Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Delusions are dangerous, we can all agree. Delusions are firmly held, false beliefs that are not consistent with the culture nor can they be altered despite reason or proof of the contrary.

Protecting the United States from “danger” by asking for $54 BILLION in increased military spending is, in a word, delusional. As it already spends more than the next top four countries, combined, the United States is in not danger from being out-militarized, out-weaponized, out-gunned, or out hard-wired for intelligence gathering. Spending $600 billion, more than the total of China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and United Kingdom (their total nearing $400 billion) is hardly a budget needing another $54 billion.

On its own merits, the proposal is so reprehensible that it verges on being called a “war crime” for its design and intent. Link the budget request to the chant from the mouth of the occupant of the Oval Office, “We’re going to win…when did we win?…we are going to win again!.....(implications: whenever there is a “winner” there has to be a “loser”) and it does not take a rocket scientist to read the “tea leaves”. Only those who are both weak and so out of touch with their own reality that they can neither recognize nor acknowledge their fear and their weakness, need to puff up their importance with such proposals. Holding a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Trump has the potential not only to get this budget request approved and then parade around the world as the “giant dragon slayer” while define the dragon in the process. And for Trump, the world is full of enemies, dragons to a self-declared dragon-slayer, needing to be brought to heel.

Only problem is that history, especially recent history, has demonstrated that a hard-power super-power, like the United States, is out of sync, out of proportion and out of time with the many threatening “enemies” facing many countries simultaneously. Goliath is not a relevant or an appropriate model on which to base a country’s military, geopolitical and diplomatic membership in the council of nations. In fact, Goliath is so out-dated, not only unfashionable but outright counter-intuitive, to the many threats facing the human community. To be sure, Kim Jung Un’s military threats are real and only through leveraged muscle from China will this threat be neutralized, if at all. And that “leverage” will not depend on the United States’ arsenal, but on its ingenuity and diplomacy in negotiations with the Chinese. China, itself, is sabre-rattling in the South China Sea, as it builds new islands and landing strips in the ocean. And Russia, in-cahoots with Syria, Iran and possibly China, is also posing some threats to countries formerly part of the Soviet Union. However, to elevate these military threats to the top of the political agenda, as Trump is obsessed with doing, is to deny and ignore the grave significance of swans giving birth in February in the northern hemisphere, where this has never happened before. It is also to deny and ignore the importance of the deep and widening racial divide in the United States, and growing in other countries with the mass migration of refugees from too many countries.

Further, this $54 billion budget request will  erase the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement wing to a thalidomide stump, gut the State Department (where staff is already filling to overflowing the cafeteria not knowing what to do, when to do it and to whom to report), and decimate the foreign aid budget. (Remember that $15 million that George W. Bush sent to Africa to stem the tide of HIV-AIDS, as one of his most significant and historic and compassionate acts as president. It is not incidental that it also elevated the international reputation of his country when the country badly needed such a boost.)

Hard power, the political equivalent of male testosterone, can no longer be the principal instrument of foreign policy. And the sooner men (weak and hobbled, neurotic and psychotic, psychically and spiritually crippled men!) come to their senses about their need for sexual prowess as the central theme of their existence the sooner the world will get off its addiction to hard power, to militarized definitions of “security” and national defence, and to models and archetypes like Goliath that are not, and most likely never were, images of authentic emasculation.

The boy David, especially as championed by Malcolm Gladwell, demonstrated skill, ingenuity, imagination and especially an innate intuitive intelligence, traits sorely missing from the current administration. He also knew his enemy would be “over-armed” rendering him defenceless against a stone from afar. Is Trump falling into the Goliath trap, and taking the United States and all its people down that rabbit hole?
Why, for example, has Trump  not read, and paid attention to, the profound warning from former Republican president Dwight David Eisenhower, to beware the military-industrial complex. That historic red flag came from a military general, whose experience carried him and much of the allied force successfully through World War II. Given the circle of generals surrounding (and suffocating?) the chief executive, one would think that the vision and admonition of one of their shared “heroes” would matter. Of course, if all Trump can see is enemies in every corner, and the spectre of putting millions of unemployed back to work, then putting the country on a war footing is one way to guarantee the engines of manufacturing, design and deployment will hum long into the dark night of the foreseeable American horizon.

As for calling the first address to Congress, a renewal of the American Spirit, there seems to be more than a little irony in that hubris. How can one even pretend to renew the spirit of the country whose exemplary media is now an “enemy of the people” and whose chief advisor to the president envisions a war of civilizations pitting all “white” people against all minorities.  “White supremacy,” the banner of Steve Bannon’s ideology, and the core of his political and military and sociological world view, is hardly a banner to raise the spirits, or the hopes of any country, and their countrymen and women.

We have all seen this play before. And we thought we had signed off on the trashing of its use, the replay of its playbook, the duplicity of its original death spiral, and the echoes of its bombs and its furnaces. In the United States and in Great Britain, reports of threats and bombings of Jewish centres and synagogues are growing in frequency. Bombings of Islamic mosques are also on the rise.

Add to these racial incidents of violence, the fact that millions of children face starvation in East Africa, as the United Nations urgently asks for billions to prevent the disaster. Famine has already been declared in South Sudan. Reports indicate that up to 20 million people face starvation….and Trump is cutting the foreign aid budget, while padding the Pentagon’s budget by $54 BILLION.

This is sheer lunacy! This is nothing short of madness! And the world, not only the people of the United States, but of every other country in the civilized world has to do everything we can to stop this insanity!

There is no military reason to inflate the military budget; there is no imminent threat to the peace and security of the United States, and the damage that this kind of distorted and delusion policy decision will do is incalculable.

And yet, it is very hard to prove a negative. The narrow and myopic perspective of Trump and his government, supported as it is by the bigoted and narcissistic world view of his voters cannot be allowed to entrap America and her allies in any military conflict. And as for the cliché argument that military spending is exclusively for “defence,” you can drink that Kool Aid if you like. This scribe, and thousands if not millions of other sentient human beings are not drinking it either. I could, fi I were to lose all connection with the rest of the sane world, go out and purchase a Lamborghini for $200,000, and drive around town like the egomaniac I would be. And that car would not even have missiles to fire from its undercarriage!

It would merely be a testament to my male testosterone-driven, frail and atrophying ego and my self-respect. And it would provide an instant, narcissistic thrill for me and anyone dumb enough to get in.

Do we agree to get in this projected military “machine” and take a ride with this maniac?

Are you listening, Senators, Congress, Supreme Court, United Nations, and the leaders of every other country in the world?

We are all (even those who never paid a whit of attention to politics) watching and breathing fitfully, sleeping even more fitfully and working with an extra layer of anxiety…none of which needs to be an integral part of our lives. The only person on the planet who considers Trump a “super-hero” is the man himself. And, he must be stopped no matter what legal, financial, ethical or political leverage is required.



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Is war inevitable with this U.S. administration?

In an essay entitled, “A World Without War,”* American public intellectual, Noam Chomsky writes these words:

Concentrated power pursues the war relentlessly, and very self-consciously. Government documents and publications of the business world reveal that they are mostly vulgar Marxists, with values reversed, of course. They are also frightened—back to seventeenth century English in fact. They realize that the system of domination is fragile, that it relies on disciplining the population by one or another means. There is a desperate search for such means: in recent years, Communism, crime, drugs, terrorist and others. Pretexts change, policies remain rather stable. Sometime the shift of pretext along with continuity of policy is dramatic and takes real effort to miss: immediately after the collapse of the USSR, for example. They naturally grasp every opportunity to press their agenda forward: 9-11 in a typical case. Crises make it possible to exploit fear and concern to demand that the adversary be submissive, obedient, silent distracted, while the powerful use the window of opportunity to pursue their own favoured programs with even greater intensity…..

And a little later, he cites phrases used by the American press to depict the World Economic Forum: ‘movers and shakers,’ the ‘rich and famous,’ ‘wizards from around the world,’ government leaders and corporate executives, ministers of state and of God, politicians and pundits.’

And then, these two very unsettling paragraphs:

The wizards of Davos modestly call themselves the “international community,” but I personally prefer the term used the world’s leading business journal, the Financial Times: “the masters of the universe.” Since the masters profess to be admirers of Adam Smith, we might expect them to abide by his account of their behaviour, though he only called them “the masters of mankind:---that was before the space age.
Smith was referring to the “principle architects of policy” of his day, the merchants and manufacturers of England, who made sure that their own interests are “most peculiarly attended to” however “grievous the impact on others, including the people of England. At home and abroad, they pursue the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind”: “all for ourselves and nothing for other people.” It should hardly surprise us that today’s masters honour the same “vile maxim.” At least they try, though they are sometimes impeded by the freaks—the great beast,” to borrow a term used by the Founding Fathers of American democracy to refer to the unruly population that did not comprehend that the primary goal of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent from the majority,” as the leading Framer of the Constitution explained in the debates of the Constitutional Convention.

There is now a paradoxical dance going on with two rival dance partners in the United States: the “opulent” supported by the “freaks”….in a theatre of cognitive dissonance advocating a scorched earth approach to government. The argument from the White House podium to bring back jobs, would never be accomplished without a substantial enhancement of the coffers, and the pockets and the bottom lines of the “opulent”. And war, as usual, is likely to be deployed in the pathway to “victory” that Trump promised in his address to the CPAC on Friday. (After all, war is one of the most assured paths to generating economic activity, dependent as it is on massive generation/manufacture/deployment of materiel and personnel.)

The failed capacity of the “freaks” to discern the underlying motivations of the Trump gang, whose lead spokesman, Steve Bannon, openly admits his goal is to “deconstruct the administrative state.” “Running hot” at times, (Bannon’s words about himself) is not something the “freaks” seem to be willing to tolerate: witness the mass protests, including the pre-Oscar protest in Beverly Hills yesterday when Jodie Foster took the podium to urge the crowd, “This is our time to resist!”

Of course, there are those among the readers in this space who will push back against the Chomsky “world view” dubbing it “just another version of the class war” that has plagued the United States for centuries. And yet, with the ideological and political and world view divide that currently generates a cacophony on every television channel, and on many city streets, and also in many town hall meetings hosted by Senators and Congressional representatives, these does appear to be a deep chasm: over racism, sexism, Islam, refugees, law-and-order, militarism (increases to the nuclear arsenal), voting rights, Israel-Palestine, Putin and Russia, and trade.

Make no mistake, the occupant of the Oval Office is an outsider to the “business baron class” and resentful of his exclusion; however, he is quite happy to “invite” chosen business executives to the White House (to bring jobs back) while surrounding himself with their “aura, reputation and status” for his administration. There is little doubt that the “freaks” could not matter less to Trump, to Bannon, and to the corporate executive class. They are demonstrably mere pawns in a much larger and very troubling conflict, the dimensions of which are so far indetermined. Yet with the record of the way in which opponents are and have been destroyed, through character assassination, dismissal, firings, cover-ups, and sheer contempt, contempt even of judges and the legal system, and declaring the news media the ‘enemy of the people demonstrates a kind of absolute power (at least in the eyes of the president), it is not rocket science for the public and the rest of the world leaders to be anxious, nervous, tenuous, and even frightened.

The obsessive need for an “enemy” by this president and his administration extends to the “leakers” in the FBI, to the female Muslim who had stayed on after working in the Obama National Security Office and has departed given her racist treatment by the new administration, to the FBI careerist who left after ten years because the political arm of the White House holds a higher position on national intelligence than the career professionals, and the woman who resigned here seat on the FEC (Federal Election Commission) because the agency is “dysfunctional”….and without exaggeration, to anyone and any power who opposes the president.

To the adage, “all politics is local” must now be added, “all politics is personal” in view of the attacks on personalities that so characterizes the modus operandi of this administration.

Can war, of the civil and the international and the street-fighter sort be far off on the horizon?

If their M.O. is about “war”….the limits to that “war” are unlimited…and we are all “freaks” throwing stones, writing graffiti, and not thinking big thoughts about the important issues….as viewed by the “people in power”.

*Noam Chomsky, this chapter is the written version of the opening address of the World Social Forum on January 31, 2002, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and appeared on ZNet on May 29, 2002; reprinted in C.P. Otero, ed. Radical Priorities, 3rd ed. (Oakland: AK Press, 2003), found also in “The Essential Chomsky, edited by Anthony Arnove, New Press, New York, 2008, beginning p.325.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Can we envision the future as our "friend" and not our enemy, exclusively?

When does a situation become so pressing in the public consciousness that we demand action?

The old adage, “it’s too late to lock the barn door after the horse has left the building” seems to be rooted in both history and culture. Nevertheless, we keep rushing to put the lock on the door (fix the lock, find the key, get a new lock, adjust the door…whatever it takes) to assure ourselves and our families, organizations the horse will not be able to bolt “the next time”. Taking the deliberate, conscious, planned and reflective step to make sure the “lock” works and is engaged, PRIOR to the horse’s exit, however, seems like a nuisance, a bore, a distraction from our busy lives, too high a cost, and a target for a compendium of excuses, rationalizations and denials.

We seem either to love “cleaning up our own messes” or to be too disengaged to “prevent” those messes in the first place. We can and do laud the “vision” and the anticipation of a Wayne Gretzky who seemed always to know where the puck was “going to be” before it got there, as exceptional, sensational, visionary, even so extraordinary that only a very few are so “talented.” We all know people whom we describe as “having their head and eyes glued to the rear-view mirror” as the preferred pattern of their lives. History, after all, is the best teacher and, for another of our “cracker-barrel maxims” we shout, “Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it”. Some towns and cities in Ontario have taken to expressing these thoughts on the signs they erect at their ‘front door’:  (Name) “where history and innovation thrive;” “where past present and future live in harmony,” “where history inspires our future,” “touch the past embrace the future,”…..all of these purporting to hold both past and future in equal balance and significance.

The simple fact, however, is that we have some ‘record’ of how things “were” and no authentic and credible picture of how things “might be” tomorrow. Churches, using a potentially powerful influence on our culture (in the past) depend on the words, the injunctions and the warnings from their revered “fathers,” the writers who put those words into sacred texts. It was never that the writers believed or attempted to engrave history into our psyches as if it had more reason to be considered “sacred” than the “now” or all of the tomorrow’s to come. On the other hand, “authority” (Divine Right of Kings, and the prophetic writings of the various teachers and prophets, the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God…all symbols of some power and influence we are instructed to value, emulate and obey. And all of them come out of our past. In schools and families, we prosletyze the habits, values, perceptions and expectations we have absorbed from our ancestors. And that includes our embedded bigotries, our food preferences and abhorrences, our at-meal prayers, our vacation patterns and perhaps destinations. There is, we believe and are repeatedly told, high value to our way of living, believing, perceiving and behaving. In many families too, our sons and daughters take on the career patterns of their mothers and fathers, often in the same geographic locations. These might be the “family farm,” the family business, the family law or medical practice, or “following in the footsteps” of the politician father, for example. And, let’s agree, there is a kind of continuity to this pattern of observing and honouring the traditions of our past.

For many in the political or academic arenas, their professional lives rely extremely heavily on the precedents set by their predecessors: academic research, for example, the laws and traditions of the courts, the procedures of the operating room. Even the chosen garb worn by the respective practitioners is a symbol of the past, carried forward, with sometimes minor adjustments. (Wigs no longer worn in Canadian courts, except at the Supreme Court level.) And while we have multiple highly advanced systems to disseminate the details, and the perceptions and the values of our collective past, there are still many “new” developments for which we are alarmingly unprepared.

Global warming and climate change, the rise of terrorism, the plague of starvation, the epidemics that defy our antibiotics, the shift in trade practices from local and national to neighbourly to global, the displacement of millions of workers resulting in both a drain on the health care budgets and an exponential spike in drug and alcohol dependence….these are just a few of the files that often seem either too dire and complex to respond to our normal degree and kind of interventions, or whose implications and warnings can be debated and demonstrated to be too far in the future to worry about today. After all, the argument goes, we simply cannot afford to predict and to solve every crisis before it strikes.

Nevertheless, there is a cultural proclivity that favours looking backward, and includes a dissection of the present variables, while ignoring our responsibilities for the future, to a similar extent. Let’s re-examine the old story of the children falling into the waterfalls, in which people rush to the bottom of the falls to pick them out. Rarely, if ever, are our primary resources directed to the top of the falls to discover why they are falling in in the first place, and to preventing that tragedy. Rushing to “rescue” rather than rushing to “prevent” is a culture norm on which, if we remain permanently impaled, will “hoist us on our own petard”.

Self-sabotage, it seems, is not exclusive to the male demographic, although our (male) championing of its repetition in our individual and our collective lives is a red flag we might want to take more note of. However, when it comes to cultural self-sabotage, we can take pre-emptive and preventive steps as our own best “warriors”.

We do have both the skills and the knowledge necessary to develop a shared perspective that focuses our eyes and our minds and our hearts and our wills on the road ahead. There is nothing that proves beyond a doubt that our “knowledge” of the past is more “credible” or valuable than our anticipation our the future. History is, by its very nature, subject to a variety of widely differing opinions, new evidence examined from new perspectives with new technologies that permit new conclusions and therefore just as subject to change as our “view” of the future. It is our fixed attitude that renders the future much more frightening and therefore worthy of both avoidance and of denial than our attitude to our past.

There are so many layers to this observation Let’s start with the most obvious, our avoidance and in many cases our denial of death. So taboo is the subject that it is, in many quarters, equated with or even identified with EVIL. In the Manichean dichotomy that declares LIFE sacred and thereby good, then its opposite has to be evil.

 I have always found it difficult, if not impossible, to square this notion with the concept of “natural law” on which much of Christian church theology is based. Is death not just as much an integral component of natural law as birth? Are we not cognizant of and in agreement with the paradoxical concept that every “dying” opens a door to a “new life” in some manner, just as the inverse is also true, that every birth involves some “dying”. Living and breathing not only implies but actually declares that death will ensue, just as naturally and predictably as a morning sunrise after a dark dawn.

Our footprints in the sands of time in our families, our towns, cities, schools and universities (as well as our churches for the dwindling few) are moments to celebrate with celebrations, congratulations, anniversaries, baptisms, and even (dare I say it?) funerals. And yet our future prospects, visions, hopes dreams and even bucket lists are considered somewhat frivolous, unworthy of too much concentration, planning and concentration. After all, what value do they have, unless and until they have been fulfilled? (At least that’s the conventional “wisdom”!)

And yet, those things, pictures we envision , especially in our darkest moments, may be the single rung of hope on which we can hang our determination to carry on. They are not yet written in our diaries, nor are they documented in our family histories, nor are they recorded in the daily newspaper or the history archives. Yet, do those omissions qualify them as unworthy, irrelevant and readily dismissed?

Literature uses two traditional literary forms to speak about the future: utopia and dystopia, a future to be yearned for and one to be desperately avoided. And yet, there are so many less dramatic portraits of the future that are completely passed over in such works of art. Often, too, such works of literature are considered apocalyptic, given that our “imagination” permits their inclusion only in an “end of time disaster” or “an end of time rapture.”

We miss so much potential to put “paint on the canvas” of our lives by rendering the past as sacred, important and valid, empirical and measureable, and dismiss our future, unless and until we design and apply the latest digital technology that renders us capable of “predicting” the future.

Jurgen Moltmann, a German theologian contends that the future is what theology is all focused on. Hope, resurrection, re-birth, transformation and transcendence…these are just some of the words and concepts that purportedly represent the Christian faith. And yet, in the secular world, especially as the lawyers and the accountants assume pre-eminence, demonstrating the highest valuation for dollars, deals, profits, investments and all of the cultural attributes of the corporation, including the limits of all expectations except those that measure record highs for the Dow and the Nasdaq, these “etherals” are regarded as unsubstantiated, unreal and unworthy.

And it is not only in the abstract that the past limits our potential for a renewed future, individually and societally. If and when revert to our memory of what happened in our past, as prologue and predictor of the future, especially in the specific arena in which those memories originated (I had a bad experience as a child, so I refuse to have children because I do not want another child to go through what I went through” is just one example of the limiting of our future.)…then we have parked in an experience that was “then” while “this is now” and there may well be no reason to imprint the present and future with the experience of the past.

However, we seem categorically unwilling and/or unable to shed that trap.

“I had asparagus when I was young; it was horrible and I have refused to eat it every since.”

“I failed math in grade seven, and have had terrible experiences in math in every class since that time.”

“I won a talent contest in grade school so I expect to win this competition in university or in the workplace.”

This is not another “either-or” argument either. It is not that the past is sacred and the future dangerous. There is really no complete separation or segregation of past from present and future. Rather it is how we integrate our past experiences into our current perceptions and our future aspirations, not as limiting and precluding energies, but rather as gateways to our potential to do things differently now and in the future, based on our real learnings from our past.

And there is where the rubber meets the road.

How often, in our personal conversations or in our professional meetings do we ask questions like:

·      What lessons have we learned from our experiences that shed light on how we might do things differently in the future?

·      How can we move past our negative experiences into a perception that builds from that experience and provides even more possibilities than we would perceive without reflecting on that experience?

·      What “comfort” did we really experience from letting our negative history colour our present and future? (if we are honest, it was a false sense of security, rather than “comfort”)

·      What is the pathway to finding the gifts from our dark times that can free us from the limits to our expectations that we and others have placed upon them?
·      How can we support each other in a tectonic shift of personal and public attitudes that anticipates not merely negatives from the future but a full range of possibilities and probabilities, all of which will require monitoring, adjustment and careful planning?
·      The notion of risk, while real and significant, is not a determinant, except if we let it, of our shared future. How can we bring this observation to reality?

·      What new models of visioning, human, digital, weather and climate forecasting, new treatments of lethal disease, new ways of conceptualizing power and success are there right in our own circle of influence from whom and from which we can draw support for a transformative view of what might be possible in our shared future?

·      What new “ethical values” have already been accepted universally, demonstrating not only a change from historic values, but also a heightened ethical plane of potential?
·      How can we re-shape and re-structure our conversations to look more sensitively at our capacity to self-sabotage our individual lives and our shared future, to accept how we are capable of better?

There are those already raising their eyes in dismay, disdain and even contempt for what they are reading. They are already seeing another Don Quixote tilting at windmills pecking at the keys on his keypad. They almost shout out at their computer screen, “This is BS and I will read no more!”

Why such a strong push-back?

It is because we have too many examples of promises made and unkept; of dreams articulated without being incarnated; of aspirations cut short by the army of interferrents like illness, accidents, poverty, falling in love, the death of a family member, the injunction to forego a dream “in order to make a real living”….the prophetic warning from too many “responsible” parents.

Hawthorne and Thoreau, American writers, were advocates for and espousers of something they called Transcendalism, the notion that people are inherently “good” and become corrupted through their association with various organizations in the public square. How different such a perspective would impact our current fixation on both history and a potentially tragic future!

It is within each of us to move beyond all of the strictures and the injunctions of our parents, our teachers, definitely our clergy, and our professional colleagues, to embrace a new view of the future, one shaped by our best hopes and dreams, not one we permit to be victimized by our limited permission on the definition of what is possible.

How do we really  know what is possible unless and until AFTER we have tried to bring about something different and new? Like the  artist who puts paint on the canvas, s/he cannot know if the work is “good’ until after the painting is complete. Similarly, we cannot know what the future holds, unless and until we have put all of our best efforts, based on our highest ideals and visionings, into bring that future into being.
And yet, we, both individually and collectively, risk failing ourselves and the richness of our shared future by foreclosing on it and on ourselves through our perspective based on the past, and limiting our picture of the future.

And, we can do things differently, if we only choose.

Do we choose?

It may not be that global warming and climate change, or a nuclear arms race, or poverty and income disparity, or disease and terrorism are our greatest enemies; it may well be our ingrained attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and "positions" that require dramatic shifts in order to put us in "sync" with the energies of bounty, plenty and the miraculous that are all around us!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Let's not default on our better angels

The debate about fake news, alternative facts, the evidence of leaks of classified information (presumably by disgruntled government employers) and Trump’s war on the major news outlets as the sources of lies and fake news has finally got down to the question of individual human literacy.

 Among other things, literacy now includes the capacity…
·       to read,
·      to discern literal empirical information from figurative language,
·      to draw inferences from tonal quality, physical body language, images of power and
·      to deduce some relevant assessment of the world in which we live.

Bombarded with words and images, we are all, today, subject to a drowning cataract of what most sources call “information”….more of it now of the “infomercial” variety attempting to sell some product, some view of the world, some ideology and, as the dark side of the previous goals, the venality of the opponents. In the United States, the Second Amendment promises the freedom of expression, including the impunity even immunity from prosecution for what the rest of the world calls “hate” speech. Many pundits and observers consider the existence and healthy functioning of a free news media as a sine qua non of democracy: simply, the government of, for and by the people depends on the free flow of public information, dispensed with professional discipline, rigour and integrity (not to mention verified clarity) from a variety of sources reflecting a diversity of political ideologies, independent of the current political office holders.

A number of strong and fundamental forces are competing and converging on the political stage(s) in many countries. They include:

·      The emergence of social media, by which everyone has the opportunity to “report” on whatever happens in their individual life, and to comment on whatever happens in the range of their individual and collective conscious,  
·      the dislocation among former industrial workers who have watched their jobs slide to countries in which neither labour nor environmental standards exert the level of costs on corporations (a race to the bottom, in human workplace economic, political and sociological terms)
·      the rise of Russian nationalism, including military aggression and the seizure of Crimea
·      the wave of migrant refugees that threatens the political order in several European countries, and foreshadows and sustains the rise of nationalistic populism, racism, the far-right political parties that seek power, or have achieve it in Poland, Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States
·      the devolution of the language in public discourse of dignity, respect and honesty into character assassination, slander, libel and “alternative facts” with impunity
·      the serious erosion of the financial statements and thereby the reporting corps in small and medium-sized daily newspapers
·      the spike in cyber-intelligence and cyber-invasions that have and continue to undermine the integrity of democratic elections, to wit the presidential election in the United States
·      the erosion of public confidence in historic institutions and the people who serve in those institutions including government, corporations, and the many agencies of government
·      the rise of specialized academic research among the corporate and university communities that competes with what had been established “sibboleths” of personal life practice and process, rendering the ordinary citizen fearful of being able/capable of digesting and assimilating and making sense of the import of much of this research
·      the spike in video-game culture that supports and sustains a violent competitive world view of winner and loser, already deeply ingrained in the movie and television entertainment industry
·      the shrinking of the world’s space and time, making travel for leisure, business and learning much more accessible today than ever in history
·      the video-audio recording of moments from both public and private lives/conflicts/debates/investigations/reports much of it competing/conflicting with information from similar competing sources
·      the history of unresolved racial divisions taking shape and form uniquely in various places, with various minorities whose integration into the mainstream awaits their succeeding generations
·      the implications of globalization and global warming and climate change, two of the macro-issues still thirsting for resolution

These are just a few of the forces shoving individuals, organizations, governments, families and nations in several directions simultaneously, leaving everyone and most organizations confused, unfocused, nervous and in some cases dysfunctional.

The media, as a public face on our collective consciousness, struggles with its identity, as do the political parties that have depended on traditional roles, positions, and public credence, the leaders of the organizations, not only at the top, but in the many departments who, naturally, when facing fear and uncertainty, revert to self-protective behaviours that may prove to be short-sighted and self-sabotaging both to them and to their organization, also struggle to find an identity in this vortex of the confluence of new and potentially dangerous torrents for which none of us has prepared.

Identity politics, in a primarily transactional business-dominated (win-lose) culture, pits my ability to dominate against your’s in every office, boardroom, operating room, union hall and classroom. It is as if the poverty of the adage “do it to them before they do it to you” has found universal resonance. This poverty of perspective, robbed as it is of “the other’s needs, hopes, aspirations and dreams” has stripped the consciousness and the demands of the “public good” from conversations about shared issues, shared resources, shared goals and shared hopes and optimism.

  • When we accept the poverty of this monumental scarcity, in the face of such threatening and impending and seemingly intractable issues, we fulfil the self-fulfilling aspect of our own prophecy. 
  • When we place our individual needs above those of the “public good,” we not only abandon our responsibility for serving the needs of the public good; we also absolve future generations from having to take those responsibilities seriously. 
  • When our world view, in the face of such a plethora of storms bearing down upon us, reverts to isolationism, nationalism, walls, guns and deportations, as the primary way of dealing with perceived (and demonstrably unreal) threats, we have already joined a large public army/consciousness/conventionality/normalcy that is a lie to the human spirit.

This current political threat from the far-right denies our basic, demonstrable and verifiable human reality: that we are hopeful, compassionate, social, egalitarian, spiritual and integrous at our core. If and when we, individually and collectively, submit to the denial of these better (even best) angels, and join the parade to feed our darker instincts to personal power under the threat of one or more of many fears, we reduce our capacity to defeat these dark forces, and thereby throw away our opportunity to nudge the world to a higher and more sustainable and much more honourable level of civilization….a goal that regardless of our political, economic, academic, religious or national background, we all share.

Let’s start demonstrating that basic truth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How much chaos and deception and lies can the world tolerate?

After the chocolates, the flowers, the romantic music and the loving of yesterday (Valentine’s Day), this morning the dark shadow of geopolitical reality hangs over our heads and our spirits.

Within the last week:
·      Kim Jung Un has fired a medium-range ballistic missile, fired this time with solid fuel (not the liquid kind that gives a longer warning to enemies),
·      Putin has fired a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, in direct contravention of the agreement signed by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev,
·      National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn has resigned in disgrace over his at best inappropriate (at worst illegal?) conversations with the Russian Ambassador to the United States, over sanctions against Russia for its intervention into the American electoral process, and
      reports circulate from multiple sources that the White House is in “turmoil”…..staggered by the many mis-statements from alternative facts to lies about the three million undocumented immigrants who voted illegally, the request for an investigation into the “sales pitch” from Kellyann Conway on Fox to go out and buy Ivanka Trump’s line.

Whether it is a committee of the Senate or the House or both, investigating the Trump debacle that attempts to pass itself off as the official administration of the United States, testing the White House gang at the moment of its obviously deepest chaos seems to have become the chosen sport of both the North Koreans and the Kremlin. Whether General Mattis, Secretary of Defense, can put a lid on world jitters this morning at the NATO meeting in Brussels, given the depth of the administration’s dysfunction is, for many observers, doubtful if not actually impossible.

While Europe just this morning signed the CETA trade agreement with Canada, removing tariff barriers between Canada and the EU, the angst among many European nations and their leaders grows in the wake of the turbulence in Washington and the prospect of opportunistic “dictators” like Jung Il and Putin to exacerbate the already boiling geopolitical pot(s). The notion of a stable, honourable democratic and trustworthy partner in the White House and in Washington seems to have flown away with the tornado of lies, falsehoods, allegations, “lock-her-up” charges and testosterone-laden invective that spews from the president and his coterie of sycophants. (Incompetence, laced with invective and ego-mongering seeps through in the most innocuous ways: “Prime Minister ‘Joe’ (not Justin) Trudeau”, from the mouth of the White House Press Secretary yesterday.)

The Trump “brand,” having been banned in China, is undergoing a potential resurfacing in light of the dramatically altered geopolitical realities in which the president of the United States puts his business empire’s growth on the table with the many other negotiations, in his hubristic and blind belief that ‘the president of the United States does not have any conflicts of interest’.

This morning reports indicate that there are wiretaps of ‘several’ phone conversations between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives in the midst of the presidential campaign. That, by itself, ought to generate ulcers if not cardiac arrests among elected Republicans, so adamant is (was) their party as the protector of the United States from the “murderer Putin” (to quote Senator John McCain). However, while talk and news reports proliferate in Washington, missiles fired and the strafing of U.S. warships in both the Baltic and Black Seas by Russian fighter jets must be giving everyone watching the jitters reminiscent of the Cold War of the fifties and sixties.

Gorbachev, in a recent op-ed piece in Time, predicted that the world was moving inexorably toward war. In that piece, he called on Trump and Putin to jointly offer a resolution to the Security Council of the United Nations to put the option of war off the international table. Recognizing that neither ‘side’ can or would win in any military conflict, Gorbachev’s incisive analysis and prophetic invitation need to echo in Brussels, in New York, in Moscow and especially in Washington and Beijing.

The world is not ready for, nor can it tolerate another cold war, especially as the existential threats of global warming and climate change, massive immigrant dislocation and migration, the unattended issues of human rights abuses and the rising levels of un-and under-employment resulting from globalization and the widening gap in incomes…..and the rising tide of ill-ease, bitterness and even contempt for the institutional leadership.

Facsists and ultra-nationalists, protectionists and those like Steve Bannon who seek the overthrow of the “establishment” everywhere, (following Italian apocalyptic thinker Julias Evola endeared by Fascists in both Italy and the Third Reich) have to be “outed” from their closet of  toxic secrecy and nefarious scheming and shown to be what they really are: dangerous to world order!

Trump says Flynn was fired because of a lack of trust; how ironic! Who can, could or will trust the Trump administration? Sometimes parallel process (whereby precisely the same dynamic is playing out in a private life and a parallel universe, such as the whole administration) is so clearly evident as to be almost ghostly in its weirdness. How could these two dramas being taking shape unfolding on this public stage simultaneously?

And, among the names being floated for Flynn’s replacement is General David Petraeus'; although somewhat tarnished by his disclosure of classified information to his biographer/lover, why would Petraeus even consider such an appointment? Loyalty to his country, of course, for a life-long military careerist who has risen to the top of the national totem pole of power, will go a long way to prompting a positive response should he be tasked with replacing Flynn. And, with the current White House in shambles, the nation’s security being discussed in front of private patrons at Trump’s Florida digs, (not in a private and confidential space!) and the world shaking its head and wagging its collective parental finger at the mess of the first 26 days, little wonder there is anxiety in many world capitals.

Can Petraeus, Mattis, Tilerson at al rescue this administration and keep this national ship “on course” (whatever that might mean under the unpredictable and irascible and uncontrollable chief executive? Will the Wshington Post and the New York Times (the dishonest media in Trump’s mind) uncover and report enough evidence to force the appointment of a special prosecutor, as in the Watergate affair, and will the evidence be so overwhelming as to render the president potentially empeachable?

It is early in the drama; however, there are many demons released from the administration’s closet with more likely to come. Can treason really be on the radar in this deplorable state of the U.S. government just when stability, trust and predictability are what the world needs most?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Our historic opportunity for change through global collaboration, co-operation

There have been declarations of “the end of history” when Hegel noted the triumph of Napolean, and when Nietzsche noted the end of man, and when political philosopher Francis Fukuyama noted that consumerism would supplant ambition, courage, imagination and individualism. Back at the beginning of the public consciousness of the danger posed by the release of carbon dioxide through hydroflorocarbons from aerosol cans, the apocalypse became the watchword for many environmentalists, and through that spike in consciousness, the environmental movement lost much of its steam. Overstatement is, by definition, a potential self-sabotage simply because the “end” does not appear, and because the public becomes disengaged. A yawn replaces the appropriate activism and change in habits.

The Christian heritage of the “end of times” is an archetype from the book of Revelation that foretells the time when good triumphs over evil, and when the ultimate judgement of humans by God separates the “good people” from the “evil people”. Anticipating the end of time has been a repeating theme starting with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem A.D. 70 and as re-emerged intermittently in various writings from Ezekiel to Isaiah, as a method for disclosing the future intervention and power of God in the lives of those writing the Old Testament.

As expected, the writers who have raised the spectre of the end of time have fed on and nourished a kind of fear of epic mortality, often as a motivating vision and stimulus for reformation. When the current reality overwhelms our capacity to integrate and comprehend what we are witnessing and experiencing, humans frequently dip into the well of metaphors and re-cast the image of ultimate terminality. Wars, tsunamis, droughts, fires, mass migrations, mass deaths, economic depressions, epidemics, population explosions, revolutions….these are just some of the turning points in human history that have energized the deployment of apocalyptic thinking and writing.

Of course, the wringing of hands, the turning to prophets and saviours, heroes and tyrants, a spike in both legal and illicit medications for escape….these are some of the ways humans choose to confront their mounting fears. Large and seemingly unresolveable fears ironically generate a kind of thinking and language that confronts the fears with over-reaching power, in images of the 'end of times'. Also, when one is frightened, one’s grasp on what is “real” seems to loosen and one looks for reference points of stability, perhaps even maturity, perspective and calm. Some also look for “silver bullet” remedies that can be compressed into a kind of sound byte, without the full comprehension or even openness to the complexities of current reality and any authentic process for change. The opportunist gravitates to such a vacuum, ready willing and eager to ride the wave of fear to ultimate power and control by promising instant, glib, (unachieveable, unrealistic) and large answers to what are really gordion knots so complex that no political, economic, military or executive act will resolve. As part of the paving of the path to power, the opportunist seizes on promising the “moon” to a people starved for their “due” at least in their own mind.

The convergence of “scarcity” with the ambition of the unscrupulous, especially with the advent of a mind of technology with which the masses have yet to adjust and to integrate into a kind of normalcy in their lives, offers a unique moment in history when moderation seems to fail the starved imaginations and the limited visions of many in the public for what they perceive as required solutions. Power, in the short term, swings toward those who promise that “moon” without any real expectation of resolution. Desperation, at that time, becomes the operating public mood in the culture.

With the rise of opportunists, charlatans, hucksters and narcissistic self-fulfilling and self-declared ‘super-humans’, one of their easily manipulated tools is the re-writing of the public discourse. What once seemed an agreed body of information over which a legitimate debate took place as to what approach might best meet the need for change is replaced by a tidal wave of mis-information, dis-information and outright distortions. Charlatans have no remorse at cleaning away the underbrush of facts in order to have a new unfettered road to dominate both the facts and their proposed solutions, all of which are designed to enhance their own personal reputation. Any thought of the “public good” is obliterated from the consciousness of the opportunist charlatan, for the simple reason that “the other” has no “standing” in the court of his mind. The only “other” that matters is the other who submits completely to the will and the whim of the “leader”. “Serve me, or prepare to be outcast” (in order for me to sustain my invincibility and my supreme power) would seem to be the mantra of the supreme leader.

Little wonder then that talk of the end of time, the end of history has re-surfaced in the public consciousness.

The triumph of “virtuality”, the new word that seems to be crowding “reality” off the stage of the human consciousness, seems to have reached a “zenith or perhaps a nadir” with the rise of Donald Trump to the Oval Office. Dependent almost solely on the utterances of his own vacuous mind, the new president “invents” terrorist threats, raping Mexicans, corrupt Hillary, rising crime rates and a swamp that needs draining, not to mention “so-called judges” and presidents who are not encumbered by any conflict of interest nor a constitution. As for the divestiture of private business interests, the disclosure of tax returns, the nepotism embedded in appointments to the administration of family members as well as the historic respect for individuals like Senator John McCain,…..well, these are all mere myths in the mind of a dishonest and disgraceful media and not worthy of honouring, respecting, or even circumscribing as off limits from presidential tweets.

The Speaker of the British House of Commons shouts that Trump be denied the opportunity to speak to Parliament when he visits London,  an occasion that would be an embarrassment to the Queen and the British people. The Canadian government sends as many cabinet ministers to Washington as will be received, in order to pave the way for a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Trudeau, as if such inordinate pre-planning would leave the Canadian leader vulnerable to the Trump bullying offensive.

It is not only that Trump lives in and propagates an “alternative reality” which he expects his acolytes to utter before every microphone the can find. It is more importantly also an “alternative reality” that he expects the American people, the leaders and people in countries around the world and the media serving those billions to believe. In short, this man is challenging the credence of the world, in order to bend it to his supreme power. Every opposing statement is countered with a denigrating rebuttal, based usually on an “ad hominum” attack, (witness the attack on Senator Blumenthal’s war record attack, following his disclosure of the Gorsuch comments on Trump’s demeaning the judiciary as “demoralizing and abhorrent”). 
Witness the presidential flaying of Nordstrom after they dropped his daughter’s clothing line, because of lack of sales. (‘They have treated her so unfairly!’) Nothing and no one is outside the line of fire of the psychotic, narcissistic and egomaniacal inhabitant of the White House. And, there is a real danger that the constant drumbeat of headline-followed-by-headline from HIS obsession with control will both literally and metaphorically swamp the consciousness of both the media editors and their audiences.
It used to be with George W. Bush that we learned, “I don’t do nuance!” whereas with Obama, nuance, moderation and reflection were defining traits. Now we learn that Trump does not even have the word “nuance” in his lexicon. He does not know such a word/concept exists.

And with the consistent climb of the Dow, and the Nasdaq, the drop in unemployment numbers in the U.S. and the confirmation of some of the most far-right, potentially abusive and sycophantic cabinet ministers in U.S. history, we are on the brink of several regressive and retrograde steps backward in history: the decimation of the public school system, the emboldening of  law enforcement’s trampling of civil rights of minorities, women, refugees, and the demolition of Obamacare, the final death knell in the history of the labour movement, and the danger of a geopolitical pot that boils over from the disturbances and the bullying of the new administration. The danger of the erosion of NATO, and the resulting empowerment of Putin, linked to the potential trade wars that Trump has already announced are in his sights bode badly for stability in world order.

As the globalization of economic trade coughs up its winners and losers, and the tectonic shift of the locus of manufacturing, and the replacement of millions of jobs with digital engineering, added to the displacement of employment “with their hands” for which men were eager to prepare, (with the rising need for workers in health care, education and the soft services historically filled primarily by women), the spike in health costs with a rising tide of retirees who consume a major chunk of health costs, there is enough turbulence and scarcity of real solutions to the convex of large issues for an opportunist like Trump to attempt to fill the vacuum with his own vacuity.

There are people in countries other than the United States who recognize the “idiot” (their word) that Americans have elected president and they do not wish to emulate or replicate the American mistake. Hope for many observers lies in the potential defeat of far-right wing-nuts in France, and other European countries, a move that would only fulfil the prophecy of Trump that he is the voice of a world-wide movement.
Surely, the election of Trump and the ensuing trail of lies, phony promises, hollow explanations and rationalizations, and empty sound and fury of the Trump Roman Candle will self-immolate before the eyes of the world. Also, surely the better angels of the American judiciary and the Republican party (so far suffering under their own self-imposed gag order and nose holding), along with the  self-respect of the American people.

However, before this “storm” is fully spent, having inflicted considerable damage and devastation on all of the most vulnerable, including minorities, unemployed and underemployed, the rule of law, the public institutions like hospitals and schools, traditional trusted relationships with allies, committed protective alliances like NATO, the world will have to adjust its attitudes to how it protects itself from the potential of a hostile take-over by those seeking the dominance they believe is their’s by right.
The hostile take-over is a routine story from the corporate business world. A large company with a mountain of resources sniffs out a likely target corporation whose acquisition would significantly enhance the profits of the pursuing corporation, or just as likely, would impede the profits of the primary competition of the pursuing corporation. Such a power-metaphor, however, is not so acceptable in the geopolitical realm. Witness the Putin hostile takeover of the Crimea and the potential incursion into other border countries.

The business model has invaded, like an unstoppable virus, the way public business is conducted. The privatization of everything, as the “right” pays unlimited homage to the generation of private profit for investors and “winners”, leaves a wake of “losers” for which the social net then has to scramble to lift up. And the cost of this “lift” is far too heavy for the kind of revenue stream left after the taxes on the uber-rich have been eroded by their loyal law-makers, leaving a sea of poisoned detritus, both human and environmental.

It may be dangerous to speak in terms of ultimate threats to our shared responsibility for creating a world in which equal access to opportunity, including basic services like health care, education, employment and a stable and secure family that delivers a healthy environment to its grandchildren. However, that risk seems necessary to take, if we are to mount a sustained, effective and ultimately mortal wound to the Trump administration.

Whatever form the combined forces of man and nature conjure to “beach this whale” permanently, thereby depriving it of its needed oxygen to live, the world is now conjoined in a shared responsibility, the likes of which we have not experienced for decades. Collaboration, people in the streets in all the towns and cities in every country in the world, a confluence of “fact” generators to combat the alternative facts of this “alternative universe”, and an environmental initiative at the level of every household on the planet….these are the minimal requirements to begin the push-back….and the efforts have to cross ideological, religious, cultural, linguistic and economic boundaries.

Anything less will fail.