September 2017 Newsletter

Welcome to this issue of the Peace / Justice newsletter!.

This newsletter is short – focused primarily on a couple of urgent actions regarding the Rohingya.  There is a window for movement on this ongoing tragedy and thus the need to take action which will bolster support for those wanting to show global desire for action.  A second time-sensitive action is related to our longitudinal issue of Darfur.



In 2012 and again in 2014 this newsletter highlighted actions and concerns related to the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma.  While most people in Burma are Buddhist, and there are other groups and conflicts, the Rohingya have been marginalized for decades, officially deemed immigrants from Bangladesh.

Being stateless means diminished rights in an impoverished area.  It also means voiceless and thus open to increasing conflict and violence.  From our longitudinal study of Darfur, when people who want a nonviolent resolution, find all such avenues fruitless, eventually a few may take up arms both for protection and to highlight their case to the world.  Thus fast forward and we find again this is the case.

But the government disproportionately cracked down not simply on the insurgents but the entire Rohingya population, resulting in a UN official indicating the government’s response appears to be a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.  There have been over 400,000 displaced, with many villages burned, and an unknown number of people killed or raped.

The violence must be stopped, a path to full inclusiveness for all provided, and human rights violations on all sides must be investigated.  The following petitions address two audiences.  Avaaz {the site we sometimes use to explore the influence of massive petitions, in this case now over one million signatures} is targeting those governments supporting Burma’s military.  The Amnesty International petition is aimed directly at Burma’s military Commander in Chief.  Please consider signing both.

Nobel Peace Prize Laurate Aung San Suu Kyi: While previous newsletters gave her silence the benefit of the doubt, it is time to side with Desmond Tutu’s response where he pleaded with her to speak out for justice and unity and cautioned that “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

Take Action [Open to all; Consider signing both]:
Tell Governments To Stop Supporting Burma’s Military  [Avaaz]
Tell Burma’s Commander in Chief to Stop Ethnic Cleansing  [Amnesty International]

Summary of Current Crisis  [International Crisis Group]
How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis  [NYT]
How New Muslim Insurgency Arose [ICG, Dec, 2016]
Final Report on Fair Future [Chaired by Kofi Annan; very in-depth]



The action on this issue from the last newsletter was part of efforts that may have helped dissuade the Trump Administration from lifting sanction on Sudan.  However that had a three month timeframe which is almost up now.  So new efforts are needed to help maintain the sanctions until Sudan changes its action and addresses the marginalization of all its peripheries, most especially Darfur and South Kordofan / Nuba mountains.  As noted before, the lifting of sanctions was shocking to many Sudan watchers, including myself, who feel it was based on murky logic (see Current Status, June 25, [] or the Background links below).

Thus there is urgent need to tell President Trump not to permanently lift the sanctions.  Even if one felt progress was being made, six months is far too short, as Human Rights Watch argues, below.

Take Action:
Don’t Lift Sudan Sanctions  [Act For Sudan]

Sudan Sanction Review Fails 8 Benchmark Tests [HRW]
{Counter View} Repeal Sanctions, There are Still Others in Place [Crisis Group]





At Least 200 Environmental Activists Slain In 2016:

This newsletter has taken action to safeguard environmental activists throughout the world, and for good reason.  This year saw the most deaths ever.  While India had a three-fold increase, Latin America remained the deadliest region.   Mining, oil, agriculture and logging were the industries most associated with the deaths.
Most environmental activist killed in 2016 [Globe and Mail]





Chinese Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu  Xiaobo, Died

In a sad note over the summer, Liu Xiaobo died.  He helped lead the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy uprising for which he was imprisoned.  Upon release he continued to lecture about democracy and human rights, including helping to draft Charter 08 which laid out the comprehensive changes needed, such as a new constitution, for legislative democracy.  He was imprisoned again where his health deteriorated.

June 2017 Newsletter

Welcome to this issue of the Peace/Justice action email!.

Actually this issue is not so much a full newsletter as a simple bookmark to let everyone know that this newsletter has not disappeared.  I had to take a five month “sabbatical” due to unusually heavy attention needed on a few other projects that I am involved with.  Subsequently, and unrelated, I found myself in a cardiac unit (not a heart attack, and with no usual indicators for such, well, our bodies are complex and interesting).  Hopefully by the fall the newsletter will be more on track again.

Thus this newsletter briefly has an action related to our longitudinal issue – Darfur – as well as an issue that hopefully will be heeded before it deteriorates more.  Finally, there are some accumulated items that I don’t have the time to re validate.



Sudan and Darfur have largely been out of the news, except that before leaving office former U.S. President Obama conditionally lifted some sanctions on Sudan.  After six months (July 12) that action will become permanent if a review shows Sudan was continuing progress.  This act was shocking to many Sudan watchers, including myself, who feel it was based on murky logic (see Current Status, June 25, [] or the Background links below).

Thus there is urgent need to tell President Trump not to permanently lift the sanctions.  Even if one felt progress was being made, six months is far too short, as Human Rights Watch argues, below.  Given the President’s use of Twitter, the first action makes use of a tweet and provides additional information.  The second action is a petition by a diaspora Darfuri women’s group.  It calls for the sanctions to remain and also lists many other conditions (disarm militias, impose travel bans, etc.) that many have advocated for, for many years.  Please note a typo in the petition: “seize attack” should be “cease attack”.  This is not a high-financed group but their direct connections to people in Darfur provides a valuable voice.

Take Action:
Tweet: Tell U.S. To Delay Lifting of Sanctions [Enough Project]
Petition: Keep Sanctions on Sudan [Darfur Women Action Group]

Sudan Sanction Review Fails 8 Benchmark Tests [HRW]
{Counter View} Repeal Sanctions, There are Still Others in Place [Crisis Group]




A human right’s lawyer in Malaysia has been charged in connection with her questioning the legitimacy of a raid on a transgender event.  Amnesty International believes it is an attempt to silence and undermine human rights work. Please consider taking action, both for its innate rightness and for the signal it sends to Malaysia to uphold human rights before things deteriorate further.

Take Action:
Stop Targeting Transgender Community [Amnesty International]






South Africa Decides to Stay in the ICC

South Africa formally revoked its bid to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. Last year it joined Burundi and the Gambia in saying it would leave, sparking fears of a wider flight; many African leaders think the court focuses disproportionately on them. But the Gambia has reconsidered, and last month South Africa’s High Court ruled that its withdrawal would be unconstitutional.
South Africa Reverses Withdrawal from ICC   [NYT]






Chiquita Bananas & Crimes Against Humanity

On behalf of affect communities in Colombia, a coalition of human rights group have called on an investigation by the ICC of the complicity of executives at Chiquita Brands International regarding crimes against humanity.  The company has admitted to having funneld millions of dollars to paramilitaries that killed, raped and disappeared civilians, yet no one has been held responsible.
Communities Seek Accountablility


A Few Leagues-Under-The-Sea: It’s Getting Toxic

In research conducted on a couple of the ocean’s deepest trenches (up to 11 km or 6.8 miles) they scientists have found organisms with PCB levels over four times as bad as the world’s most polluted rivers.  Humanity’s negative impact on the planet seems to have no bounds, yet another dire sign and call-to-action to regarding our throw-away society:
World’s Deepest Ocean Trenches Badly Polluted [Economist]

December 2016 Newsletter

Welcome to this edition of the Peace/Justice action email!

Firstly, apologies are in order – this is really November’s newsletter, greatly delayed due to a convergence of issues needing my attention.  It included being part of a group sponsoring a Syrian family who has now arrived (brief reflections below).

The interval since the last newsletter has been terribly disheartening from a human rights standpoint.  Even as the previous newsletter was being sent out, I received an Amnesty International report documenting the repugnant use of chemical weapons in Darfur, including the killing and maiming of children.  While there had been rumours of chemical weapon use before in Sudan, I find it difficult not to associate this more brazen use, with Obama’s empty “red line” regarding Syria and chemical weapons, baffled as I am by such an ill-thought statement.  It leaves a terrible unease that the world may be inching towards normalizing this once “forbidden” weapon.

In addition, while this newsletter does not always give much attention to current high profile issues such as Syria (since they are already well-known and actions abound) the recent push to remove the rebels from Aleppo contains terrible war crimes [Human Rights Watch].  In the bigger picture the Syrian humanitarian and refugee crisis continue to have enormous negative impacts on the surrounding area, throughout the EU, and into North America.  Extremist right-wing groups are gaining support in many EU countries.  Chasms separate people and shrill voices abound.

I have never felt more of a need in this upcoming year to stand firm in the highest principles and values that make humanity fair and just for all. Should upheavals occur there will be a desperate need for fair-minded people to speak and act in ways that remain congruent with such intentions.  Thus at the end of this newsletter is a link to a Southern Poverty Law Center piece giving ten points on remaining well-anchored in a divisive world.  May this year find us all striving to uphold the best aspirations of humanity!



There has been credible evidence that countless villages in Darfur have been attacked by the Sudanese government and its allied militias.  People have been shot while fleeing, raped, and even targeted with chemical weapons.

Like many authoritarian states, Sudan has built an impenetrable wall, keeping its internal actions secret by refusing all outside access.  It becomes almost impossible to verify what is occurring, an essential step if accountability and justice is ever to occur.

While there may be no international will to stop the atrocities, satellite imagery now allows you to be part of ensuring such actions not remain hidden.

Please note the innovative nature of this action!  Using your computer or phone, you can identify Darfur’s most remote villages, pictured earlier and now, and help identify those that have been destroyed.  There is a tutorial to help you identify key markers.  It can be done whenever one has some time.  So please consider being part of this project.  You will not only help build a case for war crimes against the government, but you will be helping establish the viability of this form of technology for future cases.

Help Reveal Atrocities that Sudan Wants Kept Hidden:




The crisis in Syria has become yet another horrible blight on our world’s inability to respond to massive humanitarian needs and human rights failures.  I will never forget the stunning sequence of hospitals that were reportedly destroyed in the final push by Syria’s President Assad with heavy Russian backing to oust the rebel forces.

December Note: Due to the tenuous nature of any ceasefire and evacuations, Amnesty has updated this November action to continue to pressure leaders, given the continued vulnerable nature of civilians.

Take Action:
Demand Safe Evacuation {and Protection} in Aleppo [Amnesty International]

War Crimes Committed {+ Twitter action}  [Human Rights Watch]





This is a new section to be used fr­om time to time, given that the focus of this newsletter is primarily action-oriented.

I have had the privilege of being part of a group that has twice before helped sponsor refugee families.  This time, while still being actively involved, I felt it time to pass the primary responsibility to the younger generation who, naturally, have responded admirably.

The atmosphere this time surrounding the sponsorship of Syrian refugees is vastly different from the other times.  While there are always voices urging immigrations restraint, this time those voices are stronger and more shrill.  The overwhelming sense of such voices is fear.  I have written elsewhere how there is a grain of truth to such fear but the fear has been deliberately manipulated and distorted.  The best stance is to remain open to these dynamics but not to act from a stance of fear but rather from a desire for fairness and well-being of all.  As such welcoming Syrian refugees who have been appropriately screened strengthens our global fabric.

Thus we gladly agreed to sponsor a refugee family.  We took a four-part strategy.  In addition to the commitment and money for the sponsored refugee family, we gave to:

  1. The international agencies responsible for helping the displaced “locally”, whether internally within their own country or a neighbouring country.  When feasible this is the best option – no one wants to end up halfway around the world, unless that is the only safe, stable option available.
  2. Our own country’s sponsorship network.  These agencies often have meagre budgets and volunteer teams.  Supporting them strengthens the broader immigration resources and fabric.
  3. Our local food bank.  We are quite aware of needs within our own country, and feel the best framing is not an “either/or” but “both/and” approach in terms of nudging life on.

Finally, please note that all the above are remedial in nature and should be balanced with preventive measures at all levels as well.

Back to our family.  After several months of waiting, we are now two months into this project.  We have a wonderful family of six, and while {the necessary} bureaucracy slows things down, the kids have started school and the parents are about to continue learning English.  Their home here won’t be bombed.  They are a bright, loving and very capable family.  It has taken many hands and donations, has been hard work for some (and at times exhausting work for our point-person) but it seems clear that our family will integrate quite well into our community.






Malta First EU Country To Ban ‘Gay Cure’ Conversion Therapy  

Having raised up and tracked the concern surrounding such misguided therapy, it is heartening to see a country-wide adoption of the ban on this therapy.  That said, it means that there are over 190 other countries still to enact such a ban.






Landmark Deal To Phase Out Refrigerant (HFCs)

In 19887 the Montreal Protocol banned refrigerants called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which destroy the ozone layer.  They were replaced with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs do not destroy the ozone layer but have a 1000 time effect in trapping heat.  Thus on Oct 15 in Kigali, Rwanda, an agreement was achieved to phase out the newer, destructive HFCs..

Countries Reach Agreement to Ban HFCs [NYT]



*** The Southern Poverty Law Center – Community Response Guide  ***

Here is the SPLC’s list of ten steps that everyone can do to help in divisive or hateful times.  The list is easy reading and includes many positive anecdotes that accumulated over their decades of experience dealing with hate and racism.

  1. Act (Do something; be proactive);
  2. Unite (Call a friend; create a coalition);
  3. Support the Victims (They can feel vulnerable and alone);
  4. Do Your Homework (Don’t be unthinking);
  5. Create an Alternative (Take the high road);
  6. Speak Up (Silence takes the wrong side);
  7. Lobby Leaders (Broaden support);
  8. Look Long Range (Be Preventive);
  9. Teach Tolerance (Bias is learned early);
  10. Dig Deeper (Keep looking inside oneself);

SPLC Community Response, Ten Steps

September 2016 Newsletter

Welcome to this edition of the Peace/Justice action email!

In this newsletter there are two areas of actions.  One concerns South Sudan with a couple of long-term-oriented actions to help its leaders change their calculus that has led to one of the worst humanitarian disasters today.

The second area of action is focused on the appalling working conditions suffered by many around the world, specifically in this case the factory conditions in Bangladesh.



After the initial euphoria of being the world’s newest country in 2011, South Sudan quickly descended into a horrific quagmire by the end of 2013.  The primary actors were President Kiir (and his Dinka tribe) versus Vice President Machar (and his Nuer tribe) although there are around 60 tribes.  Prior to 2011 they fought together against the government of Sudan (though with many skirmishes against each other).

When they gained independence, placing Machar as VP was supposed to give each tribe a place of positive influence in shaping the new country.  The reality turned out deadly instead in 2013.  By 2014 there were at least 50,000 dead (it is grimly telling that no one even remotely kept track of approximate figures [APF], and could easily be 300,000 now) and by now over two million have fled the area.  Several cease-fires have been made and broken.

Two actions can be taken to help reduce the violence and help change the overall calculus.  The first one focuses on stopping the flow of weapons.  The second action has arisen from a two-year investigation that revealed how both President Kiir and Riek Machar have personally siphoned millions of dollars from the very conflict they have been perpetuating.

Take Action #1:
Stop Weapons to South Sudan [Human Rights Watch]

Take Action #2:
Hold Corrupt South Sudanese Leaders Accountable [Enough Project]

One Million People Flee South Sudan [Globe&Mail]
South Sudan Leaders Pocket Millions from the Conflict They Continue [Washington Post]




Earlier this month at least 39 workers died in a fire that ripped through a factory in Bangladesh. The facility manufactured packaging for Nestlé and British American Tobacco (BAT).

It is the worst industrial accident in Bangladesh since the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013, where over a thousand workers perished.  This newsletter joined a petition calling on action which eventually resulted in the  Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord.  This accord was signed by global unions and international apparel brands, and created a new inspection system for fire and building safety with a degree of transparency previously unknown in the industry. Another initiative, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, was led mostly by American brands.

While those have been good steps, there are still far too many factories and other conditions which remain with no or poorly enforced regulations and transparency.  The following action can help bolster the efforts to expand such safety procedures and laws.

Take Action:
Support Victims of Bangladesh Factories

Tampaco Fire [Sep. 15; Dhaka Tribune]
Fatal Fire – Still Too Many Poor Inspections [HRW]






Chad’s Ex-Dictator Convicted of Atrocities

In the last newsletter we highlighted some of the convictions that had occurred.  Just as the newsletter was being sent out, one more name can be added to the list, Chad’s former President,  Hissène Habré.  He was found guilty of rape, war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system.
Bolivia Enacts New Gender Identity Law

Signed into law in May, this measure allows people to change the gender listed on official documents. The author says it means that “Bolivia joins Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia as the only four nations in the deeply Catholic region to recognize the needs of transsexual and transgender citizens in this way.”  While the article also indicates that the law has met significant resistance, and implicit is a legacy of much pain, behind the headline there exists amazing courage that hopefully will prevail.
A Surprising Move from a ‘macho’ President




Good News: Polio to be Eliminated Globally This Year

The World Health Organization (WHO) is hopeful that polio will be eradicated this year.  It will take another 3 years of no polio cases before that claim can be verified.  The only other disease to have been eradicated is smallpox.  The last frontier for polio has been Pakistan and Afghanistan, where health officials are often threatened – examples of tremendous courage and perseverance.  Muslim imams have also been helpful in dispelling the notion that the program was some form of Western conspiracy.


Issues with “Countering Extreme Terrorism”

Developing some form of global consensus and response to the ongoing ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks can seem a reasonable step to take, and a recent UN document is a marker in that direction.  But some argue that the term “Countering Extreme Terrorism” (CVE) is not defined well enough, and the results are already troubling.

One problem is that if you take a “whole of society” approach (promote employment, education, alleviate poverty, etc.) for CVE, that programs well-suited for those basic aims sometimes modify their goals to include CVE.  Yet when not well defined it may reduce their original success without reducing extremism.  Secondly if it is a battle of ideas, then what ideology should be promoted to take its place – there is little consensus among global partners, and much in partners’ actions that contradict any given concept.  And so on – there are several examples given.

This is not to suggest that the endeavour be dropped; only that it be carefully and continually scrutinized and adjusted.  “Gradual reform” among nations may be the best aim possible, which if so, reinforces that we will be in this for the long-haul.


Monsanto: Who to Protest Against Now?

Monsanto, the U.S.-based agricultural (seed and related pesticide) company, has just been bought out by the German company Bayer, subject to various regulatory approvals.  Monsanto had come to symbolize much of what was wrong with giant agri-business.  For years around the globe, farmers, environmentalists and academics have vehemently protested against such Monsanto actions as forcing framers to buy both their seed and pesticides;  or their high rate of sung farmers for “using” their seeds even when they were blown onto their fields from  someone else’s fields, etc. [see articles below for examples].

Monsanto has been the arch-type villain [though The Modern Farmer suggests that much of Monsanto’s problems stem from (a) not recognizing the almost difference-in-kind between a patent for say software (something that can be disputed but is on an unremarkable entity) versus a seed (which is more akin to water, earth, life-itself, almost sacred and possibly spiritual); and (b) some of the worst PR on volatile issues.  Read the comment section of the article to get a good sense of the back-and-forth of even this contention].

The bigger issue, however, involves the implications for a shrinking global agri-business.  See the Vox article for the troubling terrain.
Worrisome Monsanto buy-out [Vox]
Colombian Farmers’ Revolt Tied to Agri-business [2013; Global Research]

May 2016 Newsletter

Welcome to this edition of the Peace/Justice action email!

Last month was Genocide Prevention Month.  Part of this newsletter will highlight threes aspects from that focus: (a) a prolonged failure {Darfur; but including a worthy action); (b) an encouraging success; (c) Dynamics to keep an eye on.  At the end there will be some brief reflections on the topic.

In the last newsletter I indicated that I would provide a more detailed analysis of “Fear, Part II”.  Unfortunately that will have to wait for more time to finish.



The topic of genocide in Darfur – to use colloquial language – is “so last decade.”  The original 4- 5 years of international outrage and protest starting in 2004 could neither coalesce the international pressure needed nor dislodge President Bashir from power.  The world moved on.

Within Sudan, after a period of lower levels of violence (2011 – 2013) the government reconstituted the Janjaweed as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).  Since then the levels of violence and displacement almost rose to the original repugnant levels.  More ominous, Bashir has settled thousands of Arab foreigners in the villages of the displaced Darfurians.  Given Bashir’s recent push again to remove UN peacekeepers, the twisted referendum on Darfur’s provincial status among other things, it is not completely implausible that someday Darfur will cease to exist, although economic weakness and widespread unrest throughout Sudan lessens the traction for such an agenda.

To counter these destructive patterns, the Enough Project teamed together with others to develop  a new scheme of sanctions against the leaders of Sudan that is worthy of support.  It is highly targeted towards the leaders while having minimal negative impact on innocent civilians.

Take Action (US citizens only):



The International Criminal Tribunal: has convicted Radovan Karadzic, a Bosnian Serb, of Genocide.  He was sentenced for his role in lethal ethnic cleansing operations, the siege of Sarajevo and the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.  Over 100,000 people died in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.  Of the two other leaders originally on trial, Milosevic died in his cell in 2006 before his trial ended; Ratko Mladic is being tried separately.

Karadzic Convicted of Genocide [NYT, free access]




The International Criminal Court (ICC; not to be confused with the International Criminal Tribunal that convicted Karadzic) has started its first investigation outside Africa.  The ICC was created in 1998 when the UN adopted the Rome Statute, creating the first permanent international court.  It has issued arrest warrants for 31 people; seven are in detention; three have been convicted and detained; several remain at large.  Until recently they were all from African countries.

Recently however the ICC started war crimes investigation in Russia-Georgia, its first investigation outside Africa.  For its many flaws, the ICC needs to be seen as a necessary court in a global world; in the coming decades it will continue to mature.

ICC and Russia-Georgia war crimes investigation [BBC]




John Kerry, the Secretary of State, said that “Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims”.  This is the first formal pronouncement by the U.S. administration of genocide since Darfur in 2004.  A brief analysis of motives and effects do not indicate any particular change in direction.
U.S. Declares ISIS’ attacks on Religious Minorities as Genocide [The Economist]






Background: The Definition of Genocide

Identical to the wording of the 1948 Convention, Article 6 of the Rome Statute defines the crime of genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.  There are five such acts which constitute crimes of genocide under article 6:

  • Killing members of a group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group;


For a more decent world we need to continue grappling with the notion of genocide.  Here are a couple of the basic issues:

  1. One of the chief criticisms of the ICC is that there are insufficient checks and balances in the whole process. While this aspect has self-serving agendas, there is nonetheless some merit to this concern which should be addressed.
  2. The most problematic word in the genocide definition is ‘intent’. You can have two situations where the actions are identical and the harm is equally devastating.  But one could be classified as genocide and the other as ethnic cleansing.The point is that the Convention needs to be updated.  Currently only ‘genocide’ formally obligates nations to take action.  The original Convention was written before ethnic cleansing gained coinage.  Thus it is much preferable to have both  above examples treated at the highest level of international obligation.  It is then only after the  perpetrators have been stopped and captured should the court make the determination of genocide or not.  To be clear, the distinction does need to be made – while both are heinous, genocide is more vile and needs to be treated as such in the courtroom.





Indonesia and Shackling:

After the Human Rights Watch petition which this newsletter participated in, Indonesia’s minister of health in mid-April committed to providing mental health medication in all 9,500 community health centers across the country. This commitment is a positive step.  HRW will be monitoring the situation to ensure the crucial follow-through occurs.

February 2016 Newsletter

Welcome to this edition of this Peace/Justice action email!

While this newsletter contains some typical actions, a primary concern this time has been a pervasive sense of fear (and despair) encountered these past many months.  Previously mentioned, fear is a primal emotion and is why we survived as a species – we learned to fear truly fearful situations.  But these disturbing trends need to be raised: (a) Acting directly on the basis of fear (even when genuine) generally makes the whole dynamic worse; and (b) Fear is clearly being manipulated and that always diminishes the possibility for sane choices and outcomes.

If you do not have time for the reflection be sure to consider the action section, focused on preventive genocide support, and on revising the terribly flawed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
The blog associated with this newsletter is at:  Feel free to comment on any topic.

ANCHORING 2016: FEAR MUST NOT RULE (Instead, A Well-Anchored Vision)

[Editor: Please see the previous blog posting for the important section. (Link is here)].  It contains two sections:

PART I: The Ominous Symptom of “The Strong Man”

[It examines the crucial implications of Donal Trump’s supporters].

PART II: Fear and ISIS

[It is a summary of a more detailed article to follow].




Preventive actions are essential to lessen the morass and horrors that occurs when tensions turn to conflicts and end up caught in multiple layers of self-interest and geopolitical implications.  At its worst it can result in the form of paralysis that allows the genocidal dynamics that we witnessed in Darfur and yet can still not resolve.

As previously mentioned in this newsletter, there has been some elementary work done on preventive measures.  But such work will always crawl along until as a society we back these early stages with substantial support.  The following U.S. bipartisan bill is encouraging movement in that direction.

Take Action (US Citizens only):
Support the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act




The TPP is a continuation of a type of international trade agreement that can sound good on the surface (“Who can be against increasing our country’s trade?”) but also can feed into the unease mentioned above in Part I.

The most disturbing aspects are:

  1. Its secretive negotiations among select corporate elites allowed 600 lobbyists to see or draft the text while both US Congress and Canadian governments were kept in the dark. It also completely lacked the robust set of participants that make for sound agreements.
  2. The dispute mechanism can override national sovereignty. I have worked for years in business.  The assumption was always that business assumes the risk, otherwise don’t go into business.  Yet the TPP transfers much of the risk onto governments.  Once a deal is signed then if something comes up – water levels drop or you want to raise the minimum wage – if it affects the company’s profit, they can sue for compensation.
  3. Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz and others feel these agreements are part of what is leading to the hollowing out of the middle class, again feeding the discontent of Part I.

The alternative is not protectionism but simply a deal that is not so skewed to the large corporations and the economic elites.

While the countries have voted for the TTP, nothing happens until it is ratified by enough countries.  Therefore please consider taking action.

Take Action:
Canada: Tell the government what you think










Tech Companies Failing Child Labour

This newsletter has followed “conflict minerals” such as coltan, but cobalt was never on the list. It has now been identified as a severe child labour issue by Amnesty International & Afrewatch:
Cobalt Mines for Tech Companies Using Child Labour


The Top 10 Insights from the “Science of a Meaningful Life” in 2015


I have followed the work of the Greater Good  (U. Berkeley) for ten years when they first started reporting on the science of compassion, generosity, happiness—what they call “the science of a meaningful life”.  While intrigued I found the work not mature enough.  But ten years later their research is acquiring ever more nuance and sophistication. Thus I feel comfortable introducing the work that is being done in these fields.

These nuances are clearly reflected in this year’s list of the “Top 10 Insights from the Science of a Meaningful Life” – the fourth such list.  Indeed, many of this year’s entries could be described as “Yes, but” insights: Yes, as prior findings suggest, being wealthy seems to make people less generous, but only when they reside in places with high inequality. Yes, pursuing happiness makes you unhappy, but only if you live in an individualistic culture. And so on. The caveats and qualifications abound.

In addition they speak of the effects of concepts such as awe, gratitude, and how to make inroads on seemingly unbridgeable divides, etc.
Top 10 Insights from the “Science of a Meaningful Life”


Chocolate Ratings

Fourteen companies rated according to child and other labour standards plus whether organic and also GMO status.

Anchoring 2016: Fear Must Not Rule (Part I)

[Editor: Most of this was written at the beginning of 2016.  I could not get a full newsletter out, but I wanted this published as an opening concern for the year.  To be clear while Part I deals with U.S. politics (though “fear and despair” have global concerns, and Part II will look more at one global topic), it is not written to endorse any party or candidate.  Apart from not knowing positions well enough since I am not American, its value is simply meant as a piece for reflection for whatever value it brings, and regardless of perspective].

Fear and despair have stalked the land (fortunately so have courage, hope and tenacity; a separate topic).  While I could list the simmering conflicts around the world, this section will focus on the dynamics affecting most of this readership (Western world and primarily the U.S., given the global reverberations such responses would have).  [Addendum: Human Rights Watch just produced its annual report, entitled, “Politics of Fear”, reporting on 90 countries].

Part I: The Ominous Symptom of “The Strong Man”

The first fear dynamic surrounds Donald Trump.  The focus is not Trump himself – commentaries abound – but the glimmer of insight arising from Trump’s supporters.  The caricature by some is that Trump’s followers are crazy. I disagree. These people are responding quite normally within the framework of how they view the world. People would not respond that way in such numbers for so long unless it really was grounded in something deeply distressing.

In that context I feel I am witnessing an extremely disturbing phenomenon with the following broad contours:

  1. There exists a substantial seam of society whose sense of marginalizing dynamics is so deeply felt that the normal recourse is considered futile. Thus the only viable option they see is the archetypical “strong man” who will make things right.
  2. While a sense of marginalization / disenfranchisement can have layers and many factors and even be illusory, in this case its primary source is a disconnect from the American dream (defined as the opportunity for meaningful work which results in societal progress and standing). Part of it is the debilitating widening income gap.  Part of it is an “elite Washington” – either political party – disconnected from normal people’s reality.  Part of it is fueled and even manufactured by hidden money (see 3(i) below). Part of it is the continued globalizing trends (oversea jobs, reduced sovereignty; see TPP).  In such dynamics there is a sense of loss of control and thus easily a diminishment of one’s sense of worth.
  3. Futile normal recourses: (i) Government is part of the elite and is lobbied and shaped by the elite – corporations, etc. (for example, Koch Brothers’ “Dark Money” [CBC] and the resulting right shift that disgusts traditional conservatives [Patheos]); (ii) In a reverse “Occupy Wall Street” sense (where OWS was a great groundswell which arose from the 2008 economic collapse, yet accomplished nothing, zero), the rage against the machine is seen as futile.  Thus the only recourse is the “strong man.”
  4. A side-effect is that the thin veneer of civilization erodes, and thus racism and xenophobia increase. It also seems to bring a diminished desire for dialogue, engagement with the other and empathy.

In smaller degrees the above dynamics have played out over the years.  But this time the dynamics are potentially seismic in nature.  Three points:

  1. For the first time in my life I feel I am witnessing parallels in North America to what gives rise to the “strong men” of the past like Hitler and Mussolini. To be clear my entire focus in not on the strong men nor suggesting similarities (I find those claims quite wanting; although I find Trump’s statements often reckless and inflammatory), but rather entirely focused on the ferment beneath;
  2. While I do not think this will be a tipping point, the fermentation will continue until the underlying issues are addressed, specifically until those areas of well-being that have withered, are restored;
  3. For all the wonderful people who are attempting to tilt dynamics in sound directions, or who still uphold the core value of dialogue, listening and empathy, may you remain steadfast. This will lessen any pendulum swing and will reinforce or more quickly re-anchor solid societal grounding.

For anyone wanting an introduction to the notion of the hidden layers of power and what some consider the gutted notion of democracy in America, Sheldon Wolin’s (Princeton prof., died 2015) Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism work is briefly explored in Inverted Totalitarianism [TruthDig]

While many people warn of the demise of any form of substantive democracy, others point to some aspects that can start to strengthen democratic tendencies.  The hope here is that this is not a cache-22 limit on human aspirations – this list does deal with the rather intractable need to devolve power – but rather will be seen a century from now simply as a particularly thorny epoch.  A brief list includes:

  1. Get unbridled money out of political campaigning; create transparency in lobbying.
  2. Address the financial systems still unchanged after the 2008 financial crisis.
  3. Address the  widening income gap – its chasm has become  life-stifling and life-distorting.
  4. Provide robust oversight that can establish an appropriate surveillance balance between truly threatening activity and personal privacy.

In the end, the high drama may fizzle, normal political discourse may return for the time being.  But without change to the disturbing undercurrents, the “strong man” catastrophe will remain waiting for the next person able to capitalize in a twisted fashion to the genuinely disturbing undercurrents.

November 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the November 24, 2015 edition of this Peace/Justice action email!

This newsletter contains two topics of note.  The first is a brief comment on the recent Paris terrorist attacks.

The second topic contains a global action for November 29 and is why the newsletter must go out now.  The overall topic is the upcoming world Climate Change conference in Paris.  While this newsletter has touched on the climate issue several times, the complexity of the topic itself is beyond the scope to address.  No one can predict accurately what impact humanity will have on our climate (due primarily to carbon dioxide emissions, as well as methane, etc.).  But the overwhelming consensus leans heavily toward a negative long-term impact if emissions are not reduced.  Long before such a consensus (though noting it is not scientific unanimity) this newsletter voiced a stance of using the Precautionary Principle, whereby the greater the risk, the greater the need to fall on the side of caution (and thus in this case to take mitigating action).  The blog link, below, was created particularly for issues such as this, that gives rise to many perspectives and thoughts – so please feel free to share respectfully your views.

Also included are articles on the recent Myanmar elections and such topics as antibiotics concerns.

Pour la traduction française: cliqueter ici; et cliqueter alors le bouton de traduction sur la page Web.
Para la traducción española: clic aquí; y entonces hace clic en el botón de traducción en la página web.



Global climate change talks take place in Paris, November 30 – December 11.  While many people do not feel that substantial progress will be made, a signal of grassroots support – in the form of a global march – is a critical component to show that a large constituency for such change exists.

Paris was going to be the centerpiece of the Global Climate Change march, which will take place around the world on Sunday November 29.   However the Paris rally was cancelled due to the recent terrorist attacks.

Thus it becomes more essential that people around the world bring a strong, vibrant voice supporting a robust action plan on climate change!  Please consider attending by checking the link below (thus far over 2300 events worldwide)

Find An Event Near You:

Add Your Name to the Global List:





For the Western world, the Paris terrorist attacks were extremely jarring.  They also evoked wide sympathy for all those affected by such a senseless loss of innocent lives.  I will defer analysis here – the attacks have already resulted in a massive stream of commentaries.

Instead I will simply voice a hope based on the “well-being of all.”   Such senseless loss is rightly an affront to one’s sense of humanity.  The hope is simply that everyone might use the above sense of sympathy to expand or refresh our sense “of all”.

It is hard to break through the typical narrow news that comes to us and recognize how tragically prevalent such loss is encountered through various forms of barbarism.  For instance using our longitudinal study, on a typical day (Nov. 22) in Darfur two children and others were burned to death in a militia raid while in a separate militia attack six women were raped.

May we continue to expand our sense of who is affected by any senseless loss of life.  And may it lead us to advocate for solutions better grounded in the well-being of all and thus less susceptible to any influence of undue fear-based reactions.





Most environmental issues impact several other domains.  In this case people are burning areas of rainforest and peatland so they can grow palm oi and for paper products.  This impacts climate change both in the release of CO2 and for the peatland, methane which has a 100-fold greater impact.  It also destroys the habitat of some endangered species. The smoke and smog also affects the farmers’ health. Plus mono-culture farming is the worst on the ecosystem and least sustainable.  For all these reasons please consider sending a letter to Indonesia’s President and the CEOs of the companies in question to tell them to stop such destructive practices.

Take action:
Tell Indonesian President and CEOs to end crisis  [Greenpeace]

Effect of Palm Oil production in Indonesia




Burma (Myanmar) Elections Provide Hopeful Direction

The November 8 elections resulted in a landslide for the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, even though she is barred from being president.  As noted earlier there has been a hopeful shift in the last couple of years.  Now begin the delicate dance among Suu Kyi, the newly elected representative and the military who retain control over security and have a fixed minimum 25% of the seats.  The path exists for a better country overall.  It may be quite uneven since for instance Suu Kyi has ignored the plight of the Rohingya, though it is not known if that is a terrible blind spot or political calculus that such an embrace would be one step too far.





The Future of Conflict:

On the 20th anniversary of the International Crisis Group they have produced a set of 20 articles about the future of conflict by significant world leaders and thinkers.  It can provide nothing more than interesting glimpses including “The Failures of Democracy”, “Globalistan’s Challenges”, and “Faith in Islam & Faith in Women: Why Gender Justice is Key to an Islam Without Extreme”.  To further enliven this set, it should be noted that some counter critiques would name some of the authors as part of the problem not the solution.


Serious Alarm: World Running Out of Antibiotics

A recent Lancet report has raised serious alarm about a turning point where our top antibiotics will no longer work.  In short an infection could become lethal.  The basic concern, echoed for decades, has been the overuse of antibiotics, particularly in animals and in not keeping antibiotics for animals and humans separate.

Our last current top antibiotic – colistin – now has a mutation that renders it ineffective and is easily spread.  It is in Southeast Asia and is spreading.  While science may come up with another answer, leading scientists depict a highly troubling future of staying ahead of superbugs, and of doctors having to simply say to patients with an infection, “There is nothing more I can do.”

October 2015 Newsletter

Welcome to the October 31, 2015 edition of this Peace/Justice action email!
As promised in the last newsletter this brief newsletter focuses on the Syrian crisis and possible responses we can make. In addition there is further news on oil drilling in the Arctic and disturbing new about tuberculosis.

Pour la traduction française: cliqueter ici; et cliqueter alors le bouton de traduction sur la page Web.
Para la traducción española: clic aquí; y entonces hace clic en el botón de traducción en la página web.


The Western world has been bombarded with images of desperation as waves of refugees have boarded rickety boats or endured parched and hostile journeys. This crisis has reached a threshold in our world, resulting in a call for extraordinary action, just like the “Vietnamese Boat People” of the 1980s.

This article will not attempt to cover the complexities of this crisis (though please raise any issues of concern via the above blog link). What follows is simply a quick sketch of possible responses:

1. An acknowledgement of our primitive dynamics. Human creativity has put men on the moon and created driverless cars. Canadians just spent $1 billion on Halloween. Contrasting that incredible ability and such disposable income with all the preventable and curable diseases that still ravage the world; with the existing 60 million refugees and others suffering unnecessarily (eg., Darfur’s forgotten yet continuing atrocities); and with an earth that still has enough and to spare, seems – at best – like the definition of “primitive”. I start here, not to evoke any guilt, but to step back, attempt to ground myself better in what life is really about, and thus hopefully engage in new possibilities.

2. Support credible humanitarian help. One aspect of the deluge has been the under-funding of the normal crisis agencies. For example, the World Food Programme had to cut its funding to Syrian refugee camps by 50%. Such underfunding forces people who were desperate enough to go to refugee camps, to consider leaving them, thereby adding to the exodus to Europe.

To be clear this point must be seen in the context of the entire list. It is not a subtle attempt to keep such people “over there, away from my country”, nor that refugee camps should be seen as normal, permanent fixtures on the world scene. It is more basic – for now they are simply the first line of refuge for a traumatized people and should be able to provide all essential resources for this stage. But they do not. There are many issues outside the scope of this article – the inconsistency of other stages, issues of land and local relations for the camps, etc. – that must be left for another article.

Thus within the context of this entire list, this aspect does need support and it can take two forms:

a. Donate to the reputable charitable aid agencies;
b. Press your country to increase its funding to the UN aid agencies;

3. Support agencies in your area that provide resources that help refugees adjust to life in Canada. These are not the sponsoring groups themselves, but agencies that assist immigrants with the basic tools and resources to integrate into one’s society (language classes, translation resources, basic living skills, etc.). Support could be donations of money or time;

4. Sponsor one or more families with another group. Details for this will depend on your country. But if feasible it is an easier path to join with a group who already has expertise in sponsorship;

5. Fully sponsor a family. Again this will depend on your country. But if feasible one must be clear-eyed about the commitment. The very basics usually involve:
a. A substantial cash outlay (usually at least $30,000 for a one year commitment to fully support their needs);
b. Enough volunteer time to help them get established (housing, schooling, medical, language, jobs, etc.). It would involve substantial time at the start, though a pitfall can be that once the basics are stablished that the continued support falls off. As well, some people will have extra needs due to trauma, low literacy rates, etc. (This must be clearly factored in, but is also a doubly wonderful gift to give them if it is viable). One needs to be clear-eyed about this year-long commitment, and hopefully beyond;
c. For both this point, and the one above, “sponsorship” does not need to mean a Syrian family. If your country has a good policy on refugees, it can be best to simply take what they deem the most critical need. Remember, there are currently 60 million refugees around the world (4 million Syrians). Our longitudinal study of Darfur should have taught us that “being in the spotlight” does not necessarily mean “the most critical need”.

6. Advocate an end to the civil war via all political and diplomatic means, so that the exodus will be stopped and the people will be able to return home. Again the complexity and layers involved are well outside the scope of this article;

The above barely touches all the factors in this complex disaster. But “complex” does not need to mean “immobilized”! The above responses do make a difference.

Finally, I do what to raise up a counter sentiment to the start of this article. While it is clear how primitive we are, especially on point #6, there are also numerous people and organizations using the creative human ability to envision and create organizations and resources that are slowly building alternative patterns to move us forward (such as the value of transparency and good governance, the transformative role women can play, the indicators of a failing state so that it can be caught before it fails, and so on). World conditions are improving, due to such wonderful people and efforts. Unfortunately it remains at an abysmal pace and is continually undercut by other dynamics, thus keeping the word “primitive” the most apt overall label.



US curbs Arctic offshore oil and gas drilling
The US government has announced new curbs on oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast. It comes after oil giant Royal Dutch Shell last month stopped its Arctic activity citing “disappointing” tests. These are further hopeful steps on this issue.



TB ‘joins HIV as most deadly infection’
Tuberculosis now ranks alongside HIV as the world’s most deadly infectious disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. While there had been a great drop in TB rates (cut in half since 1990) it is more difficult now due to more resistant strains of TB, and a lack of global focus.