State-Of-the-Union-2013

This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org and is republished with permission of the author.

Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States

After the familiar introduction, Congress and the American people got a dose of how President Barack Obama intends to govern over the next four years. The president began his second term with a mostly bi-partisan State of the Union Address that liberals should have enjoyed… More or less.

Obama started off by giving examples of how much progress the country has made since he first took office back in 2008. He mentioned the decade of war that is grinding toward its finish, the six million jobs that business has created, the stabilizing housing market and the reduced dependence on foreign oil.

The President went on to talk very little about the recovering economy and the middle class’s role in it, but instead dedicated more of his speech to address the national debt. Referring to the sequester, he made it quite clear that a balanced approach was needed, cuts to Medicare by having the wealthiest seniors pay more, cuts to taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies, etc. He also made mention again of raising hundreds of billions of dollars by cutting tax loop holes for the extremely wealthy.

“The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next”

The economic share of his speech was driven by the need for better infrastructure, better schools and the need to invest in high tech jobs. He spoke of the need to push research and development levels to where they were back during the space race. He gave an example of the importance of R & D by saying that every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.

Desiline-Victor
102 year old voter Desiline Victor

I would say the most bold (and impressive) part of the economic portion was his desire to raise the minimum wage to $9.00/HR. It would raise the incomes of millions of working families, take families off of federal aid and for businesses it would mean customers with money in their pockets. He even went so far as to say that the minimum wage should be tied to the cost of living.

Obama’s foreign policy serving was shorter than in the past as he mentioned Al Qaeda only briefly. Instead he devoted more time to nuclear proliferation with North Korea testing a nuclear weapon just one day earlier. He also mentioned a national security subject I’ve never heard bought up before as he spoke about cyber security.

“We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades”

Other noteworthy mentions in his speech were a call to have nationwide pre-schools available to all. He spoke about voting rights saying that “we are betraying our ideals” when people are force to wait up to eight hours to vote. Later on he mentioned Desiline Victor, a 102 year old Floridian woman who waited in line for six hours to vote.

The State of the Union is not normally known for drama, but Obama saved the best for last when he spoke about gun violence. Having victims of Newtown, Aurora, even several politicians who’ve been shot present in the gallery, Obama didn’t push his gun views or demand action. Instead, Obama simply asked for democracy, pleading with those in the Senate and the House of Representatives to put each of his gun control laws to a vote.

“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio

An of observation I had while watching the speech amused me a little. Since Gabby Giffords was shot a couple years ago, the gallery no longer has Republicans sitting on one side and Democrats on the other. Both parties now sit as couples side by side. So when Obama received a standing ovation only from Democrats, the galley looked like a 3-D checker board.

I had it mind to write more in depth about the Republican rebuttal from Conservative up and comer Marco Rubio, but his speech sounded like it was written by a child a couple of years ago. His rebuttal was simply a reaffirmation of conservative on economic ideology, gun control and big government.

Rubio spent parts of his speech talking about how government programs have helped his family. Medicare for his parents, government loans for his schooling, etc. but he then went on to tell us how bad big government is. The talking contradiction attacked President Obama more than his policies and offered nothing new in terms of ideas. The highlight of the rebuttal was him taking a water break.

You can watch the whole 2013 State of the Union speech enhanced by graphics on the White House’s YouTube Channel as well as the Rubio’s Republican response and the Tea Party response on YouTube

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Some may see the growing Idle No More movement as simply an aboriginal issue, but in truth it is also a stand against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s environmental policies. The movement was born in Saskatchewan by four women complaining about bill C-45, the Conservative’s second omnibus budget bill that threatens existing First Nation treaties.

These four women started organizing events throughout Saskatchewan culminating in a national day of action across Canada. It was on that day of action that Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario announced in Ottawa that she would be starting a hunger strike. The strike has garnered national attention and has helped to push the protest movement to the forefront of news cycles. Spence has survived solely on tea and fish broth and the hunger strike is now entering a fifth consecutive week.

If you wanted to find the crux of the protests you could undoubtedly go back centuries, but I believe that the real heart of the problem may lie in the Conservative’s failure to pass the Kelowna Accord. The Kelowna Accord was a series of agreements between the Government of Canada (led then by Prime Minister Paul Martin), Provincial Premiers and five national aboriginal organizations.

The Accord was a five billion dollar plan to improve the education, employment and living conditions for First Nation people. Stephen Harper who was elected soon after the agreement was made, quietly disposed of it. Following his defeat, Paul Martin introduced a private members bill to ensure the agreement was implemented, but in 2007 the Conservative Party voted against it and didn’t try to replace it with anything.

2013_01_02_idlenomorehuffpoThe problematic truth of the aboriginal situation in Canada is that many first nation communities across the country look more like third world countries. Many don’t have basic grade schools, proper housing or even clean drinking water. Unemployment is also extremely high and substance abuse is rampant. I can’t understand why any Canadian would tolerate how we treat the original Canadians of this country.

I’m sure these issues are in the backs of the minds of the Idle No More Movement, but like I said before the main sticking point was bill C-45. This Conservative Government Budget Bill actually changed the legislation contained in 64 existing acts and regulations including the Indian Act, the Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act.

The changes to the Indian Act (done without the approval of first nation communities) effectively streamline’s the designation of First Nation land for leasing. Previously, if corporate interests wanted to lease land on a reserve it would have required the majority vote of all those on the reserve. Now it requires just those who attend the meeting about the lease. This can open the door to bribery, corruption and leave thousands without a say on who occupies their land. Also, during negotiations the Aboriginal Affairs minister can ignore a resolution from the reserve’s council that opposes a decision at the meeting.

The Navigation Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act are the other two sore points for the Idle No More movement. Both could have a profound impact on Canada’s environment and should be of concern to all Canadians.

The Navigation Protection Act removes a requirement for major pipeline and power line project backers to prove their development plan won’t damage or destroy the waterway it crosses. This means that even the most incompetent energy companies can get their projects approved. These companies could still be sued if something goes wrong, but by then the damage will have been done. The act effectively removes protection for 99.9 percent of our lakes and rivers.

The Environmental Assessment Act was first implemented back in 1992. It required federal departments, including Environment Canada, to conduct environmental assessments for proposed projects that involves federal funding, permits, or licensing. In 2012 the Conservative Government repealed and re-wrote the law to the point where the name itself has lost all meaning.

The new version no longer requires environmental assessments of projects proposed or regulated by the federal government unless the Environment Minister demands it. By design, the current post belongs to Conservative Peter Kent who is more business friendly than environmentally friendly.

Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence - Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence on Dec. 6 Sean Kilpatrick/CP

I find it awe-inspiring to know that despite the awful living conditions on some First Nation reserves, many of the people who live there are still more concerned with our environment. The same environment we’ve been destroying since we took their land all those years ago.

Prime Minister Harper for his part finally decided to meet with Theresa Spence and other First Nation Leaders in the coming days. Hopefully for everyone’s sake, it won’t be a simple lip service from Harper. Keep in mind that Idle No More is a grass roots movement just like the carre rouge in Quebec or the Occupy Movement that preceded it. Idle No More doesn’t need to answer to anyone and like their name suggests, they won’t be going away until substantial change is seen.

I’m sorry to inform everyone that this will be my last Quiet Mike’s Mumblings article for Forget the Box. While I might continue to contribute periodically, I have decided to put most of my energy into my own site quietmike.org. I would like to take this occasion to thank Jason, Chris and the rest of the Forget the Box family for helping me get started and giving me an audience for over two and a half years.

It has been a pleasure writing for you and I implore everyone who routinely read my column to keep visiting the site. Forget the Box is without a doubt the best blog in the great city of Montreal. Thanks everyone… for everything.

fiscal-cliff-bull-shit40

By now, everyone has heard the words fiscal cliff. It’s one of those terms coined by politicians that give a false impression on what it actually is, like the right to work laws or clean coal. The fiscal cliff refers to the economic consequences that might result from tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect on January 1st 2013.

The cliff comes from the result of a Supercommittee comprised of six Republicans and Democrats who failed to come up with a deal to reduce the US deficit following debt ceiling negotiations. Contrary to what some believe, thanks in part to what the term suggests, if the United States goes over the fiscal cliff, the country will not suddenly find itself crippled with more debt. Instead, the automatic tax increases and spending cuts will kick in and possibly lead to what many economists fear will be another recession.

What to do concerning the fiscal cliff has been debated well before the results of the presidential election last November. Barack Obama and Democrats have been calling for an increase in taxes on those making over $250 000 and a small stimulus to get the economy moving and to repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans are standing firm against any type of tax increases preferring instead to reduce spending on social programs or what they call entitlements.

If there is no deal between the parties by the end of December, the Bush era tax cuts will expire. This will raise taxes on every American, not just the top 2% that Obama wants. It will also cut military spending by an insignificant amount and reduce unemployment benefits that could throw as many as two million would-be workers off the insurance program. Both parties stand to both win and lose.

The negotiations thus far have proven futile and painful to watch. President Obama who won re-election and a mandate to raise taxes on the richest Americans (who have been enjoying extremely low tax rates for thirty years) is still willing to give up too much to appease Republican law makers. His last offer to Republicans angered liberals across the country as he offered what amounts to cuts in social security after promising the insurance program wouldn’t be touched.

Republicans in the House of Representatives on the other hand, led by House Speaker John Boehner failed to pass Plan B. Boehner’s Plan B would have increased taxes on those earning over $1 000 000 and would have made cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and Obamacare. As it turned out, he couldn’t get his own caucus to back the plan, the extremist wing of the Republican Party, better known as the Tea Party, refused to let taxes rise period.

So here we are near the end of the road not unlike Thelma & Louise, if it were up to me I’d hold hands and keep driving. First of all, Obama seems preoccupied with the debt ceiling that will need to rise in the coming months. Not only is it how we got here in the first place, but he is willing to give up too much right now to see the debt ceiling raised and it’s not needed.

This brings me to another myth. The debt ceiling as some would have you believe is not a green light for the president to go on a spending spree. It is simply a congressional procedure that allows the country to pay its bills. Any additional spending must pass through Congress like any other bill and believe it or not, disallowing the country to pay its bills is against the constitution (see section 10).

The annual deficit which Obama has marginally reduced comes from his predecessor who gave out massive tax cuts and waged two wars, now Republicans want the poorest of Americans to make up for it. They will continue to hold the debt ceiling hostage throughout his second term unless Obama gives in to cuts on social programs. Personally I would like to see Obama take up the issue with the courts instead of getting pushed around constantly.

Getting back to my original point, Obama should have little fear of going over the fiscal cliff. Yes taxes will increase on everyone and people will lose their unemployment, but what is done on January 1st can be reversed on January 2nd. After taxes are increased on everyone, there is no reason why the Democrats can’t introduce a bill that cuts taxes on the poor and middle class. How bad do you think the Republicans would look if they rejected a law that cuts taxes (or extends unemployment)? 2014 isn’t that far away.

The fact is; going over the cliff in not nearly as bad as giving in to Republican intentions. There are so many ways to reduce the deficit other than cutting Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps, in other words on the backs of the poor and elderly. For starters, raise taxes on the wealthiest 2% to Clinton era levels. How about closing some of the 700 – 1000 military bases the United States has on foreign land or ending subsidies to big oil and farming companies.

In his second term Obama is going to have to learn how to stand up for the people that elected him. He has to stop giving in to those who would rather see him fail than help the American people or the those who look out for themselves and the wealthy interests that helped put them in office. If Obama caves on the fiscal cliff before his second term even begins, he won’t have many friends on either side of the political spectrum.

…Merry Christmas!

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Sandy-Hook-vigil

Last Friday, tragedy and heartbreak once again took over the American consciousness as another psychopath went on a shooting spree, the likes of which were never seen in the country before. In Newtown, Connecticut, a small town of 27 000 people, a young man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Armed with two pistols and an assault rifle he went on to murder six adults along with twelve girls and eight boys all aged between six and seven. The gunman then proceeded to take his own life and will never pay for the atrocities he’s committed. We have seen this type of scenario play out time and time again, but rarely has the number of victims been so high and never have they been so young.

Following the movie theater shooting last July in Aurora, I wrote a piece called “Gun Control: The Essential Step No One Wants to Talk About.” I tried to illustrate that after every mass shooting there is a brief period of a couple weeks where gun control is mentioned among liberals, progressives and the press, but never goes beyond these outer circles.

Following last Friday’s tragedy, we started hearing the same old rhetoric; it’s a time to mourn the dead, not question the 2nd amendment. Michael Moore of Bowling for Columbine fame tweeted “Too soon to speak out about a gun-crazy nation? No, too late. At least THIRTY-ONE school shootings since Columbine.” He’s right, but that number only tells us half the story.

There have been sixty-two mass shootings in the last thirty years, thirty-one of those have occurred since Columbine in 1999. There have been eighteen shootings in the last five years and worst of all, there have been seven this year alone.

Some people are trying to convince me that this time it’s different, they tell me the atrociousness of this latest act and the age of the victims will get the gun control ball rolling. I’m sorry to disappoint everyone, but I believe they’re wrong. No noble dialog came out of the shootings in Aurora or the dozens that preceded it, this time won’t be any different.

Are we to believe that congress will approve of new gun laws when they can’t even agree on the simple act of paying their bills? Are we to believe that the NRA will sit idly by if the 5400 licensed firearm manufacturers in the US are under threat of seeing their record breaking profits of 2012 shrink a little? Furthermore, are we to believe that this latest incident was tragic enough to convince some of the 55% who don’t want tougher restrictions on guns that it’s in everybody’s collective interest to have them? Americans love their guns.

As if those three questions weren’t huge obstacles by themselves, the right-wing is already sounding off with their normal hyperbolic statements. When the Aurora massacre transpired, they all took to the airwaves to claim that if everyone in the theatre had a gun at their side, the carnage would have been much less severe. Despite the fact the place was dark, filled with smoke and the killer was wearing body armor, gun sales in the state skyrocketed.

In Connecticut most of the victims were in Kindergarten, so instead of putting guns in the hands of the would-be victims, some conservatives are already calling for teachers to be armed instead. Would you feel safer knowing the teacher of your child is packing heat at all times? What would happen the first time a teacher loses his patience with a student acting out of line and pulls his gun on him?

As I mentioned, 2012 has been a banner year for the gun industry sharing in record profits and gun sales, but at the same time there has also been a record number of mass shootings. Somehow, conservatives and Republicans working on behalf of the NRA continue to contrarily convince people that guns make people safer and yet after an event like this no one feels safe; so what do we do? We go and buy more guns!

China, which has very strict gun control laws experienced a very similar incident just hours before the events in Connecticut. A man with a knife went into an elementary school and stabbed more than twenty children. While these instances are occurring more often in China, sometimes with deadly results, no one was killed in this attack. Twenty children are still breathing that might not have been if this man would have had access to an assault rifle instead.

I’m sure the events that unfolded in Connecticut will stay in our minds and our discussion longer than it has in the past given the brutality of the crime, but call me pessimistic, I don’t see things changing anytime soon. I don’t expect much from a land where it’s easier to access guns than mental health services.

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nate053007referendum

I’ve always looked at national pride as somewhat of a lie. Pride is something you normally feel through hard work or accomplishment not by the chance of being born in that particular country. So while I’m happy to live in a country with universal health care, gay marriage and a more tolerant populace, I’ll never take pride in it.

National pride is the driving force behind nationalism; it can be seen as harmless when waving a flag at a sporting event or celebrating the nation’s birthday. As long as the ruling government doesn’t use it as a distraction to other problems it can bring people of all stripes together in celebration.

However, nationalism can also be very dangerous. When pride turns to exceptionalism or the belief that we are somehow better than everyone else, governments and their leaders can better manipulate their population into accepting things they would normally protest. This is the type of nationalism that brought Hitler to power in Germany and that has kept the wheels of the American military industrial complex rolling for sixty years. It is also the same ideology that our current Conservative Government subscribes to.

Since the end of World War II and the emergence of the United States as a global superpower, Canada’s identity has come not from who we are, but who we are not. Living right above the free world’s biggest global force we had no choice but to adopt an identity that is both unique and modest.

Pearson and his Nobel Peace Prize

Canada’s national identity over the last sixty years comes in large part from one man, Lester B. Pearson. As the Canadian external affairs minister in 1957, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for defusing the Suez Crisis though the United Nations. As a result, he is considered the father of modern day peace keeping.

When Pearson served as Prime Minister he brought in universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, the 40-hour work week, two weeks of paid vacation time and a new minimum wage. He will also be remembered for turning down an American request to send Canadian troops to Vietnam and the man who gave birth to our national flag.

Nationalism in Canada was forged in peacekeeping and progressive social ordinances. Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s own values are not etched into these types of modest behaviors and he has been trying to change our identity ever since he was first elected six years ago.

There is a belief among conservatives that Canadians have been nothing short of underachieving boy scouts on the world stage. Perhaps under the American delusional thinking that money and power is what makes a country great. It is that type of exceptionalism that all American politicians now have to pander to year after year or lose their job. Perhaps Canadian conservatives see an opportunity to mold the whole of the Canadian consciousness into something that only their one party subscribes to.

In order to reshape the mindset of average Canadians, we have been bombarded with the conservative government advertising Canada’s military past. They have spent millions of dollars on television and the internet ads recasting the war of 1812 when British forces fought back an American invasion. They have put pictures of war memorials on our new passports and even on the backs of our new polymer currency with no mention of our peacekeeping past.

The advertising campaign continues with ads about how our tar sand projects will help to bring about a stronger, more prosperous Canada without the environmental consequences. The Conservative Party knows (as do the rest of us) that Canada stands to gain more power and influence the faster global warming can take effect.

The melting polar ice will expand Canada’s stores of natural resources and open up new trade routes that would make Canada a major junction of international trade. It is no wonder that Harper’s government has done everything it can to quicken environmental assessment on fossil fuel projects and halt government funded research on environmental protective projects. How many people around the world will suffer in pursuit of this new found influence, money and power? It doesn’t matter…

Canadian PM Stephen Harper

So far it’s not hard to say whether our Conservative Government’s nationalist strategy is working among the Canadian people. There will always be those among us who desire money and power or those who think they are god’s gift to the earth, but with the party at 34% support, most Canadians aren’t buying it. You can’t change sixty years of a national identity in six.

On the foreign front, our strong new Nationalist strategy has been backfiring completely. Under Harper, we have been vilified for our environmental practices which now rank dead last among wealthy nations. Our partisan support of Israel has tarnished Canada’s reputation as an honest peace broker and likely lost us a seat on the UN Security Council for the first time in Canadian history as a result. If we were a nation of underachievers and boy scouts before, now we are simply underachievers.

I’ve never bought into the Nationalist philosophy, let alone the exceptionalist variety. It breeds arrogance, intolerance and inequality, three major conducts that have been used to describe our southern neighbors, but are rejected by most Canadians. If Stephen Harper continues to sell us bullshit wrapped up in a Canadian Flag and camouflaged in an American one, Canadians will take pride in voting him out.

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Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza and the West Bank last Thursday to celebrate their historic, but symbolic victory at the United Nations. In a vote of 138 – 9, the general assembly decided to grant Palestine non-member observer status. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank likened the overwhelming majority vote to a Palestinian birth certificate.

The world knows that Palestinian independence can only come through negotiations with Israel, but the vote was a huge step as it acknowledged the legitimacy in the international community of a future Palestinian country. The new status has given Palestinians hope where it has been absent for decades and more importantly it has given them a little bit of power on the international stage.

Israel along with the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic and five other micro-nations decided to vote against the upgrade status simply because the vote was symbolic and didn’t advance the peace process. Not only did these nations vote against the promotion bid, but some are now retaliating against Palestine because of their victory. Many don’t realize that it was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who forced Abbas’ hand to go to the UN in the first place.

Three years ago, negotiations broke down between Israel and Palestine after Israel refused to reinstate a ban on the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Would you negotiate with a party that was in the middle of building houses on your land? Mahmoud Abbas didn’t think so either and took the only non-violent avenue that was open to him, the UN.

You see, the United Nations has something called the International Criminal Court (ICC), an entity that Palestine did not have access to until now. No doubt Abbas has his sights on the court so that he can try and put a halt on Israeli settlement expansion, settlements that have long been deemed illegal under international law. Perhaps he thinks when the settlement building stops, real negotiations can start.

Palestinians celebrate in the West Bank city of Ramallah

The ICC is the only logical reason why Israel and their allies voted against Palestine’s upgraded status. The non-member status is widely considered progress and you don’t vote against progress unless you personally have something to lose, in this case power. Historically, any show of strength, rule or independent action against a controlling power is punished, regrettably for Palestine this time is no exception.

The day following the vote, Israel decided to approve new construction projects in occupied East Jerusalem. This action won’t have much of an effect on Palestinians as they haven’t stopped expansion in the first place. Knowing this, Israel decided to withhold $120 million in Palestinian tax revenue yesterday. This money is used to pay civil servants’ salaries including the police. Without this money, violence might break out in the west bank for the first time since the last intifada ended in 2005, which is perhaps what Israel intends. This action serves no other purpose.

The United States, Israel’s historic ally in the region voted against Palestine’s bid and the US congress was contemplating withholding aid to the Palestinian Authority. The US was quick to show their displeasure in Israel’s new settlement plans, but words are just words and nothing will likely come of it. The US is not about to withhold aid to Israel.

Canada like everything these days decided to follow in America’s footsteps and vote no. Following the vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper went a step further by having Canada temporarily recall its Palestinian and UN envoys in protest. The Conservative government is also contemplating cutting its aid to Palestine. As furious as the Harper Government has appeared to be with Palestine, they followed the leader again in regards to blasting Israel’s new settlement construction plans and withholding tax payments. Again, their words are just words and like Israel says, they will not be told what to do. Anyone else see the double standard here?

I am 100% certain that history will show these two great western democracies to be on its opposite side. Whether it’s through peace or war, the US and Canada have shown nothing but contempt for Palestinians. The US can no longer be looked at as a bi-partisan mediator (not that it ever could) and Canada’s reputation as peace keepers and unbiased negotiators has all but drowned in the toilet.

When the people of Palestine look at these countries who voted against what was essentially a symbolic creation of their state, why would they take their desire for peace seriously? The aid money might help a little, but it amounts to nothing more than charity. Contrary to what you might think, that is not what they want, they want a country. By voting no last Thursday, not only did nine countries not acknowledge that fact, they voted against it.

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Black Friday Wal-Mart strikers

Last week, Wal-Mart employees took to the picket lines to protest low wages and poor benefits on the busiest shopping day of the year. Black Friday protests took place in over a hundred cities in 47 States and attracted thousands of other activists outside of the company.

The nationwide, yet semi-isolated strikes may have brought a little more awareness toward the general public, but it did very little to dissuade Americans from partaking in one of their favorite pastimes; shopping. According to Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer sold over a million televisions on Thursday night alone.

I sometimes wonder what Sam Walton would think of the company he founded, now twenty years after his death. By the early nineties, Mr. Walton had built his company into one of the world’s biggest success stories with his friendly customer service approach and his deep understanding of logistics. At the time of his death in 1992 he was one of the richest men in the world; he employed 380 000 in over 1700 hundred stores (17 super-centers) that grossed $50 billion in sales per year.

Walton built his stores mainly in small towns and rural areas (a fact reflected in the 70% of Wal-Mart shoppers who vote Republican). He might not have known it at the time, but those normal discount stores would turn into super-centers and thus went from having a minor impact on the community to having a devastating one. There are now over 3000 super-centers across the country.

Wal-Mart’s competition eventually began to catch on to Sam’s formula for success and began to emulate it across the country, a strategy they continue today. Wal-Mart was forced to find other ways to increase profits and it has done so with a thumb up from Uncle Sam and a middle finger up to the American people.

Wal-Mart’s explosion of growth in the last twenty years could not have been possible without the help of the government easing of anti-trust laws, deregulation, lowering tariffs, free trade and providing incentives to off-shoring jobs and investing overseas.

The year Walton died; his company imported only 5 to 6 per cent of its products, but today it imports closer to 60 per cent (or more) from 63 countries, over 50 per cent of Wal-Mart goods are from China alone. Fifty thousand factories have closed in the United States in the last thirty years, Wal-Mart and the retailers that follow in their footsteps are a huge reason why.

Independent retailers also fell by over sixty thousand in the period of time. Not only does Wal-Mart steal business from local merchants with their government subsidized low prices, but they also wind up lowering the property value of local “mom & pop” businesses when a superstore opens up down the street, sometimes resulting in the property value falling under water. It has been said, for every Wal-Mart there is a loss of 77 (often middle class) jobs as a result.

Black Friday Wal-Mart strikers

There are few reasons why the low cost of Wal-Mart’s merchandise is considered to be government subsidized. Local and state governments have been known in the past to give Wal-Mart tens of millions of dollars in subsidies to open up shop in their towns, money that could be better spent on schools, police or infrastructure.
Aside from the American government offering incentives to companies who decide to offshore employment, most of Wal-Mart’s government subsidies revolve around penny pinching its American employees. Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million Americans, roughly 1per cent of the entire workforce.

Wal-Marts are typically understaffed to begin with in order to save money, but those lucky enough to gain full-time employment receive on average $8.81/hour (2010). This hourly wage converts to an annual pay of $15 576 based on Wal-Mart’s full-time status of 34 hours per week, nearly $7000 below the poverty line for a family of four.

These low incomes drive down wages by $3 billion/year nationwide and forces hardworking employees to seek help from Medicaid and food stamps. Just to get insurance through the company, it costs an average of $75 every two weeks, roughly 15 per cent of the average salary.

Wal-Mart has not only forced their associates to seek help from tax payers, they have actually encouraged it repeatedly over the years. In 2011, American tax payers forked over $2.65 billion in safety net benefits to Wal-Mart workers and the number has been steadily climbing for years. The percentages of employees on food stamps in some stores go as high as 80 per cent. You might think you’re saving a little money when you buy those double stuffed Oreos, but we’re all paying for it.

Even without the help of the government and our tax dollars, Wal-Mart represents so much of what is wrong with free market capitalism today. They spend millions to spy on their employees in order to root out any talk of unionization and close the stores that succeed in doing so, their promises to become environmentally friendly have gone largely unfulfilled (especially in China), they even take full advantage of the United States having zero paid holidays as we saw last Thursday when they opened their stores on Thanksgiving.

Sam Walton’s heirs are now worth a combined $102 billion and since life has been so kind to them, they have donated only 2 per cent to charity, compare that to the 50 per cent of Bill Gates or 75 per cent of Warren Buffet. Wal-Mart now generates more than $450 billion in revenue per year (more than the GDP of Norway who is ranked 23rd in the world), $16 billion of which is pure profit.

Wal-Mart is fully aware that they have us all by the balls. No matter what they’ve done in the last twenty years, they know that in many small towns Wal-Mart is now the only retail store and only employer. They know as long as people need to work, they can hire at near minimum wage. They know their low wages are duplicated elsewhere which forces more and more to shop at their stores. They know as long as their prices are so cheap, a hundred million people will continue to shop there every week and the average family will continue to spend $4000 a year at any given Wal-Mart.

I have the utmost sympathy for the hundreds of brave Wal-Mart employees putting their jobs at risk, carrying picket signs across the country in some cases just to be able to feed themselves. I look at them and wonder whether it’s 2012 or 1912.

I’m grateful that I’m in a position that has allowed me to avoid walking into a Wal-Mart since I got hired by an agency to prepare their inventory back in 1995, even then I bought nothing. Regrettably, a personal boycott is not going change anything here. Americans will continue to shop there no matter what Wal-Mart pays its associates. All we can do is show our support for those unafraid to fight the power of this Goliath from within.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Jazb24Q2s94

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Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike (photo UN/Creative Commons)

Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike (photo UN/Creative Commons)

In the run up to American Elections on November 6th, Palestinians and Israelis enjoyed relative peace for weeks. Israeli airstrikes and rocket launches in Gaza were nonexistent, just the way it had been four years earlier.

Back in the summer of 2008, Egypt brokered a truce between Hamas and Israel. The armistice lasted until Nov 4th, the same day as Barack Obama’s first election victory. On that day, Israel launched a military strike on Hamas to destroy a tunnel on the Gaza-Israel border. One member of Hamas was killed along with the ceasefire as Hamas retaliated with rocket fire.

The violence escalated for two months until Israel’s invasion of Gaza near the end of December. Israel withdrew its forces less than three weeks before the Jewish state’s national elections in early February. The assault destroyed $2 billion of Gaza assets, left roughly 1400 of its people dead and brought with it a humanitarian crisis. 13 Israeli soldiers along with three civilians died.

Unfortunately nowhere does history repeat itself more than the Middle East. On November 8th 2012, two days after Obama’s reelection and just a couple months away from elections in Israel; a thirteen year old boy was gunned down by an IDF machine-gun near the Gaza/Israel border while playing soccer outside his home. Just like four years prior, the rockets from Gaza started to fly in retaliation and again Israel is threatening invasion.

Ahmad Abu Daqqa – 13 was shot in the stomach by an Israeli soldier on Nov 8th

Barack Obama stated that peace in the region must begin with “no missiles being fired into Israel’s territory,” as if to say the responsibility of the situation rests solely on Hamas. In both instances the IDF was clearly to blame for the outbreak of violence, but the leaders of western nations have twice now pinned the blame on Hamas. The corporate media, even Al Jazeera, aren’t doing any justice by reporting that Israel’s response is to simply defend themselves from rocket attack.

Israel added fuel to the fire last week with the political assassination of Hamas’ military chief Ahmed Jabari. The slaying of Jabari is seen in Israel as on par with Barack Obama taking out Osama Bin Laden. It should serve quite useful to Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection chances in January, but no one mentions that.

Prime Minister Harper, a staunch supporter of Israel said on Friday that “we condemn this terrorist group’s attacks on Israel, we recognize and support Israel’s right to defend itself against such terrorist attacks.” Obama meanwhile made a similar statement on Sunday saying the US is “fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.”

These similar declarations come from two of the world’s most influential leaders who instead of working toward peace in a non-biased capacity, continue to support the actual aggressors diplomatically and in the US case monetarily and militarily.

The fallacy that angers me most is the double standard people have regarding the circumstances. For some reason, the superpower in the Middle East (funded by the global superpower) has a right to defend itself however it sees fit. On the other hand, a territory occupied for almost half a century with little infrastructure left has no right to armed resistance or self-defense.

The powerful Israeli lobby in Canada and the United States has done a tremendous job of preventing critical commentaries in the political arena and in the mainstream media. Those who have the courage to speak out or condemn the actions of the Jewish state are frequently labeled Anti-Semitic and are refused exposure in the western media.

The media in western democracies has been just as supportive to Israel as it was to the United States in the run up to the war in Iraq. No one questions anything or digs deeper for information. In fact, from what I’ve seen the press in Israel is far more critical of their own country’s engagements than we are. The evidence we receive has such a pro-Israel bias that some Jews I know outside my family now describe Palestinians in the same fashion the Nazis once described Jews, it’s ridiculous.

Peace will never come to the region so long as the powers that be on either side continue to profit either financially or politically from the religious hatred that has long since boiled over. There is money to be made in war along with political capital and all it does is keep the Palestinians in despair and Israelis in fear.

  • As I write this, Israeli air strikes have killed 75 people (including 12 from one family and 18 children).
  • Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai has said, “The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”
  • Hamas’ conditions for a truce include open borders and international guarantees that Israel will halt all attacks on Gaza, including targeted assassinations
  • Three Israelis have been killed by Hamas rocket fire from Gaza
  • The occupation of Palestine is now at 45 years, 5 months and 9 days.

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Vote-Today

So, almost two years and four billion dollars later and it looks like nothing is going to change in the senate, house and presidency, but that’s only what we see on the surface. Many see the results of Tuesday’s election as a shift toward liberalism. True or not, Republicans must feel like they just left the doctor’s office after a prostate exam. Well, at least they no longer have to pay for it.

President Barack Obama won re-election despite mass voter suppression attempts in Ohio, Florida and elsewhere. He won in the face of a vast amount of money being dumped into Republican Super-PACs and he won in spite of some of his own failings. It wasn’t easy to be sure.

Not only did Democrats also win a greater majority of seats in the Senate, they were able to replace old retiring centrists with fairly progressive fresh blood. Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren won her seat in one of the most expensive senate races in history and is the first ever female senator from Massachusetts. Tammy Baldwin won her Senate seat in Wisconsin becoming the first openly gay Senator in American history.

Americans rejected some of the more extremist candidates, namely Todd Akin & Richard Mourdock, better known in media circles as “the rape guys.” It turns out Akin got legitimately raped at the polls by Claire McCaskill and Richard Mourdock’s loss was something God intended.

Senator Elizabeth Warren

The Democrats clearly have some big liberal names going to Washington, but that’s not necessarily what made the evening a progressive triumph. The state ballot initiatives are what made the night truly progressive.

The states of Washington and Colorado both voted to legalize marijuana for sales and consumption. The first states to do so since pot was criminalized in the early 20th century. This will be a little tricky given that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level; we’ll have to see if Obama will continue his crack down now that he won’t face re-election again.

Three states approved gay marriage: Maine, Washington and Maryland while Minnesota refused to ban it. 75 per cent of voters in Colorado and Montana decided in favor of resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling of “Citizens United” and end corporate personhood. Californians voted to raise taxes and to modify the “Three Strikes” law, but in my opinion got it wrong when they refused to ban the death penalty and refused to label Genetically Engineered Food. No one’s perfect, I guess.

With all these progressive strides, everyone has been asking if America is turning toward the left. That’s a hard question to answer so I’d have to say both yes and no. It’s possible that Americans re-elected Obama because the liberal winds are blowing in that direction, it’s also possible they just rejected Romney for never clarifying his plans or making up his mind. Either way, both candidates were only about 2 per cent apart.

Voters did reject some of the more extremist tea party candidates, but that doesn’t signal a leftward shift. In some races, Republican candidates were so far to the right that electing Ronald Reagan would have seemed like a progressive victory.

The country as a whole isn’t changing much from what I can see. Blue states are still blue and the red are still red, the swing states have been staying blue lately, but that can change. The country in my opinion, is still partisan and divided. I think the real progressive changes we saw the other night occurred more at the state level than at the national level, in other words the liberal states are simply becoming more liberal. I don’t think gay marriage or drug legalization will be accepted in Alabama or Texas any time soon.

I don’t expect Republicans to start moving toward the centre anytime soon in response to their loss. In fact, many tea party members are blaming Romney’s loss on his fake conservatism. I don’t expect Obama to start governing more to the left either, although I feel he has a mandate to do so. An election where you get more than 50 per cent of the vote is a mandate in any democracy.

If Obama ends up compromising with Republicans more than he should, it could impede his ability to strengthen the economy, lower the deficit and tackle global warming. Not only could this tarnish his legacy, but it’ll play right into Republican hands and these progressive baby steps that were taken might be forgotten.

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climate-change1

Last week, Superstorm Sandy devastated the east coast with high winds, record storm surges and rain. The storm left millions without power, thousands homeless and over a hundred dead, if there was anything positive to come out of this calamity it was that climate change was finally front page news again.

Unfortunately the only time climate change is mentioned by the powers that be or the media is in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. We saw it after Hurricane Katrina and after the Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and the Coast of Japan, but talk of climate change didn’t last a month after these events. With the general election in the US this Tuesday, I suspect talk of climate change this time will barely last a week.

Even when politicians and the media report on climate change, it has little to do with ways to solve it, instead the conversation is concentrated on the debate of its existence. People won’t start to grasp the truth so long as we keep referring to the “debate” about climate change… there is no debate.

Almost 98% of scientists (with credentials) say climate change is real and man-made. That is a huge percentage to be betting against, but roughly 30-40% of Americans do just that. In a year that has seen massive wildfires, long nationwide droughts, a record hot summer and an autumn super storm, too many people continue to live in denial.

North America contains two of the world’s most industrialized countries. During World War II, The United States and Canada were at the forefront against Nazi tyranny, but now with global warming being man’s most dangerous threat to its existence, they’re scarcely in the background.

It is so taboo of a subject that during the four American presidential debates climate change wasn’t discussed even once for the first time in twenty four years. In Canada, our conservative government not only avoids debate and action, but it has spent its first year of majority rule scaling back environmental protections and research. At the same time, the government has done what it can to speed up contract approval for the extraction of fossil fuels and creation of oil pipelines.

The reason for the lack of a real strategy on both sides of the border is largely due to conservative ideology; Corporate influence, free market principals even religious theories all have a part to play.

Big oil in Canada and the United States plays a big part in the propaganda and misinformation being distributed to the people on television and through our (mainly conservative) politicians. With hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on advertising, lobbying and political support every year, it’s virtually impossible to counter. Even in Canada, I can’t go a day without seeing a pro-tar sands commercial claiming it’s clean, safe and good for the economy. Seeing them on Canadian news networks angers me greatly.

I don’t call the GOP the “Grand Oil Party” for nothing, but lobbyists aren’t the only driving force behind the right wing denials about climate change. The combination of god and economic opportunity also plays a part.

As far as religious conservatives are concerned, the increased occurrence of natural disasters and droughts are often chalked up to God’s will and therefore can’t be avoided, so why not profit from it? Conservative principle is that of free enterprise at its extreme. To many, their dreams won’t be realized until everything from our roads to our water is in the hands of for-profit corporations and unfortunately there are no lines being drawn when it comes to profiting from disasters and human suffering.

Disaster capitalism is well documented (see The Shock Doctrine). Governments and corporations have long been exploiting natural, economic and political disasters for either financial gain or as an excuse to privatize industries.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is one such capitalist who spoke about FEMA last year during a primary debate; “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Anybody familiar with Romney’s business history knows he’s not above profiting from those who end up suffering as a consequence.

It just goes to show the mindset of those who keep doubts about climate change alive. The right in the United States has done an extraordinary job of disseminating their mendacity to the public, convincing moderates and those who don’t know better to stand at their side. It is the only way to explain why nearly half the country denies that our climate is changing.

Canadians are supposedly not so easily fooled. A poll conducted last august suggests that only 2% of Canadians deny that climate change is real, even in the conservative stronghold of Alberta the denial rate is only 21%. But while we all believe in climate change we went and elected a government that doesn’t. Perhaps Canadians aren’t as foolish so much as they are stupid.

A conservative used to refer to someone who conserves, that includes the planet. In my opinion, the real battle to counter the effects of climate change won’t be able to start until more people start speaking out and present day conservatism is put to rest. So long as there are people who persist on denying its existence or continuing the farcical debate, no amount of tsunamis, hurricanes or super-storms will help to bring about action.

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Election-2012

Finally! No more debates, no more television advertisements, no more writing articles on the lunacy of the American electoral system… Yeah, right.

In less than 10 days Americans will head to the polls to decide once and for all who they want to be led by: Mitt Romney and his cohorts of the 1 percent or centrist President Barack Obama.

If the polls are to be believed (and they shouldn’t), the political landscape the day after the election will probably look similar to the day before, and things will likely carry on much as it has for the past four years. However, there are some variables that these polls don’t take into account, and I don’t just mean the weather.

For instance, millions of people left without a voice will surely make an impact and no one knows just how effective the voter suppression laws introduced by state Republicans will play out. With the polls already being fairly tight, these new factors bring an unprecedented amount of uncertainty. So I’m not going to guess what will happen, but I will discuss the insane possibilities.

2000 Revisited

Everyone remembers what happened in 2000 when Governor Jeb Bush and his secretary of state Katherine Harris disenfranchised tens of thousands of black voters in Florida. It created a tight race that would eventually be decided by the Supreme Court stopping the ensuing recount which meant that Jeb’s brother George had won by a few hundred votes.

This time around the same scenario is conceivable; Florida again has a Republican governor (Rick Scott) dedicated to suppressing the minority vote and the Supreme Court still leans to the right. The big difference in 2012 lies in the amount of swing states trying to mirror the sunshine state. Who knows whether Florida or another state taking similar steps might be the epicenter.

Strange Bedfellows

Romney/Biden 2012?

In order to win the presidency, a candidate requires 270 electoral college votes, in other words, half plus one of the 538 available. Given the close race, it is conceivable, however unlikely, that neither candidate will acquire the magic number. Given the political landscape, it is thinkable that the candidates could end up tied at 269 each.

In the event of a tie, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives. The house which is currently controlled by the Republicans and is expected to retain their majority after November 6th would therefore name Mitt Romney as president.

The Senate which is currently controlled by Democrats would be tasked with naming the vice-president. Assuming the Senate retains their Democratic majority, Joe Biden would become Mitt Romney’s vice-president. Stranger still, if the Senate ends up going 50/50, Joe Biden as the current vice-president would be the deciding vote to re-elect himself for the position.

Recipe for Hate

One of the more frightening scenarios I can see unfolding (other than the Republicans controlling everything) would be Barack Obama getting re-elected by receiving the most electoral votes and Mitt Romney winning the popular vote.

This would follow in the footsteps of the 2000 election where Bush became president even though Gore received more individual votes. Democrats weren’t happy, but they never overreacted, imagine for a second what would happen if history repeated itself for the other side.

The extremist wing of the GOP with the help of their conservative pundits and television network would instantly brand Obama as an illegitimate president. If you think that’s far-fetched, just look at the lengths they’ve gone to about his place of birth and religion.

Hannity, Beck & Limbaugh

Although a certain percentage of Republicans have believed in Obama’s illegitimacy for years, it wouldn’t take much to convince the rest of the conservative base that Obama is a false leader who actually lost to Romney. The hate would build up so fast with every comment out of Limbaugh, Beck or Fox News’s mouth to the point where gun-toting lunatics everywhere might decide to right the wrong themselves and do something drastic… again.

Whatever happens on evening of Nov. 6 I will be expecting the unexpected. Strange things always seem to happen in a close race. Still, I’m sure none of these preposterous scenarios will come to fruition. Obama will get re-elected with majorities in the Senate and the House and every American will live happily ever after… until November 7th.

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XL

Thanks in part to government imposed austerity and corporate influence over our public health officials, we no longer know what we are eating; more importantly, we don’t really know if it’s healthy. Government cuts in food inspections, deregulation of industry and corporate greed are keeping us in the dark when we go to the grocery store or the butcher shop.

Every day it seems we hear one more story about a tainted meat outbreak, another country-wide recall on another defective product or about corporations modifying our food not so it’s healthier, but so it’s more profitable.

In the United States, the USDA repeatedly turns a blind eye on people’s health preferring the free market to sort things out. In Canada, our already cash strapped Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has had to cut back on hundreds of employees and inspectors thanks to King Harper’s useless austerity measures.

Pink Slime

Hopefully most of you remember the stories regarding soylent pink or pink slime. It is a beef product originally used in pet food and cooking oil. It is essentially a collection of beef by-products (cartilage, connective tissue and tendons); this mixture is heated up so that the lean beef can be separated from the fat. The result is a pink slimy substance doused in ammonia.

Every pound of ground beef now contains 15% Pink slime, also known under its politically correct term as lean finely textured beef (LFTB). It is now used as an additive or “filler” in processing plants across America. Even worse, it can still be labeled as “100% beef” even though there is a little bit of ammonia-laced hotdog in every bite.

ABC news broke this story back in the spring, much to the horror of the general public. ABC actually did its job and reported an important story that 88 per cent of us were in the dark about. For their efforts, BPI the makers of LFTB is filing a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against them. How nice.

Chemical Inflation

One of the biggest corporate scams going today is taking place in the agriculture industry. Chemical companies posing as bio-tech companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical have been involved in genetically modifying food for decades.

Their modified corn, soy and sugar beet seeds are herbicide resistant so long as you used their herbicide. Farmers were supposed to make millions on bigger crop yields free of weeds with no ill effect on our health. Scientists have since proven that this is all pure bullshit.

Like anti-biotics, the more you use them, the more you need to take as your immune system adapts, plants work the same way. In other words farmers have to pay Monsanto more and more every year to immunize their crops, in recent years 527 million pounds more in fact. Farmers are spraying their crops with so much of this stuff that the USDS is measuring  a steady increase of the herbicide in our breathing air.

Dow Chemical is now telling farmers that if they don’t like Monsanto, they can buy Dow’s new 24D resistant seeds. 24D just happens to contain 50% of Agent Orange’s chemical make-up. All this despite the fact that GMO’s have no human benefit other than lining the pockets of the people that profit from this poison.

Beside the fact that we’re all breathing in these toxins anyway, regulators in the United States still prefer to keep the people uninformed by not labeling the food. California has taken it upon themselves to put it to a vote this November with prop 37, a ballot initiative that will force frankenfood companies to label their food. The chemical companies are spending a million dollars a day trying to convince people to vote “no” and have claimed that in 2012, their sole goal is to keep the public from knowing what they do.

XL Food and Total Recall

I used to have a little faith in Canadian Food Inspection Agency. After all, pink slime is illegal, bovine growth hormones (BGH) are illegal—that’s a pretty good start. However, genetically modified foods are legal to grow and their labeling is voluntary (in other words, it’s not done). What also concerns me is the CFIA’s lack of funding and their absence of proper inspections.

The Conservative Government decided as part of their austerity-packed budget bill to cut the inspection agency’s funds even though it was under subsidized in the first place. The CFIA has issued about a dozen health warnings in the first few weeks of October. The warnings are welcomed, but it would be nice if they had the funds to prevent so many warnings from being required in the first place. Consumers are finding out the hard way after buying the product, rather than catching the problem before the damage is done.

The recent XL Foods E.coli mishap is a good example. Because of the lack of funds, Canadian inspectors are only able to examine six per cent of the meat we eat. To make matters worse they only test the meat, they don’t normally inspect the facilities in which it is produced. Luckily in this case, American inspectors at the boarder who were long-concerned with the lackluster conditions at the XL plant were smart enough to test their beef, thus avoiding a bigger disaster.

But while the media continues to focus on the beef recall, the number of problematic products that have shipped in the last few weeks on both sides of the boarder is getting out of hand. Kellogg’s Mini Wheats were recalled recently due to fears of metal fragments in the cereal. “Clef Des Champs” organic ground ginger was recalled over concerns the product may be contaminated with salmonella and Banana Boat sunscreen was recalled after five people caught fire!

My friends keep telling me I should eat healthier—and perhaps they’re right—but thanks to sub-par inspectors and a culture of corporate agriculture determined to pollute the food chain for financial gain, it’s getting hard to tell what healthy is.

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Vice-presidential-debate

Political debates highlight disputed opinions between politicians. These opinions can range in topic from social issues, to economics, to foreign policy. Debates are routinely used by candidates to try and sway the undecided voters to cast their ballet for them. Undecided voters typically avoid paying attention to politics and are therefore uninformed and susceptible to the media’s influence. In close elections this makes the debates all that more important.

Debates haven’t changed much through the decades; the only difference I would say is the way we judge the winner—and it has little to do with policy. In the eyes of the corporate media, the winner isn’t the man who best articulates his views, just as the loser isn’t the guy who’s proven wrong (no one is ever proven wrong!).

During the first presidential debate a couple weeks ago, Mitt Romney brought his “A game” by doing what every good businessman does: he told everyone what they wanted to hear. Romney changed his views, even outright lied at times in order to appeal to a more broad audience, a tactic Obama didn’t call him out on till the day after.

If you watched mainstream media immediately after the debate, Romney didn’t win because he lied or changed positions more than actors in a porn movie, he won simply by coming out strong and aggressive whereas President Obama was laid back and calm. Through the eyes of the media, it didn’t seem to matter what came out of their mouths.

By instantly declaring Romney the winner and ignoring the untruths that he spewed, the news media made up the minds of the undecided voters instead of letting the people decide for themselves; the result was a huge boost in the polls for Romney. I’ll admit Obama didn’t help himself, but when your opponent changes face as much as he did, I may have sat there dumbfounded myself.

Fast forward a little to last week’s vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. The roles were reversed as Biden was the candidate who came out aggressive, confident and with a smile. Was Joe declared the winner just like Romney the week before? Depends who you ask, MSNBC said yes, Fox News said no and everyone in between couldn’t decide. With the opinion of the winner split down the middle, the poll numbers didn’t move.

I remember last year during the Canadian general election, the corporate Canadian media claimed before the debate began that all Prime Minister Stephen Harper had to do to win was stay on message (as if that’s hard to do). Sure enough he did and the press immediately declared him the victor.

However, the boost in the polls didn’t come Harper’s way; instead it went to Jack Layton especially in the province of Quebec thanks to his mixture of policies and humor. It forced the media to change its “ruling” days later. Whether this happened because the Canadian people saw through the bullshit of the press is debatable itself. After all, Quebecers were the ones who fell in love with Layton, possibly thanks to the French media who probably described the debate differently.

As I said, undecided voters aren’t informed. If they were, chances are they’d have chosen a side by now. Unfortunately with the partisan 24/7 news stations and the slightly more free mainstream media dictating to us what they think, it’s virtually impossible to come to a self-determining conclusion with the right information.

The age of information didn’t just bring us the internet, smartphones and 24-hour news, it also brought with it a new age of corporate propaganda and partisan reporting. The only advice I can give to the independent voter is to do your own research and determine for yourself who the best candidate is. This day and age we shouldn’t need farcical debates to define a winner.

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Homeless in Reno, Nevada

No this article is not about Hawaii five-0 or the OPP like the title might suggest, it is about the role of government in a democratic society. In this hard life of ours, some of us can struggle, we can suffer and we can die. It is the responsibility of our government to prevent this from happening as much as it can. In the end, we are in essence protecting ourselves as a whole.

Conservatives and libertarians alike are of the opinion that government is there to protect us from bullets, meaning the country should have an army to protect itself from invasion and cities should have a police force and perhaps a fire department to protect innocents from bodily harm. That’s it, no more protection do you require.

While those three entities are important, they are usually the least of our worries. The average human being doesn’t concern themselves with getting shot by gangsters or having to thwart off a Chinese invasion. We worry about making enough money to feed our kids, having a roof over our heads and trying to improve our lives from one generation to the next.

No system of government has done more for the welfare of its people than democracy, but now modern day free market capitalism is threatening a new age of feudalism. The “New Deal” of the 1930’s brought unimaginable prosperity to the industrialized world; the greatest generation was given decent working hours, good wages, social security, and eventually Medicare & welfare, etc. These middle class citizens in good turn passed it down to their kids; the baby boomers, who over the last thirty years have decided to keep it all for themselves.

These government edicts have worked in every modernized country that has put it to practice. They have increased the standard of living and the life expectancy for millions upon millions of people compared to a century ago. Most importantly, a program like health care prevents regular Joes from losing their home and descending into poverty, while welfare allows us to not only bounce back up, but to succeed at great lengths after a dismal failure.

Now we hear from economic conservatives that governments can no longer afford it. The richest countries in the world can no longer afford to assist the lowliest of people, but they’ll never tell you that tax rates have been reduced over the years to pre-new deal levels. Instead, they’ll tell you entitlements are a form of “big government” and that the governments can’t be trusted. In other words, some of the same people who want our vote are telling us not to trust them.

Homeless in Reno, Nevada

We live in a society where a growing percentage of the population is buying into the ideology that a billionaire’s freedom to make additional billions is more imperative than reducing the struggles and suffering of those we now deem to be a lazy blight on the country. This is the conservative position that the poor are more useless than serfs and the libertarian position that freedom comes before all else.

While it is true that all roads eventually lead to one’s demise, nothing speeds up the wagon like poverty. Poverty leads to malnutrition, disease and death, not to mention what it can do to the mind. That being said, should it not be every government’s top priority?

Of course, but unfortunately the wealthy have done an amazing job over the last thirty years of convincing the shrinking middle class that the poor are to blame for the country’s problems and it’s the middle class that are more inclined to vote.

We elect our governments to pass laws and regulations that better serve us and protect us. They are not always the best decisions and sometimes they go too far, but I think we’ve learned over the last hundred years what works and what doesn’t. The least we can do is keep what works. It’s only true that a nation is better off without a safety net if there is no one needing to be caught—call me when you find such a place.

If democracy does not exist for the betterment of everyone, then why does it exist at all? Democracy is a synonym for equality, or at least it used to be. A wise pointy eared man once said that “the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few”. Everyone thought that way at the end of the bloodiest war the world had ever seen. Hopeful we don’t need another to feel that way again.

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What a backwards world we live in. Teachers in Chicago go on strike for the betterment of their students? They get ripped apart. Workers locked out of their factory for years just for trying to keep a living wage? Perfectly acceptable. “Right to Work” legislation passed in dozens of states to undermine unions and keep wages low? That’s OK too.

Conservatives are always quick to side against organized labor, unless of course their lives are personally affected. If a replacement worker in their favorite sport blows a call on the field that allows their team to lose, well then everything must be done to make sure those professional referees return before the next game no matter the cost. If only those teachers in Chicago and Wisconsin were more important than football in the eyes of certain important people.

The NFL referee strike was great at showing the inconsistency of conservative ideology, but there are more lessons to be learned here. Professional American football is filled with things that modern day conservatives can’t stand, including regulations, socialism and labor unions.

Football fan Theodore Roosevelt

Back in 1905, football was an extremely violent game played in colleges across the US; it closely resembled rugby, and had no professional organization. It was so vicious that 18 people died playing that year alone and progressives were calling for an outright ban on the sport. That’s when Republican President and football fan Theodore Roosevelt stepped in with you guessed it; regulations.

Roosevelt invited certain college coaches and football experts to the White House and told them to introduce rules that would make the game safer. The rule changes were massive, but necessary. No more gang tackling, no more rugby-like formations, a neutral zone was set up, first downs were extended from five yards to ten and most importantly; the forward pass was put in place.

Introducing regulations to football not only made the game uniquely American and more exciting, but it made the game significantly safer. A hundred years later, football can still be considered a violent sport, but death on the gridiron is a rarity. Smart government-imposed regulations are essential to our social wellbeing, whether it’s keeping our sports and streets safer, making sure our meat isn’t tainted or keeping corporate greed in check.

The NFL is considered to be the best run sports league in North America. This accomplishment is thanks to a well thought out combination of socialism and capitalism, two words that don’t mix in the conservative’s mind.

The National Football League is almost a ten billion dollar a year business, it’s natural to see capitalism at work. Everyone gets rich, players, broadcast networks, merchandise manufacturers and owners (who get even richer).

What makes the NFL so successful though isn’t just the size of the revenue the league takes in; it’s the income that gets redistributed among all the teams. All profits get put into one big socialist piggy bank; it gets shaken up and redistributed to the 32 NFL teams. This allows places like Green Bay, Wisconsin with a population of only 100,000 to not only stay competitive, but to win (and win often).

Another little socialist trait is the “taxing” of the top teams, a strategy used by all North American sports leagues to try and keep the playing field level. When a team wins the super bowl they automatically pick last in the next player draft and so on down the line. Conservatives in the real world call this “punishing success” (thanks Bill Maher).

The workers of the NFL (players & referees) have their unions to thank for acquiring a larger piece of the corporate pie, just like any other unionized business. Before the NFL referees went on strike they were earning about 30% less than their counterparts in the National Hockey League.

Some might consider this fair given that the NHL plays five times more games, but the NFL brings in three or four times more money. Why shouldn’t the refs of the most popular game be entitled to more pay than the least popular? With no union that doesn’t happen. At Wal-Mart, the most successful retail store on the planet, organized labor there would help up to 80% of their employees at any given store get off of food stamps. With no union that doesn’t happen.

Conservatives and football might go together like peas and carrots, but conservatives and the NFL go together like oil and water. It boggles my mind how much fundamentalists can adore a sport, but refuse to take lessons from how the league manages to be so successful. I guess that’s why they call liberals the ‘intellectuals’.

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