Peter Cottontail Has Left the Building


cute bunnyThis week, leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, has always been considered the Holiest of Holy weeks to Catholics. As a child, I looked forward to new shoes and a showy hat (women still had to wear them in church, back then) and a basketful of goodies – maybe even a chocolate bunny!

But that was then, and this is now, and it’s been a long time since anyone’s hunted for coloured eggs at my house. Peter Cottontail has left the building, and this week was a horror show all around, with bombings in Brussels, the ramping up of panic in America over both terrorism and Trump’s continued putsch to glory, interspersed with freezing rain, a dismal outcome (for many)  to the Jian Ghomeshi  trial, a Liberal budget that projects a $30 billion deficit, and a surprisingly negative response to the new Batman vs Superman movie. Oh, and the beer and liquor stores were closed for two days.

And you can add to that the shock accompanying hearing of the death of comedian Gary Shandling.  At 66, he was far too young, and we were not ready for his genius to leave us.

You will forgive me if this has been a week I’d prefer to forget.

The loss of another celebrity, former Mayor Rob Ford, also captured attention. I’ve written about him before, and my feelings about his tenure remain unchanged. So do the feelings of those who admired him. However, Torontonians who dared to pen anything more than a non-committal noting of his passing were soundly excoriated by their fellow citizens for not prostrating at his bier with enough respect.

rob ford dead headlinesThe world press had no such strictures.

Some people will try to convince you that their way to mourn is the only and correct way. I disagree. There is no ‘right way” to mourn, and demanding fealty at the point of a disapproving moral gun does not change the past. You would think that the unprecedented two day period of lying in state at City Hall (at the request of the family) would appease the bereaved, but apparently, that is not enough. Those who revered his blustering, bumbling ways would have us re-write history, in an effort to whitewash his misdeeds, and beatify him as Toronto’s savior.

MargaretThatcher 1992It’s all so very reminiscent of the post-death canonization of Margaret Thatcher. Reviled during her tenure for her hawkish policies, key role in bringing about the first Gulf War, and advocating  for the 2003 attack on Iraq, along with her ushering in of a period where the rich got richer at the expense of the poor, her influence negatively affected millions around the world. And yet, her canonization began just nanoseconds after word of her death hit the airwaves; she was lionized worldwide in the press, her state funeral cost Britain  £3.1 million pounds, and Iron Lady statues made of actual iron were erected in places as diverse as the Falkland Islands , despite Argentina’s fury.

Meanwhile, the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” raced to the top of the British charts.

There’s a price to be paid for assuming a position of power – the admission includes having your life and history scrutinized and deemed worthy or unworthy, both by those who liked you and by those who didn’t, who still had to live with the impact of political actions. It is ‘misapplied death etiquette,’ as journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote, to be expected to apply the same moral high ground  we do to the deaths of private individuals as we do when considering the entirety of the life of an influential public figure.

There’s something distinctively creepy – in a Roman sort of way – about this mandated ritual that our political leaders must be heralded and consecrated as saints upon death. This is accomplished by this baseless moral precept that it is gauche or worse to balance the gushing praise for them upon death with valid criticisms. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loathing Margaret Thatcher or any other person with political influence and power based upon perceived bad acts, and that doesn’t change simply because they die. If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history.”

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/08/margaret-thatcher-death-etiquettefacebook judges and lawyers.jpg

Ah, but the self-anointed social media judges and lawyers would disagree.

A video capturing an incident involving a young woman, confronted with parking in a handicapped space, went viral this week. Shot here in Toronto, in front of a Tim Hortons, the video showed her reaction to being caught – privileged outrage, threats, and the throwing of two cups of coffee at the videographer.

Surprisingly, many were more incensed by the videographer’s capture and sharing of the incident, than at the belligerent aggression of the scofflaw. Despite assaulting the photographer, and driving off in a huff, aiming her vehicle at the cameraman before swerving away, these commentators believed  she should not have been confronted, but rather, that the photographer should have ‘minded his own business.’

As the video went viral, international viewers were stunned to see her rudeness … aren’t all Canadians pretty much nice and polite people, they asked?  No, some, with possibly the best of intentions, are bullies.

Bullying in an attempt to force your morality, or personal and world views, onto others, is still bullying. I have one ex-Facebook friend who blocked my posts because her nephews follow her page, and she censors what they can see. Another Facebooker resented my questioning the morality of the actions of Israel towards Palestine, despite my information having come from a Jewish peace activist living in Israel.

And the culmination of the trial of Jian Ghomeshi unleashed some of the vilest comments I’ve ever seen directed at alleged victims of assault. The women were ‘liars,’ ‘manipulative,’ ‘shameful fame seekers,’ ‘femitards,’ ‘toxic bitches,’ and worse. Despite the fact that a total of 21 women had originally come forward to complain, with identical accusations, about Ghomeshi’s weird ideas on sex play, only three were brave enough to appear in court, and all three were pummeled with relentless demands to answer questions about, not just the attack, but trivial events of a decade past – what lawyers like to call ‘whacking’ – while Ghomeshi sat silent.  (ghomeshi cosby.jpg)

The judge’s decision acquitted Ghomeshi, but also noted that his verdict did not mean these events ‘never happened.’ The judge simply didn’t believe the women’s testimony, flawed as it was by misremembered events, private messages between two of the accusers, and contact with the accused after the fact.

For women of every political stripe, the decision was flawed, and the system biased. At City Hall, one naked protester was unnecessarily and roughly tackled to the ground, her nipples scraping the pavement as she was dragged away by the police. Despite nudity being legal in Canada, the uptight citizens must not be discomfited by the sight of a woman’s breasts.

From a story released by the CBC: “While former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi’s acquittal has sparked protests, many within the legal community are praising the decision, agreeing with the judge that the complainants’ credibility issues raised reasonable doubt in the case.”

By implication, stating that “many within the legal community” support the decision, dismisses by extension those who found the decision as to be  ill-informed. In actual fact, many of those who have criticized the decision are academic and legal scholars.

Am I biased? Perhaps. Or is the system itself flawed? At the beginning of the month, a report filed by the Criminal Lawyer’s Association found that women were leaving the field of criminal law in dramatically high numbers, due to systemic discrimination.

 “It found low pay, lack of financial support for maternity leave and being treated differently than male peers by judges and court staff as some of the reasons so many women are leaving private practice of criminal law,” reported Maureen Brosnahan for the CBC. “Many women also reported a lack of respect and being treated differently than male lawyers by court officers, police, crown attorneys and judges. One reported being called “little lady” repeatedly. Others said they were chastised for asking judges for time to pick up children from school whereas their male counterparts who made similar requests were not rebuked.”

Whether or not it is possible to change how sensitive cases are handled in an atmosphere where women are routinely marginalized, it’s still time for an honest reappraisal of how sexual assault cases are conducted in Canada, especially in the face of the numbers.

“In Canada, the low rates of conviction for sexual assault are an indictment of the system itself. As a 2014 Toronto Star article revealed using Statscan data from 2004 and 2006, 460,000 women self-reported sexual assault: 15,200 reported to the police, 5,544 charges were laid, with 2,824 prosecutions and 1,519 convictions. Again, that’s almost a half million self-reported assaults, and 1,519 convictions. Something is deeply wrong.”

 Understandably – and not because we are stupid or legally naive, but because 1 in 4 women has experienced a sexual assault in her lifetime, and has a strong personal stake in how this case concluded – many women were incensed at the Ghomeshi decision.

Enter ‘mansplaining.’

Either unable or unwilling to see how angry and hurt many women are by the Ghomeshi decision, mansplainers flocked to the posts women made about their feelings on the ruling. “Read the decision,” they intoned, as though we were either too stupid to understand, or blind to the many gloatings of those who’d ‘called it’ from the beginning, and who were dancing in joy at both the decision and having been proved right.

Hey! Your side won! Now could you take your foot off my neck so that I can sympathize and empathize with women who feel as I do, stunned at the inevitability of once again, being re-victimized  post-assault?

Are you so utterly deaf to the agony of people in pain that your only recourse is to repeat incessantly that ‘justice has been done?’  willful blindness

Or as one woman keened in her blog, “How can you be so blind? How can you insert yourself into a woman pouring her grief out, to tell her that legally, she has no case? That what happened to her, didn’t factually happen. To throw a smothering blanket on the fire igniting in her. She has no reality. The law is the reality. It is the neutral, the official record. It is gas lighting on a massive scale.

So I know perhaps the evidence wasn’t there, or that the burden of proof wasn’t met. And I don’t fucking care. This isn’t about this one case. This case was inevitable, like watching a lemming marching to its doom.

It’s every fucking time. Every time. The mundanity of the oppression, the predictability of the reaction, the backlash that follows. “      (https://afateofpossibilities.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/this-isnt-about-the-ghomeshi-case/)

It is indeed gaslighting. It’s telling people that their emotions are invalid, that what they see and feel has no wegaslighting2ight. It’s a way to keep those who disagree with you off balance, wondering if perhaps what they perceive isn’t real, casting doubt on their mental stability, pointing to others that agree with YOUR beliefs as proof that THEY are in the wrong. It is psychological abuse. And it’s an ugly way to treat anyone.

The overwhelming miasma of this week – at least for me – has been one of outraged, self-righteous, phony, morality gone mad, and overwhelmingly imposed upon all in its path. Think as I think, believe as I believe, abandon your own truths and take on mine.

Whether it be Trump calling the beleaguered city of Brussels ‘a hellhole,’ or Cruz demanding strict policing of American Muslims in their own neighbourhoods; police manhandling protestors, or judges calling women deceitful and self-serving, it’s not been a good week to have a high Emotional I.Q., and a low tolerance for sanctimonious public principles forced upon the social order by the court of public opinion.

Speak-your-truth Ghandi

 

(first published  March  27/16 (bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/roxanne-tellier-peter-cottontail-has-left-the-building)

But I don’t want to ‘spring forward!’


On Sunday, many of us will “spring forward,” where we will stay until the first Sunday of November, when we will “fall back.” That’s an awful lot of springing and falling, if you ask me, especially in a leap year.

I grew up with the concept of Daylight Saving Time, but I’ve never truly understood the idea. I remember being told some sort of story about farmers and crops andcrabby alarm clock what sort of monster was I to think that my urban sense of time was more important than agriculture, and where do you think you’re going in that short skirt, young lady … oh, that might have been another conversation….

Anyway, yeah – saving daylight. Maybe it’s a war thing, like Saving Private Ryan. I’m sure I heard some story about munitions factories wanting to save on electricity during the war years, and I guess that makes a bit of sense, but really – aren’t most factories closed shops? Dependent on artificial light to see by, regardless of the time of day? So hang on – both of the reasons I remember being told for Daylight Saving hinge on some vague memory of what farms and factories looked like a hundred years ago?

This is all starting to seem rather silly and ‘make worky.’

daylight saving petI do enjoy a little more sun at the end of a long summer’s day, but I can’t really justify that odd bit of enjoyment while I deal with feeding pets that are notoriously bad at telling time. Their little tummies want to be fed on a schedule, and asking them to wait patiently for another hour ensures that it is ME who will be groggily trying to find my slippers, and then banging off the hallway walls trying to find the kitchen, an hour earlier.

And I fail to see how my running from room to room resetting clocks, thermostats, recording devices, microwaves, and stove clocks saves me any time at all.

Proponents say that the extra light prevents automobile accidents, but school bus accidents occur more frequently in the morning during DST. And in fact, there’s a huge spike in accidents of all kinds on the first Monday after the clocks move forward. It actually takes about five days for our brains to settle down after a time shift. There’s also a huge spike in heart attacks in the first week after the clocks go forward. Human bodies like schedules, and having schedules disrupted for no apparent reason is very stressful. boycott_dst

The whole thing’s a crock, first brought up in a Ben Franklin joke in 1770. People stopped laughing when an English builder named William Willet lobbied for the idea in 1907. In 1915, Germany adopted daylight saving, in an attempt to save energy, and in 1916, Britain followed suit. There was a war going on, so most of the allies, including Canada and the United States, jumped on the bandwagon as well.

And we’ve been tinkering with time ever since. In Canada, it’s a provincial decision, and hardly worth thinking about until the morning you wake up at 6 a.m. only to discover it’s now 7 a.m. Most of Saskatchewan, however, has a real muddle. The province is nominally on Central Standard Time , even though it is in the Mountain Zone, which means it’s effectively on DST all year –round. What?

funny-daylight-savings-time-cartoonAll I know is that all of this backwarding and forwarding of the clocks is annoying, and is really just a nostalgic reminder of how businesses ran a century ago. Today’s businesses operate around the clock, like it or not, and syncing time with the United States is as silly as attempting to synch to Australia or China – if you need to do business there, you’ll figure out how. The idea that we all need to work at exactly the same time and in exactly the same way is controlling and paternalistic, and about as useful as a vestigial tail.

Getting rid of Daylight Saving would be as simple as beginning it – just stop. It seems that no one’s bothered to address the issue recently, because it IS such a simple thing.

But it is a silly idea that’s run its course. It is confusing, annoying, and doesn’t save time or energy, so why bother? Down with Daylight Saving! I’ll remember to change my smoke alarm battery some other way!

daylight saving blanket

 

It’s The War on Christmas, Carol


As hard as it might be to imagine holiday songs battling it out, the plain fact is … Christmas songs mean big bucks. Over and over and over again. A Number One Christmas song can mean early retirement for the writer, with a nice pension income supplemented every year in December.keep calm xmas songs

Sound cynical? Maybe. But it’s the reason why many writers and artists get their ho-ho-ho’s in gear in time to hit the December charts. Pop songs come and go; a classic holiday song lives forever.

Picture “Jingle Bells” pummelling “Santa Claus is coming to town” a la UFC, though I would think songs like “The Christmas Song” and ‘Silver Bells” would never lower themselves to a fight. Perhaps they would slap each other’s little faces with their velvety gloves, and request a sunrise duel.

I tell you, the battles are real. In England, perhaps more so than anywhere else. Being an unrepentant Anglophile, let me fill you in on some of Britain’s most infamous chart races.

“In the United Kingdom, Christmas number ones are singles that are top of the UK Singles Chart in the week in which Christmas Day falls. Novelty songs, charity songs or songs with a Christmas theme have regularly been at the top of Christmas charts. Traditionally the volume of record sales in the UK peaks at Christmas, with the Christmas number one being considered especially prestigious, more so than any other time of year. Many of the Christmas number ones were also the best-selling song of the year. Due to the common practice of dating a chart by the date on which the week ends, the Christmas chart is dated on or after 25 December, but comprises sales for the week before Christmas.”

“The official UK Singles Chart slade merry xmasbegan in 1952 after appearing in the New Musical Express; the positions of all songs are based on week end sale totals (from Sunday to Saturday until 2015, then from Friday to Thursday). Before 1987 they were released on a Tuesday due to the need for manual calculation. The emergence of a serious contest for the Christmas number-one spot began in 1973 when the band Slade deliberately released “Merry Xmas Everybody” as an effort to reach the top of the charts on Christmas” (Wikipedia)

Yep, the furious fight for #1 first took shape in 1973 in Britain. Three songs were vying for the top spot; “Step into Christmas” from Elton John, “I Wish That It Was Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard, and “Merry Christmas Everybody” by Slade. The numbers were close, and since these were the days before computers were commonplace, the tallying went on right up until the last moment.

wizzard xmasElton stalled out at #36, while Slade and Wizzard held their collective breaths … Wizzard took a respectable 4th place, and it was Slade by an angel’s hair! It seems most Britons preferred their seasonal greetings shouted at them. Still, 40 plus years later, both songs continue to enrich their writers, and keep the British public dancing.

“”The Performing Right Society put out a statement saying Slade’s Merry Christmas is the most heard song in the world because royalties come in from more countries than for any other song. The estimate is that it’s been heard by 42% of the planet, more than 3 billion people, whether they wanted to hear it or not.” – Jim Lea, Slade.

and those losers in fourth place ….

 

Things settled down for the next decade, but by 1984, another battle caught the public’s attention. Bob Geldof/Midge Ure’s Band Aid release, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” was tugging at our hearts, and the video, with it’s array of current and venerable pop stars, was delighting the little girls. But no matter how adorable George Michaels was in Wham’s, “Last Christmas,” Band Aid took the prize.

 

Both songs were re-released the following year, so George had another kick at the top spot, but alas… only came in second for the second time in a row. Maybe that’s what sent him off in his quest for love in all the wrong bathrooms.

 

Hey, it’s not like the British taste is always impeccable. In 1993, Mr Blobby’s song/video took the Number One spot, and it wasn’t even about Christmas.

 

And in 1994, a boy band called East 17 kicked America’s perennial fave, Mariah Carey, and her “All I Want for Christmas is You” to the curb. No accounting for taste.

 

In 1996, 97 AND 98, The Spice Girls took the Number 1 spot each year … with “2 Become 1,” “Too Much” and “Goodbye,” none of which had much to do with the holidays at all. But it was the 90s – little did we know worse was to come.

Ah yes, it’s a mad world … speaking of which, Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for FearsMad World’ did indeed win out over Britain’s Pop Idol contestants, and their cover of John Lennon’s ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ in 2003.When the Pop Idols fizzled at #5, glam rockers The Darkness tried to sneak in with ‘Christmas Time.’ But that was 2003, and we were all pretty bummed out that year. “Mad World” suited us just fine.

 

By the 2000s, reality show pop singers were dominating the British charts, but in 2009, Rage Against the Machine snatched the Christmas victory away from X Factor winner, Joe McElderry, with their song “Killing In the Name.”

Just how big is the big biz in holiday songs in England? It’s a huge market, and those who capture their nation’s imagination earn a permanent place in the hearts and pocketbooks of the fans. Shane MacGowan of the Pogues is said to have effectively retired on the proceeds of “Fairytale of New York“, which he performed with Kirsty MacColl. The song went to number two in the UK charts when it was first released in 1987. It was kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’Always on my Mind’.

 

shane macgowan new teeth.jpgFun Shane MacGowan facts: 1) He was born on Christmas Day, 1957, and 2) he recently had his famously horrendous teeth and lack of replaced by implants, in six surgeries that his dentist called “the Everest of Dentistry.” The whole process will be aired on SKY-TV this week, in a documentary entitled Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn. 

So who’s vying for that coveted spot this year? The Biebs is looking good, bieber xmas.jpgas he’s currently dominating the British charts, holding both numbers one and two with his songs Love Yourself and Sorry, respectively.

But close behind, and with a good chance to scoop the honours, is the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir ,all professional health care workers, with a new release of a mash-up of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Fix You” by Coldplay.

 

There’s a big reward waiting for those who climb the British Christmas charts, and the contenders will battle to the finish, with no place too low below the belt to avoid. How big, you say? Big enough to even dig out the disco, as this holiday release from Kylie Minogue demonstrates … only a cynic would say that everyone but Kylie seems to get the joke …

 

With visions of discoing Minogues pirouetting and bumping in your heads, it’s time for me to be off to our family’s Christmas celebrations. Happy Whatever You Call it to ALL! Thanks for reading my offerings during 2015. Have a wonderful holiday season. Hope you see you, all perky and fresh faced, in 2016!

New-Year-2016-Celebrations-Photos

(originally published December 20/2015 … bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/roxanne-tellier-its-the-war-on-christmas-carol/)

 

John Baird – Bouquets and Brickbats


Political junkies were surprised and excited when rumours began that Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird would resign his position, effective immediately, and also resign as an MP, to take effect within days. Speculations as to woil prices cartoonhy, and especially as to why NOW, filled the mainstream and social media.

Was this the beginning of a Conservative meltdown, as oil prices tanked, the loonie dived, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper sabre rattled and proposed new security measures accused of restricting civil liberties?

National Post columnist John Ivison speculated that there was a rift between Baird and Harper over Canada’s sanctions on the Russian government. Some wondered if being pelted with eggs and shoes by dozens of Palestinian protesters in January 2015 had shaken his resolve. (Activists from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party earlier called for a boycott of Baird because of Canada’s Baird Palestineperceived pro-Israel stance, and its opposition to a Palestinian bid to pursue war crime charges against Israel.)

Still others noted that, by not running in 2015, Baird also qualifies for his pension, of $100,00 per year, under an old rule, at age 55. Parliament increased the qualifying age to 65 years old but that policy only covers those who are elected or re-elected in 2015.

Or maybe it was just that, after two decades in public office, he’d simply decided it was time to seek other opportunities, possibly in the private sector. He is said to be finalizing two offers.

Mohamed FahmyOn Monday, Baird reported that Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who is in jail in Cairo, would be released imminently, which would be his last diplomatic victory.

Although Baird’s stances were often provocative, even prompting Conservative colleagues to tease him of having a partisan nature, he was well liked by many in the other Parties.

“I quickly learned thoBaird resignsugh to make a difference, to really make a difference, you can’t be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. You need instead to be defined by your values,” he said in his resignation speech.

Since being named foreign affairs minister in 2011, Baird has spoken out against controversial issues at home and abroad.

In 2012, he addressed a British audience on human rights, saying that Canada would not stand by while its “Commonwealth cousins” criminalized homosexuality and ignored other fundamental freedoms, including the rights of women, minorities, and the right to practice religion. Homosexuality is illegal in 41 of 54 Commonwealth member states.

child marriageIn 2013, Baird spoke at a United Nations session called “Too Young to Wed,” about child brides forced to marry. Baird said “It’s been felt that in some cultures, in some places, this was a social reality. And for the good of the conference, would I mind shutting up,” adding that forced marriage is “unacceptable” and can be ended within a generation.

But he’s made a few gaffes along the way – his request for gold-embossed business cards was outed and ridiculed. He was always on the move, traveled more often, and to more out of the way places than any Canadian foreign minister before him. To his credit, he traveled commercially, but some of his trips didn’t make much sense, and were thought to be a drain on taxpayer funds. He recently flew to Brazil for President Rousseff’s second term swearing in, and attended Persian Gulf conferences that were not important to Canada’s needs.

John BairdIn 2013, a scandal occurred when CTV News reported that Baird and six friends stayed for eight days at the official residence of Canada’s high commission to Great Britain, Macdonald House.

His diplomats were not fond of his frequent, high-maintenance visits. Apparently he wasn’t very fond of them either. In 2014, Baird quietly ordered his department to cut millions of dollars out of a foreign aid program and to call the cut a “surplus.” He blamed the cuts to the program on the bad performance of Canadian diplomats. Associate Deputy Minister Peter Boehm revised the figures in a May 13, 2014 memo, which read “per your instructions, $7 million was declared surplus.”

foreign aid surplusThe NDP Foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, felt the minister was being deceptive. “It’s what I would call a parlour trick, to make it appear like they’re sound fiscal managers, when in fact in this case, Minister Baird is trying to make people believe that his cut of $7 million is in fact a surplus. This is exactly the same thing that they did with regards to lapsed funding.”

Canada’s former Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, wrote  “The Conservative government has managed the austerity program launched in the 2012 budget with deliberate secrecy. They did not inform Parliament of the details of their spending plans…Austerity is difficult and they did not want to pay a political price for making difficult trade-offs…their strategy was to limit planning information to shut down debate and evade accountability.”

baird_IsraelDuring his time as Foreign Minister, his critics have also accused him of selling embassies and ­unflinching support for Israel, diminished backing for multi-lateral institutions and a “distinctly un-Canadian” stance on foreign policy.

However, he leaves behind many who say he played a large part in shaping Conservative foreign policy and personalizing Canada’s diplomatic relations with the international community

NDP MP Paul Dewar, his party’s foreign affairs critic, told Embassy that Mr. Baird brought the Conservative Party’s foreign policy “into the limelight.”

Canada in the world“John Baird made Foreign Affairs—for good or bad—relevant again within the Conservative government. Prior to that, it really wasn’t a portfolio that was important to the government because of the players involved. They didn’t have as much of an interest or an understanding of the role,” he said.

Harper has appointed International Trade Minister Ed Fast as the interim foreign minister.

Greece Is The Word


The outcome of the election in Greece is sending shock waves across Europe. Syriza, the left-wing, anti-austerity party led by new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, won 36% (149 of the Parliament’s 300 seats,) and, by forming a coalition government with the center-right Independent Greeks’ win of 13 seats, will have least 162 seats, a viable majority.

Greece new govt plansThe new government plans to raise the minimum wage, and create 300,000 new jobs, reverse the bank bailouts and stop banks from foreclosing on home owner’s principle residences, close corporate loopholes and offshore havens, and bring in a voucher system to help seniors in need receive food and healthcare.

For more than five years, the Greek citizens have been crushed under austerity policies imposed by the Economic Union’s “troika” of creditors; the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Greek foreign debt currently stands at 175% of Gross Domestic Product.

Almost a third of Greece’s economy collapsed under the restrictions. Since June 5, 2011, when the “Indignant Citizens Movement” or the “Greek indignados“, held a demonstration of between 300,000 – 500,000 people protesting in front of the Greek Parliament, a change in government thinking has been pre-ordained. greek protests 2011

The Greek protest was non-violent for about a month, but on June 29, 2011, the police cracked down viciously on the protesters. Three people were killed, and accusations of police brutality, excessive use of tear gas, as well as the alleged use of other expired and carcinogenic chemical substances, led to an outcry by international media and Amnesty International.

austerity greeceWith half the population in poverty, and no end in sight to continued austerity and misery, it was inevitable that the people would rise up, and demand change.

“Both Syriza and Independent Greeks have detailed emergency economic programs that will commit their government to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe left by five years of the hated Troika policy. The damage has been unprecedented short of wartime, and has led to unemployment officially at 28%, but considered by experts to be actually as high as 45%; pensions and salaries have been slashed by 25-45%. The destruction of the health-care system has increased the child mortality rate, the suicide rate, and the death rate.” (http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2015/4205grk_elex_eup_new_deal.html)

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech  at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, ScotlandEuropean leaders were swift to denounce Greece’s audacity. British PM David Cameron tweeted, “The Greek election will increase economic uncertainty across Europe.” (Britain’s membership in the European Union is a major issue in the campaign for the upcoming May election.)

russia-greeceGerman Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann told ARD network that he hoped “the new Greek government will not make promises it cannot keep and the country cannot afford.” But Germany’s opposition Left Party l called the Syriza victory a “sign of hope for a new start in Europe.” And today, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told CNBC that Russia would consider giving financial help to debt-ridden Greece.

The EU is shaken by the possibility that Italy, Portugal and Ireland, also horribly impacted by austerity measures, will follow Greece’s lead. Fiscal conservatives fear that Greece’s demand to write off up to half of their of €240bn debt will create a “Global Event,” on the scale of the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers Holdings, who went bankrupt with $600 billion in assets.

German Economics 1953But there is precedent in countries restructuring debt. In 1953, Germany was in a similar position to Greece today. With debt from pre-and post-war, they owed nearly 30 billion Deutschmarks to around 70 countries. With no access to capital, and creditors who didn’t believe the country could turn the economy around, Germany was desperate for cash to begin the country’s reconstruction and growth.

Despite budget cuts and laborious repayments, the economic burden was crushing their population. FinanDebt-Accord-290cial negotiations were begun by banker Hermann-Josef Abs, who led a German delegation in London in 1953. He hoped to turn the creditors of today into the financiers and investors of tomorrow. But the foreign creditors felt his first offers were insulting.

The London Debt Agreement, finally signed on February 27, 1953, saw half of Germany’s debts written off, with the rest restructured for the long-term. Germany was not to be economically overburdened. Today, our view of Germany’s economy is paired with the idea that the German people are just a very hard-working people. But none of what Germany accomplished would have been possible without the Agreement.

Greek beach NaxosThose who believe that Greece’s new vision is childish and selfish stereotype Greece’s economy as being irreparably rife with corruption and greed, and fed by an indolent, Mediterranean lifestyle. Those same people once thought that all Germans were Nazis.

greek protests 2014In fact, the average Greek retirement age is nearly 65, but the pension is quite small, requiring many retirees to continue working as long as they are physically able. According to Eurostat statistics, the Greeks work 40.6 hours a week, the highest of all 27 EU member states. The ordinary Greek citizen in not lounging on the beach drinking ouzo, they have been protesting in the streets, as tax increases and social security cuts destroy the peoples’ hope, and the public sectors are privatized to serve as collateral to service the European debt.

The Eurozone finance ministers have no intention of continuing debt relief negotiations unless the new Syriza government promises to honour all existing austerity agreements. Meanwhile, the Euro is trending downward, and the Podemos in Spain, a year-old political party that has surged to the top of the polls promising to reverse austerity in Spain and impose a levy on banks, are poised to join Greece in challenging the stranglehold of the Troika. As Tsipras pointed out during his victory speech, the old ways of doing things in Europe are doomed.   debts are not destiny

Use Your Power – Vote!


CANADA-2030Even those amongst us, who are tired of hearing about, and arguing about, politics and the economy know, deep down, that we must take responsibility for how Canada will be governed and represented to the world. It’s no longer enough to whinge and moan about the issues that have snuck up on us while we struggled to keep up with the cost of living; Canadians need to decide what sort of Canada they want to live in. And that means we have to vote.

10.-Represents-the-peopleWe have the right and a duty to vote, but voter turnout has been steadily declining in Canada and the United States, as well as in Western Europe, Japan and Latin America. The world’s highest voting rates, at 95%, are in Belgium, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, which does not.

(Other countries with compulsory voting include Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Greece, and Luxembourg.)

Voter turnout among Canadians is at an unprecedented low, and has been declining since the late 1980s. Voter turnout in the most recent election, at 61.4%, was the third lowest in Canadian history. Young voter turnout was 39% in the 2011 federal election. Canada’s youth will often say that there is little in politics that relates to them. If an issue catches their attention, they are more likely to participate in boycotts and demonstrations, groups with like-minded views and passions.

Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 14.12.48.jpgThere’s a general malaise about voting. As much as I adore the witty and eloquent Russell Brand, I find his disdain for voting appalling and unhelpful to his more impressionable followers. Even that old reprobate Johnny Lydon of the Sex Pistols, once famed as an anti-establishment rebel, has called Brand’s refusal to vote “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” adding “You have to vote, you have to make a change. You’re given lousy options, yes, but that’s better than nothing at all.”

In 2013, Brand guest-edited Britain’s “New Statesman” and wrote at length about his views on politics, saying “I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics… I will never vote because, as Billy Connolly said, “It encourages them.””dont-vote

He has since moderated his words. “What I said was, ‘There’s nothing worth voting for.’ If there was someone worth voting for, I’d vote for it and I’d encourage other people if they think that there is a political party that represents their views; if they think there are politicians that are speaking on their behalf, by all means vote for them.”

We’re exhausted with the process. We’ve also lost interest in civic and social participation. Pre-1980’s, more of us were involved with our churches and schools, and we were more likely to be involved with professional or fraternal organizations. Before televisions and computers were available in every home, we met our friends and neighbours socially, to play bridge, or to pit our skills against each other physically in pickup sports and bowling leagues.

When pressed, those who can’t be bothered to vote will say that they’re just too busy. It may feel that way, but studies have consistently shown that we have the same amount of leisure time we have always had – we’re just using it differently.

Statist-voting-logicOthers will say that voting makes no difference; we’re only exchanging one self-serving politician for another. Since the early sixties, we’ve had less trust in government and in politicians in general. The rise of ‘attack ads’ and smear campaigns has left voters with a foul taste in their mouth about politics in general.

There’s an actual formula for figuring out the likelihood of someone voting.

PB + D > C.

P is the probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election; B is the perceived benefit that would be received if that person’s favoured political party or candidate were elected; D is for democracy or civic duty, or any social or personal gratification an individual gets from voting, and C is the time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting. (Wikipedia.org)

One of the issues affecting voters in Canada and the States has been a sneaky tinkering with that C; in the name of efficiency and a feigned attempt to curb ‘voter fraud,’ politicians have made it more difficult for some groups to be heard.

election-fraud-for-dummiesVoter suppression, the ‘dirty tricks’ dreamed up to intimidate, or to make it inconvenient or impossible for citizens to vote are illegal activities. After the Canadian Federal election of 2011, the Conservative Party was accused of having used live calls and robocalls to tell voters that their polling station had been changed. Voters were directed to false addresses, often several hours away from correct stations. These calls claimed, illegally, to be from Elections Canada.

A federal court was asked by The Council of Canadians to look into allegations of Conservative Party voter fraud. The court concluded that fraud had indeed occurred, probably by someone with access to the Conservatives databases, but said that there was no direct proof that the Party or any successful candidates were either directly involved or profited from the fraud. Although the Conservative were criticized for making “little effort to assist with the investigation,” the court did not annul the result in any of the six ridings where the fraud had occurred, concluding that the number of votes affected had been too small to affect the outcome. (Wikipedia)

In 2015, changes to Canada’s voter eligibility have a new requirement, that each voter prove his or her physical address on paper. The long accepted practice of having a second person vouch for a voter’s address will no longer suffice.

native voice“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote to every citizen in Canada who is 18 years and older. While the Fair Elections Act doesn’t trump the Charter and render the right to vote for these groups null and void, the EFFECT of the Act could be just that. The Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand reported in a CTV news article that removing vouch voting could affect over 100,000 people — particularly those who are Aboriginal and live on a reserve.

homeless votePeople who are homeless, whether on the streets, couch surfing or living somewhere temporarily, are also at risk of losing their ability to vote if voter vouching is dismantled. People who are homeless can experience theft, or sometimes misplace their personal identification because of housing instability. This shouldn’t hold them back from voting.

“Irregularities” have been noted with respect to voter vouching in the last election according to a report commissioned by Elections Canada. These irregularities are being touted by the current government as a reason to end voter vouching, however, the report actually states that these issues were ‘administrative’ and made by elections workers — not by voters themselves. In court cases that preceded the report, both the Ontario Superior Court and the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that, “there was no evidence of fraud or ineligible voters being provided ballots.” (Huffington Post Canada)

bc reserveThis change may also become a problem as physical mail delivery becomes a thing of the past. It will definitely be a problem for many First Nations people, who often do not have regular street addresses, and thus relied on vouching. Elections Canada now requires each person lacking identification that includes an address to have a different registered voter swear an oath as to the technical land description of their home or a letter from the First Nation confirming the location, along with a piece of identification with the voter’s name. Elections Canada will not accept Indian status cards alone.

voter-suppressionIn the United States, elections are locally administered, which has often been found to allow the manipulation of elections. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses were used to suppress poor and racial minorities from voting. Today, voter suppression is more subtle, but is an integral part of policy for the Republicans, who have championed voter ID laws, voter caging, and felony disenfranchisement. There is also a sad history of physical intimidation at polling stations, ranging from unauthorized security guards, to simply making voters wait for long hours in gruelling weather.

Some countries are working to improve voter turnout by increasing possible voting locations, requiring companies to give workers paid voting time off, or allowing voters to vote over several days, as they do in India. In France, voting is held on the weekend, so that most voters have no need for time off from work.

internet-voting1France, Switzerland, Estonia, Geneva and the United Kingdom also allow internet voting. The US Department of Defense has been looking into making internet voting secure, but no decisions have been made.

In Canada, federal elections still use paper ballots. There have been some efforts at the provincial level to allow internet voting, and some municipalities, including Peterborough, Markham and Halifax, provide internet voting as an option. We’re still a long way from being wired politically.

ask questionsNonetheless, and despite the best efforts of those who fear we’ll make the ‘wrong’ decision come Election Day, it’s still imperative that we use our votes to demand the changes we want to see in government. Voting is our power. By not voting, you cede that power to whomever’s voices are louder than the peoples, to further their own agendas and gain.

help wantedUnless we want a democracy in name only, we need to get involved, to seriously look at the candidates in our constituencies, and make an informed judgment on those who are seeking to work for us. Politicians are job seekers; they need to present a résumé and an outline of what they intend to do for us before being handed power. And they must be held accountable if they fail to perform up to their claims and our standards.

powerWhile they vie for their ‘job’ as your representative, you have the power. Once they’ve been elected, it’s out of your hands. So tell those who want your vote that they’ve got to work for it. Choosing not to vote, or to vote without understanding whom you’re hiring, only guarantees that Canada will find itself in the same place or worse by the next time the opportunity to make a difference comes along.

If you don’t vote, you just won’t matter. And all your complaints and demands will only be the wasted breath of the unheard and the unempowered.