Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Log 280: Tom Kent, my old boss, bites the dust at age 89: a man of remarkable abilities

In writing about Tom Kent, who died on Nov 15, the man who offered me my first serious job in Canadian journalism back in1955 when he was editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, I cannot pretend to any great degree of objectivity. The reason for that is I have never really liked any boss I ever worked for, and I cannot pretend that I particularly liked him, either.

Nevertheless, I do have to pay tribute to him for his somewhat remarkable abilities. He could write a coherent and often persuasive editorial article quicker than anyone I have ever known. Later, after he left journalism, he became a senior adviser to the Liberal governments of Canada, first headed by Lester Pearson, later by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and in that capacity he is credited with having been the major influence in creation of Medicare as a federal program, and such social programs as the Canadian Pension Plan. In this work he was obviously drawing on his background as, I believe, a working class boy growing up in England, no doubt influenced in his youth by the British Labour Party,

Some obituarists in the last few days have paid him glowing tributes, claiming him to have been passionate, fearless and principled. I wouldn’t know anything about that. I have to judge him as the boss who presided over my real entry into Canadian journalism from 1955 to 1957. (I say “real,” because before that I put in three months as a wage slave for the Thomson organization on a newspaper, if it may be called that, called The Northern Daily News in Kirkland Lake, Ontario.)

The Winnipeg Free Press was a somewhat eccentric outfit when I worked there in the 1950s. I often say it was regarded as a great newspaper by more people who have never read it than any newspaper on earth. In my view it did not merit such accolades. But I enjoyed working there, and my enjoyment probably had something to do with the fact that I had few contacts with Tom Kent while there. The city editor, Albert Boothe, was a prince among men --- really the only boss I ever worked for whom I unreservedly esteemed.

One of my best Winnipeg Free Press stories concerned a man called Diplock, one of those old-time journalists who was living out his final days on the job by sitting at a corner typewriter in the vast newsroom, undertaking the occasional job of rewriting some item from the opposition Winnipeg Tribune that somehow or other the Free Press had failed to cover. One day Diplock disappeared, simply failed to turn up, without a word of explanation to anyone. Eventually it became known he was in Britain, where he apparently remained for two years. Eventually, however, he turned up one day, sat at the same typewriter as before, and waited for someone to notice him. Albert Boothe noticed him, picked up a Tribune item that needed a quick rewrite, walked over to him, placed the item before him, and said, as if he had never disappeared, “Could you give us a few words on that, please?”

The farming magazine run by the Free Press had its typewriters along the back of the newsroom. Every day, a strange little woman known as Jeannie came into the newsroom, took up her place along the back row of typewriters, unwrapped her several layers of clothing, then sat down and typed away for half an hour or an hour before wrapping up again and going off into the Winnipeg streets. Who was she? Was she a staff member? Not at all: she was just a person who was working on some manuscript of her own, and whose use of the newspaper's typewriter had come to be accepted as part of the day’s proceedings.

Tom Kent was editor over the last days of a moribund Liberal provincial government (unless my memory betrays me), and his cogent editorials must have played a considerable part in its overthrow by the Conservative government of Duff Roblin.

My relationship with Kent grew somewhat tenuous after he emerged into the news room one day, found me free of work, told me that James Coyne, governor of the Bank of Canada, was about to get married, and asked me to phone him to confirm it. I phoned, and Coyne hung up in my ear. So --- I was still fairly fresh out of my upbringing in the determinedly egalitarian society of New Zealand --- I phoned Coyne back and told him I objected to his unnecessary rudeness. This, within minutes brought Kent storming out of his office to denounce me in public before the whole staff, a confrontation in which I seem to remember I gave almost as good as I got. But my reaction to the incident was, if this guy can’t even defend his own staff, what the hell use is he as a human being?

I left the Free Press the following summer, and moved to Montreal. I met Kent only once thereafter. I was reporting in London, England on a press conference he gave about immigration to Canada (he was working in that field for the federal government by that time.) I remember we were washing our hands in the washroom side by side, when he looked up and congratulated me on an article I had just written about Harold Wilson. He said I had him off perfectly, which (all modesty aside) was a pretty fair judgment.

Later I often thought it might be nice to approach him in his last years. But I never did it. I had approached him for work when he was appointed head of a Royal Commission on ownership in the Canadian press, but all I received back was a cold letter from a secretary telling me my letter was on file.

Years later, Kent wrote some articles in the Oitawa Citizen or Globe and Mail (I can’t remember which) suggesting changes to Canada’s attitude towards immigrants and citizenship. These followed the kerfuffle that arose when Canadian citizens who were living in Lebanon lined up expecting Canada to get them out of Lebanon during an Israeli invasion.

I thought Kent’s ideas for limiting the use naturalized Canadians could make of their status were tantamount of creating two or more classes of Canadian citizenship. I thought these ideas were berserk, and concluded his powers must be failing in his old age.

Nevertheless, I am ready to pay tribute to his favorable impact on his adopted country. If only everyone were to work as effectively for the general good, we would be a hell of a lot better nation.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Log 279 Nov 20 2011 Arundhati Roy, like everyone else, prevented from mentioning Israel’s nuclear weapons on TV

United States Trident II (D-5) missile underwa...Trident missile being launched from underwater. Image via Wikipedia

When I was looking up the quote by Arundhati Roy with which I ended my last post, made at an Occupy Wall Street meeting recently, I came across another thing she said in a recent speech that got me thinking about the state of freedom of the press, one of America’s supposedly cherished values.

Roy’s story was that when appearing on the Charlie Rose show on PBS on one occasion, he asked her if she believed India should have nuclear weapons. She replied, “No I don’t believe India should have nuclear weapons. I also don’t believe the United States should have nuclear weapons, and I don’t believe Israel should have nuclear weapons.”

Rose apparently cut her off quickly, saying, “That was not my question. My question was do you believe India should have nuclear weapons.”

She gave an identical reply: she said this went on for five minutes or so, “and in the end, they didn’t broadcast the programme.”

There can only be one reason for that: she mentioned the unmentionable subject in Western political discourse, which is that Israel has nuclear weapons. That a commentator like Rose should have made strenuous efforts to ensure that unmentionable subject was not mentioned, even to the point of censoring the item right out of his program, makes one wonder if in fact there is some widely understood ukase, handed down from on high, that has been adopted by all “responsible” American commentators, to the effect that Israel’s nuclear weapons should never be mentioned publicly. If that is true, it is shocking. And the evidence seems to suggest it is true. How many times, while some American representative is muttering away about how dangerous Iran is, and how destabilizing it would be for them to get nuclear weapons, how many times have I longed for some questioner to ask, “How about Israel’s nuclear weapons? Why do you never mention them? Is it not conceivable that an Iranian nuclear weapon might correct a dramatic power imbalance in the region?”

No one ever raises this question. I have never heard it raised in an interview with a Western powers spokesperson, although any journalist worth his salt should raise it as his or her first question, in my opinion.

As we all know, the unquestioned existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons is the hypocritical bomb lying at the heart of all Western policy in the region. They never objected when Israel got these weapons. They never objected when India and Pakistan got these weapons. Now they are threatening an outbreak of World War III if Iran should get them.

Talk about double standards!

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Log 278 Nov 19 2011 I move house: the hypocrites are spooked by the demos; capitalism reveals its essential cruelty and indifference to people

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of VermontBernie Sanders Image via Wikipedia

I have just spent the better part of two weeks moving house. Although I was told what a desirable tenant I would be, being older, and therefore more stable than the younger people, I was suddenly confronted one day with the news that the owner of the building in which I had my apartment, having previously lived in British Columbia, had decided to relocate to Ottawa, wanted to live in my apartment, and here, thank you very much, is your two months’ notice.

This came just after the students had arrived and filled up most of the places. However, being ever resourceful in such things, I started looking for a place on a Friday, and by Monday had decided to move to a two-bedroomed apartment in a high-rise building, just to make sure the same thing could not happen to me again.

So, for the first time, I find myself living on the fifth floor of a building with many dozens of tenants, with a swimming pool and a gym and an immense laundry room, on the 21st floor, and with all manner of things you can and cannot do, in the general interests of the tenantry at large.

So far I like it. The hot water system is amazing: instanter, immediately one turns the tap; and the toilet whooshes away like a rocket machine.

And now, having put my remaining pictures (I sold most of them a year or so ago) back up on the walls, I have time to look around the world and see how things are going.

Some amazing things have taken place while I was preoccupied with establishing myself in a place that is right downtown in Ottawa.

Many things have puzzled me. For example, the panic that ensued when the Greek Prime Minister announced he would have a referendum on the proposed bailout for his country’s economic crisis. Has it not been an article of faith that the Western, capitalistic model of society is based on democratic decision of the citizens, and that this is what distinguishes it from draconian systems like dictatorships, communist or fascist, oligarchies, and the like? So how can these same propagandists for democracy raise such a hue and cry over a democratic vote on a proposal put forward by a bunch of economic technocrats? The very idea was not only frowned upon, but was met with panicked dismay, was said to be likely to scuttle any possibility of what these people call progress. In fact, the thing was so unthinkable that the Greek Prime Minister with this dangerous idea had to be removed from power, and this is exactly what has happened.

He has been replaced by a banker, or a collection of bankers. And the same thing has happened in Italy, where a group of banking technocrats have begun to impose the bankers’ favorite solution to all problems, which is to impose austerity on the living standards of the ordinary citizens.

That is one thing that has happened that has bewildered me somewhat. Another amazing revelation that literally set me back on my heels was that Bernie Sanders, the only socialist in the American political system, has managed to force out of the Federal Reserve in the United States information that that body was desperately anxious to hide: namely, that during the bailouts by which they prevented the whole capitalistic system from collapsing, the Federal Reserve put up --- wait for this, you’re scarcely going to believe this figure! --- $16 trillion dollars, paid out to bankers, individuals and government agencies in the United States and in some other countries. I am going to try to write that in figures.

$16,000,000,000,000. Would that be right?

It is an unimaginable figure, an amount of money that, I am quite sure, doesn’t really exist, except in the books of banks and government institutions. No one has ever had that much money, ever. But the enormity of what happened is even greater than I had imagined.

Let’s see: banks and insurance companies, and other similar agencies that have, all my life, ranked number one among by unfavorite demonic institutions, were granted sums in gazillions of dollars, for the most part without any conditions, to rescue them from their own horrendous mistakes that were caused by their own massive greed and lack of the qualities of citizenship. Meanwhile, the many hundreds of thousands of people who had been forced from their homes by these same institutions have been left to swelter, or freeze, depending on their location, without any aid of any kind. Many other consequences have been borne by the ordinary people: for example, education has been priced beyond the reach of everyone except the well-heeled, and food costs have spiraled upwards, as has the cost of living in general. Students leave university now crippled with a load of debt so huge that they probably are never going to be able to pay it off. And it has become common to hear people moan about how can a young couple ever aspire to owning a house?

It is too discouraging to go into all the many ways that ordinary people are stewing as a result of these machinations by the financial lords of creation.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been an impressive response to all this: that it should have spread to more than 900 cities around the world is an indication of how close people must be to saying: we have had enough. We need a huge change in this self-sustaining, criminal, greedy, appallingly amoral system of capitalist goverance. The only problem is that unlike the situation in Egypt, the movement has been unable to mobilize the milllions into street demonstrations in their support. That is the missing ingredient that would lead to the overthrow of the whole rotten system.

I can conclude this by quoting (not for the first time, as readers of this blog over the years will know) the Indian novelist and polemicist Arundhati Roy,who recently made a speech in New York to the Wall street occupiers. In response to the bleatings of the establishment media to the effect that the Occupy movement has no comprehensible objectives, she produced four objectives, which I support:

“They (the 1%) say that we don't have demands… perhaps they don't know that our anger alone would be enough to destroy them. But here are some things – a few 'pre-revolutionary' thoughts I had – for us to think about together:

“We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality. We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations. As 'cap-ist'" and 'lid-ites', we demand:

• An end to cross-ownership in businesses. For example, weapons manufacturers cannot own TV stations; mining corporations cannot run newspapers; business houses cannot fund universities; drug companies cannot control public health funds.

• Two, natural resources and essential infrastructure – water supply, electricity, health, and education – cannot be privatized.

• Three, everybody must have the right to shelter, education and healthcare.

• Four, the children of the rich cannot inherit their parents' wealth.

“This struggle has re-awakened our imagination. Somewhere along the way, capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just 'human rights', and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to just tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.”

And so say all of us!

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Udi AloniUdi aloni Image by aavarnum via FlickrLink of the Day (2), Nov 12, 2011: An Israeli writer, Udi Aloni, brought up in the heart of Zionism, tells in the agonizing story of how Israel has gradually turned into an apartheid state, denying rights to Palestinians. “My father was implementing agrarian apartheid policies, and long before the occupation of 1967…” “…A couple of years ago I approached my ardently Zionist mom, a woman who carried a weapon for the Jewish community of Jerusalem in 1948, and asked her a simple question: ‘Mom, is all this apartheid?’ With the sigh of a betrayed lover she indicated that, yes, this is apartheid. My heart broke….”
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US journalist and commentator Bill MoyersBill Moyers Image via Wikipedia

Link of the Day (1): Nov 12 2011: Bill Moyers, in a remarkable article in
The Nation magazine, How Wall Street Occupied America,
details the steps taken by the wealth-owners to take over the government and the running of the United States. It has all happened since 1971, and it has been a deliberate strategy run by major corporations, with heartbreaking results for the quality if American life.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cropped picture of Joseph Stiglitz, U.S. econo...Joseph Stiglitz Image via WikipediaLink of the Day: Nov 8 2011: The last words of my book, Memoirs of a Media Maverick, published some years ago, were that I agree with Arundhati Roy the wonderful Indian writer, that the only globalization we can embrace is the globalization of dissent. I am therefore delighted to find Joseph E. Stiglitz, noted Nobel laureate and professor at Columbia University, coming to the same conclusion this week, in an article in Project Syndicate, A World of Ideas, in which he explains why the Occupy Wall Street movement protesters are pursuing aims that are essential for the survival of the human race.

Read this notable article, The Globalization of Dissent, here.
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