The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Trickle Down, Torrent Up

Half the world’s people own $1.76 trillion.  That’s a lot of money – $176 followed by ten zeros.  It is hard to imagine that amount of money isn’t it?  But 62 people in the world can, because these 62 people own the same amount: $1.76 trillion.

Yes, according to a recent Oxfam report,1 just 62 people own as much wealth as half the world’s population.

Let’s try to put that into perspective and see if we can imagine the numbers involved.  On average each of those 62 people has a wealth of about the same as 58 million people.  Imagine that: one person having as much wealth as the populations of Australia and Canada combined!

Or, put another way.  Those 62 people could travel together on two buses with room to spare.  To meet the travel requirements of the 3.6 billion people making up half the world’s population would require a fleet of 90 million buses!

Furthermore, and more alarming is the statistic that the world’s richest 1% have an accumulated wealth greater than that of the other 99%.  Although this statistic is quoted by Oxfam, the statistic itself comes from none other than Credit-Suisse, one of the world’s top ten investment banks.

But it’s okay some say because the rich are undertaking benevolent and worthy philanthropic projects.  Yes, that is true; we have recently witnessed the rise in philanthropic giving on behalf of the rich.  The number of philanthropic foundations has increased, as has the amount being given by them.

That is good, isn’t it?  Not really, according to Linsey McGoey at the University of Essex who points out that:
“Philanthropy may be growing, but only in the context of rampant inequality.”
McGoey is quoted in another recent report, this one published by the Global Policy Forum.2  This report questions the role of large-scale philanthropic organisations and the rich individuals who run them.  The authors claim that these wealthy philanthropists:
  • maintain undue influence over the agendas of global institutions,
  • apply quick-fix, technological solutions instead of looking at longer term and structural issues,
  • weaken democracies,
  • are unreliable for ongoing financing, and
  • lack monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
The report analyses the activities of two of the world’s biggest philanthropic foundations: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.  It focuses on two sectors: health and agriculture.  In both cases, and in each sector, it finds these philanthropies wanting.

Unhealthy Philanthropy

In the health sector the authors found that the involvement of these foundations undermined a more holistic approach to health and stifled scientific creativity.  There was an unhealthy revolving door between the Gates Foundation and pharmaceutical companies, noting that many of the Foundation’s staff had held positions at some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, e.g. Merck, Novartis, Bayer, Pfizer and others.

The report sums up it’s analysis of the role of wealthy philanthropists in the health sector by saying that:
“…too often the underlying more complex socio-economic causes of health problems and the need to strengthen public health systems have remained neglected.”
Damaging Farming

In agriculture too, wealthy philanthropists have been distorting and damaging infrastructure and local systems.  The main problem, according to the authors of this report, is that the philanthropists believe that the problem of hunger is caused by lack of technology, knowledge, and access to markets.  The money and influence of the philanthropists is directed in this top-down way with little or no support being given to local, small-scale farming.

The authors note that the structural issues underlying the problems of hunger are not recognised and certainly not addressed by the wealthy philanthropists.  These criticisms are endorsed by La Via Campesina, the global peasants, small farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous peoples organisation.  In 2010 La Via Campesina criticised the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for purchasing 500,000 shares in Monsanto.  Dena Hoff, the North American coordinator of La Via Campesina said at the time:
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust’s purchase of Monsanto shares indicates that the Gates Foundation’s interest in promoting the company’s seed is less about philanthropy than about profit-making. The Foundation is helping to open new markets for Monsanto, which is already the largest seed company in the world.”
Not just the largest seed company in the world but also one of the world’s must unethical companies, according to Covalence, the Swiss-based organisation monitoring the world’s companies on Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG), Corporate Social Responsibility, ethics and sustainability, using online media monitoring, natural language processing and human analysis.  In fact, Covalence ranked Monsanto the most unethical company in it’s 2015 survey, claiming it to be:
 “… leads the world in the production of genetically-engineered seed, (and) has been subject to myriad criticisms.  Among them: the company is accused of frequently and unfairly suing small farmers for patent infringement.”
No wonder La Via Campesina are critical of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The trickle down theory of economics hasn’t ever worked, and it still isn’t.  In recent decades the trickle has dried up, and it has become an upward flowing torrent.  Claims of tempering this inequality with philanthropic “generosity” are extremely dubious.  We must beware of such beneficent sounding programmes.  They can often be doing more harm than good.

1. Oxfam Briefing Paper, An Economy for the 1%, January 2016

2. Global Policy Forum is an independent policy watchdog that monitors the work of the United Nations and scrutinises global policymaking. We promote accountability and citizen participation in decisions on peace and security, social justice and international law.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Enlightened Leadership

Ashoka the Great
Enlightened leadership.  Is there such a thing?  Can we point to any of today's world leaders and say “there is an enlightened leader?”  Sadly, with one or two exceptions, the answer appears to be “no.”

Yet, it is possible.  Every so often throughout history an “enlightened” leader arises or emerges.  In our recent history we can think of leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi or Vaclav Havel.

Further back in history there have been other examples.  Here is a brief story of just one, from well over two thousand years ago.

Ashoka Maurya was born in 304 BCE in India and inherited the leadership of the Maurya Dynasty which at that time included most of the Indian subcontinent as well as parts of what are now Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Initially Ashoka ruled with an iron fist becoming known as Ashoka the Fierce.  However, Ashoka had a change of heart.  There are a number of stories as to what exactly prompted his conversion, with the most common one being that after a particularly brutal battle Ashoka was surveying the battleground and noticed a Buddhist monk serenely walking along a nearby road.  The story goes that seeing the serenity of the monk alongside the carnage and suffering that Ashoka had caused moved him to sorrow and remorse.  He was moved to exclaim
“What have I done? If this is a victory, what's a defeat then?“
From that day forth Ashoka converted to Buddhism and became one of the most enlightened leaders the world has ever seen.  Amongst his edicts and accomplishments the following are remarkable (remember, this is over 2200 years ago!):
  • encouragement of nonviolence in personal life and statehood,
  • respect for all religions and cultures,
  • he had wells dug and trees planted alongside roads in order to give shelter and respite to all,
  • banned the killing of “all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible,” as well as numerous birds, fish and bulls,1
  • got rid of the “Royal Hunt,”
  • provided for medical care for humans and animals as of right,
  • treated animals as citizens with rights,
  • brought fairness to the justice system, often pardoning prisoners,
  • banned slavery,
  • stopped deforestation
  • advocated gender equality in education and religion,
  • assisted students, poor, orphans and the elderly,
  • advocated and promoted generosity.
Ashoka was the first leader of an empire, dynasty or nation to implement many of these reforms and innovations.  It’s remarkable really isn’t it, when we look at some of these and then look at some of the practises that still exist in the world today – the 21st century!

Enlightened Leadership?  Yes, it is possible.  Ashoka the Great (as he became known) is but one example from history.

1. e.g. parrots, pigeons, geese, ducks, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, and others.

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Permanent (in)Security

The United Nations has a Security Council made up of ten non-permanent member states and five permanent member states: USA, Russia, France, China and the UK.  The primary purpose of this body is the maintenance of international peace and security.  So, why is it that over 70% of the world’s arms trade come from these five permanent members? (1) Furthermore, the US alone is responsible for almost 1/3rd of the world’s arms trade and Russia around 1/4.  Why is it, then, that the permanent members of the world body responsible for peace are also the nations who stand to benefit economically the most from the continuation of warfare?

This trade is not insignificant at more than $400 billion.2  When we consider that this amount of money is thirteen times the amount required to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation,3 it is readily apparent that our priorities are skewed.

The two largest profiteers from arms manufacturing (Lockhead Martin and Boeing – both based in the US) had sales of over $30 billion each in 2013.  Six of the ten largest arms manufacturers are based in the US, with combined sales of $106.7 billion in 2013.  That is a huge figure – greater than the GDP of more than half the nations of the world.

Where do these arms sales end up?  Developing nations are the recipients of 84% of arms deals4 - the very nations whose people are those without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.  This fact beggars two questions.  First, why do these nations buy arms?  Second, why do the rich nations, mostly in the form of transnational corporations sell armaments to them?

The answer to these two questions comes down to just two P words: Profit and Power.  The two are inextricably linked.  Profit = Power = Profit = Power… ad nauseum.  We all know it.  We’ve all seen it.  We have seen it in numerous guises over the years.  Western nations selling off their dangerous, toxic and murderous commodities to those in developing nations.  We’ve seen it with powdered milk products for babies.5  We’ve seen it in harmful insecticides and pesticide sales to India and African nations.

The arms trade is a nasty, vicious and utterly immoral trade.  And, it is those very nations who have the responsibility for peace and security who are the major suppliers, and who gain to benefit most from the selling of death and destruction.  Certainly, there are those who are prepared to buy and they have to take their own responsibility for that.  But, we who live in the richer nations have a responsibility to call our governments and businesses to task. 

The arms trade, like the slave trade earlier, is an economic activity that should be relegated to the history books and not part of our future stories.

1. SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Yearbook 2015.
2. This figure does not include China’s state-owned arms manufacturers. 
3. Costing MDG Target 10 on Water Supply and Sanitation, World Water Council, March 2006. p vi
4. Richard Grimmett & Paul Kerr, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2004-11, Congressional Research Service, August 24, 2012
5. In the 1970s, following a damning issue of New Internationalist, a boycott of Nestle was launched because of it’s aggressive marketing of baby formula within developing nations.  The campaign is coordinated now by International NestlĂ© Boycott Committee.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Let's Play a Game

At this time of year, in western-styled nations, it is a time of holidays, a time for families to get together.  Often that means getting out a board game and playing it for an hour or two, maybe after the evening meal.  What are we likely to pull out?  Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit or Scattergories?  Maybe something even older: dominoes, chess, ludo, snakes and ladders.

Have you ever noticed that all of these are competitively based?  There are winners and losers.  Often, it’s an all-or-nothing outcome.

There are some games, however, that teach us more collaborative approaches to life and relationships. 

One such that I recently had a chance to try out was GROK it!1  Rather than a single game though, GROK it! is a kit of 150 games and exercises all designed to teach the skills and techniques of nonviolent communication.  But wait, there’s more.  Included in the kit are manuals, resources, background notes, inspirational stories and poems.  Enough to keep an entire family occupied for many holiday evenings.

I recently took along a couple of the games and exercises to a group of men who mentor other men.2  We had time to play just one of the games that explore our feelings.  We learnt about feelings, false feelings, and the difference between feelings and perceptions.  The men were keen to further explore the exercises contained in the kit, suggesting to me that the exercises are engaging, fun, and have something to teach us all.

Nonviolent communication (NVC) was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s whilst working with civil rights activists.  The NVC model of communication has four components:  observations, needs, feelings, and requests.
  • Observations are what we see, hear, touch, taste etc., and are to be distinguished from judgements or evaluations. 
  • NVC holds that all our actions are intended to get our needs met, and that conflict occurs not because of differing needs, but because of differing strategies used to get our needs met. 
  • Our feelings arise from either having our needs met, or having them not met.  It is important to be able to recognise that feelings and thoughts are completely different and that some things that we believe to be feelings turn out to be thoughts in disguise – what the GROK it! designers call false feelings. 
  • Finally, requests are not the same as demands meaning that the requestor must be open to getting “no” for an answer, and then not use force in order to have the “request” met.
Jean Morrison and Christine King, the creators of GROK it! are NVA trainers and have developed these exercises and games as tools in their training.  They have now made these exercises, games, tools, handouts, worksheets, and resources available, at minimal cost, to those who wish to gain a better understanding and expertise in nonviolent communication.  They have done a wonderful job in putting this kit together.  I would thoroughly recommend obtaining this kit for your family, your workplace, or as a resource kit for those working in social change organisations.

1. Grok is a word taken from Robert Heinlein’s science-fiction book Stranger in a Strange Land and means “to drink” or, in this setting “to take it all in.”

2. MENtors for Men is a voluntary group, based in Coffs Harbour (Australia) who offer their time as mentors for other men.