Thursday, June 14, 2018

My Log 630 June 14 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 67; Salesmen, whether selling snake oil or politics, have in common an exrremely fancy way of presenting their wares

When I sit here thinking over  my many years as a worker with words, one of the most surprising things to me is that  it is not the many pages-long investigative pieces  that stick in my mind so much as the throw-away sidebars that foundered at the editorial stage – by which I mean, pieces that were rejected for publication for various idiotic reasons.
I remember, for example, many years ago covering a luncheon speech given by a salesman --- perhaps I should call him a sales expert --- who analysed the perfect sales pitch for the delectation of his business audience. He expressed himself in terms that, to me, constituted a revolutionary recasting of the purposes of the English language.  Moving smoothly through the initial need for a salesman to make contact with his victim ---  sorry, proposed customer --- our man  (let’s call him George, that’s a matey sort of name),  recalled the salesman’s initial need to outline what he called “the needs creation” area of his sales call. In other words, he had to set out to persuade his interlocutor  that he needed something that until that moment he had never known he needed.  This, I guess, is the golden rule of all advertising, and it is probably why many serious dissenting analysts of our current economic status quo nominate advertising as the first thing to go in their proposed creation of a better- ordered economy. But call me naive, I had never heard it expressed in such stark terms before.
From that peak moment, George, putting two and two together,   moved seamlessly  into what he called  the “needs satisfaction area” of the call, namely that part of his spiel in which he could persuade his victim that, his hitherto unknown need having been created, the means for its satisfaction lay at hand, right there in the speaker’s suitcase.
There were many other refinements in this amazing address, items that have escaped my mind with the intervening years, but I hastened back to the office to write an amusing, and to my mind irresistibly informative piece, about the thought processes of the door-to-door salesman, so brutally expressed in words such as I had never heard before.. I was perfectly confident that my piece would receive a warm welcome from the editorial poobahs.
In a pig’s eye with that. The piece made its way to the desk of the Editor-in-chief who chuckled over it,  spiked it firmly, then took the trouble to call me in and inform me that this was not the sort of thing that any newspaper that depended on advertising should think for one moment of printing.
Ah, well, wot the hell, as I tend to say nowadays.
A similar fate met a piece I wrote, only a few days after I returned from my eight years of relative freedom as the correspondent in London, where I could write almost anything that came to mind (within reason, of course, as all reporters know, although many of them seem to think, mistakenly, that they are free actors).  I was asked to cover the opening of a super-market in one of Montreal’s northern suburbs. Unaccustomed to the grandiose aspirations of Canadian mercantilism after my years in well-mannered London, I waxed eloquent over the new structure’s cathedral-like dimensions, marvelled at the amount of money devoted to its construction, and commented that this was exactly what Fidel Castro only a few days before had meant when he talked about the mindless extravagance of North American capitalism.
This time there was no warm chuckle of amusement when the Big Poobah lifted my piece from his desk and let it fall as if it were utterly worthless. “This,” he said, “….this….we cannot be seen to be critical of the very people who provide us with our income. That would be an act of extremely bad taste.” It wasn’t very long thereafter that he began to find things for me to write about elsewhere, in Alaska, where they were building oil wells, or northern Alberta,  wandering the native communities, anywhere except at home, where it seemed I might be expected to  come up with an embarrassing piece  at any time.
I can’t exactly say what is the connection, but all these reminiscences were brought on by my recent astonishment at hearing so many politicians and commentators straining themselves to the limit to make rational argument for the impulsive and implausible actions of their new President,  who is so intent on making America great again.  I even heard one enthusiast outline how the president had already proven the commentariat wrong by taking actions which have resulted in higher black employment figures  than America has ever before experienced. That Latin Americans should be worshipping at his feet because his enforced reduction of illegal immigrants has solidified the labour market for authentic legal, Latin workers, who are already beginning their elevation into the middle-class.  (I have no idea where he came up with these figures, mind you.)
I even read a piece somewhere by Yanis Varoufakis, the failed wunderkind finance minister of the Greek government, who analysed Trump’s onslaught on the global economic order as a matter of the highest significance, and presented it as if Trump, the greatest stumblebum ever elected in North America,  had thought it all out as if he were some professor of economics.  
This brought me back to something I mentioned in my recent piece  about the bumbling Doug Ford, now in charge of Ontario’s economy and well-being, which is that if some half-baked leader comes up with a lunatic idea, there is never any shortage of people who will get right behind him, and propagate his loony ideas as if  they were handed down from heaven. I guess the connection mentioned heretofore is that these leaders who have been foisted upon us by the rigged electoral system, are nothing but door-to-door salesmen, peddling their wares to the ultimate disadvantage of a gullible public.

Friday, June 8, 2018

My Log 630 June 8 2018: Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 67; Blindsided by the victory of Ford Nation; a political junky, accustomed to hanging in to the end, wilts under the pressure, and goes to bed

These days I feel that before I write anything, I should make what they call nowadays a full disclosure, which is that from the time I first had a political thought, which would have been around when I was 15 (at which time I was usually preoccupied with running and jumping and either throwing or kicking or hitting a ball back and forth), since that time I have always believed that politically speaking the best system is for the collective to take care of the well-being of everyone, of no matter what economic class.
In ordinary speech, that would be called socialism, and my belief in it has impregnated my life to such an extent that not only have I never voted for non-leftist political parties, but in my personal life I have steered clear of making friendships with people of conservative leanings with, of course, some very rare exceptions. I know this is rather a shameful thing to admit to, but there you are.
I had been thinking of making this full disclosure, a sort of half-joke, because I intended to launch into a review of the crazy antics now seizing the world political scene. But overnight that has been overtaken by a more immediate event, the election of Doug Ford by the supposedly highly educated electorate of Ontario, as Premier of that province. To be quite frank with you, this event has blindsided me to such an extent that I can almost not find words to describe my incredulity. It is not as if Ontarians have not been warned, since Doug was part of the duo of the late Mayor of Toronto, headed by his brother Rob, and Doug, who campaigned with pride on the record of his brother’s mayoralty, has never given any evidence that he is much closer to being sane than was the unlamented mayor.
Suffice it to say he followed the Donald Trump playbook, saying over and over that he was going to make Ontario so damned great, Ontarians as prosperous as they have never before been, and that he was going to do it by cutting government expenditure --- where, exactly, pleaded his opponents, where are you going to cut, how many nurses will be laid off, how many teachers, how many schools closed?  --- without, he said, giving the big, expansive smile,  one person losing his or her job.
Given the history of Ford Nation, as he and his brother have been so amusingly called, that should have been enough to persuade Ontario voters to look elsewhere: after all, we are living in the 21st century, and this guy is vowing to abolish the carbon tax, to lower all taxes, to ignore everything we know about the climate problems threatening the globe, all the while claiming, as Trump has claimed,  to be representing ”the little guy.”
No, no, no one could fall for such a crude political presentation, I thought, this isn’t serious. Is it?  Is it?
Within 15 minutes of the polls closing, the Ford Nation had achieved so resounding a victory that the CBC was able to announce he had won a Conservative majority government for the first time since 1999 or thereabouts.
I have been watching election broadcasts all my life, and I invariably hang in to the end, waiting until each of the candidates has either declared victory or conceded defeat, a habit I have followed in spite of my distaste for the endless prognosticating of the commentariat. But as soon as I heard that incredible news, I transformed myself into a Quebecer, to whom this massive setback to the civilized Canada I had always half-admired means nothing, and retired to bed.
It is the following morning, and I haven’t been able to face more commentary about this event. As I have often observed, there is nothing so indecent, no idea so fatuous, that it does not attract a following of enthusiastic idiots (the template is the post-war educated, cultured nation of Germany, the homeland of Beethoven and Bach, which allowed itself to fall under the spell of an obsessed, murderous, thuggish gang that took xenophobia to the very limits of imagination, and yet who won enthusiastic support from the population.)
This event in Ontario lies literally beyond the parameters of my political world. I sit here musing about this democracy that is so endlessly prated about by the wealth-owning media. I have never been entirely sold on the idea of democracy in politics, certainly not when it is propagated as the answer to the problems of every nation and every people everywhere. Its one virtue is that it tends not to lock up people for their political beliefs, although the current situation in the United States, where democracy is as a religion, with prisons full of millions of black men and women, is surely just a political repression under another guise.
I think of Europe, struggling so manfully in the 70-odd years since the Second World War to put their endless wars behind them,  and create a united population, only for it to begin to fray under right-wing attacks by xenophobes and nationalists. I think of Latin America, having so painfully struggled free from the reactionary rule of American and European money, gradually drifting under democratic voting, back towards the old ways of political murder gangs and state-sponsored executions.
Democracy every way, democracy everywhere. Oh, yeah, what a great future lies ahead.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

My Log 629 June 6 2018 Chronicles from the Tenth Decade: 66 I am astonished to see it written down so damningly: Auditor-General outlines abysmal failure of federal government to First Nations

My friend Russell Diabo, who is contesting the position of Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), has sent me a copy of the recent report by the Auditor-General of Canada into what it calls the “Socio-Economic Gaps on First Nations Reserves.”
This in an innocuous-sounding title, but from beginning to end it literally made me gasp. I think I can explain why.
Since my first contact in 1968 with the Department of Indian Affairs as it was then known, I have regarded it as an outfit, governed by laws deriving from the colonialist ignorance and prejudice of the early settlers, that has always been used by the government of Canada as a smokescreen designed to obscure the iron-fisted control held over the daily lives of what were then called “Indians”, and are now more properly called First Nations, Inuit or Metis. One thing one could never expect from the Department was a straight-forward account of what they were doing; they hid their purposes with a skilfully-erected and masterfully managed wall of euphemism behind which they appeared to a close observer to be woefully out of touch with their clients, whose interests they were expected to represent and with whom they had been given a trustee relationship that they fell scandalously short of fulfilling.
There was a slightly sinister aspect to this: although there were no doubt some good people in the Department,  one had the feeling that it was a phalanx of civil servants who were basically indifferent to the condition of the country’s poorest group of people, for whose welfare they bore the major responsibility.
My  present astonishment comes from the brutal frankness of the Auditor-General in describing the shortcomings of this Department (now called Indigenous Services Canada). He begins by quoting the directive of the Prime Minister to the responsible Minister “ to make real progress on issues essential to Indigenous communities, such as housing, employment, health care, community safety, child welfare, and education,” a remarkably clear and unmistakably activist suggestion for immediate action. He then recalled how previous reports from his agency in 2000, 2004 and 2011 had “criticized the federal government’s progress in improving the lives and well-being of people on reserves,” to very little effect, as his reort makes plain.
Then, zeroing in on education and what had been achieved, or not achieved, the auditor remarked
*that the Department did not adequately use the large amount of program data provided by First Nations, nor did it adequately use other available data and information.
*did not meaningfully engage with First Nations to satisfactorily measure and report on whether the lives of people on First Nations reserves were improving.
*did not adequately measure and report on the education gap. In fact, their calculations showed that this gap had widened in the past 15 years.
* remarked that “these findings matter because measuring and reporting on progress in closing socio-economic gaps would help everyone involved… to understand whether their efforts to improve lives are working.
*If the gaps are not smaller in future years, this would mean that the federal approach needs to change.
The Auditor then broke the inefficiencies down into four points, accusing the Department of having “an inadequate measurement of well-being among First Nations on reserves”, having limited data available to tackle the job, having a system of incomplete reporting on well-being, and, finally, as I have always suspected,  “lack of meaningful engagement,” with their Indigenous clients.

Stripped of its bureaucratic calmness, this report more or less supports everything I had felt about the department these 50 years.  I don't know if I am unusual, but I found these deficiencies spelled out so clearly to be quite astonishing. Under each of the above four headings they piled on such brutal criticism as to reveal a Department that appears to have been completely indifferent to its mission as trustee for the welfare of its clients.  For example, they used a Community Well-Being index, which was based on only the four components of education, employment, housing and income. The Auditor added: “While these are important aspects of well-being, the index did not include critical variables such as health, environment, language, and culture. First Nations have identified language and culture, in particular, as critical to their well-being.” And then he added a further killer description of Departmental indifference: “Although the Department recognized that the index was incomplete, it did not modify the index to make it more comprehensive or establish a more complete measure or set of measures for assessing the well-being of on-reserve First Nations people.”
He did not stop there: on and on roll the fundamental criticisms of the Department’s performance. Again, an example: In 2015 Canada, along with other nations adopted the UN General Assembly’s  2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, designed “to mobilize global efforts to ensure healthy lives, end poverty, and fight climate change,” containing 17 sustainable goals, and 169  targets for achieving economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection. BUT, wrote the Auditor-General,  “In our opinion, Canada’s results against the Agenda’s 17 goals for First Nations people would likely be significantly worse than those for the whole Canadian population. In fact, according to the 2011 Community Well-Being index, 98 of the 100 lowest-scoring Canadian communities were First Nations communities.
But not to worry: even such a staggering shortfall in effort appears to have left the Department indifferent. Between  2001 and 2011 (the last date on which the Department’s figures were based, in itself an indication of how faulty the data they were using must have been), one out of every three First Nations communities had “experienced a decline in the index scores under the Community Well-Being index.” In other words, things are getting worse instead of better.
On and on it goes, a merciless account of an indifferent government Department, apparently only half engaged, if that, in its work:
·      In 2000, Indigenous Services Canada committed to measuring and reporting on the education gap every two years. As of December 2017, we found that the Department had not met this commitment.
·      in 2011, the average education score for First Nations communities was 36, while for Canadian non-Indigenous communities, it was 53. And even that did not reflect the real gap, because of the lack of reliable data the Department collected.
·      On comparative  high school graduation figures, they found that, while results for First Nations had improved, the results for all Canadians had improved by a greater amount: The gap was 30 percentage points in 2001 and 33 percentage points in 2016. This, they believed,  was a clearer way to measure and report on education results and would help to provide a more meaningful picture of well-being.
Concentrating their attention on the management of First Nations education by the Department, the Auditor reported that a huge reporting burden was thrown on to the First Nations, which were ill-equipped to shoulder it. The many forms they had to fill in for each student amounted to  920 datafields, many of which had to be filled in for each of the 107,000 elementary and secondary, and the estimated 24,000 post-secondary students  supported by the Department.
Of course, I suppose I could argue that in 1968, when I first looked at the education figures for First Nations students, there were very few of them in high schools, and almost none in post-secondary education, so the current figures are far greater than they were half a century ago. (That seems to be a meaningless fact to parade: the current most important fact is that any pretence  they have been brought up to equality of educational opportunity  with non-natïve sudents is far from the truth.)
To all of these criticisms, the Department had the same response: Agreed, followed by what sounds like bureaucratic bafflegab:
Agreed. Indigenous Services Canada is actively working with First Nations to transform elementary and secondary education, and will be co-developing renewed education outcomes, measurements, and a related data strategy.
Agreed. Indigenous Services Canada will build on the Community Well-Being index by co-developing, with First Nations and other partners, a broad dashboard of well-being outcomes that will reflect mutually agreed-upon metrics in measuring and reporting on closing socio-economic gaps.
Agreed. The Department is working with First Nations and other Indigenous partners to transform post-secondary education. Embedded in the approach to renewed education will be agreement on mutual accountability and practices promoting complete and accurate reporting.

When Russell Diabo in his leadership campaign says the AFN has not analysed in any way the damning information in this report, he must surely be touching a sensitive nerve. Especially when he also charges that the AFN leadership is acting too much like a representative of the government Department, rather than of the grassroots indigenous people, whose lack of opportunity is reflected in all these damning figures.