Thursday, October 21, 2010

Food for Thought

On Poverty

On the poverty front, both The Toronto Star and Gwynne Dyer (EMC newspaper) review progress of the Millennium Development Goals set out in 2000. Both see progress but too slow, and faltering. The Star reports that the number of hungry people has been reduced (other figures contradict this) from 20% to 16%, yet still children are dying at the rate of one every six seconds. Dwyer sees progress in key areas such as literacy, access to clean water, and infant mortality, yet sees a rising population as a barrier to bringing everyone up to Northern Hemisphere standards. Pollution, global warming, and resource depletion would put a halt to any rise in living standards of the Third World. Neither, of course, can think outside the capitalist box and promote a complete reorganization of the economic and social systems under which we live today. To them a shared world of the provision of all needs for all to replace the total madness of capitalist production is not a consideration. It’s about time that it was!

Talking of poverty, the queen is apparently experiencing difficulties in paying for heating of her drafty old palaces. The Toronto Star reports (25/Sept/2010) that the Queen’s staff applied for subsidized heating in 2004 to a program designed to help people in need. Apart from being one of the richest people in the world, the queen receives household funds from the taxpayers to the tune of $60 million per year. Tough life!

Vale Inco

After going through a year-long strike with its workers, Brazilian mining giant, Vale Inco, is back in the news. They are preparing to dump 400 000 tons of toxic tailings into a Newfoundland Lake known for its prize-winning trout. Apparently, the federal Fisheries Act says that if a lake is re-classified as a ‘tailings impoundment area’ a company cannot be sued for dumping. Why is there such a loophole anyway, one might ask? Vale thinks it is doing nothing wrong and is complying with the law. The second part may be quite true but this is where we ask, for whom does your government work? And, it is just these companies and this government on whom we must rely to put our polluted planet right!

Monk School of Global Affairs

The prevailing ideas of a society are those of the ruling class, Marx stated. Here is one small example of how that happens. The University of Toronto, like all educational institutes, solicits donations from anyone and everyone. Many wealthy businessmen have donated to get their names on plaques, auditoriums, or even whole buildings, depending on the donation. Those so commemorated are the likes of merchant banker Joseph Rotman, pharmaceutical entrepreneur, Leslie Dan, and businessman, Peter Monk, chairman of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company. Unfortunately, those without money, even icons such as Tommy Douglas, recently voted the Greatest Canadian of All Time, and considered the father of Canada’s public health care system, do not get their names on walls as a group of professors found out when they proposed naming the Health Studies Program after Douglas. Presumably, being dead, he was unable to contribute hard cash, and didn’t meet the requirements for potential fund raising. Peter Monk donated $35 million to help set up the Monk school of Global Affairs. Linda McQuaig and Neil Brook reveal in their new book, “The Trouble with Billionaires” (reviewed in Toronto Star 12/Sept/2010) that Monk would receive a tax refund of $16 million on the donation, more if he donated the money in the form of shares, reducing his donation to about half. Various levels of government contributed $66million but that didn’t count for anything when it came to naming the building. It gets worse. Monk’s donation will be spread out over many years and will be subject to his family’s approval of the school, i.e. socialist professors need not apply. The school’s director will be required to report annually to a board appointed by Munk ‘to discuss the programs, activities, and initiatives of the school in greater detail.’ Obviously, the school will have to reflect the views of Munk, not those of taxpayer John Ayers, even though I contributed much more (without my consultation, of course.) It is fine to have freedom of speech, but that right to get your ideas and opinions heard depends on how much money you have, as all elections show.

Imperialism, Churchill, and the Shah

Churchill had freedom of speech and used it to his own ends and those of the capitalist class. In a new book by Richard Toye, “Churchill’s Empire”, the author reveals a side of Churchill not usually shown but well known to oppressed peoples of the Third World. Toyne details Churchill’s part in replacing the democratic government of Iran with the Shah after the Iranian government had the audacity to demand a fair share of the profits of their oil, ”The idea that leaders of poor countries would stand up and claim control of their own resources was something that Churchill could never grasp or sympathize with. The mere fact that some valuable resource was sitting under the soil of another country instead of British soil did not mean that Britain shouldn’t have it.” Sounds just like a dozen other imperialist powers!


‘In a survey, Working Less and Earning More’ the Toronto Star reported (4/Sept/2010) that the average wage is $23.10 per hour ($19.93 in 2005) and average hours are 33.24 per week (down from 34.69 in 2000). The largest job increases came in the service sector where hardly anyone is offered a full week to save on benefit payments, and 82% said they would take a pay cut to work at a job that guaranteed a work-life balance.

Prevailing Ideas

Charles C. Mann in “1491” shows how rulers change history to create allegiance to their cause, “Tlacaelel (ruler of the Mexica in ancient Mexico) insisted that in addition to destroying the codices (picture histories) of their former oppressors, the Mexica should set fire to their own codices. His explanation for this idea can only be described as Orwellian: “It is not fitting that our people/ Should know these pictures/ Our people, our subjects will be lost/ And our land destroyed/ For these pictures are full of lies”. The lies were the inconvenient fact that the Mexica past was one of poverty and humiliation. To motivate the people properly, Tlacaelel said, the priesthood should rewrite Mexica history by creating new codices, adding in the great deeds whose lack now seemed embarrassing and adorning their ancestry with ties to the Toltecs and Teotihuacan.” i.e. the Ministry of Truth is established to tell lies. Sounds familiar!

Further on, Mann describes how loyalty to the ruling class can be achieved, “In their penchant for ceremonial public slaughter, the Alliance (of Mexican tribes) and Europe were much more alike than either side grasped. In both places the public death was accompanied by the reading of ritual scripts. And in both the goal was to create a cathartic paroxysm of loyalty to the government – in the Mexica case, by recalling the spiritual justification for the empire; in the European case, to reassert the sovereign’s divine power after it had been injured by a criminal act.”

J. Ayers

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