Who Really Won the War on Terror?


by Roxanne Tellier

In 2001, I had a small eBay business that was doing pretty well. I had five people that worked with me to expedite the collectibles that I shipped around the world. About 90% of my business income came from American buyers. 

That summer had been slow, as summers were, but as we headed into September, and with the holiday season approaching, I wasn’t worried about ramping back up to pay my staff. In fact, in preparation for the busy season, my husband and I had planned a well-earned vacation to Western Canada, to see my family there. We would be flying out on September 13th.  

But, as the old Yiddish adage warns, “Man plans, and God laughs.” Well, God may have been laughing, but no one else was, on the morning of September 11th, 2001. A lot of people’s plans forever changed that day, and the world was never quite the same.

I was listening to the Howard Stern show that morning. When Howard first began to talk about the breaking news, there was an air of disbelief. Jokes were being made, and the conversation that Stern had been having with someone about trying to make time with Pam Anderson continued for another fifteen or twenty minutes.

When the second plane hit, the tone changed greatly, although no one had yet quite realized what had happened. One news anchor even suggested that “there might be some issue with the navigation systems on the planes that is sending them into the buildings”.

It was around then that the penny dropped, and Stern began to say that America was under attack. Viewing the video accompanying the breaking news, he declared that it was obviously a suicide mission, and that America was now at war. But with whom?

In the next few days, the nation grappled with the aftermath, and the information that they had been attacked by a group led by religious fanatic Osama Bin Laden, who, rather than resembling the sort of sophisticated, well-funded groups that films had taught them were what their enemy looked like, was instead a man in a robe and a turban, with a silly beard, who lived in a cave.

Or so we all thought. In actual truth, he was the multimillionaire son of one of the richest families in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden had previously attacked two American embassies, in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as sending suicide bombers to attack the USS Cole in October of 2000, while she was being refueled in a Yemen harbour. America was seemingly oblivious. After all, Bin Laden didn’t seem to be using any kind of military playbook that was respected in the United States; he wasn’t trying to physically invade the country, nor did he seem to be after our natural resources – as colonists and invaders tend to do. No, Bin Laden wanted to spiritually bankrupt America and wipe out the American Dream

And, as Michael Moore wrote recently,

He knew that unlike his own deep religious beliefs, ours were all talk, all show. He knew that our sect of Christianity is often just a big con — “love your neighbor” as long as they’re white like you; “the last in line (40 million in poverty)” shall be “first” and the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs “will be last.“ Ha! Never. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” as long they‘re not Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden; “feed the hungry” (no raise in food stamps from1962 until last week. Last week!).

…. It was different for bin Laden—he wasn’t faking it. He knew the strength of his fundamentalism and knew that he could find some schmucks to sign up to fly planes into buildings in exchange for the promise of eternal glory. Bin Laden understood the way we used our Good Book — to ban abortion or police homosexuality — because bin Laden was doing the same thing, only even more capably and at an even more destructive scale.” 

Michael Moore, Substack, Sept. 2021.

Then-president George W. Bush first used the term “war on terrorism” on September 16, 2001, and then “war on terror” a few days later in a formal speech to Congress when he asked that America go to war in Afghanistan.  

Now the frightened and devastated citizens of America had a common enemy, and they would send all of their animosity (along with troops and trillions of dollars) to fight this adversary.   

Americans came together. They hugged strangers on the streets and on subway platforms, sent huge donations to missions meant to comfort the families of the missing and dead, and bought each other drinks in pubs.

The next time America would come together in such a fashion would be in the Spring of 2020, but, this time, it would only last for a few months.

In that fall of 2001, Americans came together in a dramatic show of patriotism. They were one people, regardless of where they came from, what sort of work they did, how much money they had, or what kind of music they liked. They drew together and found enormous strength in that solidarity. 

They came together so completely that they essentially forced out the rest of the world. I lost my little eBay company when the corporation put into place all sorts of perks for their American buyers and sellers. There were fees waived, and in many cases, the costs of shipping and handling were waived, if the exchange was being conducted within the United States.

Ebay-ers were encouraged to “Buy American!” And they did. And by the next spring, my little business was bankrupt. My staff actually fired themselves, knowing that I was paying their salaries out of my own pocket, not the proceeds of sales. And that was that. America came together, and shut out the rest of the world so that it could grieve and heal itself within itself.

Fast forward nearly twenty years to the spring of 2020, when North Americans became aware of a new enemy, a pandemic, which was named COVID-19. In the first few months of this new ‘shock and awe’, Americans pulled together to try and protect themselves, isolating and attempting to get a handle on how to protect themselves and each other. People went to great lengths to distance from each other. There was panic buying in the supermarkets, with people hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. (I even bought a package of frozen pancakes just because there was only one package left, and I didn’t know when there’d be another shipment to my store.)

Remember how we’d bang pots and pans and make a ‘joyful noise’ to let first responders and health care workers know how much we appreciated the hard work they were doing to try and save the lives of our families and friends? 

How does that square with the anti mask/anti vaccine mobs who now try to block ambulances and health care workers from entering hospitals, to make their wrong-headed points?  

In those twenty years since 9/11, North America changed significantly. It wasn’t just the United States that was attacked that day; no one who was impacted on September 11th was ever quite the same again.

“The 9/11 attacks enabled Republicans to tar those who questioned the administration’s economic or foreign policies as un-American: either socialists or traitors making the nation vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Surely, such people should not have a voice at the polls. Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression began to shut Democratic voices out of our government, aided by a series of Supreme Court decisions. In 2010, the court opened the floodgates of corporate money into our elections to sway voters; in 2013, it gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act; in 2021, it said that election laws that affected different groups of voters unevenly were not unconstitutional.

And now we grapple with the logical extension of that argument as a former Republican president claims he won the 2020 election because, all evidence to the contrary, Democratic votes were fraudulent.“ 

Heather Cox Richardson, Substack, Sept 11, 2020

North America changed – the world changed. Under the guise of protecting it’s citizens, actual rights and freedoms were cancelled in the U.S. and Canada, and never returned. A new suspicion and fear of immigrants, and of those who were of foreign descent reached its logical conclusion in America’s Homeland Security, which began as an agency created to protect America and her people, but evolved into a force whose prime directive was discovering and expelling people they suspected were in the country illegally. Could Trump have pulled off his Muslim Ban of 2017 without the fear of Islam that had been drummed into FOX viewers for over a decade? Unlikely. 

(That ban was only officially overturned after Biden took office in January 2021.)

The world changed, and we became harder, more cynical, and more suspicious of others. Over the last twenty years, the right and the left have become increasingly partisan, to the point where Biden’s hope of bipartisan governance in the U.S. is taken as a joke. We’re more likely to see a Civil War Part Deux than an America where Republicans let Democrats have a victory, even if they have to disenfranchise every one of their own voters to do so.

In the end, it does seem like Bin Laden actually won. His plan was to divide to conquer, and that has certainly happened. Politically, we are at war with ourselves. Inequality has never been higher, and democracy is on the table, with the Sword of Damocles dangling over its head.

And when North America was asked to pull together to defeat the common enemy of a global pandemic, a vocal minority screamed “NO!”

3,000 people died in New York City on 9/11, and that was enough to change the world. In the worst days of COVID-19, we lost 3,000 or more every single day. Where are their memorials?  

The easy way out would be to simply blame Trump, and his administration’s confusing and contradictory lack of a proper plan that the nation could get behind. Mistakes were made, because this is a ‘novel’ virus, but flip flopping on how to move forward as the numbers of the sick and dead rose did no favours to anyone.

I was talking with someone recently who, while masked and vacced himself, still has a soft spot for those who continue to behave as though the virus is a joke. He said that we have to allow those dissenters to have their opinions and ideas, whether or not we agree, in a free society.

All well and good, I said, but – I don’t see these ‘anti’ people coming forward with any positive and helpful suggestions as to how to stop the sickness or to help those who are ill or dying. In fact, they’re actively encouraging sickness and death with their rallies and protests.

Could we not have simply TRIED following the science, and have all of us joining in masking and vaccing? That way, if we did, and we didn’t end or drastically curtail the virus, we could try THEIR solutions. History has shown that a united front, that carries on together fighting a common enemy until they are defeated, is more likely to succeed and eventually win a battle. 

But he had no answer. Because those protestors have no solutions, only offended claims of victimisation, debunked theories and controversial, potentially life-threatening, alternatives to modern medicine.

Bin Laden may lie in a watery grave, but the damage done to North America by his actions has continued to resonate every single day since 9/11. So, who really won that war on terror?

It just doesn’t seem like it was us.

ANOTHER 30 Days in the Hole


By Roxanne Tellier

Apparently I learned nothing from my last thirty-day time out from Facebook, since it only took a few months for me to land up in solitary yet again.

I’m Facebook’s Cool Hand Luke, defiant and unrepentant.  

After my first 30 days in Zuckerberg’s version of Nuremburg, I felt a little reluctant to return to my usual activities of curating and opining on the site. After all, like Pavlov’s dogs, I’d learned that there was a sociopath running the place, who claimed to love us, but liked to ‘train’ us by burning our paws whenever we stepped out of line.

Facebook might have kept on ringing that bell, but I no longer salivated on cue.

So, what offense did I commit this time?

In a reply to a Facebook post in the first week of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, I said that it seemed that Russian and Chinese interests were rushing in to fill a political void, sensing a chink in America’s armor. And BOOM!   Facebook’s algorithm kicked in, and decided that I was being politically incorrect, and thus must be ejected from the platform.  (The previous time I was incarcerated was for the sin of quoting Shakespeare during the impeachment trials – “first, kill all the lawyers“.)

(Apparently there was a kerfuffle in 2012 when the sports channel ESPN used the phrase “a chink in the armour,” to refer to a basketball game loss which they blamed on Jeremy Lin, an Asian player for the Knicks. Although the phrase had been used on the channel 3000 times previously, one of the employees responsible for writing the offensive headline was fired in a fluster of political correctness gone mad.)

The expression has been used idiomatically since around 1400 AD to mean ‘a crack or gap,’ but now, PC scholars have rushed to deem the term racist. And Facebook, bless its pointy little head, has decided that their site is too pure a place for racists, since they need all the elbow room they can find to accommodate their domestic terrorists and anti-vaxxers.  

There’s no appeal process on the site. You can say that you disagree with their decision, but all you’ll get in return is a sad face and a request that you honour their unhappy inability to hire enough staff to both censor AND arbitrate, due to COVID-19.  

Desolee, cheri – smell you around. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

A lot of Facebook’s glitter and gloss has rubbed off over the last five or six years. It started with the news that Zuckerberg played footsie with Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that Trump’s 2016 campaign used. Zuckerberg allowed CA, and thus the Donald, to use the private information of about 87 million Facebook profiles without the owners’ permission. Some believe that social media, and most especially Facebook, was the secret to trump’s success in 2016.

Once in power, it seems that Zuck liked trump’s politics, because FB continued to allow his administration and his followers to have free reign on the platform, even as dissenting views were hidden from view, or squashed completely.

Things have gone from bad to worse on the platform. Zuck throws his hands in the air and pretends that the people that he hires to police the site are just not capable of finding every little terrorist, anti-vaxxers, or seditionists looking to hook up with other seditionists to overthrow governments, but they’re right on top of anyone using a politically incorrect word or phrase.

Strangely, that’s not how others see the problem.

“(President) Joe Biden said social media platforms like Facebook are “killing people” because of (the spread of COVID disinformation.) The White House has also zeroed in on a clutch of accounts dubbed the “disinformation dozen” – Facebook accounts that have been shown to be responsible for the bulk of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms.

Thursday’s developments came as the Federal Trade Commission filed an amended complaint in federal court to continue pursuing its claims against Facebook, saying the online platform maintains monopoly power. The complaint filed is a partially redacted version, which the FTC has requested must be under seal for 10 days.” 

(The Guardian, August 2021)

It would seem that everyone in any position of social media authority and/or the government knows exactly which people and groups are spreading disinformation, calls for violence against dissenters, and calls to overthrow the government – they just somehow can’t stop them from doing what they wish on social media.

Meanwhile, people like myself, my buddy Michael Scrivener, the American culture writer Jef Rouner, and even long-time social activist Michael Moore, continually find ourselves being sanctioned and banned for less and less worthy reasons.

Gotcha. We’re on “the List.” Just check out my permanent record. 

After spending the last couple of months biting my tongue and looking over my shoulder, commiserating with friends who’ve been banned for days, weeks, or months, I’ve had enough of this nonsense. I am not going to sit in the corner wearing a dunce hat. I’m not a bad person because I’m intelligent, well-read, and can write in full sentences and paragraphs. And I’m sick of fearing Big Brother, or his collaborators, who are always watching and waiting for one’s guard to drop. I can’t keep on hoping that my next comment on someone’s status or comment won’t find me once again condemned to another 30 days of modern-day shunning.

While I’m grateful for the ability to interact with my family and some interesting people I’ve connected with over the years, I’ve finally realized something that Facebook’s executive have not – their version of the site encourages a narrower and narrower segment of the population, and coincidentally, that’s a segment I generally try to avoid having to have contact with. FB doesn’t want smart people or intellectuals .. they want the (m)asses.

And the (m)asses are the people that Facebook loves, because, just like regular media loved trump and his band of cuckoos, the crazies are the drivers of the controversy and anger that makes people come back for more. Rile ‘em up, head ‘em out.

In truth, there’s something kind of creepy and Twilight Zone-ish about frequenting a place “where everybody knows your name,” and where everything you say and do is judged and talked about by other people, many of whom you may not know, nor want to know.

I don’t WANT to spend all of my time angry at the posts put up by people who are, if not clinically insane, certainly chemically adjacent. I don’t want to argue about politics, religion, or today’s news with the sort of loon that is addicted to the dopamine hit they get from the chaos that their misspelt and badly worded opinions cause. I have learned the hard way that there are crazy people out there, and I don’t want them in my home, nor do I want their rantings on my computer monitor.   

It does seem that nearly every Devil’s Advocate and wannabe intellectual on the planet has recently decided that their own versions of reality trump fact and/or science, and I’m done arguing with them. I am OVER it. Unlike Graham Chapman, I didn’t ‘come here for an argument”

Speaking of Monty Python, John Cleese is currently working on a television series that will explore “why a new ‘woke’ generation is trying to rewrite the rules on what can and can’t be said.”

John Cleese: Cancel Me will see the British comedian and actor meet various subjects who claim to have been “cancelled” for their actions or statements, and activists who have led opposition to various public figures.

In a statement, Cleese said: “I’m delighted to have a chance to find out, on camera, about all the aspects of so-called political correctness. There’s so much I really don’t understand, like: how the impeccable idea of ‘Let’s all be kind to people’ has been developed in some cases ad absurdum.”

“[Political correctness] stuff started out as a good idea, which is, ‘Let’s not be mean to people’, and I’m in favour of that despite my age. The main thing is to try to be kind. But that then becomes a sort of indulgence of the most over-sensitive people in your culture, the people who are most easily upset … I don’t think we should organise a society around the sensibilities of the most easily upset people because then you have a very neurotic society.

“From the point of creativity, if you have to keep thinking which words you can use and which you can’t, then that will stifle creativity. The main thing is to realise that words depend on their context. Very literal-minded people think a word is a word but it isn’t.”

 “I want to bring the various reasonings right out in the open so that people can be clearer in their minds what they agree with, what they don’t agree with, and what they still can’t make their mind up about.”  

(The Guardian, August 2021.)

It’ll be another two weeks before Facebook lets me back on to it’s whited sepulchre, but I’m not so sure I’m gonna return. I don’t mind having access to Messenger, to be able to quickly contact the few people left on the site that I actually like, but overall, living in the 1984/Big Brother version of Facebook in 2021 is just not to my taste.

Here’s the thing; Facebook has been around for nearly two decades, since 2004, and that’s forever in social media time. With more than a billion users since February 2012, when Facebook filed to become a public company, Zuckerberg is a billionaire many times over, and he doesn’t need my two cents.

I think it ‘s safe to say that the guy who dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year is doing more than alright for himself these days

Sooner than later, Facebook will go the way of MySpace and all such fads. The kids left for sexier venues long ago. Most FB users are the middle-aged, and boomers happy to have a free way of keeping in touch with their friends and family.      

Time for a little break, and a step right off that social media treadmill. There’s a whole other world out there, but you’ll only see it if you lift your eyes off the screen.

Afghanistan Past Present and Future


by Roxanne Tellier

Afghanistan has a long history of defeating those that have tried to master her. As a strategic gateway sitting between Asia and Europe, the land has been targeted by conquerors as diverse as Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States.    

But no one can make Afghanistan bend the knee for very long; it is an unruly country, peopled with warriors, fanatics, and militant religious zealots. No army, no matter how mighty, has ever been able to permanently alter the passionate character of the Afghan people.  

America’s attempt to bring a forced democracy to the country was doomed to failure from the beginning. Democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. Democracy must be something that ALL of the people want, not just those that wish to control them.  

But when Bush, both political parties, with few exceptions, and the voters of America, decided to commit to a war of retaliation, they refused to listen or to learn from history. And once America had foisted its army and hoisted their paid political stooges into place, it became impossible to leave gracefully. The chaos and horror we see there today would have happened had they left 18 years ago, or in five years from now.

Obama tried and failed to leave the country. Trump, first as a civilian Monday morning quarterback, and later as POTUS, put a plan into place that he would not be in office to see completed. The shocking thing is that Biden simply opted to stick to the plan and promises Trump and his administration had made, without considering options that might have lessened the disastrous outcome of August 2021.

Writer and minister Randy Weir wrote a succinct piece on Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban, and it’s so good, I’d rather insert it here than paraphrase his words: 

“In 2019 Trump entered into direct negotiations with the Taliban outside the presence of the Afghan government because the Taliban demanded it and Trump agreed. In these negotiations, Trump promised the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners if the Taliban would stop attacking US forces. So the problem began when President Trump undermined the legitimate Afghan government to negotiate with terrorists. This weakened and demoralized the Afghan government and strengthened and encouraged the Taliban.

In February 2020, Trump further agreed that the US would withdraw from Afghanistan in May 2020 if the Taliban would agree not to harbor other terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. This further legitimized the Taliban with the US assuming they would regain control of the country.

In August 2020, under pressure from President Trump, the Afghan government reluctantly released the 400 most controversial Taliban prisoners, including more than 150 that were on death row, and 44 who were involved in high profile attacks against US forces, including the deadliest attack of the entire occupation. Afghan President Ghani warned that these prisoners would pose a risk to Afghanistan and the world. So now we have a stronger Taliban, a weaker Afghan government, and we have the worst Taliban fighters and leaders out on the streets planning to retake the country when the US leaves.

On November 17, 2020, shortly after losing the 2020 election, Trump announced he would be withdrawing all but 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan. The withdrawal would happen on January 15, 2021—five days before Biden was inaugurated. Note that the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress on January 1, 2021 barred the Pentagon from reducing the number of soldiers in Afghanistan below 4,000, the number in place when the bill was passed, and Trump’s removal of those forces was in violation of that act.

So here’s where Biden comes in. Trump has weakened the Afghan government, strengthened the Taliban, and assumed the Taliban would retake Afghanistan. Trump had secured the release of the Taliban fighters and leaders who would work to retake Afghanistan, and Trump had already illegally withdrawn American forces who would have helped maintain the Afghan government. Biden looked at the options and concluded that Trump had stacked the deck against the US and the Afghan government in favor of the Taliban, leaving two choices: proceed with the withdrawal or send troops back into Afghanistan to re-escalate. Biden concluded that the latter would only postpone the inevitable and that it wasn’t worth wasting any more American lives to do that. He delayed the withdrawal so it could be accomplished more responsibly, then responded as conditions worsened by sending troops to assist with the withdrawal.

As the US began its withdrawal, the Taliban that Trump freed were the very people who fought and led the effort to overthrow the Afghan government. And it seems that even Donald Trump was smart enough to realize that this was exactly what would happen.

Why didn’t Biden cut a new deal with the Taliban? With what leverage? Trump had given the Taliban everything they wanted and the Afghan government was already so weakened that the Taliban have no reason to agree to anything he could propose.

Trump set the stage so that the Taliban would swiftly take control of the country and there was nothing Biden could do to stop it short of occupying the country.”

Randy Weir, Quora

Choosing to ‘keep America’s promises’ rather than to attempt to thwart the deals that had been put into place, whether known or unknown, guaranteed failure for the American military, and left the Biden administration with egg on their face.

The expensively trained and outfitted Afghan military caved because they were trained to behave exactly like American military, dependent on a large land and air force behind them, along with the weight and might of the United States. They had never been trained to stand alone as an independent force; their training was designed to keep them a cog in the American military industrial complex. When the Americans closed their military base, all pretense of that great power being behind them evaporated, and the disintegration of the Afghan military was inevitable.

While the media brings us scenes of chaos and devastation, many are simply not interested in the eventual outcome of military withdrawal. We’re shell-shocked and numbed from our own problems. Governments grapple with how to expedite a potential economic recovery, while they remain burdened with the reality of hundreds of thousands dead from COVID, and a potential Fourth Wave looming.

And though it behooves us to worry and tut-tut about what’s going on in Afghanistan, many people just can’t work up much concern. Prior to Biden’s moving forward on the troop withdrawal, polls showed that most people wanted America out of Afghanistan – period. By any means.

As scenes of the Taliban taking control of the country emerged, along with photos of people desperately trying to leave, and women once more becoming invisible, and as tales circulated of streetside executions and of young girls being snatched from their families to become unwilling child brides of the Taliban, American’s, overall, yawned and turned back to their smartphones for an update on the stock market and entertainment listings.

In the bigger picture, life in North America, and most of the Western Hemisphere, will simply go on. Talking heads will soothe or harangue, based on their political affinities. People in Afghanistan will suffer, and many will die, based on their religious AND political affinities. And Afghanistan will remain, as steadfast, stubborn, and high-strung as she’s been since 500 B.C.

In the perhaps smaller picture, this debacle will have a dampening effect on what Biden might have been able to accomplish in the United States during his term. Even those who reluctantly voted for him in 2020 were encouraged by the image that had been built over his first six months in office, of a leader firmly in control, in charge, and experienced in foreign affairs. Biden as POTUS has been a breath of fresh air, a 180-degree shift from the cruelty and power mad machinations of the trump administration. He’s been the nation’s loving, old-fashioned, grandpa, easily forgiven for the odd slip up, as the communal dread of a possible march towards civil war and/or dictatorship begins to fade.

Biden’s campaign leaned heavily on competence, compassion, and a humanity that the previous administration disdained. His current defiant stance lacks not only empathy, but any hint of contrition or humility, starkly at odds with his usual stated values.

Prior to this fiasco, and with a speed and alacrity that none would have believed, he was on track to rivalling the historic and progressive records of nearly all modern-day presidents, with the exception of Roosevelt, whose New Deal ushered in what some considered to be America’s greatest epoch.

With a razor thin Democratic majority in the House and Senate, Biden’s current power position could be derailed with just one nasty slip in the bathtub, one lung rattling COVID cough, or just one octogenarian Senator’s heart tiring of beating. His belief in the Republican party ever being willing to act in a bipartisan fashion that benefits ALL Americans, regardless of political affiliation, seems close to delusional, the dreams of another time, and unless he can bring some of his own far right and far left party into line, America may let some of the most aggressively positive, nationally beneficial, actions in nearly a hundred years slip away.   

With the military withdrawal from Afghanistan being painted as Biden’s baby, his approval rating is skidding downwards, and with every day, there is more danger of there being permanent damage done to the Democratic plan to ‘build back better.’

He’s now wagering on the better angels of the American people to believe that this withdrawal was and is the right thing to do, even if pulling off the war Band-Aid revealed the (bipartisan) political sepsis beneath.

The Run Down and the Wrap Up


by Roxanne Tellier

Ah, dang it. Like death and taxes, unwanted summer electoral politics are inescapable.  Rumour has it that our PM Justin Trudeau is determined to call a snap election, reportedly to be held on September 20th. Why? Because he believes that doing so at this time will ensure his party can win a majority government, allowing him to avoid what he has been calling “opposition obstruction.”

Trudeau had a majority in the House of Commons when he first came to power in 2015, but there’s been an erosion of confidence in the years since, leading to his party being reduced to a minority in 2019. I find it hilarious, how easily those that lean right can be manipulated. “Here’s a 20-year-old photo of a young man in black face!” “I KNEW IT! Hang him high!”

There have been rumblings for months that the Liberals would spring an election on Canada, two years ahead of schedule, in response to an unfavourable slate of choices available from the NDP or the Conservatives

In a summer fraught with tension over where the COVID virus could pop up next, and in what variant, the Libs are walking a financial tightrope. They’ve racked up record debt levels in an effort to help both the people and the businesses of Canada, but they have plans to inject another huge chunk into the economy – between 3-4% of GDP, or about $100 billion dollars. To do so, they’re going to need more than a minority government. And they would prefer not to have to count on the help of the NDG and the Greens to push thru legislation. 

A Conservative attack ad that hit YouTube on Friday night has even their own party members disgusted, calling the ad dumb, tasteless, and embarrassing. It’s a 37 second video that has a cut out of Trudeau’s face pasted over the face of spoiled brat Veruca Salt, in a clip from a scene from the film “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” where the brat throws a tantrum in a song called “I Want it Now.”

With any luck, it’s already been taken down. Posting link for the strong-stomached.

Meanwhile, polls have shown that most Canadians have climate change on their mind, and are focused on a transition away from the fossil fuel industry. And the reports of summer’s horrific high temperatures and fires, here and around the globe, along with the UN’s newest report that global warming is “dangerously close to spinning out of control” would agree on that course.

“ Humans are “unequivocally” to blame, the report from the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said. Rapid action to cut greenhouse gas emissions could limit some impacts, but others are now locked in.

The deadly heat waves, gargantuan hurricanes and other weather extremes that are already happening will only become more severe. “

On the plus side, August 13 came and went without trump being reinstated, as promised by the pillow guy, so that’s a win.

The rising tide of COVID in Florida, on the other hand, is most definitely a loss. There were over 151,000 cases in Florida, and 1,071 deaths in just the last week.

It’s so bad that doctors are warning patients seeking emergency help for their children that there’s simply no more staff, equipment, or rooms available, and parents will literally have to wait for some other sick child to die before their child can even be admitted to the ICU.

The Brookings Institute made an interesting observation on the Fourth Wave battering red states. They noted that

“It is rare that a politician acts against his own self-interest—but then again, Donald Trump is a rare breed of politician. No politician has made it a habit of acting against his own electoral interest like Donald Trump…

A total of 17 of the 18 states that voted for Trump in the 2020 election have the lowest vaccination rates. The exception was Georgia which went for Biden by a very small margin…

Historically, rational political calculus has been a bipartisan quality, but not in the Trumpified GOP. If Trump wants to preserve the lives of his best voters, he would turn his rallies into mass vaccination sites. There is still time, but it is running out for thousands of Americans.”

Brookings.edu, July 2021

Meanwhile, in Ontario, we have 111 people in ICUs around the province. 110 of them are either unvaccinated, or have only had one dose.

This week, hospital teams of doctors and nurses have literally been trolling the Danforth and Gerrard Avenue, trying to bring vaccines directly to people who might have used inaccessibility as an excuse to avoid the jab.

What is it going to take to shake these dreamers out of their reveries? Ah.. right … the carrots are not working, so here come the sticks.

The new travel vaccination policy will apply to passengers and workers in the federally regulated air, rail and cruise ship sectors. It will be enacted “as soon as possible in the fall and no later than the end of October,” the Canadian Treasury Board said on Friday.”

We need our kids back in school, our economy back in gear, and our hearts, minds and butts in restos, bars, nightclubs, theatres, and arenas. Come to the Light Side, you of the Great UnVaxxed.

Times have been hard for everyone, in the last year and a half. So much that has happened, that has upended our reality, our ‘normal,’ has been beyond our control, and due to its very novelty, often really frightening. We have been spoiled in the last 80 years; there’s been no war waged on North American land.

That’s made us quite spoiled, and sometimes very silly. Without an actual opponent, so many decided they’d make one up, turn mild adversity into a fear of escalating hardships. They created paper tigers of the innocent, blowing up the annoyances of inconvenience into firm red lines that must not be crossed. They salivated over fantastical and imaginary creatures, spent incalculable hours planning how they’d survive a zombie apocalypse, built bunkers and hoarded supplies against Armageddon.

But when a real catastrophe – a pandemic! – came along, few broke out those emergency supplies. Wouldn’t this have been the perfect time to extol one’s own prescience in prepping? How could it be that so many quite simply did not recognize a crisis when it actually came along and took a bite out of their lives?

We lived with loneliness. We lived with fear, anxiety, depression, and grief. We monitored our health, and the health of our loved ones, and when someone we loved died, we were told how and when to mourn, and how many of us would be allowed to share in that moment of remembrance. I often think about those we’ve lost, the ones we were told that we would have an opportunity to memorialize, ‘when this is over.’ That’s not how grief works. Grief cannot be put on a shelf until a convenient time arrives.

I often think about how we were encouraged, all this time, to simply ignore the sickness and death the pandemic brought. While I would have expected the media to spend hours of video on covering a world-wide disaster, there far more often seemed to be some sort of weighing of coverage, almost as though the media, usually quite open about ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ was suddenly taking a stance more akin to trump’s pandering ‘good people on both sides.’

Perhaps it was that sloughing off of brutal truth and reality that allowed a segment of people to cease to care about their places in society, prioritizing their own opinions and wants over the rest of societies truth and needs.

That attitude spills over into all aspects of our lives. I find it heartbreaking that the people of Afghanistan are mere puzzle pieces in America’s ongoing war games. I expected the callousness of trump’s decision to leave Afghanistan; I am dumbstruck that Biden would be in agreement. When Biden first said that he’d follow trump’s lead, I assumed his reasoning was that if he didn’t, the GOP base would tear him to pieces.

But now I hear that this is simply part and parcel of a numb and hard-hearted populace who just don’t care about what is to come for the innocents of Afghan.

“…. There is, quite obviously, a calculation behind all this, which is that, after all this time and with more than enough blame to go around in both parties, Biden will not suffer politically from leaving behind an unwinnable war. Put bluntly, there is a strongly held belief in Washington that Americans simply do not care what happens in Afghanistan. Poll numbers back it up. “ 

“The Pentagon has warned every one of the last four Presidents that an abrupt U.S. withdrawal would lead to some version of the Afghan military debacle we are seeing this week.”

The New Yorker, August 12, 2021

Yep, we’ve been suffering through some very ‘interesting times.’ Sometimes, all you can do is keep looking for those odd bright spots that bring joy to your day and life.

During the pandemic, we’ve had a few cool things happen here at the old homestead, where ‘there’s always something happening, and it’s usually quite loud.”

This particular cool thing involves a video that the heymacs made five years ago. As one of the Mackettes who donned their fur coats, wigs, and high heels on that blustery morning, I certainly never dreamed that there’d come a day when we’d be ‘nearly famous’ in far away places with strange sounding names!  

From Macky’s notes:

“So, several years ago, the heymacs started stumbling into their first music videos, and one of us said “Let’s put them on the internet. All the kids are doing it” .

Someone else said “How’s anybody gonna know about them? There’s no cash to do promotion for our flicks”. Also brought up was the fact that the situation probably wouldn’t change, as we weren’t playing live to spread the word and, maybe, flog some T-shirts to aid with the cash shortage.

What’s more, there’s no friggin’ way any record company was going to sign a bunch of Rock’n Roll relics, and what band management company would waste their time on some guys whose main pass-time was hanging out in the alley behind the warehouse where they got together to plan what tunage to work on next. 

But, couldn’t hurt to give it a whirl, so we picked one we liked and stuck it out there. At first, nothing much happened . . yeah, it got a few more views on the yootooby every month, but the going was slow.

Then, suddenly a couple months ago, our cover of Ray Charles’ little beauty “Hit The Road, Jack” took off like a rocket! Ten thousand – – twenty – – then 50,0000 and 125,000 – – and, soon, a quarter-of-a-million – – and, at this moment 498,730

Well, it’s looking like it’s gonna cruise past 500,000 tonight, so the heymacs want to thank anyone who gave us a peek and supported the effort! Cheers, dudes & dudettes . . we like your taste in tunes !!“

Macky, of the heymacs

The heymacs cover of “Hit the Road Jack” hit the ½ million mark, and then just kept on climbing. 550,000 clicks as of this morning. And where it stops, nobody knows …

And that’s it, folks, that’s your wrap up and run down.

Happy Summer Folks!

CERBing the Beat


by Roxanne Tellier

COVID-19 hit Canada hard somewhere around the second week of March, 2020. I remember it well, because the shutdowns began in earnest just days before my husband’s birthday, and right about the time that Mirvish Theatre sent me an email advising me that I’d be receiving a refund for the tickets I’d purchased for a show that week. The theatre had gone dark, as had most of the city’s offices, stores, services, and restaurants. 

There’d be no night on the town, no birthday dinner or musical event for us that year – nor the following. And when you get to a certain age, you’re not sure how many more birthdays you’re actually going to get to have, so celebrating them should be a priority.

Because we are older, and retired, most of the aspects of the lockdowns had less affect on Shawn and I than they did on those who are still in the work force. Sure, it was inconvenient, and learning to get up early enough to catch the ‘senior hour’ at the few stores that opened at 7 a.m. wasn’t much fun. But really, those pension cheques, small as they are, just kept showing up in our bank accounts like clockwork, so our income didn’t drastically change in response to the pandemic.

For most Canadians, however, COVID hit hard, and it made a beeline for their wallets. Layoffs, combined with unexpected costs, sent fear through the hearts of those in the gig economy. People that had travelled out of the country, whether for business or pleasure, were suddenly finding themselves having to pay for pricey emergency flights back home, their work or tours cancelled without notice. 

It soon became apparent that the entertainment business had a much longer reach in our economy than we had previously realized. For every musician, actor, and performing artist in Canada, there is a support team that can encompass a few in their personal orbit, or can stretch to cover a small city’s population of ticket sellers, ushers, hair stylists, makeup artists, agencies, seamstresses, catering companies, lighting crews, sound crews, and so many more.

For every restaurant that closed, the layoff of people directly employed there created ripple effects that spread across the country, as food chains were broken, and farmers wondered how to plan that year’s crops.

COVID-19 did not just upend the Canadian economy; it turned the economy upside down and shook it hard enough to loosen every dime that might have been put aside for a rainy day.  For a large proportion of Canadians, financial security was revealed to be an illusion.  

Ironically, many of those hit hardest were those that had embraced the idea of entrepreneurship, of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, and who had kicked over minimum wage jobs for a chance at the brass ring of working for themselves.

As many businesses closed their doors, the few that were allowed to remain open had to adjust to the implementation and costs of new social distancing requirements. As unemployment soared, the Canadian government had to act quickly in an attempt to safeguard jobs, protect businesses, figure out how to get funds to the vulnerable, and hopefully, avoid the nation falling into a debilitating economic depression that would take years to overcome.

Canada wasn’t the only country that acted quickly to protect its people. In advanced economies with solid unemployment and benefit systems in place, there are already methods in place that could ensure our neediest had a chance to receive benefits to tide them over. There were, however, special problems in distribution at times, often, in part, because of a lack of staff available to help those who fell between the cracks.

In the first few months of the crisis, Canada, along with many other countries, moved quickly to put into place wage subsidies for salaried workers, and compensation for the self-employed.

In Canada, France, Australia and Ireland, a weekly wage subsidy was available for all employees whose livelihoods had been impacted by business closure. The US, instead, spent most of their trillion dollars in subsidies on businesses, with just a small increase, in some states, to their unemployment insurance measures available.

I won’t pretend to be fully conversant with the vagaries of CERB – it was rolled out quickly, and then rolled back a few times, turning into a Frankenstein monster as bits and pieces were added on and then removed, seemingly on whims. For those that had filed taxes for the previous year that exceeded $5000, they were eligible for about $2000 a month in emergency response benefits, capping out at a maximum of $8000 for the initial four-month period.   

 A lot of people didn’t know how to apply, or applied in error through both Employment Insurance and the CERB structure, and yes, mistakes were made. Some applied to receive benefits over and above other benefits they were receiving, and then discovered that getting that extra money meant that they were on the line for paying extra taxes this year.

CERB ended on Sept 26, 2020, and was rolled into an enhanced EI program for those that continued to be unable to work, due to their employment being closed under government regulations. The amount that people can receive has been decreasing for some time, and, as the new Canada Recovery Benefit, provides a flat rate payment of $300 a week for up to 54 weeks, until October 23, 2021. Not everyone receives that full sum.

Between March 15, 2020 and October 3, 2020, when changes were made to bring the CERB response into line with the Employment Insurance benefits that would replace those payments, the Canadian government handed out $81.64 BILLION dollars.

It’s estimated that COVID-19 will cost Canadian taxpayers about $400 billion in benefits and business supplements. And that’s assuming we get back to business soon, and the economy reboots in a timely manner.   

A once in a century pandemic was followed by something incredible – a “Great Pause” in which modern societies responded to a crisis by stopping and shutting down most social and economic activity. While it may have been inevitable, due to the public health crisis, this public policy crisis is an utterly unprecedented grand experiment, and we’ve not seen the end result yet.

It’s been a very expensive virus, for nearly everyone. And we’ll be digging out from under for years.

Except for the privileged few. Those people that worked in government never lost a penny. If anything, they had access to funds more easily than the Average Joe. People who worked in Big Business – especially those in upper management – pfft! If they even lifted their head from their tablets, it was to attend a ZOOM meeting. They worked from home, and most managed to save a ton of money from not having the costs of commuting to work.

Yes, there was a core of Canadian workers that actually profited, in small or large ways, from this pandemic. And those people … are the ones who are now fomenting anger against those who have chosen not to return to back-breaking, unsatisfying, dead end jobs.    

We need a new word to describe the sort of person who profits from a global crisis, and then mocks those who didn’t manage, as they did, to turn a profit on the screams and blood of the sick and dead. Something that sums up the gross entitlement and privilege that oozes from their pores as they troll those people still trying to get back on their feet after losing their jobs, and in some cases, homes.

I’m really glad and proud that Canada stepped up to help those people who would have been the hardest impacted by the government mandated closures of small businesses. The alternative would have been horrific, and something that no modern, civilized society should contemplate. We cannot have a large segment of our population going hungry or homeless, through no fault of their own.

But there are those who, without knowing much about what those workers have endured, are now frustrated at the workers who have had a change of heart about working in minimum-wage, low-paid, thankless, dead-end jobs. They want their haircuts, or their cold beer and wings, and they want it now! How dare these servers, hairdressers, and shop attendants not be on hand, ready and willing, to cater to these entitled swine?

They can’t envision, nor could they handle, the daily mental and physical assaults that those who serve the public endure regularly – a stream of abuse from customers, bosses and coworkers. No long term job security, no benefits, no holiday pay, or even a guaranteed holiday or weekend off. Little respect from the public, despite many servers being better educated or smarter than the customers they serve. I remember well those days when the tips were low, or the times I had to pay for someone’s Dine and Dish, but then still had to tip out to the rest of the staff. Yeah. Been there. Wouldn’t go back. 

I finally got a haircut the other day. It had been far too long. I enjoy the experience of being pampered, of having my head and hair washed and massaged. It’s calming, and a little bit of luxury I can afford. The young hairdresser and I chatted throughout. He told me that the “Great Pause” had been very hard on him, financially, but that the CERB had enabled him to spend some time enjoying his life, his family, his friend, and his city. He told me that, for many people his age, it had been a time when they had been able to re-evaluate their lives. It had been a time to reflect, and to get off the treadmill for long enough to see the other possibilities out there.

Millennials have a keen sense of right and wrong, and they know when they’re not being treated with respect. All workers deserve emotional, financial and legal respect, but in the past, a lot of workers have merely been surviving.

As the city begins to re-open, with more relaxed rules on how staff in hospitality and retail can interact with the public, there’s been a tendency to point an accusatory finger at the staff who previously filled the open jobs in stores, bars and restos, but are now reluctant to return.  

But there’s no hard data to support any claims of a labour shortage.

Wages in stores and restaurants remain very low, at around $15 an hour. If there were a true labour shortage, those wages would be rising. But they are not, because store and bar management are asking staff to return at low wages and rebuild the store or bars profits on their own backs. In truth, raising wages would only make it harder for management to recruit cheap, desperate, and often inadequate, labour.

Quote: “It’s no mystery how to recruit and retain a more stable workforce: offer better pay, stable shifts, decent benefits, and improved training and safety. Inadequate and irregular hours are actually a bigger disincentive than low hourly wages (almost half of hospitality staff work part time). Reorganizing schedules to allow predictable shifts and more full-time roles would support genuine career opportunities in these industries, rather than a culture of lousy precarious work.

…………………………………………

Other countries have shown that service sector work can offer stable middle-class career paths. Canada could do the same, but only if we prevent employers from taking the easy out — namely, providing them with still more desperate workers willing to work for any wage. If governments respond to complaints about a labour shortage by cutting income supports or importing migrant labour, that will only short-circuit the improvements in job quality these sectors ultimately need.

Only once did Canada’s economy truly run out of workers. That was during the Second World War, when a massive, government-funded war effort ended the Depression and put every able worker into a productive job. We aren’t anywhere near that situation today, but we could be, if we wanted to. We could launch an ambitious post-COVID national reconstruction plan, featuring massive and ongoing investments in green energy, affordable housing, and human and caring services. That would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, end mass unemployment and improve living standards in the process.“  The Toronto Star, August 2021.

Instead, newspapers like the Financial Post, itself a poster child for being dependent on government handouts to pay the bloated salaries and bonuses of it’s incompetent management, work to incite the anger of citizens who have no idea of how back-room businesses actually work.

While writing this column, I put up a request on Facebook for information on what is the current rate of CRB. I was immediately hit with a snarky comment from a troll who wanted to know why I wasn’t out patrolling the streets to find a new job. Yeah, he’s gone. And I’m retired. But if I were someone trying to get back on my feet after the lockdown, and the loss of income for the last 18 months, I would likely have felt assaulted and shamed for not fulfilling that idiot’s idea of what constitutes my right to live and work in this country.  

I don’t know how to explain to someone that vile how ugly, privileged and entitled they show themselves to be. Worse still, that they appear to wear that ugliness and ignorance with pride.

When we consider all that Canada and the world has endured during this time, when we consider where we’ve been and where we are now, it’s a real shame and a black mark on our society, that we have to factor in the likes of those trolls, who seek to foment yet more anger, and to further widen the inequality and inequity that diminishes any nation hoping to become a better place for all that live there.

Into the Home Stretch


by Roxanne Tellier

Okay – who stole July? It was just here a minute ago! In truth, I barely recognized it, under all that rain, but I know I saw it!

1969. I’m in class in my high school, ignoring the teacher’s droning voice, because one of the cool boys is softly singing to me that “Summer’s Almost Gone.” No! I tell him, it’s only May! In that infuriating way that an ‘older’ boy of 17 schools a ‘younger’ girl of 15, Gerry laughs derisively at my childish ways. Ah, he says, it’s gone before it even begins.

We had some good times, but they’re gone. The winter’s coming on. Summer’s almost gone.”

Gerry didn’t make old bones – he died fairly young, like so many dreamers. But he was right about how quickly time flies by, first metaphorically, and then in reality.

Summer used to be when I’d get into the ‘good trouble’ that my mum called ‘bad trouble,’ but it was all part of being young and feeling free. Summer was lying on Anne’s half-roof, slicked with baby oil, chasing the perfect tan. It was Summer Blonde by Clairol, and purple polka-dotted short shorts. Cranking the transistor radio and singing along to “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe. Motown. Learning how to French inhale, buying ‘weed’ that turned out to be parsley, but getting high anyway. Feeling sophisticated when the bottle being passed around the campfire was Mateus. Community swimming pools and boys boys boys!  

But Gerry was right. I blinked, twenty summers passed, and far too soon, I found myself watching my own daughter chase the elusive soap bubbles of teen summer fun. And then she blinked, and now she’s watching her own girls race into their adult years.

Summer’s almost gone.  

This has been such a crazy year. We’ve had highs. We’ve had lows. Many of us have eagerly pursued and received our double shots of vaccine, and have had the joy of embracing family and friends for the first time in nearly two years. I’m mask free when I’m in the still fairly empty streets, only masking up when I have to come in close contact with strangers. Shopping has lapsed into a benign activity, free of a frenetic fear of what you can buy this week, but not the next.

We are in the PushMe PullYou time of COVID-19. Television ads trumpet “Welcome back … back to normal … it was a long time, but now … welcome back ...” But it’s not really normal yet at all.

Baby steps have been taken. We tiptoe back into what was once mundane. First, we nosh on the patio, then, with hesitancy, we head inside the restaurant. Some remain fearful, their eyes darting around the room like woodland creatures at a rest station.

We hear rumours of live music happening, initially on the driveways of the musically inclined, and then, slowly, slowly, in outdoor venues. In some places, musicians play on the sidewalk, aiming their sound at the diners within the venue.   

And, as surely as the swallows return to Capistrano, with the first faint sounds of live music’s return come the first complaints of the music NIMBYs.   

From the Beaches to Birchcliffe, and along Spadina Avenue, the Devil’s Advocates begin their plaintive refrains.

“It’s not that I don’t LIKE music, it’s that I’m trying to be considerate of those that may not, “ they explain. “Even if I personally don’t live anywhere near where this music is being performed, I feel it my duty to complain on behalf of my brothers and sisters who may not be as forthright as I am.”  

“Music broadcasted outdoors in a residential neighbourhood is not considerate!” wrote one such Advocate this morning, about the Happy Pals afternoon outdoor gig at Grossmans.

Several musicians had responses for this ‘brave’ fellow, including one who helpfully suggested that “People who live near Queen or Spadina and are shocked when they hear live music outside, ESPECIALLY AFTER AN EXTENDED LOCKDOWN, will find Burlington much quieter, and they should move there immediately.”

And so say all of us.

Summer’s almost gone.

Can we really be rounding summer’s corner, stampeding into the fall, and heading straight into the last five months of this confounding year?

The new school year is roaring towards us at breakneck speed, neck and neck with dire warnings of a Fourth Wave of Covid-19. This year has had a few twists in the tail. We don’t know any better now, than we did 18 months ago, of what might be on the horizon. Lockdowns? Masking?  Will school age kids be the next group sacrificed on the COVID-19 altar?  

We can’t minimize the trauma that kids, teachers, and all the workers with children, have dealt with since the onset of this pandemic. Don’t wave off the hard work of everyone, parents included, who had to deal with a once in a lifetime public health crisis, while protecting and shepherding the minds of the young. And consider that they have also had to contend with self-important government officials who changed rules and tactics with the wind, and who regularly chose approaches that may have satisfied some economic ideal, but were often completely wrong-headed for the needs of children.

Assuming that Canada sidesteps another plunge into lockdown, our kids and those that care for them are going to be dealing with a lot of conflicting emotions. Getting everyone mentally and emotionally prepared to start a new school year is gonna take a little work.

Many will be drowning in ‘all the feels’ of a new endeavour, all at once. There’ll be fear, anxiety, excitement, sadness, relief, and curiosity, each fighting for attention. They won’t know what to expect, and to help ease that uncertainty, everyone’s going to have to choose some coping tactics to get through tough moments. Hopefully, having some good stress relieving strategies, like using deep breathing to take a pause, will alleviate some of the worst tensions.   

We are all like those children. We’ve been buffeted by trauma, and it’s going to take some time to re-emerge fully. This is the time to be gentle with each other, and to learn the lesson that the Big Pause should have taught us, that sometimes we ride Life, and sometimes, Life rides us.

Summer’s almost gone. August is the Sunday of Summer – Summer’s last stand.

Up Up and Away


by Roxanne Tellier

There was an interesting article in the New York Times last week that talked about a phenomenon known as ‘collective effervescence.’ This term describes the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group in a shared experience. That could be anything from a gathering of friends in a restaurant, to the frenzy of wedding guests doing a line dance in synchrony, to the sort of nationalistic madness seen in Little Italy or Little Portugal when their country’s team wins the World Cup.

“Research has found that people laugh five times as often when they’re with others as when they’re alone. Even exchanging pleasantries with a stranger on a train is enough to spark joy. That’s not to say you can’t find delight in watching a show on Netflix. The problem is that bingeing is an individual pastime. Peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.

Collective effervescence happens when joie de vivre spreads through a group. Before Covid, research showed that more than three-quarters of people found collective effervescence at least once a week and almost a third experienced it at least once a day. They felt it when they sang in choruses and ran in races, and in quieter moments of connection at coffee shops and in yoga classes.  

But as lockdowns and social distancing became the norm, there were fewer and fewer of these moments. I started watching stand-up comedy specials, hoping to get a taste of collective effervescence while laughing along with the people in the room. It was fine, but it wasn’t the same.

Instead, many of us found ourselves drawn into a dark cloud.“ 

(Collective Effervescence, The New York Times, July 2021.)

This lack of opportunity for ‘group joy’ during the pandemic should have paved the way to a global euphoria over any number of happy moments as lockdowns and quarantines ease off.

And you’d certainly think that the spate of current and future billionaire ejaculations into near space and actual space would quality as such a bonding moment.

But it seems that one of the many side effects of having 18 long months to navel gaze actually changed the way we think about our planet, and how we look upon those who have the wherewithal to improve worldly conditions, but choose instead self-aggrandization and yet another revenue stream to compound their interests, guaranteed to turn their billions into trillions.  

Billionaires dabbling in being astronauts? Or would they be better called ‘astropreneurs’, since the entire exercise of their expensive playing at space travel centers around their intent to further feather their own financial nests?

In a way, it sort of seems inevitable that some bullish business people would bumble their way into the future of space travel. After all, there’s just no way that an arrogant, madly incompetent, divisive, selfish and bumbling group of doofuses like the current Congress could ever work together to get another space mission organized. It’s laughable to even think they’d be capable. Were entities like the postal office not already in place, they’d never exist under the capabilities and political correctness of today.  Nations can no longer build collectively because we’re too divided and it’s too expensive. The future really does now lie in the hands of the billionaires and their untaxed largesse.

And what more logical series of events could ensue than that Richard Branson, richer than Croesus and a famed daredevil, who, in 2006 played an engineer on the ACTUAL Space Shuttle in the film Superman Returns, would choose to launch himself as the hero the Me Generation didn’t know they needed …Super Billionaire.

None of this hoopla would be happening without the cooperation of several entities, both governmental and social. The media is falling all over itself, terribly grateful to have something to fill up all those hours previously devoted to the prior president, and they’ve always been on the side of the rich – they know from whence comes the butter for their bread.  

So they’re lionizing these billionaires like they’re real life Tony Starks. Lookie here! Branson, Bezos and Musk are singlehandedly building a new endeavour – space tourism! Something that only the very wealthy will ever enjoy, but hey hey my my! If I every get a spare $55 million, I’m on my way to the International Space Station! Just like that!

Questioning the value of this ‘space quest’ isn’t about belittling space; it’s pointing out that that quest comes at a very high cost: exploited workers, the avoidance of taxes by the superrich, and the governmental handouts available to the wealthy while 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

Do we need space tourism? Not really. Those who are in the know and the most bullish on this new industry foresee revenues in the $8 billion range by 2030, so it’s not that big a deal for the economy. To put it into perspective – Americans already spend more than that, about $11 billion a year, on the carpet and area rug industry.

And that $8 billion is not pure profit. Remember, Bezos will still have to bring in about $5 billlion from his Blue Origin space venture just to recoup what he’s already spent.

By the way, how’d Musk, Bezos and Branson get all those billions to spend on this narcissistic ego splurge?  Well, first there was the tax fiddling, and avoidance of corporate or personal taxes, which, of course, is roundly and soundly encouraged by most right wing parties as the core of their “I got mine, Jack” mantra.

Then there was the $50 million bailout Branson received for Virgin Airline, that never did get spent on the airline. Thanks, taxpayers! (Branson’s VirginCare also grabbed several million from the NHS during the pandemic, for losing out on an $82 million pound contract. The reasoning seemed to be that, if they couldn’t provide children’s health care, then suing the pants off those who would be doing so was the next best thing.) 

And how on earth did the Billionaire Brain Trust manage to accomplish the takeover of a governmental space program? The same way those in the defense industry have always done it – by lobbying.

“Still, for a newbie industry, commercial space travel is quite well established. We know this because it already has its own lobby, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF). And that lobby is already more powerful than the U.S. Government.

Despite opposition from several quarters, the CSF has been successful in its special pleading with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and with Congress that it’s much too early to certify the airworthiness of commercial spacecraft or the competence of pilots.

The budding commercial space industry deserves the “learning period” — legi-speak for regulatory laxity — that Congress has granted it until 2023.

The CSF and its Republican allies argue that robust regulatory safeguards in this newish sector would weaken America’s technological prowess.

That is hardly the first time Americans have been asked to put their country ahead of niceties — niceties such as being quite sure, in this case, that your pilot knows how to fly this thing.“                

Toronto Star, July 2021.

That lobby convinced the American space program to effectively shut down, and let the new billionaires on the block take over. 

So, to recap: the planet’s Bright Young Things are now heading off into space (or near space, really, in Branson’s case; Branson’s flight only got up to 92 km above the Earth’s surface. The Moon is about 384,000 km away from Earth.

They got the money to get there by being the best at selling stuff, avoiding paying their fair share of taxes, lobbying (i.e., paying off) the right people to get to put together a commercial version of spacecraft without much oversight or control, and intend to sell their vision to very rich punters who have a spare $200 thousand or so lying around to celebrate Granny’s 100th, or their own 25th anniversary.

Once they’ve established themselves as relatively stable and safe, they will be able to sell their services to any government, including the United States’, as an option that will essentially undercut the costs of maintaining permanent stations in orbit and on the Moon.

There’s also the possibility that their services could be co-opted, or even simply ‘kidnapped’ by entities with a yen to attack satellites, or harness information and intelligence integral to reputable governmental agencies on Earth.

I guess it will be up to each of us to decide if all of these consequences add up to a positive or a negative impact upon the planet.

The costs involved certainly could have had an impact. Last I checked, there was still a global pandemic going on; epidemics of homelessness and addiction; millions of hungry children and adults; climate change burning up half the planet while it drowns the other half; and trolls controlling social media in an effort to subvert democracy. For starters.

Meanwhile, the net worth of Branson, Bezos and Musk is roughly $400 billion. Each of them has more money right now than anyone could reasonably spend in a hundred, overly privileged, extravagantly Marie Antoinette styled, lifetimes.

So how COULD the money they’ve spent on fulfilling their childhood fantasies actually have impacted the 8 billion of us living right now, today, on Planet Earth? 

A mere $8.6 billion would be enough to cover the shortfall of 1.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses that will be needed for the 90 lower-income economies by early 2022.

They could easily afford to build affordable housing for every single one of America’s estimated 500,000 homeless people, and then cut cheques to each of America’s 1500 food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries.

Or alternatively, they could solve world hunger. I’m gonna guess that would warrant a little more excitement on their Wikipedia pages than a listing of the cars and houses they spent their fortunes upon.

But the arrogance and selfishness of the wealthy didn’t begin, nor will it end, with this trio. It is, unfortunately, just the way the rich and powerful have always, and will always, roll – at the expense of the many, for the entertainment of the few. Capitalism rewards sociopathy and endless greed.

“Let me just say that (Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970) track, “Whitey on the Moon,” changed the way I thought about the space race forever. It anchored the flight into the heavens, tethering it to the persistence of racial inequality, and pulling it out of the abstract, universal realm in which we like to place our technical achievements. Though I still think the hunger for the technological sublime crosses racial boundaries, it destabilized the ease with which people could use “our” in that kind of sentence. To which America went the glory of the moon landing? And what did it cost our nation to put whitey on the moon?”   

Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic, May 28, 2011.

Smile Damnit. Smile!


by Roxanne Tellier  

To be honest, I haven’t much enjoyed the last five years or so. I’m not just talking about politics, though, if there was ever a time in which it became apparent how much politics affects every aspect of our every day lives, this was that time. 

I’ll bet even your grandmother learned how to use the “block” function on her Facebook page.

Almost imperceptibly, the world sustained a seismic fracture, dividing families, communities and nations into camps. On one side, those who believe in equality, and that everyone has human and civil rights. On the other side, those that SAY they sort of agree with those precepts, in theory – but have their reasons for why they really don’t. And, like door-to-door proselytizers, they’d be happy to bend your ear for hours on end, to let you know exactly why they don’t agree with what you’re saying. In progressively louder sentences.

I think the last eighteen months of COVID just did me in. It was the final straw. Eighteen months of fear, uncertainty, deprivation, and doubt. Eighteen months of never being sure what day or month it is. Eighteen months of not being able to come together to celebrate birthdays, weddings or anniversaries. No parties, no musical events, no theatre. And, perhaps the cruelest of all, no chance of gathering to bid a final goodbye to the loved ones we lost.

How could so many people that we love have died, and been buried, with so little recognition or fanfare? Some days, an old friend’s birthday circled on my calendar fills me with anxiety, as I wonder – did they make it through this year? Or were they one of the many who left our ranks with little to no fanfare?

Mustn’t grumble, we’re told. Yes, it’s all hard, but complaining won’t do any good. No, it won’t. Complaining won’t change a thing. It won’t bring back our dead, or our equilibrium.

But.

I’m sick of being expected to simply assimilate this decade’s horrors, compounded by all the crap that the Powers That Be rain down upon the masses, and just smile, smile, smile.

Smile as climate change burns one half of the planet to a cinder, while the other half drowns in torrential rains and melted ice caps.

Smile while our rich cities become unaffordable to the middle class, and smile as the city’s elected officials send hordes of police to evacuate and destroy the homeless camps that are filled with their fellow citizens, citizens who are financially unable to live in the cities they built with their toil and taxes.

Smile while the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, because only the wealthy can afford to run for leadership roles, get elected into power, and once in place, be relied upon to act to shore up laws and regulations that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the common people. 

Smile while federal and provincial leadership is so badly handled throughout a once in a lifetime global pandemic that, while half the city goes mad struggling to figure out how and where to get vaccinated, the other half holds anti-mask, anti-vax, super spreader rallies in the downtown core, unimpeded.

Smile as an orange madman’s most important legacy seems to have been his ability to teach his followers (in the US and Canada) two new commandments:

  1. call anything you don’t like or want to believe ‘fake news’, and,
  2. should anyone expect any accountability or ‘adulting’ from you, double and triple down on your ‘rights’ while denying any responsibility for your acts.  

It feels like there’s no one and no thing making much effort any more. Thanks to the internet, we live in a world where we’ve never been so aware of evil people and deeds, of corruption, of fraud, of social media voyeurs with a sadistic bent, of sickness, death and horror – present or impending – occurring on a global scale.

And yet, for the bulk of the population, rather than act, it’s a time to double down on escaping into the soothing waters of social media, where one can bathe in an uninterrupted stream of whatever turns your crank, until the day the grid topples.    

Apparently, it’s never the time to fight to change what seems an inevitable slide into the abyss. There’s something good on television, it’s too hot/cold/rainy out there, and what does it matter anyway? It’s not like anything I do can change the world, right? No, I’ll just stay home. And maybe sign this petition. It’ll be fine.

There is little to no response to any suggestion that our actions might have brought about the mess we are leaving to our heirs. The ability to feel remorse and/or shame seems to have been genetically modified out of our systems. Or have we just passed the buck for so long that we no longer remember what happens when we’re the last one’s holding it?

Our legacy of little horrors only begins with the hoards of useless and unrecyclable junk that broods in our basements and attics. Our children will live with their memories of a better planet. Our grandchildren will never know the world that baby boomers took for granted.

And I say to myself …. Where’s THEIR Wonderful World?

I will be honest; I don’t know where we go from here. The bus is on fire, and we may have missed our last chance to turn it around.

But I’m tired of smiling, and pretending that what we see happening around us, isn’t happening. That way madness lies.

All that’s left is to prepare in the way Maya Angelou advised, “Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

What a Difference a Year Makes


by Roxanne Tellier

On January 25th, 2020, a Toronto man returning from Wuhan, China was the first presumptive COVID-19 case in Canada. By March, with the disease raging across Canada, the World Health Organization had declared COVID a pandemic, the NBA, NHL and most other sport leagues had suspended their seasons, while the Olympics were officially postponed to 2021, the Juno Awards were cancelled, Parliament went on break, and schools began to close from coast to coast.  

We went from zero to 60 in a matter of weeks, and many, many mistakes were made as countries and organizations began to try to manage this novel, and extremely frightening, attack on our health and ways of life. 

We began a global journey through a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which had much in common with the blindfolded fumblings of Sandra Bullock in the film Bird Box;   it’s a miracle either saga finally found a respite in which to take a deep breath, and you just know there’s still a further twist to the tale, which will involve yet more monsters.    

Mistakes were made. Many, many dumb and well-meant mistakes were made, by many very smart and well-meaning people. Remember when Dr Fauci told Americans that they didn’t need to wear face masks? As it turns out, that was because there were severe shortages of the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to keep healthcare workers on the front line of hospitals safe. Some nurses and doctors had to resort to wearing plastic bags instead of proper gear, to try and protect themselves, and many died while trying to save the sick.

Sadly, experts like Fauci and the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams knew that the same Americans emptying stores and hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer were likely to put masks on the ‘must have’ list, further endangering those health care workers. Were Fauci’s words a lie? A mistake? A true reading of the selfishness, greed, and lack of empathy they knew Americans were capable of exhibiting in a crisis?

16 months later there are anti-maskers pointing to Fauci’s words as justification for disobeying public health regulations currently in place, so I’m not sure that his impulse was his best career decision. It’s not right up there with injecting bleach into your veins, or shoving light sticks up where the sun don’t shine, but Fauci’s probably justifiably low opinion of his fellow citizens had a pretty serious rebound effect.

On March 30th, our PM Justin Trudeau announced a new wage subsidy program that would cover all businesses whose revenues had dropped by at least 30% because of COVID, and on April 14th, that aid was extended to nearly 5.4 million Canadians as CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit)  Some received as much as $2000 a month, which, along with other pandemic discounts, like a reduction of primetime Hydro costs, allowed singles and families to limp along as stores were shuttered, and restaurants and bars closed their doors – some, forever.

For a very long time I kept a tally of the rising numbers of the dead, even as I noted in my calendar the passing of friends, whose lives were never officially celebrated, because of limitations on gatherings.  

Throughout the summer of 2020, families struggled to keep themselves and their kids occupied, as teachers frantically worked to put together some sort of curriculum that they still did not know if they would be presenting in person, or by ZOOM. Most teachers had to do double duty, and prepare prospectuses for both aspects.

At the beginning of October, as America neared the critical November presidential election, it was suddenly announced that then president Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. He was whisked away for treatment, where a battery of specialists laboured to save his life. We now know that it was touch and go for him, and that he would not have survived had he been an ordinary patient without access to emergency and experimental medications. Still, insouciant and ungrateful, he was released from hospital within a few days, and triumphantly removed his face mask for the camera in a carefully posed for posterity, ridiculous, photo op. 

(And is it just me, or does that pic not scream it’s resemblance to the imagery and vibes of The Man In The High Castle?) 

Had he died, or had he finally told his followers how severe the disease was, and had he told them that simply masking themselves could help with slowing the spread, he might have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But he did not, and the death toll in America soon hit a landmark figure – half a million American souls had died from this horrible disease.

Trump received 74 million votes, but there is no indication of how many of those were ‘mercy’ votes. Regardless, the tally was still lower than Biden’s, who received more than 81 million requests to take over before the ship of state went down for a third and final time.

The development of a vaccine was on the horizon. Although it normally takes about 10 to 15 years to produce a new vaccine, scientists had been working on something along the lines of COVID for a decade, since the SARS epidemic of 2009. Between that headstart, and the liberal application of government funding, at least three workable vaccines were produced in record time.   

On December 8th, the first Pfizer vaccine was injected into the arm of 91 year old Margaret Keenan, of Britain, and on December 14th, both Canada and the U.S. began administering vaccines to their citizens.  

But there’s a difference between having a vaccine available, and getting that vaccine out and into the arms of those who need it, and in this case, about 7 billion people needed two doses of it, and STAT. Many, many more mistakes were made.

While governments struggled to put schedules into place for the procuring and administering of the vaccine, the toll of the sick and the dead continued to rise around the world. Quebec and Ontario were hard hit, and curfews and stay-at-home orders took effect, restricting our movements.   

Winter dragged listlessly into spring. Time became amorphous, and most days, I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Thursday. Nor did I care. I applauded those that took creative control of the lockdown and produced work, but refused to beat myself up for not being industrious in traumatic times.

On April 7, 2021, a much more vigorous third province wide lockdown went into effect in Ontario, and Ontarians learned a new term – ‘non-essential goods.’  We discovered that this covered children’s toys, books, underwear, shoes and sandals, hobby supplies, and non-garden centre gardening items.

Everyone had their high and low points; I’ll never forget the day I nearly burst into tears in a Dollarama because the foam mannequin head I needed for a craft project was deemed ‘non-essential.’  It wasn’t the foam head I was mourning, so much as the very idea of simply entering a store, choosing an item, and being allowed to freely purchase said item. That’s what I’ve done all of my life. Having that ‘right’ denied cut like a knife. I had had enough. I did not want to play pandemic any more. 

On the day that Ontario’s shopping lockdown was lifted, consumers headed out in droves to satisfy their itch to buy-buy-buy. There were lineups at every store, including the dollar shops and charity outlets. One morning I wanted to shop at a local charity store. About twenty minutes before the store was to open, there were 17 people in line ahead of me. When I asked some of the waiting if they had a specific purchase in mind, they told me that just being able to get into a store, to see what was available, and to freely touch the items was all they wanted.  

We are not just human-touch starved, it seems. We are also starved of the everyday, ordinary tactile experiences that we used to take for granted.

Because I have certain health issues, I made it a priority to get vaccinated as early as possible. Shawn and I had our first jab April 6th, and our second on June 7th. We’re now covered and eager to get back to some semblance of a social life in the near future.

well, not quite THIS social … 😉

But sixteen months after our COVID-19 journey began, the world has actually had more COVID deaths in 2021 to date than it did in all of 2020.  It’s NOT over. We, the lucky and the vaccinated in the West, can’t afford to rest on our jabbed laurels; the ill and the dying in less wealthy countries are producing variants that may be able to sneak past our vaccine defenses.

Where are we now? The Delta variant of the virus still poses a danger for the unvaccinated, and it’s apparently more contagious and deadlier than the previous version. The fully vaccinated are probably protected. This variant represents a phase of the pandemic that focuses on the unvaccinated.  

Even as the number of Canadian hospitalizations and deaths fall, people around the world are reimposing mask requirements and death tolls are rising. In Africa, a third wave is surging, and threatening to be it’s most devastating and worst wave yet. India has recorded over 30 million cases, and nearly 400,000 deaths. In Sydney, Australia this week, at least half a million residents have been forced into lockdown for yet another week.

And still there are no plans to shelve the Tokyo Olympics, which open officially in just four weeks. One option in play is a ‘no-spectator games,’ but the situation changes from day to day, and organizers need to remain flexible to changes. Since there’s already signs of a resurgence of infections (1% in the last week) athletes have to roll the dice to decide whether or not participation is a wise choice for their health and their careers. 

Last week, two members of the Ugandan team tested positive for the Delta variant upon entry to Japan. No matter how extensive the testing may be, there are 11,000 Olympian athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes entering Tokyo, along with the tens of thousands of additional participants amongst the coaches, judges, and federation officials. That’s a lot of testing. And a lot of room for error and mistakes.

Covid-zero nations are working diligently to eliminate the virus through isolation and mass vaccinations. Biden’s White House has said that it will provide Afghanistan with 3 million doses of the J&J vaccine, of which only one dose is needed, along with oxygen and other supplies, in an effort to help with an outbreak of the delta variant.

Overall, the United States is donating 55 million doses to the world. Canada has plans to donate 100 million doses as part of the G7 effort to provide a billion doses to low- and middle-income countries, but for now, we are donating 13 million ‘surplus’ doses, which are mainly comprised of brands which we are either having difficulty bringing into Canada, or which haven’t been authorized for Canadian distribution.

It’s been a devastating sixteen months, and it’s not over yet. We’ve seen the best in people, and we’ve certainly seen the worst come from the words and deeds of the selfish and the ignorant. Many of us seem determined not to give those who got us here their due; again, there have been mistakes made, but we’re still standing, and in Canada, we’re closing in on the finish line, with reasonable numbers to show for this unexpected and overwhelming calamity.

We’ve learned that being elected can’t turn a bad politician into a leader, and that leadership doesn’t come naturally to all contenders. And we’ve learned that we, as a nation, are strong enough to make it through a crisis that brought other countries to their knees.

And for that, at least, we can be justly proud.

Forty Acres and A Mule


by Roxanne Tellier     

President Biden’s declaration of June 19th as a new federal holiday – Juneteenth – is an incredible moment for a nation in recovery from a global pandemic. At least half of America is rejoicing at this leap forward in race relations in the nation.   

The other half – well, they wouldn’t be happy unless they were celebrating the cancellation of the Civil Rights Act itself, really. You know, the Civil Rights Act was very nearly not a thing. Fact. The Republican Party was adamant that the Act not be authorized, despite the original powers contained being quite weak. The House passed the bill (290-130) on February 10, 1964, and after a 54-day filibuster, the Senate voted 73-27, for. (The filibuster was led by Democrat senator from Georgia Richard Russell, who said, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure . . . to bring about social equality and intermingling.”) However, it was not until a further amendment was added that the Civil Rights Act was signed into law on July 2, 1964.

There was a similar foot-dragging that went on concerning Martin Luther King Jr Day in 1983. You see, a president (in that case, Reagan) can propose a federal holiday, but that doesn’t make it so in all of the states. Neither the president nor Congress have the power to declare a national holiday. That’s one of those ‘states rights’ things. Which is why it took 17 years, until 2000, before MLK Jr Day was actually a national holiday.  

In the case of Juneteenth, I’m guessing we’ve got at least that long to go, if not longer. After all, even as Biden signed the bill, the GOP were enacting legislation outlawing the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT.) Eight U.S. states have already enacted laws banning its teaching, and nine others are very close to joining them.

Juneteenth is … complicated. Juneteenth commemorates something akin to a sick version of “Finders Keepers.”  By which I mean, if the slaves didn’t find out they were freed, the bad guys got to keep ‘em.

Let me back up.

So, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, which declared that all enslaved people in the Confederate States, and not in Union hands, were freed. That actually became effective on January 1, 1863, and there were many people of colour who awaited that day with baited breath, longing to be able to declare themselves free.    

However, it wasn’t until federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, that slavery was essentially ended. (I’ll explain that ‘essentially’ in a second.) It was believed that this was the last bastion of slavery in the nation, and that now, all of the original slaves were freed.

Which means that there were possibly thousands of slaves who were actually free men and women for two and a half years AFTER they had been legally freed by Lincoln, who remained in bondage, being used and abused by their owners, because no one had told them they were freed. Imagine being family to someone beaten or murdered in that time, believing their owners had the right to mutilate them or take their lives, because their lives were bought and paid for.

It would be akin to the concentration camps of Germany still operating in far reaching areas until 1950, because no one had told the prisoners that they were supposed to be freed, and the Kommandants and the SS were not going to be the ones that told them that the allies had won the war.

Anyway, the United States didn’t actually fully abolish slavery until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865.  

But was slavery actually abolished? Sorta kinda. Because those people who made laws and had power at that time tended to be rich business people whose enterprises would be made vastly poorer if they had to actually pay the people who did the backbreaking labour on their plantations and businesses.

Slavery was not abolished even after the Thirteenth Amendment. There were four million freedmen and most of them on the same plantation, doing the same work they did before emancipation, except as their work had been interrupted and changed by the upheaval of war. Moreover, they were getting about the same wages and apparently were going to be subject to slave codes modified only in name. There were among them thousands of fugitives in the camps of the soldiers or on the streets of the cities, homeless, sick, and impoverished. They had been freed practically with no land nor money, and, save in exceptional cases, without legal status, and without protection.” W.E.B. DuBois

So, into that ‘emancipation’ law was snuck a little poison pill that far too many people of colour would be biting for decades to come.      

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 

13th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Since that would mean the paying of actual wages to workers, Southern states acted quickly to enact an incredible array of laws meant to criminalize nearly everything about the lives of former slaves. These were known as the Black Codes.   

Mississippi was first off the hop, when it passed an 1865 law titled, “An Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen.”  This law would punish black workers for vagrancy, should they fail to contract themselves to white farmers by January 1st of each year.

“Blacks could be sentenced to forced labor for crimes including petty theft, using obscene language, or selling cotton after sunset. States passed new, strict vagrancy laws that were selectively enforced against blacks without white protectors. The labor of these convicts was then sold to farms, factories, lumber camps, quarries, and mines.  

After its ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in November 1865, the South Carolina legislature immediately began to legislate Black Codes. The Black Codes created a separate set of laws, punishments, and acceptable behaviors for anyone with more than one black great-grandparent. Under these Codes, Blacks could only work as farmers or servants and had few Constitutional rights. Restrictions on black land ownership threatened to make economic subservience permanent.

Some states mandated indefinitely long periods of child “apprenticeship”. Some laws did not target blacks specifically, but instead affected farm workers, most of whom were black. At the same time, many states passed laws to actively prevent blacks from acquiring property.” (Wikipedia)

Far from the promise of ’40 acres and a mule’ being bestowed upon loyal workers post-emancipation, a world of hurt was about to descend, quite legally, upon those who had the misfortune to have so much as a drop of black blood in their veins.  

And it continues to this day. In the very much ‘for profit’ prison system in the states, people of colour are vastly over-represented amongst the millions who are used as – yes – slave labour. Since any one convicted of a crime forfeits their rights to freedom, and is technically a slave, wages paid to prisoners are … slave wages.

“Penal labor is economically important due to it being a source of cheap labor, with base pay being as low as 60 cents per day in Colorado.   …

Firms including those in the technology and food industries are often provided tax incentives to contract prison labor, commonly at below market rates. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) serves as a federal tax credit that grants employers $2,400 for every work-release employed inmate. “Prison in-sourcing” has grown in popularity as an alternative to outsourcing work to countries with lower labor costs.

A wide variety of companies such as Whole Foods, McDonalds, Target, IBM, Texas Instruments, Boeing, Nordstrom, Intel, Wal-Mart, Victoria’s Secret, Aramark, AT&T, BP, Starbucks, Microsoft, Nike, Honda, Macy’s and Sprint, and many more, actively participated in prison in-sourcing throughout the 1990s and 2000s. After the 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol, it was noted that FPI would receive priority when the federal government purchases products such as office furniture to replace what was damaged in the riots.    

Critics of the prison labor system argue that the portrayal of prison expansion as a means of creating employment opportunity is a particularly harmful element of the prison-industrial complex in the United States. Some believe that boosting economic benefits at the expense of an incarcerated populace prioritizes personal financial gain over ensuring payment of societal debt or actual rehabilitation of criminals.”  (Wikipedia)

Many people of colour believe that the elevation of Juneteenth to a federal holiday is little more than a consolation prize; a day off work, though only for those employed by the government. Rather, many would prefer to see legal reforms, an end to the lack of accountability police unions enjoy, and an actual end to slavery, through a reassessment of the penal provisions in the 13th Amendment.

Institutional racism has been built into the United States since the first slaves were brought to its shores in 1619. That, and more, is what is causing so many Republican states to react violently against the concept of critical race theory.

The theory looks at how the law and legal institutions in the U.S. are inherently racist in how regulations and laws are enacted to maintain social, political, and economic inequality.

The very concept of the modern-day idea of ‘race,’ as a definition by which peoples can be enslaved and abused, without repercussion, really only came into general use alongside the formation of the United States. Prior to the 1500s, the term was rarely used, and then only to identify groups of people with a family relationship.

Our current definition of race refers to the identification of groups of people by their physical traits, appearance, and/or characteristics, and is an entirely human invention.

 In the 18th century, political and intellectual leaders began publicly to assert that Africans were naturally inferior, and thus best suited for slavery. This theory was gratefully accepted by Americans who had already decided that the native Americans who actually owned and lived on the lands the settlers coveted were weak, and unworthy of being part of this New Land. That sort of thinking allowed the settlers to ignore the horrors they inflicted on those they drove ever westward, to hellish reservation lands, and to eagerly accept the concept of slavery of Africans. 

Portraying those of different coloured skin as lesser-than, soon applied to any group that came or was brought to America. Slavery was a natural, and so cost effective. Exploitation of the First Peoples, of the Africans brought in chains, and then of refugees from other countries, most notably of the Chinese that built the railroads, brought enormous wealth to those that could not conceive of the humanity of any other than their own white, Christian brethren.

Critical race theory shines a klieg light on to the legal white racism that non-Caucasians have been subjected to for generations. The GOP wishes to condemn and cancel any talk of how the health, wealth and legal standing of people of colour are decided in their courts, but civil rights scholars have definitively shown that past and current American laws maintain white supremacy, and allow societal and structural racism.

The fight continues for equality. One small step at a time, we move forward … even if it means we do it under the burden of dragging the ignorant, the unwilling, and the racist on our backs to the finish line.

Happy Juneteenth!