Thursday, June 5, 2014

Getting back in the saddle...after a week's absence

It has been one week since I last scribbled notes in this space.
A combination of physical disturbances focused my energies elsewhere.
For those who have remained loyal readers, I am extremely grateful.
However, there are some really disturbing pots on "low boil" around the planet that, should somehow they coalesce into a larger pattern, could be quite disturbing.
The release of five Taliban "leaders" from Guantanamo, in exchange for an American soldier who allegedly wandered away from his outpost in Afghanistan some five years ago and was held captive by the Taliban, has aroused the fury of people like Arizona Senator John McCain against the president's decision, worried that those same men, after one year in Qatar, will redouble their efforts to sabotage American interests. Presidential decisions, by definitions, especially when they are focused on  the recovery of a single person, are inevitably subject to extreme public scrutiny.
Visiting Warsaw Poland and promising increased military aid to bolster Poland, should the Russian bear come calling, as it has in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, however, is presidential decision making of a different sort, and while subject to public debate, and likely scorn from the Kremlin, and is likely to bolster NATO's efforts to take the Russian hubris more seriously than it previously has. Today, David Cameron meets Putin face to face, to ask him directly to get out of Ukraine and take his faux Russian troops with him. The outcome of that meeting, while few expect any dramatic developments, like Putin's agreement to change course, will also be watched with interest on both sides of the Atlantic.
The acceptance by the world community of the unity government of Palestine, while troubling to the Israeli leadership, has not prompted dramatic moves, although there are clear signs of increased "settlement" growth by Israel, as at least one of that country's moves to indicate their lack of compliance with the development.
In the U.S. there is a growing debate, finally, about the president's latest sortie into the only phase of governance left to him domestically, executive order, by which he, through the Environmental Protection Agency, has vowed to reduce emissions of both carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide by 30%, based on 2005 levels, by 2030. The move prompted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, from Kentucky, to call the move the single worst cut to the Kentucky economy in history, because of its potential threat to the coal industry. Rather than remaining frozen with his eyes firmly ensconced in the past, McConnell might better show some vision and leadership and get to work making application for federal support for new technologies in the energy sector for his state's people. Not only will the Obama initiative in environmental protection serve to benefit the health of individuals living in all U.S. states, including Kentucky by the way, but the moves will serve to put the U.S. back into the game of leading the world in this important aspect of governmental responsibility. For the first five years of his presidency, Obama has been blocked by a block-head congress, too many of whose members are, like McConnell, frozen in the desert of denial of the proven dangers of global warming and climate change. Obama has made good on his public promises to use all of his executive powers to do all he can to reduce the risks, and like China, another behemoth moving to reduce the choking air pollution in that country, is using the "health" argument to sell the proposals.
In it highly significant that both governments find it more "useful" to deploy the "health arguments" rather than the economic or national security or some other equally abstract argument to encourage the people to support their environmental initiatives. The spectre of sick and possibly dying children for generations is not one that people can either avoid or reject and without public support, these environmental proposals will not "fly".
Now, if the world's leaders could only convince the new Indian Prime Minister, Modi, to make similar moves to protect the environment in that country, increasingly dependent on dirty coal for its economic growth and the emissions that result from burning that fossil fuel, the people of the world would and could have some confidence that a 'world initiative' no matter how varied in each country, is finally taking shape.
The high profile visit and public address of the retired African Bishop Desmond Tutu, in Fort McMurray, Alberta, a guest of the First Nations people whose treaty rights are being threatened by the tar sands development of heavy crude, magnetized considerable media attention on the legal and environmental dangers of continued and even increased dependence on fossil fuel, a development Tutu blamed on human greed. His has to be one of the more strident and courageous statements linking profit to the oil sands production, as well as the threats the development poses to First Nations tribes adjacent.
In Ontario, sadly, in the midst of a provincial election, the debate around energy focuses on the Liberal government's closing of two gas-fired electricity plants in Mississauga, in order to protect Liberal members, at a considerable cost to the public treasury. Not a word has been heard about the larger issue to move the province off fossil fuels and into renewables, although there is debate around public funding of rapid transit, an slightly indirect initiative to reduce emissions. While polite, the public debate of issues has been restricted to "job creation," public service cuts and ethics of the current administration.
A focus on short-term management issues, and clearly not a long-term vision for the future of the province, restricts all of the leaders and their parties from engaging in something that would inspire public interest and confidence. Instead we have the making of a milk-toast election when there are some fundamental issues like the creeping "privatization" of public services, to which only a single ad from the labour movement has referred. Is that an issue that is too dangerous for the formerly "labour-supported" NDP who are attempting to position the party in the middle in order to garner enough votes to take power? If so, then public debate in this province has shifted so far to the right that the labour movement could be in danger of extinction, and that would be one of the most tragic developments of this century, in this province.
The interests of "public" needs and "public" services are too often and most dangerously being gobbled by private interests in their insatiable appetite for more opportunities to make profit from public dollars and the development can be seen in education, health care, public security, privatizing of freeways, and the list grows, without any attention being paid by the three leaders vying for the premiership of this province, and the public seems mute on the issue.
I apologize for the random wanderings of this piece, and promise a little more focus in future efforts.