Thursday, March 21, 2019

My Log 711 March 21 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade 145; My intense delight in the ……..spectacle in the British House of Commons; it has come down to Ms. May against the rest of the world, and no one has any idea who will win; she seems to have them by, as they say, the short hairs

I find it impossible, given  my background, to restrain my intense delight in the disgraceful spectacle currently on show in the  British House of Commons as they wrestle to give legislative authority to their traditional distaste at being considered part of the continent of Europe.

Hang on a minute, there, that’s not quite right. Let me reword that ever so slightly:

I find it impossible, given my colonial background, to restrain my intense delight at the glorious spectacle underway in the British House of Commons, as they wrestle to give legislative authority to their traditional distaste at being considered part of the continent of Europe.
That’s better.
The  spectacle under way embraces superb  eloquence, determination,  arrogance, tradition,  obtuseness, all British characteristics, and with an over-riding delicious spark of British mischief thrown in by the man presiding over it all, the ineffable Speaker of the House, John Bercow, who, when he last uttered, declared that it was forbidden for Ms. May, as she intended,  to bring her agreed deal to the House for a third time, quoting, in favour of his block-busting ruling, statutes reaching back to 1604.
What’s not to like about all this, I ask?
I am loving every minute of this dust-up. I have been following it for months, minutely examining every twist and turn in its remarkable journey as the Prime Minister, Ms. May, who has so far received two huge defeats bigger than any known in modern  times,  but who ploughs on regardless, blind to everything except the deal she agreed with the EU after two years of shilly-shallying and prevarication, until the magical production of what she calls her hard-won deal.
As one watches it all one cannot help but wonder when the members of the House are going to realize that they are being led by a monumentally  ineffective Prime Minister, concentrated like a laser beam on her own personal deal to the exclusion of everything else.  Her one certainty is that she alone embodies the spirit of the British people. And what that spirit is, she believes, was decided three years ago in a narrowly Brexit-won referendum staged by her predecessor David Cameron,  at the insistence of several near-loony members of the party, such as Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, but better-known as a jokey newspaper editor, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, a limp caricature of the British public schoolboy, (both men were educated at the ancient school of Eton, that even in the present times provides more than its share of British Cabinet ministers).  They peddled a ludicrous tissue of lies and exaggeration as to the supposed benefits that would accrue to Britain once they had detached themselves from detested Europe. (I seem to remember that in the 1960s, William Rees-Mogg, Jacob’s father, was editor of The Times newspaper, who fought a redoubtable last-ditch battle against the enveloping socialism represented by the Harold Wilson government.)
It is beginning to seem that the Members of Parliament might have reached close to the point of no return, as Ms. May is, as I write,  in the process of making yet another humiliating visit (it is worth noting that nothing seems to humiliate this woman, not even the biggest governmental defeats known since 1888) to the headquarters of the European Union to plead for an extension of the time-limit imposed on the withdrawal process.
She is talking of introducing what is now called “a third meaningful vote” on her deal, as if the Speaker’s ruling does not exist.  He has warned that any deal introduced to the House must be of substantial difference from what has gone before. Never mind, Ms. May will introduce her motion next week, and say the EU willingness to extend the deadline is s substantive difference.
MPs are likely to find that if they vote against her deal for a third time, the most likely consequence could be that Britain would simply flop out of the EU, without any kind of deal as to future arrangements, a position that it is now agreed on both sides would be a solution costing both sides hundreds of billions of dollars (or Euros). So it would seem that through her intransigence and pig-headedness, she has them more or less over a barrel.  Calls are being heard on every side for her removal from her position as Prime Minister, but in December her position was challenged,, she survived it, and it is part of her party’s regulations that she cannot be challenged again for two years.
Obtuse, pig-headed, blind to everything except her tunnel vision she may be, but her tactic of delaying the decision until the very last moment seems to be working in her favour.
I would not dare to guess as to the likely outcome: the army of trained political observers who have been prounouncing on this subject have no more idea than I do. So, as I finish this piece, the leaders have just emerged, the Europeans have given the short extension asked for, but it is conditional on the House of Commons passing a deal of some kind. So it can come down to what Ms May has always wanted: it is either my deal or no deal at all, with its drastic possibilities for the nation.
Reporters are talking about the growing anger among Members of Parliament at the cavalier way she dismissed them, brushed them aside  contemptuously in fact, in a brief address she made to the nation last night. As I heard one woman reporter say, “When you’ve got a charm offensive, and you don’t have the charm, it’s, well, hopeless.” I have just heard Ms Merkel say, “We are dealing here with something that has a historical root,” a rare word of fact in it all.
The reporters, dazed by what is going on, keep saying, “We have no idea, with eight days before the deadline of March 29, as to what is likely to happen.”
Great stuff, no?  Well, as I often remark, wot the hell, wot the hell?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

My Log 710 March 20 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 144; A hell of a problem to maintain any faith in the U. S. of A; We may be no better ourselves, for all I know, but Trump certainly has opened the floodgates

It’s a hell of a struggle for a guy like me, who for years has been reading the outpourings of dissent about their own country from intelligent American observers, most of them academics, journalists, or rabble-rousers, to avoid coming to the conclusion that the United States is a nation that is irrevocably coiled in massive corruption, arising from its nature as an oligarchic seat of inequality, combined with a heartless lack of compassion towards anyone who has stumbled along the way.
To tell the truth, I came to something like that conclusion in 1956, following my first visit to that wonderful land, and I’ve never really learned anything to justify changing that opinion. But there has always been a little voice inside my head urging caution: after all, whenever the greatest educational institutions of the world are graded, American universities --- Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and so on --- are always among the top half-dozen. So, if that is true, could the host country of these great establishments really be so bad?
Every seeker after the truth about the United States must have had the experience of finding himself up against one shattering fact after another. Even in the area supporting my residual hope, for example, the incorruptible universities,  recent studies --- carefully hidden from the populace for years --- have thrown grave doubt on their probity. Presenting themselves to the world as pinnacles of democratic virtue, as those “shining lights upon the hill,” the great universities have been unexpectedly revealed to give prior entry to what are called “legacy students”, by which are meant from families rich enough to give generous grants, or students enrolled under athletic scholarships, the academic qualifications for which are usually found to be almost nil, but that bring in lots of money to the athletic programmes.
One investigator says that 40 per cent of all student entries to Harvard  are covered by those two categories. Beyond which facts, the great  American meritocracy --- “you can get there, son, if only you work hard and use your innate talents” ----  seems to be just another American boast come crashing into the dust.
Well, let’s try to forget the picture, drawn by those investigators, of bright-eyed teenaged girls whose places in the athletics team had been gained in spite of the fact they had never thrown a ball across a room or run a race, but were simply looking forward to university life as one big party. Their places were gained  at a cost of several million dollars in parental gifts. But I guess that’s America, so let’s just move on.
How about his one, revealed to me by an article in The Guardian Weekly, a British publication:
A new University of Farmington was announced, located just outside Detroit. The university president  sent out international emails, describing his institution as “a nationally accredited institution authorized to enrol international students.”  Some 600 students were enrolled, most of them from India. When the place was raided by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who apparently suspected that the students were trying to use their enrolment as an illegal way into the United States,  120 of the students were arrested, while eight other people were “charged with criminal violations, and were accused of helping enrol the students in exchange for cash, kickbacks and tuition credits,” reaching ahead for the next two years. When the government of India inquired as to the whereabouts of the arrested students, their consular officers discovered that they had been distributed around 36 different detention centres in the U.S.
As a result of this activity, it  was revealed that this was a fake university that had been created and built, by the  Department of Homeland Security, and that all its staff, far from being academics, were in fact undercover government agents who were trying to sniff out illegal entrants to the country. In other words the whole scheme was run by an agency of the American government:  an absolutely mind-blowing level of corruption at the level of the US government. Imagine how we would feel if it were revealed our government had created a fake university with the sole intention of attracting phony students who might be trying to enter the country illegally! It turned out that this was not the first fake university created by the Homeland Security department (which, you will remember, was established after 9/11 as part of the “war on terror”, a war that has immensely increased the amount of terrorism around the globe.) It really doesn’t bear thinking about. Such shenanigans might be expected of private enterprise crooks, but of government!  I can’t help but think it proves the corruption of the government to a really remarkable degree.
Okay, let’s turn the page. Another Guardian Weekly story touches on the U.S. government’s bewildering trade relations with China, which the Americans have turned into a war that appears to have the objective of destroying the up-and-coming poorer nation as a possible competitor.  I began the article eagerly, but it was not about what I expected. Instead of learnedly discussing the trade war, it was about a serious decision recently taken by China to no longer accept the mountains of American waste that they have been dealing with in recent years.  Of course I had always known that the Western nations, by far the major creators of garbage, had long used impoverished and economically backward  countries as dumps for our garbage. But I had not realized that  China had been taking 80 per cent of US recyclables, until 2018, when U.S. exports of such stuff fell off 92 per cent.
Not to worry, simultaneously exports of garbage to Thailand shot up 2000 per cent, as did exports of U.S. garbage to Malaysia and Vietnam. We, in Canada, with garbage production levels higher  per capita than any other country on earth, including the U.S., are complicit in this level of corruption: we have for several years been sending Toronto’s garbage to Michigan, where its handling is cheaper and more efficient than in Canada.
It begins to seem that the whole world will eventually be choking on the gazillions of tons of garbage  --- in the US it is estimated at 250 million tons a year --- from all countries, but with particular reference to Western economies like ours in North America.  The Chief Sustainability Officer for the company that runs a huge incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, told The Guardian Weekly: “In the United States, when people recycle, they think it is taken care of, when it was largely taken care of by China. When that stopped, it became clear that we just aren’t able to deal with it.”

Link of the day, March 20 2019: Another Take on the Crisis in Venezuela, article by noted UN expert, should be wake-up call to Canada, now on its jerking knees in obeisance before Trump

Here is a calm, alternative view of the situation in Venezuela, written by a noted international Human Rights expert, Alfred de Zayas,  who went to Venezuela as a UN rapporteur in 2017. His story throws doubt on the knee-jerk reaction of Canada's Foreign Minister and Prime Minister in following unquestioningly the Trump government's attempt to destabilize the elected government of that country, which is merely the latest in many years of efforts by the US to get rid of the socialist Bolivarian revolution that transformed the lives of  Venezuela's poor under the previous leader Hugo Chavez. Read the article, Another Take on the Crisis in Venezuela, by de Zayas, former UNofficial, now law professor at Geneva School of Diplomacy, published on March12 in the Havana Times

Monday, March 18, 2019

My Log 709 March 18 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 143; Much moved by Jacinda Ardern’s warm humanity in a crisis; I am glad, however, the crisis did not occur under earlier conservative New Zealand leaders of a more imperialist stripe

 They say you can take the child out of the village, but you can’t take the village out of the child.
I have been experiencing in my own life something that seems to confirm that old saw, as I observe, with, I have to confess, some unexpected trickles of pride, the behaviour of  the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her perfect reaction to the tragedy that has befallen the Muslim community in her country.
The last photo I saw of her was as she clasped to her a distressed young woman, into whose ear she was whispering supportive things. It brought a brief trickle of tears to my eyes, just seeing such an ordinary, non-hierarchical action of support,  completely confirming that she meant it when she told the Muslim population in her first reaction to the tragedy, “You are us.”
I approach this subject from an odd position, because I left my home country at the age of 22 in 1950, and have never really had a moment since in which I pined for its security, or wanted to rejoin it. Even when I went back, wife and four children along, in 1975 after 25 years of absence, years during which I never made any effort of any kind to seek out my fellow-countrymen, the choice was mostly my wife’s, and I was simply a more or less willing participant. When I made the decision to return to Canada the following year, my unfortunate family was destined to follow me along.
During all those many years of my life --- by this time I am well into middle age ---  I can never remember harbouring any strong feelings of nationalism either towards my home country or Canada, for that matter. (It took me until the early 1990s, when I realized it was possible to see All Black Rugby games on our television screens, that I evinced even a moderate reviving interest in New Zealand.) I had always been a fanatic All Black supporter as a kid, having grown up with pictures of their various teams since 1905 plastered all over my childish  bedroom walls: and I slotted back into that posture immediately as I observed anew the titanic Rugby battles against  South Africa, Wales --- always our two greatest traditional opponents --- and even of England, and Australia, which, years before, we had never taken seriously in Rugby, although they were always predominant in tennis, cricket, athletics and many other sports, as they still are.
Even my return to New Zealand in the 1970s left me with a feeling of disaffection for the place. I had two black children in my family, of African and West Indian origin,  and two white, and I was outraged to find that to get the black children into the country I had to fill in a special form for them since they were of non-Caucasian origin. I had always carried with me the myth that New Zealand had behaved better towards their indigenous Maoris than other countries had to theirs, so I was bitterly disappointed at this official recognition that it weren't necessarily so, that New Zealand laws were not all that non-racist.
There had been, at that time, considerable emigration to New Zealand from the Pacific Islands --- there has since been large immigration from other parts of Asia --- who were admitted when their labour was needed, and sometimes allowed to stay beyond their work permits, if the labour situation favoured their stay. The journey from the highly-structured, tightly-controlled environment of a Samoan village to the free and easy life in New Zealand was an immense challenge for these islanders. Typically, many young men took to heavy drinking, and some New Zealanders of my acquaintance began to dismiss them as drunken bums just as had happened  to my certain knowledge in Canada. 
It took some years for the more responsible members of these Island societies to gain the upper hand, and stabilize their situations. However, once the labour situation turned against them, they became known as “overstayers”, and the last thing I remember before I left New Zealand in 1976 was that  a massive round-up of “overstayers” with a view to deporting them back to their home islands, had resulted in the mistaken arrest of many native Maoris. Whereupon, the Chief of Police announced to the world that anyone who didn’t look like a normal New Zealander --- translation, an ordinary, good-bloke white Kiwi --- should be carrying his papers at all times. I felt that as a bitter renunciation of all my previous opinions that the country of my birth abhorred racism.
But that is not the final verdict, as Ms. Ardern’s recent behaviour shows. Immense changes have taken place in the condition of the Maori and their language since the 1970s, those changes mostly initiated by the occasional Labour Party governments. I had grown up under Labour. But  Sid Holland, a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative, was elected in 1949,  in an election precipitated by an act of apostasy  by the Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser, who having been in jail when first elected in 1918 for opposing conscription in the First World War, had returned from an Imperial Defence Conference in London in 1949 under orders to introduce conscription against the common bugbear of the time, the Soviet menace. Disgust  with this unconscionable action was what led to my quitting the country for good and all
I am able to judge Ms. Ardern against not only Holland, who immediately attacked  unions  (“industrial anarchy” he called it), and eliminated many public entities, and who thus began conservative control of the country for the next half century, with occasional brief intervals of Labour government. 
Another conservative horror figure, Robert Muldoon was elected while I was living in New Zealand. Although I didn’t stay long under his imprimatur, I had the horrible feeling that the more obscene and disgraceful were the things he said, the more they were being mopped up appreciatively by many of those around me. He made no attempt to disguise his prejudices, and after signing the Gleneagles Agreement by which South Africa’s apartheid regime was banished from world  sporting contacts, he nevertheless approved sporting visits to South Africa that were the direct cause of the African boycott of the 1976 Olympics. Undeterred, he allowed the visit of a South African Rugby team to New Zealand in 1981, a visit which all-but precipitated a civil war. Protesters turned up bearing French loaves and bicycle helmets  as their attack and defence weapons, but were savagely beaten by police when they tried to prevent crowds from attending the games. As a final act, they bombed the last Test match in Auckland with bags of flour from the air. This heroic demonstration of defiance in New Zealand was one of the facts that eventually persuaded the South African leadership that they had become the polecats of the world, and changes were needed. Later Nelson Mandela affirmed how encouraged he and his imprisoned colleagues were by the reaction of such a huge part of the New Zealand population.
So, while I do support and am moved by Jacinda Ardern’s behaviour towards the targeted  Muslim community, I am extremely glad the attack did not occur under the earlier reign of the more imperial/colonialist leaders who have led  New Zealand from time to time.
For myself, although I am not at all sympathetic to any religion, I remember writing as long ago as the 1970s that “that mosque at the end of the road” is a Canadian mosque, and must be treated as such.