Month: June 2016

Dangerous Far Right Rejoices

Having never passed a math exam I shall refrain from explaining the economic ramifications of Great Britain’s decision to leave the EU – the European Union.
Lacking any knowledge on how to hammer out new inter-nation trade agreements, I shall leave advice on such matters to economists and traders expert in such things.
As a professionally trained observer of things political – local, provincial and international – with more than 50 years in forward observation posts, I feel better equipped to comment on the more fearful repercussions of that fateful referendum and the decision of what was once a united kingdom to leave the EU.
For some time there has been a perceptible shift in European politics from centre-right to far-right. And I am old enough to remember, as I’m sure are many of my readers, that far right governments are but a goose step away from fascism. Even in Germany, still trying to scrub its collective soul clean after its disastrous experiment 80-years ago with the brutal philosophy of far right Hitler and his ultra right wing Nazi government, there is concern
Der Spiegel,one of Germany’s most respected newspapers recently reported “German society seems more unsettled than it has in a long time” with the main causes for worry uncontrolled immigration and the rise of sporadic but fearful terrorism. “A recent survey,” said Spiegel “reflected a deep unease in our society. Many people seem to have lost their orientation. They feel that their concerns are not being taken seriously enough by the federal government…..That doesn’t mean these people will succumb to the siren song of the far right, but it does mean they have become more susceptible to it.”
Those comments were posted before the UK Referendum but echo clearly in its aftermath. The day following the vote a headline in the Guardian read “European far right hails Brexit vote” and reporter Angelique Chrisafris wrote from Paris that Marine Le Pen had praised the UK decision as “a victory for freedom” and called for a similar referendum in France and other EU countries.
Le Pen is head of Frances Front National (FN) and saw the UK decision as a boost for her bid for the presidency of France next spring. In a post-Brexit speech the Guardian reported she proclaimed the UK result had launched “a movement that cannot be stopped” and her party flooded Paris with posters showing chains being broken from wrists with the caption “Now it’s Frances turn.” She promised a “leave or remain” referendum within six months if she wins the Presidency.
In the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark similar shouts of joy were voiced by far-right leaders.
In England Margaret MacMillan, professor of international history and Warden of St.Anthony’s College, University of Oxford, told a BBC TV audience and later wrote in the Globe and Mail that triumphant “leave” supporters should “enjoy their victory today, but they are going to wake up tomorrow with a massive hangover.”
I recommend her Globe and Mail article as essential reading for anyone interested in the future, not just of England and the EU, but the world. She not only ventures where I fear to tread in economics and trade but is the only commentator I have found in my expansive trolling of the Internet to suggest that referendums asking only “yes” or “no” can be dangerous when they ”undermine the authority of that cherished British institution, Parliament: “Why,” she asks, “do we elect representatives when we also second guess them? And the campaign has also vividly demonstrated the dangers of referendums in another sense. By boiling complex questions down a Yes or No, they create a simplistic big headline view of the world. Foreigners Are Bad! We Are Good! And we all have pie in the sky when the new day dawns. Vera Lynn will sing The White Cliffs of Dover, there will be good English marmalade for breakfast, and the sun will shine for ever”
It would have been nice if Ms MacMillan had left us on that good humoured reminder of our often fractured thinking, But she doesn’t She shakes us with what a chilling truth, and not just for England:
“The Britain of the future (and perhaps we will start calling it England) will be smaller, poorer, possibly meaner, and certainly less relevant in the world. That is only partly a problem for the British themselves. What should concern us all is what it means for the rest of us. The EU has been dealt a blow, perhaps a mortal one. Ms Le Pen has already said she wants a referendum and other right wing parties around Europe are following suit. It is not inconceivable that the EU will fall to pieces. Russian President Vladimir Putin must be laughing his head off in the Kremlin.
“The world as we have known it is changing – and not for the better.”

Hate -The Deadly Ammunition

It took two days but the Los Angeles Times asked the question that had bugged me since the first wave of “the worst mass shooting in U.S. history” headlines flamed around the world.
That was on Sunday, June 12, when 49 human beings were killed and 53 other seriously wounded by a lone gunman sentencing to death or mutilation anyone who did not share his religious beliefs. In its early editions the Times referred to the massacre as “the deadliest in American history” and then to its credit took a deep breath of reflection and on Tuesday, June 14, asked in headline: “The worst mass shooting? A look back at massacres in U.S. history.”
It was comforting to see a leading newspaper putting the brakes on hysterical reporting by reminding its readers that ghastly though the slaughter of the innocents enjoying a Saturday night dance in Orlando, Florida was, it was not the worst bloody massacre in U.S. history – or the first. I say comforting because indeed it is in a world where media tends to rush to inflammatory headlines in times of disaster thus cultivating fear when it should be urging reflective calm.
Even as I praise the LA Times for bringing some perspective to the Orlando tragedy it must be noted it does so with some reluctance and quotes Grant Duwe, director of research and the Minnesota Department of Corrections, as saying “the term mass shooting is imprecise”. The argument is advanced that the actions of a lone shooter intent on slaughter and terror in the name of God rates different terminology than wholesale slaughter by military or civilian authorities in the name of justice.
“By that definition” wrote reporter Laura J. Nelson “the Pulse nightclub shooting is the deadliest mass public shooting in U.S. history.”
To her credit she then quotes law professor Ariel Gross writing in an op-ed piece of the Wall Street Journal (June 14): “It is important to put the Pulse shooting in historical context not to minimize the terror wreaked by a disturbed and bigoted individual’s easy access to military-grade weapons, but to recognize that gun culture in the U.S. has gone hand in hand with violent hatred for a long time.”
Eye witnesses tell us the executioner at the Pulse nightclub just sprayed the room then coldly killed many of the wounded.
From Wounded Knee in 1890, Captain Edward S. Godfrey, U.S. 7th Cavalry reported: “I know my men did not aim deliberately (at the Miniconjou-Latoka natives they had surrounded) and they were greatly excited. I don’t believe they saw their sights (aimed their guns). They fired rapidly but it seemed to me only a few seconds till there was not a living thing before us; warriors, squaws, children, ponies and dogs went down before that unaimed fire.” The death toll was eventually estimated at 300 with the bodies of some women and children found two miles from the massacre site, killed as they fled.
Since taking office USA President Barrack Obama has tried to bring some form of control to American gun possession laws without result. Controls might lower gunshot killings, but it wouldn’t end them. For that there would need to be a national conversion to higher ideals.
Brendan Cox, husband of Jo Cox, the 41-year old member of the British House of Commons killed by gun and knife as she walked along a normally safe and peaceful street few days ago told the USA and the world what it needs. Left with two children to care for he said:
“She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love, and two that we all unite to fight the hatred that killed her. Hate does not have a creed, race or religion. It is poisonous.”
Amen.

Impossible to Understand

“It is quite impossible to understand how we can be such strong individuals, so insistent on the rights and claims of every human soul. And yet at the same time countenance (and if we are English, even take quite calmly) this wholesale murder, which if it were applied to animals or birds or indeed anything except men would fill us with a sickness and repulsion greater than we could endure.”
The words belong to Vera Brittain as written in her classic Testament of Youth, first published in 1933 by Victor Gollancz Ltd and still available in well printed paperback edition by Virago Press. It is a remarkable book recounting the journey of a young female from the years just prior to the First World War, through that horrific conflict and beyond.
Vera Britain was born December 29, 1893. She was an outspoken feminist before the word had meaning, was a patriotic English woman who learned the hardest facts of life – and death – as a nurse in the overflowing casualty wards of that Great War to end wars. She died in March 1970 – an outspoken, lifelong, fervent pacifist converted to that cause by the never-ending procession of shattered minds and bodies from the bloody trenches of France and Gallipoli.
It was after reading in The (London) Times that by mid-1915 total casualties of WW1 had reached five million dead and seven million wounded that Ms. Brittain found it “impossible to understand….this wholesale murder which if it were applied to animals or birds…..would fill us with sickness and revulsion….”
A frightening truth and still, a hundred years after first written, a chilling one.
Read of a plan to cull invasive deer, rabbits or wolves and protesters will hit the streets waving placards; organizations will spring up to prevent the cull and capture wayward rabbits for shipment to a sanctuary for protection.
Read of a fire-fight where drones or smart bombs slay innocents along with an official enemy and we “countenance…even take quite calmly this wholesale murder…”. We are assured by our leaders that collateral damage is unavoidable and some of us, having been on the receiving end of less than smart bombs or shells, know it to be true: in war innocents have always died along with combatants.
But that shouldn’t make it calmly acceptable. Too many rage and fulminate against cruelty to every animal on planet earth – except the one called human. A century or so before Vera Brittain, Scottish poet Robbie Burns wrote “man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn”. Another truth which, apparently, still remains “quite impossible to understand.”
If you haven’t yet organized your summer reading find a copy of Brittain’s Testament of Youth, read it – then ask yourself some questions. And provide honest answers.

Getting Things Straight -Maybe

A professional acquaintance and friend of long ago, Paul St Pierre, once said he didn’t start to get things straight in life until he turned 70. Paul died on July 27,2014, aged 90 but I remember his wisdom in these days of growing confusion in matters international, national, provincial and the cities, towns or villages in which we live.
For example I find it difficult to grasp the magnitude of the refugee problem. I read or watch on television as flimsy boats jammed with men, women and children from babes to youths, capsize. It is reality television. Stark, terrifying with the only reward for survivors a wretched, massive, tent-shack city set deep in forbidding, barren, wasteland. I read that navies from neighbouring countries rush to the scene of a sinking and pull hundreds from the water – while other hundreds die.
The “estimated” death toll – for nobody seems quite sure how many “passengers’’ were on board to start the voyage – is now in the thousands and, it is forecast, will grow worse.
I am left wondering why the Italian, Greek, Egyptian, British and other assorted nations with maritime power in the Mediterranean, can’t stop the shiploads before they start their suicidal runs across the ocean. Most nations have drones in their arsenal – drones that can seek out and destroy anything and everything from gun emplacements to individual suspected terrorists.
Is it beyond the skills of those nations to seek out the onshore assembly points of illegal refugees, flush out the ruthless, evil-minded, profiteering, organizers and eliminate the head of this evil? That, of course would involve intervention in other nation’s internal affairs and, the United States CIA and British SAS, would never, ever, dream of such actions, would they?
Don’t answer.
I have similar puzzlement over the ISIS military machine which like all modern armies runs on oil and ammunition? I understand the money ISIS needs comes from sales from oil wells and refineries it has captured? So why aren’t smart bombs which never miss their target – except for a little “acceptable” collateral damage to an innocent family now and then – being used to eliminate the refineries? And which nations are buying ISIS oil and for what cash or tanks?
On the weaponry front it would amaze me if the source of armament supply was not known. It does surprise – and bewilder me – that the sale of tanks, armoured cars, heavy artillery and shells to fire from big guns to small, can continue unhindered, unchallenged.
Maybe media – print and electronic – could fulfill what was once a proud responsibility and tell us where ISIS buys its weaponry and why, with all its assembled muscle, the so called great powers can’t stop the trade.
It couldn’t be, could it, that ISIS weaponry comes from suppliers in countries located in what we like to call”the free democracies?” No, no, unthinkable and that, as Sam Goldwyn once said is “a positive maybe.”
One more “can’t understand.” Next Monday will be June 6, another anniversary of D-Day, 1944. The day Allied armies started the rollback of what had been the mightiest army in the world from the beaches of Normandy across Europe to Berlin the shattered capital of Germany.
How come the Allied nations which defeated the well trained, well led, and for years well supplied German military machine, couldn’t do the same in two “wars” with Iraq’s much inferior force?
Just asking.