do more than complain. get to work.

I posted a comment at The Galloping Beaver that I realized belongs at wmtc, too.

The progressive Canadian blogosphere is in a frenzy over revelations that the change to the film tax credit was engineered by an evangelical Christian group. Coming hard on the heels of the anti-choice bill currently before the House of Commons, this is indeed a frightening revelation. We need to take seriously.

I hope progressive Canadians - that is, the mainstream of Canada - will do more than complain to each other. I hope bloggers will do more than sound the panic alarm and say I told you so. (That's not directed at anyone in particular. I've seen it at at least 10 blogs today.)

Religious zealots are allowed to influence government. And so are we. We have to make sure we work harder than they do. Progressive, tolerant people are the majority in this country, and we have to make our voices known - not just in the blogosphere, but in Ottawa.

I hope everyone reading this will do more than just complain to each other. Educating each other - and venting - is important, but that alone won't stop the religious right.

The Christian Right obviously have a foot in the door. Our job is to see that foot pushed out and the door slammed on their agenda.

Please contact your MP to express your displeasure. Contact Stephen Harper, and Heritage Canada, and everyone else you can think of.

Email is good, but a handwritten letter is much more effective. It's a bit more work, but what could be more important?

the police state, a growth industry

When James sent me this link, I thought it was a spoof. After closer inspection, I realized this was a real toy. I think (but I'm not certain) it's only available in the US. Don't miss the tags and comments in the Amazon link.

In strangely related news, 1 in 100 Americans are now incarcerated.

A Pew Center report documents that the US keeps more of its citizens behind bars than any other nation, whether calculated per capita or in simple numbers. The so-called "correctional" industry is one of the few growth areas of the US economy: the rate of increase for prison spending was six times greater than spending for higher education.

The Pew Center report is here; the press release is here. The report makes it clear that Americans pay a very high price for all this "correction," but it doesn't make them any safer.

As you may know, in many US states, a felony conviction permanently rescinds a citizen's right to vote. Some states have a "rehabilitation" process, through which a former convict can reapply for voting rights, but the laws are convoluted, arbitrary and difficult to navigate.

Getting back on one's feet after prison is an extremely arduous process, and often fails: more than two-thirds of released prisoners are re-arrested within three years. A felony conviction makes it all but impossible to get a decent job or a loan, whether for education or housing. (This applies to the US war resisters in Canada if they are deported.)

How many people who face those kinds of challenges are going to fight for their right to vote? For more on this, see "Millions Without A Voice," by Amy Goodman.

Does Playmobil have a prison theme yet?

dispatch from the u.s. peace movement: showdown in berkeley

From Courage to Resist:
For months, the anti-war women's group CodePink staged near-daily protests outside of a Marine recruiting station in downtown Berkeley, California. These gatherings became a part of the local landscape. However, vigil-as-usual ended when the Berkeley City Council voted to officially endorse these ongoing protests and to send a letter to the Marine recruiters asking them to leave town. Right-wing radio rallied their listeners to "punish" the city, and anti-military recruiting advocates rallied to defend the council's actions.

National right-wing groups such as Move America Forward and their media outlets attacked the council vote. U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) and five other Republican senators moved to introduce the "Semper Fi Act" that would cut off over $2 million in federal funds to Berkeley, including a public school lunch program. A Republican State Assemblyman pledged to try to deny Berkeley over $3 million in state funds for road repairs. While these moves have little chance of succeeding, they effectively placed the council on notice that "the powers that be" were not happy.

A showdown of epic proportions (even for Berkeley) ensued around Berkeley City Hall February 12. With out-of-town pro-war individuals descending on Berkeley to intimidate the City Council for its anti-war position, Courage to Resist joined CodePink, ANSWER Coalition, World Can't Wait, Veterans for Peace and other community groups to mobilize over a thousand people to support the council's opposition to the Iraq War and military recruiting—and continue the struggle to oppose military recruiting in our community. Knowing that pro-war, pro-recruiting people intended to begin their rally before dawn, anti-war groups set up a 24-hour encampment on the City Hall lawn beginning the night before.

Continue the whole story here at Courage To Resist, including photos.

christian group claims credit for film tax change

If this is true, it's very bad news.
A well-known evangelical crusader is claiming credit for the federal government's move to deny tax credits to TV and film productions that contain graphic sex and violence or other offensive content.

Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, said his lobbying efforts included discussions with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, and "numerous" meetings with officials in the Prime Minister's Office.

"We're thankful that someone's finally listening," he said yesterday. "It's fitting with conservative values, and I think that's why Canadians voted for a Conservative government."

Mr. McVety said films promoting homosexuality, graphic sex or violence should not receive tax dollars, and backbench Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers support his campaign.

"There are a number of Conservative backbench members that do a lot of this work behind the scenes," he said.

Mr. Day and Mr. Nicholson said through officials yesterday they did not recall discussing the issue with Mr. McVety.

Canadian Heritage officials confirmed yesterday they will be "expanding slightly" the criteria used for denying tax credits to include grounds such as gratuitous violence, significant sexual content that lacks an educational purpose, or denigration of an identifiable group. More details are promised next week.

Arts groups say they will fight the change. Director David Cronenberg and other big industry names warned that the edgy, low-budget films that have garnered Canadians international acclaim will be at risk.

Conservatives deny that the changes are driven by politics or Mr. McVety, noting the previous Liberal government pledged to review the guidelines as far back as 2003.

In September 2006, The Walrus ran a long feature purporting to expose the strong links between the Harper government and the religious right. The story is here, and wmtc's discussion of the issue is here.

If I recall correctly, Canadian readers mostly felt the writer was exaggerating the Christian influence on the Conservatives. Americans in Canada tended to be more worried. That's understandable, since we watched our country taken over by those narrow-minded zealots, and came here partly to escape them.

Changing the film tax credit guidelines to exclude films that a small group of people consider offensive is clearly bad for the film industry, both economically and artistically. But it's bad news for all of us, if we don't want the government meddling in personal morality, or especially, pandering to the warped values of the religious right.

I notice, too, that the story about McVety specifically mentions homosexuality as an exclusion:
Mr. McVety said films promoting homosexuality, graphic sex or violence should not receive tax dollars, and backbench Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers support his campaign.

As we know, to those people, "films promoting homosexuality" means anything with a queer theme. I haven't seen this in any other story about the tax credit change. If Heritage Canada tries to exclude gay-themed films solely on that basis, they'll have a huge human rights and Charter issue on their hands.

Members of the film industry are already speaking out against the change.
An impending change to federal government guidelines on tax credits for movies and TV shows is a threat to artistic freedom and financial stability, critics say.

A tax bill amendment – now before the Senate and poised to become law – revises criteria to exclude tax breaks for shows that bureaucrats regard as offensive or not in the public interest.

Tax credits – approved by the heritage and justice departments after a film is completed – are a vital part of the production process. They're part of the budget plan producers take to lending institutions for up-front financing before filming begins.

Martin Gero, director of the provocatively titled Young People Fucking, which opens April 18, said virtually every film produced in the country relies on bridge financing from banks – and banks do not like uncertainty.

If Heritage Canada toughens the criteria for tax credits – as a senior official acknowledged yesterday is its intent – Gero said the film industry is in big trouble.

"If it starts to get to where the banks are like, 'Well, that tax credit money isn't for sure,' then they're not going to lend you money. I don't know a production anywhere (in Canada) that would be able to go on without their tax credit money."

Entertainment lawyer Michael Levine, a founding director of the Canadian Film Centre, agreed that film financing is in jeopardy.

"Bankers like predictable and measurable risk. So there is obviously a financial angle," Levine said.

"But there's also the obvious question of who's making the decisions and who's defining the standards. It's quite clear to me that we are getting into the dangerous territory of freedom of expression," Levine said, calling the legislation "very dangerous ... very ill-advised."

Annette Gibbons, a senior official with Heritage Canada, insisted yesterday that "only slight modifications" are being made to existing guidelines to explicitly deny tax credits to films promoting hate, excessive violence and pornography. At present, only pornography is excluded.

Heritage Canada officials will make final decisions, but a "transition" period will be in place, during which filmmakers will be consulted, Gibbons said.

But NDP MP Bill Siksay, the party's heritage critic, said the bill could have "a huge chilling effect" on Canadian film production.

"There hasn't been a problem with the appropriateness of film and video production in Canada. There's been controversy, but controversy isn't necessarily bad when it comes to the cultural life of a country as diverse as ours," he said.
[Emphasis mine.]

Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA, the actors' union, said the bill will add "a layer of instability and uncertainty to financing, which this industry can ill afford at this time.

"We're concerned about the censorship that would be involved. Clearly, that offends us and offends – I would hope – the Canadian public."

The guild representing Canadian directors also issued a statement yesterday opposing the changes.

I don't like this, but I'm more concerned with what's driving it. With the Liberals handing the Conservatives a de facto majority government, a religious right influence in government is a very dangerous thing.


music and advertising: old enough to remember it wasn't always this bad

Some of you young'uns out there may find this hard to imagine, but there was a time when rock music was not used in advertising. The advent of rock being used to induce us to buy non-rock-related products began in the mid-1980s.

There were a few random instances before then, but around 1985 and 1986, there was a sea change in the kinds of music commonly heard in advertising. Before that time, ad music was mostly jingles, short songs written expressly for that product. But beginning around 1985, music that had been associated with counterculture - with social rebellion - was now used to sell anything from laundry detergent to cars to candy.

Much ink was expended, many column inches filled (this was in the era of print, after all) about what this meant, why people were upset by it, and where it was heading. I wish so much I had those stories now. I'd love to quote them here, as well as remember what songs and ads were creating the controversies.

People who care about music, and who care about rampant commercialism, were upset that the soundtrack of our lives - the specific memories we associate with certain songs - were being exploited by corporate advertisers. We were upset that cultural icons were being co-opted by the consumer culture. We were upset because the overexposure of advertising can make it impossible to break those connections.

A notable landmark in the rock-in-advertising trend involved some dancing dried fruit known as The California Raisins. There had been a big revival of interest in Motown and other music of that era, fueled in large part by the soundtrack to the 1983 movie "The Big Chill", which itself was fueled by companies trying to capture as much Baby Boomer disposal income as possible.

Another bar was crossed in 1988, when Nike unveiled its "Revolution" ad, using the song without the permission of the three surviving members of The Beatles, who sued the company and got the ads pulled.

In those days - here's something you really won't believe - it was actually controversial for band tours or summer concert serieses to have a corporate sponsor. Does it taint your music in some way if you play for Miller Beer Music-on-the-Pier? Are these bands selling out? Although Neil Young wrote a song about this, most people soon stopped asking these questions. Now a concert series or tour without such advertising is a quaint, underfunded anachronism.

Most of the outrage over advertising co-opting rock music is well in the past. Ten years later, when the Rolling Stones licensed "Start Me Up" to Microsoft - the first time the band had allowed one of their songs to be used in an ad campaign - it was mostly written about as an interesting business deal.

But I might as well hang a huge OLD FART sign above my desk, because the use of rock songs in advertising still disgusts me. Partly it's because I am so bothered by the encroachment of advertising in our lives. Partly it's because I always mute the ads when watching TV, so this commonplace phenomenon still has the power to shock me. In recent years, I've been amazed and horrified at the Clash's version of "Pressure Drop" selling Nissan, and The Pogues selling Cadillacs. (Clash songs have been used by Cadillac, too.). Before that it was Iggy Pop shilling for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

Seth Stevenson, who writes about advertising for Slate, asked readers for their favorite examples of incongruous advertising soundtracks. The question was in response to the song "Sixteen Tons" being used in "an ad that touts the wonders of coal". Stevenson says the overwhelming winner was Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life": "Nothing says maritime comfort like a song about shooting up junk." For more examples, and a very entertaining read, go here. I was very pleased that, when I Googled these songs and ads, the first posts that came up were always outraged or disgusted bloggers. Good job.

On the other hand, for every post by someone who dislikes the idea, I found a list by someone who enjoy it.

I try not to be absolute about these things. If a struggling young artist can make a pile of money, which she can use to finance her own art, I wouldn't condemn her for it. But money has a way of becoming addictive, and an addiction to money has a way of corrupting art. There are other ways to make money besides commercial licensing deals. And how many artists who license these songs actually need the money? Wanting more money to support a certain lifestyle is not the same as needing it to pay the bills.

Perhaps you're wondering what inspired this post. Simple answer: the song "Everyday People" selling Smarties.

Americans may think of this, but in Canada, Smarties are like grossly inferior M&Ms. I know many Canadians have a deep sentimental attachment to Smarties. But they are candy. Bits of sugar and artificial colouring.

"Everyday People" is a song about striving for peace and equality.

Written by Sylvester Stewart (known as Sly Stone), "Everyday People" was Sly and the Family Stone's first number one hit. Sly and the Family Stone were, not incidentally, the first racially integrated band in rock history.

The song, also included on their great 1969 album "Stand!", has been covered by artists as disparate as Aretha Franklin, Joan Jett, Belle & Sebastian, and Pearl Jam. One of my favourite bands, Arrested Development, used it as the central riff of their song "People Everyday". Here's Sly and the Family Stone performing the song.

It is not about buying candy.

winter soldier: u.s. military tells the truth about afghanistan & iraq

Winter Soldier/Iraq Veterans Against the War

For four days in March, members of the US military will speak to the public about what is really happening, day in and day out, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Winter Soldier is a four-day event, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War. It will bring together both veterans and active service members, who will testify about their experiences and present video and photographic evidence. Also in attendance will be scholars, veterans, journalists, and others, who will give context to the testimony.

As the event takes place in Washington, DC, groups all over the country will gather to watch the testimony via live feeds. US war resisters in Canada will be among those testifying.

Winter Soldier will take place from Thursday, March 13 to Sunday, March 16, to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the US's invasion of Iraq.

The name of the event evokes history. In 1971, a courageous group of veterans gathered in a hotel in Detroit, and began to expose the criminal nature of the Vietnam War. That groundbreaking event - a harbinger of vast military resistance to the Vietnam War - was known as Winter Soldier.

Iraq Veterans Against the War says:
Americans have heard from the generals, they've heard from the politicians, they've heard from the media – now it's our turn. It is our responsibility to share the realities of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and show how these occupations are breaking our soldiers and destroying our military. And once and for all, we must show that soldiers are not criminals, this war is criminal.

Military resistance to the Iraq War is growing every day. In Ft. Hood, Texas (as elsewhere), soldiers have started an IVAW chapter on the base.
"The honest truth is that if the American people knew what was going on over there everyday, they would be raising their voices too. They would be saying, 'Hey, bring those guys home'," Sgt. Selena Coppa said.

Coppa blames lawmakers in Washington for filtering the facts on the war in Iraq. She said there's no real end in sight.

"There is a cost to this war. This war is being paid in American blood, in my soldier's blood. And that is not okay," Coppa said.

"We lost really good friends, really good leaders who died in Iraq. From my perspective, it didn't make any sense, we didn't accomplish anything, and I talked to a lot of other soldiers who feel the same way," Fort Hood soldier Casey Porter said.

He started the local branch of IVAW at Fort Hood.

Porter is spending his numbered days in the U.S. passing out pamphlets before he is redeployed this summer.

He said he feels it's his obligation to his fallen brothers to take action. Local IVAW members are trying to let other soldiers know it's okay to do the same.

"This is well within the rights that service members have, but not many soldiers know that they do have," Fort Hood soldier Ronn Cantu said.

He's also home between deployments to Iraq.

"I honestly thought I might not live through my second tour, so I thought, you know if I'm going to die anyway, I need to say the things I need to say," Cantu said.

Courage To Resist suggests many ways you can support Winter Soldier. The first thing you can do is sign a statement of support for the project. But I hope you'll go further.

This event has great potential to build both military and civilian resistance to the US occupation of Iraq and the US and Canadian war in Afghanistan. It can also have a bearing on the fate of US war resisters in Canada.

If you care about peace, please plan to watch or listen parts of Winter Soldier and to ask others to do the same. An FAQ page is here.

I'll post updates as we get closer to the event.


jimmy kimmel replies

Remember what Sarah Silverman was up to?

Jimmy Kimmel has been busy, too.

I don't think Kimmel's is nearly as funny as Silverman's, but still. Enjoy. (Not safe for work!)

2008 u.s. election prediction

Leave it to The Onion to get the whole thing right.

Thanks to the many people who sent this to me.

irwin cotler: canada must bring home omar khadr

By Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice (2003-06), now Liberal MP, in today's Globe and Mail:
For five years, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, a "child" under the terms of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, has languished without trial in Guantanamo. Indeed, the Khadr case is a standing violation of international humanitarian law in general, and of the fundamental principles of the rule of law in particular.

His will be the first trial of a child soldier in modern history, a trial prohibited under international humanitarian law. The law regards a child solider as a child victim to be rehabilitated, rather than a perpetrator to be prosecuted.

As set forth in an amicus brief before the U.S. Military Commission, Omar Khadr should be presumed to have been recruited illegally and to have served involuntarily.

Moreover, the trial of Omar Khadr constitutes a violation of the fundamental principles of the rule of law including: arbitrary and illegal detention; denial of procedural due process, as in no presumption of innocence; denial of the right to counsel; denial of the right to trial within a reasonable time before a fair and impartial tribunal; coerced interrogation, and cruel and unusual punishment in detention.

As leaders of bar associations in Canada, the UK and France have pointed out, the U.S. Military Commissions Act of 2006 wrongly subjects individuals to trial by military commission solely on the basis of their status as aliens; U.S. citizens are not subject to its provisions.

The Act criminalizes certain conduct for the first time and applies the law retroactively. It fails to meet the requirements of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. It permits military commissions to consider coerced statements. It denies defence counsel access to evidence, which may be essential to a proper defence, on the basis of national security.

In a shocking assault on the rule of law, U.S. authorities have stated they may continue to detain Omar Khadr even should he be acquitted under this already dubious process.

Omar Khadr is the only Canadian -- indeed the only citizen of a Western state -- still detained at Guantanamo. Every other Western nation -- France, Australia, the U.K. and Germany -- has sought and obtained the return of its citizens. I join other scholars and associations of jurists in calling for Omar Khadr to be transferred into the custody of Canadian law enforcement officials, to be afforded due process under Canadian law, with prospects for appropriate rehabilitation and integration.

I first wrote six years ago in the National Journal of Constitutional Law a critique of "the prosecution by the U.S. of the war in Afghanistan and its unprecedented initiatives, including the proposal for extraordinary military tribunals and the legal limbo of security detainees," stating, "Canada has become implicated in this legal limbo respecting security detainees."

At the time, I discussed the case with Bill Graham, who was then minister of foreign affairs and was responsible for the file. He said on behalf of the government that "We continue to press the United States to ensure that [Khadr's] rights will be protected." That remained the government's position even when I served in cabinet. When the U.S. enacted the Military Commissions Act, under which Omar Khadr is being tried, we were no longer in government.

Today, given the violations of international humanitarian law and the rule of law since 2002, it is time the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay was closed; it is time the inhumane treatment of Guantanamo detainees end; it is time to cease the violations of the fundamental principles of the rule of law, and it is time to abide by the customary norms of international humanitarian law and stop the illegal prosecution of a child solider.

I don't deny that detainees at Guantanamo may have committed heinous crimes, and in calling for the closure of Guantanamo and the repatriation of Omar Khadr, I don't purport to diminish the acts of terrorism in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Admittedly, the Khadr family has emerged, as some have put it, as synonymous with terrorism. But, the test of the rule of law is not its application in the easy cases, but its retention in the unpopular ones. This is not the time to be silent, but for voices to be heard. One cannot be complicit with violations of the rule of law. Omar Khadr, a child victim, should now be afforded the justice denied him all these years, however unpopular and unpalatable his case may appear to be.

I must disagree with the Honourable Mr. Cotler on one point. I don't know that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have committed any crimes, heinous or otherwise. Most of them have not been charged with anything, no evidence has been presented, and by all reliable accounts, most were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and swept up at random. My most recent post about Guantanamo is here.

But I understand one has to say these things to be political, like MPs needing to declare they "support the troops" before calling for withdrawal. On that subject, even the Globe and Mail is blasting Rick Hillier today. Nice.

ken epp shows his hand: it's all about the "unborn"

Last night I got a phone call alerting me to watch the show "Legal Briefs," simulcast on CP24 (a 24-hour news station) and CourtTV Canada. The subject would be the "Unborn Victims of Crime Act," and activist Carolyn Egan would be debating Ken Epp, the Member of Parliament who introduced this private member's bill.

I know Carolyn from the War Resisters Support Campaign, but she also is a stalwart of the women's movement. (As it happens, many Campaigners have been very involved in the pro-choice movement, which is wonderful for me on a personal level.)

I had never seen "Legal Briefs" before, so I didn't know what to expect. The show is a full hour; the moderator, Lorne Honickman, is a lawyer, and seems very knowledgeable. People are given an opportunity to express their views, there's no screaming or people talking over each other, and in general it seemed very fair. (How Canadian!)

Throughout the debate, Epp repeatedly claimed that this bill has nothing to do with granting legal status to a fetus, is not anti-abortion, could not be used to prosecute pregnant women... on and on. Carolyn and others (it's a call-in show) were insisting that if the goal truly is - as proponents of the bill claim - to bring harsher penalties for attacks on pregnant women, why not put forth a bill that would make pregnancy an aggravating circumstance which would automatically trigger a harsher sentence? Why put the emphasis on the fetus?

Honickman asked Epp if he would support such a bill. Epp claimed he would - in addition to this bill. And why would his bill still be necessary? When Honickman posed this question directly to Epp, for the first and only time on the show, Epp had no immediate answer. There was a long pause.

Finally, he replied, "Because we want to recognize the humanity of that unborn child. Whether that child was killed three months before birth or three months after birth, it was still a child, there was still a loss of life. The other side might wish to deny the humanity of that unborn child, but we want the law to recognize it."

This is not a direct quote. I wasn't taking notes, because I was waiting to get on the air, and wanted to stay focused. But I assure you, it's a very close paraphrase.

They want to recognize the "humanity" of the "unborn child".

Do they now.

And this is not a springboard to legal personhood for fetuses?

Towards the end of the show, a caller turned out to be Mary Talbot, whose daughter, Olivia Talbot, was murdered while six months pregnant. (I can't provide a link, because almost every link I found was from an anti-choice group! They are obviously using this poor woman's death as a weapon.) Naturally everyone expressed tremendous sympathy for Mary Talbot; she was allowed to go on at length about how she held her "grandson," touched his silken hair, how she knows he (the fetus) was her grandchild because she's a grandmother... It was rough.

However, much to his credit, Honickman followed up with both Epp and Talbot. And guess what? Even under this proposed law, the murderer of Olivia Talbot would be serving the same exact sentence that he is serving right now. He is already serving the harshest sentence possible under Canadian law. So how would this "unborn victims" law bring Mary Talbot justice? It would recognize that "two people" were killed, not just one.

We cannot allow a survivor's grief to make our laws. And we cannot allow anti-choice legislators to exploit that grief for their own anti-woman agenda. Please contact your MP, ask where she or he stands on this matter, and urge her or him to vote against this bill.

I was afraid the show would end with Mary Talbot, but they got one more caller in - a pro-choice, female police officer from Mississauga. Her voice came through loud and clear: pregnant women are more vulnerable to assaults. We should be protecting women. Period.


my friend charles dickens comes to town

The day after those award ceremonies I pay no attention to seems like a good time to highlight a dead medium's presentation of a dead genre: "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby", David Edgar's stage adaptation of Charles Dickens's comic novel.

I was very fortunate to see the original Royal Shakespeare Production of "Nicholas Nickleby," an eight-hour marathon presented in two parts, when I was in university.

I was an English major specializing in Victorian literature, a complete Dickens-head, and a huge lover of theatre (as I always have been). I went to school in Philadelphia. A friend and I took the bus up to New York - without telling our families, who would have wanted to see us - and got discount tickets, which still cost more than our food budgets for the month. That remains one of the greatest theatre experiences of my life.

Two years later, the production was recreated for BBC and PBS television - not a film adaptation, but a filming of the actual play. Eight glorious hours. I would have watched it for sixteen.

Last night "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" opened in Toronto. The new adaptation shaves off two hours from the original (sell outs!), but features 27 actors playing more than 150 characters.

I am dying to see this. We are saving money for our trip to Newfoundland in June - and a large tax bill. I know I shouldn't spend the money. Whether I will or not remains to be seen.

julie christie uses oscar platform to support war resisters, blast harper

Check this out!
Julie Christie's four-decade love affair with Canada has been tarnished by Stephen Harper, Christie told Sun Media yesterday.

During a conversation about working in Canadian cinema as the British star of Sarah Polley's Away From Her, Christie went off on Harper.

"I love Canada," Christie said. "But it is only just now that I am beginning to lose my pride in Canada because this guy who is your prime minister is allowing such terrible things to happen. One of the things I can't stand is that he doesn't take in ... some of these poor young men who have had to leave the (U.S.) army because they are so traumatized ... by what they have seen (in the Iraq War)."

"Even so, when I was there (for Away From Her, which was filmed in Southern Ontario), Canada was still Canada and people were still doing all the best things they don't do anywhere else. It is a fine place!"

Christie has always been a political firebrand, one of the reasons she has bonded with Sarah Polley, who is also deeply involved in politics and social issues.

So there was something in the Academy Awards I cared about! This was picked up in the Winnipeg Sun, the Calgary Sun and possibly a few other Sun papers.

On the Campaign front, we've regained our momentum. Liberal support for the resolution continues to build. We are cautiously optimistic that it will pass in the House of Commons in the spring, probably before any resisters are deported... although that is the great unknown.


the results are in!

Thank you so much for making we move to canada the Best Activist Blog in the Canadian F-word Blog Awards!

Wmtc was also runner-up in the Best Political Blog category.

All in all, way cool.

Here's the full list of winners and runners-up.

I was sorry to see Idealistic Pragmatist didn't win Best Political Blog, but I will definitely check out Creekside, who did.

Thanks to everyone who voted, and especially to godammitkitty for nominating wmtc in the Best Activist Blog category. A huge thank you to Pale and Prole of A Creative Revolution for organizing the whole thing. (Terrific video!)

For me, this couldn't have come at a better time. I had a bad writerly rejection this week, and it's good to know I'm reaching someone, somewhere.

Congratulations to every nominee and every winner. Keep on keepin' on.

reports of surging conservatives are greatly exaggerated

In these earlier posts, I was searching for a blog post I had seen that debunked a recent poll showing a looming Conservative majority. A BCer in Toronto helps me out.

A more recent poll shows the Grits and Tories in a statistical tie; these numbers corroborate yet a third poll. There's no good reason to fear an election.

Not that I think the Liberals should let polls determine their policy. I'd prefer they grew spines instead.

BCer in Toronto's post here. I'll also add this to comments on the earlier wmtc posts.

words of wisdom from howard zinn

Howard Zinn is voting, but he reminds us that the real work is up to us.
Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.

I'm talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes — the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

Let's remember that even when there is a "better" candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.

The unprecedented policies of the New Deal — Social Security, unemployment insurance, job creation, minimum wage, subsidized housing — were not simply the result of FDR's progressivism. The Roosevelt Administration, coming into office, faced a nation in turmoil. The last year of the Hoover Administration had experienced the rebellion of the Bonus Army — thousands of veterans of the First World War descending on Washington to demand help from Congress as their families were going hungry. There were disturbances of the unemployed in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New York, Seattle.

In 1934, early in the Roosevelt Presidency, strikes broke out all over the country, including a general strike in Minneapolis, a general strike in San Francisco, hundreds of thousands on strike in the textile mills of the South. Unemployed councils formed all over the country. Desperate people were taking action on their own, defying the police to put back the furniture of evicted tenants, and creating self-help organizations with hundreds of thousands of members.

Without a national crisis — economic destitution and rebellion — it is not likely the Roosevelt Administration would have instituted the bold reforms that it did.

Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all.

They offer no radical change from the status quo.

They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure.

They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live.

None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.

So we need to free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left.

Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For instance, the mortgage foreclosures that are driving millions from their homes—they should remind us of a similar situation after the Revolutionary War, when small farmers, many of them war veterans (like so many of our homeless today), could not afford to pay their taxes and were threatened with the loss of the land, their homes. They gathered by the thousands around courthouses and refused to allow the auctions to take place.

The evictions today of people who cannot pay their rents should remind us of what people did in the Thirties when they organized and put the belongings of the evicted families back in their apartments, in defiance of the authorities.

Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war.

Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

Read the essay here.

how torture works: a view from 1960s u.s. south

When I read about the increasing acceptance of waterboarding as a form of torture, I vividly recall how in 1968 members of the Memphis Police Department believed I could tell them information about civil rights insurgents arriving to create havoc. Forty years later I still hide my serrated scars.

I was 14 years old and forgot I was a black boy living in racist America and heading for the devil's den of discrimination. Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" stimulated my raging hormones for truth, justice and the American way. Like the main character in his book, I stuck out my thumb for a ride from my home in Wisconsin. I was so excited when someone pulled over for me that I went in the wrong direction. After hitchhiking the rest of the way from Milwaukee to Memphis, Tenn., with no trouble, I put out my thumb for the last ride to my grandfather's place. I was sure he could take me to demonstrate alongside Martin Luther King Jr. to support his recently announced policy on poverty and Southeast Asia.

"Boy, where you from?" asked the toothpick-sucking officer in the passenger seat as his partner walked around the car to me.

Read this moving story here.

gray wolves to lose protected status in u.s.

This makes me very sad.

I've been reading about this, but haven't blogged about it. Twenty years of re-growth will be flushed away. Murdered.

I love wolves. I'm fascinated by them, and dream of one day seeing a wolf in the wild. The closest I've come was when, walking in a dry stream bed in Alaska's Denali National Park, we spotted a huge paw print. (Was it still wet, or do I imagine that?) Just knowing a wolf had been there gave me chills. Park rangers told us they'd been at Denali for six winters without ever seeing a wolf. Wolves have only one natural predator, and they do their best to avoid him.

Wolves are highly intelligent, highly social animals, and to my eyes, among the most beautiful creatures on the planet. Of course they are the ancestors of the animals I share my life with. It's no coincidence I favour dogs that most resemble the wolf.

For amazing wolf photography, Jim Brandenburg's Brother Wolf (about the elusive timber wolves of Minnesota) and White Wolf: Living With An Arctic Legend are the best I've seen. Rick Bass's The Ninemile Wolves is great, as is almost anything by David Mech. In fiction, a wolf story that broke my heart: the first part of Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing.

For more on the delisted wolves and other endangered wildlife, National Resources Defense Council is very good. Wolf Song of Alaska, based in Anchorage, is an excellent wolf education and conservation group.

This is very sad news. And so in keeping with everything happening in the US. So much destruction.


wolf02_not tala
This is not Tala.








canadian province makes history on the fight against global warming

Non-Canadian readers may not have heard some big news that is ricocheting around Canada. The province of British Columbia has made Canadian history by focusing its new budget on the environment.
The B.C. Liberal government is taking aim at global warming, announcing plans to cut current levels of greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2020.

The environment was a clear priority in the speech from the throne, read in the legislature on Tuesday by Lt.-Gov. Iona Campagnolo.

As a result, the government is doing something it did not do in its earlier climate change plan — setting specific targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The aim is to cut those emissions by 33 per cent by 2020. A climate change action team will advise the government on interim targets for 2012 and 2016. There will be a longer-term target for 2050.

The aspect of the plan that has everyone talking is the carbon tax, the first of its kind in North America. It's based on a carrot-and-stick principle that will financially reward lifestyle changes that cut emissions, and likewise hurt the wallets of consumers who don't.
Ms. Taylor's budget puts a price on greenhouse-gas emissions that is low by global market standards - just $10 per tonne to start - but it is the first jurisdiction in Canada to do so. The price will rise to $30 a tonne in five years.

It is designed to discourage use of fossil fuels to the point where it reduces a total of three million tonnes of greenhouse gases in B.C. over the next five years. That is a small fraction of the 40 million tonnes the province is supposed to eliminate by 2020.

For the first time the government put a price on the economic impact of its global-warming agenda, which this year adds up to $167-million in lost economic growth.

However, Ms. Taylor said the tax cuts are the answer to the concerns of business, because they will help B.C.'s competitive climate with some of the lowest tax rates in the country.

The budget, which contains a large section printed on green-tinted paper, offers an unusual feature: a section outlining how individuals can save money by going green. It puts a price tag on weatherizing windows, walking to work and replacing an old furnace.

Environmentalists hailed the budget as a landmark in the battle against global warming.

Jeffrey Simpson compares BC's budget to the advent of publicly-financed health insurance in Saskatchewan: a local innovation that became a groundswell for the nation.
History was made this week in British Columbia, because the Gordon Campbell/Carole Taylor budget was the most important provincial one in Canada since Saskatchewan's CCF introduced medicare.

Nothing was ever the same in health policy after that CCF budget. Public medicine became the marker planted by reformers. It took years, and in the teeth of much opposition and hesitation, but that CCF idea became the norm for the whole country.

So it will be, over time, for the Campbell/Taylor budget.

. . .

We take medicare for granted now, but we forget how hard the battle was at first in Saskatchewan, then across the country. The heresy that was medicare became a national icon, almost impervious to change.

A carbon tax will never be an icon. But the way it was done in B.C. will be the gold standard from now on.

I understand there is criticism of the plan, especially from the BC NDP, who says the budget lets corporate polluters off too lightly and places too much of the burden on individual consumers. I'd be interested in hearing more about that.

On the very positive side, David Suzuki, Canada's most noted environmentalist, is hailing the BC budget as a huge step forward.

hillier speaks, liberals cave, war goes on

Apparently Rick Hillier doesn't understand that, in a democracy, a military's job is to carry out policy, not to determine it. But who can blame the man for grandstanding? Every time he makes A Pronouncement, the media fawns all over him as if he's some kind of shadow Prime Minister.

In the latest episode of this recurring travesty, Hillier warns Canada that the Taliban will see Canada is weak if the country continues to debate its presence in Afghanistan. So rather than actually be a fully functioning democracy - supposedly what Canada wants to see in Afghanistan - Canada should instead craft foreign policy based on how theocratic, militaristic dictators might perceive the country. And instead of having debate in Parliament - you know, that democracy thing again - Canada will allow the military to determine its policy. Like a dictatorship.

To which one can only say: Rick Hillier, shut the hell up.

As far as the democracy goes, there's really no need to have an election, when the Liberals are so happy to compromise capitulate on every issue. In this earlier thread, a reader speculated that the Grits are probably waiting to trigger an election over Afghanistan. If only. Now the Liberals and the Conservatives can "compromise" on Afghanistan, and the war will go on. And more people will die. And nothing is accomplished.

Rick Salutin, writing in the Globe and Mail, summed it up well: "We're there because we're there". This is worth reading.
Here are some thoughts for the coming parliamentary debate on Afghanistan. Consider it the unManley report.

Why are we there? Tom Axworthy, summing up the Manley panel's reasons for Canada's military mission, says: "The Taliban's return would threaten regional peace and security; the UN has sanctified the mission; NATO is committed; and Canada should help failed states." Those are sentences, not reasons. Here's panel member Derek Burney: "Canada is a G8 member and, as such, is expected to engage internationally, serving global organizations to which we belong in a manner befitting our responsibility ..."

It's sheer pomposity: "sanctified," "befitting." Why are we there? We're there because we're there. That's it. We went for various reasons. Now the heavy hitters want us to stay. Because we're already there.

But won't NATO come apart if it doesn't pull this off? So what? Why shouldn't NATO go back to the North Atlantic, where it's from, and be a defence alliance, which it was? If that no longer makes sense, let it disband. Why look for work in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan? What about saving failed states? This is one of those phrases (like civil society) that entered public discourse suddenly, and has made mischief ever since. All states fail to some degree. Why is it our task to grade this one and get its marks up? If there's a specific problem, like incubating terror cells, then take some useful half-measures. Pursue and isolate the terrorists, cordon off the hot spots and don't think you can solve everything. There's an arrogance in "nation-building," another dicey phrase. Send the NATO forces home and let them nation-build there. Life is mostly half-measures.

"Without security, there can be no development": Wrong, but I know it sounds right. The problem is, security in this case means occupation by foreign troops, which doesn't work well anywhere, especially Afghanistan. First "we" invade and depose their government, which had at least provided security. Then we impose a government that "invites" us in (where we already are) and survives only with our support. Our presence inspires resistance and recruitment to the Taliban or al-Qaeda, which revive. (Al-Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist till the U.S. invasion; now it exports to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.) The more resistance, the more we the occupiers have to fight, and opposition grows. This week, bombs killed many civilians in the "Canadian" area. A district leader said it was the worst day of his life: "What was secure has now become insecure." This kind of security creates insecurity. Aid, in turn, is stymied. A recent UN report says general indicators such as human development and poverty have worsened since 2004.

What about helping women? Isn't that a good idea? Well, the situation for women was astronomically better under the Soviet-backed government in the 1980s before "our side" created the mujahedeen, who threw out the Soviets, assailed women and were, in turn, ousted by the Taliban, who we then defeated, installing warlords and clerics in their place. No lasting developmental good has come from foreign occupation; people there have learned this. They aren't irrational, they're observant.

Can anything be done? Possibly. But it would take a local political peace, brokered by regional powers such as Pakistan, India and Iran - not Lithuanians and Canadians. Then the well-meaning Canadians, including the military, could do their good works, rather than inspire rebellion.

Those dumb voters: Despite the Harper taunt that Canadians don't cut and run, and the Manley plea not to shirk our noble international blah blah, 61 per cent still think our troops should leave. Why lecture them about why they're wrong, instead of assuming they know what they want? Stéphane Dion says nobody wants an election on Afghanistan. Count me out. I'd love it.

I agree. I'd love it, too.

Shortly after the Liberals spend the week caving on every issue, a poll appears to show us the Tories are winning the battle for Canadian hearts and minds. I've seen at least one progressive blogger de-bunk this poll, linking to another showing a much slimmer Conservative lead. (But argh, I can't find the link now!) But beyond that, if the Liberals are indistinguishable from the Conservatives, why would people prefer them? Much like the Democrats in the US, rather than offering a clear vision of their own, the Liberal Party of Canada prefers competing with the Tories on their playing field. That's a game you can never win. When faced with Tory or Tory Light, why not go with the real thing? Especially when the Liberal party leader is so weak and ineffectual.

Stéphane Dion says the Liberals "have to respect the decision of the voters in 2006". Has Mr. Dion forgotten that a clear majority of voters voted against this Conservative government?


canadian f-word blog awards: final voting

Today and tomorrow - Friday, February 22, and Saturday, February 23 - you can vote for the blogs of your choice in the Canadian F-Word Blog Awards, the best of the Canadian feminist blogosphere.

Wmtc is a finalist in three categories:

Best Canadian Feminist Blog

Best Activist Blog


Best Political Blog. In this category I am voting for Idealistic Pragmatist.

You can vote once from any given IP address, and the organizers say they are checking.

Thank you for getting wmtc to the finals! I'm honoured to be included. Good luck to all the finalists.

Update. Some people haven't been able to vote through these links. (Many have, so give it a try.) If the links I've provided don't work for you, you can try going here, then clicking on each category on the right sidebar.

If that doesn't work, I am out of ideas. Thanks for your persistence!


on raising consciousness and wanting a new cell phone

Like most of you reading this, I've made - and continue to make - changes in my daily habits that I hope will have a positive effect on the environment. As I do this, I notice that these changes prove useful in three distinct ways.

One, there is the effect on the environment itself. We contribute less to landfill, we use less water, we emit less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We try to leave a smaller footprint on the earth.

Two, we provide an example to others. Months ago, I saw someone coming out of the supermarket with a cart full of fabric shopping bags. We bought some, and now we use them all the time. Perhaps someone else will see me or Allan with our fabric bags, and decide to do the same. Perhaps one day people still using plastic bags will look and feel conspicuous, and change their habits.

The third effect of these changes is raising our own awareness.

Now that I bring my own mug for coffee on the way to work, anytime I don't have a mug with me and buy coffee with a paper cup, I'm aware of it, and I try to keep those instances to a minimum. We refill the water bottles that we keep in the car, but any time I need to buy bottled water, I feel bad, and I try to do it as little as possible. Same goes for plastic bags, unnecessary packaging, wasteful water use. We recycle so much household trash now, that we seem to challenge ourselves to reduce the non-recylcable trash down as far as we possibly can.

We often forget that the first step to making sustainable change in our lives must be increasing our own awareness. You have to know - really know - what you do, in order to do something different. If you try to make changes without that first step of awareness, your chances of succeeding plummet.

Anyone who has tried to change their eating habits should know this. If you want to eat better in the long run, you need a finely tuned awareness not just of what you eat, but when you eat, and why. That's why a good nutritionist will advise you to keep a food diary, recording your food choices and how you felt as you were making them. If you aren't aware of your eating patterns in the first place, any change you make will likely be short-lived.

One thing I've always been very aware of is my level of consumption and materialism. On the continuum between the ascetic monk and the shopaholic, I might be closer to the non-materialist end of the spectrum. But compared to many people I know who live consciously very simple lives, I am a creature of vast material comforts.

Within the context of my own life, here are some guiding principles. I don't buy things I don't use. I don't shop for recreation or entertainment. I try always to distinguish between want and need. While I do buy things that I don't need to survive, I know that I really don't need them, and I don't try to fill up my life (or my space) with want. And I would rather spend money on experiences than on things: travel, dining, theatre. The two things we buy most - books and music - could also be viewed as experience more than things.

Now, none of this feels like a conscious decision. I didn't make a resolution to live this way. It's just who I am. But I have made a conscious decision to stay this way, and not get sucked into a more material life than I need. I'm very aware that I don't fit in to the majority consumer culture, and I want to keep it that way.

And this brings me to the place where these concepts intersect: awareness of habits as a precursor to change, and why we buy what we buy.

I want a new cell phone.

Here I am, a generally non-materialistic person, who does not shop for the sake of shopping, who uses everything - furniture, shoes, clothes, computers - until it falls apart, who doesn't care about being cutting-edge, who doesn't own gadgets that she doesn't use, who doesn't care about fashion trends.

And I want a new cell phone.

I don't use my cell phone very often; it's not my main phone, and I don't talk on the phone a lot anyway. But I do like having a mobile phone for my own convenience and safety. That is, I made a conscious choice to own a cell; I didn't buy one because everyone is "supposed to" have one these days. I'm just happier to have a mobile phone than not have one.

My phone is in working order. It does what I need it to do. Yet here I am, wanting a new phone. A better-looking phone. A sleeker phone. A hipper phone.

I tried to deny it, but the desire kept returning. New phone. New, better-looking phone. Ooo, look at the new phones. I want one of those.

For a while, this desire baffled me. I don't care about buying a new computer until my current computer actually breaks down. We would never buy a new TV or DVD player until the old one no longer works. So why was I coveting those sleek new phones in all the ads?

Then it came to me.

It's the public nature of the cell phone.

No one sees my computer or TV except me and my partner. But people see my cell phone, and it screams "three years old". At Campaign meetings or at work, when people whip out their phones, they're all holding these dark, angular, new models. My rounded silver phone reveals that I am hopelessly out of date. Every time I use it, I cringe a little, knowing that it reflects badly on my hipness.

None of the "types" portrayed in those incessant mobile phones ads resemble me. I'm not trying to get ahead in business. I'm not super chic, and don't aspire to be. My days of spontaneous road trips with my buds are well behind me. I'm middle-aged, I'm heavy, what little hipness I ever possessed has all but vanished. But I don't want to lose it altogether! I don't want to look stodgy, boring... [gasp] matronly. But now my phone announces to the world that I am an archaic specimen. A fossil. I am unworthy.

Ah-ha. Even me. Even non-materialistic, non-trend-following, not-susceptible-to-peer-pressure me.

Consumer culture demands that we buy, buy, buy. We are surrounded by advertising, every bit of it designed to get us to buy more stuff. Since we, the targets of these ads, presumably have everything we need, the ads must urge us to buy what we don't need, but what we want. And if we don't want it yet, the ads exist to create that desire.

And since many of us already own what we want - yet still we must buy, buy, buy - marketers must induce us to discard what we already own.

This is accomplished in two ways: planned obsolescence - the manufacturing of crappy products that quickly become junk - and perceived obsolescence. Perceived obsolescence means my perfectly good, working cell phone is suddenly unacceptable to me, because it's last year's model.

Carrying a new-model cell phone shows we're hip, we're cool, we're up on the new trends. So carrying an old cell phone must mean we're old, boring, ugly, undesireable.

If you haven't already seen "The Story Of Stuff", I highly recommend setting aside 20 minutes and watching it from start to finish. It's an excellent graphic depiction of consumer culture - its causes and its effects.

There are many reasons not to buy a new cell phone. The deplorable conditions of the cassiterite mines, which sound like something out of the 18th Century. My local landfill. My wallet. My RRSP. My perfectly good working cell phone.

And there is only one reason to buy a new cell phone: someone has planted an idea in my head that I'm not good enough.


obay: the (fake) because-i-said-so drug

Have you seen these ads?

We saw these in Mississauga yesterday, two on bus shelters and one on the side of a bus. They're fake ads, for a product that doesn't exist. Possibly a comment on parents over-medicating children? That's just a guess.

When Amy started thinking for herself, we had to nip it in the bud.
Thanks, Obay!

My son used to have his own hopes and aspirations.
Now he has mine. Thanks, Obay!

From the makers of WhyBecauseISaidSo.

They've been noticed in Toronto and London, Ontario, too. Torontoist has done some research, but hasn't come up with anything definitive.

So far nobody knows who is putting them out. There's no website on the ad, no organization name. They're very good. Let me know if you find anything.

Update. See comments!

krugman: poverty is poison

Paul Krugman, New York Times:
"Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain." That was the opening of an article in Saturday's Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America's record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his "War on Poverty" 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children's misery.

Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child's brain.

America's failure to make progress in reducing poverty, especially among children, should provoke a lot of soul-searching. Unfortunately, what it often seems to provoke instead is great creativity in making excuses.

Some of these excuses take the form of assertions that America's poor really aren’t all that poor — a claim that always has me wondering whether those making it watched any TV during Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter have ever looked around them while visiting a major American city.

Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.

But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents' poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there — and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they’re black.

That's not surprising. Growing up in poverty puts you at a disadvantage at every step.

I'd bracket those new studies on brain development in early childhood with a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked a group of students who were in eighth grade in 1988. The study found, roughly speaking, that in modern America parental status trumps ability: students who did very well on a standardized test but came from low-status families were slightly less likely to get through college than students who tested poorly but had well-off parents.

None of this is inevitable.

Poverty rates are much lower in most European countries than in the United States, mainly because of government programs that help the poor and unlucky.

And governments that set their minds to it can reduce poverty. In Britain, the Labor government that came into office in 1997 made reducing poverty a priority — and despite some setbacks, its program of income subsidies and other aid has achieved a great deal. Child poverty, in particular, has been cut in half by the measure that corresponds most closely to the U.S. definition.

At the moment it's hard to imagine anything comparable happening in this country. To their credit — and to the credit of John Edwards, who goaded them into it — both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are proposing new initiatives against poverty. But their proposals are modest in scope and far from central to their campaigns.

I'm not blaming them for that; if a progressive wins this election, it will be by promising to ease the anxiety of the middle class rather than aiding the poor. And for a variety of reasons, health care, not poverty, should be the first priority of a Democratic administration.

But ultimately, let's hope that the nation turns back to the task it abandoned — that of ending the poverty that still poisons so many American lives.

Unfortunately, much of what Krugman writes about the US also applies to Canada. Things are somewhat better in Canada - I'd rather be poor in Canada than in the US - but as in so many respects, Canada compares favourably by a matter of degree, not of kind. The War On Poverty has a long way to go here, and this is one more reason to fight it.

random thoughts on ontario health insurance

I recently linked to Sara Robinson's excellent posts on Campaign for America's Future: Canadian Health Care Myths Debunked, Part One and Part Two.

Discussions that follow these types of posts inevitably bring up some of the flaws in the Canadian health care system. These flaws should be addressed, and Canadians are constantly debating how to do that. But to an American, this alone is a wonderful thing. Sara notes:
You are complaining about stopped drains, faulty wiring, and leaky roofs in front of people who are living full-time under an underpass because they have no hope of ever owning a house.

Small wonder, then, that the US-to-Canada emigrants I know all think the system is brilliant. This includes people who use it for maintenance of chronic conditions, as I do, several people who have had surgery, a few emergency-rooms visits (yes, there was a wait! shock and horror! and in the States? no wait there?) - a range of services. I don't mean to deny anyone's negative experience, and I realize those stories are out there. But for people who come from a profit-driven system, Canada's universal coverage is something just short of miraculous.

When American immigrants in Canada talk about health care, one subject that inevitably comes up is preventative care. In a profit-driven system, prevention is counter-productive. In a publicly-funded system, there are incentives to keep costs down, which means to keep health up. I can't speak for other provinces' plans, but Ontario residents are entitled to:
  • a session with a registered dietitian,
  • if they are taking more than three prescription medications, a half-hour with a pharmacist,
  • after giving birth or adopting a baby, a visiting nurse for six months,
  • a doctor's visit in your own home, for emergencies when travel is not possible or advised,
  • psychiatry (psychiatrists are medical doctors),
  • treatment for substance abuse,
  • for children, full immunization, a healthy babies program, and a range of services for children with special needs, such as language or hearing issues,
  • flu shots.

  • If anyone knows any other interesting "extras" that are covered, let me know and I'll add them in. [Update: I've added a few from a comment below, and revised some of the following paragraphs accordingly.]

    Public health information is much more accessible in Canada. In the US, you're bombarded with advertising from pharmaceutical companies trying to sell their products. In Canada, you're more likely to be bombarded with advice on nutrition, exercise, quitting smoking and wearing seat belts.

    Canadians who are well employed generally have supplemental insurance through their employers. Supplemental health covers: dental, prescription, physiotherapy (called physical therapy in the US), chiropractic, massage, podiatry, travel vaccinations, medical equipment (such as orthotics), even acupuncture.

    Seniors get prescription care through their provincial plans, as do recipients of social assistance (welfare). There is also a provincially-sponsored drug plan to help residents who have extremely high drug costs, or if the cost of your prescription drugs amount to a certain percentage of your income. Children and seniors get vision care, as do people with vision diseases such as glaucoma, or people who need eye exams related to other conditions, such as diabetes. [Insert inevitable comment that everyone in Ontario used to receive vision care, but that was de-listed, thanks to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.] Physiotherapy after any surgery is also covered by the province.

    If you don't have supplemental insurance this through your employer, you can purchase it. Coming from the US, I consider the cost of this insurance very low; Canadians do not. Also, if you purchase supplemental health insurance on your own, I believe - although I'm not completely sure - you cannot be turned down because of pre-existing conditions. If that's wrong, I'm sure someone will correct me.

    What's more, my experience with the private insurers has been uniformly positive. Using three different companies over our different employment here, I have found all the representatives to be knowledge, polite and helpful. Reimbursement generally arrives promptly, and if it doesn't, someone will find out why. In other words, no one is trying to deny you coverage. The coverage is considered yours to use. You've all seen "Sicko", so you know how different this is from private insurers in the US.

    In general, I've noticed that Canadians are extremely reluctant to pay for any health care out-of-pocket. They're just not used to it. For example, my co-workers will generally get as many massages as their insurance will cover, and no more. I need regular massage to prevent a range of painful and debilitating conditions - basically, in order to stay employed - and getting reimbursed for any of it feels like an incredible luxury.

    Canadians are also very likely to purchase travel health insurance when they travel outside of Canada. Even without supplemental coverage, I've never done this, and I doubt I ever will. I feel I can take that small risk, and on the off-chance that I need medical care while I'm away, I'll pay for it myself. Ontario will reimburse me for what the service would have cost in Ontario, which is an added bonus. Many Canadians would find that idea shocking.

    We should note that this insurance situation constitutes a mix of public and private insurance, at work side-by-side in Canada, something generally not recognized when Canadians debate privately funded care. I'm not necessarily in favour of a two-tiered system, but I do think we should acknowledge that Canadians already have a measure of private insurance in the mix.

    Another topic that often comes up when Canadians talk about their health care plans are the relative costs among the provinces. Some provinces have premiums, some do not.

    In Ontario, your premium is paid when you file your income tax returns, and it's calculated on a sliding scale. If you earn less than $20,000, there is no premium. It progresses from there by small increments, up to $900 for a person earning more than $260,000 a year.

    Ours would normally come to $600 per year each, but since I was unemployed for some of last year, my premium was reduced to about $350. Of course we are all still entitled to the same care. While I was unemployed, I had no added concerns about my health care. Think about that.

    Two of my earliest posts about health care, way back in 2004 (before we moved), were prompted by screaming headlines in the New York Times declaring the death of Canada's publicly-funded system. The Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that a Quebec law banning private medical insurance was unconstitutional. I asked readers what this meant; my questions and readers' answers are here and here.

    Today there was more news about health care in Quebec, although, once again, the details might not be as drastic as the headlines imply. Quebec Health Minister Philippe Couillard proposed that doctors in that province could practice in both the public and the private systems, under strictly controlled conditions. He also proposed that private insurance companies could cover services currently covered by the public-health plan. Let's see what the New York Times calls this tomorrow. The death of Canadian health care?


    how sexism works

    If it weren't for James, I would never see a single comic on the web. Have you seen James's new puppy?

    still no election?!

    So now the Liberals are making noises about passing the Conservative budget next week, yet again putting off an election. I had heard this through the grapevine for the past several weeks, but was hoping it wasn't true. Now it looks like it is.

    God, these Liberals makes me sick! Still doing nothing, still propping up this Tory government, all the while looking weaker and more foolish by the day. Stephen Harper must be thanking his lucky stars for his secret weapon: Stéphane Dion.

    The silver lining, for me, is that many people in the War Resisters Support Campaign believe it's better for us - that is, for the resisters - if we don't have an election yet. I don't completely agree, but if they're right, then this is welcome news.

    About the resisters, there isn't much I can report publicly. Our motion, our entire presence, has been pushed off the Parliamentary map by Afghanistan and election talk. We are working on ways to regain the momentum we had following the Committee vote and the Day of Action. For at least four families, the deportation process looms.

    kosovo, nationalism, separatism, canada

    By coincidence, as Kosovo declares its independence, I am reading about nationalist and separatist movements, in War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges. Although this is a slim book, and the writing is very accessible, it's taking me quite a long time to read. I can't pick it up too often, or read too much at once. To really contemplate the brutality of war, and not just read along numbly, I can only absorb it in small doses.

    Hedges uses examples from all over the world and throughout history. One frequent touchstone is the former Yugoslavia. In the early 1990s, Hedges witnessed competing nationalist groups re-write history, in order to deny the pluralistic nature of the region.
    In Bosnia the Serbs, desperately trying to deny the Muslim character of Bosnia, dynamited or plowed over libraries, museums, universities, historic monuments, and cemeteries, but most of all mosques. The Serbs, like the Croats, also got rid of monuments built to honor their own Serb or Croat heroes during the communist era. These monuments championed another narrative, a narrative of unity among ethnic groups that ran contrary to the notion of ancient ethnic hatreds. The partisan monuments that honored Serb and Croat fighters against the Nazis honored, in the new narrative, the wrong Serbs and Croats. For this they had to be erased.

    This physical eradication, coupled with intolerance toward any artistic endeavor that does not champion the myth, formed a new identity. The Serbs, standing in a flattened mud fields, were able to deny that there were ever churches or mosques on the spot because they had been removed. The town of Zvornik in Serb-held Bosnia once had a dozen mosques. The 1991 census listed 60 percent of its residents as Muslim Slavs. By the end of the era the town was 100 percent Serb. Brank Grujic, the Serb-appointed mayor, informed us: "There never were any mosques in Zvornik."

    No doubt he did not believe it. He knew that there had bee mosques in Zvornik. But his children and grandchildren would come to be taught the lie. Serb leaders would turn it into accepted historical fact. There are no shortages of villages in Russia or Germany or Poland where all memory of the Jewish community is gone because the physical culture has been destroyed. And, when mixed with the strange nightmarish quality of war, it is hard to be completely sure of your own memories.

    When I was younger I was inclined to accept any separatist movement at face value. I imagined these people - whoever they were - were fighting for freedom against a government that sought to oppress them, and therefore, their cause was just.

    Certainly those situations exist. Tibet is occupied by China. The movement for a free Tibet is indeed a freedom movement. The Palestinians clearly must have their own homeland.

    But I've heard countless people - Americans and Canadians who support the Palestinian cause - refer to Israel as a "fake country," since it was declared by fiat in 1948 on Palestinian land. Like it or not, Israel exists. Israelis exist. They can't be made to disappear, any more than the Palestinians can.

    As my political beliefs have matured, and I've come to reject nationalism, my reading of separatist movements has changed. And now that I live in a country with a separatist movement, I have to admit, I see it differently.

    The 300 people who arrived in Kljuc on the buses were from the town of Prnjavor. Most had survived more than three years without work since the Serbs took control of their part of Bosnia. Most of them also had endured harassment and beatings and had seen their young men disappear. But in the last week, in the wake of the sweeping advance of the Bosnian Army, the mood got even uglier.

    . . . .

    Later that day, I wandered the streets of the town. The collective occupation of the houses was unsettling. On Ibre Hodzic Street one light shone from the rows of windows. I knocked on the door of the apartment and found three elderly women, two Serbs and a Muslim, intently listening to the news on a radio. The three friends were struggling, as they had for more than three years, to make sense of the latest diatribes unleashed by the Serbs or the Bosnian government, the political agreements that might augur peace, and the advances and defeats that marked the ebb and flow of war.

    But in the end it had come down to this: The Bosnian government had just reclaimed this town from the Serbs, and nothing had changed except the victims. As a result of this reversal of fortune, Dursuma Medic, a Muslim, would now have to watch over her two Serbian friends - who for the last three and a half years had taken care of her.

    "We are three old women trying to survive a war," said Burka Bakovik, fifty-two, a Bosnian Serb. "We have been friends since childhood. None of this hatred ever touched us. We all protected Dursuma when the Serbs ruled. Now she protects us. The only news we wait for is peace, and that hasn't come yet."

    As we spoke I could see Muslim soldiers busy painting over the slogans left by the Serbs on the walls outside. "Only one Bosnia, all the way to the Drina" and "Victory is our destiny," they wrote.

    Who am I to say the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo should not have their own nation? But I wonder, is the population as monolithic as we are told? If it is, how did it get that way? What will happen to the minority Serbs still living within Kosovo's borders?

    In a multi-ethnic world, is such separatism really possible? And is it healthy, or will it only lead to more violence? Has "nothing had changed except the victims"?

    Here at home, Canada's own separatist movement watches to see if Canada will recognize Kosovo, prepared to pounce on the perceived hypocrisy. But do most French Canadians want to see Quebec as an independent nation? Clearly not.

    I used to think, if the people of Quebec want to have their own nation, then why shouldn't they? Now I see that movement as calling for the destruction of Canada.



    You folks are awesome. Wmtc is a finalist in all three categories for which it was nominated in the Canadian F-Word Blog Awards.

    The list of finalists is here.

    In the category of Best Political Blog, one of the two other finalists is none other than Idealistic Pragmatist. Our blog-friend IP is without a doubt the better political blogger - in fact, she's my favourite - plus her blog is solely political. So I hope you will vote for her in that category. I will.

    The award I would most like to win is Best Activist Blog. Of course you are welcome to vote for wmtc for Best Canadian Feminist Blog, although that seems kind of ridiculous.

    Voting is Friday, February 22, and Saturday, February 23. I'll remind you.

    Meanwhile, there are lots of terrific blogs on the finalist list. Click around, and maybe develop some new reads.

    sara robinson: canadian health care myths debunked, part two

    More excellent stuff from Sara Robinson. Go. Read. Learn.


    Search string of the day:
    if you move to canada, can you live there forever?

    I found that kind of touching.

    family day as a measure of my acclimation

    Today is Family Day in Ontario, a new holiday instituted to give Ontarians a long weekend in February. Manitobans are enjoying Louis Riel Day, and we can only hope the rest of the country catches on.

    As long as I've been looking into Canada, I've been hearing about how Canadians don't have a holiday between New Year's Day and Easter. An old wmtc commenter - perhaps the first person to find this blog on his own - used to talk about Chinese New Year becoming a stat holiday for this very purpose. So I hope Kyle from Ottawa is enjoying is day off.

    I wasn't even going to blog about this today. My impulse to not write about Family Day is some measure of the evolution of this blog.

    Once upon a time we move to canada was about moving to Canada, and leaving the US, and leaving New York City. Then it was about arriving in Canada, and making our new lives. It was always a political blog; after all, that's why I made the move. But it was more an inquiry into Canada and a support for the Big Life Change than anything else.

    These days I rarely find myself blogging about my acclimation to Canada. I'm just here. It's my home. That's such a gratifying feeling.

    About this holiday, I agree with Impudent Strumpet: it's a bad name. Maybe it should go utilitarian, like the good old Civic Holiday in August. Call it February Day Off.

    And about Manitoba, who here who did not grow up in Canada knows who Louis Riel was? No Wikipedia or Google please.


    ted rall wants revenge

    And frankly, I can't blame him.
    Lefties don't have a candidate.

    Like most hardcore liberals, I had planned to vote for Edwards. I'm a registered Democrat. I live in New York, a "closed primary" state. That left Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

    I studied the printed grid inside my mechanical voting machine, a steel beast from the 1950s. New York keeps threatening to replace the classic booths. I hope they keep them forever. Old-school machines have a feature I treasure: you flip a switch to make an "X" appear next to your choice. You're not committed until you pull the lever to open the curtain; you can flip the switch back and go with someone else instead.

    I moved the switch to Hillary, to see how it looked. Hillary. Ted Rall votes for Hillary. I asked myself my usual test question: If she won, and I watched her being sworn in next January, how would I feel?

    Bored. And slightly depressed.

    I thought about the experience issue, her biggest advantage. "I am offering 35 years of experience making change," she says. Though way overstated--35 years of what? being a lawyer?--living in the White House has to have left her with some insights. Unlike Obama, Hillary wouldn't lose her way searching for the restroom. But political dynasties suck. Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton would be a sad statement. A nation of 300 million people shouldn't keep turning to the same few families for leadership.

    A woman president is a couple of centuries overdue. But issues matter more than affirmative action. I couldn't overlook Clinton's votes to go to war and to waste hundreds of billions of dollars on the never-ending horror show of Iraq. Thousands of people are dead because of her.

    Hillary Clinton didn't think Iraq had WMDs. No one smart did. The polls were running for the war, and so was she. She pandered. It was disgusting. But I was even more appalled by her lousy political skills. It ought to have been evident, even then, that (a) the war wouldn't go well, (b) Americans would turn against it, and (c) this would occur before she was up for reelection in 2006. It was obvious to even me at the time, and it took me ten years to get a bachelor's degree.

    She was wrong. She had bad judgment. And her September 2007 vote for possible war against Iran proves she still does. I moved the lever left. The "X" disappeared from Clinton's box.

    I made an "X" pop up next to Obama's name. "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of..." I wasn't feeling it.

    For what will soon have been eight long years, I reflected, left-of-center Americans have endured an illegitimate administration of morons, thieves and bullies.

    . . .

    "I want the Republicans to feel the way I did in 2004," an Iowa Democrat told The New York Times. So do I. I want them to watch everything they care about disassembled. Take Reagan and Bush's names off the airports, nationalize major corporations, demolish Gitmo, gay marriage--anything that pisses them off.

    I want revenge. Obama preaches reconciliation. "I will create a working majority because I won't demonize my opponents," says Obama. The Illinois senator is an interesting politician and might make a good leader. But not yet. Give me eight years of Democratic rule as ruthless and extreme and uncompromising as the last eight years of Bush. Then we can have some bipartisanship.

    Oh, and Obama says he wouldn't have voted for the Iraq War. I say he's lying. So do his votes for funding the war since he joined the Senate. His voting record on Iraq is the same as Hillary's.

    The link at Rall's website isn't working, but you can find out how he voted here.