Monday, February 22, 2016

A hearty endorsement of the LEAP Manifesto

There will be millions in Canada and around the world who, having been nurtured in the spirit of “An Inconvenient Truth” produced by Al Gore, will next turn to a new movie, as their catalyst for attitudes, perceptions and actions that can only be considered natural, if not absolutely necessary. Seizing this moment in history in which we all face an existential threat from climate change and global warming, “This Changes Everything,” a movie produced by Avi Lewis, and based on the book of the same name, written by his partner, Naomi Klein, proposes a rethinking of the capitalist economic model to bring about dramatic humane and panoramic change:

·       ending our dependence on fossil fuels,

·       ending our obsessive subsidies to the fossil fuel sector

·       building energy efficient and non-polluting buildings, targeting low income communities and neighbourhoods first

·       providing a guaranteed annual income

·       expanding low carbon sectors: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts, public interest media

·       respecting the inherent right of indigenous people through implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,

·       high-speed rail powered by renewable

·       affordable public transit

·       a local, ecologically-based agriculture

·       an end to all trade deals that obstruct the rebuilding of local economies

·       ensuring immigration status and full protection for all workers

·       initiating financial transaction taxes,

·       increasing resource royalties

·       imposing high income taxes of corporations and the wealthy

·       initiating a progressive carbon tax

·       cutting military spending


This is no modest proposal. It overturns many of the conventional and deeply ingrained habits, behaviours, customs, and practices of the last century or more. It proposes a transformation that amounts not to skipping stones on the mirror surface of a lake but rather dropping a monumental boulder smack into the middle of the world’s lakes and oceans. The ripples, very different from the rising waters that are predicted if we continue to ignore the threat of global warming, will bring moderation to the climate energies in which we are currently engulfed; they will also signal a dramatic shift in the attitudes of all majorities to their minority peoples, shift the basic premises on which human discourse is based away from a virtual sacralising of the profit and the status motive and ambition that currently drives much of our transactional culture to a culture in which equality, compassion, dignity and a much more sustainable ethic prevails.

In order to bring about such a shift in global patterns of behaviour and attitude, amounting to nothing short of another “reformation” in the church, or a Sputnik in space travel, or another wave like that of the digital age, there will have to be a rethink in many of the academic departments of many of the world’s universities. History will include a celebration of the frontiers-folk who were building houses from recycled tires, and those who were “off-grid” from people known primarily for their eccentricities, to a respect for their courage and their leadership in our shared struggle for a decent and sustainable world, as the legacy we wish to leave for our grandchildren.

Bernie Sanders will not be permitted to be a mere footnote in the history of humanity. Al Gore will not  be permitted to be merely a tragic “wannabe” president of the United States who got a Nobel Peace Prize for his “Inconvenient Truth”. Bill McKibben will no longer be relegated to the airwaves of NPR and will spawn disciples in all academic disciplines, as a matter of ensconcing the new “ethic” in the curriculum of the world’s greatest universities, and their reduced dependence on the corporate benefactors who pollute planet with excess carbon. UBC will no longer reject a bid to off-load all investments in the fossil fuel sector, and they will be joined by a majority of universities in both developed and developing countries.

The liberal arts will experience a re-birth. And perhaps it will no longer be a shameful decision for young male university graduates to enlist as elementary school teachers, even kindergarten teachers.

There will, however, be both naysayers and political opposition, perhaps even street demonstrations in protest to such a “communist” proposal. Substantially raising the taxes of both the rich (and powerful) and the corporations (also the powerful), both of which measures will be necessary to accomplish these lofty and worthy goals. Defanging the fossil fuel industry, along with the fracking industry, will only generate howls of anguish, grief and perhaps even revenge. Giving aboriginal and indigenous communities a real voice in their lives, and in those issues that impact their lives, as local, provincial and national tables, on their own merit, (and not as representatives of the Liberal Party of Canada, or any other national political party) will generate hostility and resentment, extending beyond the level of anger when national rail lines are blocked by aboriginal people, in a vain attempt to get their voices acknowledged (never mind actually heard). Cutting military spending, especially by those amounts required to make this vision feasible, will undercut those whose lives, careers and reputations are embedded in the military establishment. And cutting military spending will also require, whether openly stated or not, a significant change in the direction of our foreign policy, away from guns, bombs, missiles and fighter jets and towards negotiations, agreements, treaties and contracts even with those who consider us their enemy. All political leaders who depend on the “macho” applications of hard power (and that includes nearly every current world leader, with a possible nod to Obama who has determinedly tried to avoid military action whenever possible) and the generals, admirals and sargeants who advise them will have to generate different options for resolving disputes between and among nations.

Military colleges will be expected to develop curriculum that focuses on the strategies, tactics, the theories and philosophies that attend peacekeeping. Corporations too will have to chift their focus from a narcissistic pursuit of the greatest profit for the smallest number of executives, at the expense of service and product deficits and consumer trust, to a perspective that respects their workers and their consumers ahead of their pursuit of profits, ironically thereby generating enhanced profits, through better business practices. Since everyone will be elegible for a guaranteed annual income (a social policy profoundly and eagerly supported elsewhere in this space), the notion of government hand-outs will be eliminated as will the reduction of social stigma on those who choose to work less than the currently required excessive number of hours to impress their bosses and their neighbours, but not their doctors (who hardly ever caution patients working too hard or too long, given their own ridiculous and self-sabotaging schedules, introduced as a matter of the rigeur of the medical profession, way back in medical school).

In a culture that elevates the reasonable expectation that we are each “our brother’s keeper” (while keeping an eye on the potential for abuses by those who seek a free ride) our culture will elevate the aspirations and the imaginations, not to mention the contributions of generations of young people, whose pride and respect for their homeland will inevitably rise.

In Canada, the level of militarism remains considerably lower than it is in the United States, while the penetration of vegetarianism is significantly higher. Nevertheless, if this revolution is to have real roots in Canada, it would be preferable for it to be linked intimately to a similar movement in the United States where militarism including arms manufacturing dominates the culture and the national mind-set, verging tragically on being its own ‘religion.’ Vegetarianism, too, would support the reduction of the pollution contributed by animal farming. It is not an incidental observation to note that in Canada, just announced today, a mere 44% of Canadians believe that humans are the main cause of global warming and climate change. Whatever the comparable figure is in the United States, both populations will have be more rigorously educated on the science that supports the conclusion that human contributions have to be reduced, if not completely eliminated, if we are to reach legitimate and reasonable emission controls.

Let’s be clear, we are drowning in our own effluent; we are suffocating in our own poisoned atmosphere; we are atrophying in our own hope for a reasonable change in the direction we are heading; we are all complicit in the over-consumption of needless and contaminating products, given the status and reputation we attach to their acquisition; and we are all political actors (whether we choose to participate or not) and only through our conscious political choices, conversations and activism will such a vision as that proposed by LEAP come to reality.

This is just one more voice, perhaps crying the wilderness, encouraging each person reading these digits to reflect on our own lives, on the premises that guide our lives, on the colleagues who influence our lives, and contemplate taking the “radical” step of attending a showing of the movie, “This Changes Everything”....being shown in Canada on dates available on their website, of signing a commitment to support LEAP, and then of engaging with those in our circles in conversations that put these ideas on the table.

Consider this modest piece a sincere endorsement of what I consider modest proposals in LEAP, and an invitation to join with others in your community to move the conversation in the direction of these goals.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A heretic's guide to the universe (:

We all know that we live in a culture in which transactions define our existence; not relationships, not vacations, not our preferred novels, poetry, plays or music, not even our favourite sports teams, our favourite beer, wine, culinary delight....but exchanges of time and money, building an account balance with each and every human, including those humans we call ‘family’. We are judged by the quality and the quantity of our transactions, not from the perspective of how it is to “BE” with us, but rather what we “DO” for ourselves, for others, especially for our chosen social and cultural associations. And there are virtually two different kinds of main transactions: we are selling something, some idea, some proposal, some project, some vacation or even some THING....or we are prosecuting another for perceived misdeeds, misjudgements, mis-statements, mis-demeanours or perhaps (although this dynamic is much less frequent) advocating for those we choose to defend, in the face of what we consider unjust criticism.

We vote for a person, a political party of perhaps even (idealistically, a political philosophy); sometimes we write a cheque to signify our engagement with that specific party or person. We might even knock on doors, make phone calls, drive voters, prepare lunches for volunteers, or perhaps even interview prospective voters with a view to establishing or predicting a pattern of voter behaviour. We attend a church, mosque or synagogue, or we reject such activity, and our decision becomes a political statement.
Our purchases are recorded, collated, studied and pursued by those whose professional advisors direct in our direction, for the purpose of additional sales. We have become that “thing” so feared and loathed by Margaret Atwood, when she became famous for her writing. No, we do not have the celebrity/notoriety of an Atwood, but we are nevertheless considered a thing to many of the forces/agencies/organizations/marketing companies/ retail consumer companies/ tech companies and even a digit to the tax collectors in our lives, municipal, provincial and national. We are lumped with hundreds of thousands of our demographic, our age bracket, our postal code, our choice of vehicle, our choice of shoes (especially if we are still in the athletic wear market where brands dominate), our choice of movies, television shows, computer software and games.

We are the pawns of the warlords of computer games, those pawns willing to shell out millions to feed our habit, not alcoholic, but nevertheless, equally intoxicating for many. We live vicariously through our virtual realities, whether they are coming to us directly from our computer screen or through our television screens, now loaded with decades of programming, most of which was available in all other decades of our lives.

Participation in any group, whether for leisure or for service is branded with level of engagement, level of commitment and level of agreement with the conventional wisdom, not at all with the level of friendship that once characterized such associations. Of course, there are life-long friendships in some quarters, where one is so familiar with one’s colleagues having been classmates in elementary and secondary school. However, that reality is infrequent, reserved mainly for some villages that still draw their originals into the stories that have circulated for decades, lifetimes even.

Opinions, if shared, are relegated to “too high fallootin’” or stupid, dreaming or just plain pie in the sky. We are a nation of people clinging to some lost picture of reality that we believe can and will never leave our consciousness. And to the extent that our memories cannot be expunged, that is true. But we live in an age of individual silos, protected by our coveting of our privacy, our secret past and our determination to remain aloof from our colleagues. It was John Powell, a Jesuit, who, in his little book, “Why I do not tell you who I am”....remind us that he does not tell us who he is because ‘that is all I have’ and you might reject it, and in rejecting my story you will reject me, and I cannot stand that rejection.

Ironically, we apparently are prepared, increasingly, to pour our banalities all over the twitterverse, in a vain pursuit of bff’s, really just others engaged in a similar pursuit of being noticed, as compared with being known. Being known, understood, sharing vulnerabilities....well that’s OK for the ‘sisterhood’ according to the male segment of the population. Guys, on the other hand, hang out in their mancaves, hoping the world will not find them completely irrelevant. There is a popular perception that life consists of ‘special moments’ as if generating such moments is one of the main purposes of a fulfilled human existence. So, in a perverted sense, with such a mind-set we are engaged in a subversive pursuit of morphing into transactional agents for our own pleasure, seeking and finding those ‘special moments’ on U-Tube, or instagram, where millions of ‘hits’ constitute success. In this world where becoming a star trumps being an ordinary struggling human fully engaged with those who matter, performance, however that is defined and expected, evokes public scrutiny and even applause, unless and until our performance ‘goes south’ and we find that those who previously fawned over our success are the quickest to revoke their previous support and replace it with contempt, disdain, aggressive bullying and worst of all, alienation.

Being played like a pawn in the lives of others, and fully complicit in such a dance, we have to know that we are all hanging out to dry, no matter whether or not our efforts to contribute to a humane, compassionate and healing culture have guided us all our days.

Of course, it is true that human beings, especially in groups, or demographics, or market niches, or congregations, or political parties, are self-referenced, self-focused and self-devoted, basically immune to the ravages of the planet, or of the poor, or of the victims of pandemics. We are victims, to the extent that we permit it, of the conventional value system of money, power, status and stardom. We need to be attentive to the need to guide our young people away from what is portrayed as success defined by those pursuit and into a worldview that seeks to serve the public good. In that regard, we need to extricate the news media from the profit motive, leaving those working in the fourth estate free to seek and to find the truth, especially when that truth explodes the conventional myth of success, that explodes the vacuity of “sunny ways” (Trudeau’s panacea for his government’s public relations campaign of governing) without incurring the wrath of the executive suite, addicted to the acquisition of investors and dividends.

We also need to amend our primary, secondary and university/college education, away from technical/job skills and inclusive of critical thought, poetry, music, art and community development. After all, human beings have always had, and will always continue to possess more complication and mystery than all of the high tech devices combined. And we are also in danger of abandoning our birthright, not the mere “right to life” of the wedge politics debates, but in the connotation of our capacity to rebel, to revolt and to withdraw from the kind of seductive schemes that the pursuit of money will inevitably subject us to.

Call this a piece written by a dreamer, if you like; however, rest assured, I am not smoking or drinking anything of a chemical or mood altering nature. Nor will I ever. Life is far too complex, interesting, challenging and enlivening to support a need for artificial substances!!

Desperation breeds desperation on ISIS

While the American media is drowning in its own self-indulgent addiction to the campaign rhetoric in their presidential race, Reuters and several other international media have reported the fact that in southern Iraq, near the city of Basra, some nuclear material, contained in a box the size of a laptop, was stolen in November, as well as a camera containing radioactive material (the I-192 isotope). Reports note that the location of the theft is some 500 kilometers from the nearest Daesh encampment, in a vain attempt to minimize the risk that the Islamic terrorists might have the material.* Really? We all know that, should ISIS ever gain possession of such material, they would consider such a “find” nothing short of the brass ring. Even if they were not able to generate a nuclear weapon from the use of such material, they could detonate a dirty bomb that would poison an area, once again inflicting their devastation almost without a fingerprint of evidence.

Listening to Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter, being interviewed by Charlie Rose Wednesday night this week on Bloomberg, I was struck by his repetition of the notion, “ISIS will be defeated, we will defeat ISIS....and the President has always agreed whenever we have asked for more resources in that fight....and the President has told us to look for additional opportunities to fight ISIS....and we are all committed to the early defeat of ISIS”....His pleas were a virtual prayer of desperation as he attempts to preside over the United States’ leadership of the coalition whose avowed purpose is to destroy the “cancer” that Carter says starts in Iraq and Syria. However, we also all know, that just like every other cancer tumor, even the most dedicated oncology surgeon, oncology radiologist and oncology treatment specialist and researcher is never able to predict the complete elimination of the disease, unless and until tests many years after treatment demonstrate such a finding. Carter is in the unfortunate and even unenviable position of being caught in a political time warp, selling the campaign to eradicate ISIS in the last year of the Obama presidency, when, as Carter admitted to Rose, Obama wants to leave the slate clear of ISIS in Iraq and Syria for his successor as an important aspect of his legacy.

“Did the Paris attack change the environment for the campaign against ISIS?” asked Rose.

Well, it certainly aroused the Europeans who are now committing additional resources to the fight against ISIS. Even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are contributing to the fight. All members of the coalition have increased their contribution and participation in the fight against ISIS...was Carter’s response.

Of course, the story of the stolen nuclear material had not broken Wednesday, prior to the Rose interview. In fact, it has not broken, having been suppressed since it actually occurred in November of 2015. What else have the political powers withheld from the public, fearing, naturally, that release of such information would only arouse the most basic and irrepressible fears? Just as in the communication with the patient and the family of a cancer patient, doctors do the situation no good through withholding significant information, whether that information is positive or negative. Unfortunately, politicians, especially those charged with national security and state secrets are not obliged to commit to the same level of disclosure. (And, it is true that there are situations in which public knowledge of specific information would be more dangerous to the public good than repression of that information. And we can only hope that those charged with the making of such decisions to disclose or to withhold, have the kind of maturity and sound judgement that we can trust their decisions are in the best interests not only of the power elite, but of the public good.)

ISIS, unfortunately, does not submit to the historic definitions of what the world has considered “warfare” in the conventional sense. Like the many disease pandemics that are not vulnerable to antibiotics, ISIS represents the kind of disease for which the world has not prepared, has not anticipated, has not built defences against, and has not studied in the war colleges. It is “asymmetrical” in the extreme. It is unpredictable in the extreme. It is ideological, even ‘theological’ in the extreme. It is a force that would traditionally have been dubbed a force from HELL (if there were such a place, and such an archetype.) And yet....

Here we are some 14 years after 9/11 and twenty years after the first attack on New York by Islamic terrorists and we all know that there is no evident de-escalation of the impact of ISIS, or its many iterations, and there seems to be a kind of bet going on, among the major world powers. They are betting that they can keep the ISIS threat from exploding with another or perhaps even several mass attacks before they can decimate the scourge. I am not a betting man, but I would not subscribe to their fantasy.They know more than we on the street know, yet they continue to bomb, and they continue to subvert all ISIS’ attempts to feed itself through black market sales, extortion, kidnapping and underground channels of money presumably via the internet. Individuals who have adopted the ISIS dogma, or who at least seek to appear as loyalists in the cause of Islamic terrorism, including the recent suicide bombings in Turkey attributable to Syrian refugees, form gangs of a few, or act solo, in their perpetration of death and destruction anywhere, everywhere, anytime, and seemingly all the time. Yet, everyday, with every bombing of an ISIS target, the recruitment to their ranks spikes. We are not only not decimating ISIS, we are in fact emboldening ISIS.

Russia, also emboldened by the fog of war, for her part, has considerably muddied the waters in Syria, purportedly in support of Assad, and also purportedly against ISIS,  and stands accused of deliberately targeting hospitals staffed and operated by MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers) killing innocent children, and then denying any responsibility, while accusing the United States. There is even some evidence that links Russia to bombs dropped in Turkey, although those events are still to be prosecuted. And although Obama reportedly speaks on the phone with Putin, in the middle of the night (North American time) and asks him to change course in Sryia, and to stop deceiving the world about his desire to destroy ISIS, he continues unabated, even virtually unchallenged, since he knows, as the rest of us do, that Obama is not going to go to war against Russia, either over Syria or over Ukraine. Stepping up military exercises in the vicinity of Ukraine will not and do not threaten Putin; neither does a late night phone call from the White House over Syria threaten Putin. He, along with his other Middle East ally, Iran, is determined to cause havoc in the region, undermine the west and especially the United States, and proceed to aggrandize  both himself (top priority) and thereby his nation.

Unfortunately, Putin’s complicated interventions can only elevate the temperature of the rhetoric in the presidential campaign in the U.S. And given the pre-adolescent mentality of the American voter, some 30-37% of Republican voters in South Carolina preferring Trump, the most bellicose and the most unpredictable and the most dangerous candidate on the U.S. stump, there is reason, not only to be concerned about the theft of nuclear material in Iraq, but the letting loose of the control of the Pentagon and the nuclear buttons to a potential president like Trump. Extremes do definitely seem to evoke extremes! That is true not only in personal arguments, school-yard combats, political campaigns, and inevitably in macro-conflicts.

Instead of heating up both the military combat and the supporting rhetoric, on all sides of the ISIS fight, as well as on the potentially diplomatic agreement to cease hostilities in Syria, is it not time for the world leaders, from all political stripes, and from all ethnicities and linguistic and cultural backgrounds, to put their best brains to effective use in designing a short-medium and long-term strategy to deal with terrorism, the burgeoning flood of refugees, and the stretching of the physical, political and ethical capacities of too many countries, and bring this scourge to a denoument?

Prosecuting another violent war is an admission that we have run out of other options. Prosecuting another violent war is another episode of the control by the politicians on the right who claim to sacralise the military, as the symbol of national security, and the symbol of military supremacy, and of course, of the strongest democracy in history.

And yet ISIS has demonstrated that this “hymn” to hard power is hollow, in the extreme, that it is at the core of the international self-sabotage that haunts all conversations about what to do about ISIS. Hard power depends on hard propaganda to perpetuate both the loyalty of service personnel and the continuing obeisance of the politicians and the public. The media, for its part, is merely the dispensing pharmaceutical technician, of the mind-numbing yet desperate prayers/propaganda of all the Ashton Carters who are charged with the military defeat of ISIS. Every single candidate for president, from both parties, cannot afford to speak ultimate truth to a desperate electorate who demands more military action against ISIS, that truth being that without a complete overhaul of the thinking that undergirds the military assaults, including the forbidden option of removing the military from the fight, all options are not really on the table.

Desperate people, as do desperate nations, revert to their previously ingrained habits, often habits borne of fear, and of a refusal to admit the depth of that fear, even to admit vulnerability. Desperate parents beat their children; and when they are confronted by those adult children on their reasons and motives, they are mute. The confronting adult child has to insert the only response that is feasible, “I guess you could not talk!” Of course, talking to those who lead ISIS would be hard, even distasteful and ugly in the extreme. And of course, it would take only back channels, out of public view and out of public consciousness, for such talks even to begin. However, spreading killing fields, with both the ISIS motive and the “defeat ISIS coalition” motive can and will only lead to more killing and enhanced escalation of the desperation on both sides. Escalating desperation, of the kind currently demonstrated by Putin, Assad, ISIS, and even the forces now aligned to surgical remove ISIS, will not produce the kind of ‘victory’ that Ashton Carter’s career and historic legacy demand. They may mark time, keep up the public face of hope that we are making progress, that we are ‘cutting off the head’ or crippling their resources, or whatever other reporting headlines can be sold.

North Korea has nuclear weapons and threatens to develop missiles that will carry them to the coast of North America; Iran could easily be developing a nuclear weaspon, (even if less easily that before the recent agreement), and should ISIS get their hands on nuclear fissionable material, who knows what havoc they can and will create through its discharge. Unguarded nuclear material sits ready for the persistent searching eyes and hands of those who would profit from providing such material to thugs like ISIS, as they would from providing chemical weapons to ISIS. We are know that the cauldron called planet earth is less safe and far less secure that those in power would have us believe.

The very fact that this latest report of the theft of nuclear material has not made headlines since it was first noticed in November is not a sign that we know who has the stuff, or that are prepared to let the public know what kind of danger we all face, or that we really know that we can and will defeat ISIS, not only prior to January 20, 2017, when a new president takes the oath of office.

If we are uncertain, that is a kind of truth that our leaders must disclose; their failure to disclose both their fear and their uncertainty is at the heart of our real danger. And the sooner we demand a full accounting, the sooner we will be more able to trust and thereby to commit to whatever measures are necessary to accomplish whatever needs to be done. And that includes talking to the dreaded beasts who control ISIS, and all the other faces of Islamic terrorism.

*UPDATE: February 21, 2016...
Reports now indicate that the missing nuclear material has been found, and is now secured in Iraq. (From the CNN news crawl)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The morning after the night before....can history be made in South Carolina and beyond in race relations?

The morning after the night before....the New Hampshire another morning of mixed weather, and a complex muddle of candidates for the Republican nomination for president. Of course, Trump claims victory, as does Kasich, and as do Cruz, Rubio and Bush.... As for the others, it is often hard to remember their names. On the Democratic side, with a 20%+ margin of victory, Bernie Sanders acts as if securing the nomination is only a few weeks away. The Clinton “establishment” might have something to say about that perspective. Nevertheless, waiting just offstage, almost panting for the slightest crack of opportunity to open, calling the campaign thus far an “insult to the American people,” Michael Bloomberg, of cavernous pockets filled with cash, of considerable experience as Mayor of New York city for three terms, and of considerable impatience with the state of the current campaign and its candidates, threatens to run as an independent candidate. The history of that experiment, however, does not foreshadow his success in a general election, except that this is not a ‘normal’ election cycle. On that pundits, candidates and even the political establishment agree.

The American people are angry. And most of their anger is completely justified and directed at many of the icons of what has for centuries been considered the foundational stones of the very institutional structure of the country. Targets for that anger include police, the courts, the legislatures, the executives, the corporations, the media and to some extent the economy which promises fading prospects for university grads, burdened with billions of student debt, most of it under the weight of high interest rates. Both Clinton (Hillary) and Sanders are proposing either reduced costs for higher education, or in Sanders’ case, free tuition for all who qualify. Underlying the street expressions of anger at police killings of unarmed and purportedly innocent black men, linked to a history of racial discrimination, as disclosed by the Justice Department’s investigation of Ferguson’s police department, in a substantial strain of racial bigotry dating back to Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, the mentality for which has never been erased or excised from the American psyche. How can a culture born on the trigger of muskets and sustained on the magnums of millions of gun-owners, infused with the stories of class consciousness saturated with the hubris of an upstart country, determined to demonstrate its “achievements” not unlike the struggling young man who is desperate to prove himself to his ungrateful, blind and often abusive father, grow up to put away its guns and its justification for those guns, put away its need for climbing over the backs and the reputations and the contemptible history of its inferiors, and turn its massive arsenal of bombs and missiles into the “ploughshares” it says it believes in?

If there is a way, just as the biologists searching for a way to impede if not destroy the breeding of Great Lakes lamprey, then the political class, dependent as it is on the drama of internecine warfare, seems unable to find it, even if their search does not bear the urgency of the biological search for a lampricide. And just like the lamprey themselves, the racism in American threatens to suck the life blood and juices from its prey, the American idealism that clings to the words and the lives of the poets and the activists and the peace-makers. (Elongated tubular creatures with a suction-cup-like mouth filled with hooked teeth, lamprey latch onto their innocent prey and suck the blood and life juices out for up to four months, leaving the weakened fish verging on death, the almost inevitable conclusion to the attack.) Without a physical body, racism, nevertheless, attaches to all the institutions, including the people inside, and with a force that emulates the most vehement toronado or hurricane, sucks the ethical, moral, spiritual and even intellectual blood and juices from the culture.

And while there have been significant positive steps toward the goal of equality, justice, integration and racial harmony, including the election of Barack Obama, the elevation of significant black leaders in the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, plus the mayors of major United States cities, there continues to be a really vehement and virulent monster eating away at the ideal of racial harmony. Witness the high proportion of black men sitting in prisons, the parade of shootings at the hands of white police officers, the unemployment rate of black men in the inner cities, the drug dependency of so many young black and white men, whose lives face a horizon of hopelessness, and even the hundreds of “black slaves” earning millions in both the NFL and the NBA, positions for which millions of young black men aspire, yet which millions of black men will not achieve, given the small ratio of entry to applicants. Poverty, also, impacts the black community profoundly, as does the drop-out rate of young black men from formal education. A high proportion of children, especially among the black community, are raised in single-parent families. And the dynamic of black oppression has grown so familiar that the rest of the culture is emotionally immune to its ugliness, its persistence and its devastation.

And while the world champions the first black family to reside in the White House (and Obama has consistently acquitted himself in an exemplary manner!) it is argued in some quarters that his election has enraged those white racists, especially the white supremacists, and fueled the kind of anger that provoked the shooting of nine blacks in the midst of their prayer meeting only a few months ago. Single incidents, by themselves, of course do not constitute an epidemic; yet the stream grows from a mere trickle to a kind of theme that divides especially the political class, although public discourse would seem to ‘cover’ the buried hatred under a veneer of sophistication. What has not gone unnoticed, outside the U.S. however, is that Obama has endured the most nefarious and persistent political opposition from Republican in both houses of Congress that we have witnessed in decades, if not in the whole history of the country. And, while they will deny it in a chorus of megaphones, there is little doubt that the president’s race is a factor in their contempt for him and his policies. Their nearly absolute refusal even to negotiate the many reasonable proposals, like immigration reform for example, and the enhancement of gun controls while the public approves such measures in sizeable proportions (70+%), signals their political obstreperousness, but also thinly veils their innate racism. And it is a kind of racism that has not and will not be openly charged, since the opposition is focused on some specific approach of the White House.

There is little doubt that the racism that bursts from the barrels of those hand-guns fired by white law enforcement officers is connected, either directly or indirectly, to a country’s writhing under a growing income divide, and that growing income divide is comprised also of a racial divide. Far more blacks are living on the edge than are either whites or Hispanics; far more blacks are unemployed than are either whites or Hispanics; far more blacks drop out of school than do either whites or blacks. And although the insurgent Democratic candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, champions the movement for income equality, he needs to break out the racial overtones and the racial implications of that income inequality. For his opponents to say ‘he has no track record on race’ (as compared with Hillary Clinton, for example) is for them to demonstrate their failure, or their unwillingness to observe more penetratingly the inscrutable connection between income inequality and rampant racism that festers in every urban centre in the United States.

And unlike the Great Lakes lamprey, racism is not confined to a single beast; it infects a multitude of beasts, especially those human beasts who require a ‘lower’ group beneath them to elevate their social and political status. And the neurosis, even the psychosis, that requires a drug like racism for its psychic snobbery mask is not easily impeded even with enhanced and vigorous education programs, nor with Pell Grants. Even free tuition, which is eminently desireable, will not eradicate the kind of intolerance and bigotry that suffocates too much of the national budget and the national dialogue and the national sprit.

And it is the spirit of the American culture that provides sustenance for the dream of the city on the hill, to which so many leaders like Ronald Reagan have rhetorically appealed. And when (not if) that spirit flags, then there is an enhanced window of “opportunity” for charismatic, and vacuous leaders to begin to seduce many who feel  both angry and hopeless, that not only is the political class not living up to expectations, but there is so little hope that ‘we might as well risk it all’ on somelike the Trump bandwagon.

This is not the only space that has declared Trump a danger to American and to the world. Holocaust survivors have likened him to the Fuehrer, so frightening is he and his rantings to their ears. Claiming to “employ” thousands of blacks and Hispanics is no substitute for social policy that offers a substantial hand-up to those in need of work, training, re-training, adequate and decent housing, health care (29 million are still without health care, and many more are underinsured); calling Mexican immigrants rapists, criminals and unwanted to the point of proposing an $8 billion wall, “paid for by the Mexicans is no recipe for integration, nor is it even remotely within the spirit of the Gettysburg Address, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Neither is deporting 11 million “illegals” either sustainable or even supportable from an ethical, moral and politically appropriate response to the mess that is the current immigration system.

This is not to argue that racism is the single or even the most important cause of the Trump drama; however, it is to suggest that without a dramatic change in the relationships between the have’s and the have-not’s, (currently beset by racism) there is little hope of the middle class regaining its lost hope and its flagging spirit, not to mention its empty bank accounts and retirement accounts. And that is not the American the world either needs or wants.

Bernie Sanders must start a full-throated effort that links his income equality gap theme to the issue of racial discrimination if he is to begin to close the near-40% gap in the opinion polls in South Carolina. (Hillary leads him by that kind of margin!) And he has to mount such an offensive without patronizing or condescending to the black community, and without invoking the “Nanny government” charge from the Republicans and from Clinton herself. This could be a significant turning point in the life of the nation if Sanders’ message catches on inside the “black community” which voted at a very high rate for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Without the black vote, Sanders cannot win the White House, so the time for testing his mettle to reach out to that community is now.

Clinton does not compete with his imagination, nor with his courage to make substantial changes, even though such changes are warranted.

Let’s watch the next few days and weeks, as the rhetoric sharpens and the stakes rise. Those who eventually carry their party’s banner into the general election will have the opportunity to right the ship of state, should they choose to make some history of their own.
For more read this from an African American Legal Scholar from Ohio State University:

 Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote

From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Compliant self-sabotage

We are so enamoured of the scientific advances our species has accomplished, and to be sure, there are many. And many of those are extremely significant. Splitting the atom, fusion, nuclear medicine, antibiotics, micro-surgeries, even genetics, including the presence or absence of a gene that assists in the process of discarding brain material in adolescence that paves the way away from schizophrenia….these are just some of the wonders of our many highly sophisticated laboratories and their resident scholars and researchers. Many corporate entities vie for the opportunity to fund various experiments, in the hope that from such experiments and controlled testing will come products and processes upon which these corporations might build their futures through the development of market-ready applications. Universities, too, naturally and earnestly pursue such grants, in order to stay on the leading edge of the many curves that sustain and even enhance their reputation, thereby potentially magnetizing additional bequests from affluent benefactors. Professors are incentivized to research and publish papers in peer review publications, as an integral part of the competitive process both to maintain their tenure and to support the university’s ‘standards’ and academic reputation.

And all of this exemplary work is within the purview of empiricism. What is observable, and repeatable, and therefore measureable, calculated and replicated, in blind studies that include both experimental subjects and control subjects, is revered as the essence of the scientific method. Theories, too, are potentially recognized in some fields like history and philosophy and perhaps theology and religion, where a similar rigid empiricism is less easily accessed. Documents, audio and video records, personal interviews, diaries, letters and news reports are the grist for the scholars’ mill in these disciplines. Comparisons, language patterns and style, themes, and the study of the exercise of power in various modes and periods are some of the windows in these research projects.

However, with the headlong march to the sacralising of the marketplace, and the interactions therein, linked intimately to the technology that chases every ‘heartbeat’ of that circulation system, so much of our cultural landscape is replete with language, attitudes, beliefs and scientific experiments that advance our consciousness of the empirical evidence of all aspects of our individual and collective existence, or so it would appear, given the tidal wave of supporting evidence in both the public media and in the scholarly journals. Even research into human behaviour, most frequently assigned to the clinical, behavioural, adolescent, developmental, and criminal, pharmacological psychology departments, or perhaps to the macro work of sociologists, also deploying the scientific method in order to maintain credibility and reliability. Cultural historians, like John Ralston Saul, are rare and occupy rarified corners in the attics of academia, given their more abstract and general digging into the pages of history for their observations and conclusions.

Their observations, while relevant to a small segment of those whose affinity leads them to such writings as his and others of his ‘field’, do not receive nearly the attention nor the study by policy nerds, politicians and pundits. Additionally, the work of poets and philosophers, futurists and visionaries, even professors of religion like the recently minted husband of the star of Madame Secretary, is too often considered extraneous to public affairs, or even irrelevant to the cast of characters elected to provide “leadership” in the contemporary complex world.

We face so many serious and potentially existential threats today: including but not restricted to global warming/climate change, nuclear proliferation especially among rogue states like North Korea, and among terrorists like ISIS, Al-Nusra, Al-Shabbab, rising population figures that threaten to reach 10 billion people in this century, the scourge of non-prescription drugs (one American dies every day from heroine addiction!), the devious and nefarious activities of human beings both in the public arena and those less visible lurking in the darkest corners of our towns and cities, the increasingly rampant opportunism of corporations whose products are literally killing their innocent consumers every day (just today Honda recalled 5….yes 5 million cars worldwide, because of the faulty technology of their Takata airbags!), the spread of viruses like Zika both through insect infestation as well as human intercourse, and the growing spread of a migrant population fleeing the ravages of civil war, disease, hunger and the complete lack of opportunity for a decent life….and we merely make headlines of these dangers, ring our hands and continue in the blind hope that some miracle will save us from ourselves.

Has anyone given any thought to a process of studying human attitudes/behaviours/beliefs/cultures with the same kind of intensity, funding, respectability and urgency with which we seem so ready to study the physical universe? Poets, since humans began to sing and to share their songs and their stories, have been pointing penetrating eyes, minds, hearts and intuitions at and through the most impenetrable clouds of cognition and epistemology. However, their words and their thoughts and their sentiments are relegated to the sideboard of the “kitchen” where traditionally only mothers and daughters have spent any length of time. Robert Frost was, thankfully invited to “present” his poem commemorating the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, as have a list of laureates following him. However, remembered from that cold January day in 1961 are the words of the new president “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask rather what you can do for your country!” Exemplary rhetoric, to be sure, memorable undoubtedly and worthy of repetition. However, the public consciousness today needs, indeed craves, the penetrating insights of the most challenging writers, thinkers, poets, philosophers, eccentrics, and artists, and as history demonstrates, merely a miniscule segment of any modern culture keeps track of such insights. And clearly the contemporary media is both disinterested and tone deaf on the matters of the poet’s art. Occasionally, the presentation of arts awards like the Giller Prize for Canadian writing offer a tuxedo-gowned ballroom and the appropriate cast of elite characters to grace the ambience of “the artists” whose work is being heralded. Nevertheless, such “platinum” ostentation, while paying public homage to the writers and their latest work, does little to make the more nuanced and complicated insights of a Margaret Atwood or a Michael Ondaatje, or previously a Pratt or a Northrop Frye to a public starved of the intellectual and the emotional, nourishment that can and does emerge from the pages of a vibrant and risk-taking imagination.

I once heard a retired mid-to-low-level bureaucrat from the city of Toronto judge those then offering courses in entrepreneurship, sarcastically wondering how former civic employees could possibly have anything valid and relevant to offer aspiring and incipient entrepreneurs. It is not only young entrepreneurs who suffer the boredom of instruction from those with little or no imagination and even less courage and muscle for risk-taking. There is a universe of young minds in most Canadian schools, colleges and universities who suffer the indignity of having to listen to instructors whose range of imagination and experience is so bounded by their fear of not fitting in, and their dependence on the security of their tenure and their public reputations, that they serve their clients only those morsels of  cognition that fit the curricular demands of their provincial overlords, themselves terrified of reaching too far “outside the lines” that circumscribe something commonly known as ‘political correctness’.

Little wonder, the world suffers from both intellectual brain obstruction and rigor-mortis of the imagination. We have bound ourselves in such tiny and tightly bound boxes of acceptable thought, behaviour, belief and activities (save and except the emerging “extreme” activities of the daredevils of the physical universe) that we have become slaves of political correctness and intellectual conventionality.

There is a kind of classical conditioning that pervades the academic theatre, the corporate theatre, the political theatre, the religious theatre and the street theatre. Through an embedded process of framing problems as outside of human beings, like diseases that invade the human body, and then proposing methods and means of ‘attacking’ those problems, we have come to accept the conventional wisdom that those parameters are the extent of our intellectual and our imaginative capacity. It is our wallowing in a mind-set of extrinsics while avoiding/denying our intimate connection both to the roots of many of our problems and thereby to the resolutions of many of those problems that limits  the access to and the expression of our integrity, and that closed door precludes more effective and collaborative and immediate resolutions.

Human greed, human insolence, human insouciance, human pride, human negligence, human self-loathing, human narcissism, human lies, human neuroticism…..these are just some of the many “elements” in a table of human realities, just like the various elements depicted in the “table of elements” in the chemical universe that we tend to overlook and to minimize and to distort in our portrayal of too many issues facing the whole of humanity. In short, human complicity, not necessarily criminal complicity, (there are elaborate criminal codes that provide sanctions and processes to attempt to control criminal behaviour in most developed countries), is the essential component of too many of our many issues.

We design too many of our “solutions” upon faulty and self-sabotaging foundations:

To wit: health care systems that are based on the remuneration of our doctors through a calculation dependent on the number of visits with patients, and not on the quality of those visits, the outcomes of those visits, and the health of the patients who do not need those visits.

To wit: a tax system that fosters and enhances the wealth and the status and the political power of those with either inherited or “earned” wealth, when we know that wealth is not a measure of the “value” of the contribution of those people to the goal of improving the health of our civilization.

To wit: a labour code that favours the employer whose “investment” contribution to the enterprise is valued much more highly than the “worker” efforts that sustain that enterprise.

To wit: an education system that purports to champion ingenuity, creativity and risk-taking while deploying both teachers and a political culture that demand no mistakes, and that all mistakes be minimized to protect the public “reputation” of both the leaders of that system and the organization itself. A neurotic education system will, by definition, generate students who find and pursue the most risk-free paths to further education and career advancement. In addition, the education system also fosters a culture that mimics the corporate pursuit of individual profit, status and political influence, based on some limiting definition of “expertise” in ever-narrowing fields of inquiry.

To wit: a religious system that champions literalism, racism, sexism, bigotry, and the size of individual and corporate financial contributions, as well as infighting over dogma, the purity of ethical rigidity especially in our definition of the beginning of life, the depravity of the murderer, the championing of the incarceration system as our best “control” device when dealing with criminal behaviour, and not rehabilitation. Paying lip-service to forgiveness, tokenism in the extension of a helping hand to those in desperate circumstances, regardless of the history of those circumstances, giant investment accounts, and the elevation of a kind of corporate status similar to that of the corporate culture belie the potential for service and ministry so essential in a world divided into have’s and have-not’s.

To wit: a belated and swiss-cheese assault on global warming and climate change that focuses on the kind of billions needed to clean the environments of the developing world when the real culprits for decades have been the corporate controllers in the developed countries and measuring the reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and not in humans whose lives have significantly changed to comport with the requirements of leaving our grandchildren clean air, water and land for their survival.

To wit: a massive “defensive” arsenal of nuclear weapons in too many countries, including those countries verging on their own failure, and terrorist groups avaricious in their pursuit of the acquisition of such weapons, when we all know that the first deployment of any of these weapons would signal a devastating and unpredictable result, the limits of which no one is prepared to contemplate. In addition, the conventional mentality of all “great powers” is to significantly grow their military arsenals annually, while the numbers of starving and homeless in those countries, not to mention the infusion of hundreds of thousands of migrants into many developed countries, grows exponentially.

To wit: a corporate marketing strategy, supported by the “job creation” mantra that rains down on unsuspecting, naïve and trusting consumers faulty products under faulty warranties at exaggerated profits, as the “growth of the economy” and supplements this self-sabotaging premise with deals like the TransPacificPartnership that advance the agenda of the corporate moguls, now ‘siamesed’ with the government of countries like China where the boundary between company and government is so blurred as to be imperceptible.

To wit: a pharmaceutical industry that purports to “heal” the sick, while inflicting “regulated and endorsed” drugs without appropriate controls and trials, for the real purpose of generating exorbitant profits for their investors, exemplified by one former “financial services worker” who ballooned the price of one drug some 5000 times upon the takeover of a company owning the product, and then refused to testify, pleading the “Fifth” in Congress, and while exiting, called the members “imbeciles”.

To wit: a credit card and banking system (can you hear the howls of protest from both sectors in protest of their linkage as one?) that purports to “serve” clients with loans and mortgages at interest rates that generate billions in quarterly profits, as a signal that the “banking system” in both healthy and secure, and then, in a minimal emergency, “finds” ways to re-arrange the portfolio of loans and accounts to seem eminently fair and kind.

To wit: a conventional language of advertising and news reporting that so embraces the euphemism and the gentile cover for the most outrageous behaviour of the very companies and executive suites whose occupants are the owners of those media outlets, dependent on the ratings/investment/dividend equations for their success…in effect provide cover for the “deception” and the “lying” and the sophisticated and elevated distancing of the political class from the full realities of their responsibilities.

To wit: a gerrymandered and financed election system that so supports the re-election of well over 90% of incumbents (in the United States) and so embraces “name brand” candidates with fiscal resources to afford to become political candidates, that reinforces the status quo, at the expense of overhaul in the very premises that point the system in the direction of the wealthy and the powerful, all of which portends its own demise, so based on faulty, if cosmetically satisfying water-cooler conversations and media coverage.

To wit: a food production, distribution and marketing system that purports to keep us healthy while piling on pounds and cardiac arrests with tonnes of sodium and sugar, “for good taste,” thereby intimately and almost reverentially supporting the deception implicit in its very survival as an industry. Just today, we learn that the new kale salad at McDonalds has more calories and sodium that a double Big Mac.

It was Scott Peck who uncovered the denial of all occupants of offices in the Pentagon for responsibility for the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam conflict; today, Peck would be hard pressed to find even the lowest occupant of the occupational ladder willing to take responsibility for the most minimal of conscious errors, protesting, as a matter of convenience and of denial, any wrongdoing or even any evidence that would link the wrongdoing to his/her name. The state of denial is so prevalent, and grows more rapidly than the Zika virus, and we have not, and are not seemingly interested in developing a strategy for alerting ourselves to our own complicity in our self-sabotage, and thereafter for a concerted, collaborative and adventurous series of strategies and tactics that work toward the kind of integrity, courage and commitment to our very survival, for which our grandchildren plead.

And those pleas go unheard and unanswered at their and our own peril.