On March 7, 2017 Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced plans to clean up the Canadian Criminal Code and rid it of “zombie laws”. If you think of zombie laws, you probably think of the rules one would have to follow during a zombie apocalypse. Sadly, zombie laws aren’t related to the undead, but they ARE interesting, and like the zombies in fiction, can be rather annoying.

Zombie laws are laws that are no longer in force but still technically, physically, on the books.

The issue of zombie criminal laws recently came up due to the case of Travis Vader, the man convicted of murdering two elderly people in Alberta. The judge sentenced him for culpable homicide aka second degree murder.

Unfortunately, culpable homicide no longer exists in Canadian criminal law, it’s a zombie concept. If you kill someone, you can only be convicted of murder or manslaughter.

The provision the judge used to convict him – section 230 of the Criminal Code – had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1990. Vader’s lawyers argued for a mistrial, but fortunately for the safety of everyone, they did not get one. The judge in question instead sentenced Vader to life for two counts manslaughter.

This is not the first time zombie laws have caused problems. Though the law prohibiting anal sex for people under the age of eighteen has been ruled unconstitutional by appeals’ courts, there are claims that sixty-nine people have been charged with the offense between 2014 and 2015.

Stephen Coughlan, Professor at Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University in Halifax came up with a list of zombie criminal laws. These laws include:

  • Spreading false news: This provision of the Criminal Code was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1992 for violating constitutional protections of freedom of expression.
  • Vagrancy: This was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1994 in R v. Heywood for violating the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
  • Procuring a miscarriage aka abortion: Struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988 in R v. Morgentaler

Restrictions also still on the books include those against dueling, fraudulently pretending to practice witchcraft, and crime comic books – yes, crime comics used to be illegal.

The Canadian Criminal Code is over eight hundred forty nine provisions long.

Law enforcement, prosecutors and judges rely on it to determine who to arrest, who to charge, how to convict, and how to sentence a person for a crime. Though people in the legal and law enforcement professions are expected to stay up to date in their field, it’s impossible to keep track of every law and many will still look it up when in doubt.

If a law in a text they rely on to inform them has been declared unconstitutional but was never actually removed from that text, mistakes like the one in the Travis Vader case are inevitable, because the source material they rely on – and should rely on – is full of mistakes.

So why haven’t federal governments worked to remove these laws sooner?

The most likely reason is because governments are busy and removing something from a body of law as vast as the Canadian Criminal Code takes a lot of work they don’t have the time for.

In order to amend the Criminal Code, the government will have to present a bill calling for the changes. That bill will have to outline every single zombie provision and when it was struck down, declared unconstitutional, or why it’s not used anymore. That means that someone or a group of someones will have to go through the Criminal Code and the Canadian judicial system’s vast body of case law to determine which ones are zombie provisions. The extensive work of Professor Stephen Coughlan on the subject will undoubtedly be a useful starting point.

Once the bill is drafted, it will have to go through the same grueling process every other federal law has to go through. That means that it will have to be formally presented to Parliament, debated, debated again, and voted on. If it passes, it will have to go to the Senate for its own round of debate and votes. Either house can kill the bill.

If the law proposing to update the Criminal Code is passed, the next step is arduous process of actually doing it. That means not only removing the zombie provisions but also going over the Code in its entirety to make sure the text is clear and consistent through and through. There’s also the issue of where the current Criminal Code will stand while the updates are in the works.

Though the process is going to be a long and annoying one, removing zombie laws is a necessary job that’s long overdue. The difficulties will come not only in drafting and passing a law to actually do it, but in figuring out an efficient way to do it without leaving dangerous voids in our legal system.

Will the Federal government’s plan work? Only time will tell.

I’ve always loathed how a politician’s style and personal likability and trustworthiness seems more important to pundits and the public than the policies they put forward. After watching the first NDP Leadership Debate in Ottawa today, though, I’m inclined to push substance aside for the moment and focus on style.

I suggest New Democrats concerned with the future of their party do the same. This is the only time in recent memory that it’s actually been safe to do so in the search for a major federal party leader.

Last NDP Leadership contest, it would have been way too risky. There was a charismatic candidate who had floated the idea of cooperating with the Liberals electorally and a frontrunner who was great in the House of Commons but who was only progressive in a few areas and to the right of the Liberals in others.

The four candidates I saw today, though, seemed to be cut from the same orange cloth as Jack Layton. While there were minor differences in approach to some issues, by and large they agreed on pretty much everything. These were four voices from the left who knew that the best way forward for the party was to reconnect with its progressive base. A connection that was lost in a Mulcair-driven failed attempt to form government at all costs.

So when there was a “lightning round” of absolute fluff, stuff like favourite Quebecois movie, food and sport (that they all didn’t just answer hockey was astounding) with a couple of interesting questions mixed in (favourite feminist and last book you read), I thought good call, NDP moderators! I’m sold that they would all make great progressive Prime Ministers, let’s see who has the best chance to get there with some typical non-policy questions politicians get.

Actually, let’s now take a look at who has the best chance of bringing the NDP message forward, now that I’m confident that message will be a progressive one.

The four contenders are Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Peter Julian. Going in, I was leaning Ashton, as I was familiar with her and voted her my #2 pick in the last leadership election. I also was familiar with Angus, but mostly as a musician who made it to Parliament. I was aware that there was an MP named Peter Julian and this is my first time hearing of Guy Caron.

Let’s see how they did:

Unique Style

When it comes to style, it’s important to remember that this is the person who will have to hold their own in debates with the selfie PM/international faux-progressive posterboy and all around great talker Justin Trudeau and whatever iteration of the right (TV businessman or true believer xenophobe) the Conservatives elect. The NDP needs a standout in that mix.

On stage today I saw three different models of NDP leader from the four candidates.

Ashton came across as fiery, like someone on a mission. She was the most passionately progressive person on that stage.

Angus, meanwhile, evoked the working class hero. Relaxed, someone you could have a beer with, but also someone who’s not afraid to call out BS and injustice when he sees it.

Caron and Julien, meanwhile, both seemed to play the part of the likable, principled middle manager/uncle who you respect but that’s about it. Think Tim Kaine but actually on the left.

Second Languages

To be elected Prime Minister (if you’re running with the NDP), you absolutely need to be bilingual. Sure, Quebec MPs don’t make up as much of the caucus as they did before the 2015 Orange Crash, but this province is still a huge factor in any roadmap to victory for the New Democrats. So is winning a decent number of seats throughout English Canada.

Caron fared the best in both official languages. His English was as solid as his French, just with an accent. His confidence and style didn’t change much when he switched languages.

Ashton and Julien were equally bilingual. Neither sacrificed the pacing of their speech in French to search for the right words. Yes, there were a few flubs, but they were barely noticeable given the confidence with which they spoke.

Angus, unfortunately, did mess up the second language test on both counts. He made quite a few errors and substituted English words on more than one occasion. That wouldn’t be so bad if his delivery remained constant. Unfortunately, it didn’t. In English he was relaxed and charming, in French, he sounded like someone reading a text for the first time.

Bringing the Progressive Message Home

All the candidates on the stage in Ottawa espoused progressive values and a return to the true left for the NDP, however, there were a few standout moments where they really drove that message home.

Ashton did this not once but twice. First, she spoke of the base that had “distanced” themselves from the party and then mentioned that the NDP lost the 2015 election because they had strayed too far to the perceived political centre that Trudeau’s Liberals were able to outflank them on the left.

Julien impressed when he acknowledged that in some cases it was impossible to reconcile the employment needs of Canadians with avoiding the potential environmental catastrophes that the Kinder-Morgan and Energy East pipelines might bring. He was the only one to answer that question in such a bold way.

Both Angus and Ashton opened the debate by acknowledging that it was taking place on unceded Algonquin territory (Ottawa). Julien also thanked Ashton for her acknowledgement, echoing the statement on stage and on Twitter.

So if, for the moment, we are safe with policy, let’s look at who’s best to deliver it.

You can watch the whole debate on ndp.ca

Featured image: CBC screengrab

An earlier version of this post said only two candidates mentioned that the debate was taking place on unceded indigenous territory

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois officially confirmed he intends to run both as Québec Solidaire’s candidate in the Gouin by-election and to become the party’s spokesperson.

“Because I am a leftist, because I am a sovereignist and because it’s time, really time, to put an end to the political impasse in Quebec, I am joining Quebec Solidaire,” he announced during his long-awaited and entirely expected press conference on Thursday morning.

He used the opportunity to call for both a fusion with Option Nationale and for the ousting of Quebec’s ruling political class as a whole.

The political class has betrayed Quebec

“I am joining a political party because I believe the political class that has ruled us, in Quebec, for 30 years must be removed from power” was the first thing out of his mouth. The new candidate did not mince his words regarding the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Parti Québécois.

“This political class has betrayed Quebec. It always puts its friends – the big corporations, the engineering firms, the doctors’ lobby – before the people of Quebec,” he accused. “Whether in power or not, whether red or blue, it always makes the same choices.”

Although he stated that he believes Quebec Solidaire could collaborate with the PQ, he made it clear that a merger between the two parties was not on the table. He made subtle jabs at Jean-François Lisée’s focus on identity politics and the party’s position on the secularism debate.

Courting parties and militants

“Québec Solidaire can and must become a leading political force,” claimed Nadeau-Dubois. He believes that Quebec Solidaire can rally the people who are interested in a sovereign, progressive Quebec, but not in identity politics.

According to him, the first step on that path is to negotiate a fusion with Option Nationale, which he called the “only party that shared our vision for a society that is progressive, independent and inclusive.”

The new leader of ON, Sol Zanetti, welcomed this overture in a prudently worded press release immediately after. It said that ON was open to the possibility of negotiating and that it could represent an “important, exciting and mobilising step for Quebec.” However, it also stated that any fusion of ON with another political party must be voted on by its members at a national congress.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois also wants to put more efforts into recruiting interesting candidates for QS. He admitted that he would love for some of his colleagues on the recent Quebec tour Faut qu’on se parle (We need to talk) to join the ranks.
Furthermore, he called on every QS supporter to get directly involved in the party.

“I am calling on everyone from my generation, in fact on everyone who still believes, to join, like me, the ranks of Québec Solidaire,” he urged, “It is still possible to do big things. I believe in it, but we will have to do it together. Come work with us to change Quebec.”

* Photos by Mirna Djukic

On Monday the Orange Administration released a new Executive Order. We all knew it was coming, for no sooner had courts struck down the original Muslim ban when the White House promised a new and improved version. It was supposed to be signed and released last week, but then something strange happened.

In his first joint-address to Congress, the Lint-Covered-Cheeto President surprised everyone by acting like a gentleman. There was no blustering, there was just a man-child giving a speech. Reporters hailed his behavior as being truly “presidential” and the White House opted not to ruin the wave of good faith by releasing the new ban immediately afterward.

No matter what the new travel ban says, it will never outshine the atrocities committed in the first ban’s name. It will never outshine the baby who was denied entry for life-saving surgery (a lawmaker intervened on the child’s behalf when the story leaked so she was saved in the end), or the child separated from his mother for hours, or the old lady who was denied a wheelchair under the enforcement of the first Executive Order. It will never undo the widespread outrage from ordinary citizens and the legal community.

Now it’s time to look at the new Executive Order.

This order replaces the previous one and provides something the first order was sorely lacking: clarifications.

The first Executive Order was so vague no one seemed to know how to enforce it. As a result, people in positions to abuse it did and people with valid documents to enter the US from permanent residents to workers to famous authors and ex diplomats with legit visas were denied or delayed.

The new Executive Order provides a list of people deemed exceptions to its travel restrictions. Among the exceptions are lawful permanent residents, foreign nationals with valid visas or other documents allowing them to legally enter the US, people with dual citizenship, and those on diplomatic visas. Also exempt are foreign business people and workers, foreign nationals granted asylum or refugee status, children needing urgent medical care, and people legally admitted to the US to stay with family.

The new Order also does something the other did not: it condemned Islamophobia.

Unfortunately, the new Order does it in the most petulant way possible by defending the previous Executive Order with a none-too-subtle “we didn’t mean it that way!” response to the displays of Islamaphobia that had ensued.

Section 1 of the new order says:

Executive Order 13769 did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion. While that order allowed for prioritization of refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minority groups, that priority applied to refugees from every nation, including those in which Islam is a minority religion, and it applied to minority sects within a religion. That order was not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities — whoever they are and wherever they reside — to avail themselves of the USRAP in light of their particular challenges and circumstances.

This petulant tone is consistent throughout the beginning of the new Executive Order as section 1 is full of justifications and excuses for the first ban.

On the bright side, it also includes a subtle acknowledgment that the White House would never succeed in the courts had they continued to try and enforce the first Executive Order. The provision that replaces the first order with the current one says that it is “in order to avoid spending additional time pursuing litigation”.

People generally back out of legal disputes to due amicable resolutions, lack of funds, or the fact that they know they can’t win. The former two do not apply here.

Then there’s the list of countries banned.

One would hope that a new improved travel ban would include limitations on some of the countries that actually produce terrorists. Those states widely acknowledged as such include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, Turkey, and Kuwait. Sadly, none of these countries are on the list of limited countries as the new Order maintains limitations on Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia from the previous version.

However, this new Order tries to back up this list with facts cherry-picked in part from the Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 (June 2016). The Order does not state where the rest of its justifications come from.

It maintains the discretion of the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to make exceptions to the ban and like the previous Order, gives them extra responsibilities. The Order requires them with the Director of National Intelligence to review and identify countries from which more information is needed about their people before they are admitted to the US. Once they make the list, they have to ask the countries for information and if they don’t get it in a certain amount of time, the country’s people won’t be admitted to the US.

The new Executive Order was an opportunity for the White House to redeem itself. They could have limited nationals from countries that actually produce a lot of terrorists. They didn’t. They could have used actual facts to back their rules and claims, but they didn’t.

The White House did however do one very important thing which to specify who the ban does not apply to, leaving less room for racists and xenophobes with rubber gloves and metal detectors to arbitrarily bar or detain people they don’t like. In that sense, this new order is new and improved.

Back in 1960s America there were three major news networks NBC, CBS and ABC, though as one talking head says in reference to ABC, “There are three networks but if there were four, they’d be fourth.” At the time, networks still provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of political party conventions, but ABC, lacking the resources the other two major networks had, was only able show a few hours of political party conventions in the evening.

To save their struggling network, they would have to do something drastic, something that had never been done before. And that is exactly what they did during the 1968 conventions, hiring the flamboyant left-wing author Gore Vidal and ultra-conservative editor of the right-wing magazine, National Review, William F. Buckley to debate in a ten-night after convention special.

This event is said to be the first real attempt at political punditry and this documentary is a behind the scenes look at it. Set across actual archival footage of the debates, the film is both a character exploration of Buckley and Vidal themselves as well as a fascinating examination of how punditry became the way it is today.

Buckley once asked if there was anyone he would consider not debating and responded: “A communist or Gore Vidal.” In a brilliant and conniving move, ABC asked the two to come on and they agreed. The reason was quite simple: because they actually wanted to destroy each other as Christoper Hitchens notes in the film:  “There was nothing feigned about the mutual antipathy, they really did despise each other.”

It became clear early on in the debates that it was not about the convention but about how both men saw the state of America at the time and how their political philosophy fit (or didn’t) into the landscape of political rhetoric – and both these men disagreed vehemently with the other. This point reaches its apex when Buckley, upon being called a “crypto-nazi” by Vidal, responds with the threat of physical violence on live television.

That instance of a violent threat would haunt Buckley for the rest of his life, eternally being dumbfounded as to why he reacted the way he did. In Vidal’s mind, after that moment he had won.

The point that directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville are trying to make in Best of Enemies is quite clear and is well-taken and a valid one: there has been a degeneration in political coverage, having morphed into vapid shouting matches. Watching CNN, one would be hard-pressed to disagree with this point, but there is indeed something lacking in their argument.

The real focus of the film clearly is to look at how we argue about politics not about the content of those arguments. As Ben Burgis from Counterpunch says in his article about the film: “you can’t separate the two without being misleading.” Yes, Buckley was intemperate but the content of his arguments was toxic.

In the film, Vidal wants to paint Buckley as racist but we are not sure why. We know Buckley may have said troubling things about the civil rights movement, but that is about it. What we do not know is the examples of white supremacist policies he wrote about in the National Review. The film lacks a lot of context in that regard in more ways than one.

The film almost falls short of wanting to go back to a period where the centrist, status quo media ruled the airwaves (it, of course, still kind of does, but not to the extent it did in the 60s). The film decries ABC’s move as a move towards the destruction of television discourse, but I would argue that it might have served to expand debate. It also, of course, has its negatives as we all know.

In sum, the critique falls somewhat short as we are left with little context for both men’s political ideologies, but that is of course not the point of the film. Despite this, it is an entertaining film and an interesting look at the relationship of both men who absolutely despised each other as well as an interesting story of television history that deserves to be watched.

Feature image courtesy of ABC 

 

Dammit. The following sentence is one I never wanted to type and never thought I would, either:

Kudos to CNN, The New York Times and the rest of the corporate mainstream media for fighting the good fight and speaking truth to power in the US.

Ugh. I know. But credit where credit is due.

Since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and especially since he took offfice, they have been calling him and his administration out on absolute falsehoods, some so glaring it’s astounding they were put forward in the first place. They have also been critical of the more extreme points of his policies.

In short, they are doing their jobs, finally. And the Trump administration has been fighting back, calling them fake news and of course, who could forget:

Then yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cancelled his regular press briefing in favour of an off-camera “press gaggle” with select media outlets. ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX were there and so was Breitbart, the far-right online bastion of bigoted news presentation that used to employ Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon. Not invited: CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News, the Hill, Politico and Buzzfeed.

That’s right, the White House invited Breitbart over CNN and the New York Times. To put this in perspective, imagine if the White House invited Breitbart over CNN and The New York Times. No real need for allegory with this administration.

There is leaked audio from inside the gaggle of Spicer trying to defend his decision:

To their credit, the Associated Press and Time were invited to this exclusive event but declined in solidarity with their colleagues. That’s right, I just used the word solidarity to describe the actions of a division of a multinational corporation. That’s just how things are now.

Clinton News Network

It wasn’t always that way. In fact, during the Primaries a few short months ago, the mainstream press, the very same outlets that I am now defending, were pulling out all the stops to defend the status quo.

Calling CNN the Clinton News Network wasn’t a Trump supporter thing, it was a Bernie supporter go-to. I remember being livid with the network for breaking away from Bernie Sanders speaking live to a shot of Trump’s empty podium before he took the stage.

Obviously, it wasn’t a move designed to help Trump, it was clearly a way to silence Sanders and make everyone think the Trump-Clinton matchup was a done deal. You see, the Democratic Party establishment thought Trump was the ideal foil, someone who couldn’t possibly win, and as such, they wanted to elevate him…and CNN helped do just that.

The New York Times also ran countless articles discrediting Sanders and his campaign. It’s clear they saw him as more of a threat than the orange buffoon reality star B-list celeb who was running for the GOP.

But it goes further back than that. For years, the mainstream press had a very cozy relationship with the powers that be, regardless of who the President was. Barack Obama, George W. Bush and even Bill Clinton enjoyed a far less critical glare than they should have.

Yes, the corporate media did question and call the leaders out on some things, especially scandals, but they were far too trusting of the official narrative most of the time. Otherwise, the whole story about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction may have not led to a war, or at least not a media-championed war.

What it took for the mainstream media to do their jobs

It’s quite possible that the Trump Administration thought that they would have an easy ride coming in. What they failed to realize is that the reason the establishment press was so cozy with previous establishments is that those administrations knew how to play the game.

Did that game involve deception? Of course it did. But clever deception. Wording things in a way that could technically be defended as factual. Rarely an outright lie and then never one that is blatant and easy to de-bunk.

The unwritten rule? Don’t insult the press or the public’s intelligence with your BS. A rule that the Trump Administration clearly never heard or considered following for a moment.

So that’s what it took for corporate press to finally start doing their jobs. A narcissistic carnival barker with the temperament of a spoiled child trying to shove outright lies down their throats and punishing them when they don’t present his ridiculous claims as absolute truth.

Well, at least there was a bridge too far for them. Now we know what it is.

Not a good day for independent media, either

As someone who has always championed independent or alternative media sources (including this one) as well as media with a declared, or at least obvious, bias (like this one), what happened yesterday in Washington was in no way a victory for the non-corporate press. In fact, it signaled a rather unwelcome transformation of the very concept of independent media.

With biased sources like One America and the Washington Times as well as biased and independent sources like Breitbart included in the press gaggle, independent media has become a mouthpiece of and propaganda tool for the government. It would be different if the White House had also granted press credentials and given special treatment to, say, The Young Turks and Democracy Now, but that’s not the case.

No, it’s the mainstream sources who haven’t investigated the President that hard and indie outlets that are so far right that in this White House they are considered mainstream which make the cut. It’s not about independent versus mainstream, it’s about kissing Presidential ass or not.

It is important for independent media to stand with their corporate colleagues on this one issue. Then we can all go back to criticizing them for lack of coverage on extremely important issues like Standing Rock.

For the corporate press, here’s hoping you don’t go back to the old ways and have finally learned that:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
– George Orwell

Moms Demand Action New York State Chapter Leader Jaime Levy Pessin is a modern and efficacious woman living in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two children. As I enter her home for the interview I witness a person who makes multi-tasking seem as natural as waking up each morning.

As interview starts, some Moms Demand Action business is taken care of, a call answered, her daughter Cora and son Noah’s activities are settled and their dinner is prepared. This all happens over the course of maybe two minutes and Jaime is calm and polite as we get down to some questions.

S- For readers new to Moms Demand Action give us a brief history of the organization.

J- Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded the day after the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, which left six educators and 20 six and seven year-olds dead in their elementary school. A mom in Indiana, Shannon Watts, started a Facebook page with the idea that we needed to have a Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the gun violence prevention movement. And her page spread like wildfire.

New York City was one of the first chapters to form. Weeks later we held our first annual march across the Brooklyn Bridge. More than 1,000 people showed up in below-freezing temperatures to march with us.

Since then, we’ve grown to 3 million members in all 50 states. We’ve joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns under the umbrella of Everytown for Gun Safety. We are a nonpartisan, grassroots group committed to passing reasonable, evidence-based laws that are proven to reduce gun violence.

Do you know Shannon Watts and in what ways is she still involved in Moms Demand Action today?

I first met Shannon at our first Brooklyn bridge march. She has since turned into a great figurehead of the movement. She is a volunteer and founder.

Shannon travels the country and meets the other volunteers. She does speaking engagements, does press and fundraisers. As she is traveling she makes a point of stopping by and seeing what all the other volunteers are doing. She has really gotten to know all the people across the country who are working as part of this thing that she created.

I think she is still a little bit baffled that she started this movement but Shannon is always very adamant in pointing out how much every person has played a part in it. She doesn’t view Moms as her creation, she sees it as if she did this one small action and then everyone else kinda filled it in throughout the country.

This is what is so cool about volunteering with Moms. There is a sense that every single person has something to contribute. Whether you have ten minutes or ten hours there is a place for you. She wants to make sure that message comes through.

Can you tell us what led you to your role as a leader in Moms Demand Action -New York?

In the days after the Sandy Hook shooting, I was devastated. I didn’t personally know anyone affected, but a six-year-old boy named Noah was killed. My son is named Noah and was four at the time. I was paralyzed by fear and grief. During that time, Shannon’s Facebook page somehow popped into my newsfeed, and I had a realization: If I am not part of the solution, then I’m part of the problem. And that’s when I started volunteering.

In the early days, we really were a motley crew of volunteers – “accidental activists” is what we called ourselves, because none of us had ever done anything like this before. My career had been as a journalist for traditional media, so I was never allowed to publicly express a political opinion – forget about planning a rally or meeting with elected officials!

I’ve been involved in the organization in a bunch of different roles since we got started. I currently run the New York state chapter, which is massive compared to how we began!

But another project that I helped start, which I think is truly special, is our Mother’s Dream Quilt Project. It’s a series of quilts that incorporates fabric from victims and survivors of gun violence. We hold quilting bees around the country that bring together victims, survivors and everyday Americans who believe we can do a better job of preventing gun violence.

With all the concerns about civil rights coming up around the Trump administration, why do you think gun violence is so important?

After the election, I did a lot of soul-searching around this question. In a way, this seems like such a small piece of the puzzle.

“I’m going to fight like hell to push back the kind of stand your ground laws that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to suffer no consequences.”

But then I realized: I’m worried about voter suppression; the idea of people with guns showing up at the polls to intimidate other citizens is chilling. I’m worried about immigration; what does it mean to have vigilantes with guns patrolling the border?

I’m worried about hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, and I’m worried about violence against women; we know that the presence of a gun in these situations makes them vastly more dangerous. And I’m worried about the unfair treatment of African-Americans in this country, so I’m going to fight like hell to push back the kind of stand your ground laws that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to suffer no consequences.

Can you tell us both about your personal experience and Moms Demand Action’s presence at the Women’s March in DC on January 21st?

I thought the Women’s March was so inspiring. I met a few fellow volunteers at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn at 4 a.m., and there was bus after bus after bus loading up for DC.

Moms Demand Action had nearly 1,000 members come in from around the country to join the march. Being in a crowd with so many passionate citizens gave me hope that this administration will not break our spirit.

I think the key takeaway, though, was that it’s not enough to march. It feels really good, and it’s important, but we have to take it home to our communities and get involved in our local politics.

We need more women running for office, whether for school board or Congress. We can’t just pay attention when it’s time to elect a president – we need to start developing a bench. So I hope – and I think that it’s happening – that the march has compelled people to start working seriously in our own neighborhoods.

What are some of the highlights of Moms Demand Action-New York’s current six month plan?

The new administration is in the pocket of the gun lobby; the NRA contributed more than $30 million to Donald Trump’s campaign – they were his single largest donor. So we are going to be working very hard to push back against the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda of guns everywhere for everyone.

“What’s crazy is that more than 90 percent of Americans – and that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of gun owners – agree that we should have background checks on all gun sales.”

One of the major pieces of legislation we expect to be fighting is something called “concealed carry reciprocity.” The gun lobby would like for permits to carry concealed weapons to be treated like driver’s licenses, where one state’s permit would be recognized across all state lines.

Here’s the problem: The standards for getting a concealed carry permit vary wildly from state to state. In New York, you have to undergo a background check, submit character references and show a proven need to carry a concealed weapon in order to get that permit. In Arizona, there are no permitting requirements at all. New Hampshire also just rolled back their already weak permitting program.

With reciprocity, a New Yorker who couldn’t pass the rigorous standards here could travel to another state, get a concealed carry permit and legally carry a hidden weapon in Times Square or on the subway.

As a New Yorker, this is a direct threat to my safety. The idea that “guns everywhere” make people safer is patently untrue. New York State has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the country. We also have one of the lowest rates of gun ownership, and some of the strongest gun laws. There is a direct correlation: stronger gun laws keep us safe from gun violence. Concealed carry reciprocity would make our state a much more dangerous place to live.

Another priority for the New York chapter is going to be relationship-building with our elected officials at the statehouse. We’re planning our first-ever Lobby Day this spring, and we’re going to be meeting in-district with our representatives as well.

We believe that, much like the same-sex marriage movement, the gun violence prevention movement will win at the state level. We want to continue to develop relationships with our state representatives to make sure that they will keep New York at the forefront of sound gun policy.

Our overarching goal is to ensure background checks on all gun sales in the United States. Many people don’t realize that the law as it stands leaves gaping loopholes in the system, making it very easy for a felon or a domestic abuser to purchase a gun without a background check. And background checks are proven to work: suicides, cop killings and domestic violence-related deaths all go down in states that ensure background checks on all gun sales.

What’s crazy is that more than 90 percent of Americans – and that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of gun owners – agree that we should have background checks on all gun sales. When you take the question of gun violence directly to the citizens, they will vote in favor of common-sense gun reform.

In 2016, despite the dismal election results nationally, we actually won three out of four ballot initiatives by asking residents of California, Nevada and Washington State to pass stronger gun laws. It was one of the few bright spots in the progressive agenda last year.

We have quickly become the strongest counterweight the gun lobby has ever seen. That’s why we’re committed to getting this message to our elected officials: The other side is scared of losing their guns. We’re scared of losing our children. Who do you think is going to win in the end?

What are some things the modern, busy adult can do to stand against gun violence?

What is great about Moms Demand Action is that we offer so many different entry points for people to get involved. You can spend five minutes a week signing petitions and calling your senators, or you can get more deeply involved and meet with your elected officials or plan events. We need all levels of commitment.

The first thing you should do is text JOIN to 644-33, or visit our website to officially sign up as a member. Soon you’ll hear from someone in your local chapter about ways to get involved. Like the national organization on Facebook (or the New York chapter) and follow us on Twitter (@momsdemand) to get national calls to action.

For students, recent grads and parents: Did you know the gun lobby is pushing to allow guns on college campuses and K-12 schools? We defeated 16 guns on campus bills throughout the country in 2016. But the gun lobby is going to keep trying, and we’re preparing to fight. Ask any educators you know to join our Educators for Gun Sense campaign by sharing the link.

For people who want to spend an hour or so a week volunteering for a good cause, consider joining the Gun Sense Action Network. We do a lot of phone banking to voters in states that are playing defense against horrible bills.

This makes a huge impact. Last year, for example, the Georgia statehouse passed a sweeping guns-in-schools bill. We were able to drive at least 30,000 calls to the governor’s office, and eventually he vetoed the bill – even though he’s typically an ally of the gun lobby. People who join our Gun Sense Action Network can make calls from home, on their own time!

(ED’s Note: While most joining options are for Americans living in the US, making calls is, of course, open to Americans living abroad and Canadians as well)

How many people in America die from a gun each day?

Moms treat gun violence like a public health epidemic, which it is. What disease kills 93 Americans a day? That’s too many people so we should treat it as such. Unfortunately, Congress has barred the CBC from actually studying gun violence. The US government doesn’t actually study this even though it is a public health problem.

One thing that many people don’t realize is how prevalent gun violence is in our country. About 30,000 people a year are killed by gun violence in the U.S. – 93 a day. Twice that number are injured every day. But I think it’s the ripple effect that really makes the point.

A study came out recently that said the probability of knowing a gun violence victim is 99.85 percent. Think of that: Nearly every single American will know a victim of gun violence in their lifetimes! That’s insane.

I’ve seen it play out personally. When I started volunteering for Moms Demand Action, I didn’t know anyone (as far as I knew) who had been a victim of gun violence. But since December 2012, I have had one friend on lockdown with her daughter at the Kansas City JCC while a shooter killed two people in the parking lot. My sister’s childhood friend was shot and killed in his car in Miami. One of my husband’s relatives lost her granddaughter when the granddaughter’s husband shot her in front of their two kids in California. A close friend of mine was at the Fort Lauderdale airport baggage claim with her three kids when a gunman opened fire.

It just gets closer and closer. That’s what keeps me up at night, and that’s what motivates me to keep going.

 

Of all of the Orange Racist Misogynist’s cabinet picks, Betsy DeVos is among the most controversial. Nominated as US Secretary of Education, she was incapable of answering basic questions about education during her confirmation hearings and could not even denounce guns in schools because of the alleged threat of bears.

DeVos was confirmed only because Vice President and Religious Fundamentalist Mike Pence was the deciding vote. She is so unpopular that many parents have protested outside schools she’s visited.

It’s time we talk about the government’s role in education, so today we’ll compare Canada to the US.

In Canada education falls strictly to the provinces.

In Quebec, education is the domain of the Ministère de l’Éducation et Enseignment supérieur.

Originally run by a single minister, the department was split in 2016 and the responsibility of running it is now shared between the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports and the Minister Responsible for Higher Education.

The main goals of the Ministère include promoting research and education and contributing to the scientific, cultural and professional education of the people of Quebec. Its main law is the Loi sur le Ministère de L’Éducation, du Loisir, et du Sport, which in its preamble recognizes that all children have the right to an education and that parents have the right to choose where their kids go to school.

The law also includes the recognition that groups have the right to establish their own independent educational establishments and if said establishments serve the common good, they are entitled to governmental support. This recognition has come under fire in recent years as many religious schools have failed to provide basic education to their students in favour of religious teaching useless outside of their communities. In 2014 a former Hasidic Jew attempted to sue the province because he was taught only Torah (the main text in Judaism) at a school in Boisbriand, claiming the government failed to get him the basic education guaranteed by law.

Despite its guarantees, the Ministère’s own laws undermine its goals for it is also charged with the enforcement of the education provisions of the Charte de la Langue Française, Quebec’ main language law. Though the government is supposed to recognize the right of parents to choose where their kids go to school, the Charte imposes strict rules on whether or not a child can get an English education in the province. The Ministry also dictates course material in primary and secondary schools, and advises the government on Education policy.

Then there’s the Ministers themselves.

Quebec’s Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports is Sébastien Proulx, is an experienced politician and lawyer. Notable highlights from his time in office include investing government funds to refurbish arenas and curling clubs and his refusal to push for more extensive changes in a high school history curriculum developed by the former PQ government. The course has been widely criticized for leaving out the contributions of the Anglophone and Allophone Quebecois.

The Minister Responsible for Higher Education is Hélène David, former Culture Minister and University Professor. In light of recent sexual assaults at the University of Laval in Quebec City, she has pledged to fight rape on campus and sponsor initiatives to teach consent.

It should be noted, however, that while she seems to be doing well, her reputation is hardly pristine. As former Minister of Culture she was pushing the signage debate in 2016 when no one wanted to hear it.

As in Canada, education in the United States is primarily a State and community matter. The US Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and ensure equal access to education to prepare them for global competitiveness. The Department, however, can only do so through scholarships, fellowships, and by demanding accountability of its schools through its budget.

The Department of Education’s main activities consist of distributing federal funds for education and monitoring that money. It gives fellowships to individuals for research into disabilities and rehabilitation and offers grants to schools for low income students to fund their education.

In order to keep parents informed and measure student progress, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires annual state wide assessments. This helps keep schools accountable.

Now let’s talk about Betsy DeVos.

Despite her vacant claim about supporting accountability, the Michigan philanthropist seems to be against it.

She is in favour of Charter schools, which are independently run public schools granted a lot of flexibility in how they operate in exchange for high academic accountability. They can apparently be started by anyone who submits an application to the state and have been widely criticized as being sloppy for-profit establishments.

DeVos has no experience in education and neither she nor her children went to public school. What she has is money and the 200 million she donated to the Orange campaign got her this cushy job.

Fortunately, unlike the Canadian model, the US Department of Education has so little power DeVos is unlikely to do much damage.

* Featured image: FreeImagesLive.co.uk via Creative Commons

M-103, the Private Members’ Motion introduced in the House of Commons by Iqra Khalid, Liberal MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills, to fight Islamophobia in Canada has sadly and predictably sparked anger and debate. While most of the venom being spewed in comments sections and at rallies comes from Islamophobes afraid they may have to stop hating Muslims in public, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is fighting it in a different way, at least officially.

The CPC’s Religious Freedom Critic David Anderson introduced a counter-motion which doesn’t use the word Islamophobia and instead calls on the government to “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities.”

Looks like this was the kind of “doesn’t sound that bigoted” cover some were waiting for. I’m now seeing arguments on social media that start by asking why Muslims should be singled out for protection. Of course these are made by some of the same types of people who have no problem singling them out for criticism.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly and Iqra Khalid

Generally, a few comments later, or sometimes even in the same paragraph, their cover drops and they show exactly why we need to take Islamophobia seriously. As if the recent Mosque attack in Quebec City, Friday’s “anti-Islam” blockade in Toronto and the threats received by Khalid and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly over this motion weren’t each enough to do just that.

The CPC approach sounds very familiar to that employed by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and here in Canada as well. Instead of speaking out against police indiscriminately murdering people in communities of colour, some opted to promote the All Lives Matter narrative instead.

Basic deflection. Saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t whereas insisting that people say All Lives Matter instead means that you want everyone to ignore the disproportionate amount of young people of colour being murdered by police. No one counters a Stop Cancer fundraiser by saying All Diseases Matter.

And that’s exactly what’s happening here. Yes, there are hate crimes against other religions, too. Here in Montreal, synagogues get vandalized on a regular basis. Antisemitism is a problem that needs to be dealt with and people are trying to fight it. That doesn’t mean Islamophobia shouldn’t be attacked as well.

When there is a real and present danger to a specific group of people within a society, that danger needs to be admitted, addressed and fought. I’m not sure if a motion in the House of Commons is anywhere near enough to fight Islamophobia, but admitting that it is a problem that needs to be dealt with is essential.

The CPC would stop us from performing even that most basic of civic duties. Meanwhile, some of their leadership candidates are openly campaigning for the Islamophobic vote. It’s two sides of the same coin, like the All Lives Matter crowd and the open racists.

Defending the right of the special snowflakes in their base (two can play at that particular name game) to be bigots is no justification to block fighting Islamophobia. Muslims are a target and no amount of defensive re-wording of language will change that, only action.

* Featured image of David Anderson in the House of Commons

Justin Trudeau was a man on a mission Monday. Canada’s global golden boy came to Washington ready to go head to head with Donald Trump, newly elected US President and international orange pariah.

First, there was the handshake. Trump’s grip and grin style is a classic, though awkwardly applied, power move: yank the unsuspecting fellow world leader in and only let go on your own terms.

Trudeau, a sometimes amateur boxer and full-time media savvy politician, was ready. He bound from the car and immediately grasped Trump’s shoulder, turning the President’s opener into a stalemate:


Then there was the joint press conference. While the focus was clearly on NAFTA and the plans Trump had to renegotiate it, reporters did ask about the infamous (and now officially suspended) travel ban. In particular, they wanted to know how the two leaders would square the circle that is their quite different approaches to refugees.

Trump dodged the issue, like, well Donald Trump. He talked about his Electoral College victory. At least he managed to mention an initiative for women in business without plugging his daughter’s clothing line. He’s, um, learning?

As for Trudeau, well, he spun it like a pro. First he talked about Canada accepting 40 000 Syrian refugees and then finished by saying that “the last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they govern themselves.”

Mission accomplished. At least for Trudeau’s international reputation as a refugee-hugging progressive. He met the beast head on and prevailed. The memes, shared video and pics will attest to that:



As for his claim that a lecture is the last thing Canadians would expect him to bring, well, he’s right. After the NDP tried to get his government to publicly condemn the Trump travel ban, Trudeau dodged and refused. If he wouldn’t step up in the comfort of our Parliament, why would we expect him to in Trump’s home?

That doesn’t mean a good many of us didn’t want him to say something a bit more confrontational. Maybe he could have put the same energy and tact into fighting against arrogant and ignorant discrimination that he did into his photo-op handshake.

Criticizing the travel ban would not be akin to “lecturing another country” either. There are plenty of Americans vocally opposed to the executive order. Thousands of them took to the streets and the airports and quite a few can be found in both the legislative and judicial branches of the US Government and it’s the judicial branch that has the final say in the US, no matter what the President thinks.

But…diplomacy you may argue. Sure, fine, but Trudeau’s agree to disagree approach in the press is hiding a just agree but try not to talk about it one behind the scenes.

The day before Trudeau’s trip to Washington, the CBC reported on Bill C-23, the so-called Pre-Clearance Bill, which would give US Border Control agents the power to detain Canadian citizens on Canadian soil and even deny permanent Canadian residents the right to re-enter Canada. While this was, admittedly, originally negotiated by the Harper and Obama administrations, it’s Trudeau’s Liberals who are trying to make it law.

They’re doing so with full knowledge that they will be giving new powers to an agency that didn’t think twice about implementing an illegal, illogical and immoral ban. They’re also doing so in cooperation with an administration run by white supremacists who propagate myths equating refugees with terrorists.

Diplomacy is one thing. This is falling in line with the fascistic tendencies of the Trump Administration. Trudeau won the handshake battle on camera, but in reality, Trump’s power move prevailed.

And then there’s Keystone XL. At least, with this one, it’s something Trudeau has supported all along. He even went to Washington before he was Prime Minister asking President Obama to approve it.

Now, with a new President hell-bent on profit for energy companies regardless of the environmental cost, it looks like he will get his wish. Keystone was a key part of the joint statement the two released.

Coming across as a progressive environmentalist standing next to Donald Trump is easy. Living up to your international reputation here at home in reality, not so much.

I’ll leave it to The Beaverton to sum up the Two Trudeaus in this comedy skit:



He’s not as bad as Trump, nowhere near it. He may be the progressive hero the world needs, but that fiction is not what Canada has.

Yesterday marked a historic occasion. It wasn’t just the meeting of the Canadian Prime Minister and the American President, those things happen all the time. This occasion was historic for no two leaders could be so different.

The American President is an inexperienced physically repulsive fascist classist racist misogynist who is suspected of not only tax evasion and sexual assault but also of high treason against his own country, treason, which most likely led to his current position as leader of the free world.

The Canadian Prime Minister is young, handsome, openly feminist, physically fit, and has made efforts to reconcile white Canadians with its racial and ethnic minorities. Unlike President Agent Orange, Trudeau has political experience and there is no disputing that he won his position somewhat fairly.

People watched on the edge of their seats yesterday as the two of them met.

For Canadian politicians and businessmen, the big concern was North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Agreement was negotiated between Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, US President George H. W. Bush and President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico. It has recently become a yuge cause of worry because Cheeto Head’s electoral campaign was marked by inflammatory rhetoric branding NAFTA a bad deal that had to be renegotiated for the sake of American workers.

According to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister and de facto Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, updating treaties is routine. On February 8, 2017 she told the CBC that NAFTA has had at least eleven updates since it came into force in January 1994. She also said that if the Americans are looking for a better deal, Canada has every intention of going on the offensive and protecting our national interests.

To everyone’s surprise, yesterday’s meeting went well. People were concerned because of Trump’s talent for bullying other men and many thought that Trudeau’s popularity and good looks would bring that out. It seems, however, that our Prime Minister knows and applied the tactic that works with all vain, self-important wealthy old men: flattery.

Trudeau presented the Orange Narcissist with something he knew he’d love: a picture of himself (with his father). By the end of the meeting the President emphasized that his issues with NAFTA were primarily about Mexico and in a joint statement he and the Prime Minister said that:

“We recognize our profound shared economic interests, and will work tirelessly to provide growth and jobs for both countries.”

This is a far cry from the words of Minister Freeland, so it’s time to look at NAFTA and what it actually says.

The Agreement’s main goal is to eliminate trade barriers and facilitate the cross-border movement of goods and services between Canada, the United States and Mexico. It contains a lot of rules about intellectual property and different industries but the main issue with NAFTA seems to be regarding tariffs.

Tariffs, also known as customs duties, are taxes that must be paid on a particular class of imports or exports. The practice of imposing them serves to protect products produced domestically and helps to set the prices of certain classes of goods.

Tariffs have become a big issue because NAFTA discourages tariff use and President Agent Orange’s picks for Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross Jr, and Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, are in favor of tariffs.

As per NAFTA, no party can increase existing tariffs or adopt new ones on goods produced in a member state. Parties to the Agreement also have to eliminate existing customs duties as per a schedule set in the Agreement but can consult with one another on how to speed up the process thus doing away with tariffs ahead of schedule.

Until the Orange Racist Misogynist’s picks for Commerce Secretary and Trade Representative are confirmed, no re-negotiation of NAFTA can take place. It’s therefore time to look at who these men are.

The President’s pick for Commerce Secretary is billionaire investor Wilbur Ross Jr. He is deeply critical of trade agreements, NAFTA included, and wants to impose a thirty five percent tariff on the goods of companies that send jobs overseas.

Ross is also a hypocrite for as Reuters reported, he is guilty of sending two thousand seven hundred American jobs overseas since 2004. Ross justified the move by claiming he was able to save other jobs in the process, but it nonetheless adds to his questionable reputation.

With the Orange Administration already under suspicion for links to Russian espionage, nominating Ross, who has close financial ties to the Renova Group, a conglomerate closely linked to the Kremlin does not bode well for his chances of confirmation. As Commerce Secretary, he would be responsible for the US Patent and Trade Office, the Census Bureau, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration among others, if confirmed.

Then there’s the pick for US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, a man whose last name sounds like an infomercial fitness product. Unlike Ross, Lighthizer has a lot of political experience, having served as a Reagan Administration Trade Official. He is a skeptic of free trade, advocates for increasing tariffs on imports from competitors, and if confirmed as Trade Representative, will be responsible for negotiating trade agreements and representing the US at the World Trade Organization.

Of the two men, Lighthizer is the one most likely to be confirmed with minimal conflict. It is unlikely, however, that any decisions they make will affect Canada’s obligations as per NAFTA. Canada shares the largest and least defended border with the United States and the US is our greatest trading partner.

With our Prime Minister’s charm, feminism, and message of welcome, tolerance, and inclusiveness, we look like pillars of virtue compared to our neighbors to the South and they know it. So long as Trudeau continues to fluff Cheeto-Head’s fragile ego, we can take comfort in the fact the White House won’t give any trouble, NAFTA or not, if only because standing next to us makes them look a little less awful.

On January 31, 2017 US President Cheeto-Head named Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The nomination fulfills Cheeto-Head’s promise to name a conservative justice “in the mold of Scalia” if elected president (legally or illegally). Since so much of what the Orange Racist Misogynist Tax Evader has done is questionable at best, it is time to take a serious look at the man he has appointed to the highest court in the United States.

Neil Gorsuch is in many ways the embodiment of what conservative Christian Republicans think a judge or politician should be. He is a white middle aged male who Is devoutly Christian, but not Catholic (his family are Episcopalian). He is well spoken, looks good in a suit and tie, and while he and his college sweetheart wife and two kids raise horses, chickens, and goats at their home in Colorado, they are no rednecks.

His family has a history of serving Republican presidents. Gorsuch’s mother, politician and lawyer Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by former president Ronald Reagan to run the Environmental Protection Agency. For Republican climate-change deniers, Gorsuch Burford was ideal for she slashed the EPA’s budget, cut most clean water regulations from the books, and filled vital positions within the Agency with people from the very industries it was supposed to be checking. The scandals resulting from her actions led to her resignation in 1983.

Gorsuch’s resume is impressive. He is a graduate of Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford. After a couple of clerkships with conservative judges, he worked in private practice at a prestigious law firm in Washington DC for ten years and eventually ended up as a Federal Appelate Judge based in Colorado. At the same time Gorsuch has served as an occasional adjunct law professor at the University of Colorado.

There are also a lot of concerns about Judge Gorsuch.

People are worried that he is anti woman and would choose religious freedoms over people’s right to self determination.

There is a lot of evidence to support this worry.

While at Oxford, Gorsuch studied under Professor John Finnis, an Australian legal scholar who is considered an expert on natural law. After his studies, the Gorsuch and Finnis remained close. This seems harmless, but it’s not when you consider that Gorsuch’s mentor wrote about “the evil of homosexual conduct” in 1994 and has been branded a hatemonger by many.

As a judge, Gorsuch has a history of favoring religious freedoms over people’s right to health care and self determination. In the famous Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases involving for-profit corporations demanding religious exemptions from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act requiring corporate health plans to cover contraceptives for female employees on penalty of fines for refusal, Gorsuch sided with the corporations. In the Little Sisters of the Poor decision, he wrote that it was:

“An issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty … When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.”

Though Gorsuch has never decided an abortion case, he did publish a book called The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in 2009 and many argue that the views expressed in it could easily transfer to abortion. In his book he says that human life is “fundamentally and inherently valuable, and that the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Whether this view actually extends to abortion remains to be seen, but it has caused enough concern that the National Institute for Reproductive Health has called his appointment “an extension of the Trump administration’s attack on women’s rights,” and Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on January 31, 2017 that:

Despite his worrisome track record on certain issues, Gorsuch does show promise for two fundamental reasons.

First, he is outspokenly against excessive criminalization. That means that he thinks there are too many criminal laws punishing ordinary behavior on the books.

In 2013 he gave the 13th Annual Barbara K. Olsen Memorial Lecture in which he points out that too many laws violate people’s rights to fair notice to the point that “criminal law comes to cover so many facets of daily life that prosecutors can almost choose their targets with impunity.”

Neil Gorsuch’s legal decisions reflect this belief as he often sides with defendants in criminal cases. This bodes well when it comes to issues of race for African Americans and Hispanics are excessively targeted and prosecuted in the United States.

Another reason to hope is because of Gorsuch’s belief in the judiciary’s role in containing the excesses of Executive Power. He is in favor of term limits for elected officials because “men are not angels.”

Though, like Scalia, he believes in interpreting the constitution from the perspective of its authors. This comes with an understanding of the need to enforce the checks and balances on the legislative and executive branches to save the country from abuse by those who govern it.

Though thus far only lower courts have halted the enforcement of abusive and illegal Executive Orders from the Oval Office, Gorsuch’s reputation as a principled jurist against executive excess suggests that he would not hesitate to rule against the White House if he ascended to the Supreme Court.

Though there is hope for the United States, there is also the danger of a deadlock. Democrats are still bitter about the Senate’s refusal to confirm Judge Merrick Garland, who was named to the Supreme Court by Barack Obama. Like Garland, Gorsuch is mostly respected across party lines, so the question remains whether the Senate will do its job this time, or give the Cheeto Administration the silent treatment.

Could it be that simple? Probably not, in all honesty, but it’s worth a shot. Maybe the best way to beat Steve Bannon is to promote him and call him President on TV shows that actual US President Donald Trump watches.

He may no longer tweet about it since officially taking over the Oval Office, but you can bet Trump still watches Saturday Night Live, if only to mutter about it under his breath. If he did this past Saturday, then he saw this very well thought out and, ahem, perfectly cast Cold Open:

It’s important for the President to see this skit for one reason and one reason alone: how it portrays his relationship with his Chief White House Strategist and noted white supremacist hatemonger Steve Bannon.

If Bannon’s Seen as the Alpha Male, Trump May Lose It

It’s become quite apparent that the new President is rather thin-skinned and media obsessed. His Inauguration crowd seems to still dominate his thoughts, as does the fact that he lost the popular vote.

With him, it’s always about being seen as the most popular guy in the room, the boss who can fire who he wants, the guy who can get any woman he wants and get away with doing anything he wants to them. If he felt the need to be the alpha male on a bus with Billy Bush, even to the point of bragging about sexual assault, you can bet he needs to be the big tough alpha in his administration.

If Trump starts to think that people see Bannon as the alpha and not him, then maybe, just maybe, his own insecurities may get the better of him and he’ll fire the former Breitbart boss.

There was already a report in the New York Times that the President was angry he was not fully briefed on his own Executive Order that gave Bannon a permanent seat on the National Security Council. My guess is that Bill O’Reilly or someone on FOX News probably mentioned the unprecedented nature of the move in passing and Trump, who has been known to tweet out policy ideas identical to what the network was talking about an hour earlier, got mad.

Of course, the President denied the report, as only he can:

The way to have any kind of effect on this President isn’t through logical arguments or facts, it’s not by appealing to his sense of responsibility or decency, it’s by showing the bully that he’s really not the toughest kid in the schoolyard.

Bannon Needs to Go

The reason pointing out and mocking Steve Bannon’s control over this President and the country is so easy to do is because it’s also quite true.

Bannon, you see, has a worldview, and a far-right, ultra-nationalist, uber-capitalist, white supremacist, Islamophobic one at that. He sees threats through his own filter, not through facts. Unlike Trump, it’s not about his ego, it’s about what he can do and how quickly he can do it.

In Trump, Bannon has found the perfect vehicle to transform America into the racist hellscape he fantasizes about. Someone who will rule by executive decree without even reading or caring about what those decrees say.

Now, if Trump does fire Bannon, it doesn’t mean that he would turn into a good President or even a less horrific one. After all, it was Bannon’s followers who put Trump over the top and the current President will still feel the need to play to them, but at least there won’t be a far-right true believer pulling his strings anymore.

Steve Bannon has to go. If making his boss realize that he is being played by mocking Bannon’s dominance on TV can make that happen, then it’s up to those on TV (Donald’s not really a reader) to make it happen. If not, there’s always total revolution.

* Featured image: Saturday Night Live screengrab

We might get to hear Kevin O’Leary speak French, after all. The Conservative Party leadership favourite will attend a bilingual debate in the Montreal area on February 13th. O’Leary has so far not spoken a word of French in public, conspicuously announcing his candidacy the morning after the only mandatory French debate.

He and ten others confirmed they will take part in a debate in Pointe-Claire, organized by the local association of Lac–Saint–Louis and Pierrefonds–Dollard. Since it’s not officially set up by the Conservative party of Canada, it is on a voluntary basis. It will start at 7pm at the Holiday Inn. According to CBC, the central themes of the debate will be the economy and national security.

The other implicit theme will be how well can each candidate connect with French-speaking Quebeckers. The French debate on January 17th showcased the cringe-worthy language skills of most conservative candidates. Although the Montreal debate is advertised as bilingual, it is not clear how much of it will be in French or whether all questions will be translated.

Parlez-vous Français?

Despite being a Montreal native, O’Leary has never been fluent in French. When Tout le monde en parle host asked him “Parlez-vous français?” in 2014, he replied: “No I don’t. I left here when I was six years old and I am very ashamed of that. If I had been able to stay longer, I probably could have done it.”

He sang a wildly different tune in more recent interviews. One year ago, he told David Akin, host of Everything is Political on SiriusXM Canada Radio that learning French was not necessary to be Prime Minister. He said he was amused by politicians who thought they could score some points in Quebec by learning French in accelerated classes. “I know what Quebec wants in Canada because that’s where I came from,” he claimed.

He refused to be shamed for blatantly avoiding the French debate, retorting instead that he spoke the language of jobs and economy. On January 18th, he told Global News: “There’s three official languages in Canada: There’s English, there’s French, and there’s the language of jobs.” He added that Trudeau will never be fluent in jobs. He has nonetheless promised to get better at French too.

Ten days later, his campaign associates are very confident about his French skills. “Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure that he’s going to surprise a lot of people,” said O’Leary’s Quebec organizer, Norm Vocino, in an interview with CBC.

His press secretary Ari S. Laskin told FTB that O’Leary has been working on his French on a daily basis for several weeks and that “he will be able to hold his own in a debate against Justin Trudeau.” Laskin assures that “it is a priority for him to be able to engage with the entire country in both national languages.”

He denies that O’Leary has ever been flippant about the importance of French: “I don’t think French wasn’t a priority. He was born in Montreal and has incredibly deep respect for the bilingual culture.”

O’Leary still on top

As to how O’Leary will appeal to the notoriously anti-Tory Montrealers, the language of jobs and economy still seems to be his favourite answer. According to his press secretary, Quebeckers are as tired as the rest of the country of Trudeau’s “platitudes” in that area. “What Mr O’Leary wants is to make sure that we have a strong economy and jobs created on a daily basis,” he said.

O’Leary has been called Canada’s Trump. Like him, he is a Reality TV star with a flourishing financial empire and he is leading the race despite the fact that he has no political experience.

While he doesn’t share Trump’s radical views on immigration and same-sex marriage, he is known for his inflammatory statements. He infamously claimed that the global concentration of wealth in the hands of the few richest people on earth is “fantastic news” and a source of inspiration.

He is currently the top candidate for the leadership of the party with 26% of the votes. His closest competitor, Maxime Bernier, polls at barely 11%.  The leader of the Conservative Party will be elected on May 27th.

* Featured image: screengrab from CTV News

I need to take my place in the revolution.

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me and I’m Feelin Good”

-Miss Nina Simone

I feel like shit to be honest. What does it matter? The world is about to end. All of the post apocalyptic sci-fi movies are coming to fruition. The evil dictator is in place and the people will rise after the world burns and society as we know it is overthrown.

My heart is overgrown, split ends, over bleached, and arid dry. Like the acid sky, what does it matter if I cry? Again I choose the path of positivity, moving forward, crossing things off the bucket list. I need to do me, right? NO!

It’s Black History month in the darkest time of our current social climate. I want to be there to fight for freedom and acknowledgement of hate, I want to stop the white power bullshit that raised this country to the open levels of bigotry we see today. I can’t even stop my best friend from being racist.

America the beautiful was built on the destruction of Indigenous people and slavery. Immigrants came next, but it started with human bondage, then it was a safe haven, and not much has changed.

It has just gotten worse. Strange fruit and hate fueled power struggles and world poverty. More people care about celebrities and gossip than real world issues or the idea that people and animals are suffering while we live posh lives on the internet.

My people are all Gay, they are Transgender, they are non conforming, they are Native American, they are Black, they are Muslim, they are atheist, they are butch, they are femme, they are anarchists, they are addicted, they are homeless, they are vegan, they are white people who are trying to break the cycle. They are all ages, they are sex workers, they are on food stamps, they pay rent, they don’t get paid enough and work too many hours, and they are all slaves to the system built to fail us.

I sit here with EAT THE RICH written in eye liner on my belly, dreaming of gas masks and pink tear gas. I once painted a version of Marie Antoinette with a gas mask. This is it, our reality is that we have a war to fight, we can’t just let them eat cake! I assure you, nothing about me is fake.

Or is it? I am only human. Human means flawed by nature, and not in a catholic guilt original sin way either. Imperfections make us beautiful. That also means there is a dark to every light. There is a good happening to suppress evil as we sit here contemplating the existence of both.

From this moment, our numbness from over stimulation mass sensory overload outnumbers us. It closes in on us. It interrupts us like shitty commercials. I always knew twitter was creepy. We want a leader not a creepy tweeter was one of my favorite women’s march chants.

I yearn for a silence echoing inside the roots of my strange deepness, a vacant soul on a transient descent. The train has left the yard, next stop salvation.

Why can’t adults just take naps? For me it’s not a nap. I will spend the whole day in bed and waste the light, then go out and party all night. I may not even drink, but usually do.

It’s just a craving for company. Not even in a miserable way, just in more of a we are stronger together way. I need collaboration. I know that I cannot change this world without you.

I should relish in my singledom. I can pick up and go to Mardi Gras if I want, only a 24 hour drive away. I’ve been a temptress for so long, just floating through life without a care in the world. Now it crumbles and I need to stand up.

I tend to zone out and get disconnected from reality for a moment. I watch porn when I should be watching the Young Turks. I scan Facebook when I should be out on the street protesting or having a conversation with the human next to me.

Is it weird that I have dinner with my folks twice a week at age 30? Going to a hockey game with my dad tonight, now tainted because I know the owner of the Buffalo Sabres (Terry Pegula) got his money from FRACKING.

Our Earth and water are more important than any money or sports team. I just want to spend some quality time with my dad. Having a conscience means being conscious about where your money goes.

I want to only be ethical. Other people are having children. I will get a dog. I would have to move, get a new place, buy my own house.

I would love to live in the country. No wifi. No connection to the outside world. I would feel so much more connected to nature and not the devices that rule us all.

I need my furry family, I need a solace, someone to help me fight back but not lose myself in the battle. I want to date a vegan. Musician/artist necessary. Gender/race does not matter.

Think happy thoughts. Painting, riding my tricycle, doing my hair and makeup, dressing in drag, vegan cuisine, letting my friends borrow clothes, smoking bongs, things made out of recycled things, going on adventures with the most down people, nature and natural wonders, waterfalls, art, music, musicians.

I love my kittens. There is a reason why the Egyptians worshipped cats. So cute, cuddly, and protective. I do love life, I know I come from a privilege not known to everyone, and that means I need to step up and stop being greedy.

Things I hate: Coughing so hard from hitting the bong that you pee a little. Getting up to pee and somebody is in the bathroom. When people throw out/waste food. The fact that women make less than men for the same job. The fact that donald trump has been in office for a week and the world burns, pipelines, oil, greed, orange tans.

Sometimes I cry because I have psoriasis or because I am fat. I feel unlovable, like I am hiding behind my smile, head in the clouds, not what I seem, much more deviant, but not sure how.

I am a sensitive artist. What good do my pictures really do? Do my performances matter? Yes! Even if people hate, they can relate. I can be the worst version of humanity (trump drag/Cock Sinclair) or a vision of pure loveliness veiled in makeup and fishnet, bound by a corset and all of society’s expectations, ruled by old men in suits and misguided evil rich women.

I really wanted to write something non political this week but it is all consuming. The ban on immigrants is immoral and disgusting. Pushing forward the Dakota Pipeline is also inhumane and disrespecting mother earth and the indigenous people’s land.

Water IS Life. Not in Flint Michigan or the Buffalo Public Schools, it’s second rate there. This is like the movie/comic Tank Girl. Buffalo’s freshwater is so important for the apocalypse. Great lakes, great spot, like the wet spot on the sheets that Trump had a Russian hooker piss on in the name of freedom.

Dripping in gold or rust you must wake up and shake off the nonsense. Every voice counts. Be heard.

On January 27, 2017 the President of the United States signed an Executive Order, one of his first acts as leader of the free world. Its premise is to protect Americans from the alleged threat of terrorists pretending to be refugees in order to get into the United States.

There has been a lot of discussion about this Order. Some people are calling it a Muslim ban, while others are justifying it as a legitimate and reasonable approach to American security. What no one seems to be doing is actually reading the Order itself.

Whoever wrote the Executive Order deserves a medal for literature. It is subtle and eloquent in a way the man who signed it will never be.

Does it ban Muslims outright?

No.

What the Executive Order does is suspend immigrant and non-immigrant entry into the United States from certain countries “of Particular Concern”.

Refugees from Syria are denied entry until the president says otherwise. People from countries designated by the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security as having repeatedly provided support for international terrorism are also banned, but for a period of ninety days.

This list (so far) includes Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. Saudi Arabia, which is known for encouraging the extremist Islamic beliefs adopted by terrorists, is suspiciously absent from this list. Whether this is due to the President’s business dealings with the Kingdom or vested American interest in maintaining relations with them is unclear.

The Order also changes the criteria for refugee claims, prioritizing those “made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”.

As most of the refugees are from Muslim-majority countries, most of those seeking safety in the United States are Muslim.

Though the Order says that “the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including ‘honor’ killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation”, it does not offer any protection to people fleeing persecution due to gender, sexual orientation, or race. Being a member of a religious minority seems to be the only exception to the ban.

The Order speaks of these new rules as necessary in part to “reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies”. However, it calls for a flurry of security reports to be provided by the Secretary of State, Director of Homeland Security, and the Directors of the FBI and of National Intelligence and says that the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security can admit individual refugees on a case-by-case basis. All this sounds like MORE of a burden, not less.

Is this Executive Order legal?

Not according to the former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. A holdover from the Obama administration, she was asked by the new administration to stay on until the president’s nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is confirmed by the Senate.

Last night, Yates told the US Department of Justice not to defend the Executive Order in the courts. In a letter to Justice Department lawyers, she said:

“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right…At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”

She is not the first to acknowledge the Order as potentially illegal.

On January 28, 2017, a Federal Court in New York presided by Judge Ann Donnelly granted an Emergency Motion of Stay Removal to Hamid Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi who’d risked his life acting as interpreter to the US army during the Iraq war, and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, another Iraqi who was en route to reunite with his wife and child in the US. Both were detained at the airport under the Executive Order and with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought back.

In her decision, Judge Donnelly said

“The petitioners have a strong likelihood of success in establishing that the removal of the petitioner and others similarly situated violates their rights to Due Process and Equal Protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Many other federal courts have followed suit, granting stays blocking the Executive Order from being enforced.

When you read the US Constitution, something the president has clearly never done, it is easy to understand why the motions were granted.

Article I, Section 9 prohibits laws that single out any particular group for punishment without trial. The Fifth Amendment goes even further, stating that no person should be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law”.

As far back as the Second World War, American courts have recognized the danger of Executive Orders like these. In 1944 in Korematsu v. The United States, the Supreme Court said that

“All legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect… courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny. Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.”

The President has rambled on about the danger of foreign terrorists masquerading as refugees, but neither he nor his administration have presented any numbers to back this up. Instead, he fired Sally Yates for refusing to enforce an Executive Order that is legally unenforceable, leaving his administration without anyone with the legal authority to sign warrants authorizing the surveillance of the foreigners he fears so much.

The reaction of protesters, public officials and the American courts are reasons to hope for all who hate xenophobia, for as comedian Aziz Ansari recently pointed out:

“Change doesn’t come from presidents. Change comes from large groups of angry people.”

If the protests and lawsuits are any indication, change is coming.