Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Reflections on propaganda and procrastination...at the highest levels

 No one can comprehend, justify or interpret the lock-down of some 25 million people in Shanghai, in order to control the spread of COVID.

From CNN’s Steven Jiang, April 19, 2022, in a piece entitled, Hunger and
anger in Shanghai’s unending lockdown nightmare, we read this:

‘People are also seeing Chinese propaganda czars double down, painting Omicron as a potentially lethal threat while stressing that only zero-Covid can save China from the deaths and havoc caused by the virus in the West. Officials have made it clear the policy has the personal stamp of approval from the country’s strongman leader, Xi Jinping, who has yet to visit Shanghai-a city he once led- amid the deepening crisis. Xi is expected to assume an almost unprecedented third term later this year, paving the way for him to rule for life….With state media headlines screaming ‘it’s not (the) flu’ against government statistics showing only about two dozen severe cases among the infected in Shanghai so far, nearly everyone seems to agree on the apparent absurdity of the ‘solution being worse than the problem’-particularly as stories surface on social media about deaths relating to those unable to received medical care for non-Covid causes due to the lockdown.’

This story out of China comes at a time when the world is focussed on the deadly and increasingly protracted war in Ukraine, where the Russian czar-wannabe deploys a similar kind, degree and ubiquity of propaganda in order to facilitate/achieve his personal agenda.

Propaganda is defined as information especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. What the definition does not include is the “will” or the “dominance” or the “tyranny” of the agent of its deployment. The word autocrat, (relating to a ruler who has absolute power) too has been so bandied about as to render the western audiences somewhat inured, or perhaps even immune to the full implications of its operation.

Mind control, brain washing, undertaken by men whose conscience seems to have fled their persons, may be the undeclared war that is, like the forest fire in the roots of the trees, spreading from one corner of the world to others. We saw a similar kind of mind manipulation playing out during the four years of the previous U.S. administration. The results, the votes of some 74 million people for trump, astounded many who still cannot reconcile how grown, mature and self-respecting men and women could pull a lever to mark a ballot in favour of such a presidential candidate. And it is not only the content of the lies/propaganda/mind-control that is of serious concern. It is also the machine, comprised of individual men and women committed to carrying out the “orders” of the strong man at the top of the hierarchical pyramid of power.  And that machine also embraces large organizations whose decision-makers have succumbed/surrendered/anaesthetized/medicated their own brains and minds in order to fall in to a quick-step march that feeds their puny, emaciated and starved ego’s. Holding sway over others, regardless of how rich the carrots or how painful the sticks, is nevertheless not only a political problem facing the world; it is also an ethical dilemma that undermines many of the best efforts to take and to enforce measures of public policy that would, for example, re-orient the position of western leaders vis a vis Ukraine, from one of “defending Ukraine” to one of “ensuring that Ukraine wins”.

While the good works of shipping tonnes of military material to Ukraine, and of imposing more stringent sanctions ‘than ever before’ (a political piece of inflated rhetoric instead of the simple word “previously”) must not be either ignored nor unappreciated, it is not enough. And the propaganda that ‘sells’ it as heroic, from the perspective of the American and European media and leadership, does not address the weakness and the futility it exposes. Managing the message, an integral component of every political campaign, and certainly essential to any war effort, is, in an information age of highly sophisticated and universal digital capacity to reach into the hands/hearts/minds of billions of ordinary men, women and children, dependent upon receivers capable and willing to set aside their ‘rose-coloured glasses’ and their generally adaptive and compliant wills to the music of political and corporate leadership that they once considered trust-worthy.

Mind-control by tyrants can only be accomplished through the eyes, ears, minds and hearts of those of us who are on the receiving ‘end’ of their messages. Numbed by any of the normal pain-numbing agents, whose numbers grow as our distaste for the political theatre also grows, we risk falling into a kind of attitudinal and social state of unconsciousness. The lies are so prevalent and to pernicious that we risk tuning them out, while millions, for example in Shanghai, suffer inordinately and unjustifiably. Millions too are suffering in Russia under the blanket of forbidden truth-telling about the ‘war,’ a word which if used in public can result in arrest and  punishment, and up to 15 years imprisonment, on the third conviction.

And the suffering of the Ukrainians, depicted in pictures, which if left black and white are hauntingly reminiscent of those we see in museums, movies and texts from World War II, rises above in both its depth and reach that even of the people of Shanghai. And, as Ukrainian grandmothers and grandfathers keep asking hopelessly in video clips, “Why?” a question that haunts not only those individuals and the reporters engaged with them, but each of us in every nation witnessing this massacre.

Cutting through the propaganda of the ‘western’ liberal democratic leaders, however, is more subtle and more demanding that trashing the lies of a Putin or a Xi Jinping (or a Trump). And that intellectual and psychological rigour needed to push past the good deeds into the reality of “winning” as opposed to “defending” Ukraine, is evident in only a few public thought leaders.

Obviously, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s name comes first to mind, given his daily address to Ukrainians, and anyone around the world who will listen. Thankful for all of the support, and at the same time pleading for more, is a message so obviously and intrinsically authentic that no one is in doubt. And for his native patriots, the message is both inspiring and supportive as well as embodying leadership with integrity. Not only is Zelenskyy’s message, tone, delivery and consistency laudable but placed aside the lies coming from Moscow, Zelenskyy’s purity seems even more unadulterated and Putin’s lies even more despicable. The literary/dramatic foil is on display for all of history.

And then there are scholars like Anne Applebaum, appearing on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin last evening, stressing the need for Ukraine, supported by all of those offering support, to not merely defend themselves against the Russian onslaught, but more importantly, to win this war. In her assessment, the only way for anyone to anticipate the Russians going home, withdrawing their troops, is for a clear win to be achieved by the Ukrainian forces and people. Her insight that there seems to be little if any difference between sending missiles and defence systems to Ukraine and the option of sending military fighter jets, although, based on the information she has learned, those jets will not be either adequate or appropriate for the task facing the Ukrainian forces. Her inference here is that an all-out commitment, without reservations from the west, including both NATO and the U.S., is not only needed, but essential to ensure a Ukrainian win. Just this morning, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, talk of a Ukrainian-imposed no fly zone, rather than one enabled by NATO jets, has started to be voiced.

In another space here, we have signalled the thoughts, perceptions, attitudes and conclusions of such observers as Fiona Hill, Ian Brezinski, Garry Kasparov, and more recently Vladimir Kura-Murza (recently detained), along with William Browder (American investor, targeted for death by Putin, originator of the Magnitski Act(s) after the murder of his lawyer at 37 in Russian hands), all of whom have noted, without reservation, the prophetic and lethal goals of Putin, whom they all believe will not stop with a victory in Ukraine. None of these people, and now even the Director of the CIA, Willian Burns, indicate that threats to use tactical nuclear weapons by Putin cannot be taken lightly. Former NATO commander James Stavridis also warns of a major cyber attack, not only on Ukraine, but also on many of the networks in the U.S. for which he argues we have to be prepared.

The question on some minds this morning, still however, is whether or not whatever military, intelligence and war-materiels are made available to Ukraine will inevitably be too little too late. Diplomatic and legal arguments, however appropriate in a court room, especially in an International Criminal Court, for the determination of criminal liability for ‘crimes against humanity’ and/or for genocide, for example, are no longer warranted or even worthy of honour by the people in the Pentagon, the White House, and in Brussels at NATO. While it is encouraging to learn that both Finland and Sweden are now engaged in the abbreviated application process to join NATO, (as Ukraine is also in the short-circuit path to EU membership), these moves, along with all of the sanctions imposed so far, as well as any more that might be forthcoming, will not be an adequate substitute for those military weapons, intelligence systems, and all of both the software and hardware in the stockpiles in NATO and U.S. arsenals.

The resistance, too, of the corporates in Germany, especially the coal lobby, to any embargo on Russian gas and oil is another of the kinds of realities with which Putin is and will continue to be overjoyed. Some $300 billion-per-day in revenues to Moscow from fuel sales to Europe, vastly drown the $1 million in military aid flowing into Ukraine. And that imbalance bodes badly for Ukraine and for the west, regardless of how and when this war whimpers to a conclusion.

There is a seductive appeal to a defensive campaign, free of all of the ethical and moral baggage of being “offensive”. And there are arguments that all good offenses depend on reliable, consistent and stable defences. Defensive, is the argument that is used to justify all of the nuclear warheads (Russia has approximately 6000); and yet Ukraine, having honourably surrendered her’s, on the promise of security and protection, by nations including both the U.S. and Russia, is now left naked, seemingly dependent on the largess of the U.S. and NATO. Cries from the historians that America should have done more, provided more military materiel, as far back as 2014, when Russia ‘took’ Crimea, while exhibiting an indictment of the Obama administration, do nothing to provide Ukraine today. Similarly, when Obama declared a ‘red line’ in and when Assad (read Putin) ever were to deploy chemical weapons in Syria (read Aleppo), and then ‘defaulted’ into what effectively today looks like ‘do nothing’ for whatever possibly legitimate reasons, these decisions have helped to set the stage for the thousands of lost lives and the millions of displaced refugees. And all of this might have been prevented, if only…..

Urgency, immediacy, immodesty, crying in the wilderness…these are the linguistic and thought modalities of prophets, poets, novelists, and playwrights…and they are anathema to many if not most diplomats and political actors. And then, when the crisis (in whatever sector, region or demographic) reaches a point when it can and will no longer be ignored, then, and only then, does the institutional edifice spring into action, acting heroically, bravely and self-servingly to rescue the tragedy that those same institutions, by their negligence, have significantly enabled.

We enact a parallel pattern in so many of our decisions. Rather than take those small preventive steps, (like cleaning our teeth, or daily physical exercise, or offering hospitality to our circles) for reasons that seem legitimate at the time of our default, only to learn later that we have left the barn door open and the horse has bolted…and then we leapt into a frenzy to “bolt” the damn door!

Shameful and pathetic..and seemingly with impunity! Who is going to go back into history to hold those responsible for ‘sins of omission’ when we are over-committed to addressing those sins of commission that flood our screens and our eyes and minds?

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Refecting on the courage to tell the truth...

 Writing on lithub.com, April 15, 2022, Andrew Keen entitles his piece: ‘When Your Public Square is a Private Company, Any Sulky Billionaire Can Buy It’…in reference to the recent attempt by billionaire Elon Musk to purchase a huge chunk of Twitter for some $43 billion.

 Inside the piece, we read, ‘Whether or not Twitter is worthy the $43 billion that the Tesla CEO is supposedly willing to pay is neither here nor there. It’s a silly man paying a silly price for a silly product. What matters is that in our social media age, Twitter -- a place we go to try to emulate Elon Musk and make a lot of private noise-- has massive value. You see, we don’t just go to social media Twitter to make noise. We go there to make a very contemporary kind of noise---a moral noise…..(Having weaponized morality), We go there to make noise abuot how the world could and should be a ‘better place’. We go on Twitter to noisily call out strangers about their immorality—their racism, their sexism, their classism and their wokeism. We go there for an ethical jolt. To jump start and bolster our sense of moral righteousness. That’s ‘like church’ some of you might say. No. Twitter is church. That’s why I don’t go there….(Referencing writer Dan Brooks) (who) believes that contemporary morality has mostly been  hijacked by the marketing department of large companies like PepsiCo, Microsoft, and Nike  which now use social media to peddle their own, usually self-serving versions of goodness…But all they are really doing is trying to sell more shoes or carbonated drinks or suites of office software…”

Normalizing the weaponizing of morality by character assassinating those whose mistakes ring loud and clear in our tabloid vernacular, however, is not restricted to Twitter. It (weaponizing of morality) has long held a prominent place, indeed it may be the basis of the profit motive of those tabloids (think Rupert Murdoch and his empire). It has had an even longer and even more prominent place in church dialogue, in and through which specific verses of scripture have been deployed as bullets in arguments about a variety of public and social issues, over which those with a bent for the pistol in their debate prep seek complete control. Weaponizing morality, bible verses, and also political language, through the now common-place references to the Holocaust and its denial, have all contributed to an erosion or our consciousness of the ambiguous, the uncertain, the nuance and the truth.

So while Putin threatens both chemical and nuclear weapons in Ukraine if the U.S. continues to provide military equipment to Ukraine, on this side of the Atlantic, in the New Statesman April 13, 2022, in a piece by George Eaton, Noam Chomsky is quoted as saying, ‘we’re approaching the most dangerous point in human history….We are now facing the prospect of destruction of organized human life on Earth. (In another piece in the New Stateman by Megan Gibson, on March 30, 2022, Francis Fukuyama, American political theorist, is quoted as saying, ‘We could be facing the end of ‘the end of history’.

None of this is to say that the language we use on Twitter is exclusively, or even primarily the cause of what is happening in Ukraine. Nor is it to say that the massacre in Ukraine will be stopped by those opposed to Putin’s war taking to Twitter to scream bloody murder. Morality, ethics and human civilization, taken together, is not a monster to be tamed like a migraine headache, with another new chemical/linguistic potion. We have both the capacity to learn, nano second by nano second, information from every street corner on the planet, given that whatever happens turns up on some platform of social media, as if such documentation makes us all more ‘informed’ and thereby more ‘intelligent’…and also more ‘with-it’ because we ‘get-it’….Not so!

The public square has been filled for the last few years with the rantings of a narcissist occupant of the Oval Office, as if the ‘news’ comprised statements of the chief executive and reactions to them…as had been the case for decades, if not centuries. However, overdosing on narcissism, and the revenue it generated for the networks, is not a sustainable path to or for the development of social, domestic, foreign or environmental policy and leadership. Indeed, just as in the office politics of “personalizing’ every issue and thereby reducing it to the preferred resolution of eliminating the person causing the problem, so too, has the habit of personalizing the political landscape in all organizations reduced political debate to a kind of pre-adolescent gossip session among jealous, insecure and instant-gratification-dependent teens. Headlines of aberrant words that express extreme opinions, often based on rumour and/or lies, grab the attention of a public starved for that jolt that Keen was referring to in the piece above from lithub.com. The names and faces of those uttering radioactive words and seemingly lethal opinions (at least politically) have become standard fare on the menu of public discourse.

Most of us have not spent our lives steeped in history of foreign policy, especially the foreign policy that is now reverberating in the streets of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and elsewhere in Ukraine. Promises made and promises broken, seems to be a pattern that both the Russian and the American sides have adhered to, whether or not this is the moment for reminding us of that shared reality. When asked not about Putin’s fear of encirclement by NATO, but the spread of liberal democracy in Ukraine, (in the New Stateman piece cited above) Chomsky responds:

“Putin is concerned with democracy as we are. If it’s possible to break out of the propaganda bubble for a few minutes, the US has a long record of undermining and destroying democracy. Do I have to run through it? Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, on and on…But we are supposed to now honour and admire Washington’s enormous commitment to sovereignty and democracy. What happened in history doesn’t matter. That’s for other people. What about Nato expansion? There was an explicit unambiguous promise by (US Secretary of State) James Baker and president George HW Bush to Gorbachev that if he agreed to allow a unified Germany to rejoin Nato, the US would ensure that there would be no move one inch to the east. There’s a good deal of lying about this now…It’s certainly right to have moral outrage about Putin’s actions in Ukraine…but it would be even more progress to have moral outrage about other horrible atrocities…"

Consistently shining a laser on the full landscape of the language that is and has been used to design, describe and to deploy policy, commitments, and the normalizing of the open and often deliberate fracture and decimation of those same promises, by people and governments everywhere, for all time, has been Chomsky’s life’s work. Curmudgeoned and bludgeoned as he has been by the establishment, Chomsky’s voice, like that of some of his emulators (think Chris Hedges in truthdig.com) has shown the same courage that prompted his first article confronting the perils of foreign aggression. ‘The first article I wrote (as a ten-year-old) for the elementary school newspaper was on the fall of Barcelona in 1939). It charted the advance of the ‘grim cloud of fascism’ across the world. I haven’t changed my opinion since, it’s just gotten worse.’ INew Statesman, cited above)

Multiple epithets attempt to draw pencil lines on a public discourse canvas to draw attention to the human, (political, diplomatic, administrative, even theological) penchant to short-term fixes, while avoiding anything like longer-term reconciliations….fingers in the dyke, temporary policies to address a crisis, (only to fail to apply the inherent sunset clause later), protection for Ukraine (Budapest agreement), preserving jobs over production of and profit from cancerous cigarettes.... We all consciously and/or unconsciously engage in the ‘flow’ of how the street talk nudges, pushes, shoves or even punches us along. We all want to fit in, to be liked, to be integrated and to be respected….and the price of that obsession is, both in private and in public life, the sacrifice of what we all know is the truth.

Subjected to the barrage of advertising/marketing bumph, all of it containing a grain of fact, sugar-coated with a candy of aspiration, hope and more promise of fitting in, we are all fearful of alienation, abandonment, and ostracising…just as we all were in middle and elementary school. Only as adults we have different chores to take our attention away from what we are really doing, including what, when and how we are promising more than we can or will deliver.

Promising our future brides a life-time of the best time of their life is only a cliché example of what I am trying to say. Starry-eyed, hope-drunk, and herculean-empowered, we say what we know we cannot and will not ever deliver. It makes good “sweet-talk’ at the moment. It does not foreshadow decades of bliss, nor can it. A pattern of similar ‘sweet-talk’ and reinforcement, of that original promise, all the while knowing that we are bluffing our way through, gives us another sugar-fix, just like the sugar-fix the corporates are dishing out in their marketing campaigns.

Books written about the marketing of the Coke-bottle presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, while distressing, expressed a cornerstone of the American business application to the presidential campaign of 1960. And while Putin’s detaining and fining and imprisoning and poisoning political opponents are all detestable, and less honourable than our fair and free elections, there are ‘holes’ in the wall of superiority in our system that we are loath to confront.

There is a real danger that the proverb of the frog in boiling water, innocent and unaware of the danger the frog faces, as the temperature of the water rises, until at last he dies when the water boils, is an analogy for the human condition, especially as we witness the confluence of existential threats to our survival. It may be depressing and heavy and awkward and socially impolitic, and even impolite to adopt and to underscore the perceptions, attitude and insight of Chomsky. It is also depressing and heavy to hear, digest, integrate and accept the words of a medical practitioner who indicates serious life-threatening symptoms if intervention is precluded; and yet, we all know that such courage at that moment is really the only option.

If it is true that courage is the value with the highest ranking, because it is the value that enables all other values, then the courage to know and to tell the truth, and to expect and to nourish that courage is to inculcate it in our encounters. And perhaps through our critical commitment to seek and to find the kind of courage we have previously left unused or undiscovered we might individually, and then collectively, contribute to and generate a different river of consciousness…one that bodes well for our survival, and for that of our grandchildren.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Starvation raising its ugly head in human lives and in public governance

 In a piece entitled, “Russian Invasion of Ukraine threatens the global food supply,” which appeared in The Star, April 11, 2022, by Tom James, we read this:

Both Russia and Ukraine are the third and eighth-largest producers of wheat in the world, according to the UN. The Crumbling of these warring export economies could trigger famine, geopolitical stability, and poverty across the globe. That’s why we need an action -plan for cross-border trade of a similar magnitude to the Marshall Plan after the Second World War….The sudden lack of wheat and n fertilizer, on which the world relies, will not be confined to Europe and Russia. Many countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East will remain vulnerable to food shortages. Up to 90 percent of Lebanon’s wheat and cooking oil comes from Ukraine and Russia, which has already triggered a food price inflation of 1000 percent. Similarly, African countries import approximately $4 billion of agricultural products from Russia in 2020, and Ukraine was Indonesia’s second-largest importer of wheat. This is just a snapshot of the world’s food system; one that is slowly grinding to as halt in front of our eyes.

 James’ words are both chilling and motivating. They focus the mind, the body and the spirit on a world seemingly beating its chest (at least in the west) for the ‘unity’ among EU and NATO members in support of Ukraine. Meanwhile, India, China, Iran, and a host of other countries have either abstained from or opposed votes in the Security Council condemning Russia and Putin for this massacre. There is such an obvious lag between the time when world powers/leaders learn highly significant information that demands timely and proportional response and their response time. We have watched this drama play out on cigarettes, on acid rain, on mileage requirements in autos produced in North America, in Ruanda, in Kosovo, and in Syria. We have been in a similar place so often that one has to speculate that the “lag” time, like the “tail wagging the dog” meme is part of the hard wiring of the ‘establishment’ at least in countries that pride themselves in being democratic, free, and observant of something called world order.

Sadly, too, we are watching a lagging approach to address the daily requirements of Ukraine for weapons, weapons, weapons, (to quote their Foreign Minister). And it is not only a lag in time, but also in the seriousness of the commitment. Only yesterday, we learned that Slovakia is considering sending MIG’s to Ukraine, after weeks of diplomatic dancing around the fine print of the NATO charter.

The apocalyptic cries of the scientific community decades ago, warning about the dangers of increased CO2 into the atmosphere, may have, in part, inured political leaders to the apocalyptic itself. And yet, such inuring is a deeply embedded theme of western and Christian culture and theology. Judgement Day has been ‘coming soon’ for some two thousand years. The Messiah’s return has been on the radar of many religious folk for a very long time. And that signal on their radar has been part of the consciousness and the unconsciousness of western people forever.

Many of these pieces have listed the combined and converging impact of several existential crises, long before the war in Ukraine erupted. And while there have been peripheral steps on the environment file, in several western countries, the full commitment of those same countries to providing financial resources to developing countries so that they can, too, develop strategies to cope with global warming and climate change, remains unfulfilled. So too, the commitments to the Paris Accord, promises made, hang in the wind as promises unkept. That is why children in Europe have launched a law suit to put teeth into those commitments, and make countries follow through.

Political rhetoric, however, is full of both platitudes and good intentions, paving, as the proverb notes, the road to hell….while pumping up the self-inflation of the speakers’ political image before the voters. Perhaps that’s why, every day we listen to Biden, on whatever file, he is uttering two words, “No Joke!” as if to say that he anticipates his audience will consider his words bafflegab, and not take them seriously.

As for anything akin to the Marshall Plan, an American initiative, heroic and epic at the same time, the world will remain sceptical until we see the measures needed to implement a trading package in futures, for example, as James recommends. Starving people are not silent and compliant. On globalcitizenb.org, we find a piece by Madeleine Keck, on April 7, 2022, entitled, “Sir Lanka Faces Acute Food shortages and Starvation Amid Economic Crisis,’ subtitled, ‘Mass protests have erupted across the country’. Her opening paragraph is startling, and should be a kind of canary in the coalmine for all of us:

Sri Lanka’s political turmoil and economic crisis have brought about a catastrophic food shortage, with the nation’s 21 million residents now forced to pay triple for basics like rice, sugar, lentils and milk powder. The price of milk powder, the Indian Express noted, jumped by close to 1000 Sri Lankan rupees in days, about 500 rupees….The 2021 Global Hunger Index ranked Sri Lanka 65th out of 116 ,countries…

The Guardian, April 6, 2022, in a piece by Hannah Ellis-Petersen,, South Asia correspondent, headlines the piece: ‘Sri Lanka facing imminent threat of starvation, senior politician warns’. The speaker of the parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, quotes by Ellis-Petersen, says, ”The food, gas and electricity shortages will get worse. There will be very acute food shortages and starvation,’ (he) told the legislature.

In the April 7, 2022 edition of The Humanitarian, Danielle Renwick writes a piece entitled:” ‘No one has been spared’; The Climate Crisis and the future of food”. In it we read this:

Climate change threatens our food systems as we know them. Some 821 million people currently suffer from malnutrition worldwide, including 151 million children under five, whose growth is stunted. A warming planet will put even more people at risk of hunger in the years to come, according to a recent  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. In some place it already is….West Africa is suffering its worst food crisis in a decade, with some 27 million people going hungry due to droughts, conflicts, and the economic fallout of the pandemic, according to Oxfam International. Severe drought combined with other factors, also puts 28 million people in East Africa at risk of severe hunger, the aid group says. But inflation and rising prices are also seeing new hunger hotposts emerge, from Peru to Sri Lanka to Lebanon. And the impacts of the war in Ukraine are leading to urgent calls to address ‘a new layer of global food crisis’.

The word crisis is among the most visible in our vernacular…the crisis of the war, of the pandemic, of the climate change and global warming, and of the starvation of millions. Underlying all of these is the issue of how the people of the world are/will/will not manage the economic implications of the maelstrom of these combined forces.

The number of agencies, philanthropics, individuals, that are diligently trying to meet tidal waves of need around the world, perhaps given enhanced focus in Ukraine and the deplorable utterances from Putin about his intent to continue to dominate, devastate and wipe out Ukraine, in order to take it over, make the question of where and how and how much to donate in a world seemingly drowning in desperation, exasperating, if not paralysis.

As far back as October 31, 2021, Global News reported: Food Banks Canada’s HungerCount2021 report show that visits to food banks climbed 20 percent nationally since the arrival of COVID-19, with one-in-four locations experiencing a 50 percent increase in demand.

We are all reckoning with substantial hikes in food, gasoline and housing costs. And the plight of those on the edge of survival continues to tug at the heart strings of people like us in the developed world, considered ‘privileged’ by those who are starving, living under bridges, in refrigerator carboard boxes or pushing their grocery cart along town and city streets looking for scraps, for clothing, shoes or even rugs for warmth.

 Compromising on the requirements to meet the global warming/climate change crisis, in order to provide fossil fuels in the face of the Ukraine war, is only one among many compromises that we will have to make if millions are not going to starve. Similarly, compromising on the budgeted amounts for long-term goals in favour of those needs considered immediate is another of the shifts we are all going to have to make. Shifting from butter to margarine, in that context, seems almost invisible and unworthy of note.

What rides above all of this talk of crisis, however, are two things:

1)    There is not a single person on the planet who is or will be exempt from these converging crises

2)    There is no existing or even a hint/prospect of a wide and deep international consensus, nor vision, nor strategy to move toward anything that might resemble a Marshall Plan…for food sustainability, for toxic emissions, for geo-political resolution of conflict, or for global vaccination distribution

The various excuses, rationalizations, legalese and bureaucratese and thumb-twisting, as well as body and policy squirming among those in governance especially, indicates there are more clouds at that level than solutions. The non-profits, the work of citizens, as history has shown, far outpaces that of government.  And it may well be that we will have to lean on that sector, along with the private sector to seek and to find solutions to our multiple crises.

Governments, increasingly, have some steep, rocky and precipitous climbs out of the morass of internecine warfare and sabotage, within and between competing nations. Starting with Zelenskyy’s pleas to the United Nations, either act or reform yourself! Russia does not only not belong on the Human Rights Council; she does not belong in the Security Council. However, even saying that, everyone knows that China will veto any move to remove Russia from that body. Just yesterday, we read that China had transported a quasi-secret supply of weapons to Serbia, an ally of Russia, to a country that only recently elected a right-wing leader.

Those of us watching from the sidelines and attempting to make sense out of what is otherwise a series of senseless or even non-moves, continue to be shift between bewilderment and outright despondency over the tardiness, the sponge-spines in many quarters and the deep and seemingly irreparable divides between the right and the left. Paralysis by extremes, both of them pleading for headlines, public attention and high opinion poll numbers, is a sure-fire path to both political oblivion and also to a profound failure to conduct the public’s legitimate business.

The public’s legitimate business, along with millions of human beings,  are both being starved of  warranted and justified nutrition. And the predictable outcome of starvation is, last time I checked, mortality.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

If war is HELL, then why do we celebrate in the history books?

In another lifetime, while sitting in the bleachers at Hart House at U of Toronto, while attending a basketball coaching clinic conducted by the infamous former Indiana Hoosier coach, Bobby Knight, I heard, for the very first time, the title of a book that he referenced as an integral foundation of his basketball coaching philosophy. The title of the book, The Art of War, is attributed to the Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu. An ancient (likely 5th century BC) piece of writing, the book has influenced countless military and other leaders around the world for centuries. It is thought to have influenced Mao Tse-Tung’s own On Guerilla Warfare, and includes Mao’s quote: We must not belittle the saying in the book of Sun Wu Tzu, the great military expert of ancient China, ‘Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a thousand battles without disaster.’

The book is used as training at West Point, and one quote attributed to Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State: ‘I have read The Art of War by Sun Tzu. He continues to influence both soldiers and politicians.’ The strategy of deception from The Art of War has allegedly been widely used by the KGB…especially the concept of deception as expressed in a pithy quote: ‘I will force the enemy to take our strength for weakness, and our weakness for strength, and thus will turn his strength into weakness.’

Movies and television shows such as Wall Street, James Bond and The Sopranos, have been developed and produced based on the book’s inordinate influence. Sports coaches like Bill Belichek acknowledge their admiration and reliance on the book. Concentrating on strategy and tactics, the book is not considered as important in the study of the philosophy of war. And, currently, much public debate, discussion and political policy focuses on strategies and tactics, especially in the middle of the current invasion of Ukraine.

Juxtaposed with ink infused and television images of human carnage, corpses in the streets, bodies in plastic bags in open mass burial sites, and now rumours of transportable crematoria to burn bodies and leave no trace of their lives, all of which transfixes millions of empathic, and very disturbed people around the world, there is the desperate former KGB manipulating people, tanks, planes, missiles and, like a Hollywood movie director/producer, all of the elements of his own personal war. The KGB itself has a KGB Alpha Team Training Manual: How the Soviets Trained for Personal Combat, Assassination, and Subversion by A.I. Dolmatov.  The history books are crammed with wars fought by various Russian regimes for various purposes, all with an eye on preserving and enhancing Russian hubris.

Nikita Khruschev’s great grand-daughter (Nina L. Khrushcheva), speaking on MSNBC this week pointed out one of the central and essential elements of the character of Russia, as if she (Russia) were a human being: inferiority complex. As far back as February 1, 2021, she told  the BBC: Putin sees himself as the latest in a long line of Russian ‘greats’ like Peter the Great or Ivan the Great.’ However, Putin’s life (born in 1952), including his family of origin, is stained with the impact of war. A brother, Viktor, born in 1940, dies of diphtheria and starvation in 1942 during the siege of Leningrad by Nazi forces. His father, a conscript to the Soviet Navy, transferred to the army and was severely wounded in 1942. Putin’s maternal grandmother was killed by German occupiers of Tver region in 1941, and his maternal uncles disappeared on the Eastern Front in the Second War. (Wikipedia.org)

A man, inflicted with an inferiority complex, steeped in the blood and death of war, mostly at the hands of the Nazi regime, trained in the techniques and tactics of espionage, attempting to engrave his proudest ambition in the annals of Russia’s history indelibly, commanding massive numbers of military personnel, with unlimited and unchallenged authority over military and foreign policy, who has not only a ‘chip on his shoulder’ but, as the vernacular has it, “perhaps the whole tree”…this is not a man with whom rational premises and conversations based on a shared reality is either conceivable or able to be envisioned. And the parallel with the former U.S. president, who also, for different reasons, was never going to be a participant in conversations based on shared premises and reality, is stunning.

Clinical diagnoses are neither feasible nor relevant. What is relevant is that this war is spinning out of control. The people of Ukraine are traumatized, if they are still conscious and alive. The world, too, is traumatized, and in danger of becoming “glazed over” in disbelief, and inevitable detachment, just in order to go on doing whatever chores need to be done. Trauma, even vicarious trauma, among empathic people, cuts deeply, moves us inexorably and leaves psychic scars that can be only a faint facsimile of the psychic scars on Ukrainians.

Categorizing weapons, as to WMD (chemical, biological, nuclear) for example, as being more heinous and more illegal, including those ‘rules of engagement’ for military conflict, seem a trifle hollow amid this carnage. Legal jargon, while necessary for the purpose of attempting to establish some form of order on this tanker of mercury called “war” which can neither be cognitively nor emotionally wrestled into any kind of countenance of consciousness, and all of the instruments, training, industry and history of the aftermath of military slaughter…none of these things, the subjects of dispassionate war-room strategy sessions, will erase, or even moderate the deep wounds of a generation of Ukrainian children.

There is literally, figuratively, metaphorically, historically, morally/ethically, spiritually or psychologically any cause, purpose, goal or ambition that qualifies as adequate warrant and justification for this carnage. Without even a bare minimum of rationale, even from a Russian perspective, this invasion, like the war in Iraq back in 2003, is without adequate or even modest justification. Trouble is, the first in 2003 can and will be used as just comparison for today’s Kremlin. And American history, itself, is replete with accounts of what is termed ‘the domino theory’.

In a conversation with Robert Sheer recorded for truthdig.com, January 10, 2020, in a piece entitled: “Noam Chomsky: America Has built a Global Dystopia,”           the noted linguistic scholar and eminent critic of American foreign policy, Noam Chomsky, in discussion the “domino theory” of American foreign policy says this:

‘The idea was put nicely by Henry Kissinger: when there’s a virus that spreads contagion-the virus is independent development, out of control of the Unite States. If that spreads contagion to others, we’re in trouble. Others will follow the same rule; the system of domination and control will erode. How do you deal with a virus that’s spreading contagion? Well, you kill the virus and inoculate the victims to they won’t be infected. That’s exactly what we don’t in Vietnam. Vietnam was smashed. It’s not going to be a model to anybody.  Surrounding countries were inoculated by imposing vicious, brutal military dictatorships. No infection there; they’re going to be controlled.

As a role model of international power, the United States has much to atone for; and as a model for atonement, the U.S. is derelict in public considering atonement. After years, this week, the Pope publicly apologized, asked for forgiveness and expressed deep sorrow for the abuse of indigenous children in Canadian residential schools for decades. A coterie of indigenous leaders travelled to the Vatican to elicit the apology, and many have returned to Canada seeking the Pope’s actual presence in this country, to meet with the survivors of the multiple tragedies, and to steep himself in their pain even further.

The question of identification with the victims of war, regardless of whether that war was begun by any power, is one with which the world is again trying to grapple. Punishment, accountability, and even revenge, on the part of the war victims, especially in a case where there is no apparent and legitimate cause that provoked the conflict, is bandied about by journalists, asking, as Andrea Mitchell did on MSNBC to Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, “Will Putin be prosecuted for these war crimes?” And, of course, Blinken paused and affirmed that he would, but it would take time. Others have pointed to previous judgements of war criminals up to two decades after they committed their war crimes. Obviously, the pace of public culture has quickened and the pace of justice has not kept pace.

Identification with victims, horror, fear and profound anxiety will not bring Putin to his knees. Legal investigations, gathering of copious evidence, especially through social media, and the extensive prosecutorial process of interpreting and then assigning responsibility to specific individuals….that is a very long process. And the perpetrators could well be dead before the process has gather full strength, and certainly before a judgement is rendered.

We can see evidence that Putin is undeterred, given the multiple American examples of unjust war, deception about those unjust and unjustified wars, not to mention the ‘topsy’ size and speed of the growth of NATO, immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. That is not to offer any support or justification for what Putin is and will continue to do in Ukraine. Nor does it offer any hope that his ambition will be stopped at the Polish-Ukraine border.

War not only produces “no winners” but also produces imitative models, justified in manners that were previously used by others of history’s so-called heroes. It is the glorification of military conflict, and the lengths to which the world, and that includes all of the various corners and compartments of human civilization (previously excepting Switzerland, which has abandonded her historic neutrality following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces) that the people of the planet have to come to terms with. And we will not do that, so long as American and  others, continue to manufacture and market and sell and distribute military material around the globe, as an integral component of her Gross National Product. Pride in the latest, the most lethal, and the most speedy, and the most technologically superior missile, drone, fighter jet or even missile defence system, and all of the sub-systems, including recruiting of innocent young men and women, and the concomitant “training” in the tactics and strategies and the need for war (of course, as protection of our national security) as well as the military build-up that will inevitably follow this latest bloodshed….these are all normalized and conventionally inculcated into our shared unconscious, as a part of our delusion into thinking that we are more and better protected.

Watching the invasion of Chernobyl, and the potential occupation of other nuclear sites in Ukraine, by Russian forces, is just another ‘red flag’ without Putin having even to open his mouth in threatening terms. Similarly, the casting of responsibility on Ukrainian forces for the dead bodies in the streets of serval cities, following the exit of Russian forces, is just another of the many toxic examples of lies, deceptions and deviations, inherent to all snakes.

There are so many “weapons” in any war, that to concentrate primarily on those of steel and iron and electronic chip and supersonic fighter jets, and missiles, while eye candy for war-watchers, is another potential path of diversion. Admiral Stavridis, former NATO Allied Commander, has been predicting for weeks, that Russia could easily and probably will, begin a cyber-war chapter in this campaign. Such a campaign, fitting into the broader landscape of the war that has American weapons being operated by Ukrainian professionals, could and would only be expected as another elevation in this war and it could feasibly impact American corporations and public facilities. That kind of ramping up of conflict, completely denied by Russia as definitely ‘not the work of the Russian state’ would fit nicely into the narrative that beset the presidential election campaigns of both 2016 and 2020.

We need more Noam Chomsky’s and more attention paid to the full accounting of war responsibility and the elevation of the war-military-attitude-mind-set-and-heroism into the cultural stratosphere. We need to advocate for conflict resolution campaigns, strategies, tactics, negotiations, mediations and arbitrations, all in a spirit of ‘restorative justice’. It is not only our prisons that are too full; it is our mind and conventional cultural attitudes that need emptying of the “glory of war” and the heroism that magnetizes many recruits to seek its power and its adulation.

If war is indeed “HELL” then why is history so full of its rhapsodic celebration?….how perverse! 

Monday, April 4, 2022

End this war....sooner than later!

 There are some mornings when the international newsfeed is so damned perplexing that one is tempted to tune out, put the head in the sand, ear plugs in the ears and a sleep mask over the eyes. Who says denial is not a necessary antidote to calamity?

Viktor Orban’s electoral victory in Hungary and Aleksandar Vucic’s victory in Serbia are both bad omens for the forces committed to the survival and victory of democracy in Ukraine. At the same time, these two elections are also a boon to the Russian tyrant. Both men are more friendly to Russia that to Ukraine, and both represent nations which are members of NATO.

This scribe is certainly not the sharpest knife in the drawer; however, it is not rocket science to envision a first sign of division among the previously touted “unified” NATO, at a time when that unity seemed to be one of the main foundational pillars of any prospect of Ukraine defeating, neutralizing and immobilizing Putin and this indefensible massacre.

Orban has refused to permit any weapons or military materiel to pass through Hungary on its way to Ukraine. He has been one of the more resistant leaders to refugee and immigrant waves regardless of their origin. A thorn in the side of the EU, Hungary continues to keep the spigot open to Russian oil, while the rest of Europe considers turning it off. And cash from those sales directly funds Putin’s invasion or Ukraine.

Regarding Serbia, Andrew Higgins writing in the New York Times, March 30, 2022, in a piece entitled, “Bound by a Sense of Victimhood, Serbia Sticks with Russia, writes this:

While Germany, Poland and several other E.U. countries display solidarity with Ukraine by flying its flag outside their Belgrade embassies, a nearby street pays tribute to Mr. Putin. A mural painted on the wall features an image of the Russian leader alongside the Serbian word for ‘brother’. Part of Mr. Putin’s allure leis in his image as a strongman, an appealing model for President Aleksandar Vucic, the increasingly authoritarian leader of Serbia and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the belligerently illiberal leader of Hungary…..Then there is history or at least a mythologized version of the past, that., in the case of  Serbia, presents Russia, a fellow Slavic and Orthodox Christian nation, as an unwavering friend and protector down the centuries. …But perhaps most important is Mr. Putin’s role as a lodestar for nations that, no matter what their past crimes, see themselves as sufferers, not aggressors, and whose politics and psyche revolve around cults of victimhood nurtured by resentment and grievance against the West. …(Quoting Belgrade-based psychotherapist, Aurelija Djan) ‘Individuals who suffer traumas that they have never dealt with cannot feel empathy, she said. Societies, like trauma-scarred individuals, she added, ‘just repeat the same stories of their own suffering over and over again,’ a broken record that ‘deletes all responsibility’ for what they have done to others…..

Higgins continues: Hungary, allied with the losing side in two world wars, also nurses an oversize victim complex, rooted in the loss of large chunks of its territory. Mr. Orban has stoked those resentments eagerly for years, often siding with Russia over Ukraine, which controls a slice of former
Hungarian land and has featured prominently in his efforts to present himself as a defender of ethnic Hungarians living beyond the country’s border…

Is the notion of unresolved trauma, at so many different levels among so many different individuals and so many different groups/cults running amok on both sides of the Atlantic? In the United States, it is the profound and visceral expression of some various kinds of victimhood that has been the crutch that has seen some 74 million votes cast for the former U.S. president. Putin himself has framed this invasion as Ukraine’s attack on Russia, and the threat posed by an expanding NATO on the borders with Russia.

At the same time as these electoral reports were reaching North America, so too were the words and the passion of another exiled Russian businessman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, speaking on CNN on Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square. Once Russia’s richest man, and later a critic of Putin, imprisoned by Putin for ten years, and now living in London. On businessinsider.com, in a piece by Kelsey Vlamis, April 3, 2022, we read (based on his interview on CNN):’The fact that the people in Kharkiv did not meet him (Putin) with flowers, it not only just angered him, I really think it drove him literally insane. That’s when he started bombing Kharkiv and Kyiv, he said….(Khodorkovsky) said other oligarchs need to publicly declare Putin a ‘war criminal to not look like they are working for the Kremlin….

And then there is this, from pbs.org, by The Associated Press, April 2, 2022, in a piece entitled, “Former UN Prosecutor calls for global arrest warrant for Putin”….The former chief prosecutor of United Nations war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin. ‘Putin is now a war criminal,’ Carla Del Ponte told the Swiss Newspaper Le Temps in an interview published Saturday…She said she was particularly shocked by the use of mass graves in Russia’s war of Ukraine, which recalls the worst of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. ‘I hoped never to see mass graves again, she told the newspaper Blick. ‘These dead people have loved ones who don’t even know what’s become of them. That’s unacceptable.

With all of these various voices, some insinuating a beginning of a divide in Europe, as well as another prophetic call for oligarchs to step up and denounce Putin, and then a formal authoritative call for an international arrest warrant for Putin, one has to wonder which voices are carrying the day in the Situation Room in the White House, and in the boardrooms in various European capitals.

“Send in the MIG’s!” is a cry that is now echoed so often everyone has heard it. Refraining to do so seems, at this stage, to be an overt act of cowardice on the part of those responsible in NATO for such a decision. Given the range of weapons and systems pouring into Ukraine, how can anyone argue that Ukraine’s allies are not already intimately engaged in this war against Putin? And it is the two-step of legalese, bureaucratese, and ‘in-the-weeds default that seems to be ensnaring those elected and appointed officials from taking that last step. Risking nuclear or chemical warfare, with Putin, is, according to the Russian tyrant already on the table. Why are we not therefore able and willing to take note of the fact, for example that nuclear fallout may already have been unleashed in Chernobyl by Russian soldiers digging in the surrounding soil. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant caught fire during an attack by Russian forces, as reported  by The Harvard Gazette’s Christina Pazzanese, March 7, 2022.

Are there not enough compelling pieces of both information and informed and respected opinion from so many quarters, that, should Russia prevail in this conflict, we will all have to bear the shame and the deep guilt for having turned both a deaf ear and blind eye to the historic epithet, “Never Again!” This expression, as expressed by Ukrainians themselves who, too, are unable to comprehend the west’s timidity, IS NOW….we are already in the moment when never again is taking place before our eyes.

We can no long not know what we already know. And knowing what we all know, we cannot remain silent and thereby complicit in a crippled, if valiant commitment to the Ukrainian cries for more help. They universally and ubiquitously expressed deep gratitude for all the help they have received; and evidence demonstrates both courageous and disciplined deployment of all the resources they have received.

And still, oil flows from Russia into Europe, and MIG’s lie dormant on tarmacs inside NATO; and the cries from voices far more schooled and disciplined and respected than this scribe, continue to escalate.

In a fast-moving, tragic and deplorable narrative, witnessing bodies shot in cold blood lying in the streets of Bucha, a story reversed and placed in the hands of the Ukrainians by the Russian propaganda machine, there can be very few left who do not feel the impelling and compelling tipping point that calls for a steroidal injection into the situation room.

Decisions that seem to emerge from two equally unacceptable options are the primary stuff of public debate and public responsibility. They are also at the nexus of many personal decisions if and when one is faced by a medical diagnosis leaving only one of two equally intolerable options. Simplistically, surgery or chemotherapy, for example, or surgery or radiation, or surgery or both chemo and radiation….these are not decisions anyone can or will take lightly or without torment.

Torment is, in fact, at the heart of many of the decisions facing millions of Ukrainians every hour of every day. Many of those decisions now comprise our daily newsfeed. And we all experience the torment, the ripping apart of lives, families, educations, businesses, and histories. How long can this torment, now being fed into the living rooms, offices and boardrooms across the globe, continue? And how long will we permit ourselves to be complicit in its prolongation?

Who knows?