He Didn’t Act Alone


The 57 year old white male that walked in to a Planned Parenthood office on the day after Thanksgiving and began a siege that ended many hours later with 3 dead, including a police officer, and 5 more officers and 4 more civilians hospitalized … did not act alone.

carly fiorinaHe walked into that clinic holding the hands of every politician that stepped on stage and rained malice and disinformation about Planned Parenthood on the citizens listening, in search of their votes. He stood side by side with every religious leader that has encouraged a belief that he and they had some holy duty to interfere in a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. He proudly carried the torch of those journalists who sought click bait in a video that allegedly showed murderous misdeeds by a Planned Parenthood leader, which was later proved to be manipulated and untrue.

And he had the applause of every single person on social media who demands that their pro- life argument be heard and deemed more righteous than the voices of those who are pro-choice.

When that man walked into that clinic, he didn’t go in alone. He was carried on the shoulders of those who have proclaimed themselves to be morally and religiously superior to those who do not share his religious beliefs. His banner was a ragged copy of a rewritten Constitution that denied the legality and importance of a separation of church and state.

On Thursday, the people of American gathered to share the warmth of their homes and the bounty of their year with their friends and families.

womens health

Many prayed together – some prayed that Planned Parenthood would be defunded and punished for their work, despite the fact that other health concerns are dealt with in those clinics, problems that can range from menstrual disorders to cancer. And all of those prayers went nowhere near a God in Heaven – instead, they were heard by a man who took those prayers and his guns, and killed 3 people.

There are consequences to your beliefs. A pro-life stance that rationalizes the murder of others in the name of religion has nothing to do with being pro-life, and everything to do with denying others their lives and legal rights.

 

pro life anti baby

 

 

Living in the FaceBook Bubble


Dang! It always happens … I’m all gung ho about something I want to write about, and I get some of the research done, and then … life intervenes. Or, more accurately, social media. I’m looking at you, Facebook!

you're soaking in itOh, that Facebook. That sapper of time, that playground for those avoiding actual work, that stew of emotions so many of us find ourselves soaking in. I can give you a dozen reasons why being on Facebook is a good thing, with it’s ability to connect us to long lost friends and relatives around the world. But the honest truth is that most of us are just plain addicted to the rush of recognition we feel when someone out there ‘likes’ our posts.

And that’s part of the problem. We naturally tend to gather around ourselves those of like minds, and soon our interactions may be more about living in a bubble of agreement than actual dialogue. Any dissenting voice can be drowned out by a supporter, which neatly nips in the bud the chance to hear other sides to an argument. Facebook’s own algorhythms contribute to this bubble, since the sorting function places posts higher in your news feed if they’re from like-minded friends. Social_media_fearSoon, your view of the world can become distorted, leading you to believe that absolutely everyone, everywhere, feels exactly like you do. And then to be surprised when that does not turn out to actually be true.

The upcoming election has preoccupied me for some time – I truly feel that whoever is elected to steer Canada’s boat over the next four years will shape Canada’s future, for better or worse. Frankly, I cannot wait for it to be over. I intend to fight the good fight, right up until the last vote is counted, and then get a freakin’ life. Enough is too much, when it comes to politics. There are so many more enjoyable ways to spend my days.

What has been most surprising to me in the last few weeks is something I’ve seen coming, but have never seen so up-close and personal before. Divisiveness, knee jerking, vicious verbal assaults, and cruel name-calling have gone from being issues visible in the rear view mirror, to sitting right next to us in the passenger seat, breathing coffee and garlic in our faces. wwe tag teamsA seemingly innocuous remark can instantly transform your social media experience into a full-fledged WWE tag-team smack down presided over by Vince McMahon himself.

Yeah, it’s everywhere, I know. It’s in all politics, social media, and mass media. We can’t turn on our televisions or listen to our radios without hearing screaming hosts and responsive listeners blaring their opinionated and often misguided or misinformed thoughts, speaking over each other, and literally and figuratively giving each other the finger. Over the last few years, a lack of civility has gone from being politically incorrect to being highly rated entertainment, the more lurid and hyperventilated, the better.

political debateAnd so, with two highly significant elections approaching, our own Canadian one on October 19th, and the American race that will drag along to an illogical conclusion in 2016, we’re being bombarded with rhetoric, over-heated promises and denunciations, and the spectacle of grown men and women who believe they have what it takes to become the leaders of countries in the Free World, behaving like poorly informed members of a high school debate squad. On a losing team.

what's happend to politics bob raeAs Bob Rae said in his terrific book, What’s Happened to Politics, “The trouble with pursuing politics as a business is that it has helped to create a cynical, fractured electorate that doesn’t know whom to trust, or what to do.”  

Career politicians have mined social media and harnessed the power of polls to find their supporters, which they then use in an effort to get elected to positions that seem to be little more than spring boards for their next kick at the electoral can. career politicianLess and less actual work appears to be getting done once they’ve secured their spot in the legislature; they’ve actually built large chunks of time into their tenure when the priority is re-election, rather than service to the taxpayers who are paying for their supposed expertise. Incessant campaigning squashes the possibility of responsible governance. That’s not devoting your life to public office and service – that’s devoting your life to BEING serviced. And apparently, it pays very well.

Once the politician’s fan base is in place, it’s carefully nurtured, by which I mean, manipulated , in such a way that it becomes unthinkable to actually parse either the actual words or deeds being done in the politician’s name. Partisan politics, as played by supporters who believe that a louder voice, and denial of reality, and most assuredly a lack of ability to tell truth from lies, has seeped into every crevice of our social and mass media.

The name players in the game, those leaders of the political parties and those fighting to become leaders, snap and point fingers at each other, defending minuscule slurs over the larger picture of policy and national stewardship. angry old guyAnd their base, emulating their masters, surge to defend this silly display with ever increasing intensity and rabid vehemence.

The Emperor has no clothes. The pickin’s are slim in these upcoming elections. The distinctions between political parties are narrowing, as corporate dollars seduce the candidates. You can’t offend those who pay for you to play, so each candidate, no matter how invested in a cause, eventually finds themselves beholden to the money that put them into their seat. Consequently, debates revolve around safer issues, or promises clearly designed to sucker in the largest groups of emotionally driven voters.

votewolfWe’re being fed slogans and talking points, while meaningful dialogue, and listening before replying, is seen as dated and old fashioned.

Which brings me back again to those of us who can’t get enough of Facebook and social media, a phenomena so virulent that it’s gone from being a pastime to an actual condition listed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) as Internet Addiction, judged to be more powerful and insidious than the physical addictions of nicotine or alcohol.

internet addictionWe addicts may partake of the real world, walking and talking amongst you, but it’s when we hit the ‘Net that our most intense thoughts and words are free to emerge. Safe behind our glowing monitors, we take our scalpels to those who don’t live inside the same bubbles that we do, and defend our beliefs and opinions, even if those opinions were formed mere minutes before and based solely on a click bait driven headline intended to attract us to a site that will grab our personal data and sell it to the highest bidder.

FBAddict3Just a few more minutes … I’ve gotta school this fool whom I have never met on what’s REALLY going on!

We can blame the media, we can blame a decay in political morals, we can blame a citizenry now more accustomed to a violent offense than a thoughtful defense. Yeah, let’s do that. Because it would be unthinkable to decide that how we conduct ourselves, in public or on the Internet, has more to do with allowing ourselves to descend into a caveman-like brutality, and less to do with “speaking our minds” and “brutal honesty.”

donald-trump and farleyJust look at how many ‘likes’ that gets for Donald Trump.

(originally published Sept. 20/2015, in Bob Segarini’s “Don’t Believe A Word I Say”

Indiana – The Sting In The Tale


It almost seems redundant to once again revisit the events in Indiana of several weeks ago. And I wouldn’t even bother, except that I’ve seen several items on the television and in the media that miss a very important part of the story.

indiana stampIn a nutshell – Indiana Governor Mike Pense signed SB 101 into law on March 26, 2015. The bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was a variation of a similar bill that 19 other states had enacted. There was a slight difference with Indiana’s version, however, since the bill carried with it a significant risk of discrimination or refusal of service state wide to the LGBT population.

Before the bill had even been signed, several large companies with business in Indiana threatened to withdraw from any further dealings with the state. The bill was signed despite those protests.

indiana how stupidWithin hours, social media had erupted in fury, and businesses and other municipalities began to announce a boycott of the state, including CEOs from Angies’ List, Salesforce Marketing, Apple, PayPal, Anthem Inc., Eli Lilly, Cummins, Emmis, Roche, Dow AgroSciences. Mayors of some other American cities would no longer allow their representatives to visit Indiana on the jurisdictional dime.  As the potential loss of income and taxes mounted into the hundreds of millions of dollars, the Governor began to back pedal on his decision, first announcing that the bill was simply being misunderstood, and then admitting that they would be putting amendments into the act, in an effort to calm the troubled waters.

In the midst of this chaos, a video was released that quickly went viral on Youtube. The owner of a small mom and pop pizzeria was filmed saying that their business would refuse to cater gay weddings.gay wedding pizza

The story was that ABC-57 reporter Alyssa Marino  walked into a random shop – Memories Pizzeria –  in the small town of Walkerton (Population 2,300),  and asked owner Crystal O’Connor how the business felt about Indiana’s new Act. Her reply was that she was in favour of it, noting that while anyone could eat in her family restaurant, if the business were asked to cater a gay wedding, they would not do it. It conflicted with their biblical beliefs. The question was entirely hypothetical, as the business had never been asked to cater a same-sex wedding.

The backlash was immediate. Within 24 hours, after numerous emails, phone calls, and threats from bodily harm to bomb threats, the business was closed. memories pizza

But within hours of the reportage, a GoFundMe page had appeared, with donations being sent to the family to offset their financial downfall. The page was shut down after 3 days, when donations reached over $840,000 dollars.

http://www.gofundme.com/MemoriesPizza

At the time, I thought the funding page was set up by a journalist who actually understood and empathized with the chaos that poor couple had been sucked into, based on a response to a hypothetical and malicious question by an opportunistic media. If that was the case, and based on how eagerly the public will turn on anyone for any perceived racism, sexism or other ism, I could only wish the couple well, and applaud the journalist’s actions. It’s the little guy, the Joe Public, who often winds up used and tossed aside in a ‘scandal’ such as this, and my concern was that they not be left penniless for their inadvertent martyrdom to their religious beliefs.

If only that high-minded sentiment had been true. And here’s where so many reporting on the situation have dropped the ball. As it turned out, the entire stunt was cooked up by a contributor to Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze. The contributor, Lawrence Jones, set up the page, and is also a political operative who has worked with James O’Keefe from Project Veritas as an “investigator” who has been involved with other political grandstanding in the past, including an attempt to “expose” fraud among “Obamacare Navigators” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. the blaze indiana

Lawrence Jones did not altruistically set up the GoFundMe page to help the Pizzeria or its owners; the page was set up to create divisiveness and to establish an “us against them” mentality, pitting religious Christians and their beliefs against the 5% of the country who identify as non-heterosexual.

I learned a lot about the world, and myself, during that week. I learned that most of us who live in a technological world are hyper-aware of events in other parts of the world, over which we have little or no control. knee jerk reactionsI learned that politically inclined, social media addicts – like myself – tend to leap to conclusions, and knee-jerk into a strong left or right position. Some of those addicts will respond to those events with far too much enthusiasm, ramping up from their role of “concerned citizen” to “potential arsonist’ in the blink of an eye.

my right to discriminateWe may be brimming with good intentions, and righteous beliefs, but those beliefs have to be tempered with the knowledge that there are human beings being effected by our enthusiasm. It’s a very fine line between standing up for our own rights, and taking rights away from others.

I also learned that those of good hearts have to be constantly on the defensive against those with radical ideologies, whether religious or non-religious,  who seek to manipulate those kind hearts for their own gain, and perceived political support.

Universal-KindAnd the most interesting thing I learned along the way was that many of my friends who identify as LGBT were completely unaware of the bill, or any of the events that followed the bill’s signing. That in itself was sociologically fascinating – it would seem that the most incensed and obsessed torch bearers were not those directly effected by the bill. We who sprang into action were more concerned that those we love or care about, be they hetero or homosexual, be respected for their diversity and rights, as human beings. Human beings are not toys to be used as political playthings.

Define-PoliticsIn every society, there is a wide spectrum of beliefs. The key to an advanced and civilized society is to respect EVERY member who dwells within. Pitting citizens against each other, especially for political gain, is a dirty ploy that should not be rewarded by putting those divisive elements into power.

Canadians Mustn’t Die to Protect Harper’s Ego


Whenever I watch anything about war, be it fiction or non-fiction, featuring North Americans, or any other soldiers on the planet, I am struck by one horrible, indefensible truth.

I am long past romanticizing war. The young men … the young and the foolish and brave men, barely past their teens or just into their twenties … believe with all of their hearts that they are acting in the best interests of their tribes. quote-young-men-go-to-war-sometimes-because-they-are-have-to-sometimes-because-they-want-to-always-mitch-albom-206250

Young men, whose hearts are in the right place, but who have yet to achieve total mental maturity, take up arms against others, others that they have been told either have something their country needs, or others who have a predetermined antipathy against their country.

cheneyOld men, men that could not be drafted into service, send these babes out in to the world, armed with little knowledge, but strong prejudices, drilled into them through military exercises, and constant reminders that the most honourable thing they can do is to die for their country.

Those who survive the horror of war, at least since Vietnam, come home not to respect and a grateful nation, but to a country set on denying them timely help in recovering from physical or emotional trauma. Canada and the United States are unable to cope with the wounded from the last several skirmishes. There are veterans of foreign wars living on the streets in North America, while others battle endless bureaucracy to simply get the care they were promised would be available at the end of their military tours. Some of these veterans will kill themselves in despair, willingly or through drug usage meant to dull the pain, before they finally get to the top of the treatment line.

political hypocrisyAnd yet, come Remembrance Day, every politician will be piously doffing their metaphorical hats in respect, a respect in lip service only.

And now, this Easter weekend, Prime unseat harperMinister Stephen Harper, so terrified of losing his seat in Parliament that he will inflate one drug addled, mentally ill man’s assault on the Parliament into terrorist activity, has decided to plunge Canada into what is essentially an illegal war, unsanctioned by the United Nations, and unasked of by the Canadian citizens who will be paying the bill for yet another foreign war, and sending their sons and daughters to be slaughtered to his monumental hubris, and need for power at any cost – even that of the Canadians he was elected to serve.

“”Our last war, in Afghanistan, lasted 12 years. The kill count was 158 Canadian service men and women, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors. There are some 2,100 Afghanistan veterans trying to recover from combat and other non-battle injuries. In terms of treasure, the total bill to the country is $12 billion. This includes $8.4 billion for the mission itself and $447-million to take care of our veterans.”  http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/why-is-canada-at-war-the-politics-of-fear-listener-mail-school-of-gospel-the-sinking-of-the-lusitania-1.3018334/why-is-canada-at-war-michael-s-essay-1.3018363

He has no right, and no mandate, to take Canada into a war slipped through on the eve of Easter and Passover weekend. His cadre of supporters, more cowed supplicants than devoted fellow party members, voted 142 to 129 to pass this war resolution. It is a shameful, vile moment in Canada’s long history of peace keeping.

“War is the ultimate acknowledgement of collective failure. War means that we don’t know how to confront evil by any means other than killing and dying.” Michael Enright.

In generations to come, Stephen Harper’s legacy will include this decision to side with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose family has been slaughtering Syrians for decades and continues to do so. His reputation in the rest of the civilized world may never recover. But it is we, the Canadians, who will have to live with the shame and our shattered world image.

war is failure

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.

The Politics of Terror


Harper new security Jan 2015“The world is a dangerous place and, as most brutally demonstrated by last October’s attacks in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism.”

Or so Prime Minister Stephen Harper decreed on January 30th, flanked by Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Julian Fantino, Associate Minister of National Defence, and the largest personal protective detail in the history of Canada.

It would seem that Harper sees himself as a ‘war-time’ leader, who, in the run up to the next election, wants to project a manly, statesmanlike image. While cultivating a culture of fear, he is appealing to those who traditionally will cling to the political status quo in times of unrest.

And in one swell foop, the man who spent the Ottawa siege in a closet ramped up the anxiety harper in closetand fear of a nation, while simultaneously putting into place measures that many feel will result in further loss of civil liberties and reduction of freedoms.

By no means am I minimalizing the two horrible attacks . They were horrific, and shocking to Canadians who rightfully believe themselves to be a part of the world’s peace keepers. But these attacks increasingly seem to have been the acts of self-radicalized, troubled and confused young men, with no evidence connecting them to ISIS. Harper’s proposal sounds less like a desire to protect the nation, and more like the fear mongering of a politician desperate to keep his seat in power. MuzzlingScientists

So much for his vaunted and pious defense of Canada’s Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Speech after the recent Charlie Hebdo attack in France. Our Freedoms were already considered under attack, based on his own government’s track record of secrecy, muzzling, sneaky omnibus bills, a disdain for democratic Parliamentary rules, and the misleading of Parliament.

Ottawa Citizen reporter Ian MacLeod called the proposal “the most dramatic package of new laws since the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001.” But .. hang on … who flew into our towers? Three misguided fools in Canada took it upon themselves to mirror the acts of other misguided fools in the Middle East, whom we’ve done nothing but publicize in the media. The same media that attempts to inflame viewers by ramping up anxiety about events in other parts of the world in hopes of getting higher ratings, and very often has the issues completely wrong. fox apologizes

Ironically, terrorism is most effective when it’s target reacts disproportionately to fear. Perhaps those sweeping powers would be better used in policing how media is actually romanticizing terrorism, and making it seem glamorous to impressionable and disenfranchised people who believe they have no voice or impact upon their own democratic governments. There’s a huge difference between planned, organized and directed attacks (terrorism) and a misguided fool whipped up by web sites designed to muster support for a cause.

No matter how often the Conservatives tell us that the attacker of Ottawa’s Parliament was linked to a terrorist network, we’ve still not seen follow up information, or the RCMP background video we are told contains proof of such a link. It’s the politics of fear and terror.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was right when he questioned why Harper is proposing new legislation with far reaching consequences without so much as consulting with opposition parties. Canadian rights, already being pecked away by post-9/11 laws, look to be even more constrained under a grantingcsis_record2 of extraordinary power to Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), with a mandate to “investigate and disrupt” terrorist plots. Canada’s police services will be able to go after online terrorist propaganda.

The line between being branded as an activist or a terrorist is already grey. With these proposals, that line could be even more abused than it currently is, and in fact, simply obliterated. Could a government with a long list of enemies, including labour and environmental movements, simply capitalize upon already existing powers such as restricting the right to remain silent, laws allowing CSIS to spy on Canadians overseas, detainment without charges, and arrest without warrants?

In 2012, Joe Oliver, then Minister of Natural Resources, wrote an open letter to Canadians on the government’s commitment to the diversification of energy resources (i.e. the Northern Gateway, Alberta’s Tar Sands.) In it, he said “environmental and other radical groups threaten to highjack our regulatory system to achieve their radical and ideological agenda.” He claimed that these ‘radicals’ were employing AmeriJOE-OLIVER Natural Resourcescan tactics to “sue everyone and anyone to delay the project,” and that ‘slow, complex, and cumbersome regulatory processes’ were slowing down the government’s ability to push ahead their own unilateral decisions and agenda.

Those ‘radical’ environmentalists were concerned about 50 square miles of tailing ponds full of toxic chemicals, supposedly lined but actually leaking at the rate of 3 million gallons per day. (Pembina Institute.) Cancer rates are 100 times the norm for the First Nations living on the Athabaska River. Over 80% of BC residents have said NO to oil tankers on their coast, and coastal First Nations have declared a ban under their traditional laws. oliver oil sands copy-002Perhaps these are small concerns to Mr. Oliver, but they are of vital importance to those who actually live in the area.

These ‘radical’ environmentalists could now potentially be charged with terrorism.

(In March, 2014, Mr. Oliver was appointed Minister of Finance. Yes, the same Joe Oliver who recently had to delay our next budget, due to the unexpected downturn in the price of oil. The government had banked on a big payoff on the pipeline, but instead, low oil prices are going to cost provinces nearly $10-billion in lost royalties and tax revenue, and see the government lose $4.3 billion in expected revenues. )

Could there be a better time for the government to ramp up fear and politicize terror? Data Mining

When the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001 was due to expire, the Tories’ Combatting Terrorism Act of 2013 reinstated them, with yet more power, and this new legislation would continue to expand on an overbearing and intrusive presence by government controlled security forces , bringing us ever closer to becoming a surveillance state.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that it’s important “we maintain a proper perspective,” on ISIS, and that they are not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order.” He added that the U.S. needs to see the threat for what it is and respond to it in a way that doesn’t undermine American values. obama isis

“It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing whack-a-mole wherever a terrorist group appears, because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military,” he said.

Contrast this with Harper’s “Stand Your Ground” stance on Canada’s presence in Iraq. As the opposition questioned if Canada was actually at war with Iraq, and what “advise and assist” actually mean to the Canadian soldiers “accompanying” Iraqi troops fighting against Islamic State soldiers, Harper said, safe_image.php

“Let me be clear. This is a robust mission. We’re there to make those guys effective so they can take on the Islamic State and deal with them and if those guys fire at us, we’re going to fire back and we’re going to kill them, just like our guys did.”

Look – I get it. We’re all scared. We’re afraid of ISIS and Ebola, of extreme weather and IEDs, of Monsanto and dirty bombs and oh my lawdy, what’s next! There’s too much crime, we’re told, and draconian systems of justice continue to be put into place at enormous cost, when in fact, crime rates are falling. While some American states legalize marijuana, those in opposition continue to pump out propaganda against pot, and institutionalizing people where the substance has not yet been legalized.

The truth is, “we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” as Stephen Pinker concluded in his 2012 book The Better Angels of Human Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. terrorist attacks globally

Terrorism peaked worldwide in the mid-1980s, and in North America around 1970. If you live in Canada or the United States your chances of being killed by terrorism are almost zero. We’ve been sold an exaggerated sense of danger about conflicts and events in other countries, which has allowed those in power to divide and conquer it’s people, alienate North America from war torn nations, engage in wars that profit only those in the military trade, and snip away at Canadians civil liberties, eroding our freedoms.

There are those who will say, “What do I care? I’m not a terrorist! Go get the bad guys!” Those people should perhaps have a chat with the innocent citizens caught up in the police actions taken against the G-20 demonstrators in 2010. g20protestMore than 20,000 police, military, and security personnel were involved in policing the protests, which at its largest numbered 10,000 protestors. Over a thousand arrests were made, making it the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. There were no ‘innocent until proven guilty’ dispensations; in fact, Toronto Police and the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) of the summit were heavily criticized for brutality during the arrests. harper controlling

You cannot hermetically seal a democratic society to protect it from violence; doing so actually reduces democracy. Despite the self-inflicted threat fear that Harper is trying to sell us, it’s our own government limiting our rights, not jihadists.  

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.

Running On Empty


It’s minus -21C today – that’s 5 below zero in Fahrenheit – and it’s so cold my cats have cat I has a sadgone beyond being angry and have become despondent, either staring sadly into space or denying the existence of the world with their heads smacked up against a wall. I’m sitting at my desk, wrapped in a black flannel poncho, and wondering where I’ve left my fingerless gloves.

I sprang from my bed this morning, rested and brimming with ideas of ‘great social and political import,’ but instead of researching, I’m waiting for oatmeal to cook – this is not the sort of day you face on an empty stomach.

On days like this I am very grateful for the science and technology that allows me to stay warm. I’m over the moon that I can flip a switch and have light to see by, and flip another switch to start up my computer and read mail and messages from family and friends. I’m really pleased that I have warm clothing that just rests in my closet until I want to wear it, and I’m grateful for the closet being part of a house that has walls and a roof that keep out the worst of the cold.

Silly-HolidaysWe often take for granted what less fortunate people would consider luxuries. We set aside a day here and a day there to give lip service to the giving of thanks, the honouring of lovers, parents, veterans and a host of others to whom we see fit to throw a bone. “Here you go, secretaries. It’s not much, but we’re calling today National Secretary Day! As soon as you’ve read that card, I’ll have a coffee with two sugars. Thanks for being you!”

Our culture has moulded us into people that can never have enough. Everywhere we turn we’re told that we’re missing out on something – a new power drill, an iPhone6, a bigger or tidier home, a more luxurious car, vacations in the sun, and most importantly … money, money, money!

and then we'll get himEven though studies have definitively shown that those with heaps of money are not significantly happier than those with enough to comfortably cover their needs, we’re still told that it is only with the amassing of wealth that we can really be content.

In reality, rich people are not all tanning by their dollar-shaped pools while chatting casually with the men and women we’ve elevated to media stardom. They’re far more likely to be spending their time trying to get yet more money, in any way possible, and are probably more anxious and hostile than you are when trying to decide whether to go with a name brand tin of peas or the generic house brand.

Scrooge-PorpoiseBeing addicted to money is like being addicted to drugs; at first, a small amount gives you a buzz, but as time goes by, you need higher and higher doses to maintain the high. And if money is your drug, that upward spiral contains another component – a need to have more than anyone else, to have it all, regardless of whom it damages. Exorbitant, mindless wealth precludes empathy towards those who struggle to survive on minimum wage or government assistance.

“The peasants have no bread!” “Then let them eat cake,” tittered Queen Marie Antoinette. Her joke, rather than having them rolling in the aisles, soon had heads rolling from the guillotine instead.

That anecdote is likely only the fabrication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his autobiographical, “Confessions,” but has been used ever since as a cautionary tale of the perils of great wealth and self-indulgence in the face of social unrest. One would think the lesson would be self-explanatory, but apparently the accumulation of wealth does not always translate to the accumulation of historical knowledge.

In Canada, we can point to arriviste Kevin O’Leary, who, with a net worth of US$300 million that the true 1% would consider pocket change, can’t seem to stop patting himself on the back. When he’s not crowing over his own wealth, he’s exhorting the poor of the world to pull themselves up by their socks – even if they don’t own any socks.

But of course, that’s the dream we’ve been sold since the Industrial Revolution. “Come, work for me, make me wealthy and I will share my largesse. You too can be like me, all you need do is work hard, save your money, and keep your nose to the grindstone.” And we bought it, for decades. We called it the Protestant work ethic, and called anyone who didn’t agree lazy and stupid.

scrooge silly pleasures“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith, in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacrament in the Catholic tradition.

The phrase was initially coined in 1904–5 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” (Wikipedia.org)

We forget that his essay was his observations on the Germany of his time, and not a ‘how-to’ manual. Weber considered himself agnostic. His argument was that Catholicism, with its emphasis on doing good works in the hope of eternal salvation, rather than pursuing wealth for its own sake, impeded the development of the capitalist economy in the West.

Capitalism depends upon everyone in the society believing in the same goals. When the West had a booming middle class, there was room within the prosperity to dream of a country free of traditional constraints. We could reach out a hand to those who needed help, be they poor or infirm, or young or old. That sense of community resulted in government safety nets and a surge of infrastructure building that connected and included all of the people, regardless of their economic place.

North America looked at what they had wrought in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and found it good. Good enough to not make a priority again until it started to collapse around us.

glittering TorontoIt’s been decades since the roads and bridges and communities were put in place, decades in which the needs of the wealthy became more important in politics than the needs of the tax payer. In Toronto, once Canada’s most glittering city, our highways are clogged with commuters, while our transit system is woefully inadequate to shuttle workers from their homes to their jobs. The local politicians have been arguing about whether to tear down the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway since the 1990’s. And the majority of our subway system, which opened in 1954, is held together with patches and prayers.

business and politicsThere’s blame enough for everyone at this sorry state. Although we love to complain about ‘the system,’ every aspiring politician has to present a platform that will be seen to not only address community issues, but cost the tax payer less. Once in office, the newly elected official can point to budgetary concerns, and remind us all that there aren’t any funds since he’s cut taxes, just as we requested. Or that they are working on a solution, but we mustn’t hope to see real change until some year in the future where they will hopefully no longer be held accountable for the project and the additional costs incurred during the delay.

Politics on crosswordFor corporations, political concerns are less about the community, and more about expediting the accumulation of more wealth. Despite needing an infrastructure that allows workers to arrive at the work place on time, and roads and other delivery systems to get product to consumers, the emphasis is placed squarely on tax cuts that they have convinced politicians, and even many consumers, will result in a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Corporations spend billions on pushing forward measures that will deny workers fair wages and benefits, and will spend yet more on media essentially blackmailing consumers into giving them what they demand. Health care, no. More tax cuts, yes. Or we’ll take our ball (company, franchise) and go home. Many even believe that we have no other alternative but to agree.

The last several decades of austerity for the general public, but unheard of wealth for the few, is slowly shaping us into a timid, obedient mass, who are only valued as long as we are able to further enrich business through our labour and consumption of goods and services.

hedonic-treadmillThe pursuit of happiness has become a joyless pursuit of money, dooming its followers to an endless treadmill of greed and desperation. You’ll never catch up to the 1%, no matter how hard you try, but real happiness and satisfaction can be had in a life that encompasses empathy, generosity, and gratitude for what you’ve achieved.

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.