Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Poor, homeless and pregnant...

These were the words of a shivering woman describing herself while dressed only in a T-shirt and jeans on a cold, blustery evening outside my local convenience store at Yonge and Dundas streets in Toronto yesterday. I gave her a dollar. It's not enough. And that's not just the money. She followed me into the store and said the same words to those waiting, They denied the appeal in her words. I am reading a new Canadian book by Ajamu Nangwaya called "Why Don't the Poor Rise Up?". Ignored and rejected the woman left. When I did too, hoping and ready to do more, she was gone.   

Monday, 20 November 2017

"Making China Great Again" - on the Trump visit to China, from TorontotheBetter's correspondent in Shanghai

Here's our November 2017 report from Shanghai. 
It is probably a shame to begin a blog about the People's Republic of China – and its booming economic and cultural megalopolis Shanghai – with a piece on Trump. The objective of this series will primarily be to explore the practical meaning of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Is it a meaningful name for a particular kind of political economy? How is life evolving in the urban centres of the earth's most populous country? What are the priorities of Chinese municipalities? What exactly is the State up to, economically speaking? What are China's green initiatives? How about the sharing economy? And how loud are workers' voices in a land where, theoretically at least, the ruling party still governs in their name and interest? Or, what matters most, soccer or basketball? And then there's education...

            Yet Trump was just here. He's so hard to avoid.

            And it is instructive to consider the manner in which the Chinese leadership greeted him in these days of unremitting, blistering attacks upon the real estate mogul/reality showman/president. For Trump's reception in Beijing, plus all the official and semi-official writing that attended it, tells us something about how the cupola of the Communist Party sees China's place in the world.

            A review of the press (and I mean the English-language versions; my Mandarin is in the beginner stages and may, in a reading sense, never develop much further) would suggest that China is entirely unaware that the U.S. chief is a laughing stock, derided and despised by so many at home and abroad.  Chinese media can be quite sharp in their criticism of American postures on this or that matter, including new missile systems in South Korea, Pyongyang's behaviour and Washington's line on, say, Iran. But there are no barbs at Trump the fool, the narcissistic personality, the buffoon. A recent piece I read on heightened tensions between the USA and North Korea clearly blamed Washington for this state of affairs. But he who crafted – or at least uttered – the war-mongering words Beijing finds so unhelpful to a resolution of difficulties on the Korean peninsula wasn't even mentioned. Donald the mouth gets a pass in China.

            Of course, politically aware and not-so-politically minded Chinese know a fair bit about the real  human being/politician. Admittedly I have not conducted or read a poll. But I teach at a public secondary school in Shanghai; some of my Chinese colleagues roll their eyes at his mention. My older students laugh at Trump tales. But who doesn't? The regime, Washington's 'superpower' rival, is utterly straight-faced about him and if General Secretary Xi smiles, it is in welcome. People's Daily referred to the State visit as “unprecedented with great significance.” What, beyond a reminder of the ordinary customs of diplomatic politesse, does this tell us?

            Part of that answer can be drawn from another essay that recently appeared in the press, in this case Global Times. It was a not-too-long commemorative analysis of the 1917 Russian Revolution and encapsulated, in my view, the Chinese Party leadership's most optimistic sense of its own role in history. Xi and associates regard themselves as the true inheritors of Bolshevik power.  As distinct from the Soviet leadership, whose mandate crumbled with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Chinese leadership not only knows where it comes from but where it is going, in the words of the article's author. It has a plan for the system founded in 1917. The Russians went doddery and stumbled off the path.

            That path, or plan, is being laid out in a world considerably different, however, from the world of Kennedy, Khrushchev, Reagan, Brezhnev and other Cold Warriors. Our globe is an interdependent one, with massive economic investment running both ways, shared ecological challenges and crises, and of course a common interest in the avoidance of nuclear war. In this sense, I think, the Chinese are squarely in the tradition of Gorbachev. Although contemptuous of his abandonment of political power, which consigned the Soviet Communists to near irrelevance, they have taken much of MG's teaching on peace and shared values seriously. 'Contradictions' and disputes between the two systems were given too much weight during the Cold War, CCP theorists say. We need each other. We hold your debt. We need your investment to help China develop further. It isn't primarily a matter of one side against another; we agree it is best if North Korea does not have nuclear weapons and will collaborate, in a reasonable fashion, toward that end. In sum, China and the world are better off if the relationship between Beijing and Washington is reasonably harmonious.

            So why mock Trump? Why annoy him? Don't take the bait and snarl when the Hairman blames China for American economic problems or says Xi could solve the Korean nuclear issue over a weekend,  if only he wanted to. Whatever else he is, Donald sits in the Oval Office. That's all that concerns the Chinese. We must work with him and even excuse tweets and rude speeches. After all, that illness of not measuring one's words before they are uttered is not a disease we suffer from. We have a plan.

            That plan includes recognizing real rivalries, but not accentuating them. China's armed forces will continue to be modernized. Xi will tell his officers to ensure soldiers are prepared for combat. Beijing will be tough on themes like Taiwanese and Tibetan independence. China will stay tough on regional security issues. When Western capitals tell China to adopt liberal democracy with a multiparty system, Xi will politely tell them to go to hell... and might do worse to Chinese who make that case in a persistent fashion. But generally, interdependence determines foreign policy. So China will work with Mr. Trump.

            But... The party leadership believes it has an alternative to advance, one that grows from the soil of 1917. Against the American model it presents one in which the State unreservedly and without apology drives the economy through massive investment and public enterprise. A model which rejects budgetary austerity as a policy panacea, as it does “nationalist,” protectionist strategies. One which, its designers maintain, promises political stability and gradually deepening “socialist democracy” without the perceived chaos of the Western party system. It includes a promise of extensive investment in, and infrastructural links to, other developing countries on a “win-win” basis (See One Belt One Road). To poverty-choked Africa, for example, China says, We won't preach. We'll just build railways and plants. And both sides will come out ahead. And you can copy our system if you want. Here it has lifted over half a billion souls out of destitution.

            A kind of global struggle persists. But today the Chinese prefer one played mainly with 'soft power'. So Donald, and whomever enters the White House after the Trumps stumble out, is welcome in Beijing. The systems and their respective populations need each other. And one day, think some, all will figure out that “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which isn't really an expression of nationalism after all, is best for the species as a whole.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Ontario's original non-profit carshare co-op Community Carshare is threatened - Urgent carshare news

At a special General meeting accessible in Waterloo and Hamilton on Wednesday Nov. 22 non-profit co-op carsharing pioneer Kitchener/Waterkloo based Community Carshare members will  decide on whether to dissolve the co-op and sell its assets to private carshare corporation Communauto. For more info and/or assistance to attend the meeting contact Stand up for our social economy and  local democratic control of progressive transportation options. TorontotheBetter, created by worker co-op Libra Information Services, supports co-ops and other social economy agents at all times, especially when threatened. A threat to one is a threat to  all.     

Saturday, 11 November 2017

"Water Is..." unfortunately not for all

Canadian Nina Munteanu's recent (2016) book celebrates water (nibi in Anishnaabe language as celebrated in this song The title of the book  - “Water Is…: The meaning of  Water”  - makes the degree of her estimation clear and it’s not an overstatement to say this expression of her liking is oceanic. The 583 pages of the large format text are appropriate to its theme, that is, the most common and important element on our planet and one that is threatened as never before. There is a very serious message and purpose here.

Munteanu is right to recognize that water is a commons that belongs to all on the planet earth. As an expression of the breadth of her engagement the 12 chapters approach different aspects of the subject, from Water is Magic in chapter 1 through to the happily concluding Water is Joy of chapter 12. In between these book-end characterizations, water appears as Life, Motion, Communication, Memory, Rhythm, Vibration, Beauty, Story, Prayer, and Wisdom. Interspersed with Canadian anchored photos depicting the above themes there is something for most water appreciators.

In the Afterthoughts section which culminates her flow  Munteanu notes that her mission is connection, maybe “matchmaking” it could be said, and as for all passion borne writings hers should pull many who encounter it. To wonder whether those without a similar passion will venture into this labour of love is not to question the project. Love Conquers All Things, it’s true, we trust, but for most loves it is the chance personal glance that opens the space for rapture. In a world once more seized by strife for the possession of land (and water) we at TorontotheBetter hope that the “quantum entanglement” the scientist in Munteanu invokes as what moves her, manages to grab many of those that as yet have remained static when made aware of the global rape of resources that we are living through. Inhabitants of many of Canada’s first nations reserves that after 2000 years of colonial rule still lack clean drinking water are unlikely to encounter the book in their local libraries, if they have them. Not Munteanu’s personal responsibility, maybe, but they might wish that at least one chapter, if not the whole, was pervaded by the original inhabitants' very special relationship to water in the land now called Canada. After all, the standard term for electricity here in Ontario is Hydro, in recognition of the source of the province's energy in its aboriginal lakes.  
A call to arms has it over a rhapsody most times, but rhapsody can still be an entangling attraction for those fortunate enough to have the luxury, while swimming, of waving, not drowning. Given the fundamental nature of quantum mechanics to all existence none are separate from water's pull. Here's  hoping that many minds tangle at the same time as any hands that lift this weighty book. Though Munteanu honours the centrality of water in First Nations' spiritual worlds her reference does not appear until Chapter 11, Water Is Wisdom. The Joy chapter follows, but a Water Is Power chapter is missing in the first edition.

Other recommended Canadian publications about water: Blue Gold/Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke, and Eau Canada/Karen Bakker.  To find a copy of Water Is... check your local library; to buy a copy contact  

Friday, 3 November 2017

"Amazon bid shows how far we've come" - Really?

The above headline for an Oct.30 article by Toronto Star's Royston James mentions, (discreetly, of course, like these brackets) that Toronto's response has been "composed, poised, level-headed and unruffled." James compares this with Toronto's sluttish efforts to win a previous Olympic Games. But the reality is everybody knows that Toronto, like most other cities during the continuing dominance of austerity-based investment withdrawal by Western governments, is desperate for private investment as a growth tool. That it is relatively tempered in the style of its desperation does not change the fact of the desperation itself. This is like a plain suitor stressing their plainness as a distinction over their half-naked and panting competitors. However superficially controlled, the suitor is involved in the same game, whose name will  be withheld here to comply with Toronto's level headedness.

Stating what Amazon should do to clean up its act if it wants to impress the city with its offerings would be a more honourable approach but in these times of market triumphalism honour is a concept so old-fashioned as to be almost quaint.Now there's an idea for that might work with the MBAs in charge of such things: modesty as the fairest seduction of them all. We will be be "unruffled" enough here to ignore what in a former age would have been called a contradiction:profit v. probity. Setting some progressive standards for Amazon of the kind embodied in different ways by the enterprises listed in the TorontotheBetter directory is an idea that seems not to have occurred to the City's oh so composed representatives. Pre-nuptial demands in the service of  a better life are not the same as acceptance of the suitor as is, with the by no means honourable baggage of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos.

Honourable or not, the objective of the City is to win a groom and to provide the post-coital flattery, unstated but slavish, that must and will follow if the advertised financial benefits are to be more than short-term titillation. James has played his uncritical part, we must assume, unwittingly.