Archive for July 2013

Francis on a plane

July 30, 2013


Pope Francis is opening a new symbolic universe for disenchanted Catholics whose hopes were deep sixed by the Woytyla-Ratzinger papacy.This long winter was basically a reaction to the fresh Spirit wind of Vatican ll which set a hierarchical, patriarchal church on a new path. It was too much for many and the forces of reaction set in, driving so many creative priests out of ordained ministry. It was Newton writ large—action, reaction.

Now a new pope  in his talk, his dress, his comfort in his own skin, his dialogical approach  is reflecting a Vatican ll modus vivendi—but he can’t yet go all the way. He has done much in four months but he just cannot get over the hump of the gender injustice which still deforms the church.

In his long 80 minute rap with reporters on the plane where he basically  accpeted gays in the sacerdotal ministry, but he stopped short  on the female ordination question. This is understandable. Still  a fresh wind is blowing and it is deeply troubling to the archconsevative factiob in the church.

Here’s how the Women’s Ordination Conference saw this moment.

In an interview given to reporters on July 28 en route to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis made it very clear that this papacy sees women as separate, but not equal to men, and will keep the door to women’s ordination closed, citing Pope John Paul II as his reasoning.

 Pope Francis’ cop-out rationale illustrates a very selective theology: to blame a previous pope for his stance on women priests, and then in the very same interview contradict his predecessors by acknowledging an open understanding for gay priests.  

Instead of looking to Pope John Paul II for the answer, Pope Francis could have looked to a variety of sources. He could have quoted the Vatican’s own the Pontifical Biblical Commission that concluded in 1976 that there is no valid scriptural or theological reason for denying ordination to women. Pope Francis could have cited history that documents women’s leadership in the early church, or acknowledge the great works Roman Catholic Womenpriests are doing today. He could have looked to Jesus who welcomed women as his equal.

 Pope Francis stated that the “church has spoken and said no.” The church was not Pope John II in 1994 when he forbade women’s ordination nor is it Pope Francis today. The church is made up of the people of God and Pope Francis could have looked to the majority of Catholics who support the ordination of women, recognize that women are created in God’s image, and strongly believe with God a door is always open.”  


Eric Burdon the latest to boycott Israel

July 27, 2013


Eric Burdon the  lead singer of the  60’s rock group  The Animals once sang “Don’t let me Be Misunderstood.”

Burdon lived up to his word when he recently stated that he wont be performing in Tel Aviv, Israel, on August 1.

Palestine solidarity activists welcomed his recent  announcement that he has pulled out of the Tel Aviv engagement. According to Israeli daily, Haaretz, “he was pressured not to perform in Israel and ultimately chose to cancel the concert, which was to take place August 1.

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC)  was among those who wrote, and invited others to write, Burdon before he came to Edinburgh asking him to remain true to his long-term hostility to racism and Jim Crow in the US South.

It wrote Burdon a strongly worded message

The present Israeli system of state-enforced racism is worse than the one you encountered in the 60s US Deep South. Many Palestinians are kept behind 25-foot walls and are regularly attacked by the Israeli equivalent of the KKK – illegal settlers – who burn farms, poison wells, kill animals and people. Like the KKK, these settlers are virtually never charged. Palestinians are imprisoned at a higher rate even than US Blacks, and are routinely tortured while incarcerated.

SPSC exhorted  Burdon to stay true to his  anti-racist principles The Newcastle  rocker’s decision to follow in the tracks of Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Gil Scott-Heron, Annie Lennox, the Pixies, Massive Attack and many others like  film maker Mike Leigh  are refusing to perform in apartheid Israel.

The power of witness: Dorothy Day

July 25, 2013

The power of witness, doing the right thing when too many have internalized the conformist script of the corporate culture, when too many of the baptized want to get inside “the inner ring” (C.S. Lewis) when market Catholicism suborns the power of the gospel which always is is on the side of the humiliated, when too much of Catholic education is preparing acolytes for “success” and not the Cross.

Daniel Berrigan on Dorothy Day


Without Dorothy, without that exemplary patience, courage, moral modesty, without this woman pounding at the locked door behind which the powerful mock the powerless with games of triage, without her, the resistance we offered would have been simply unthinkable. She urged our consciences off the beaten track; she made the impossible (in our case) probable and then actual. She did this first of all by living as though the Truth were true.


Another priest barred

July 23, 2013


Austrian priest  Fr. Helmut Schüller, 60. former head of Caritas in his native Austria is on his North American tour promoting new models of leadership in the Catholic church. Schüller and approximately 400 Austrian priests — about 10 percent of the nation’s total Catholic clergy — launched the Austrian Priests’ Initiative in 2006 following worry and discussions about who would care for their parishes when there were not enough priests to take over after they retire. In 2011, they issued an “Appeal to Disobedience” in which they pledged, among other things, not to celebrate multiple Sunday Masses. The movement seeks to open the priesthood to each person suited for the office, including women and married men.

Oh no, we can’t let him speak to Catholic audiences. he surely would cause scandal.

Well, that’s what happening.  All the toady bishops, bull horns for the narrow thinking of John Paul ll are refusing Schüller a pulpit in  their dioceses.

All of this in the church of Aquinas and other critical thinking theologians who  prized our ability to move beyond mere obedience.

What small minds who presume to lead a contemporary church—Charles Chaput, Sean O’Malley and God knows whoever  else presumes to ban Catholics from hearing from a priest in good standing.

Schuller obviously has his head out of the sand and sees the awful situation the Church is in and actually wants to promote a dialogue while episcopal monologues are the flavour du jour.

But these John Paul ll bishops, boy are they ever standing up for the faith!

In an interview with the NCR  Schüller  stated the obvious—the importance of Vatican ll and the “rediscovery of the dignity of the baptized” which was “foundational” to respecting the rights of all the People of God. Schüller said the word “laity” as used by some church leaders implies “incompetence,” as if there is “hierarchy” and “lowerarchy” in the church. Schüller said he sees recognition of the fundamental rights of all Christians not as a means to democratize the church, but rather as “the church fulfilling its own teaching.”

Schuller states the logical theolgical fact:”Scripture shows us that men and women are together the image of God in this world. The image of God is incomplete if only represented by one gender.”

Off with his head, this disloyal, disobedient Austrian.

Lac Mégantic: a corporate crime

July 22, 2013



Leave it to a “foreign” newspaper to say the obvious and speak truth to power. A truth the CBC news can not begin to utter or even think out loud: Lac-Mégantic is another corporate crime. The CBC is terrified of even more cuts and  dares not upset the Harperites, the true believers in privatization and deregulation.

Ontarians remember the Harper crowd (Flaherty, Baird, Clement) when  under Premier Mike Harris they bulldozed the common good in Ontario. Cut back on regulations was their simplistic mantra and Walkerton was the result. Who can forget the  car dealer Minister of Transport  Al Palladini giving the truckers a free ride until wheels began to fly off unregulated rigs and  kill people. Only then did they pull the death wagons over and found out what everybody knew: Original sin is a reality. Humans and soulless corporations will cut corners whenever they can in the name of profit.

And neocon governments like the Harris Tories and  the Harperites will look for scapegoats everywhere but in the corporate world which supports privatization and deregulation.

Same thing in this horrible disaster in Lac Mégantic.Within a week of the disaster the Guardian wrote:

50 people are likely dead, making the train’s toll one of the worst disasters in recent Canadian history.

In the explosion’s aftermath, politicians and media pundits have wagged their finger about the indecency of “politicising” the event, of grappling with deeper explanations. We can mourn, but not scrutinise. In April, prime minister Stephen Harper even coined an awkward expression – “committing sociology” – to deride the search for root causes about horrifying events, in the wake of an unrelated, alleged bombing attempt.

But to simply call the Lac-Mégantic explosion a “tragedy” and to stop there, is to make it seem like an accident that occurred solely because of human error or technical oversight. It risks missing how we might assign broader culpability. And we owe it to the people who died to understand the reasons why such a disaster occurred, and how it might be prevented in the future.

So here’s my bit of unwelcome sociology: the explosion in Lac-Mégantic is not merely a tragedy. It is a corporate crime scene.

The deeper evidence about this event won’t be found in the train’s black box, or by questioning the one engineer who left the train before it loosened and careened unmanned into the heart of this tiny town. For that you’ll have to look at how Lac-Mégantic was hit by a perfect storm of greed, deregulation and an extreme energy rush driving companies to ever greater gambles with the environment and human life.

The crude carried on the rail-line of US-based company Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway – “fracked” shale oil from North Dakota – would not have passed through Lac-Mégantic five years ago. That’s because it’s part of a boom in dirty, unconventional energy, as fossil fuel companies seek to supplant the depletion of easy oil and gas with new sources – sources that are harder to find, nastier to extract, and more complicated to ship.

Like the Alberta tar sands, or the shale deposits of the United States, these energy sources are so destructive and carbon-intensive that leading scientists have made a straightforward judgment: to avert runaway climate change, they need to be kept in the ground. It’s a sad irony that Quebec is one of the few places to currently ban the “fracking” used to extract the Dakotan oil that devastated Lac-Mégantic.

But fossil fuel companies, spurred by record profits, have deployed a full-spectrum strategy to exploit and carry this oil to market. That’s one of the reasons for a massive, reckless increase in the amount of oil shipped by rail. In 2009, companies shipped a mere 500 carloads of crude oil by rail in Canada; this year, it will be 140,000.

Oil-by-rail has also proved a form of insurance against companies’ worst nightmare: a burgeoning, continent-wide movement to block pipelines from the Alberta tar sands. A group of Canadian businessmen is pursuing the construction of a 2,400-kilometre rail line that could ship 5m barrels of tar sands oil from Alberta to Alaska. Companies are also trucking it and entertaining the idea of barging it down waterways. This is the creed of the new energy era: by any means necessary.

The recklessness of these corporations is no accident. Under the reign of neoliberalism over the last 30 years, governments in Canada and elsewhere have freed them from environmental, labour and safety standards and oversight, while opening up increasingly more of the public sphere for private profit-seeking.

The railway in Canada has hardly been exempt. Up until the mid 1980s, the industry, publicly-run, was under serious regulation. By the time the Thatcherite Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was finished with his reforms, it was deregulated, and companies had rewritten the safety rules. That launched an era of cost-cutting, massive lay-offs, and speed-ups on the job, and eventually, the full privatization of companies and rail-lines.

The Liberal government completed the job by turning over what regulation remained to rail companies themselves. A report issued in 2007 by a safety group spelled out the result: Canada’s rail system was a disaster in the waiting.

It’s little wonder, then, that today’s oil and rail barons have cut corners with ease. They’ve been using old rail cars to ship oil, despite the fact that regulators warned the federal government they were unsafe, as far back as 20 years ago. A more recent report by a federal agency reminded the government that the cars could be “subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials.” All were ignored. To top it off, the federal government gave the go-ahead last year to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to operate with just one engineer aboard their trains.

All of which means it will not suffice to find out if a brake malfunctioned the night of the disaster, or limit ourselves to pointing at the failings of lax regulation. The debate should be about the need for another kind of brake, over the mad pursuit of infinite resources, and the unshackling of reckless corporations, on a finite and fragile planet.

Canada’s political class will not be pleased by the lessons to be drawn. The government needs to get back into the business of heavily regulating corporations – through incentives, through taxes, and through sanctions. And this will involve not just grappling with the dangers of the transport of oil – which will remain unsafe, whether by rail or by pipeline – but starting a rapid transition away from an extreme energy economy entirely. That will not happen as the result of any government inquiry, but a noisy social movement that puts it on the public agenda.

That’s why the most fitting response to Lac-Mégantic actually happened two weeks ago, by US residents 100 miles across the border in Fairfield, Maine. They were arrested blockading a train carrying the same fracked oil from the same oilfields of Northern Dakota, to the same refinery in New Brunswick, Canada. Their message was about ending our reliance on oil, not soon but now. For those who never knew the victims of Lac-Mégantic, there could be no better way to honour them.


Canadian writers slam Israel

July 17, 2013


While the neocons in the Harper government continue to embarrass us and the blind men in the US, both Republican and Democrat alike continue to shield israel from justified  international condemnation, the modern prophets, writers and poets, continue to speak out. The list of Canadians of conscience supporting the giants of Israeli literature keeps growing.

Margaret Atwood and John Ralston Saul have added their names to a list of 91 writers who have signed an open letter to Israeli and Canadian leaders.  The letter asks Israeli leaders to halt the imminent “firing zone” evictions of 1000 Palestinians from the Southern Hebron Hills, and the Prawer Plan for the forced displacement of 20,000 to 70,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel from the Negev.

The latest signatories to join Atwood and Saul  are  Yann Martel (Life of Pi), Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes),  Guy Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman’s Boy), Nino Ricci, Rohinton Mistry and Jane Urquhart.

Earlier voices inclded Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient), Vincent Lam, Lisa Moore, Lorna Crozier, Alberto Manguel, George Bowering, Edeet Ravel, Patrick Lane, Sheila Heti, Kyo Maclear, Dr. Gabor Maté, Michel Tremblay and Canada’s current Parliamentary Poet Laureate Fred Wah.. Dozens of nominees or winners of the Governor General’s literary awards, the Giller Prize, the Impac Dublin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Man Booker Prize, and other honours, including the Order of Canada, figure in the list.

“It’s nothing but ethnic cleansing,” said one of the signatories, Gabor Mate, in an interview with Postmedia News last week. Mate is a Jewish Canadian and Holocaust survivor, and said that personal conviction compelled him to co-sign the letter. “One thing I’ve learned is you don’t be quiet when things happen that shouldn’t happen,”

“These writers’ compassion and clear-mindedness are refreshing at a time in which Canadian politicians seem to have abandoned all principles, especially when determining Middle East policy,” says CJPME President Thomas Woodley. CJPME points out that Canadian politicians are almost always silent when Israel violates international law by confiscating Palestinians’ land and establishing Israeli-only “settlements” in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPT).

CJPME is appalled that a spokesman for Foreign Minister John Baird last week dismissed the Prawer Plan as an “internal” Israeli matter. “Given the sheer numbers of people slated for forced displacement – 20,000 to 70,000 – it’s tragic that Canadian leaders are acquiescing to such cruelty,” adds Woodley. The Israeli arguments that they are dislocating the Bedouin “for their own good” are reminiscent of arguments once made for placing Canadian aboriginal children in residential schools.

Standardizing human beings

July 16, 2013



I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture. . . . Such men [as Henry Ford} do not always realize that the adoration which they receive is not a tribute to their personality but to their power or their pocketbook. 

Albert Einstein, Saturday Evening Post interview, Oct.26, 1929

Diane Ravitch was not “once born” (William James). This brilliant New York educator had a real conversion, the result of an intellectual crisis. At one time hopeful about the benefits of testing, accountability and choice(markets), she switched her beliefs. The facts had changed. She had always had an aversion to fads and intellectual movements so cavalierly embraced (mostly by non-practioners in the field). As a historian of education, she intuitively rejected the simplistic “royal road to learning”, the one size fits all nostrum peddled today  by those with too much money and clout and with so little experience in what they are talking about. It reminds me of the late Globe columnist Richard Needham’s definition of a school trustee as “one who has never met a child but has had one described to him.”

Anybody remotely familiar with education knows the terrain. A fad appears and the ambitious ride it for all of its worth until it turns out to be—you guessed it, simply a fad. And then the next guru appears with THE solution.

Ravitch writes in her brilliant book that she too had fallen for the latest panacea sweeping North America : standardized testing. The almost sole means of accountability would close the achievement gap between rich and poor, and new schools (charters) would emerge in the sunlight which would automatically solve the problem. This movement was corporate-driven with little teacher or oparent input. What succeeded in the market place could easily be transferred to the school systems. What of course was missing was the mystery of the human person and the social circumstances surrounding the child.

Ravitch had bought into the corporate culture’s obsession with charters, choice, merit pay and accountability,Schools like businesses would be judged by the results. Underperforming schools would be closed. Deregulation and privatization, here we come! The market somehow would solve the problem. Oh, yeah there are real people in those schools!

Here is Ravitch today:

In city after city, state after state, the privatization movement is seeking to take control of public sector institutions and to turn a profit.

They begin by attacking the public sector as costly, wasteful, and inefficient. This is the classic use of FUD (look up the term in wikipedia, it has a long history in public relations as a way to destroy your competition): Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.

In the case of public education, they say our schools are failing when they are not. Our schools are doing exceptionally well, and where test scores are low is in schools with high levels of poverty and racial segregation. The privatizers don’t want to talk about poverty and segregation. Instead, they blame unions, teachers, and public control. They want what privatizers want: private control of public dollars.

The good news: the public is growing aware of this attack on the commons. The pushback has begun. The public is beginning to understand that the private sector “succeeds” by pushing out the toughest cases. The private sector does not do education or prisons or hospitals or parks or libraries better or cheaper.

When the public understands the raid on the commons, the privateers lose.

That is why we must all tell the public what is happening. We must defend what belongs to us all. We must defend it not to be defensive but to preserve it for the future. We do not want the “status quo.” The status quo is testing and privatization. We reject the status quo. Nor do we want to go back to a mythical past.

We want better schools. We want good schools in every neighborhood. We want schools that are subject to democratic control, not to corporate or autocratic control. Restoring democracy is at the heart of our struggle against privatization. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

We will continue to resist all efforts to turn schools into profit-making enterprises. We will demand that our nation resume its struggle for equal opportunity for all, a goal that has been cynically abandoned these past dozen years.

May the private sector grow and thrive. And may we work together until the public sector once again recaptures its purpose, which is to serve the public without fear or favor.

Rhetoric hides educational reality in America

July 12, 2013



Many think the US system driven by turbocapitalism is totally broken. This week on PBS the American prophet Bill Moyers, Texas Baptist and former chief of staff to LBJ, profiled two families who bought the American dream and found out that the system was rigged, the Congress and the Senate were bought and the priorities of the wealthy were now enshrined. The common good has been trashed, the gap between rich and poor widened.There is little difference between Democrat and Republican.Hence the shocking move to open up education to the highest bidder.

Diane Ravitch writes

William Mathis, a former school superintendent in Vermont, now associated with the National Education Policy Center, analyzed the proposed legislation of both Democrats and Republicans and finds that both parties have no understanding of the damage wrought by No Child Left Behind.

Washington insiders continue their hapless crusade to “reform” the schools by high-stakes testing and privatization. The Democrats want the federal government to do more of it, and the Republicans want the states to do it. Neither has a vision for the future.

Neither shows the slightest indication that they understand the real problems of American education, many of which have been inflicted by NCLB and Race to the Top.

So instead of ditching the failed policies of the past dozen years, both parties cling tenaciously to them.

He concludes:

“When Abraham Lincoln called on the mystic chords of memory, he drew upon those principles that bind us together. He drew upon the common good. At that time, equality was so embraced that it found Constitutional power and protection in the thirteenth amendment. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a wave of state Constitutional amendments enshrined public education because a functioning democracy demanded education and equality for all. In 1965, when we dreamed of a great society, we furthered our reach with the supportive help of the ESEA.

“Today, both Democrat and Republican versions of the reauthorization give vacant, distracted nods to these principles. They fail to ring with great purpose. They do not stir the soul. They are unlovely and parrot our social and economic strategies. In both they punish the poor, loudly proclaim liberty and equality, and provide only the rhetoric of opportunities.”

School is out but capital never sleeps

July 10, 2013

Ah school is out!

For Canadians not paying attention to what is happening in the land of hyper-capitalism regarding public education, this is for you. These  simplistic noxious nostrums promoted by Republicans will soon show up here.Soon ? Look at PM Harper,Tim Hudak and Rob Ford.

The last decade has seen a ferocious attack in  the USA on public education and unions. The worst offenders are the uber-capitalists who want into the lucrative market of a public good,education—text books,  the horrible standardized testing and anything else associated with schools. Believe it or not two of the worst offenders are Obama and Bill Gates, obviously educational experts on child development, pedagogy and long years in a classrooom. Not! Throw in the billionaire New York mayor Michael Bloomberg another know-it-all infamous for his rudeness to the parents of school age kids. All these non-teachers  are believers in those standardized tests  as the almost sole definer of educational success.

The so-called reformers who actually hate public education and unions often use progresssive rhetoric to mask their reactionary goals of a charter school onn evry block.Constant tests show no differenee in performance but that does not dissuadw these people

Now there is spirited fight back led by parents who have been shoved aside by the experts. Many great teachers are resisting all over the sates. Recently the Seattle teachers refuse to minister the tests.

One of those educators  leading the charge against standardized testing i is Diane Ravitch whose book is a must read.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System


Canadian writers urge halt to evictions of Palestinians, Bedouin

July 8, 2013

Writers and poets are the canaries in the coal mine. With sharp antennae they smell that something’s rotten in the state of Denmark. In tis case case it is the ongoing, festering odor coming from Israel’s ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.

Recognizing that we do indeed live in a global village, 69 of Canada’s top writers have signed a joint letter urging Israeli authorities to halt the evictions of 1000 Palestinians in the Southern Hebron Hills (West Bank). Under the Prawer Plan 20,000-70,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel will be forcibly relocated and several destroyed. all for more land  for an Israeli military firing The day is long past when Israel with such powered methods of Hasbara ( state lying) can pull this off with at least some of the more sensitive crying foul.

Israeli writers

Grossman, Yehoshua,Oz.

In Israel some of the great writers like Amos Oz. David Grossman, A.B.Yehoshua have raised prophetic voices against this land grab.In an open letter written by Grossman,Israel’s most famous novelist the statement said  that he population of around 1,000 lives “in constant fear, helplessly facing a ruthless power that does everything to displace them from the home they have inhabited for centuries”, It went on: “In a reality of ongoing occupation, of solid cynicism and meanness, each and every one of us bears the moral obligation to try and relieve the suffering, do something to bend back the occupation’s giant, cruel hand.”

Another group  the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, point out that international laws of occupation forbid the transfer of populations unless it is temporary or for immediate military needs, such as the prosecution of war. As per usual israel snubs its nose at international law.

Noted Canadian writers and poets who have added international voices to this protest  are Michael Ondaatje, Alberto Manguel, Lorna Crozier, Rawi Hage, Edeet Ravel,  Patrick Lane, Maggie Helwig, Kyo Maclear, Kerri Sakamoto, George Bowering Stan Persky, Shani Mootoo, Lorna Croizier, Robert Priest, Camilla Gibb, Wayson Choi,Vincent Lam, Lisa Moore, Shyam Selvadurai, Susan Musgrave, Silver Donald Cameron,Susan Crean and Michel Tremblay inter alios. One looks in vain for Catholic prophetic voices here.

“It is inspiring to see Canadian writers demonstrating ethical leadership, especially at a moment when Canada’s political leaders seem to have lost their moral compass,” notes Thomas Woodley, President of CJPME. He adds that the fact that Israeli authorities plan to evict another 1000 Palestinians from the South Hebron Hills to make way for an Israeli army firing zone bodes ill for resumption of peace negotiations.

The Committee for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CJPME stated in a press release  “that the Israeli government’s refusal to seriously consider the Bedouin’s concerns and alternative proposals exemplifies the second-class standing of Israel’s Arab citizens —20 percent of the population. Israel’s massive land-grab in the West Bank (occupied Palestinian territory) violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and Palestinians’ fundamental human rights. CJPME points out that the South Hebron Palestinian communities facing destruction have lived there for hundreds of years, and that Israel has designated about 18 percent of the West Bank as Israeli military training territory. The Bedouin have inhabited the Negev since the 7th century.

To see the complete list of signatories, please go to