the priesthood of the U.S. Episcopal church, following his graduation from Harvard with his doctorate, "because he was not black enough," prompted his pursuit of that goal from the bishop in Atlanta, the deep south, where he taught pastoral theology prior to his arrival at the University of Toronto. His off-stage intervention on my behalf following a withdrawn commitment to ordain by the then bishop of Algoma, cemented a bond of solidarity between us, that, regretfully, he will never appreciate my gratitude, since he died while singing the Eucharistic prayer in a liturgy at a Toronto parish, in 1994.
Here is a quote from his book, Becoming a Self Before God:
In summary, Jung's emphasis on archetypal wholeness leaves us in search of the hidden God (deus absconditus) in the psyche and nature?' The either-or paradoxes of the moral life are sublated to the both-and paradoxes of archetypal wholeness. This leaves a serious lacuna in the formation of Christian faith and identity. The cross of Christ is "an icon of paradox."" It embraces both-and and either-or. It symbolizes God's identifying with the weak and bringing strength from weakness. Christ, in his crucifixion, fully embraced the darkness of sin and evil but in his resurrection gave to humanity a clear choice of new life over death, the profundity of which Nicodemus could not comprehend (John 3: 1 - 10). The either-or paradox of good and evil impressed upon us by the resurrected Christ places moral choice at the center of our becoming formed in the image of Christ. The eschatological hope is that in the end all humanity will choose the new life given by Christ. Until then, the Christ image will reflect a perfected creation or wholeness that is yet to come. (Becoming a Self Before God: Critical Transformations, Pages: 86,87, from GAIAMlife website, April 20, 2014)
A second quote illustrates his 'rebellion' even more clearly:
The test of healthy religion, then, is its ability to assimilate the psychic antithesis of good and evil in the imago Dei and in human nature. Christianity's paradox is that the one who embodies the wholeness of God becomes the victim of humanity's dark side. In redeeming humanity, the unblemished goodness of Christ shows up humanity's dark side. But, according to Jung, since Christ is fully human and fully divine, Christians should acknowledge the polarities of good and evil in the Christ archetype. Instead, Christians have spiritualized Christ and excluded the instinctual, bodily aspects of Christ from the Christ image.(Becoming a Self Before God: Critical Transformations, Pages: 82 from GAIAMlife website, April 20, 2014)
The very fact that the book from which these quotes are taken was removed from the Anglican book store, (according to the author, speaking to me following his homily in the liturgy celebrating my ordination to the priesthood in the Anglican Church,) and that when I inquired into the reasons behind the decision prompted this response: "You know very well why my book was removed, John!" from Romney, (his race was the only answer that made any sense to me) made an even deeper bond between us in our revulsion of the kind of attitudes and behaviours that surround and infect the Anglican church, too often with secrecy and impunity. I knew we had a connection, but never knew its depth until I learned about Romney's being pilloried by the church book store.
Aspiring to emulate others, while never quite acquiring either the confidence or the swagger to entirely go out on a limb (or as Margaret Atwood says, "Jump off the cliff"), fearful that my own expressions were less than adequate, however, has been, and occasionally still is, a ceiling on what and how I write.
And there is a kind of moderation that does not belong in any commitment to rebellion, clarity and courage for which I alone have to take responsibility.
I recall, at fourteen, visiting the funeral home, on the untimely death of the man who was my 'boss' in a local grocery store. I recall both the shirt, a forceful black and white plaid, and the sweater, a brilliant yellow cashmere, that I wore to that first visitation of a deceased acquaintance, for whom I bore nothing but the utmost respect. Whether I wished to make a statement of life through those colours I did not know at the time. I did, however, unconsciously, wish to mark the moment indelibly in my mind. I had not had the opportunity to pay last respects to any of my four grandparents, they having died prior to my arrival, or my memory. Death, however, seemed to be an integral part of one's life, and marking it with colour seemed appropriate to my adolescent 'individuality'.
And today, on Easter Sunday, I will not be attending services that celebrate Easter, bowing to the estrangement I continue to experience from the institutional church, and its continuing persistence in "excluding  the instinctual, bodily aspects of Christ from the Christ image" and its thereby sanitizing of a theology that too often serves as an "anodyne" against the pain and the unfairness of life and nature, and as an excuse for restraining the pursuit and the full disclosure of the truth, not so much in a legal as in a spiritual sense.
None of my mentors would countenance a religion that told only half the story, nor do I.
And, it is partly their example that enables both the pursuit of my own truth, and the courage and conviction to express it for which I am extremely grateful. Sometimes, grace is a blessing that can be appreciated only decades after it appears.
*Susan Shillinglaw ’73 received her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has taught at San Jose State University for nearly 30 years. Recent publications are “Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage” (University of Nevada, 2013) and “On Reading ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ ” (Penguin, 2014).

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Is there new life in this Easter...for all?

On this Easter Saturday, the day between the death and the Resurrection of Jesus, The Christ
(Resurrected), one is prompted to ask how this day, and these events, whether or not one practices a faith tradition that celebrates their relationship to one's personal faith practice and belief, have a meaning in our interminable search for meaning, purpose, identity and any relationship with a deity.
We live, on the calendar time line in biological time, between our own birth and our own death. To us, those seem quite fixed realities that book-end our time here. We come here, given the belief and perception of many, with a clean slate, innocent, and yet extremely conscious of what we like and what we do not like, almost from the first day. And we are nurtured, depending on the approaches of our parents, into a perception of what matters and what does not matter. And, naturally those "approaches" have been engendered by the experiences, perceptions and 'approaches' of the parents of our parents and their parents, our grandparents and great grandparents. So what and whether all of those generations were "readers" or craftpersons, or caregivers, or engineers, or shop-keepers, or generous or 'tight-fisted' will be part of the tradition that we inherit, without needing a legal document to insure their passage through both the genes and the family stories, culture, practices and beliefs.
And in our part of the ocean of the human community, there will be a neighbourhood with people whom we associate with and others with whom we feel considerable distance. And there will be schools and churches and shops and doctors, lawyers, accountants, veterinarians and hospitals generally, which and who also support or deviate from the "traditions" laid out both formally and informally in our earliest memories. Clean or untidy yards, clipped or unclipped grass lawns, painted or peeling walls on the outside of our houses, new or relatively old cars will dot the driveways of our memories, and "jobs" or "what does your father and mother do?" questions will be among the benchmarks that are used, mostly unconsciously at first, to determine the kind of neighbourhood we live in, and the kind of people we are "close" to, in at least geographic terms.
As we grow, with the passage of both time and new experiences (including new associations) we learn about some of the main differences between our "street" and those other streets in different parts of our town, some of which we like and some of which we kind of turn away from, for whatever our reasons might be. For some, we would disdain the "snob hills" of our community, while at the same time trash the "unsavoury" part of town, usually where the people of less income and sometime less education lived, and where their kids went to school. For any who "moved" from one section to another, we learned first hand about the perceptions of our move, based on the direction and the tenor of both the old and the new neighbourhood. And, often, any move was destined for ridicule, by those who remained in their chosen place. Change, for too many of us, was one of the things that our town resisted. Liking things "the way they were" in spite of how many aspect of those 'things' we ourselves ridiculed, became a norm.
Liking or disliking the reputations of our teachers, most of whom had been 'there' for decades and had taught our older siblings and for some even our parents, also became fodder for our developing discernment of our world view. There was the very strict spinster who taught history, memorized history, with the rule and reputation of a tyrant, with a very pleasant smile. And there was the affable, yet hardly serious, Latin teacher who was more political than intellectual and the English teacher whose intellect and affability combined to generate such a positive public image that there was literal grieving when he and his 'buddy' left for greener  pastures in the 'city'. And there were the other spinsters, one instructing in Latin and French, and another in Chemistry whose reputation for both competence and quiet diligence, while maintaining perfect control, were legendary.
And, of course, there were the young French and Physical Education instructors who were still looking for mates, and were both privately teased and publicly 'closer' to their students than most of the two or three earlier generations. (My first dance, when I was in grade nine, came from an invitation from the young female PhysEd teacher who was teaching the dance class at noon-hour, as an extra.)
And, of course, there were the 'friends' in our classes who represented various family occupations, lifestyles and world views, in our case, mostly 'conservative' and mostly 'employed' although with only modest formal educations. These men (mostly) had gone to work in the local factory or shops, in order to earn a living wage, start a family and enjoy a few leisure hours in one of their favourite hobbies like fishing, hunting, boating, golfing and watching and listening to hockey games. Most had a church affiliation, gentle or robust, two or three children, one or two parents still alive, and a few brothers and sisters who continued to live and work in the area.
Disturbances like divorce, death, especially by suicide, teen pregnancy, the occasional car crash, and the occasional alcohol disturbance on main street on a Saturday evening punctuated the community, through party-line phone conversations, restaurant lunches, and encounters with familiar faces while shopping, mostly in the business section of town. (Malls were a figment of some architects' imaginations when I was growing up!)
It was, in my case, a world of familiar expectations, activities limited to enjoyment of summer beaches, a few outboard boats and motors, three-season golfing at the local club, the occasional entry into a provincial competition for our local hockey team, and once the high school curling team went to the 'nationals' with the team members becoming instant celebrities. Sunday's were spent in both Sunday School classes and then a formal church service.
All of this 'brew' comprised my early perceptions of how the world worked. Most were people one could easily and comfortably converse with; never were subjects of contention like politics and religion raised in any public conversations; the weather was a constant topic of conversation, as well as the number and wealth of the visiting American tourists each summer, whose dollars kept the town alive, with the supplement of civil service jobs in natural resources, courts and schools and hospitals.
Criminals were usually from "outside of town" while the occasional break-in appeared in the local paper's columns, along with the stories of the several local organizations like the curling and hockey clubs, the golf club, and the various suppers, bazaars and Community Concert recitals.
Travel was limited by financial means and access to method, (buses, cars and trains). Once our school travelled to Toronto, in the early fifties, to see a different part of the world, eat at different restaurants, and visit the Royal Winter Fair and the Museum. It was a five-hour train trip one way, beginning around 2.a.m. and finishing the next day around 2.a.m. And some of us still carry memories of that trip, never again part of our formal education experience.
We lived, as you can easily see, in a very isolated, and self-satisfied 'little town' not unlike the one depicted by Paul Simon in "My Little Town".
Partly as a result of that early experience, some of us find it perplexing to learn of the wide range of human experiences like starvation, military oppression, terrorism, Wall Street greed-gone-amuk, and a na├»ve attempt to replicate our "little town" through some kind of return to a past governed by an exclusionary faith, an even more exclusionary vision of "need" that reduces that concept to fit what might be politically rewarding for those in government, and an even more exclusionary vision of what constitutes "success" bounded as it is by the size of one's income, bank account, investment portfolio, one's house, and the brand name of one's vehicles, wardrobe, preferred dining-rooms, hotels and  preferred airline.
Exclusive, implies exclusionary....and every time one chooses "exclusive" one is engaging in a process of exclusion of others. And the more the advertising industry "trades up" to campaigns that generate "exclusive" in their message, the more we are witnessing and sharing the implications of those campaigns to exclude a larger portion of our society and culture. And, when applied to the global conditions, and the global capacity to provide, we witness a growing number of those "excluded" from the mainstream of supply. Consequently, their demand for more can and will only grow. And our social, political and cultural base on which to build an ethos of both equality and access to basic needs has been so eroded that it will be even more difficult to engender that ethos.
And yet, without an ethos of sharing, in the basic needs of all humans, justice, education, health care, clean water, air and food, our vain attempts to climb an ever-narrowing ladder to 'success' will turn on us and bite our attempts at collective and collaborative and shared survival.
It is not merely a religious and ethical imperative, but an immediate and pragmatic and contemporary need that we all turn our eyes outward from our little towns, our even 'littler' minds, and our even 'littler' definitions of success and achievements, to embrace a much wider range of opportunities, challenges and threats in a spirit, not so much of competition and winning but more of co-operation and sharing and caring.
And if our faith institutions cannot and will not provide the early exposure to our shared needs, and our shared dreams and our shared hopes, (focusing instead on preserving our "little traditions and narrow perceptions of what is right and normal in the name of God) then this Easter Saturday, sandwiched between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, will have been reduced to a mere emotional and psychological "warm feeling"  in liturgy without emboldening us to seek and to find life in its many fullnesses, for all.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Will Climate Change provoke war?.... some are beginning to think and plan in that direction...

There have been gallons of "ink" spilled in a vain attempt to wake up government, corporate and academic and legal communities to the dangers of the threat of global warming and climate change.
There have been fewer gallons of 'ink' used in the campaign to generate optimism around the future in a world where the average temperature has risen between 2 and 4 degrees, and the ocean levels have risen some 2 to 10 feet, and the food production has either dropped or significantly changed from our current access and affordability to much less and at much higher prices.
Perhaps when a story emerges from a respected on line publication like Slate, that the Pentagon is already laying out plans for a potential war that could envisage no end, when both strategies and consequences that are extremely hard to imagine and grapple with, a war resulting from the conditions imposed by global warming and climate change, perhaps, just perhaps, the general public might start to become interested and invested in "our" very survival.
We include an excerpt of a piece from Slate here in our hopefully focused and impactful goal of arousing both interest in and concern for our collective, not to mention our individual and our family future.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just completed a series of landmark reports that chronicle an update to the current state of consensus science on climate change. In a sentence, here’s what they found: On our current path, climate change could pose an irreversible, existential risk to civilization as we know it—but we can still fix it if we decide to work together.
But in addition to the call for cooperation, the reports also shared an alarming new trend: Climate change is already destabilizing nations and leading to wars.
That finding was highlighted in this week’s premiere of Showtime’s new star-studded climate change docu-drama Years of Living Dangerously. In the series’ first episode, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman traveled to Syria to investigate how a long-running drought has contributed to that conflict. Climate change has also been discussed as a “threat multiplier” for recent conflicts in Darfur, Tunisia, Egypt, and future conflicts, too.
Climate change worsens the divide between haves and have-nots, hitting the poor the hardest. It can also drive up food prices and spawn megadisasters, creating refugees and taxing the resiliency of governments.
When a threat like that comes along, it’s impossible to ignore. Especially if your job is national security.
In a recent interview with the blog Responding to Climate Change, retired Army Brig. Gen. Chris King laid out the military’s thinking on climate change:
“This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years. That’s the scariest thing for us,” he told RTCC. “There is no exit strategy that is available for many of the problems. You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.”
In a similar vein, last month, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley co-wrote an op-ed for Fox News:
The parallels between the political decisions regarding climate change we have made and the decisions that led Europe to World War One are striking – and sobering. The decisions made in 1914 reflected political policies pursued for short-term gains and benefits, coupled with institutional hubris, and a failure to imagine and understand the risks or to learn from recent history. (By Eric Holthaus, "Climate Change War” Is Not a Metaphor, Slate, April 18, 2014)
If one is not, or cannot be aroused to re-consider his or her attitude to the dangers of continuing on the current course the world is taking, and to being to demand action from our political leaders partially from exposure to such thinking, and conversations, then what hope is there for us all?
Here is some more from the Slate interview with Navy Rear Adm. Titley:
Slate: What’s the worst-case scenario, in your view?
Titley: There will be a discrete event or series of events that will change the calculus. I don’t know who, I don’t know how violent. To quote Niels Bohr: Predictions are tough, especially about the future. When it comes, that will be a black swan. The question is then, do we change?
Let me give you a few examples of how that might play out. You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.
Here’s another one: We basically do nothing on emissions. Sea level keeps rising, three to six feet by the end of the century. Then, you get a series of super-typhoons into Shanghai and millions of people die. Does the population there lose faith in Chinese government? Does China start to fissure? I’d prefer to deal with a rising, dominant China any day.
Slate: That sounds incredibly daunting. How could we head off a threat like that?
Titley: I like to think of climate action as a three-legged stool. There’s business saying, “This is a risk factor.” Coca-Cola needs to preserve its water rights, Boeing has their supply change management, Exxon has all but priced carbon in. They have influence in the Republican Party. There’s a growing divestment movement. The big question is, does it get into the California retirement fund, the New York retirement fund, those $100 billion funds that will move markets? Politicians also have responsibility to act if the public opinion changes. Flooding, storms, droughts are all getting people talking about climate change. I wonder if someday Atlanta will run out of water?
Think back to the Apollo program. President Kennedy motivated us to land a man on the moon. How that will play out exactly this time around, I don’t know. When we talk about climate, we need to do everything we can to set the stage before the actors come on. And they may only have one chance at success. We should keep thinking: How do we maximize that chance of success?
Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s a technology, water, food, energy, population issue. None of this happens in a vacuum......
Slate: What could really change in the debate on climate?
Titley: We need to start prioritizing people, not polar bears. We’re probably less adaptable than them, anyway. The farther you are from the Beltway, the more you can have a conversation about climate no matter how people vote. I never try to politicize the issue.
Most people out there are just trying to keep their job and provide for their family. If climate change is now a once-in-a-mortgage problem, and if food prices start to spike, people will pay attention. Factoring in sea-level rise, storms like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy could become not once-in-100-year events, but once-in-a-mortgage events. I lost my house in Waveland, Miss., during Katrina. I’ve experienced what that’s like.