Monday, 29 June 2015

Why We Need Good Libraries

For the past two years I have been researching the impact of climate change on food and agriculture. The other day I searched the University of Regina Library for five serious books that I wanted to read. They had none of them. I checked out Amazon, and of course they had them, but the cost of the books ranged between $100 and $200. It is not at all unusual to find that the science books cost even more – up to $400 to $500. That’s why we need good libraries.

However, the trend across Canada is for libraries to buy fewer and fewer books. Some seem to have virtually stopped five or ten years ago. Libraries are also getting rid of books, or putting them in warehouses where access if very difficult. I noticed last year in Peterborough that I was almost the only person in the stacks at Trent University looking for books. Everyone else was on the Internet, which apparently has all the info that anyone needs to have.

Then of course there is the Stephen Harper government which is shutting down and destroying science libraries and research programs. Book burners.

The Library of Congress
Main Reading Room, Jefferson Building.

Here is a real library, from Margaret Truman:

“The Library of Congress ... houses more than 115 million ‘items’ on 532 miles of bookshelves in three large buildings: more than 17 million books. ... There are 2 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4 million maps and 47 million manuscripts. ..The LC has holdings in 460 languages. It has four thousand employees, some of whom serve overseas in offices in Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, New Delhi, Islamabad, Jakarta and Nairobi, in acquisition offices in Moscow and Tokyo.” (Yes, I am re-reading her Murder at the Library of Congress.)

The LC has a huge staff of professionals and scholars whose job it is to search anywhere in the world for good collections and try to acquire them. Even purchase them. But then, the USA is the centre of the unipolar world.

I am pleased to report that when I was a graduate student in Washington, D.C. I worked full time in the LC, 1957-61. I started working in the stacks, then moved up to the Reference Department in the Main Reading Room of the Jefferson Building, the only one at the time. From there I advanced to the Manuscripts Division, where I worked in the Presidential Papers section. It was charged with cataloging all the Presidents’ papers which were part of the LC collection. I worked as an Archivist-Historian on the papers of Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge and Abraham Lincoln. Not a bad job, eh? Left it to join the U.S. Foreign Service and work at the Department of State.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

What is Really Going on in Ukraine?

On June 10, 2015 the Pew Research Center, based in Washington, D.C., released the results of a major public opinion poll it had undertaken on the conflict between the US/NATO west and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. The poll results, ignored by the mass media in the NATO countries, presents a picture that is quite different from that of our mass media and our political leaders.
Ukraine right demonstrates

Canadians might not be surprised to learn that public support by Russians for President Vladimir Putin has soared to 88% and the view of Russians toward NATO and the west has plummeted. Support for Putin’s policies towards Ukraine stands at 83%.

In contrast, support for the US/NATO policy on Ukraine has been falling among the general public in the six European NATO countries surveyed. The strongest opposition to the US/NATO policy is in Germany. For example, in the NATO countries surveyed only 41% supported sending military aid to Ukraine, with only 19% support in Germany.

Even more surprising, only in Canada and the USA did a majority of those surveyed support sending military forces to defend a NATO member if engaged in a military conflict with Russia. The lowest support for such action was in Germany at 38%.

The survey taken in Ukraine excluded Crimea, now once again a part of Russia, as well as the Eastern Oblasts of Luhans’k amd Donets’k, the centre of military conflict. Overall, the survey revealed increased hostility to Russia and a greater belief that the future of Ukraine is with the European Union and NATO.

However, the survey revealed growing majority opposition to the government in Kiev, which has had strong support from the governments of the United States, Canada and NATO. The economy is in collapse. Only 3% of those surveyed said the economy was “good” while 66% said that it was “very bad.” Over the past year support for the NATO-backed government has declined substantially. The Pew poll found support for the Kiev regime at only 32% with 59% having a negative opinion.

Only 33% of those surveyed approved of the performance of President Petro Poroshenko while 43% disapproved. The poll found that 60% disapproved of the performance of the Prime Minister, Arseney Yatsenyuk. 

On  President Poroshenko’s major government policies

* 57% disapproved of the military conflict in the east,
* 57% disapproved of the policies towards Russia,
* 61% disapproved of the policies towards corruption in government, and
* 62% disapproved of the general economic policies.

For Canadians the most important question was how to solve the situation with the rebels in the Eastern Oblasts. The Petroshenko government has refused to negotiate with the rebel governments. They have insisted on a military solution. NATO claims that it supports the Minsk agreement for a negotiated solution, but member states are beefing up military support to the Kiev regime. Both the President and the Prime Minister have made very disparaging comments about the people living in the Eastern oblasts who speak Russian as their everyday language. At the same time,  Putin has made it very clear that Russia will not allow the Kiev regime to crush the rebels, and this position has very strong popular support among the Russian public. If the Kiev regime were able to more successfully pursue the civil war, Russian military intervention would be expected.

It is here that the Canadian government and the opposition political parties are out of step with public opinion in Ukraine. The Pew poll found that 47% in Ukraine support a negotiated settlement and only 23% support the Kiev government’s military solution. A much better policy would be for the Canadian government to support a negotiated solution to the conflict and the proposals by the Eastern rebel governments for modifications in the existing Ukraine constitution.

NOTE: This first appeared as a guest comment in the Leader Post.