Monday, November 1, 2010

Bye bye Barack-bird ...

.It's over.

Setting all other issues aside for a moment, (health insurance, credit crisis, two wars etc.), my one hope was that President Obama would sacrifice any hope of re-election in order to speak the simple truth for four years.

To look the world in the eye and warn us the global financial and chemical lobbies were bald-faced lying to us.

Instead, he took his eye off the ball, in overtime, of the last match, of the last series, between Haliburton and Michael Ruppert.

"Collapse" indeed!

There are only two issues left folks. Compound interest and drought.

Wealth and water.

Riots in the streets by 2020.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Influential Liars

Time to resume after a month's break. It was good to stand back and see my blogs as a reader for a bit rather than as their author. After reviewing your many thoughtful comments, I have drawn two conclusions.

First, regarding Nunaview. I had originally hoped it would convey an idea of the Nunavut Territory as a relatively non-partisan perch from which to observe governnents, the press, and the effect each is having on North America's current self-image. Seven months later, however, I'm finding that my fellow Nunavummiut come to this blog expecting to see a picture of our own governments, our own press and our own life, not the rest of the world. More than that, they are desperate for a more constructive description and analysis of what is going on right here at home than we get from other sources.

From a second group of readers, one that includes several prestigious members of the established press in both Canada and the United States, I have heard that most blogging is a mere echo, a stream of parasitic opinion feeding off harder, genuine 'news'.

That comment cuts deep. It speaks to the original intent of this blog, which was to expose and analyse the debilitating hidden assumptions underlying much purportedly harder journalism from our so-called 'mainstream media'.

I'm as fed up as you are of the cliché embedded in those two words. I just don't know how else to label elements of our contemporary press who have voluntarily donned a straightjacket of the narrowest possible scope, with their Pablum of permissible talking-points ensuring only a few tightly controlled self-perpetuating biases are eligible for coverage.

My recent period of reflexion has convinced me there is enough truth in each of the above two criticisms, that I should split my blogs in two. Nunaview will become a more recognizably Nunavutian view of itself, Nunavut, and I encourage you to continue checking it for more home and culturally focused posts. For the news junkies among us, or those who enjoy my ornery analysis of misleading assumptions and distortions from our leaders and news media, come here and help me expose those most "Influential Liars".

The time has come to move beyond simply thinking we are being lied to. It is time to show exactly how it is being done. With your help, let's offer specific examples from now on.

I am betting we all crave an alternative to the dreary inventory of social boils and puss heaped on us by local and national publications. I assume we expect more from our intellectual leadership than streams of rhetorical Clearasil. Our cream-hued institutions, including our press, are developing an increasingly assimilationist complexion and that only disguises the festering post-colonial zits that plague our best of intentions.

Every time a news report frames a challenge in our communities with a narrative that despairs of a solution, let's expose it. The time has come to throw off the shackling mindsets that bind us.

A tall order. I know. We will be amateurs, both of us, dabbling where the professional wolves dominate and are so expert at mocking and belittling such attempts as ours. It might take a year or two to hone our skills and our instincts.

But our firm intent should be to gradually retell our own story, using all the same truths, using all the documented history the nay-sayers love to wallow in, but to reweave that cloth into a map of a way forward, not one that keeps us going 'round and 'round an endless Ring Road of frustration.

Care to join me?

See: Nunaview.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Power of Brevity

My overly wordy rants about the hidden distortions and presuppositions in mainstream media have been put to shame by Jay Rosen's frugal summaries.

His recommendations for four segments on CNN during prime time better express what I have tried to convey over recent months.

Here are his mouth-watering descriptions:

7 pm: Leave Jon King in prime time and rename his show Politics is Broken. It should be an outside-in show. Make it entirely about bringing into the conversation ... people who are outsiders to Beltway culture and Big Media and who think the system is broken. No Bill Bennett, no Gloria Borger, no "Democratic strategists," no Tucker Carlson. Do it in the name of balance. But in this case voices from the sphere of deviance (to) balance the Washington consensus.

8 pm: Thunder on the Right. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational liberal that mostly covers the conservative movement and Republican coalition… and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are right leaning. The television equivalent of the the reporting Dave Weigel does.

9 pm: Left Brained. Flip it. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational conservative that mostly covers liberal thought and the tensions in the Democratic party…. and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are left leaning.

10 pm: Fact Check An accountability show with major crowdsourcing elements to find the dissemblers and cheaters. The week’s most outrageous lies, gimme-a-break distortions and significant misstatements with no requirement whatsoever to make it come out equal between the two parties on any given day, week, month, season, year or era. CNN’s answer to Jon Stewart.

11 pm.: Liberty or death: World’s first news program from a libertarian perspective, with all the unpredictablity and mix-it-up moxie that libertarians at their best provide. Co-produced with Reason Magazine.

Now that is a line-up that could rival Al Jazeera's equivalent, program's like Listening Post, People and Power, Riz Khan One-on-One and Rageh Omaar.

All that would be missing then would be an equivalent to AJE's Witness.

We would finally have an effective antidote to what Ashis Nandy calls "a world where the idiom of dissent is increasingly being defined at the centers of conformity."


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Knock Knock. Hugo's there?


Remember when Hugo Chavez wrinkled his nose from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly and claimed to detect a whiff of sulphur in the room? A sign of the recent presence of the imperial devil in the form of George Shrub (Bush Jr.)?

Three-quarters of the assembly giggled loudly, as was intended. They recognized the Michael Moore or Jon Stewart style of irony. The entire American delegation walked out, however, in what was obviously a rehearsed and planned move. They then launched a ferocious campaign depicting Chavez as some sort of unstable whacko. He must be bi-polar at least, right?

Can you imagine what hemispheric relations might be like if an American President had the presence of mind to join in the laughter and invite Hugo to Washington for some tough minded honest debate? Do you really think the likes of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Brazil's Lula da Silva could spend hours in conversation with an idiot, if Chavez were just that idiot? There must be something more to the fellow than we are led to believe by our mainstream media.

One possible source of additional information, Oliver Stone's new documentary "South of the Border", isn't showing anywhere near me yet. The DVD won't be out until October. Funny, I had no problem getting to see Michael Moore's "Sicko" when it was released. Care to speculate on the difference?

In the meantime, assuming neither Oliver Stone nor Michael Moore are scheduled to read this blog today, I will ask anyone who knows them both to make the following suggestion.

Take one part "Inconvenient Truth' using the format of a TED-like lecture with giant graphs showing the numbers, perhaps with Paul Krugman playing the part of Al Gore; add a zest of man-in-the-street or women talking around a kitchen table interviews to illustrate the realities of life, somewhat the way residents of France did in "Sicko"; now add a double shot of Oliver Stone doing the kind of intimate interview with Paul Volker that he did with Fidel Castro in "Comandante'; juxtapose that segment with Fareed Zakaria facing a panel of three: Michael Moore, Oliver Stone and Jesse Ventura, not as the host, but as the guest for a change, with Fareed on the hot seat to answer questions concerning his own proud capitalistic economic assumptions; and finally, perhaps as a special feature on the eventual DVD release, have Noam Chomsky lay down a voice-over audio track analyzing and restoring the deep structure underpinnings of a good number of the ambiguous statements likely to merge from all the preceding.

Oh, what is the theme for all this you ask?

I suggest the title be 'Confounded Interest' and that the task be to show the role and impact of compound interest on human behaviour. Whether on credit card debt, national and international debt, mortgage debt, or the crowbar wielding friendly neighborhood loan shark.

Oliver, Michael, I dare you. Nobody could do it the way you two could. Jesse is there to protect you.

Don't worry about distribution.

I'll pitch it to Tony Burman for you.


Why Fidel? Why not Lula instead?

Friends are asking why I follow Fidel Castro's blog so faithfully and why people like Oliver Stone are giving the likes of Hugo Chavez any benefit of doubt. Why not Lula da Silva instead, the remarkable President of Brazil?

That is a legitimate question, more subtle than we think.

Is my harping on Fidel naïve or ignorant of reality under that controversial regime?

I certainly hope not. For those who might not know, I speak Spanish fluently and the perspective of Cuba in this blog is based on pretty close interest since 1962.

I am not oblivious to the fact that a significant minority, perhaps even a majority of Cubans are keen for domestic change. The same old faces and political leadership can seem pretty dreary to us after as little as eight or ten years, let alone after 51 years, which is the case in Cuba.

What I still find fascinating in the midst of this disquiet, however, is how insightful old people can become when they no longer need to embellish the truth for tactical effect. They begin to tell it as it is. That is what I am hearing from friends in Cuba who are old enough to remember life before the revolution, some who have supported the revolution, grown fed up with it at times, but still see powerful and truthful elements in its rationale.

Now even Fidel has begun to comment more philosophically on foreign policy at least. Few of us ever expected him to soften because he has been so stridently defensive about his domestic record over the years, but he is surprising us recently with some pretty pithy cracks about his own political naïveté, especially as a proxy during the Cold War.

I think his speech to the National Assembly on August 7th should be taken in that context, as one more in a sequence of recent blogs he's written that differ substantively from anything prior.

The speech was framed as a direct plea to President Obama to deviate from standard military dogma on nuclear confrontation, especially when married to the Bush-Cheney approach to pre-emptive intervention. Fidel pleaded with Obama to explore alternative scenarios that include more third-world and southern hemispheric perspectives.

What seems sincere in Castro these days is his placing such pleas in a context of environmental and historical concern typical of someone who is now looking beyond the immediate, someone considering longer term human and planetary considerations. He is indeed sounding more like an old warrior digging deeper into even his own motives and earlier justifications for the preemptiove use of force.

In a somewhat ironic twist, I think he has been influenced as much by the likes of Lula da Silva and other modern southern leaders as he might have once inspired them.

A whole new generation of leaders has emerged in the southern hemisphere and in parts of Asia that the industrial empire and media have yet to understand and that emerging alternate information channels such as Al Jazeera English and Internet social media are now by-passing.

Yes, Obama recognizes the inherent danger of so many nuclear weapons and he has made efforts to reduce that arsenal. But his most ardent supporters are concerned by the apparent impact on him of the remorseless daily briefings from a Defence establishment permeated by precedent, wealthy vested interests and, most of all, deep secrecy camouflaged from civilian oversight.

Hence the drama over the recent WikiLeaks documents.

The reason WikiLeaks so easily fought off ferocious accusations of betrayal and troop endangerment last week is the sinister and cynical disregard for the truth to which the world grew accustomed during the Nixon and Cheney dynasties in foreign policy. Truth be known, the deception has been pervasive in all imperial regimes and we goof badly by dismissing such allegations as mere neo-con ranting or off-beat whacko conspiracy theory. A case could be made that only Eisenhower and Carter were honest American brokers in the last century

Careful semantic, syntactic and logical analysis of the utterances of our current crop of leaders and their legions of lobbyist sponsors would expose an immense subconscious maze of pre-supposition and deception to which we, the consumers of that propaganda seem oblivious.

That stupor is the cause of my increasignly strident diatribe against our press and commercial massmedia. If this blog has any dominant obsession, it is that our paid language professionals are failing utterly in their duty to expose the underlying presumptions and breaches of logic in the public and democratic dialogue.

The challenge for me in this blog, now that I've identified that as a scope and theme even when I no longer have such an easy target as Lou Dobbs to pick on, is to gradually morph from merely saying the media are perverting democratic dialogue to explicitely demonstrating how they do it.

That is what I aspire to over the next two to three years, drawing examples from local, national and international reportage.

In the interim, placing the contemporary speeches of Fidel Castro side-by-side with those of other world leaders is not a bad place to start given the themes Fidel has decided to highlight in his 'legacy' years.

Monday, August 2, 2010

21st Century Treason - Sins of Omission

It's getting harder and harder to turn back to CBC/ABC/NBC/CBS, CNN, or even BBC after watching the English version of Al Jazeera for a few weeks.

It's not so much the news casts at the top of each hour, although they are a breath of fresh air too. It's the in-depth follow-through documentaries that run from the bottom of each hour that remind us of what journalism used to be like when the news could be bad, yet the reports reassuring in their honesty. Fault Lines, Witness, The Vault, Inside Story, Empire, People and Power, The Rageh Omaar Report, 101 East, Riz Khan's One-on-One.

The only program I can't bear to watch is "Inside Iraq". The host is irritating, obnoxious and shrill to the point of blocking out any meaningful content from the invited guests. (Note: the female anchor of the last two weeks seems an improvement, perhaps even an over correction. She's a little too bland. Not sure whether she is permanent or merely convering for an absence.)

Either way, a week's exposure to AJE will leave you in a state of shock on discovering all the stuff our broadcasters leave out. It's as if a veil were lifted (pardon the horrible pun) to reveal the lies and misinformation we are routinely fed.

I could illustrate the point with examples from each of the above programs covering issues from Iran to East Timor, from Myanmar to Afghanistan, climate, energy, finance, food and pharmaceuticals, from Beijing to Mumbai, then London and finally back to Washington again. Like a fish who remains oblivious to water until it lands on the angler's hook, you would feel like you'd been pulled out into air and then released back into the water again, wondering, "What the hell was that?!"

The most revealing of all is AJE's coverage of the press itself. That is my passion. That is what, in our western media, keeps me burning inside.

It isn't any one incident. It isn't the embroidery. It isn't just the suface assertions we get from our own broadcasters. The shock of a week waching AJE is the devastating contrast between it and the all pervasive fabric of lies about the rest of the world that our own northern media sell us on behalf of their political and commercial sponsors.

How much time have you spent over the last week listening to accounts of Shirley Sherrod being fired? Endless streams about what the NAACP said, what the USDA said, what Barrack Obama is imagined to have said.

None, I repeat, none examined in detail what Ms. Sherrod had actually said or compared it to what the neocon attack dogs said she had said. Not a single mainstream press outlet in all of North America transcribed the two versions, mounted them side by side on the same page, added bright clear highlighting to show the differences, and demonstrated exactly where the liars had altered Ms. Sherrod's speech.

Instead, the very programs that are supposed to critique the media and hold them to a higher standard proceeded to commit the same treason of ommision themselves. With insufferably self-exculpatory tones of tut-tut and oh-my-gosh, they castigated the USDA, the NAACP and the White House for not going to the source, for not exposing the deceivers.

In other words, these mainstream media critics did exactly the same thing themselves!

Neither Howard Kurtz with his clique of like-minded word merchants on CNN's 'Reliable Sources' nor Noel Sheppard billing himself as a 'News Buster' in his 'Media Research Center' bothered to detail the actual crime. Not even the usually reliable Huffington Post. They were too preoccupied with reposting ad nauseam the likes of Naim Saban's vitriol against Oliver Stone.

No, Euro-America's vaunted media critics did nothing but repeat the sin of ommission they decried in everyone else.

They diverted our attention onto derivative incidents, onto circus performers and talking heads, and completely avoided the root cause. The details of what Shirley Sherrod had actually said and the treasonous agenda of the GOP and neocon warriors who edited her into saying something else, were neither emphasized nor explicitly examined.

And in that omission, you have the sine qua non of No We Can't, Never Under Obama, and Siempre Nada, the dreary anthems of the GOP armies and their barely arms length Rush-to-the-Tea-Party-Limbaugh logic vandals.

And why, you might ask, would all these media dilittentes so determinedly avoid covering this root cause?

Because it is the very basis of the entire Euro-American and northern hemispheric media cabal that they do it every day on behalf of their stakeholding business sponsors and they are terrified that we, the great unwashed electorate and consuming public might wake up to how deeply we have been betrayed.

Pick your topic of choice. Any one will do. Public option health insurance, the role of nuclear technology in electricity production, our disappearing aquifers (water tables), the looming water-related violence coming soon to a city near you and, above all, compound interest gathering on debt that is keeping the world's working and middle class people in a state of perpetual employment anxiety in order to perpetuate macro-economic deception.

The mainstream democratic public square in which we are supposed to be able to talk to each other honestly is now broken at its core, poisoned with the bias of its criminally self-centered corporate stakeholders. Howard Kurtz and his carefully chosen little clique of pretend analysts are only rhetorical whores hired to divert our attention away from the underlying deceit into the circus of talking heads and soap suds.

There was a time when I might have expected more of Frank Sesno.

Now I can only recommend AJE's "The Listening Post", hosted by Richard Gizbert, as a partial antidote and urge you to supplement your reading with social media rooted in alternate points of view.

AJE is available in North America over the Internet through Livestation. You can safely download the free Livestation Desktop Player as there is zero garbage attached. Then simply add AJE to your carousel of available channels. There is also a free Wifi App on the Apple iPod and iPad. Finally, if you are lucky, AJE might be available through your cable TV provider, such as Ch 516 on Bell Expressvu in Canada.

If you have any residual doubts about the legitimacy of AJE or wonder about the integrity of those who try to dissuade you from it, I strongly recommend listening to this discussion with its Managing Editor, Tony Burman.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jews, News and the Imperial Monologue: In Defense of Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone recently implied the proportion of Jews working in Euro-American news media sufficiently exceeds their incidence in the general population as to require professional journalistic disclosure.

Touchy subject.

Is there any professional context within which this question can properly be asked?

When Mel Gibson rants about Jews in Hollywood, we know what to expect.

When Oliver Stone draws distinctions among Hitler’s victims, albeit "clumsily" (his words), I’m tempted to beg leave from the Jewish community to ask for a more nuanced explanation.

His record of films about other biases in American media warrants more diligence on our part before we cast stones for blatant anti-Semitism.

In fact, Stone’s remarks come amidst increasing diligence among political pundits in the northern hemisphere to examine the concentration of influence and ownership in the media, both European and American.

Sixty-five years after the Holocaust, our awkwardness about this topic actually worsens the risk of anti-Semitism rather than guarding against it. To borrow from Ashis Nandy, the average consumer of Euro-American news media has a civic duty to question whether "the idiom of dissent is increasingly being defined at the centers of conformity".

Would any of us deny each other the right to ask similar questions concerning the Cuban trade embargo, the public Health Insurance option, or Banking reform?

Of course not.

Among professional journalists and academics outside North America, Stone might even derive increased credibility for admitting his empire's most influential news outlets are managed by a discernable minority: CBS by Tish. ABC by Iger. NBC by Zucker. Fox by Rupert Murdoch. US News by Mort Zuckerman. The New York Times by Sulzberger. The Los Angeles Times by Sam Zell. The Washington Post by the Katherine Meyer / Graham family. Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg.

Even the rest of us, the plebian unwashed, might be forgiven for wondering about the cumulative impact of personal preferences among Wolf Blitzer, Howard Kurtz, Larry King, Candy Crowley, Aaron Brown, Andrea Mitchell, Jessica Yellin, Mary Snow, Barbara Starr, Ben Wideman, Jim Bitterman, Alan Chernoff, Elizabeth Cohen, William Cohen, Robert Rubin, Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, James Rubin, Jeff Greenfield, Andrea Koppel, Gary Tuchman, Bob Franken, or Alan Derschowitz, when reporting on Arab-Israeli politics.

And that’s just CNN.

The equivalent observation was finally heralded in Hollywood years ago when A&E produced "Hollywoodism: An Empire of Their Own - Jews, Movies, and The American Dream" (1998), which chronicled the amazing success of the half-dozen Jewish families who created the movie industry and the studio system that spawned the moguls of Hollywood during its Golden Age.

In a previous Nunaview post, even I explored the general phenomenon of diasporic minorities such as the Chinese in Polynesia, Indians in Africa and Jews in Euro-America, and suggested they should justifiably boast about their accomplishments rather than disguising the celebrity and influence they have garnered.

But Oliver Stone’s remarks are different. Very different. So are Michael Moore’s. So are Noam Chomsky’s.

Each in his colourful non-conformist way suggests there is a journalistic ethic at play here that goes far, far beyond artistic license, or business acuity. It concerns a potentially egregious violation of journalism’s core claim to truth in transparency. It reaches to the very foundations of representative democracy, public dialogue, and electoral politics.

We send UN observers all over the world to determine whether corrupt dictatorships manipulate electoral results after the votes are cast. Stone, Moore and Chomsky are warning us that our opinions are being manipulated before the votes are cast.

Ordinary viewers will have noticed how frequently CNN anchors, most notably Wolf Blitzer, make a fuss about CNN being owned by Time Warner when reporting on a Time Warner related story. They are also downright rude at times in their manner of interrupting a guest to point out that guest's personal connection to stakeholders in the issue being discussed.

That notice is itself entirely proper, but the strident manner of its delivery is designed solely to profer CNN’s claim to neutral reporting. It is part of a self-serving campaign to dub themselves "The Most Trusted Name in News" and we are supposed to conclude that CNN discloses all background relationships that might constitute a risk of bias.

It is therefore CNN's very own insistence on this principle that opens them up to analysis and accountability for their own performance in this regard.

Every sophomore journalism student learns the rationale for this professional code of conduct. They are taught that the viewing public must be cautioned, explicitly, to raise their pre-suppositional antennae against even the appearance of bias. Not just gross prejudice, but for the more subtle, inadvertent and even innocent bias that reporters might miss in themselves, so ingrained is it in their personal history or basic human preferences.

Are allegations that CNN distorts staff biographies accurate? Did Wolf Blitzer really work for radically pro-Jewish and activist pro-Israel publications and lobbies for much of his career prior to joining CNN? If that allegation is accurate, then CNN is egregiously derelict in its duty to the American democracy when omitting those facts from their online backgrounders and biographies of Wolf Blitzer.

In the context of its coverage of stories that involve stakeholders in the Middle East, in Palestinian activism, or in reports of anti-Semitism in American society, Mr. Blitzer’s personal history is itself a factor that should be addressed with sufficient frequency and transparency as to discharge that journalistic stricture and obligation to the global audience. Oliver Stone has only had the nerve to suggest the same applies to the alleged disproportion of Jews and converts among CNN's editors, anchors, pundits, reporters and invited guests compared to their numbers in American society in general.

CNN claims not to be Fox. The standard, if they aspire to that level of trust, is higher.

If you have any doubt about the legitimacy of this tenet of professional journalism, I dare you to spend a week, just one single week, watching America's mass media as if you were Chinese, Venezuelan, Muslim, Cuban, Pakistani, Arab-Israeli, Palestinian, or just a truly independent American elector.

How ironic that so reserved a professional as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates regularly feels the need to refer to the "people in between" when speaking of those skilled at manufacturing conformity of opinion by way of deception.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Conservatives: Fiscal, Social, or Foreign

Arianna Huffington recently penned a eulogy for left-right dialectics, declaring them to be inadequate - going on useless - as a tool for political analysis in the 21st Century. Conversely, one of the better status reports on the US Republican party made pretty good use of it to send Sarah Palin and Pit Bull Romney to the penitential corner of our democratic classroom for an overdue time out.

Truth is, most of us have no trouble at all deciding whether a politician is a fiscal or social conservative. We are even pretty good at mixing the two. "Oh he's a (lower-taxes-no-matter-what) fiscal conservative, but he's an (innocent-children-of-immigrant-abortionists-might-need-welfare-for-a-while) social prograssive

The one that keeps us all stumped, however, is foreign policy.

Arianna Huffington's hunch from the middle is nearly correct, but she's still holding onto the fence a little.

You see, the further East we go, we find people are more protective of their privacy. Europeans might live next door to each other for three generations and never see the inside of their neighbour's living room or kitchen. Centuries of war and invasion have left them thinking that sovereignty is epitomy of peace and respect. They were so reluctant to internvene in Kosovo.

But as you travel further West, especially into George Bush and Dick Cheney's wild West where survival more recently depended on blurring those boundaries a bit, people don't need an invitation to charge into a neighbour's house to help extinguish a fire, or rescue an invalid, or punch a bully in the mouth for beating up his children. A certain amount of vigilante collective action has been more acceptable in the wild West as a way of dealing with both tyranny and tragedy.

If George W. Bush had stuck to those cowboy roots of his and simply belted Saddam Hussein one right in the kisser and walked away instead of proliferating such weapons of mass distrust, how differently might the world feel right now?

In fact, I bet Europeans and North Americans would be having a much more intelligent discussion about whether our species on this planet can succeed in dealing with global issues on a purely bilateral basis rooted in concepts of national sovereignty. Might we not agree that there are some issues facing the planet right now that warrant the occasional Neighborhood Watch type action where free people might nonetheless sometimes impose a minimun standard of decency when rogues threaten our children's right to a little peace and quiet?

That is where the confusion comes from, between left and right, between east and west, between Republicans and the Tea Party, and between Muslims and modernity.

The American Empire made a terrible mistake when they allowed their admirable penchant for wild west generosity to be co-opted and misused. Rather than keeping Neighborhood Watch strictly en garde, to be used solely on occasions of universally recognized brutality or disaster, they have twisted the meaning of 'freedom' and premptive deterrence into a missionary mandate to dictate self-serving terms for global commerce.

We keep hearing claims that a rogue minority have hijacked global Islam. Ok. What of global Christianity?

And there you have it. Collossal Weapons of Mass Distrust. (C-WMD)

Just when the world most desperately needs a trusted kind of global Neighbourhood Watch to lend a hand with environment, energy, female genital mutilation, and usurious international bond bandits... nobody trusts anybody.

That is the real legacy of the recent American Empire. Insufficient trust for humanity to collaborate on issues that simply cannot be resolved unilaterally or bilaterally.

Gawd forbid I should have to quote Hillary Rodham Clinton, but dammit, it does take at least a village!

As for my beloved Canada, we do have conservative politicians, mostly wed to the Bond and Data Bandits. Bad enough that they want to stop collecting census data lest that expose their weak policy arguments, now we learn they have knowingly shredded the final report on the Tar Sands?

In whom do we trust?


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Popping the Fiscal Balloon


It was one of the most electrifying moments in modern political television... for those who had ears!

"Should we lower the debt or flood the world with trillions of dollars in cash?" asked Fareed Zakaria.

In the red corner, Nobel sanctioned economist Paul Krugman was advocating more money, lots of it, now. In the blue corner, word-merchant historian Niall Ferguson countered for immediately reducing the debt.

In case you missed it... and many did 'miss it' even though they watched it on CNN's GPS, here's the layman's translation.

Imagine your brain sprung a leak to the outside of your skull, you would die if the hole weren't plugged. On the other hand if only one artery developed a bubble inside your skull putting pressure on the surrounding tissue, you would poke a hole in the bubble, relieve the pressure, then strengthen the artery so it wouldn't happen again. That's called an embolism. The rest of the brain would be fine. Embolisms can be fixed.

In economic terms, Ferguson is warning us that rampant debt is a financial leak threatening the entire system.

Krugman, on the other hand, counters that debt is just part of the economy. The real threat is cumulative charges, interest and profit on the debt, an expanding embolism, susceptible to regulatory popping and remedial cauterization.

But Krugman goes farther. Much farther! He calls it the "phantom in the room".

Brrr, feel the chill of fear?

The financial community is loath to talk about this ghost because we ordinary mortals might actually begin to understand. The high priests dare not give it a simple name, like profit, for fear we masses will lose faith.

Like a magician who slips and nearly reveals how a trick is done, Ferguson almost blew it. He euphemized so accurately, so close to the truth, you could almost feel the collective fiduciary scrota shrinking around the globe. Millions of high finance testes running for pubic cover, wincing in anticipation of this catastrophic blow to their semantic groin.

"Fiscal Credibility", Ferguson intoned. "Nasty Fiscal Arithmetic". "Domestic appeasement of local interest (lobby) groups". "Once you find interest rates rising..."

The phantom stirred.

Then Zakaria rescued him. "So what's the solution?"

Caught in his own dangerous rant, Ferguson scrambled for cover. "Radical fiscal reform". "Flat tax". "Cut entitlement programs". Gawd forbid we should reduce our profit. A flurry of semantic transformations to re-bury the deep structures of the daemon he had nearly exposed.

The world's banks must have heaved a huge sigh of relief. Krugman wasn't in the studio at the same time to pounce on the gaff, to expose the lie, to dress the naked emperor.

An embolism of what ... greed? Good grief!

What might Krugman have said?

Except for natural disasters like the recent one in Haiti, countries rarely fail to repay their real debt, the actual amount they initially borrowed. Every other instance of fiscal collapse in the history of the world has stemmed from an inability to keep pace with ballooning compound interest on the debt, not the debt itself.

Insatiable greed.

Krugman had been brutal in anticipation. He whisked so close to naming the beast himself. "Bond Vigilantes" he called them at one point. The viscerally corrupt curia of collusion among the banks and the insurance companies who are siphoning the wealth of humanity into gated backwaters of privilege and impunity.

Of course, there are legitimate costs incurred by those who lend and those who insure us against unforeseen misfortune. They are also entitled to make an income. However, those costs should be calculated transparently based on the true actuarial risk of default or accident. Far from such a fair return, the current banking and insurance industries, no matter how low interest rates appear to be right now, continue make obscene profits from the cumulative effect of compound interest. Interest upon interest, upon interest... ad infinitum.

That is the phantom in the room!

It is the omnipresent and never-to-be named threat, not from the borrowers, not from the actuarial risk of capital default, but from the arbitrary whim of exponential greed that cranks the interest rate up to whatever the market will bear in good times, or simply threatens to do so in bad times.

Krugman's "Phantom in the Room".

Decades of political advocacy and activism haven't a fraction of the power and influence of thirty seconds of reversing an embedded pre-supposition.

Fareed, I dare you. Just one minute a week. Have an impartial and professional semanticist analyze a single utterance from the week's news coverage. Maybe just before your closing soliloquy and book recommendation. You might go down in history as having single handedly rescued democratic dialogue, and governance..

It's time someone stuck a linguistic finger down our throat and induced a little purge to clear the bullcrap.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Broken Policy - Broken Promises

What happens to courageous thinkers when they enter politics?

Michael Ignatieff, author of The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, morphed from deep-thinker into some sort of Justin Trudeau Lite as soon as he became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Barack Obama, barely eighteen months in office, and he's already reading most answers directly from The Compendium of Annoying Platitudes for Every Occasion rather than calling us to arms with blunt sincerity.

Each was elected against huge odds when disenchanted voters thought they saw independent men who might speak the truth regardless of the effect on their chances for re-election. They were going to change politics forever simply by speaking their unconventional mind.

Instead, they've settled for superficial compromise with vested interests, avoiding fundamental reform, desperate to claim they have 'moved the yardsticks'. It's called the status quo.

Dangerous stuff. Betrayed promises lead to broken policy and the greater the broken promises, the greater the failed outcome.

Public dialogue through the mass media is so broken right now, it is the issue facing democratic society. Without it, attempts to manage debt, aggression and the environment are doomed ahead of time. We need a couple of world leaders willing to take four years off from partisan politics and to simply tell the truth.

Forget all the posturing intended to garner votes or get legislation passed. Give us four years of openly proving you don't give a damn whether you get elected for a second term. Four years of sheer defiance in the face of normal politics to demonstrate and remind the world what plain-speaking leadership looks and sounds and feels like.

Some time before the last presidential election, Jimmy Carter was interviewed about the catastrophic plunge in trust the rest of the world felt towards the US. The planetary bastion of human integrity and sincerity lay in shambles thanks to The Shrub and Cheney's lies and deceit.

The interviewer asked Carter how long it would take for the world to climb back from such a terrible political deficit.

"About six minutes!" the elder statesman replied. "This travesty of greed and bullying could be stopped and reversed within mere paragraphs of the new President's first speech."


Things looked promising at the University of Cairo. A world yearning for a global 'Mandela' rather than a mere national or continental one, dared to hope.

Then came Health Insurance!

Obama took his eye off the ball and gave in to the temptation of thinking he could actually achieve something in Health Insurance itself. He dove in head first and, predictably, within just a few weeks, he was tied in knots, stuck in the weeds of lobby-logic. He chickened out. Couldn't bring himself to yell "Liars!" when they fibbed about the public option.

Never mind the fundaments of health insurance reform, he didn't change the rules of public debate! He let them get away with bold faced lies. What a blow to all our hopes.

The man had a opportunity to reset the very tenor of Earthian conversation, the human narrative for us all. Not just health insurance. Not terrorism. Not global warming. Not fossil fuels. Not China's currency. Not the Middle East.

It's the platitudes stupid! It's the false presuppositions.

Ironically, plain talk would simultaneously fix the policies. Straight talk restores trust.

Middle East

"Hey Hamas. 'Sup y'all? Here's my Twitter address. Chat anytime. Political jurisdictions and borders have come and gone throughout human history. Some justly, some not. Your debate can go on as long as you like about how modern Israel came to be. Fact is, she's there now. We can discuss borders and stuff, but Israel is a fact for as long as I can see ahead at this stage. So, Hamas, here's the deal. If you state publicly and unequivocally that Israel exists, the entire economic, political and military might of these United States will be available to you to intercept and inspect ships on the high seas, ensure they are carrying only non-military goods, and escort them directly into Gazan ports. That's all. Nothing else for now."


"Hey Fidel. 'Sup man? How about those Lakers, huh? By the way I'm ready to make a few changes around here and could use your help. I don't give a rat's fart what economic system you prefer anymore. Run the whole damn island like a farming co-op if you prefer. Even feel free to block our seditious harassment and pharmaceutical propaganda from your airwaves if you like. Michelle and I do the same to protect our daughters most evenings. Limited TV hours. The foxtrot I like. Intellectual Fox Rot we can do without. So Fidel, here's the deal. How about unrestricted access to the Internet? That's all. Nothing else for now. Continue to block consumerist badgering from pushing TV lies into Cuba if you want, but allow ordinary Cubans to pull alternate information in the other direction by choice. The Internet versions of Al Jazeera, TeleSur, the Open Data and Electronic Frontier foundations, anything they like. The moment you announce that policy, the Helms Burton Embargo goes into the dumpster of historical absurdity. I'll even encourage international donors to help you pay for the fiber optic cable if that helps. That done, your excess sugar, doctors and brilliant generic pharmaceuticals will be welcome in the US. Care to give it a try it for a few years, see how it goes?"


"Hey Mahmoud. 'Sup Dude? You got any kids? Any of them interested in nuclear physics? Vlad Putin and Bob Gates have an absolute sheitload of weapons grade material they'd like to reprofile. Can those facilities you're building to enrich uranium run backwards instead? So Mahmoud, here's the deal. Help me reverse the process so we use and re-use that stuff to generate seven cents per KW electricity and you can power all of Europe and Africa until the spent fuel is sufficiently depleted to store more safely,. That's all. Nothing else for now. Unless you want to help with Cuba's Internet. (see above) Your people seem to have Twitter pretty well figured out. I'll get my girls to suggest Fidel and Raul send you Facebook Friend Requests."


It's called the quip pro quote strategy of bilateral pattern interruption. A fundamental re-rap (paradigm shift) on foreign policy.

Of course the details will get complicated eventually. That's what an improbable second term is for, or even another President if need be. But can you imagine the change in world affairs and in mass media relations if we could manage just four short years of two-point policy statements? A single 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. Anything more risks propelling us towards global thermonuclear war and environmental oblivion.

I don't know about those other characters, but Fidel usually welcomes this sort of clarity. Let's poke him before it's too late.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oliver Stone and Jesse Ventura

Beginning with his 2003 documentary on Fidel Castro, Oliver Stone went from being a film maker to becoming a journalistic legend.

There is no more poignant moment in the history of modern documentaries than when Castro asked him if he had ever experienced deadly combat. Stone's response and El Comandante's visceral reaction transformed a mere film into history in its own right, perhaps even literature. His follow-up study of Hugo Chavez will further the task of restoring American journalism to legitimacy.

Harold Bloom might have to canonize him as the first entry in the era of Web 3.0 and Jesse Ventura is ready to make him a mandatory part of high school curricula throughout the United States. Even more gratifying would be to see Howard Kurtz, CNN's self-congratulatory parody of mass media conscience, succumb to the same devastating comparison as destroyed Lou Dobbs when Fareed Zakaria hit the air waves. Kurtz's 'Reliable Sources' is Pablum and deception, if only by ommission.

The issue, of course, is what Ashis Nandy calls "a world where the idiom of dissent is increasingly being defined at the centers of conformity."

Our mass media.

As if to highlight the fact, nearly every major US network rushed to interview Maziar Bahari last week, taking great pains to celebrate the first aniversary of how social media like Twitter and Facebook allowed coverage of the riotous aftermath to the Iranian elections last year. None has reported the same syndrome at the heart of their own coverage of American health insurance, interest on international debt, the Helms-Burton sabotage of Cuba's basic livelihood , or the depletion of major aquifers. This isn't just ironic, it is blatant deliberate hypocrasy.

The whole charade will come to a full head a year from now when Oliver Stone releases his next major work, 'The Secret History of the United States'. The ten hour extravaganza will expose over a century of comprehensive manipulation of mainstream media, a betrayal of democracy and Western civilization that is all the more insidious for being deliberately disguised, self-imposed and perpetuated by the media empire itself.

It might further transform Oliver Stone, the mere film maker and literary critic, into the 21st Century's first prophetic historian. (sic)


Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Follow the Money Stupid!"

Bloated fat cats living in a gated community on the hill, while emaciated hoards struggle in the desiccated, drought-plagued valley below.

Anything wrong with this picture? It defies gravity, right? Must be a vacuum pump somewhere pushing water uphill?

Does that scenario remind you of the current financial markets?

It leaves me wondering whether there might not be some sort of jolt available to shock the entire financial matrix back into equilibrum?

I'm lucky you see, I don't know enough about economics to not ask such a question.

I do remember in 1972, when the US was in a threatening debt situation, Nixon sent everyone home at 1700 hrs one Friday, devalued the dollar by a whopping 10% over the ensuing long week-end, and reopened for business at 0800 hrs Tuesday while thumbing his nose at the creditors.

Now, I understand that in order to pull off such a stunt, the devaluing country must be able to withstand the backlash. To devalue one currency in the absence of a neutral standard, such as gold was back then, means that all other currencies appreciate relatively. But that was an eon ago when 'globalization' didn't even apply to the World Cup yet, let alone the World Economy.

I mention it now only as an example of a time when we dared shake up the world's extortive shakedown system. What wild, out-of-box, shock could we use today to reset the very meaning of 'money' itself to some kind of start-from-scratch tabula rasa. What tactic of global economic policy would be the equivalent of turning off the aforementioned pump, even temporarily?

Individual sectors of the world economy are rife with local and hemispheric collusion, of course, but these are only mini-tycoons on local hillsides. What about the planetary petro-pharma-agri-banco-insurance 'cartel'? It doesn't even act like a cartel anymore. That word implies a gathering of at least several actors. These buggers act as one highly integrated central vaccuum.

Their insidious gleaning machine permeates from the marrow of our bones to the farthest reaches of our economic vascular system, into the very meat of the Earthly being itself. It vacuums our taxes, profits and bonuses through a venous capillary system that sucks us dry to feed a single narrowly held capital escrow.

Make no mistake about it, the process is indeed venous, not arterial. The net traffic is 'return', toward the center. It was designed from the start to feed that gated and privileged reservoir at the top of the food chain.

That is why the main symptom of this current economic disease is not edema (swelling from excess fluid at the periphery), but ischemia (lack of circulation and oxygen in the economic muscles that move us.)

This isn't the first time it has happened. Each of history's great revolutions has posed the same question to petrified privilege. Has the time come to sabotage the pump? Are the hoardes determined to see the water flow back downhill for a while until nature and cyclical evaporation can restore regular rainfall to the valley again?

The difference, despite the broad availability of small arms, is that we, the valley riff-raff, are unlikely to launch any sort of guerilla revolt this time thanks to the pharmacopeial and misinformation-induced stupor into which we have fallen.

Instead, the pump that is sustaining the uphill flow of wealth and privilege is about to fail all on its own. It is running dry naturally and, once it has, the diaphragm will perforate and the shrinking gaskets will fail to seal the valves that currently ensure a one way flow.

That flow, on which the accumulation of plutocratic power and priviledge depend is called 'interest' in the case of banks and 'premium' in the case of the insurance companies. They are wealth-diverting and concentrating strategies that no longer bear any relation at all to the actual costs of managing currency or actuarial risk.

Only a very few prophetic voices among us seem able to step off the consumerist presuppositional treadmill long enough to even notice what is happening and, predictably, we dismiss them as platitude-spouting old socialists from a bygone era. There is no Twenty-First Century Deep Throat willing to blow the whistle.

Nobody wants to hear a prophet whine.

instead, a necessary seismic upheaval is on the way that will not be of our deliberate chosing or design, not this time. We are functionally incapable of a well-crafted deliberate change of direction. There will be no brilliant, game-changing Obama-led end-run around the debt markets some Monday morning to shock them and draw the planet away from the brink.

Crisis averted? Water flowing with gravity again? Not a chance. Not with the whole shamozzle compounded by the percentage of the world economy that is off-book, a narco-criminal 'black market' and informal economy that runs parallel to and increasingly unconnected to the 'legal' (i.e. taxable) economy.

Instead, in the absence of a deliberate act of human will and communal planetary sanity, Mother Earth herself is going to take over and teach us a bitter lesson. Our behaviour as a species on this planet is unsustainable. We are stark raving mad. BP and Grecian fiscal policy are only tips of the melting iceberg.

And where I live, fellow drones, that iceberg is no friggin' cliché!


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cyber War

I first noticed Richard A. Clarke when he claimed to have warned Condoleezza Rice and George Bush Jr. about the threat of 9/11. He was The Shrub's principal advisor on national security at the time and was ignored.

Clarke has just written a new book about the next threat to global security.

The first half of that book, Cyber War, won't surprise computer professionals much. It might even seem rather ho-hum. They already know this stuff. It will and should upset a lot of lay people, however, including Presidents and Prime Ministers.

The second half is mandatory reading for professionals and ordinary citizens alike.

I was drawn to this book by Fareed Zakaria's May 9th interview with Clarke in which he, a professional on the side of security and intelligence, far from smooching with Dick Cheney, surprisingly accused the executive branch of government of using 9/11 as an excuse to breach the US Constitution and unnecessarily trample on civil rights.

I am one of those who think Michael Ignatieff's little book, "The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror", is the seminal guide to thinking about this topic. (I refer here to the distinguished and principled former historian, Michael Ignatieff, not Mickey Iggy the gutless and Pablum-spouting current leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.)

I was hoping Clarke would situate his arguments squarely in that context.

Not quite.

Before walking Ignatieff's philosophical and constitutional tightrope to meet this newest threat, Clarke urgently wants to first convince us the threat actually exists. Not only does he succeed in this, he goes on to suggest that intelligent reaction to the threat is being undermined by the same gridlock that hijacked the American discussion of health insurance.

We need to protect critical infrastructure such as power, water and transportation facilities, which might require regulating some elements of business, especially Internet business. Anathema to conservatives.

Other requirements, if abused, might violate our understanding of privacy. Anathema to liberals.

Meanwhile, the threat speaks for itself. All current governmental efforts at so-called cyber security, including the US Patriot Act and Homeland Security are designed first to protect government and defense establishments. They do little to save the rest of us.

Our financial, electrical, agricultural and transportation systems are owned by private sector conglomerates whose conservative governments and lobbies eschew regulation just as vehemently as liberal lobbies rant about any use of profiling.

I won't spoil the read by giving too much away. Let's just say that the days of treating cyber crime like break-and-enter are long gone. Security incidents no longer drill out the locks, shatter the windows, or break down the doors. Most of all, they don't remove anything from the premises. In fact, they leave no sign of having entered at all.

They just walk away with the knowledge of how to remotely overload and burn the bearings on our power generators, confuse civilian radar and air traffic control, shut down water distribution, and paralyze the control systems on our ships, trains, and airplanes.

While we were all blissfully surfing eBay, Facebook and YouTube, the stalwarts of western civilization such as Ontario Hydro, WalMart, ScotiaBank and Air Canada began monitoring and interconnecting their (our) generators, refrigerators, stock markets and control towers using the unprotected Internet.

China, Cuba and Afghanistan have not.

(To be continued, when I've finished reading the second half ...)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pakistan - Pointedly Missing the Point

Here we go. That silly cartoon nonsense again. This time its from a Pakistani court feeling insulted on Prophet Muhammad's behalf.

From literalist clerics I might understand, but Judges? I hope their understanding of the Law is better than their grasp of theology because, with this latest heresy, they have avoided the most significant issue facing Islam this century. The logical fallacy at very root of symbolic thought itself.

If Muslims the world over would confront this issue honestly, with actual thought rather than droning dogma, they would leap into the 21st Century in a single bound.

A much deeper question precedes any debate over freedom of expression.

Ayan Hirsi Ali, the international press, Irshad Manji, countless American pundits, Jewish academics, the Roman Catholic Church, and now Pakistan's Lahore High Court have all been fooled into thinking the issue is Blasphemy. Free speech concerns the Auditory firewall against misconceptions of primordial substance.

This gigantic fuss over cartoons is not about sounds, it's about images and, therefore, we should be centering the discussion on Idolatry.

Among all of Abraham’s children, limitations or admonition against using sound to represent deities is not addressed until the second Commandment. The First Commandment deals with an a priori and much more fundamental fallacy, the inherent trap in symbolic thought itself, and it uses the visual representation system to make the point first.

Contemporary fundamentalists, Muslim, Christian and every type in between including secular atheists, stand in breach of that First Commandment. They think it forbids, or suggests it is inappropriate to draw or cast images, whether of Muhammad or Jesus. The fact is, when correctly stated, it only points out that you can't represent It-All in a single image anyway and advises against deifying any image after it has come into being. Symbolic images are only fleeting analogies for aspects of that which is represented. They are not con-substantial with the whole of existence.

The outrageous idolatry at the root of Islamists threatening to assassinate Dutch cartoonists, or a Pakistani court trying to block Facebook from an entire country, isn’t in their believing cartoons can insult the Prophet, it is in allowing that any image could depict the divine in the first place!

Those Pakistani judges are as guilty of the sin of idolatry as were the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai / Jabal Musa. Moses smashed the tablets in frustration at this truly original sin. Jesus mocked and derided the pretentions of Pharisaic posturing rooted in this same confusion of symbol with what it represents.

It is time for Twenty-First Century Muslims to do their homework.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Crib Chronicles

Bon Stewart’s latest post on CribChronicles should be mandatory reading for all new bloggers.

The fifty odd comments that follow it are like a crash Drivers Ed course for newbie bloggers, a reasonable alternative to the period of lurking before blurting required to absorb blogging tradition and protocol. I took the pill. If it dissuades my motor mouth from launching a five-hundred-and-fiftieth edition of the Hair-Channel for Men, we could even dub it blog-control!

I gave up classical guitar when I heard Andres Segovia. Then I gave up writing mystical essays when I discovered that Rainer Maria Rilke had bequeathed a little prose to the Western Canon too, not just poetry. Now Bon Stewart's blog makes me feel like trashing mine... almost.

She’s that good.

I guess I’m older-than-that-now, as the song says, so I’ve decided to persist awhile with two motives in mind:

First is the cold fury I feel at reporters and pundits who try to fool us with opinion disguised as questions, declarative sentences disguised as interrogatives. Philosophers call them Logical Fallacies, but to the rest of us they are just plain lies. Carefully embedded outrageous lies. They drive me nuts!

Remember when Lou Dobbs was on CNN every night? He violated the subtlety constraints of ‘embeddedness’, became the laughing stock of US journalism and had to be canned. He was too obvious and Fox News isn't far behind. More troubling is that the rest of our mass media are nearly as dishonest; they only disguise it better.

A rising tone on the final syllable does not a question make!

Nunaview and Influential Liars are two blogs intended to neutralize some of that poison. One is dedicated to Nunavut affairs, the other to broader national and world affairs.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tiger Moving to Havana?

Imagine a sand box.

Make it a good sized one. About three meters on each side, with walls about 30 cms (one foot) deep. Fill the box with clean, dry sand.

Now, gather a dozen soup bowls, fill them with small pebbles or gravel, and sink them upright into the sand so that the lip of each bowl is about a centimeter below the surface. Get a large watering can and carefully fill each of the bowls with water. Lastly, cover each one with sand to hide it below the surface.

Begin calling the bowls 'aquifers' because you are about to earn a quick PhD in fresh water management policy.

Here's the deal.

Your kids want to germinate some seeds in the areas of the sand box where there are no bowls. You tell them they are allowed to push a single straw through the sand into each bowl and suck out as much water as they want to use on their seeds, but you will only allow one cup of relacement water from the kitchen tap to be added to each bowl, per week, and they must start calling that new water 'precipitation'.

Your final exam consists of a single question.

How much water can the kids suck out of each bowl per week during July and August if the plants are to keep growing in the blazing sun until Labour Day?

Pretty obvious, eh?

No more than a cup, the replacement quota, and likely less because each bowl will lose some water soaking to the surface sand above it. That is probably where we should have put the seeds in the first place.

The lesson to be learned is that you can never remove more water from any one bowl than can be replenished from the weekly re-supply. Break this rule and the entire sand box will run dry in a matter of days.

That is what has been done to the Kalahari desert and to much of the South Western USA.

Now Cuba has decided to ask foreign developers to build golf courses?

Raul, good grief!

Fifty years of heroic sacrifice and defiance by a long suffering people now betrayed on the eve of global ecological catastrophe ... and deprived of vindication.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Al Jazeera English - on ExpressVU!

Al Jazeera English has been added to Bell ExpressVu today.

Superb journalism.

Harkens back 20 - 30 years, to when even the mass media were still fiercely committed to the principles of real journalism.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) should be mandatory viewing for every student and every buck reporter out trying to earn their stripes.

If we could now just convince Bell to also add TeleSUR, the pan-latin-american equivalent.

Just as AJE have culled the finest reporters from national broadcasters all over the world, including BBC, CBC, Australia, and Asia ,etc., TeleSUR has done the same with reporters from all over Central and South America.

What a breath of fresh air compared to CBC, CNN and yes, even BBC!

If you are interested in giving AJE a whirl, call ExpressVu in the normal way at 1-888-759-3474, and if the agent who answers seems oblivious to the new channel, just ask to be escalated to Level-2 regarding Channel 516.

The service is so new (today - late yesterday) the agents have to use a manual (hard copy) registration form and pass it through to programming manually. They call it an 'Add On' and it costs just $3.00 per month.

The whole registration process is refered to internally by ExpressVu staff as an 'Offline Request' because it hasn't been entered in their automated ordering system yet.

In addition to the basic news service each hour, I strongly recommend figuring out when 'Witness' and their other documentary series are scheduled. You will be astonished. It's like finally having a 'Fifth Estate' or 'W-5' type program from the rest of the world instead of only from our often monotonous North American and Euro- Centric point of view.

If we can add TeleSUR, we will only be a half-continent short of a truly global broadcasting service: sub-Saharan Africa.

Would appreciate comment from any of you who share this prespective.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Architecture of Consent

Sitting at supper one evening many years ago in Metz, France, I asked a Canadian military acquaintance how he planned to vote in the upcoming Canadian federal election.

"Same way as last time", he replied rather curtly.

"Yes but how was that?" I ventured.

"For the retention of the secret ballot!" he growled.

I looked up sharply from my supper plate expecting some sign of humour, but found myself peering into the cold, almost belligerent stare of a man who had killed and nearly been killed flying Spitfires in Malta in 1942, had faced the Viet Cong and been shot at again while a member of the Truce Commission in Viet Nam in 1956, and was now (1962) senior intelligence officer for the RCAF in Europe as the Berlin wall went up, the Cuban missile crisis was in full swing, and DeGaulle was being threatened (by elements of his own military) with assassination for pulling out of Algeria.

At a time when there were thought to be only two legitimate monopolies in democratic society, the authorization to bear arms and the right to print money, here was a military man saying he was willing to lay down his life, willing to die, to keep the keys to the gun locker in civilian hands!

For me, there was no more stark illustration of the difference between democratic and totalitarian regimes at the peak of the cold war.

Today, there is another battle underway that is every bit as pitched and critical to human freedom as was control of the arsenal sixty years ago.

Along with armaments and currencies, control over citizen identity is about to become the third leg in the proverbial barstool of core principles underlying democracy itself. It must remain in un-biased hands.

When the Internet first revealed its enormous potential for convenient transactions, most engineers assumed that citizen data would have to reside in unimaginably huge, centralized databases. The very thought of such repositories today, containing all personal identifiers on all citizens, has both civil servants and politicians silently and very uncomfortably squirming.

At best, some wonder if a new credibility for government itself might emerge from the fact that citizens trust them marginally more than they do vested commercial interests like Microsoft, Oracle or Computer Associates to hold all this data.

But lo-and-behold, in this era of executive exchanges between private and public sectors, and the blurring of boundaries within government in what Donald Savoie describes as the diminishing distinction between the roles of politicians and civil servants, it seems we must consider an entirely new paradigm in this area.

Visionaries among information technology professionals have taken up this cause of re-anchoring human identity and citizen consent, not with vested-interests in the private sector, nor even with the purportedly more altruistic public sector, but rather smack dab back in the hands of each and every individual citizen!

How can this be possible?

We can't even begin to understand this third pillar of democratic governance without first understanding that it is inextricably linked to anonymity.

The most fundamental insight of both psychology and philosophy is that human perception itself is contingent on contrast. Whether up-down, in-out, over-under, light-dark, night-day, hot-cold, male-female, or life-death … the human brain cannot even detect any of those singularities except in juxtaposition with their concomitant opposites.

That fact leads to an extraordinary question: "Can we develop an architecture of citizen identity and consent that is thoroughly rooted in a fundamental right to anonymity and yet so practical it can be embedded at the very core of all 21st Century transactions whether personal or electronic?

A brief Guide to Anonymity

Free people expect to consent before actions are taken on their behalf.

When we take a quiet stroll in the park, we consent before our cell phone discloses our GPS location. If we ask for tomorrow’s weather forecast on the Internet, the weather service has no need to know who is asking. If we want to access the cockpit of a fully loaded commercial airliner, however, we will be asked to surrender our left index finger print or the innards of our right eyeball for detailed examination.

The rule is very simple. The greater the potential damage that could arise from mistaken or fraudulent use of our identity, the more rigorously we should demand proper authentication before we consent.

The Players

Relying Party

If you were my doctor, I’d expect every pharmacist to make sure my prescription really came from you before acting in your name. And if you were my pharmacist, I’d sure want you to make sure the person trying to get the prescription filled really is me. In each case, the pharmacist or the doctor must rely on some trusted party to vouch for the doctor being a doctor, for the pharmacist being a pharmacist, for the prescription being a real one, and for me really being who I say I am.

In this context, the pharmacist and the doctor have to rely on someone they trust during their part in this transaction. The question then arises. On whom can they rely?

Authoritative Party

Currently, pharmacists rely on the College of Physicians and Surgeons to vouch for doctors and they rely on a Provincial Health Care Plan (HCP) to authenticate each patient. During a prescription-filing transaction, the College and the HCP each become an ‘Authoritative Party' at their appropriate stage in the transaction.

Identity Agent

Which leaves you and me, as citizen or consumer, to decide whether we even want these two parties talking to each other about us in the first place!

What are the conditions under which we authorize the pharmacist to check on us with the HCP, or to check on our doctor with the College of Physicians and Surgeons? Only if each of these preliminary transaction are completed with our consent, should the pharmacist then be permitted to dispense the drugs.


In the context of identity and authentication, the trusted instrument that we use to express our consent is called a credential, something you, and your doctor, and your pharmacist trust to authenticate the person asking for the prescription in your name.

How trustworthy are your credentials? Do you think your pharmacist should trust anyone who tries to use your health card? Does your health card have your photo on it? How about your driver’s license? Even if it has a photo on it, how easily can it be faked? Can the photo be changed? Can the Provincial Licensing Office be fooled into issuing a credential with your name on it but a different photo? Can pharmacists or police officers trust that people using your credentials are really you?

In order for a credential to be trusted, the credential itself must come from an authoritative party who has taken sufficient time and effort to ensure you really were you in the first place, when the credential was issued!

For example, if a credential has been issued by someone who insists on meeting you in person, who keeps a recent address and photograph of you on file at all times, who has checked your finger prints, taken a retinal scan, or even demanded a DNA sample, then such a credential might not only be trusted in the first instance, but in fact might be trusted by other authoritative parties as a ‘Foundation Credential’ to be used when applying for other trusted credentials. That role, issuing Foundation Credentials that are so reliable they are trusted by other credential issuing parties, would seem more appropriately handled by a government you choose and hold accountable.

Currently in Canada, birth certificates, health cards, and even driver’s licenses are not yet trusted as Foundation Credentials because relying parties can’t be sure the issuer has taken sufficient care in authentication before issuing. And once issued, have they used the latest techniques against tampering or altering the credential?

Using the right words

Before going any further, let’s define three key words: Person, Identity and Credential.

The person is you! The physical you. Your actual flesh and blood.

Your identity is a collection of data that begins to accumulate from the moment of birth. It often starts with a hospital footprint taken within sight of your mother and stored with the names of your family, your date and place of birth, your given names, your ethnicity, and your blood type. With every passing day after that, more and more data is generated and accumulated: with doctors, dentists, schools, churches, recreation affiliations, motor vehicle bureaus, financial institutions, health care plans, employers, taxation records, passport offices and, eventually, a cemetery.

A credential is an instrument or document containing as little as possible, but just enough of the above identity elements for the type of transaction in progress. A confirmed, tamper-proof photograph might be enough for Hertz, Avis, Budget and the highway patrol, but to enter a Level-4 epidemiology research lab or the national intelligence headquarters might need you to surrender your index finger and your right eyeball!

Least Means and Minimum Data

These examples illustrate a powerful and essential constraint on how your credentials are used. Modern credentials should not only require your consent each time they are used, they must be 'smart' enough to only disclose to the Relying Party the absolute minimum amount of information required for the specific transaction in progress. That means the fewest and least intrusive elements of your identity needed to safely obtain the service based on a practical, unexaggerated calculation of the potential damage that could result from mistaken or fraudulent use of your identity.

Your annual income is not a necessary element of your driver’s license. Someday, your age and eyeglasses prescription might be.

Surprisingly, the more robust the credential, the less data might actually be divulged. To convince a security guard to let you enter a Department of Defense research laboratory, you might only need your right eyeball. Nothing else. The Commissionaire guarding the door has absolutely no need to know your name, job title, or where you live.

The architecture of consent

Putting this all together yields the master question facing democratic society: "What will 21st Century transactions look like when they require the full consent of all parties and when the flow of information comes to a mandatory stop without the consent of the real person receiving the service?"

When foundational anonymity becomes the universal starting principle at both the ballot box and the automated teller machine, we will have answered George Orwell, and rather proudly so.