Category Archives: Leadership

Who Owns Your Life?

Just how valuable is human life and to whom? Is choosing our own time to die an acceptable option? Or is human life sacred and the option to die is not in our hands? What about abortion and the woman’s right to her body?

Priests and politicians want to retain the ownership rights over everyone’s, including the fetus’s life, because they say there is something very special about human life and it needs to be preserved at all costs.

But aren’t we just one of many life forms that inhabit this planet? As well, as a location in this universe our planet takes up an infinitesimally small space. It is hardly dominant, perhaps hardly relevant in the big scheme of the universe, so why do we consider ourselves so special? Especially now that we have found the building blocks of DNA scattered in gas clouds among the stars and discovered solar systems perhaps not unlike our own.

Well, according to the Bible, God gave us supremacy over everything on earth. But that’s hardly surprising since in all likelihood we created our gods in our own image to begin with. Then these gods or god – regardless of what name he, she, it or they go by – told us that we were special. Some gods went further – they said that some tribes were more special than others – the chosen ones. Way back when, it was probably a reasonable way to lay claim to territory and inspire the tribe to protect it.

But even supernatural beings needed administrators and business managers on earth, so men became special because it was men who became witchdoctors, shamans and priests . And when the gods gave us “dominion” over all the beasts of the earth, the managers of the religion business included women in the general category of beasts. Now, grudgingly, we have given women some rights in the western democracies, but there are still many, many places where women are not only second rate people but even chattels, without the right to run their own lives.

Isn’t it bad enough that we literally torture someone with Huntingdon’s or Lou Gehrig’s disease until the body finally gives up and dies? We deny them the right to choose to die with dignity at a time they choose. And don’t lecture me with the “slippery slope” argument. There is always a slippery slope somewhere for somebody because it is an effective scare tactic used by those who lack a rational argument.

The “slippery slope” argument is, of course, also used by those who oppose abortion. And, oddly, most of the violent and very vocal opponents of abortion seem to be men! So are we back to the same old story that women’s rights exist at the discretion of men?

I can’t think of many things more basic than a person – man or woman – having the right to decide the course of their own life. That to me includes a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body, of which the fetus is a part. So if the woman decided for what to her are sound reasons for an abortion, there should be no law standing in her way.

Is she ending a life? I don’t know and to the best of my knowledge nobody yet has come up with a clear and logical definition of when exactly human or other life begins. So I think that any religious based definition should be left out of the equation because it is purely arbitrary. The claimed sanctity of life should apply only to those who claim it – the rest of us should be allowed to do as we see moral and ethical.

Theoretically, in Canada, a woman has the right to an abortion on request within some limitations, such as how late in the term it is. But in practice there are publicly funded hospitals and clinics that refuse to carry out what would normally be a legal procedure.

Not so long ago Dr. Henry Morgenthaler, an active abortion rights promoter and activist here in Canada, was reviled by anti-abortionists for having been granted the Order of Canada, one of the highest honors in the country. While it hardly recompenses him for the time he spent behind bars in the same Canada and not so long ago for the assistance he gave to women, it does show that we are slowly moving ahead.

I have no problem if someone believes in and practices his or her religion. It’s totally OK with me, provided they don’t interfere in my life and don’t subjugate any other part of humanity either – whether it is women, those with different beliefs, nonbelievers or just the average Joe or Joan on the street who only want to get on with their lives. And no matter if those lives are lived in Toronto, L.A., Berlin , Kabul or Baghdad.

We could arrive at a better future for everyone in only a lifetime or two if the priests and the politicians would only do what they claim to do – put people ahead of dogma and ideology.

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Brian Mulroney – Misunderstood and Persecuted?

Canada’s one-time Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is not stupid. He may be arrogant, slick and self-serving, but he’s not stupid. Like any professional lawyer/politician he’s all of those things and more, but not stupid. But is he clean?

After over a week of testifying in the Karlheinz Schreiber inquiry some of the Teflon that he has been wrapped in has become a little smudged. A light coating of mud seems to be sticking and the gist of his testimony reminds me of another national leader’s proclamation: “I am not a crook!”.

I met Mulroney when I lived in Whitehorse, Yukon. He came to speak there before he was elected Prime Minister and I was invited to go by a lawyer friend who also wanted me to become active in the Conservative party. I was impressed by what Mulroney said, how he said it and how he answered questions. I thought to myself that this guy’s really got what it takes. I’ll work for him and vote for him. Mea culpa.

Today I say this guy’s had it. At best he’s a very tarnished ex-Prime Minister. As elicited point by painful point by Mr. Wolson, the Oliphant inquiry’s counsel, if Brian Mulroney is not outright dishonest then he is the next legal thing to it.

“Smarmy” is probably a good description of his overall performance in the witness chair. While there are discrepancies in his testimony with others testifying and with the public record, it’s all history anyway, so what’s the big deal? I agree, but the money he received from Mr. Schreiber still intrigues me.

He received a total of $225,000 in cash in three brown envelopes, split among three occasions, in hotel room meetings with Mr. Schreiber. Then he stashed them away for six years out of sight in a safe and a safety deposit box. Why squirrel the money away and admit only under pressing circumstances that he received it? What’s the problem If everything was above board, clean and without fault?

Hmmmm….. Reminds me of other, earlier testimony by Mulroney. Wolson asked him why he had not mentioned the money then – it was pertinent to the line of that inquiry. Mulroney answered that the lawyer who did the examination had not asked the right question, so he was technically correct in not mentioning the money. Hmmm… again. What happened to the concept of “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”?

Ok, maybe it was all technically legal as Mulroney claims, but does that make it right for an ex-Prime Minister to get into a situation where he gets tarnished with a major whiff of scandal? Shouldn’t an ex-Prime Minister deport himself in a way that his actions are always not only legal but also above reproach? Maybe I expect too much. After all, he was a politician…

If you boil the money part of the Mulroney/Schreiber affair down to a few key points, then this is what remains:

1. ‘Way back when, Brian said he had hardly heard of Mr. Schreiber.
2. A little later in testimony on another, earlier occasion, he claimed that he never had business dealings with Mr. Schreiber.
3. Later yet, he admitted that he may have met Schreiber several times over a cup of coffee.
4. During the present inquiry it turns out that very shortly after he left public office he met Schreiber three times in anonymous hotel rooms, where Schreiber gave him a total of $225,000 in cash, bundled in brown envelopes. A bunch of thousand dollar bills, no less.
5. Mulroney then put this cash in his cottage safe and into a safe deposit box in New York and let it sit there for six years. Even in an ordinary savings account, he would have made a minimum of $50,000 in just five years. Invest it for a reasonable return of around 10% and that’s a whole different, several-hundred-thousand-dollar-ballgame. I guess he wasn’t interested in money….. Or was there more at stake?
6. Then, when he heard that Schreiber might raise a stink and claim that Mulroney evaded taxes, his lawyers hurried to make a deal with the taxman where Mulroney paid taxes on only half of the amount. The money finally came out of the closet six years after being paid.
7. He also sort of claims that he should have had to pay zero taxes on the amount because this was just a retainer and he did no work for it. Whether he did or didn’t do work for it, as well as exactly what that work might have been, is unclear. It is, however, completely clear that he must have given something in return. The only question is what.

So was Mulroney dirty and underhanded? We don’t know, and the hard evidence is missing. Would I trust him? Not likely. Would I hire him as my lawyer/advisor? Absolutely, if I had to wiggle out of something and had lots of money.

Am I sorry that I voted for him? Not really, because several good things happened under his administration. To name just a couple, he presided over the implementation of the NAFTA and he introduced the GST, a very sensible tax on consumption and not income.

My opinion of Brian Mulroney has certainly hit the cellar, but overall, my opinion of politicians has not changed. The profession attracts the slickest of the slick – did yesterday, does today, and probably always will. That’s politics and that’s Brian Mulroney.

© Copyright George Salmins 2009

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Alberta, Canada – Dumbing Down the Kids

There’s nothing quite as dangerous for the future of a country (or province) as keeping information from children in their formative years, yet that’s exactly what the Province of Alberta will be doing with one of the proposed revisions to their Human Rights Legislation. They will promote ignorance if the bill passes without changes.

If the bill becomes law, one section of it will allow Alberta parents to remove their children from any class where something that is taught conflicts with their religious view. Religion is not a subject in Alberta schools now, so where’s the problem?

The problem is that science and history will get kicked right where it hurts. A lot of science and history conflicts with fundamentalist religious teachings.

Some creationists tell us that the earth is 6,000 years old, give or take a year or two. Science and common sense tells us that this is a myth and even Alberta creationists and fundamentalists should have some inkling of this. After all, Alberta harbors some of the most ancient dinosaur excavation sites on the continent. But creationists say these were put there on purpose, just a bit of theater by the creator to confuse the picture. According to them men walked alongside dinosaurs and evolution is a myth and a hoax. I wonder if they also flew on the backs of pterodactyls? After all, weren’t the beasts put on earth for the benefit of man? But I digress.

The real problem is that, if removed from class, their kids will not get to learn anything about archeology, geology or evolution. They will have to make sense of the world with only a part of the information available to them. Somewhat like trying to run on one leg.

Astronomy could be another area where kids would be withdrawn from class because some strict creationists still believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth. And Galileo and Copernicus never lived? I haven’t heard that one yet, but I do know that the church of the day tried to shut them down . Exactly what the proposed legislation would do to some kids’ opportunity to learn.

I’m sure that some parents will consider the content of other classroom subjects to be not what their particular brand of religion says. The history of the Middle East would certainly contain the seeds of objection, just to name one.

So did the legislators intend to support the beliefs of the parents, no matter what? Did they really wish to support parents if they decide to raise dumbed down kids? Information is what lets us to explore and compare conflicting ideas and develop critical thinking. This proposed law will only serve to spread ignorance. I can’t believe that was the original intent, although it most certainly would be a foreseeable by-product.

Not giving kids a chance to form their own conclusions is a denial of their right to learn and to come to their own conclusions. The freedom to form independent conclusions should also be a basic human right. This can’t be done without full information on hand.

It’s time some Alberta legislators looked beyond political expediency and their own personal biases. Don’t shortchange the future generations. Look at the opportunities some kids will be missing and look at some of the dead-end ideas that will be perpetuated.

Isn’t it time for people and legislators to realize that religious fundamentalism of any kind is a danger not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but right here in Canada as well? So why encourage it?

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The Story of George Jr. and Benedict – Should We Trust and Respect Them?

There is an organization I know that considers their leaders to be “trusted servants”. Quaint? Idealistic? A little “churchy”? OK for the fringe but not for the mainstream? If that’s what you thought, you’re wrong: actually this is a very large and growing group spanning the continents, where the concept of a trusted servant in charge works exceptionally well. Don’t you wish that this were true of the governments and many organizations that purport to serve us?

So here are just a couple of the many questions that could be posed: how many “trusted servants” do you know in politics? In organized religions? And specifically, can you point out a few near the top of the pyramid?

True, there have been leaders over the years that demand respect. Most had faults but they all did what they thought was best for the society they were in and changed that society for the better: Gandhi, Mandela, Churchill, Lincoln and more.

Unfortunately there are many more on the opposite side of the divide. Most are somewhere in between – dogmatic and with personal axes to grind and their leadership often results in unnecessary pain and suffering. Pope Benedict XVI and the misspoken George Bush Jr. fit well into this crowd. Their influence has been huge and, if only for that reason, they stand near the top of my list of leaders undeserving of anything close to unreserved respect. President Ahmadinejad of Syria is, of course, another, but he lacks the huge audience and therefore influence of the other two. I shudder to think of the embarrassment if any one of them were a relative and asked to stay over at my house.

Now for a little digression where I want to draw a very unfair comparison – unfair to the dogs who have lived with us for many, many years. Our dogs have not only been always welcome in our house but they are family and sleep right in our bedroom. I respect their intelligence, their ability to learn, their communication skills, the fact that they have no bone to pick (lousy pun, I know) and do not have any ideologies or hidden agendas to shove down my throat. So yes, I value our dogs the way I value other family members. The Pope and George Jr. take a very distant back seat.

The reason I chose to pick on the current Pope and the recently ex-president is because these two were elected to two of the highest offices in the world, each with the power to affect the welfare of millions.
George, easily influenced by people like his daddy, Cheney and a motley crew of oil and arms related businessmen and politicians who depend on them, decided to show Saddam Hussein that George’s toys are bigger and better than Saddam’s. As a result the U.S. has sustained huge casualties, has legions of severely mutilated and damaged ex-military people in the population and has lost the respect of many nations and people of the world. Deficits soared under his regime, the economy got shoved aside, doubtful banking practices and even more doubtful securities proliferated under his watch and were probably the major reason for the economic collapse which all of us are now experiencing. Yea, George W.! What a guy! Really looked after everyone, didn’t he.

And Benedict? Actually there is one topic on which the Pope and George W. have both expressed public opinions – on opposite sides – AIDS.  And George was actually the good guy!

George W. was instrumental in starting the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a plan which has resulted in millions of Africans receiving treatment and prevention from the disease. Definitely an unusual “A” for George.

What has the Pope done or said, referring to AIDS and the spread of HIV? I quote: “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.” Go figure this comment by a “trusted” servant of humanity.

And then there was the case of the 9-year-old girl in Brazil who was abused and raped by her stepfather and became pregnant. The Church under Benedict XVI excommunicated the girl’s mother and the doctors who performed a life-saving abortion, all according to Brazil’s law. Not good enough for the Catholic Church, though, where dogma must rule.

But that’s not all, folks: on the very next day, on March 8—International Women’s Day—Pope Benedict stated, “Today’s date invites us to reflect on … our commitment that always and everywhere every woman can live and fully manifest her particular abilities, obtaining complete respect for her dignity.” There’s a word for that: hypocrisy and lip-service. To me it’s also very insulting to my intelligence, coming right after the excommunications.

Both probably think they are great men, but I look at them and see the Peter Principle in action. Both have risen way beyond their abilities. Both have shown abysmal judgment and lack of humanity in their words and actions.

How do you feel about our trusted servants now? Can you think of others? I can.

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