Tag Archives: politics

Take Back The Night: Thoughts On Reclaiming Space For All Survivors

Photo sourced from official Take Back The Night Foundation site

This post may be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.  Please be safe.

Last night, I marched with Take Back The Night, an annual event in the city where women and trans people take to the streets, make a hell of a lot of noise and reclaim the right to walk the streets without fear.  This year was, from the reports of many, one of the biggest turn-outs here in Toronto.  This is no surprise to me, given the recent wave of public sexual assaults concentrated in the Christie Pits vicinity.  Women are angry that while the news media are actually reporting on sexual violence, nothing really seems to be happening on the policing front.  I have to confess that I don’t count on police to help with sexual violence:  I didn’t report my assaults after a Criminology professor I once had implied that women cry rape after leading men on, among other disgusting comments that I knew many survivors had heard from the mouths of law enforcement.  Standing up in solidarity tonight was far more freeing.

I cannot recall how many times I have been sexually assaulted.  I can tell you which incidents left indelible marks on my psyche.  I can tell you which memories haunted my suicide attempts, which images tormented me in flashbacks and destroyed my healthy sexuality for years.

I can tell you about the man whose name I couldn’t even speak aloud after his betrayal of a longstanding friendship and former romance.  I can tell you on dark nights that I look him up on Facebook, that he has two daughters I fear for.  I fear, you see, because as a pre-teen, he watched a male friend violate friend’s younger sister and neither intervened nor spoke up.

I can tell you of the family that took advantage of me, of how they left me ashamed of my body.  I can tell you how seeing their friend requests on, yes, Facebook struck terror in me and made me want to recoil like a child.  I can tell you how they, my peers in age, were sexually interfered with by teenage girls on our block, only to take that out on me.

I can tell you of the time last year where a man sexually assaulted six women in a general admission concert crowd, that five men watched and did nothing as each woman protested and fled until I became number six.  I can recall how I punched him and grabbed him by the throat even as he still tried to touch me, and how my request for help in restraining him for security was ignored by the men behind me.  The women, however, helped, as did my male friend.

I can tell you of the time I was followed down a dark street past midnight and how I approached the doorstep of a lit-up townhouse and faked ringing the bell.  I can still see him lingering on the sidewalk before mercifully giving up and walking away.  I can tell so many stories of my own and so many of the survivors I know.  I can tell you why women and trans people need to take back their right to walk – to live – without fear.

But I could also tell you of the ex-boyfriend who was repeatedly molested by male babysitters from age 10-14, and how that damage lingered.  I can tell you of the male survivor friend I have and how his experiences have dramatically affected him.  I could share with you how isolated he feels, how he doesn’t believe he belongs anywhere as a survivor.

I cannot disagree with his concerns, and it is here that I find myself struggling mentally and emotionally with the mandate that cisgendered men are not invited to the march portion of Take Back The Night (they are welcome to the rally and to stand on the sidewalks and support women).  Women and trans people are unquestionably disproportionately affected by sexual violence.  However, in that understanding of sexual assault as a crime “that happens to women”, male survivors are silenced withing a unique layer of shame.  We are survivors all, but just as my male friend will never understand the experience of walking the streets as a woman, I will never truly understand survivorship as he experiences it, either.

In recent years, those of us involved in the fight for an end to sexual violence have tried to dispel that shame, that emasculation pain that rape culture thrusts down the throats of male survivors.  More men are speaking out and demanding justice for themselves and that is such a good thing.  In opening this space, we have given these men a voice, and with that voice, cisgendered males are asking why they cannot march with Take Back The Night, why men must stand aside or go to a workshop to be better allies.  I noticed several questions along these lines.

I don’t have any answers.

The fact is, the dynamic of this discussion is changing from the year of the event’s inception.  Trans men and women both participate.  On a personal level, I would be comfortable walking with my male survivor friend at my side, in acknowledgement of the pain men have inflicted upon him.  Then again, the fact remains that cisgendered male survivors are still safer than I am at night.

I am torn because I need the space of this march to rage against the fear and oppression I cope with as a woman.  I want that space.  But the friend in me sees how desperately the male survivors I know need a space – and women as allies – as they heal themselves and also combat the gender role bullshit they face in our rape culture.  Maybe it’s because I have been hugely involved in the Tori Amos fandom that I am acutely aware of these silent men; her music draws them in just as much as female survivors.  The why doesn’t matter.  What matters is I hear their voices, too.

What is the answer?  Again, I do not know.  I just see the dialogue between the lines and know that we need to reach out into the ether and address it.  Perhaps instead of only a workshop on allyship for men during the march, a safe space could be offered for male survivors to unify and affirm each other’s experiences.  Maybe we need another annual event where all survivors of all gender identities and walks of life unite together and raise our collective voices.  What I do know is isolation.  I know how it feels to believe you do not belong, that you are somehow branded or tainted as ‘other’.  I know shame.  I don’t wish this on my brothers.

One woman noted feeling unsafe after an anti-psychiatry speaker gave their talk at this year’s rally – that the mentally ill were stripped of a safe space.  Men who ask and are told no, you cannot participate even as a survivor of sexual violence perhaps feel they, too, are stripped of a safe space.  Having had my safe space ripped away so many times, I just want there to be safety for all survivors.  Perhaps this post will open a door to that space for men like my friend, my assailants, my ex.  It need not be the space female-identified survivors claim; perhaps it should not be.  But they, too, have voices.  Maybe it’s time we listen for those whispers.

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Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I waited over 24 hours before sitting down to this review.  I wanted to temper my initial reactions with the wisdom of time, as well as examining the thoughts of others and collecting awesome gifs for my blog version of things.

This review will be in two parts:  the first half will be my overall opinion with care to avoid major spoilers.  If you haven’t yet seen the film and want a non-obsessive-fangirl opinion of the film, this is for you.  The second half will be where I delve into the nitty gritty, both good and bad, and will be flagged as such.  All set?  Let’s begin.

The Dark Knight Rises
Overall Rating:  7.5/10

Although I enjoyed the first two Batman films in the previous series spawned by Tim Burton, I am one of the first who will say that Nolan’s reboot of the franchise has been brilliant.  Batman is not a fluffy, light superhero.  He is a truly dark man, living in a city of darkness and struggling to be a symbol of hope when he himself has little of it.  He’s an anti-hero, and Christian Bale has played him well.

I found the first installment, Batman Begins, to be a little dull and slow to move, but fully appreciated that it was the mythology establishment of the trilogy.  Kind of how half of The Fellowship of the Ring bored me, with me waving my hands at the screen saying, “Get on with it!  Go journey already!”  The Dark Knight, however, was brilliance.  Movie perfection.  This is thanks to the astounding talents of the tragically departed Heath Ledger, whose pitch-perfect performance of the Joker is breath-taking and unnerving – just as it should be.  The entire plot of that film, and the downfall of Harvey Dent, is so relevant and befitting the Batman/Bruce Wayne Nolan created with the first film.  I was left highly satisfied and wondering precisely how Batman would return.

With The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR), we pick up eight years later.  Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, his business empire is going down the shitter, and Gotham City is oh-so-proud of its law, inspired by the heroic Harvey Dent, that keeps criminals locked away without parole.  Yes, the good times are a-rollin’ in Gotham City.  For the rich, anyway.

You see where Nolan’s going already, don’t you?  It’s ripped from the bloody headlines of the past few years.

Bruce is pulled from his crippled state of melancholy by Selina Kyle ripping off his mother’s pearls from a safe – and his fingerprints in the process.  Curious as to how the hell his magic safe got cracked, never mind why anyone gives a crap about his prints, he boots up the magic toys of the Bat Cave and eventually slaps on his suit again.

Simultaneously, we have a scene where an aged Commissioner Gordon ends up being taken prisoner in the tunnels beneath the city during a routine criminal chase and notes that, O hai! there’s a whole gang of people building shit of a nefarious type down there, led by, as one brilliant person on Twitter called him, “a Scottish Foghorn Leghorn with a dollhouse radiator stuck in his mouth”.  Gordon gets away severely injured, rescued by budding sleuthy cop John Blake.

We all know these worlds are going to collide in bloody fashion as Bane takes over Gotham City with a bang, so I’ll leave the major plotting here for now and move on to my general comments…. Although first:  props to Alfred for smacking down Bruce and being tired of his shit.

Visually, this is a Nolan film, and that’s a positive.  It’s as dark and brooding as any viewer would want a film like this to be.  The gadgets are cool, the costumes fun (aside from Catwoman – the ear-goggles combo was kinda childish), and everyone looks the part, right down to Bale hobbling with a cane after years of body-punishing crime-fighting.

Spinning off of that, the mortality of the characters is also something that’s handled realistically overall, which I appreciate.  Bale’s Wayne has visible scars and internal damage that’s true to what the average man would endure while playing superhero.  He looks older, somewhat less muscular (fitting since he’s been out of the game for eight years), and has to work to get back into shape.  Gordon, too, has aged and is slower, weaker and exhausted, yet still mentally with it.  He relies on Blake for his body while training his young mind.

The theme of mortality -0f the difference between a man and a symbol – is prominent in this film, as well as the notion of yin and yang.  Specifically, as one character puts it, you need to fear death to truly fight to survive.  It’s where that last push of strength comes from, that adrenaline surge that allows us to defeat obstacles.  If we don’t care about the consequences of failure, we cannot rise as champions.

All this said, TDKR has several huge issues with it that result in a film that falls flat and is frankly predictable, something Nolan isn’t guilty of in past work.  For starters, let’s talk about casting issues.  Anne Hathaway as Catwoman… ugh.  Seriously?  We all know she got this job because she is, for reasons I cannot fathom, a Hollywood “it girl” right now.  While she’s certainly not as terrible as Halle Berry’s version, she’s incredibly irritating and unconvincing for most of the film.  For starters, she doesn’t look sexy or seductive, with or without the suit.  I’ve never seen her that way, and every time she prances on screen, she reminds me of a teenage girl playing at Lolita to the annoyance of a man who’s after a grown woman.  Her strange accent she’s adopted for this role isn’t sultry or sinister; it just sounds… fake.  She needs to fire her acting coach and find another.  Most importantly, I don’t buy her as a love interest for Wayne, nor do I buy her as the poor, troubled woman who just doesn’t believe she can be a good guy (more on this in the spoilers section).  Frankly, all she’s got going for her is flexibility and spiky heels.

Bane…  I can let go of the fact that I expected him to appear larger than life.  What I can’t let go of is the fact that I couldn’t understand half of his dialogue, and given that Nolan is huge on dialogue as a part of his message, this is a tremendous issue.  My fiance had serious issues making out over half of what he said, so it wasn’t just me.  It reminded me of one of my bitches about Inglourious Basterds:  when a dialogue master castrates his own dialogue, a film is made lesser by it.

In general terms, before hitting the spoilers, the plot comes off tired (and, to a degree, ripped off from The Dark Knight and also preachy in its left-wing slant, which is bad since I’m a lefty-libertarian), takes too long to get going, skims through what should be the bulk of the film, and twists at the end in such a way that you will roll your eyes at how Nolan destroys everything he’s set out to do for the first two hours (or, in the case of Batman, the entire trilogy).  It’s not clever; it’s so painfully obvious in foreshadowing that even I, someone who hasn’t read the comics, saw so much of it coming.  I never felt that way in the first two films.

Whew!  Here’s where I suggest you leave if you have yet to see the film.  See it, by the way, if you’re a fan of this trilogy.  Just don’t expect it to come close to The Dark Knight.  As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the second film is the best film, because the director isn’t just grasping to go out with every bang he can ram into a flick.

Seen it?  Let’s really chat.

This blog entry really nails a lot of what irked me, so I’ll give a nod to a like mind before beginning with my first bitch:  I hated the ending.  Hated it.  I actually loved the initial ending, and even the second ending.  God, I feel like I just watched Return of the King for the first time all over again, because this is deja vu.  But the ultimate ending…. ruins everything for me.  It wimps out on a powerful ending.  Worse, you roll your eyes and realize that yes, Alfred did actually spell out the goddamn ending for you a good hour ago.  It’s not clever, Nolan; it’s corny.  You’re capable of better.  If the point of this entire film was to comment on the mortality of men versus the eternal life of a symbol, then Wayne should have died.

After all, what you’re telling me is that a) even though he told Selina that he couldn’t use autopilot, she somehow managed to meet up with him and flee, where they waited around for Alfred’s ass to conveniently come to his damn cafe and see him; b)  that, if Alfred hallucinated that finale, he actually thought Selina was a good girlfriend for him; c) that he somehow managed to leave a bag of goodies for Blake for pick-up in this process (I was willing to suspend that one and believe that he sat it aside before the final showdown brawl); and d) that Lucius never noticed for six months that Wayne fixed the autopilot.

Sorry, but no.  Your original ending was fine.  You pulled a serious Deus ex machina out of your ass.

Speaking again of Hathaway’s character:  I don’t buy any of her plot with Wayne.  I don’t buy her as a poor, hapless girl unable to catch a break or change.  I don’t buy Bruce forgiving her for setting him up to get his back broken by Bane and ass whooped.  I don’t buy Bruce even getting over the pearls, let alone selling him out and destroying his fortune.  I don’t buy her not knowing just how much damage she was doing with her thefts.  Last, I don’t buy him trusting her in the grand finale to suddenly be a good girl, let alone her sudden love for him.  Total. Bullshit.

Next plot issue:  the general class war theme is tired, not timely.  First off, we already had that in a more subtle and intriguing fashion during The Dark Knight, when the Joker pits the two ferries against each other.  I literally felt, watching this film, like Nolan had planned for Ledger to be in the third script and when that went to hell, he watched CNN for a day and went to town.  Strangely, he somehow spins from his initial message, delivered by Selina, of “How dare the rich think they can be so powerful and leave nothing for us down here?” to “The poor murder and riot without impunity and this is why the big, powerful cops and government have a right to slaughter the uprising and be in power forever.”  It’s like a backhanded compliment to Occupy.

How Nolan makes the lower classes come off…. Uh…. Yeah. Fail.

Next issue:  I concur with the above…  The whole “Bruce fails and fails to escape” shtick got old fast.  In fact, it’s used just to accelerate time like a diluted montage, just so Nolan can skip over most of the five months of class war.  I don’t get it:  you spend forever getting us to this point and we get maybe ten solid minutes of the anarchy and reversal of fortunes, featuring a horrifically underused Cillian Murphy.  Forty-five minutes in, the main conflict was still in the distance.  I know because I looked at my cell phone, bored and wondering how long I’d been watching the film for.

Blake recognizing Wayne was vastly oversimplified.  Instead of also pointing out his hiatus and connection to past events, all he can say is that, “You’re a rage-y orphan like me with a mask, so you’re Batman”?  No no.  Levitt is fantastic in this film, and I’d love a spin-off with HIM, and I did enjoy the end acknowledgement of what I knew from moment one, but his deduction skills in that scene were unbelievable.

Last point of contention:  the castration of Bane’s character.  Really?  He’s just a crying man in love with Miranda/Talia?  Ugh.  I liked him better as the unstoppable beast Batman just couldn’t overpower who’d out-thought him as well.  Kinda didn’t care for the Miranda twist at all.  I would have much rather seen her die and that spark Batman’s final surge of adrenaline.

Summing up:  casting, aside from Hathaway, was stellar; the core message of death/mortality/symbols and class war was a good idea executed imperfectly; but ultimately, the film becomes an indulgent piece of wank that doesn’t know when to quit.  Luckily for Nolan, a lacklustre film of his is still a great film by overall standards.  It’s just not a worthy conclusion to this trilogy.

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YouTube Love: My Favourite Channels

Between seemingly endless papers and exams as of late, there are a few things I can count on as sanity-restoring distractions.  The usual suspects feature – Twitter, music, Murder, She Wrote on Netflix – but one of my mainstays is my small collection of YouTube subscriptions.  I seldom actually subscribe to a channel – most of my 88 subscriptions are actually convenient bookmarks reminding me that someone has, say, footage of a concert I attended – but when I do, I am devout.  I don’t have time each day to stream content, so I do a quick check and add everything new that catches my eye to my Watch Later playlist and marathon it before bed a few times each week.

Here are the channels I seldom skip any content from – the ones that make me laugh ’til it hurts, keep me informed, or simply entertain me.  I’m pretty sure all of them are fairly well-known, but that doesn’t matter:  after all, Ray William Johnson is well-known despite his constant barrage of unfunny date rape ‘jokes’.  These are the YouTubers who shine brightest for me.

In no particular order…

Companion Channels:  TheFineBros2; MyMusicShow

I stumbled onto The Fine Brothers (Benny and Rafi) while searching for videos bashing Rebecca Black’s horrid song Friday.  Their series Kids React showed up in suggested videos and I clicked it… and promptly marathoned the entire series to date.  I now also follow spin-off series Teens React, their other videos (spoilers; interactive “choose your own adventure” type games based on Saved By The Bell and Mad Men) and lately, I tap my foot impatiently, awaiting their new series, MyMusic.

The React shows are a simple concept:  show kids/teens viral videos and ask them questions about them.  The videos are usually silly, as many viral videos area, but the shows do move into serious territory at times (Kony 2012).  The stars are witty, insightful or as blunt as I am, and it is glorious.

Benny and Rafi bring the snark and hilarity of Joss Whedon and Veronica Mars coupled with an intense knowledge and appreciation of pop culture and social media to the table.  They’re warm, genuinely thankful for their fans, and they work hard to produce tons of content.  I feel like they deserve their own TV channel akin to Weird Al’s UHF – co-starring some of my other choices on this list.

They are also part of the glorious trio that is the All We Know podcast, and although I love Paramore, they must conquer them in the search results on iTunes.  With Soul rounding out the group, what ensues is a hilarious and yet insightful look at the news, based on the following premise:  AWK delivers, literally, all Benny, Rafi and Soul know about a story – which sometimes isn’t very much.  The subtler message – that even in this age of readily-accessible news, we can still be woefully uninformed – is clever and painfully accurate.  I laugh on public transit as I tune in, and squee when I get a shout out (I tweet the boys often).

I am serious about a dinner with you three, by the way.  I would die laughing, but what a way to go!

MyMusic is sure to take the internet by storm, and so it should:  Toby Turner as Satan?  That alone is reason to watch, but the brothers Fine have also managed to create a world that pop culture junkies like myself want to crawl through the screen and join, Poltergeist style.  I could ramble on about my affection for them, but instead, check out their far superior content.


Companion Channels:  tobyturner (vlogs); tobygames

How to describe Toby?  Lemme see…  Ah!  Toby appears to be on a 24-7 Red Bull drip, and thus, he is awesome!  Like me, he makes up songs, parodies things, and enjoys cute kitty viral videos.  He uploads daily vlogs that are… well, awesome.  My favourite content however is his series Cute/Win/Fail, wherein he pits three viral videos (one of each type) against each other and allows viewers to vote on the most epic video of the three.  Unlike Ray William Johnson, Toby makes me laugh and doesn’t need to veer into offensive and sexist jokes to do so.

I also love Toby’s literal trailers and original songs (I’ve been playing Safety Torch and I Can Swing My Sword while writing), and Tobuscus Animated Adventures (check out the Dead Island one, and the Christmas one).  I have a feeling that we were separated at birth, because his humour is just as wild as my own.

Toby is so cheery and personable.  It’s no wonder to me that he’s popped up in a Fine Brothers show, because their affability and humour are similar.

There is no way to do Toby justice with a review.  He must be seen to be adored.  Voila!


Companion channels:  Oh so many.

Phillip DeFranco has many projects and channels on YouTube, but I’m partial to the Philly D news show myself.  It’s the quickest way for me to grab a few news stories that Canadian sites may not care to mention or not go into detail on, plus Phil snarks and makes me giggle.  Granted. at times, Phil misses the mark and his white male privilege shows (example: reducing eating disorders to an issue of girls wanting to be skinny, when the true issue is a need for control stemming from complex psychological issues and usually trauma), but he’s open to and encourages viewer response and feedback.  He’s not afraid to use his rather powerful platform to speak his mind and engage audiences, without forcing his views down anyone’s throat.

He also loves our faces, which is very nice of him.  My face enjoys love.

The Young Turks

Companion channels: several

TYT has the distinction of being the first channel I subscribed to with the intention of following new uploads on the regular.  Introduced to it by an ex in 2007, I fell in love with the dynamic of Cenk and Ana, as well as their ability to call out anyone and everyone deserving.  It’s refreshing to see a liberal news show unafraid to skewer President Obama for his failings and letdowns as readily as it will tear Santorum a new one (snicker) for his idiotic thoughts on sexual assault.

Covering the full gamut from pop culture to politics to science, TYT examines the stories that matter and pulls them apart from the diverse perspectives and varying areas of expertise of the staff.  It’s a great way to stay informed with minimal bias.


I heart Razor.  Whenever I need a reality check on my own life, I take a wander through Razor’s extensive collection of Maury show clips and remember that my life is not like that.  One of the highlights is the wild and hilarious titles given to the clips, as well as the tags.  I shouldn’t have to explain more than this:  if you’re a Maury fan, go.  If you like reality trainwrecks, go.

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Collected Thoughts: Medicinal Marijuana and Decriminalization

Were I availed of more free time and energy, I might craft a coherent thought piece on this subject, one that I feel rather strongly about.  However, given lack of the above, here are excerpts from a discussion on Facebook on the issue, which encapsulate the bulk of my beliefs.

Note:  There is an America-centric slant to these comments, despite my being Canadian; the discussion centred on American laws and thus, I responded accordingly.  Don’t even get me started on Harper’s “ZOMG! Growing pot plants deserves more mandatory jail time than child rape!” omnibus crap…

Part One:

Who are you to judge what these so-called “regular people” are doing with a substance on par with alcohol? By your logic, alcohol should be abolished, because people consume it to enjoy a concert or movie or night out, or celebrate events. Further, psychological self-care includes leisure time – which may, horror!, include smoking pot on days off for fun. Whether intentionally taken for a medicinal cause or not, it does reduce anxiety, does enhance appreciation of stimulus and so on – unintentional medicinal effects.

Further, pleasurable enjoyment of marijuana and its pervasiveness – and the support of those individuals – is why the medicinal marijuana movement has had enough clout to make ANY leeway, why anyone realized its uses at all. Do you really think, if a so-called pothead hadn’t suggested pot to cancer patient family or friends, or those with anxiety, etc etc. that we would have seen studies that benefited the medicinal cause?

Last, how do YOU know the exact psychological reasons why a “pothead enjoying a movie” appreciates marijuana? I often smoke for, from outside appearances, recreational purposes. You can hear mention of this and throw shame at me for “ruining” a movement that came long after – one I support. I support it because I have gastro issues, anxiety, mood disorder and chronic pain. I choose marijuana for my recreation because it slows the racing of my bipolar brain, reduces anxiety, eases my constant pain in my joints and thus, allows me to mentally be happy and recharge. It is both recreation and medicine at once, but all you see is my atypical cheery mood and sense of ease while watching Pink Floyd DVDs.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds power into a movement you purportedly support, and don’t make assumptions about people whose lives you don’t live. I could write an essay on West Indian and Jamaican racial oppression and systemic issues that likely feed the connection between Marley and weed, but I shouldn’t have to connect the dots.

Part Two:

Marijuana is not often the drug of choice for a substance abuser, but people do indeed abuse it. People also abuse Oxycontin, or Percocet, drugs that someone needs to be able to get out of bed, drugs I have needed for injuries before to function. You can’t shun or slander everyone who uses a substance for non-medical reasons because of an experience that is personal and not objective.

Why do you care if I want to have three drinks at a concert? How is my choice affecting you? How is my choice to smoke a joint before a concert your business, or affecting your life? As a caveat, I hate people who are obnoxious substance users who DO impact others’ experiences; I’ve told off belligerent drunks at concerts before because they are screaming in my ear or falling over on me. I’ve also told off sober people infringing on me in the same way. That’s moot and a whole other area. But if I am sitting in my seat at a concert, enjoying the music, and happen to be high, why do you care? How is it affecting you?

While you may see the medicinal marijuana issue as “more important” than general decriminalization, you are failing to acknowledge that it came second to those who cannot fathom how a substance less dangerous than/no worse than alcohol or tobacco is a criminal offense, an evil substance, fighting to have it legalized. The reason pot smokers are so eager to support the medicinal movement is because it is one more reason in their argument for decriminalization. Tobacco helps no one. Alcohol helps no one. Marijuana does help people, and also happens to be recreational. The fact of the matter is, celebrities or not, the moral majority do not give a shit about suffering people. They do not give a shit about medical and scientific data that shows there’s no good reason to prohibit marijuana. The more people in the public who fuss, kick and fight to their government, the likelier it is they’ll throw their hands up and quietly give in. Medical marijuana is a stepping stone in a movement that already was, and members of that older movement were already espousing the medical benefits.

Governments are lobbied by churches and big business, especially pharmaceuticals. They have big, financial reasons not to decriminalize, not to approve medicinal marijuana. Who will buy all the pretty painkillers? How will doctors make money off narcotics and treating addiction to them? How will the government justify taxes and thousands of prison jobs if they’re not locking up African Americans and lower class Caucasians and Latinos for dealing a few dime bags? Think of all the social programs they can’t excuse themselves from funding if they stop spending money charging, prosecuting and imprisoning people for pot. Think of all the cop corruption cases they can’t throw out anymore for waiting too long for trial to start when the dockets are cut in half after pot is decriminalized. Think of the nasty business of the DEA having to focus on more international drug issues and treading on toes when they can’t keep busy chasing twenty-somethings from impoverished neighbourhoods for growing a few hundred plants.

Systemic oppression and corruption are the big picture, and that’s something everyone – from to the casual potheads – can get on side with.

THAT is why shitting all over users is really offensive. As for those in your life who used it as a crutch? Ask yourself what was going on in their lives that they felt they needed to self-medicate. Ask what was lying beneath the abuse. It’s an illness. Just like gastroparesis.

Think larger. Stop being so narrow-minded, please. That sort of division is exactly what the government wants, and it sets back the cause you care about.

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Netflix Finds: Waiting For “Superman”

Waiting For “Superman”

Genre:  Documentary
Rating:  4/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Parents, Educators, Those Interested In Politics or Social Work
Special Warnings: None

The mister and I have been on a bit of a documentary kick lately, for no particular reason.  We’ve watched a few good ones as of late, but I’ve decided to point this one out to you, mainly because I’d never heard of it before we stumbled onto it while browsing.

Waiting For “Superman” is a dissection of the American education system, as told through the eyes of teachers frustrated with the parameters within which they work, district superintendents bashing their heads against union contracts and bureaucracies while trying to improve matters, and most of all, children who are caught in the web of rules and lotteries(!), trying to get a decent education and succeed.  It examines the history of policies and procedures that have led to flatlined improvement in testing scores, “drop-out factories”, and teachers with no business holding the title continuing to fail a nation’s children.

I was pretty stunned by several points raised, including the fact that it takes but two years of teaching to be automatically granted tenure – meaning that a teacher can never be fired, even if he is filmed reading the paper for an entire class and ignoring his students, or consistently leaving his students so disadvantaged that they reach high school with a grade three level.  The notion of lotteries to get into charter schools – bastions of positive learning results – also boggled my mind, and also saddened me, as we watch the children profiled in the film attend their respective lotteries – their “last chances” at decent education – and anxiously see if they will defy the odds and be accepted.

Even the drop-out rates at some of these schools were just shocking to me; I knew very few people who didn’t finish at my high school, and I’d say our students were all over the map in terms of grades.  I feel very fortunate to be in Canada, and to have attended my school, where most of the teachers were good ones.  I did know a few assholes – our racist Geography teacher who, in his last semester of teaching, lectured us for 45 minutes on our collective stupidity, told everyone who was failing in the class, and called a student a nigger (yeah…); there was also the History teacher who ruined the subject for me (it used to be a favourite) by droning on, encouraging us to drop out if we didn’t want to be perfectly still and silent and get A’s, etc.; the Science teacher who purposely kept female students after class to talk down to their chests about BS.  But I also knew many, many good teachers who believed in students, who worked to help them succeed, who advocated when they felt standardized provincial test scores were lowballing our skills.

If you’ve ever wondered why things don’t get any better, why people grow to believe they are “just too stupid” or wonder how an awful teacher can still have her job, Waiting For “Superman” has your answers…

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Saying Goodbye To A Role Model: Attending Jack Layton’s Funeral

CN Tower lit for Jack Layton, via The Star

Clapping.  Persistent and steady, it surrounded me on all sides as my teary eyes surveyed the tiers of Roy Thomson Hall.  People swayed in rhythm, some singing along loudly.  As I smiled at my brother and rested my head on his shoulder briefly, my heart lifted.

It was exactly what Jack Layton would have wanted:  politicians, friends, family and the everyday citizens, getting together.

The news of Jack Layton’s passing came to me in a sleepy haze, as my fiance called me to ask why I hadn’t told him yet about Jack.  My heart fell as I asked, “What news?” knowing damn well what it was, and yet refusing to speak of it.  I’m not foolish; I watched my beloved Poppy die of cancer a few years ago, and read between the lines of Layton’s final press conference.  I knew it was coming, but adamantly believed Jack’s vow to return to work in September, believed in his ability to beat the odds stacked against him.

That was his greatest gift to me:  the ability to persist in believing in a better Canada, no matter what punches I was expected to roll with in the bleak political climate marring city, province and country.

I never met Jack.  It’s a regret I will carry in the back of my mind now.  I never missed a debate, and voted for him every time.  I canvassed for my local MP, Matthew Kellway, and rejoiced in his victory.  I expected that I would meet him eventually, given the proximity of his home and riding.  All the same, I took the news as if losing an uncle, or teacher.  I made my way to the impromptu vigil at City Hall that same day, watching as the chalk climbed along the wall, adding my own small message.  I left condolences in the book, signed the memorial board.  I shed tears as his beautiful letter was read aloud, my own city councillor weeping too.  I hugged strangers, shared stories of being moved by Jack, echoed the urgent need of us to “Keep Jack’s message alive.”

This was the power Jack Layton possessed:  to unite us, not divide and subjugate us.  He was the shining example of what being Canadian means to me.

Jack championed many causes that are important to me.  He gave us The White Ribbon Campaign, working to unite men against violence touching women’s lives.  He joyfully embraced the LGBTQ community, participating in Pride events and advocating for their rights.  He took on the silence surrounding homelessness, demanded better support for those coping with AIDS, and sought better social system support for our elderly.  He wanted students to be able to afford their educations, wanted better standards of living for the lower classes struggling to survive, and more action to preserve the environment.  As a bisexual woman who lived in poverty as a child and now struggles to repay her student loan debt in any semblance of timely fashion, I felt understood by Jack.  I felt included and heard. As an aspiring social worker, I hold these values as well.

Attending the funeral – not just watching on TV, but being inside Roy Thomson Hall – felt necessary.  In a sense, it seemed to be that meeting I had always longed to have.  I wanted to say goodbye to Jack, surrounded by those of similar mind and heart.  My little brother – the one I taught politics to around the kitchen table a decade ago – came with me Friday night as we descended upon Roy Thomson Hall, steeling ourselves against sleep deprivation.

As he put it, “We’ll do it for Mr. Layton!”

We arrived at 10:30pm, to a line about 50 people deep.  As the night progressed, it grew, and a new little community was fostered.  Brother and I made fast friends with three others in line, playing games and chattering throughout a sleepless night, while many others curled up in blankets, sleeping bags, tents and chairs to rest.  Clubbing men and women repeatedly stopped to ask what we were waiting for.  One man insulted us all, shouting, “What the hell is wrong with you?  Do you not have homes?  Why are so many in Canada living homeless like this?”  When I informed him we were waiting for a beloved politician’s funeral, he sobered up and apologized, saying, “This is my first week here.  I do not know of this man.”  I felt sad that he would never know Jack.

Media snapped photos.  A friendly security officer chatted on his rounds, offering Oasis juice to anyone thirsty in line.  Street sweeper vehicles came by so many times, polishing the look for the streaming video coverage to come.  There were jaunts to Tim Horton’s at King and John, pizza ordered to the line, many digging into backpacks of rations.  My brother and I clinked cans of Orange Crush.  The sun began to rise, and the reporters arrived.  Interviews began; I did three.  I hear the CP24 one looked alright.

The wristband, which I fell asleep with.

Wristbands came just before eight.  We wondered why purple, not orange.  Members of our new group came and went from the line, running home to change or out for breakfast.  Throngs of people began milling about the square, many asking how long we’d waited and staring wide-eyed at our answer. The Steelworkers’ Union gifted us with orange roses, that we clutched tightly.

It was mostly beautiful and peaceful.  There was a line jumper who shoved and threatened people to propel herself in front of us in the ticket queue, despite arriving just before 7 in the morning, then beaming at reporters complimenting her attire.  There were people snapping photos and tweeting inside the hall as if it were a rock concert.  These things seemed so baffling in the face of Layton’s spirit and message, but I decided in the end that Jack would want these people there, in hopes they would grow and love.

Much came across as unusual to those watching at home, from the comments I read wearily last night, but to those of us inside, everything felt pitch-perfect.  This was not a funeral; it was a celebration.  The programs and tickets said so.

The service felt balanced in all ways, which I appreciated immediately.  The man, personal and political, was equally on display, through music and speech – and rightfully so, given it was a celebration of his entire life and his accomplishments.  The three eulogies exemplify this:  Stephen Lewis (English; political); Karl Belanger (French; straddling the line) and Mike & Sarah Layton (personal).  Of four singing performances, two were more mournful or evocative of sorrow, two were meant to lift our hearts, and one was in French.  All blessings were printed in English and French in the program.  Religious readings were Aboriginal (my favourite), Christian, and Muslim in origin.  Rev. Hawkes did a powerful job in his sermon, and while he did “get churchy”, as he quipped to laughter, it never felt like anything more than the loving words of a friend, remembering a man who was larger than life and down to earth all at once.

More than merely a chance to grieve and say farewell, it was a reflection on the journey Layton took, and the path he’d intended us to travel – with him at our side.  The service said, “It’s okay; you know where to go from here.”  And we do.  It could be felt in the singing, swaying, clapping masses in the balcony during Rise Up and Get Together.  It was felt as the thunderous applause greeted each speech.  It was outlined in chalk at City Hall (again) and the sidewalks along Roy Thomson Hall.

The torch has been passed, Rev. Hawkes said.  The masses happily accepted it.

The energy within the walls of the home to many a Christmas event attended by Jack and Olivia was palpable, pulsing in the skin.  There was union, as people wept almost simultaneously at the same moments, clapped at the same times.  For those at home, it was hard to see that every thundering applause was a standing ovation, many beginning in the balcony and joined afterward by those in VIP areas.  We stood as video screens displayed the casket’s departure from City Hall, and remained that way until it joined us on stage. And as his casket departed, I sensed that his spirit lingered, smiling and singing along.  Jack loved to sing; I sang for him, as many did.

I left feeling hopeful, happy in spite of my tears, clinging a can of Orange Crush which was in abundant supply at refreshment stations as we departed. My body was weary, but I didn’t mind it.  I considered it his due, given how tirelessly he worked for all of us for decades.

In the back pages of the program, there is lined space to write, allotted for us to make a promise, something we will do to change the world and make it better.  I’ve given it much thought, and have yet to come up with anything eloquent.  I know I plan to increase my involvement in local politics, to make even more time to benefit others and work with my community.  I plan to work in support of ending violence against women, and fighting the bad turns our political landscape has taken.

Perhaps “Be like Jack” would suffice.

The Service, As Outlined In The Program
(All language notations mine)

Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings; G.F. Handel, Pifa from Messiah – Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Into The Mystic (Van Morrison); Magnificat – Richard Underhill with David Restivo, Kevin Barrett, Artie Roth, Larnell Lewis, Colleen Allen

Processional – The Choir of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto

O Canada (French) – Joy Klopp

Aboriginal Blessing – Shawn Atleo

Welcome – Reverend Brent Hawkes
Bienvenue – Anne McGrath

First Reading:  Philippians 2 (French) – Nycole Turmel
Second Reading: Isaiah 57-58 (Mix) – Myer Siemiatycki
Qu’ran 2:153 (English) – Tasleem Riaz

Croire (Marcel Lefebvre; Paul Baillargeon) – Performed by Martin Deschamps with Bernard Quessy

Video:  “Together, we’ll change the world”

Eulogy (English) – Stephen Lewis

Eulogy (French)– Karl Belanger

Eulogy (English)
– Mike and Sarah Layton

Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) – Performed by Steven Page with Kevin Fox and Kevin Hearne

Homily (English) – Rev Brent Hawkes

Rise Up (Parachute Club) – Performed by Lorraine Segato with Colleen Allen, David Gray, Steve Webster, Alana Bridgewater, Tom Jestadt

Benediction (English) – Rev Brent Hawkes

Get Together (Chet Powers) – Performed by Julie Michels with the Choir of the Metropolitian Community Church of Toronto

Hymn To Freedom (Oscar Peterson) – Chris Dawes, organist

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A Survey For Canada…

I’d like to ask Canadians of all shapes and sizes the following questions.  You see, I’m having trouble reconciling the country I live in at the moment, and perhaps the answers will provide insight.  You’ll help, won’t you?  You know, because Canadians are known world-wide as friendly and helpful?

1.  If your son or daughter cheated in a scholarship contest for school – to the point of breaking the law – would you still be proud of his achievement?  Or would you chastise him for his lack of honesty?

2.  If your spouse said, “All of our combined money will be kept in one account, and only I can dictate how it’s spent – and you have no right to see the statements ever again,” would you be okay with this?  Would you be okay if he bought houses, cars and boats on your dime, mostly, completely disregarding things you need like clothing, medications and improvements to the house you actually reside in?

3.  Ladies only: If your father, husband and brother decided that, regardless of your wishes, you did not need access to birth control or abortion services, because marriage should, after all, be about procreation, would you be nonchalant about this?

4.  If your boss decided that he would cut funding to every department except his son’s, then rewarded his son for having the ability to make strong presentations, would you find this fair?  Or would you be pissed off?

5. If you noticed flagrant violations of policy at work, but every time you approached your superiors, you were suspended from work for attempting to speak up while the transgressors were given promotions, would you find this fair?

6.  If hospitals began triaging cases not on need, but on gross annual income, how would you feel, sitting in an ER with your impoverished father who’s living on a pension, after being told this?

7.  You receive a past due notice from the university your child is attending, indicating none of his tuition has been paid and he has been kicked out of his program.  When you ask him what happened to the $14K you gave him for school this year (because you have saved hard for years for this child to have an education), he says, “I went to Cuba, bought a car, saw the UFC – $800 seats, Mom and Dad! – and then, you know, I had to help out my buddies,” do you shrug and say, “Oh well, it was your money”?  Or do you lose your temper, especially because you’re legally on the hook, since he’s 17?

8.  If your sister was facing 67 criminal charges for which you knew she was guilty, would you be proud?  Would you encourage her to hang out with other criminals?

These seem like pretty crazy scenarios, I grant you, but I’m truly curious.  Most people I know, parents and non-parents of all political persuasions, would be unimpressed with all of these situations.  It’s logical to assume that none of these situations would seem fair or pleasant, nor would most parents (I should hope!) reward the behaviour of the children described above.

So why did you elect a Conservative majority last night?

The Harper Conservatives are guilty of all of the above, or have indicated they will do all of the above, if given half a chance – a ‘mandate’, as they like to call it, although, as with Rob Ford, 40% does not a majority of support make.  But 40% of you elected a party with these principles at its core.

I’m flabbergasted.  I’m embarrassed.  I’m fearful for the rights I currently enjoy as a citizen, let alone a bisexual, childfree female.

Harper’s MPs are encouraging the religious right to continue to push for control of MY uterus.  Harper himself thinks I should have no right to fund the party I care about.  Of course he thinks this: only his party is backed by the rich; he doesn’t need public subsidies, like the Greens do.  Harper thinks the Canada Health Act – the very thing Obama has been pointing to as he’s worked for a more universal health care system across the border – should be scrapped.  Health care shouldn’t be a Federal bother, you see; he also thinks we should pay for it privately.  Have none of you seen what’s been going on for decades in the States?

Harper is a criminal, and his government was the first to be found in contempt of Parliament – a first among the DOZENS of Commonwealth nations and their collective political history – for hiding what he wants to do with the tax money YOU have paid into running this country.  He wants to take away your rights to see the proverbial bank statement; now that he isn’t castrated by holding a minority, he can do just that.

The saddest thing is, I’d say 25% of Harper voters last night did so just because they are ‘sick of elections’.  Meanwhile, people are dying for a chance to have a right to vote in the first place, a vote that is actually counted.  These countries are shaking their heads at you, today, as am I. Harper’s refusal to cooperate with other parties has finally paid off for him; he’s manipulated you into no longer giving a damn who runs things, as long as no one troubles you with the details.

25% of the remaining voters are ‘punishing’ Dalton McGuinty in Ontario or are afraid of the NDP 20 years later.  Ontario, do you not remember Mike Harris?  Why do you think McGuinty has raised the taxes he has?  He’s been cleaning up the disaster Harris left us, between the megacity merge, downloaded items onto the municipal budget that forced David Miller into difficult decisions, and never mind dramatic rises in tuition and a disregard for health care and the poor.  Harper wants to download even more items onto the provincial dwindling coffers; if you think he will somehow save you taxes and money, think again, because the provinces will simply increase their share of the invoice.  That $400 health tax – which, by the way, many Canadians only pay a partial amount of, as it’s scaled to income – is going to seem like pennies four years from now. All because you fear a man who was always Liberal at heart (hell, look at the riding he’s holding right now in Toronto, Ontario!).

Selfish, foolish fallacy has befallen our once great country.  When the piper comes calling in four years, remember this:  rebuilding rubble carries a far greater price than simple renovations, and either way, we pay the bill.

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What Harper Wants You To Forget About (Besides Going Out To Vote)

So, the Twitterverse (and the comments page for said article) is furiously rebuffing the Globe and Mail this morning (also affectionately known now as ‘Globe and Fail’ and ‘Old and Male’), after their editorial team endorsed Stephen Harper for the 41st Federal Election in Canada.  No matter what party you support – hell, even if you are a Con lover – this editorial is an embarrassment to journalism.  Why’s that, you ask?

Because the Globe wants you to vote him in based strictly on economics, and actually speaks positively of his character(!).  It also spends the first part of the editorial pointing out Harper’s transgressions and labelling them ‘petty’.  I’m pretty sure Harper’s Goverment paid for and possibly scripted this drivel, being as it’s ripped from Con debate rhetoric.

Here’s a few of my favourite parts:

We are nearing the end of an unremarkable and disappointing election campaign, marked by petty scandals, policy convergences and a dearth of serious debate. Canadians deserved better. We were not presented with an opportunity to vote for something bigger and bolder, nor has there been an honest recognition of the most critical issues that lie ahead: a volatile economy, ballooning public debts and the unwieldy future of our health-care system.

Already, we have a contradiction in terms:  there was no opportunity to vote for something bigger and better, and yet, the Globe condemns spending and expansion because of our economy.  Well, we can’t have it both ways – nor can the Globe deny that spending money on bigger jails – a strategy proven a huge failure in the United States and unnecessary as crime rates drop, no matter what moral panic the media are perpetuating this week – is a form of spending and expansion.

As for ‘petty’… well, we’ll return to that in a moment.

The challenges facing our next federal government do not end there, of course. The next House of Commons must find new ways to protect Parliament, the heart of our democracy. It needs to reform its troubled equalization program without straining national unity. Relations with the U.S. are at a critical juncture. Any thickening of the border threatens to punish all Canadians, while negotiations over perimeter security have implications for national sovereignty and economic security. Wars in Libya and Afghanistan, climate change, Canada’s role in the world, the rapid and exciting change of the country’s ethnic and cultural makeup – the list is great, as is the need for strong leadership in Ottawa.

I agree with all of these priorities.  Shall we examine Harper’s contributions thus far?

Democracy:  The first Prime Minister in our history found in contempt of Parliament, Harper limits media questions to five per meeting.  Harper also forces his backbenchers to always vote in line.  Harper campaigned on transparency and fewer appointments to Senate, yet has made the most appointments in history, killed the Freedom to Information Act swiftly and quietly, prorogued government to avoid democratic processes which include coalitions (yep, they’re very legal; Harper even tried to use one to his advantage against the Liberals)…  Oh, and did I mention his wealthy party attempting to castrate smaller parties – thereby hampering democracy – by removing the stipend each party gets from the government per vote received during an election?  That’s right; Harper’s Goverment (because it’s not our country’s government, anymore; just check the papers) feels that I do not have the right to dictate that a whopping $2 and change of MY taxes go to the party I have chosen to represent ME.  And then, we have those pesky police investigations showing that the Cons violated election spending laws in a previous go-round – essentially buying the election, as proven and upheld in the Appeals Court.  Hmm….

Equalization:  Harper’s leaked booklet o’ troublesome quotes makes many references to health care and how Harper would much rather privatize the whole she-bang and wash his hands of helping the province.  I sure hope all of you middle-class Con voters have a way to pay hundreds of thousands in medical bills on your own, should cancer strike you or your loved ones.  I doubt equalization will go well in his hands; his funds get allocated to his ridings and the rest be damned.

Canada’s Role in the World:  Harper is the sole reason that for the first time ever, Canada is not on the UN Security Council.  Why?  His foreign policies.  Peacekeeping, good-hearted Canada is no longer trusted by the UN.  We also have been condemned for our environmental policies, and Harper wants to kill funding to Planned Parenthood for another first – hindering their care overseas – because of abortions.  Does it feel American up in here?

Only Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party have shown the leadership, the bullheadedness (let’s call it what it is) and the discipline this country needs. He has built the Conservatives into arguably the only truly national party, and during his five years in office has demonstrated strength of character, resolve and a desire to reform. Canadians take Mr. Harper’s successful stewardship of the economy for granted, which is high praise. He has not been the scary character portrayed by the opposition; with some exceptions, his government has been moderate and pragmatic.

Mr. Harper could achieve a great deal more if he would relax his grip on Parliament, its independent officers and the flow of information, and instead bring his disciplined approach to bear on the great challenges at hand. That is the great strike against the Conservatives: a disrespect for Parliament, the abuse of prorogation, the repeated attempts (including during this campaign) to stanch debate and free expression. It is a disappointing failing in a leader who previously emerged from a populist movement that fought so valiantly for democratic reforms.

So, all of those principles you cared so much about in the opening of this piece no longer matter when making an endorsement?  Oh, and by the way, the only party with consistent ratings across the country, province by province, is NDP.  Oops!  I smell a Bev Oda-style ‘Not’ striking out parts of this original editorial and replacing them.  I smell an original ‘no endorsement’ editorial changed by the big bosses.  In fact, this reeks of the same spin, blackmail and lies used on Bob Rae’s NDP goverment in Ontario – as documented, hilariously enough, by The Globe and Mail.

His idea of reform has been for the worse, not the better – unless you’re rich, white, male and/or big business.

The biggest lie of all:  Harper did not save this economy at all; policies in our banking industry and those established by the surplus-holding Liberals did.  Harper has run a worse deficit than Mulrooney.

What else has Harper done?  Taken from numerous resources, including ShitHarperDid.com:

  • Broke his promise to ‘never tax income trusts’
  • Set a law for fixed election dates then broke it when it suited him politically
  • Attempted to buy Chuck Cadman’s vote while the man was dying and vulnerable, no less
  • He has a manual on how to undermine Parliament debates and process.  No, really
  • Prorogued government to avoid judgment on his party’s actions in Parliament – essentially avoiding democractic process
  • Reduced Federal Meat Inspectors, leading to the deaths of 20 people in the Maple Leaf scandal due to impossible work conditions for remaining inspectors
  • Has appointed three ministers who have intentionally misled Parliament (Oda, Clements, Mackay)
  • Found in contempt 3 times – this bears repeating as it’s a first in our country’s history
  • Spent $1.2 Billion on the G20, and is facing allegations of spending on his buddy’s Muskoka riding with funds specifically deisgnated for other purposes, as noted by the Auditor General
  • Arrested over 1000 people that weekend, the majority of those charages being dropped, and facing numerous complaints of police brutality and unlawful imprisonment conditions and rights breaches
  • Frugal spending apparently means spending $100 Million between elections promoting your party
  • Hid information about Afghan detainees and lost our access to Camp Mirage, which led to increased costs for that war effort
  • Appointed two senators who had 67 forged invoices falsely claiming tax rebates for election expenses
  • Has staff being investigated by police for 3 separate case files
  • Defunding any organization that questions pro-Israel agenda
  • Cut funding to arts, women’s rights orgs (Planned Parenthood, etc), human rights & democracy orgs (KAIROS, Rights & democracy)
  • Cut statscan
  • Cut funding to science and research (Human Genome Project, CPRN)
  • Has attacked: Parliamentary budget Office, Elections Canada, RCMP Public Complaints Commission, and Linda Keen, head of Canadian Nuclear regulatory Agency

I’m sorry, but I defy any Con supporter to come up with a list this awful about any previous Prime Minister of ANY party, Cons included.

This is not the Canada we’ve always known.  This is a Canada that Harper has been holding hostage under the falsified demon of the economy – something he’s made worse, ultimately, by running us from surplus into massive deficit.  None of his big-ticket spending plans will benefit Canada financially in the long run, nor will they help Canadians where they need it most.  Harper is not our financial saviour; he will be our demise, with Flaherty at the reins.

Do I believe any party has a perfect approach or platform?  No, not at all.  But I do know that of all the parties, Harper’s does not have the core values that have long distinguished Canada from its contemporaries at heart.  He has only the interests of his backers and his back pockets in mind.

Voting for Harper is a slap in the face to the democracy you are exercising on May 2nd.  Hell, his people have tried to steal a ballot box of advance votes (by a group that is least likely to support him)!  If none of the other parties appeal to you, but democracy does, abstain.  Things will only get worse from here under Harper.  At least your voice will still be heard under, oh, any other party.

I fear for my country.  I hope it wakes up on May 2nd.  Unplug from Harper’s matrix, before we’re too far down the rabbit hole to see the light again.

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Mayor *cringe* Rob Ford’s Campaign, and Why Toronto Voters Elected a False Bill Of Goods

Monday night, I quickly dug out the vodka coolers (perhaps in ironic salute of our DUI-holding new mayor) and got drunk, as I realized that I lived in a city where 50% of those who cared to vote were apparently beyond naive.  There is truly no other word to describe people who will endorse, as a representative of one of Canada’s most prominent cities, a man who hits his wife, spews racial insults, blusters his way through without actual research or concrete financial evidence, and is a blatant homophobe and seeming sexist.

Man, I feel comfortable in my city now, as a bisexual woman marrying a man of another race!

Disgust for the personal moraes of one Rob Ford aside, and a night full of jokes of assassination by KFC Double Downs flooding my Twitter stream later, I sit down earnestly to really address this man’s political promises to his supporters, as vague as they are in places, with the ambition of dissecting them.  The purpose is two-fold:  1) to demonstrate to myself that much of what this slogan-spewing buffoon has proposed is nigh impossible, and 2) to blatantly point out what his supporters should have seen for themselves before buying his party line:  that all of you have been sold a tremendous bill of goods.

Promise One:  Rob Ford Vows To Kill The Controversial Land Transfer Tax & $60 Vehicle Registration Fee

From the few souls who actually espouse this man’s platform on Twitter, coupled with the incessant babbling on The Star’s comments section that contains mostly rhetoric and little evidential support, this is one of the main reasons Ford supporters gathered behind him.  I can’t deny that the two fees are somewhat burdensome and borderline ridiculous.  I do, however, understand that the provincial and federal governments have endlessly downloaded onto this city’s budget items that should be provided by higher tiers, even as our province slipped from its perpetual ‘have’ state to its ‘have-not’ designation in terms of government equalization payments.  The only solution offered to the City of Toronto was power to create new revenue streams via fees and taxes.

Imagine yourself in David Miller’s shoes, if you please.  People endlessly bitch about the TTC, about roads, about decaying infrastructure like sewer pipes… The list goes on.  You need money.  You ask for money.  You’re told the only choice you have is to create new fees and taxes.  What do you do?  Do you allow things to get worse on your watch, or do you attempt to find a way to tax people in areas that hopefully won’t decimate the more impoverished members of the city too badly?  It wasn’t a nice situation to be in, and the provincial government screwed us all.  In turn, the provincial government is consistently screwed by Harper at the federal level.  We rage against our municipal representatives, but forget that everything starts at the feds.  Punishing Dalton McGuinty isn’t going to help you at all next election.  Punishing Harper will.  But, I digress.

These two fees that Ford proposes to kill will remove an estimated $250 Million of revenue from the City yearly.  This is in addition to any projected deficits for future years (the current estimate is $500 Million for 2011).  Now, Rob’s promising us that he will keep spending balanced.  When he’s asked how he will compensate for the lost revenue, he vaguely says there is ‘excess spending’ and ‘he will end the gravy train’ and he’s ‘sure he will find things to cut’.  If a politician cannot tell you even an estimated number or concrete strategy to fix something, he is talking out of his ass.  This has been true since the dawn of democracy.

I believe the vehicle registration fee will be axed; I’m certain most of council knows it’s very unpopular.  The land transfer tax, however, remains in doubt; I’m wagering it will be a very split vote, due to the fact it pulls a significant amount of coin from the wealthy and businesses, and isn’t as burdensome to ‘every man’ types.

Now, let’s take a look at one of the ways good ol’ Rob expects to make up for this lost revenue…

Promise Two:  Rob Ford Will Drastically Cut Councillor Petty Cash Budgets and Wants To Kill Perks Like Free TTC/Museum/Golf Passes.

First, let’s look at the free perks, like golf, TTC Metropasses and free admission to city attractions.  In this video, Rob Ford himself describes the perks and privileges that he is offered as a councillor, and how much money could be saved by the City and/or new revenues for the City.  The first striking thing is he spews out estimated numbers.  He doesn’t even know his actual numbers for admission to the zoo.  How hard would this have been to estimate?

There is a huge misrepresentation by Rob in his phrasing.  “The taxpayers are paying for this,” he says, pointing out free trips to the zoo.  In many of these cases, the taxpayers are not paying anything; complimentary passes are not purchased by the City! It may be lost revenue stream to city attractions, but it’s not like the councillors are billing the City’s bank account.  I’ve received coupons for free admission to special exhibits at the ROM from the museum itself, and intentionally gone during periods of free general admission.  I am getting in for free.  The ROM did not give me $5.  The City did not give me free admission from their wallets.  The ROM, for promotion, has decided to forego fees to encourage me to come in, enjoy what they have, and hope that I will return on my dime later.  Do not be fooled by Rob Ford claiming someone has ‘purchased’ all of these perks!

But, for argument’s sake, let’s look at potential lost revenue.  Keep in mind, however, that we don’t know how many councillors actually use all or some of these perks, or how often.  I wouldn’t ever pay to go to Casa Loma, but I might go once a year if it were free.  Rob Ford is also pretty presumptuous in stating that at each attraction, a councillor would park for free.  Maybe he/she wouldn’t drive?  That said, let’s go for broke and see if we can find this “easy” $20-30 Million savings for the perks (even though money isn’t spent and thus, it’s not savings at all, but lost revenue).

Toronto Zoo:  Let’s say that Rob and his family of four opted to visit three times/year.  That’s fairly generous for the average family.  Now, Rob, being a frugal man, would buy a Family Pass (admits two adults and two kids) for the year for $145.  Parking costs $10/go, so $30 total is not spent.  Even if the Ford family went nuts on extras like Stingray Bay, camel rides, etc., the total lost revenue is $467/year.  Let’s now multiply by 45 people on staff:  lost revenue for the zoo is $21,000 roughly.  It’s a lot, but again, it’s assuming people go often and go nuts. Note that Rob almost doubles the actual cost of parking in that video.  Nice.

TTC Passes:  Rob Ford claims that ‘we’ pay $1300/year per councillor for a TTC Metropass for each of them.  Let’s debunk that.  First of all, the ‘at the booth’ price would never apply to any city employees; they would get a reduced group rate or, for those who use the passes regularly, they would order it by mail.  Second of all, aside from Adam Giambrone and David Miller, how many of these people actually take the TTC at all, especially given their free Toronto Parking Authority passes?  Let’s assume, of 45 people, that 30 of them would actually, if forced to do so, buy Metropasses at all.  At $111/month, that’s $39, 960 lost revenue.  Again, the taxpayers do not pay for these passes; they’re given for free.  Your taxes are not directly funding these.  The TTC is losing the money.  Make the distinction.

Casa Loma: Let’s assume, since Casa Loma is kind of dull, that each of these 45 people takes a family of four yearly.  With parking and admission, it’s roughly $80/visit, meaning $3600 lost revenue to the facility.

CNE: Rob Ford also derides the free admission and parking for the annual Exhibition for councillors.  Assuming that each family of four goes three times, and disregarding any group discounts normal employers of this stature would arrange,the free admission and parking works out to $198/family, or $8910.

Toronto Parking: Assuming each councillor clocked the daily maximum 365 days per year, the lost revenue is $7300 by 45, totalling $328, 500.  Of course, this figure is far too high, assuming several would opt to use transit exclusively, and of course, what politician works 365 days per year at the office?

Conservation/Camping Passes:  Assuming each family camps twice per year at $40/pop, that’s $3600.

Free Golf:  The estimate on free Golf for the year for the entire council is $15,000.  Hell, let’s round up to $20,000 for fun.

Total Lost Revenue (NOT expenditures from taxpayer cash):  $425, 570That is nowhere NEAR the ‘easy $20-30 Million’ from Rob Ford’s mouth, on video.

Councillor Budgets: Here’s where we talk actual spent taxpayer dollars.  Now, taking just their spending budgets (not budgeted funds for hiring staff, e.g.), councillors have a total budget of $2.2 Million.  Their hiring budgets for staff total $9.1 Million.  The mayor’s office has a distinct budget for spending and hiring of $2.56 Million. From Rob’s own plans, he aims to slash $2,845,408 from these combined budgets of $13.8 Million.

Given the $250 Million we’re going to lose from Promise One, I don’t quite see Rob Ford balancing the budget and ‘putting Toronto back on track’; I see him derailing the balanced budget train of the last few years.  We also need to consider increased social services costs due to lost jobs as a result of slashed hiring budgets in this mix.

Promise Three:  Rob Ford Will ‘End The War On Cars’ And Trash Transit City In Favour Of Subways And Less Bike Lanes.

This is where I really get my back up with Ford and his suburban-centric view of the city.  I don’t drive – I have no licence to do so.  I am not alone in this state, and therefore, transit is pretty damn crucial to me.  Am I happy with the TTC?  Hell no!  But I am also realistic.

The environment is a mess, and we will, inevitably, run out of oil to fuel our cars.  Trashing bike lane programs and expenditures and funelling that money back into car-happy initiatives is foolish.  Somehow, Rob believes this will ease the war between drivers and cyclists.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It will only get nastier over time, as will gridlock.

Speaking of gridlock, if you think driving with streetcars is bad, how about when we shut down huge stretches of major arteries to build subways where they are least needed?  Transit City, for which we have already paid $120 Million, was designed after extensive research and consideration of the financial and physical feasibility of all possible improvements, including replacing the Scarborough LRT with a subway.  The ‘best solution for all’ that was most affordable for taxpayers (isn’t that what Ford trumpets?) is Transit City.  Eglinton alone is extremely congested with buses and begging for more capacity.  To turn away from plans to develop LRT there – some of which would be underground to aid ground traffic mess – is foolish!  To remove streetcars on Queen – with their far greater capacities – in favour of more buses, while subsequently wasting $125 Million of taxpayer money on defaulting our contract with Bombardier – will only make things worse!  Three buses per streetcar at rush hour, drivers:  imagine that.   Sounds far worse to me.

While a nice idea for the future, the development along Sheppard of an extension connecting the LRT in Scarborough to the existing line makes little sense for the money it will cost.  At most points of day, the Sheppard subway doesn’t have enough ridership to justify its existence, proof that if you build it, they do not always come.  The city desperately needs ideas like a Downtown Relief Line to improve service and encourage more ridership, not a focus on subways for suburbans who are already screaming as if we’re ripping their cars from their hands.   We need the 75 miles of LRT planned, not the scant fraction of miles proposed of subway – miles that will multiply the costs of the project and yield far less gains.  Is this truly giving taxpayers bang for their buck?  Hardly.

What Ford is also neglecting to point out are the 2 new $100 Million bus terminals we’d need to house these extra buses, never mind the fact that Transit City isn’t scrapped as easily as he’d like to think.  Much of the money is provincial, and tied to the fact that Transit City works well with other community plans, as part of a whole that Ontario has agreed to finance.  There’s a reason it’s taken years to begin.  The planning for a new subway alone, if even approved by the Liberals, will outlast Mayor’s term, meaning no gains seen in four years.  Transit City, on the other hand, is already under construction.  Benefits will be seen in Ford’s first term, along Sheppard Avenue, his main target.

Ford is also severely fudging numbers when he proposes that new subway costs $200 Million/km.  Paul Bedford of Metrolinx indicates that the costs are more like $300 Million/km, and that doesn’t take into account needs to expropriate land to widen right of ways for the Scarborough RT conversion, nor does it account for any unexpected/difficult moves of city pipes and infrastracture to dig the tunnels.

As Ford reneges on his vow to ditch streetcars within days of election, it becomes apparent how little he’s thought this through.  In addition to the default fees, Paul Bedford notes that the ridership of the routes is enormous:  “If you add up the number of people who use the King, Queen, Spadina and probably College streetcars – just four routes – that equals more than the number of people who ride the entire GTA GO system every day. Just on four streetcar routes. They’re out of their minds to get rid of that.”

Castrating the TTC will reduce ridership further, resulting in lost revenue.  I already ditched my pass in protest of the massive jump in price recently, opting for tokens, which are less guaranteed/predictable income for the system.  If Queen street went to buses, I can guarantee I’d walk even more often due to crowding (I am both partially disabled and claustrophobic).

Rob Ford’s promises in this regard will drive transit users into cars, cost taxpayers unnecessary money in penalties, and yield less bang for our buck.  It’s all bad news.

Promise Four:  To Increase Reliability, Prevent Strikes and Decrease Costs, Rob Ford Will Contract Garbage Collection To Private Companies and Make TTC an Essential Service.

I can’t deny that being held hostage by TTC strikes blows, and that declaring it an essential service would put an end to the nonsense we’ve suffered since I moved to Toronto in 2004.  That said, one of the key points raised by opponents of declaring it essential is that it forces all contract negotiations to mediators whose deals generally result in MORE money spent overall.  Consider it ‘compensation for losing the right to strike’.  Yikes.  MORE money for the TTC?  Not my cup of tea.  The union is hard enough to fight as it is; wouldn’t Ford be better served hardlining negotiations as they currently go down?  And hey, why does he care if they strike, anyway?  He wants to castrate the lines and stop the war on his precious cars, after all.

As for garbage collection, I believe that Ford means well, but is ultimately underestimating the demands our city’s collection would place on any company.  Toronto is not Etobicoke; it is more suburban, less densely populated and has less businesses to attend to.  The suggested collector, Turtle Island, is… special.  I’ve worked with them as security in a corporate tower employing their services and they were not exactly reliable in their pick-ups.  Metro Waste was equally challenged handling another tower.  The scale of demand of the city’s collection would require so much expansion and time from any company, I doubt that their tendered offers would truly result in millions of savings.  In the past, when these companies have been employed to assist the city, they have fallen behind, according to city employees.  It works for Etobicoke, but Ford, you’re not in Kansas anymore. The only possible way to do this would be to contract out Toronto in chunks – Downtown, East York, North York, etc., and even then, this all feels like a bargaining chip that will see the city union bidding successfully to keep right on going, for slightly less money.

Ford also forgets that unionized workers within a private company can strike… meaning we’re far from safe from strike action from our private collectors.  We’re better keeping them as city employees, where we can approach the courts and force them back to work.

Again, there’s also the trickle-down effects financially of effectively unemploying an entire group of workers.  Many will resist leaving the city’s employ, due to the benefits.  If Ford slashes hiring for basic office staff, wants to castrate council to 22 seats and also hire at half the rate of attrition, where do these people go?  If the new private contractor pays too little, the current collectors may refuse to staff the new company, resulting in serious growing pains.  Unemployed people collect EI and welfare, employ use of the Ontario Second Careers program to attend school for cheap costs as retraining… In short, they cost significant taxpayer money.  Consider the $20 Million in projected savings vastly slashed by these increased costs elsewhere.

Promise Five:  As Another Means of Savings, Ford Plans To Scrap The Fair-Wage Policy.

Total pipe dream claim here.  Notwithstanding the massive litigation and protest, never mind obtaining the necessary permission to ditch this long-standing legislation, the effects will be minimal, when considering how few workers fall under its protection.  Ford insists that the policy causes us to pay inflated wages for construction projects, because non-unionized workers are paid inflated rates.  But when 73% of those hired already are unionized, it seems pretty silly to attack 27% of possible workers, given that the vast majority of construction companies who would be tendering offers are already unionized.

Ford’s full of hot air when he claims he can save $1 Billion this way; he’s probably referring to the $1 Billion in legal fees it’ll cost to kill it.

Promise Six:  City Council Will Be Cut From 44 To 22 Councillors, Higher Customer Service Will Be Offered, And Only Half Of Positions Vacated By Retirement Will Be Re-Filled, Saving Money.

It’s necessary to take these all together as a package, since they’re pretty interconnected.  Will cutting council save money?  Sure; it’s less bodies to pay, fewer budgets to allot.  Will allowing positions to go vacant save money in wages, too?  Absolutely.  Are either of these truly feasible, all while providing great customer service in the city?  Absolutely not.

Rob Ford prides himself on the fact he answers every call he receives and returns all voicemails.  That’s from his time as a councillor in Etobicoke.  Now, double his constituent base, and you begin to see that this becomes a lot more difficult to manage.  Twice as many calls… Twice as many community events demanding your time and attention…  Twice as many people to consider, twice the land as well, when decisions are brought before council.  If your customers doubled, but staff decreased due to slashed hiring budgets and thereby slahed personnel, how well would you fare in your job?  If the people feel ignored in certain ridings now, it will get a hell of a lot worse.

Now, add in the increase proposed in policing – positions that are part of those of which Rob will only half fill after retirement.  Add in the positions lost through outsourcing garbage collection.  Again, we will create disgruntled people as less employees serve more customers on an increasing scale.  Imagine if your local bank branch slashed employees in half on pay day.  See the picture?

Good service does cost money.  The current war on bedbugs in the city is making it apparent that we need more help in public health, to ensure we rid ourselves of this pest.  In Ford’s plan, we would lose 5700 employees through attrition alone, employees in policing, ambulance services, policing and public health.  We would lose librarians to help children and adults find resources for school and work.  Taxes suck, but people in their short-sightedness forget that we have taxes to pay for all of the perks we enjoy and even demand as citizens of this city.  In a recession, where people struggle to find employment, is any measure that chops potential job markets further a wise idea?

I could go on with his other minor talking points, but I think I’ve made my position clear.  So, what can you really expect, Ford supporters, under your elected mayor?

  1. Less accessibility to municipal services due to decreased staffing
  2. The $60 vehicle registration fee will die.
  3. The land transfer tax will possibly die, but will likely survive.
  4. The odds of new subway being approved and even started during Ford’s term is next to nil.
  5. As Ford as already admitted, don’t go kissing the streetcars goodbye just yet.
  6. Slashed councillor budgets will happen, although the financial relevance is minimal compared to overall operations.
  7. Slashing councillor perks will save nothing, and do very little to fund city attractions and the TTC, making it nothing more than a PR stunt.
  8. If the province aided Ford in slashing city council to 22, it would result in less community involvement and concern from council, let alone accessibility, due to dramatic increase of constituent loads.
  9. The Fair Wage Policy will easily survive.
  10. The garbage collection for the city will either worsen in quality or be sold for nearly the same costs as the current deal, meaning no astronomical $20 Million in savings per year, only marginal savings.
  11. Expect an increase in EI/Welfare recipients impacting your taxes far more than a $60 fee ever did.
  12. Expect the recession to worsen in Toronto.
  13. Expect increased animosity among different groups within the city, and a decrease in morale due to slashed events that instill city pride.  Expect further backlash due to the loss of charity events if Ford’s anti-marathon stance builds any steam.

Thanks, Toronto.  Thanks for making us a laughing stock by electing the lovechild of George W Bush and Sarah Palin.  He has told you exactly what you wanted to hear, the majority of which is unattainable or beyond his jurisdiction (i.e., he can’t stop refugees from coming here!).  Moving to Calgary suddenly sounds fantastic…

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