Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My Log 517 May 24 2016: Some good news today: religions are in decline, those of us without a religion are surging

Today I read some good news. In England and Wales, according to recent studies by an outfit called British Social Attitudes, more people profess to have no religion than admit to being religious. The change in this figure has been dramatic: those professing no religion are up to 48.5 per cent, compared with 25 per cent in the 2011 census.
Anyone who has read this blog over time will realize how warmly I welcome this news. The article carrying this momentous stuff is in today’s Guardian and can be found at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/23/no-religion-outnumber-christians-england-wales-study.
You can read it for yourselves, so it remains only for me to explain why I dislike  religions, all religions. In fact, the detailed figures given in the article confirm one of my overwhelming prejudices, which is that religionists are the masters at killing each other, and people who disagree with their particular beliefs, when it reveals that of all regions of the British Isles, it is only Northern Ireland in which people professing no religions are a tiny minority of just eight per cent. And which area within the British Isles is most known for violence, hatred, murder and mayhem?  You got it in one.
If we look at the contemporary world it is hard to imagine how anyone can profess to be religious, since it is religious people who are conducting all the wars. It is known that the United States is awash in religious fanatics, and it so happens that this great Christian nation almost never ceases bombing other peoples, invading their nations, and killing their citizens. (Their leader, a convinced Christian, was at one point reputed to draw up every Tuesday a list of people to be executed without trial by his drones. Way to go, Barack!).
But even if we leave that aside --- I know many will say all that killing is not done for Christian reasons --- the other wars going on at present seem all to be either stimulated by religious differences, or to be about religions themselves. The country that could claim, I suppose, to be the most religious on earth, Saudi Arabia, is also known as a veritable hellhole of kidnappings, floggings,  executions, invasions, exported terrorism, and a programme of imposing their extreme religion on the rest of the world.
I remember being shown around a major Moroccan city by a man who, meeting me on an airplane, kindly invited me home to share couscous with him and his family. As he drove me around the city he kept pointing out some of the many places that had been bought by Saudi princes, letting go a diatribe of denunciation of them as people who arrived thinking they could buy anything and anyone, who exhibited appalling behaviour in their dealings with the locals, and, even short of that, of vulgarly ostentatious flaunting of their ill-gotten wealth to such a degree that he wished fervently it would be possible to rid his country of them.
Of course, various religious sects are at each other’s throats throughout the Middle East, but also in countries like Buddhist Burma, horrible stories emerge of discrimination to the death against other religionists (the Rohinga Muslims, for example); in Bangladesh you can be hunted to death for expressing views about life that are commonplace in more civilized societies; in Turkey, mercifully freed by Ataturk from the rule of the imams,  religionists have forced themselves back into power and are busy imprisoning people whose opinions they don’t like, and so on and on. In Egypt, once the long-dormant Moslem Brotherhood was elected to power, they ruled with such savagery against anyone who didn’t believe what they believed, that they had to be removed by a military coup that is even worse.
Just this week the BBC showed a programme in which one of their minions travelled the length and breadth of what he and they call “the sacred Ganges.” And he found a river so polluted as to be almost beyond description. A river whose waters the adherents use for drinking, washing, crapping in, and disposing of their dead in. Another remarkable advertisement for the power of religion, I suppose.
In which part of the world is it most dangerous to be gay, lesbian or transsexual? In Africa, where the Christianity imposed by the former colonial rulers has taken root in a particularly virulent and intolerant form.
I cannot leave this without referring to the role of religion in priest-ridden Latin America. Though there have been clerics who have made courageous stands against the ruling oligarchies there (Bishop Romero is a notable case who was brutally shot down on the steps of his cathedral in El Salvador), the tale of the obsessed American fundamentalist Protestant sects that have penetrated the jungles is one of the horror stories of our modern world. Fanatically, these sects have ruined the lives of people living in these jungles, and imposed a brutal regime of absurd beliefs on them reducing them to despair, drunkenness, poverty and dissolution on the edges of towns and cities in that continent.  Read Norman Lewis’s various accounts of these people; read Peter Matthiessen’s monumental tragi-comedic At Play in the Fields of the Lord.
Even within our own society we have nothing to boast about, except that apparently adherence to the ridiculous shibboleths of Christianity are in decline. Virgin birth?  Are you serious? Ascension to heaven? Give me a break. Miracles and weeping statues? Phu-leeze!


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Log 516 May 11 201: Leap Manifesto for change in Canada has been met with an inevitable, but undeserved, onslaught of contempt and hatred from the mainstream media

Naomi Klein auf einer Veranstaltung zu ihrem B...
Naomi Klein in Berlin when publicizing her ground-breaking book "The Shock Doctrine - The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I became a became a reporter working for a newspaper in 1945, as soon as I left high school, and within months I had figured out that newspapers serve before anything else, the interests of their owners.
I followed that profession until 1971 in eight different newspapers in five Commonwealth countries, and I have never had any reason to doubt my original conclusion.
 But recently the dishonesty as to their purpose that lies in the heart of every newspaper operation has become so blatant and so proudly displayed to their reading public that one is really almost lost for words to describe it.
Last night I attended a meeting at which two social activists Martin Lukacs and Bianca Mugyenyi described the proposals for Canada of the Leap Manifesto, a suggestion for broad social and political change that has been stimulated by the writings of Naomi Klein, but fundamentally is based on the urgent need for the world to confront the climate changes that are already under way, and that will be irreversible unless action is taken soon to reduce the emissions of carbon gases into the atmosphere that are consequent upon the use of fossil fuels  for producing the energy that is so imperative for the functioning of a modern society. They were speaking as part of the admirable monthly series of lectures sponsored by Nadia Alexan’s group Citizens in Action,  and the Association of Concordia University Students at which experts discuss current social problems.
Both speakers were involved in creation of this challenging Manifesto, and in their earnestness, their enthusiasm, their distaste for the worst effects of capitalism, they reminded me of my young self, although both are much more focused than I ever was to stimulate meaningful and permanent change. Lukacs said the Manifesto is not intended as a programme, but rather as a stimulant to pubic debate, surely an admirable and easily supported initiative.  Not so for our masters of the press.
The Manifesto says its purpose is to promote a world in which caring for each other, and caring for the planet should be our overriding purposes. But Lukacs said, since that was their aim, it was odd, to say the least, that they should have been assailed by a media storm of contempt that has been unrelenting, and that appears to have infected every outlet. The august Globe and Mail, of Toronto, an unrelenting proponent of Conservatism (remember their risible endorsement of the Conservatives in the last election, with their refusal to endorse the leader?) weighed in almost immediately on publication of the Manifesto with an an editorial denouncing it as “madness”, according to Lukacs, and have returned to the attack as recently as last week with an excoriating attack by columnist Jeffrey Simpson, just the latest of their many charming onslaughts on the principle of public discussion. Hard left turn to nowhere, said the National Post. Leaping into the abyss – Prince George Citizen. Suicidal leap to the left –- Toronto Star. National suicide, intoned Conrad Black, who himself committed business and professional suicide, so he should know whereof he speaks. The assembled editorial writers of the nation appear to be unanimous, not for the first time.
Yet when one runs through the proposals made there seems to be nothing disgusting, ridiculous or mad about it.
·      They want to respect the inherent rights of the original inhabitants (which are, after all, guaranteed in the Canadian Constitution);
·      they want to shift to renewable sources of electricity (something that is already well under way in countries like Germany and Denmark);
·      they want to improve the national infrastructure (which the government is beginning to do already); 
·      they want communities to control their own energy sources;
·      they want to retrofit houses for more efficient energy use;
·      they want a more ecologically-based agricultural system;
·      they declare that “austerity” programmes have become "a threat to life on earth”;
·       they want to remove corporate money from political campaigns
·      they want “a vigorous debate” about a universal basic annual income for everyone, and a national childcare programme.
One can see that some of these proposals would upset the capitalistic apple cart, and most are certainly more easily described than performed. For example, the idea that the food-producing machine, based on huge monocultures that reduce the biodiversity without which the earth as we know it cannot go on for long, would require a huge mobilization of opinion so powerful that it could shift the entrenched money machine currently running the present system. Of course, our soils are degenerating under the present system. But the last time. I looked into this (admittedly a few years ago) the federal government had one man on its payroll whose task it was to overlook the quality of our soils. Pretty far from what is needed.
Of course the very idea that fossil fuels should be abandoned if we want to save Planet Earth from irreversible degeneration as a place to live on, is in itself enough of a warning to the editorial writers (I have always thought of these people as paid liars for their bosses) to march out in their serried ranks to put down this rebellious rabble. And they have certainly rallied to the cause with great enthusiasm.
But their editorial denunciations have not squelched the uprising. The Manifesto has been translated into eight languages already, and has aroused enthusiasm in more than one country, and to judge by these two clear-eyed, eloquent proponents, more success is inevitable.
Just before I went to this meeting I listened to a recording of an interview given by Ralph Nader, that irrepressible thorn in the side of the American establishment,  in which he gave compelling examples of how united newspapers  are (the more common term these days is “media”, because it takes in electronic as well as printed media of information) in refusing circulation to ideas they do not approve of. This man Nader is a wonder. It is more than 50 years since he wrote a book criticizing General Motors which brought down upon him a blizzard of efforts to silence him. During these 50 years he has been the sparkplug of nearly 50 advocacy organizations, has stood for president five times (gaining on one occasion the gigantic total of 2.74 per cent of the votes cast, his best effort), and he retains the clear-eyed enthusiasm with which he entered the fray so long ago. In Canada, too, we have benefitted hugely from his work: he founded that network of student activist bodies going under the name of Public Interest Research Groups --- look them up, you will find virtually every Canadian university has one, and they have for years been active participants in the social education of young Canadians.
Nader has now organized a huge four-day meeting for May 23-26 in Constitution Hall, Washington, DC, of  advocacy groups from across the continent that he described in his interview as “the largest gathering of accomplished citizen advocacy groups over the largest number of reforms and redirections in our country ever brought together in American history.” Apparently, this meeting will be attended by thousands of dissatisfied citizens.
Nader said: “These are the people who make America great. These are the people who advance health, safety, economic well-being, democratic procedures, push for cleaner elections, mobilize labor and small taxpayers, and try to rebuild public works and have a better healthcare system and a better set of voices. And they're completely excluded…..from the election coverage.” To illustrate how effective has been the blackout on news of this event, I mentioned it last night to Ms Mugyenyi, and she had never heard of it. 
Nader gave some examples, of a kind that could no doubt be duplicated in Canada:
“Recently there was a gathering in Washington for the press on solitary confinement, by the leading specialist in the area, Jim Ridgeway, and several people who were arbitrarily and cruelly confined in a solitary cell. No press whatsoever.
“And then, about the same time, George Washington University had a major symposium on tax havens, tax escapes of corporations, in places like the Grand Cayman Island. No press whatsoever.
“And then they had these Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post just completely declined to cover it.
“And here's the real kicker. Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, a very progressive man, has been trying to get the mass media to pay attention to Section 317 of the 1934 communications law. What does that say? It requires, without exception, the disclosure of all donor names to these PACs and super PACs. There is no exception. And the FCC has been sitting on a Common Cause petition and other previous petitions, and doing nothing. Gets no coverage by the mass media….”

 Earlier Nader had given an account of how difficult the establishment had made it for him to register to stand as an independent candidate for President, the Democratic party establishment alone bringing 24 legal cases that had to be fought in 12 weeks,  in an effort to stop him.
We have already had in Canada striking evidence of how unfair the establishment media can be in elections. In 1992 Mel Hurtig, a successful Edmonton book publisher and nationalist, founded the National Party of Canada, which stood with a large slate in the 1993 election against Brian Mulroney’s free trade proposals.  They argued policies of undoubted national importance, yet were given virtually no coverage during the election, certainly not at the national scale. Hurtig had to go to court to try to establish his right to take part in televised debates run by the CBC, which, increasingly, as it has come to depend more and more on advertising revenues, has begun to act like a member of the mainstream media, with its own peculiar set of rules.
So, in summary, the proponents of the Leap Manifesto should not be surprised at the violence of the attacks made against them by the media, nor that in publicizing their Manifesto they will have to depend on online sources, and the sort of word-of-mouth support that they seem already to be generating.