Canada’s Heartaches by the Numbers


crude oil boomingOur dollar depreciated more than 2 cents on Wednesday, and is now worth .81 of the U.S. dollar, the lowest level since 2011. The Harper government put all Canada’s eggs in one basket by banking on North American crude oil, our top export, but the commodity has plunged from a high of $85 US a barrel in October of 2014, to a low of $46.US on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced this week that he would be delaying his budget from the usual February-March date until at least April, due to “market instability.”

Unable or unwilling to admit Canada’s damaged economy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters yesterday that “These things are creating some shocks that will impact us but they’re not going to throw us off our fundamental growth path or undermine the very strong fundamentals of the Canadian economy.” He added that “The government has complete confidence in the Bank of Canada in the actions that it has taken.”

The Bank of Canada cut the rate on overnight loans between commercial banks by a quarter point to 0.75% on Wednesday, in a response to the recent drop in oil prices. The previous rate had been at 1% since September 2010.  market failure

“The drop in oil prices is unambiguously negative for the Canadian economy. Canada’s income from oil exports will be reduced, and investment and employment in the energy sector are already being cut,” BoC’s Governor Stephen Poloz explained.

Many, including NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen, think Harper is in denial. The Conservatives had hoped to sail into 2015 on a high of oil fumes and the elimination of the$2.9-billion federal deficit , but it looks like their plans may be tanked as predicted federal tax revenues could be reduced by several billions of dollars thanks to global oil price shake-ups.

No worries, though, as Harper is relying on the annual $3 billion contingency fund built into the budget for “unforeseen circumstances.”

He also said that “The oil industry isn’t remotely the entire Canadian economy.” So … what is the Canadian economy?Canadian economy

Our population of 36 million boasts a 6.6% unemployment rate, with approximately 62% employed (16-64 years of age). (The United States, with 316.1 million, is at 5.6% unemployed, and 59.2% employed, while the United Kingdom, with 64.1 million people, has an unemployment rate of 6.0%, and 73% of people are employed.)

In Canada, wealth inequality, while an issue, is not quite as visible as in America; our Canadian 1% holds 12.5 per cent of Canada’s total income. 29 per cent earn $135,000 or more. But our incomes are generally lower – 95 per cent of working Canadians earn less than $100,000 a year. Our definition of ‘wealthy’ begins at $150,000.00 per year – chump change for wealthy Americans.

One of the reasons Canadians have not felt as impacted by wealth inequality is that, beginning in the late 1970’s, women surged into the workforce in record numbers. A household with two incomes could manage quite well. With the inclusion of children into the family, however, things got shakier financially. If one of the two wage earners has to stay home with the kids, they’ve effectively halved the family income, in order to raise children and run the home. As baby boomers aged, that child care burden lifted for a large portion of the middle class.

canadian workforceEducation, and it’s inevitable costs, are a factor. In order to succeed in a technological society, we need workers with complex skills and higher education. 64.1% of adults aged 25 to 64 had post-secondary qualifications in 2011, with women aged 25 to 34 holding a larger share of university degrees. 8 in 10 Registered Apprenticeship certificates were held by men.

In 2011, Almost two-thirds of adult Canadians had post-secondary qualifications, Stemwhile 2.1 million adults had a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree in STEM (science and technology, engineering and engineering technology or mathematics and computer sciences) but half of STEM university degrees were held by immigrants who have lived in Canada for many years, and Canadian newcomers.

waiterUnfortunately, Canada has the third-highest proportion of low-paying jobs in the world, with only the U.S. and Ireland having a higher percentage of low-paying jobs. Canada is becoming a ‘nation of part-timers’; part-time employment may still outgrow full-time employment for some years as the baby boomers reduce their working hours or retire.

But the big, well-paying manufacturing companies have left Canada to take advantage of lower labour costs abroad. What’s left for those with or without special skills are low-wage service and retail jobs, which generally lack the benefits associated with higher paying positions, and are becomingly increasingly insecure.

StatsCan released this information in January 2015:statscan

In December (2014), Canada lost 4,300 jobs as full-time employment rose by 53,500 while there was a decline of 57,700 in part time jobs… Employment gains in 2014 amounted to 186,000 (+1.0 percent), with increases in the second half of the year accounting for most of the growth. Compared with 12 months earlier, the total number of hours worked increased by 0.7 percent.”

“There were 24,000 fewer women aged 25 to 54 employed in December. Their unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.2%, as fewer of them participated in the labour market. Employment among men aged 25 to 54 increased by 23,000 in December and their unemployment rate declined 0.2 percentage points to 5.5%, their lowest rate since 2008.”

This month, however, it was announced that five large retail companies will be closing Canadian operations. Lured to Canada by massive tax breaks, cuts and incentives, they’ll be leaving more than 21,000 unemployed by March or April.

Stephen-Harper-CowboyIn Alberta’s tar sands, Suncor cut 1000 jobs last week as oil prices crashed. They also announced that they’d decrease their capital spending program by a $1-billion, and reduce operating expense s by another $200 million.

Canada’s largest growth sector in jobs has been in service and retail industries. Only Alberta has seen respectable job growth. Mr. Harper’s blithe suggestion that the current oil crisis will fail to impact the economy as a whole, sounds very much like a man whistling past the graveyardcanada bleak future

Update Jan 24/15: Last week on Global TVs The West Block, Jason Kenny (MP, Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism) told host Tom Clark, “We won’t be using a contingency fund. A contingency fund is there for unforeseen circumstances like natural disasters.”

But during an interview for this week’s episode of The West Block, Canada’s Finance Minister, Joe Oliver told Tom Clark, “The contingency fund is there for unexpected and unavoidable shocks to the system and, you know, the oil price decline – which was a dramatic one – would fall in that category. I’m speaking as minister of finance so I’m sort of current on the thinking here.”

Use Your INSIDE Voice, Please!


debate shoutingI have a few well-meaning friends who think that I would be just great if I would only listen and agree with their viewpoints, and the people who share their beliefs. I’m always willing to listen to well-reasoned arguments – that’s how we learn and grow – but I have a real problem with some of the people who feel the way to reason is through shouting down other voices.

The loudest voice in the room is not necessarily the most right – but it is always the rudest.

oreilly shouting memeI can’t watch Fox TV’s Bill O’Reilly, for instance, ‘debate’ with any of his dissenters. Not only is his belligerence insulting to those he is supposedly giving a public forum, but it’s unseemly, as it is actually his show, run by him and those who are paid to make sure O’Reilly is heard. Perhaps the most telling thing about O’Reilly’s interviews – which he inevitably claims to have won – are the people he and his network will NOT allow on “The O’Reilly Factor,” for fear that, even with Bill’s louder voice, they will actually show O’Reilly’s opinions up for the smug, over-bearing and self-entitled views they actually are.

In this article, O’Reilly is once again shown as a master manipulator of his own image.

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2015/01/21/bill-oreilly-lies-about-his-role-pushing-debunk/202207

“O’REILLY: All right, we got a minute. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said she’s going to sue Fox News for reporting on so-called no-go zones in Paris. They’re dominated by Muslims and police hesitate to go in there — at least that has been the reportage in some places. I didn’t have anything to do with this. But I will point out that the mayor is a socialist.”

I’veno sense of humour increased self importance become rather inured to O’Reilly’s entitlement and self-satisfaction, but I have to admit, this next clip made me laugh.The man is so convinced of his own self-worth that he played this video on his show, and ‘joked’ that he should have taken top place. Maybe he and Nancy Grace can arm wrestle for the spot.

ush-limbaugh-handsRush Limbaugh has been an American commentator since 1984, mercilessly criticizing what he considers a liberal bias in politics and policies on main stream media. He’s also one of the highest paid talking heads in the U.S. media. A staunch, ultra-conservative Republican, he’s been praised by President Ronald Reagan (1992,) has won numerous awards, including the William F. Buckley Jr. Award for Media Excellence, and has even been named the 2014 Author of the Year for his book Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans by The Children’s Book Council.

rush limbaughHe also had this book written about him, which hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list in 1996. Franken has said that he chose to make the book’s title an ad hominen attack as “an ironic comment on the fact that Rush makes ad hominem attacks all the time.”” (Wikipedia.org)

And yet – The Rush Limbaugh Program is the highest-rated talk radio show in the United States. Only Howard Stern’s “Howard 100” show, netting a “cume” of 1.2 million listeners, comes close. On Limbaugh’s program, “For three hours every day, the program airs live and consists primarily of Limbaugh’s monologues, based on the news of the day, interspersed with parody ads, phone calls from listeners and a variety of running comedy bits (some live, some taped). Limbaugh also does live commercials during the show for sponsors. He sometimes promotes his own products, such as his political newsletter, The Limbaugh Letter. Occasionally, Limbaugh features guests, such as a politician or fellow commentator. A toll-free telephone number is announced for incoming calls from listeners. However, Limbaugh generally takes far fewer calls per show than most other national talk radio programs. (wiki.org)

His fans, known as “Ditto-heads,” are legion; his estimated listeners are believed to be more than 13 million per week. His opinions are deliberately controversial, and often racist or sexist. Callers who dissent receive the “Caller abortion” treatment. (Limbaugh’s term for disconnecting an unwanted caller, accompanied by the sound effects of screams, a vacuum cleaner and a toilet flushing) I guess that’s how you get the big money.

shouty manTalk Radio is big in Canada as well. But our talk radio tends to be confined to local areas, and be more locally focused. The two largest talk radio networks in Canada are CBC’s Radio One and the French language Premiere Chaine. However, we, too have our share of shouty men with fixed opinions.

On some of the call in shows, the host first reads a bit of current news, gives his opinion on the subject, and then opens the phone lines. Callers are screened, and, while our dissenters may be treated a little less rudely, other sides of an issue are rarely given much time. Over the course of the next several hours, callers who agree with the host grind down on the day’s subject, adding their own experiences, which are usually negative.

The problem with this is that, with no dissenting voices, it becomes a morass of “that’s terrible!” “I know, right? And it happened to me too … and even worse!” and several hours later you have a great number of people who have been stirred up about some tiny issue, and have nowhere to relieve their mental tension. It’s an exercise in negativity and a futile windup of people who were likely just having a normal day, until they were dragged into a group of people who had an axe to grind and bad experiences to share.

The listener has become part of the show; unhappy, angry, tense, their stomachs knotted … this can’t end well.

In a true dialogue, people talk rationally, and explain why they feel the way they do. Their passion does not have to be exemplified by a louder, dominating voice, because truth will eventually out, and ring truer than lies. The other person may not hear or accept your truth, but screaming your truth won’t affect how the other person believes. It just adds to a morass of anger, and a division of people.

debateWe have freedom of speech in Canada, and that, we rightfully defend. Our talk show hosts, just like the ones in the United States, have the right to say what they believe, and the technology to let listeners agree with their perspective.

I’m just asking that they try and keep their voices down so that I can hear what everyone is saying .. . not just the one’s with an agenda already in place, in a forum where those who disagree are summarily dismissed before their own freedom of speech can be exercised.

The Last Days of Ivory


elephant-with-babyImagine a world without elephants. There’d still be some in zoos,  but if illegal poaching is not stopped, all elephants in the wild could be extinct in just 11 years.

last days of ivoryOne elephant is killed – illegally by poachers – every 15 minutes; 96 a day; 33,792 a year. All for their tusks, which are then smuggled around the world, and sold at a profit. Those profits are then channelled to terrorist groups, who buy weaponry to kill and control others.

Renowned film director Kathryn Bigelow directed this very short film which outlines the connection between elephant poaching and terrorism. A PETA member, Ms Bigelow opted to use animation for the story, as she could not bear to see footage of live animals being tortured and killed.

But you don’t have to be a PETA member to know that the slaughter of animals is wrong.

The team of “Last Days of Ivory“ has a web page with more information and a call to action.

“Last year we were made aware of the very real connection between elephant poaching and terrorism. For us, it represented the diabolical intersection of two problems that are of great concern – species extinction and global terrorism. Both involve the loss of innocent life and both require urgent action.”

http://www.lastdaysofivory.com/

I know that it feels like every day is another day filled with bad news and hyperbole. We’re told that the world will end if the bees become extinct; that ocean life faces mass extinction before the end of the century; 2014 was the hottest year overall in the world in recorded weather history; earthquakes, tsunamis … it never ends.

Our minds are overwhelmed and fatigued by all that is in danger of being lost, and we feel unable to do anything to change the situation. So we ‘tsk tsk’ and carry on with our day.

But there are some things that are in YOUR hands. You can be a part of the solution.

end-ivory-funded-terrorism@2x“There are real things we can all do to stop wild elephants from disappearing from our world while cutting off funding for some of the world’s most notorious terrorist networks. This site is here to help you convert your anger, your sadness and your compassion into action. Use it!”

Elephants2“Elephants are among the world’s most intelligent species. The elephant’s brain is similar to that of humans in terms of structure and complexity—such as the elephant’s cortex having as many neurons as a human brain, suggesting convergent evolution. … Elephants exhibit a wide variety of behaviours, including those associated with grief, learning, allomothering, mimicry, play, altruism, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, memory, and language. Further, evidence suggests elephants may understand pointing: the ability to nonverbally communicate an object by extending a finger, or equivalent. All indicate that elephants are highly intelligent; it is thought they are equal with cetaceans and primates in this regard. Due to the high intelligence and strong family ties of elephants, some researchers argue it is morally wrong for humans to cull them. The Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, once said that elephants were “the animal which surpasses all others in wit and mind.” (Wikipedia.com)

happy-elephantThere are so many good reasons to care about these big gentle beasts. Spare a moment and share this information with anyone who has a heart.

Martin Luther King Day


what are you doing for othersInjustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea.”   (Martin Luther King Jr. ) 

Today, Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a federal holiday, so many people will enjoy a long weekend, with schools, banks, courts and all federal offices closed.

King was the inspiration of millions, being integral to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. During the 1963 March on Washington, he gave hope to all who felt less than free in America with his uplifting “I Have a Dream,” speech which earned him a reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.

rosa parks quoteIn 1964, then President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. That same year, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (MLKjr)

After his death, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Soon after, labour unions in contract negotiations began to campaign for a holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day , in his honour. In 1971, the day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states

reagan signs MLK dayPresident Ronald Reagan signed a bill designating the third Monday in January to honour King in 1983, but it was not observed until three years later. It is a floating holiday, in that it is celebrated around the time of King’s birthday, January 15. In 1986, the day became a U.S. federal holiday.

Interestingly, Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns.

jesse_helmsSenators Jesse Helms and John Porter East (both North Carolina Republicans) led opposition to the bill and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. Helms criticized King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing “action-oriented Marxism” Helms led a filibuster against the bill and on October 3, 1983, submitted a 300-page document to the Senate alleging that King had associations with communists. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared the document a “packet of filth”, threw it on the Senate floor and stomped on it “ Wikipedia.com)

In 1994, Congress designated the King Holiday as a national day of service. But some states resisted observing the holiday, an action that would seem directly opposed to King’s ‘dream.” It was not until 2000 that the day was officially observed in all 50 states.

Many politicians still active in government today voted against the holiday. In October 1983, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, former GOP presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona, and Richard Shelby of Alabama, were amongst the 22 opposing votes against 78 Senators in favour, along with the current House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, and current top Republican advocate in defense of the Voting Rights Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

steve scaliseMajority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, voted twice against a state version of the holiday. Which is not surprising, considering that it has recently become known that Scalise delivered a previously unreported speech at a 2002 conference sponsored by a white-supremacist group. He was one of three Louisiana statehouse members who voted against the proposal in 1999, and then one of three nay-sayers in 2004.

supreme court“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June 2013 that a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act designed to prevent racial discrimination in certain voting laws was no longer necessary. The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, stated that “things have changed dramatically” in the South and that the “country has changed” since the Voting Rights Act was passed. The court argued the law had successfully defended against discrimination, but was no longer needed. Racism, the court majority appeared to suggest, was over, and laws created during a time when such hatred was in its heyday served now to place unjust “burdens” on certain states and jurisdictions that wished to pass new voting laws — laws, of course, that had nothing to do with trying to suppress minority votes. “ (Huffington Post)

“An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.” (MLKjr)

And so today, Americans celebrate a holiday honouring a man instrumental in the creation of the Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, while SCOTUS – which consists of a non-elected Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for life tenure “unless they resign, retire, take senior status, or are removed after impeachment (though no justice has ever been removed)” (Wikipedia.org) – dismantle that act to protect the very states that impelled it’s necessity.

“How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” (MLKjr)

martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-silenceKing’s words ring as true today as they did in this 1967 speech he gave at Stanford University. The “Other America” still exists, and will continue to do so until more people, universally, demand social equality and human rights for all.

Target Canada Fails To Hit The Mark


Target Canada launchA mere 681 days since Target Corp. arrived in Canada, the discount retailer announced that the Canadian experiment has been a disaster – they’re taking their finery and going back to the United States.

Fashionistas are torn; on the one hand, Canadians who had enjoyed shopping in “Tar-zhay” in U.S. outlets were delighted to have the option to purchase brands like Merona, Xhiliration, Mossimo, and Up and Up. On the other hand, customers complained that the prices were too high, and selection was limited. Target never really seemed to make an effort to update the former Zellers locations they operated, and failed to include an e-commerce site for Canadian deliveries.

Target, after just two years and an overall $7-billion investment, expects to close all 133 stores within 16 to 20 weeks, with 17,600 employees losing their jobs.

walmart cartsDon’t look to Wal-Mart to pick up the stores; on Thursday it was announced that Wal-Mart would be closing 127 under-performing stores in Canada, 33% of their 382 stores. At least 525 people will become unemployed during this “revamp.”

Target had a shaky start-up, losing nearly $1-billion in just its first fiscal year in Canada. By the end of January 2015, their pre-tax operating losses will exceed $5.4-billion (U.S.), from an opening investment of more than $7-billion since 2011.

Beyond the inconvenience to those who need their shopping fix, that’s a lot of people – over 18,000 – who are going to be looking for new jobs by the beginning of summer … when students will be competing for those same jobs.

wal-mart-sad_-face_When you consider that Canada created fewer than 175,000 net jobs in all of 2013 (not including December 2013,) I wouldn’t be counting on seeing a lot of Wal-Mart happy faces come May 2015.

 

Added Jan. 21/15:

Before firing Gregg Steinhafel as CEO earlier in 2014, Target’s board cut his pay and slashed his severance package. He would only get $15.9 million as a golden handshake, or so said a recent regulatory filing. But according to Fortune magazine, his actual severance, which includes profit sharing and stock, will amount to $61 million USD, greater than the severance package for all 17,000+ Canadian Target employees combined ($58 million USD).

Both Sony and Mexx have announced they will be shutting down their retail operations. Sony is, closing all the Canadian stores over the next 6 to 8 weeks, involving 90 layoffs, while Mexx, the fashion chain, are liquidating all 95 of their stores. Reitmans announced in November 2014 that it would close 107 Smart Set stores, but will convert 76 locations into other banners. Jacob, the womens’ store , announced in October 2014 it would abandon restructuring efforts and close 92 stores across the country. Holt Renfrew, a luxury retailer, will be closing stores in Ottawa and Quebec City at the end of January 2015. (no figures yet given for the soon to be unemployed.at Mexx, Smart Set, Jacob or Holt Renfrew)

Smoke and Mirrors and Politics Oh My!


Pull the curtain back to reveal the secrets behind the Wizard of Oz. Pull the camera back to reveal how public relations imaging massages a wonderful picture of solidarity. paris leaders march PR

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s terrific that more than 40 world leaders linked arms and joined a march of solidarity in Paris following the death of 17 people during the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, police officers, and a kosher supermarket.

At the head of the parade were French leader Francois Hollande led the British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, EU President Donald Tusk, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Hollande had actually originally asked not to attend, feeling that Netanyahu’s presence might be ‘divisive.’

After a minute’s silence, the march began. One and a half million people walked behind the dignitaries, who did not stay for the entire length of the march from Place de la République to the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, about 2km or 1.2 miles.

Joining the leaders’ own security staffs were about 2,000 police officers and 1,350 soldiers, including elite marksmen on rooftops.

So when this photo emerged today, I was not at all surprised. paris leaders march real

A wide angle shot, taken from a nearby rooftop, showed that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows of other dignitaries and officials. Following them was a large security presence keeping the leaders separated from the throngs of other marchers.

World leaders want to look as though they are down to earth, and just one of the people, but in actual fact, they are kept fairly isolated from their citizens. They spend a lot of taxpayer money on keeping taxpayers out of their way through security forces. Even the most innocuous photo op involves days of preparation. The kiss that politician just gave that baby was not spontaneous. Leaders must be kept from both intentional and unintentional attack and surprises.

In March 2014, the National Post noted that the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s RCMP personal security team has more than doubled since 2005, when the annual budget for the PM’s protection detail was $8.8 million, to the 2013-14 cost of $19.6 million, an increase of 122% between 2006 and 2014. It costs a lot of money to be that unpopular.

Security aside, heads of countries spend a lot of money and time on image. Specialists in public relations matters, aka “spin doctors,’ work closely with anyone who needs to present themselves, and politicians are no different. They are groomed in how to speak, behave, and maintain a positive public image.

Probably one of the first cases in which style over content ruled was the Nixon/Kennedy television debates of 1960. U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee, and Vice-President Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, were filmed at CBS’s WBBM-TV studio in Chicago.

“Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident. As the story goes, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. But those listeners were in the minority. By 1960, 88% of American households had televisions — up from just 11% the decade before. The number of viewers who tuned in to the debate has been estimated as high as 74 million, by the Nielsen of the day, Broadcast Magazine. Those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Many say Kennedy won the election that night. Sorensen says the Kennedy team didn’t realize what a game changer the debate was until the following day at a campaign event in Ohio. “The crowds for his motorcade were much larger than they’d ever been,” he says. “That’s when we knew that, if nothing else, Kennedy had firmed up support for himself in the Democratic party.” (Time Magazine)

Technology has made it harder for aspiring and incumbent political aspirants to present an always positive image. With social media, a politician’s message can be blasted over Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, creating a more human image. But it can also be used against them, as they are shown to make just as many embarrassing mistakes as any other human.

Mandela funeral selfieI’m sure that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama would like to forget their selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Anthony Weiner had to resign his position as a member of the United States House of Representatives after getting caught sexting in 2011, and didn’t he do it all again during his attempted run for the Mayoralty of New York City in 2013!

ford mocks drunk driverAnd then there’s our own Rob Ford. Nearly everything he did during his term as Toronto Mayor was embarrassing, not only for him, but for the city.

So it’s not too surprising that the world leaders staged a photo-op. What is surprising is that so many people were shocked to discover, less than 24 hours later, that they’d been once again set up to see what politicians wanted them to see.

crisis up my sleevePerhaps it’s an object lesson that people of all countries should consider; the Wizard of Oz commanded Dorothy to ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain‘, because in reality, he was just be a regular guy hiding behind a machine to create a mighty and powerful display.

We Are Charlie


As many a politician and popular figure has discovered the hard way, the right to free speech is a double-edged sword.

Certainly, every democratic country guarantees your right to speak your mind. It does not, however, protect you from being ridiculed or despised by those who disagree with your opinions. free speech

I had an entirely different blog in mind for today, but the events in France yesterday preclude anyone who values freedom of expression from talking about anything but the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo. (‘hebdo’ is a term used in French to mean weekly journal.)

On January 7, two masked gunmen carrying Kalashnikovs, and identifying themselves as al-Qaeda, entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, opened fire on an editorial meeting, and murdered 12 people – eight journalists, two office staff, and two police officers.

Among the dead are some of France’s most beloveJe Suis Charlied and well-known cartoonists and writers, including Stephane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, 47, artist and publisher of Charlie Hebdo, and Jean ‘Cabu’ Cabut, 76, Charlie Hebdo’s lead cartoonist, who was given the Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration, in 2005.

Also slain were Georges Wolinski, 80, previously of Hara-Kiri, a satirical magazine; Bernard ‘Tignous’ Verlhac, 57, a member of a group of artists called ‘Cartoonists for Peace’; Bernard Maris – known as ‘Uncle Bernard’, 68, economic journalist; Phillipe ‘Honore’ Honore, 73, cartoonist, for Charlie Hebdo since 1992; Michel Renaud, former journalist and political staffer; Mustapha Ourrad, copy editor; and Elsa Cayat, analyst and columnist. hebdo weapons

This was not the first time Charlie Hebdo had come under attack. Its offices were firebombed in November of 2011, after the magazine published a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed, and even French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius once famously asked the magazine, “Is it really sensible or intelligent to pour oil on the fire?”

France, with a Muslim population of 5 million, the largest in Europe, has faced decades of internal tensions. Charlie Hebdo’s satirical covers and cartoons were famous for provocatively lampooning religion, with a special emphasis on Muslim extremism.

Regardless of the gunmen’s religious views, 12 people were murdered, and the men who committed the crime need to be caught and punished. And certainly, no one in a democratic country should fear a penalty of death for speaking their mind.

The national motto of France originates from the French Revolution. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.)  charlie-hebdo-3On Wednesday night, thousands of Parisians showed solidarity with the victims by attending a vigil on the Place de la Republique, holding up homemade signs with the word, “Je Suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie) and spelling out the words in votive candles.

French police continue to search for the gunmen, one of whom has confirmed jihadist links. It is feared the fugitives could be planning another terrorist attack.

The world is in shock. Tributes and support have flooded into France as the Free World mourns the vicious attack. John Kerry, US Secretary of State, joined the outcry, saying, “freedom of expression is not able to be killed by this kind of act of terror.” Je Suis Charlie2

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the murders as an attack on “freedom of expression — a key component of our free democratic culture.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, did not focus on freedom of expression, instead taking a militant stance on the terrorist aspect. “Canada and its allies will not be intimidated and will continue to stand firmly together against terrorists who would threaten the peace, freedom and democracy our countries so dearly value.”

Freedom of Expression is not just a North American or European belief.  human rightsThe United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The response to offensive but non-violent speech is more speech, not violence or legal reprisals. The response to unprovoked violence is legal pursuit and justice being served upon the perpetrators.

Despite our horror and condemnation of this act, we must understand that murdering innocent people in the name of some ‘noble cause’ is still murder. A few madmen extremists who hope to be martyred in the name of their religion cannot take away our rights. But it is down to every citizen of every democratic country to continue to demand the right to freedom of expression, and to never take that right for granted.

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The Short-Sightedness of Corporate Greed


In the midst of those post-holiday, January credit card blues, the Toronto Star business section headline on New Year’s Day trumpeted, “CEO pay returns to ‘glory days.’ Canada’s top 100 CEOs earned an average of $9.2 million in 2013, hitting pre-recession highs.”

While I’m sure the 100 families who benefited from those riches preened in delight, I thought the timing a little harsh for the rest of the country. The average Canadian worker has received little to no raises in the last ten years, and even those on a yearly review schedule can rarely bank on more than a pitiable 2-4% increase.

The average Canadian earned $47,358 in 2013.  ceo-salary-cdn

“The list of high-flying executives was led by Gerald Schwarz, CEO of Onex Corp., who earned $87.9 million in 2013, most of it in stock options. Nadir Mohamed, who was then CEO of Rogers Communications Inc., earned $26.7 million. Michael M. Wilson, of Agrium Inc., earned $23.8 million. All five CEOs of Canada’s biggest banks were in the top 30.(Toronto Star, Jan 1, 2015)

I don’t begrudge anyone a good income. But these figures are insane by any measure. While it must be said that the CEO’s earning these high wages did so through stock options, and hopefully, good corporate leadership, there is another side to their recompense; the people who work – or used to work – in the companies they manage.

“Canada’s highest-paid CEOs earned 195 times the average Canadian in 2013. That’s up from 105 times in 1998, the oldest date for which comparable figures are available. … However, even the lowest-paid CEO on the list earned more in 2013 than in 2008. While little data is available on CEO pay prior to the 1990s, it is generally accepted that the ratio of executive pay to average pay in the late 1980s was 40:1 in the U.S. and somewhat lower in Canada.” (Toronto Star)

There are only a few ways that a business can continually increase profit over previous years, which increases the value of the stock, and thereby compels the Board of Directors to approve a CEO’s earnings (which include options and bonuses); by introducing a new product so fantastic and coveted that consumers flock to purchase the item, or by reducing assets and/or staff and/or increasing prices.

That’s where the human toll comes in.

(In the 1990’s) “compensation experts came up with the idea of granting a portion of CEO pay in stock options, in which executives are granted options to buy shares at a “strike” price, usually the current market value of the share. Executives can’t “exercise” the option until a future date, at which time the share might be worth more or less than the original strike price. If the shares are worth more, the executive can opt to “buy” the stock and then immediately sell it at the new, higher value. If they are worth less, he or she can simply let the option expire at no cost to them.

Boards of directors were sold on the idea that options would more closely link executive pay to company performance. Instead, the practice encouraged share price volatility at the expense of long-term value, critics say. Among other things, they say, stock options have encouraged executives to cut costs, lay off staff, sell assets and merge with other firms — all to boost the share price in the short term, often at the expense of the company’s future value. They have also led to the rise of activist investors and hedge funds that buy shares in companies with the goal of splitting them up in order to unlock shareholder value.” (Toronto Star)

I suppose the greed is understandable, even though at that level, money becomes little more than paper to be shuffled about. Greed, accompanied by hubris and a massive sense of self-satisfaction, coupled with a belief that the party will never end, and bolstered by his/her cronies in the same tax bracket, good lawyers and accountants, and a taxation system that treats stock options as capital gains, despite stock options carrying none of the risk associated with normal stock purchases.

A dollar earned through a stock option is worth two dollars of salary income. The difference amounts to a public subsidy paid to these already highly compensated executives.” (author, economist Hugh Mackenzie, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

These executives would also have superior benefits, perks befitting their pedestaled positions, and a golden handshake agreement that would see them being even better recompensed should they ever be asked to leave the corporation. In contrast, the staff remaining after deep cuts and asset sales would find themselves clinging desperately to their jobs, despite usually having to shoulder the additional responsibilities of their now dispatched former co-workers.

In the long term, that corporate greed that has created such high unemployment in Canada (about 6.6% as of November of 2014, which will drop after seasonal positions are gone,) translates to nearly 1.3 million potential clients and customers who no longer have the income to purchase goods or services from the purveyors. 90% off store

(That figure only includes Canadians who continue to actively seek employment. It does not include those who are underemployed, or who have given up on ever finding another salaried position. To put it yet another way, in a population of 35.16 million, only 17.7 million have jobs.)

Between the shrinking job force, smaller cash reserves available for purchases, and an aging population, the wealthier of whom may move to a warmer country or the poorer who may have to rely solely on government support during their old age, it soon becomes clear that the highest paid executives are playing a zero-sum game.

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(added Jan. 7/15 – from Huffington Post: “Some 70 per cent of businesses expect growth this year, but only half of them will hire. The result? Stress and burnout for workers…

National Bank chief economist Stefane Marion says Ontario’s growth will be slowed by the fact that the manufacturing sector was gutted during the financial crisis and recession. During previous economic recoveries, Ontario had excess capacity in its factories and could quickly benefit from an increased demand for exports.However, much of that capacity was lost after the last recession and will take some time to rebuild, Marion says.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/01/06/hiring-canada-employee-burnout-hays_n_6424332.html

Learning Social Media Etiquette – Friends


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A few years ago I met and befriended a fellow woman musician who was in her mid-50’s. We both went to jams around town, and seemed like-minded. She was divorced, with a teenaged daughter, and was only able to carve out small, usually daytime, opportunities to play and sing her own material or cover songs.

She was really friendly, in a new-agey way, smelled of patchouli oil, and yearned to be part of the inner circle that were regularly called on to perform at or attend gigs of a more professional calibre. She also painted, made lovely crafty items, and had self-published a romance novel. I felt I had found a kindred soul.

One late afternoon, under the influence of a few beers, she and I chatted with a fellow we’d never seen at the jams before. He was very tall, had a British accent and a lovely sense of humour. We three shared a drink, and then went our separate ways.

That night I was on Facebook, and thought I’d see if he was part of any of the musical circles I knew. I could only remember that his first name was David, so I combed through the likeliest suspects, and sent a friend request to one of the umpteen Davids. He accepted my friendship, at which time I discovered that he was not the fellow I had been looking for. But – a friend is a friend, and he did seem to be a good-hearted sort; comfortably married, retired, with a history of pleasant status updates.

A few days later, my girlfriend confronted me, clearly agitated. She asked why I’d befriended this David. I was puzzled, but explained, as above, that I thought he’d been the fellow at the jam, and that I’d made a mistake, but he seemed alright.

As it turned out, the David I’d chosen was a long time personal friend of her family. She accused me of cruising through her friend list, in an attempt to ‘steal’ her friends. I was surprised, but being new to Facebook, apologized. After all, she had more experience in social media, and I was fairly new to the scene.

Over the next year, as I got to know her better, I realized that she had a few issues that I couldn’t deal with, including a tendency to be very jealous of anyone I spoke to whom she’d known first. Still, we stayed friendly, until we had a serious misunderstanding which she responded to with a string of accusations and scathing contempt. I didn’t speak to her for several years after that.

Recently, a very dear old friend, who’d moved back to the States 40 years ago, joined Facebook. I was delighted to chat with her again, and we often spend hours messaging back and forth about our good old days on the road. As time went by, I’d see her name pop up in a friend’s Facebook postings, and think what a small world we lived in, that we had so many friends in common.

It wasn’t until I noticed that she’d gone from less than 100 friends four months earlier to almost 400 friends – 132 of them mutual – that I realized that she’d befriended a lot of my own friends while reading responses I’d posted on a status.

But here’s the thing – I’m glad she’s in the same loop as I am. We all have similar slightly off-kilter interests, we all spend a lot of time on social media, and life is easier when you don’t have to tell a story to multiple ears. I can reference people she might never have met, and introduce her to talented and fascinating people I’ve encountered in my journey through life. She’s encouraged me to befriend some of her own friends, and to join groups where we can discuss music amongst other professionals. To me, it’s a win-win situation, and the idealized reason I joined Facebook in the first place.

The ironic thing is that the first woman, who didn’t want to share her friends, is a highly vocal proponent of the Law of Attraction, where one is meant to put forward what one wants from the universe in order to receive its bounties. It would seem that the simple joy of like-minded acquaintances doesn’t rate high on her list of acceptable gifts.

friendship

Pursuing Perfection


“Twitter Won’t “Let It Go” After Idina Menzel’s “Frozen” Performance on New Year’s Eve”

?????????????????My, there sure are a lot of people critiquing Idina Menzel’s New Year’s Eve performance. Who’d have guessed that the nation had such wide knowledge and experience of music and performance? Let it go, people!

Yes, I’ve seen the video clip, and yes, she missed the last high note, after beautifully performing the first 3 minutes and 40 seconds. As a singer myself, I can imagine how upset she’d have been with herself as she neared the note, muffed it, and still had to appear confident and grateful for applause. That’s a terrible feeling, that moment that you know – and you always know – that you just screwed something up in front of the world.

The thing is, most of us will never have the chance to make big mistakes in front of large audiences. Few rise to any kind of worldwide fame, and those few generally deserve their place, whether you approve or not. The singer, the actor, the politician, the fashion guru … they get there by being either very good at what they do, or being very good at hiring people to make it appear that they are very good at what they do. Joe/Jane Blow on The Voice or American Idol is not that person. Those who audition on talent shows are hoping that they can get to the top, but it’s a long hard road and they are only a few paces in.

There are several factors that are being ignored by those ‘haters,’ one being a deep dark secret the performing industry hopes you’ve not noticed – most of the top stars performing at important live events are not actually singing live. Or they may be singing along to a recording of themselves, to cover the bases. You don’t want a major event being spoiled by the vagaries of humans. Singers, being human, are not always at their best when you need them to be. Lip synching, or miming, has been around since as long as there has been the ability to create and record one perfect performance. Did you honestly think that the actors in the Partridge Family just all happened to be wonderful little songbirds as well? Do you not remember the scandal in 1990 when Milli Vanilli had to return their Grammy award when it turned out they hadn’t actually sung their hits?

Even the great Pavarotti had to fall back on lip synching.

pavarotti“On February 10, 2006, Luciano Pavarotti sang “Nessum Dorma” at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin, Italy at his final performance. In the last act of the opening ceremony, his performance received the longest and loudest ovation of the night from the international crowd. Leone Magiera, who directed the performance, revealed in his 2008 memoirs, Pavarotti Visto da Vicino, that the performance was pre-recorded weeks earlier. “The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful,” he wrote. Pavarotti’s manager, Terri Robson, said that the tenor had turned the Winter Olympic Committee’s invitation down several times because it would have been impossible to sing late at night in the sub-zero conditions of Turin in February. The committee eventually persuaded him to take part by pre-recording the song.” (Wikipedia)

Having heard Ms Menzel’s performance, I can assure you – she was neither lip synching nor singing to a track. That was a real person on stage, in the freezing cold, trying to give her best to an audience of thousands. Of those sneering at the missed note, 99.9% would likely be unable to replace her in either her stage or recording capacity.

But they’ll chime in anyway, because today’s audiences are also either unaware or uncaring that the recording of a voice is not necessarily a snapshot of what the singer can actually perform live. Many performers rely on auto-tune, not only in the studio, but in their microphone during a live performance. (Auto-tune, first developed in 1997, is an audio processor that corrects pitch in notes.) And during recording, the singer can make as many stabs as they like at hitting a particularly high note, or at holding a note, independent of what notes came before. The singer can record a line at a time, if necessary, and the studio engineer can cut and paste parts of the song as needed. The engineer can also add ‘sweeteners’ to the voice, adding a slight echo, or bringing up the treble or bass in the voice to create fullness. So what you’re hearing on a record may actually have very little in common with what the singer will present in a live performance.  auto tune disabled

“Opponents of the plug-in have argued that Auto-Tune has a negative effect on society’s perception and consumption of music. In 2004, UK’s The Daily Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick called Auto-Tune a “particularly sinister invention that has been putting extra shine on pop vocals since the 1990s” by taking “a poorly sung note and transpos[ing] it, placing it dead centre of where it was meant to be”… In 2010, Time magazine included Auto-Tune in their list of “The 50 Worst Inventions.” (Wikipedia)

And speaking of live performances, “Let It Go” is not a song one would generally expect to hear performed at the Times Square venue on New Year’s Eve. It’s a power ballad, from a cartoon, sung by an incredible Broadway stage veteran, and backed by an orchestra, for pete’s sake! There’s no hiding behind drums, bass and a wailing guitar here! The song is all voice, exposing both perfections and imperfections.

Ms Menzel is taking the criticism far better than most. As social media continues to bang on about ‘that note,’ she’s responded by referencing an interview she gave a few months ago, in which she said in part, “Performing isn’t only about the acrobatics and the high notes; it’s staying in the moment, connecting with the audience in an authentic way, and making yourself real to them through the music. I am more than the notes I hit, and that’s how I try to approach my life. You can’t get it all right all the time, but you can try your best. If you’ve done that, all that’s left is to accept your shortcomings and have the courage to try to overcome them.”

Perhaps those who can’t stop criticizing Ms Menzel’s performance would be wise to look to their own lives. If their best efforts were to suddenly be shown to the public, could their attempts bear the same sort of scrutiny they’re giving to her?

And when did today’s audience become so like the bloodthirsty Coliseum crowds in Nero’s fallen Roman empire, shouting encouragement to the lions rather than the gladiators? Sorry, haters – This time it’s you that’s earned the thumbs down.thumbs down