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.

Has Democracy Become A Luxury?


With the onset of computers and advanced technology, the lines separating the haves and the have-nots have grown so far apart that 1% One Percentof the wealthy elite essentially controls the fate of 99% of the rest of the planet. The development of robotic manufacturing techniques has reduced the number of people necessary to run factories and plants. Access to cheaper labour in third world countries increases a corporation’s bottom line, at the expense of jobs in the corporations location. The rich get richer. But at the expense of the middle and lower classes.

Capitalism is a funny thing; at its best, capitalism should promote economic growth, as measured by a standard of living enjoyed across the whole of its extended reach. Proponents would argue that this give and take would bring about a better availability of food, housing, clothing, and health care, better education for children, and the ability to provide for the elderly and less fortunate. Capitalism assumes a level playing field, where more opportunities exist for individuals to create their own businesses or new professions.

99 percentBut in practice, “capitalist economies prioritize profits and capital accumulation over the social needs of communities, and capitalist enterprises rarely include the workers in the basic decisions of the enterprise.” (Tom Brass, author and academic, University of Cambridge.)

Modern day capitalism has its origins in slavery and indentured servants; “when historians talk about the Atlantic market revolution, they are talking about capitalism. And when they are talking about capitalism, they are talking about slavery.” (Greg Grandin, Historian.)

Politicians have pandered to the wealthy for decades. “Reaganomics,” or “the trickle-down theory,” posited that “tax breaks or other economic benefits for businesses and upper income levels will benefit poorer members of society by improving the economy as a whole. “ (Wikipedia)Trickle Down

It’s a lovely thought, but just a theory, I’m afraid. Corporate and personal greed eclipsed the high-minded ideals, and by 2008, after the spectacular 2007 global collapse of the banking system, economist Alan Greenspan admitted to the United States Congress that, “The whole intellectual edifice collapsed. I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders. … I was shocked.”

In 2013, Pope Francis issued an 84-page paper describing unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny” and calling upon world leaders to fight rising poverty and inequality: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.” (Wikipedia)

crashSo, on the one hand, capitalism has the potential to benefit both the job creators and the workers, while raising the overall standard of living for society. On the other hand, capitalism can create economic and social instability, fiscal inequality, endanger or destroy the natural resources of its own or other countries, and has only to hold its own self accountable for how profits are distributed throughout that society, whether through payrolls, donations, or taxation.

Ah, what to do, what to do? In 2010, in the United States, politicians decided that giving even more power to corporations would benefit their parties.

“Still, for decades, candidate elections remained free of direct corporate influence under federal law. Only money from individuals and groups of individuals — political action committees — were permitted in federal elections.

citizensunitedThen came Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 First Amendment decision in 2010 that extended to corporations for the first time full rights to spend money as they wish in candidate elections — federal, state and local. The decision reversed a century of legal understanding, unleashed a flood of campaign cash and created a crescendo of controversy that continues to build today.

It matters not, the court said just this year, that some speakers (corporations), because of the money they spend on elections, may have undue influence on public policy; what is important is that the First Amendment protects both speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” (http://www.npr.org/2014/07/28/335288388/when-did-companies-become-people-excavating-the-legal-evolution)

CRONYISMIn exchange for receiving personhood, corporations sponsor politicians. And the politicians slash tax rates and offer tax credits and benefits in response. It’s a perpetual motion machinery that keeps power and money in the hands of those already in politics or corporate businesses, and gives an unfair monetary advantage to the wishes of the wealthy, while muffling the voices of socially conscious citizens who believe in a democratic government.

In Canada, under the law, a corporation has the same rights and obligations as a natural person. It can acquire assets, go into debt, enter into contracts, sue or be sued, and even be found guilty of committing a crime. A corporation’s money and other assets belong to the corporation and not to its shareholders.

Our politicians, well aware that corporations have money to burn, have adopted similar tax cuts and incentives. Corporations are taxed at 38% of taxable income, which drops to 28% after federal tax abatement, and then drops again after general tax reductions. The net tax rate for corporations keeps falling, from 18% (2010,) to 16.5% (2011,) to 15% ( 2012,) For Canadian-controlled private corporations claiming the small business deduction, the net tax rate is 11%.

taxesContrast that with your personal tax rate for this year, which is 15% on the first $44,701 of taxable income, 22% on the next $44,700, 26% up to $138,586, and 29% of taxable income over $138,586.

Most Canadians believe that those with higher incomes ought to share a bit more of the tax burden than those with low incomes, especially businesses and corporations which rely on public infrastructure to do business. Taxation lawyers argue, however, that wealthy corporations taxed more than poorer ones will simply split themselves into smaller entities to avoid the higher taxation. And a smart high-income person with good lawyers and accountants will form small corporations to shelter their income.

The harsh reality is that Harper’s government has given businesses an extra $50 billion in tax cuts and credits in the last few years. And due to cuts to the GST, personal and corporate taxes, Ottawa now collects about $45 billion less revenue per year. Meanwhile, plans are in place to cut public health funding by $36 billion over the next 10 years. Retirement age will be raised to the age of 67. Education and child care are low priorities, and our veterans are disrespected by the very people they protected during foreign wars.

InfrastructureThe rate of economic growth, government revenues and employment could be raised by investing in infrastructure like mass transit, but where can you find the funds to do so when you’ve already spent the taxpayer’s funds on corporate incentives, security, policing, corrections, spy agencies and multimillion-dollar taxpayer-funded ad campaigns designed to get Canadians to vote Conservative in the next federal.election?

Capitalism appears to be trumping the objectives of democracy; the voices of the people are unheard, while money and power remain in the hands of the rich and the powerful.

It would seem that true democracy cannot co-exist with unrestrained Capitalism.

buyDemocracyStrip

But Does CANADA Have Freedom of Expression?


On Thursday, while discussing the world’s response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I said, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, did not focus on freedom of expression, instead taking a militant stance on the terrorist aspect.”

Canada freedom of Expression3I need to correct that, as in fact, Mr. Harper did later add, When a trio of hooded men struck at some of our most cherished democratic principles – freedom of expression, freedom of the press – they assaulted democracy everywhere.”

His original official statement released Wednesday morning, however, lacked those sentiments.

Which is why I was not at all surprised to hear that the Conservatives immediately doubled down on the macho, creating a web page that asked for Canadian support, i.e. a continued dependence upon the Conservative Party in general, and Stephen Harper specifically.

Cons web pageAgainst a background of sepia toned armed men, and headed “Standing Up Against Terrorism,” the message reads, in part, “Canadians can count on Prime Minister Harper and our Conservative Government to ensure the safety of Canadians while protecting their rights. Add your name to support strong leadership:”

Until Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau took to Twitter to complain that “Conservatives fundraising off an ongoing terrorist act is offensive and totally crass,” the page also included a large “Donate Now” button.

When interviewed, NDP MP Charlie Angus added, “They are using for their own political advantage the deaths of innocent people in other countries.”

The button has since been removed, “to avoid confusion,” according to Cory Hann, the Tories director of communications. “This was not, and is not, a fundraising campaign,” he added. “This was to inform Canadians about the Prime Minister’s strong remarks yesterday against the despicable terrorism in Paris.”

To be fair, both the Liberal and NDP main pages also featured donation request buttons above their leaders’ words on the tragedy, although those were quickly removed after the outcry. Yes, all three parties took the opportunity to beg for support and donations for their own cause as the world mourned the dead, and Canadian politicians pumped up their mailing lists for the next election.

But lost in all of the rhetoric over the tempest in a Twitter cup is the hypocrisy of the government in rushing to be seen to protect the rights of people anywhere in the world while denying those same rights to their own citizens.

Harper You Won't Recognize CanadaHarper has consistently used the court system to silence his foes and critics, while implementing funding cuts to groups that would allow ordinary Canadians to have access to legal representation. The national press corps have been controlled and managed, and any dissenters that might shed light on opposing views silenced and arrested. His own cabinet know that to disagree with the Party is to court reprisal.

In 2013, under Harper, Canada removed Section 13(1), the anti-hate provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), which prohibited hate speech on grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, etc., in the name of Freedom of Expression. Canada has stood by while the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) ruled that Al-Jazeera Arabic TV could not be shown in Canada without a censorship mechanism to censor unacceptable or anti-Semitic speech, despite the fact that the service is broadcast in 50 nations, including Israel, without such restrictions.

In 2014, Harper addressed the Israeli Knesset, and equated criticisms of the Israeli state and its policies with anti-Semitism, which raises serious concerns about his government’s commitment to protecting political speech in Canada.

Under the Harper government, Canada freedom of expression2media policies were introduced to tightly control access to Canada’s federal scientists. Once allowed to openly discuss their work with the media and public, interviews must now be approved ahead of time, the scientists’ responses monitored, and in several documented cases, researchers have been prevented from giving interviews on the order of ministers office’s.

The Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) and the Association des communicateurs scientifiques won the 14th annual Press Freedom Award in 2012 for their work in exposing how the government has silenced scientists.

PQ Quebec CharterIn Quebec, free speech is a joke under the guise of the Charter of Quebec Values. It’s the Canadian French as decided by the Parti Québécois Way or the highway.

For Harper to declare, as Canada’s representative, Canada freedom of expressionthat he will fight for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, while denying Canadians such rights, is hypocritical and self-serving.

And ultimately, what is happening in Canada and around the world proves that it is the rich and the powerful that have true freedoms. Those vulnerable groups who need it the most just can’t afford it.

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.

Freedom-of-Speech