A Canadian's perspective on domestic and international issues. Independent coverage of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections and anything of interest in Canada.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, Demand It!

It was the American president, John F. Kennedy, who said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Those words have echoed for a generation. They are clever, and sound right, but are they?
Way back at the time of the Magna Carta in England, a group of noblemen rose up against their government, demanding it pay attention to the needs and rights of the citizenry. At the time, the King was the government. He made all the rules and the people had no alternative but to obey, lest they be imprisoned or worse. In fact, all the people were expected to do for their country, and the government was beholden to none. The King could do whatever he wanted.
Similar events occured in other countries, such as France. Many centuries later, in the American colonies, it was the same story all over again. When the colonists complained their government, led by King George, was ignoring them, not allowing fair representation, and ruling without regard for their rights, they too rose up. They were in fact demanding the government “do for them” and were quite sick of “doing for their country” while their country did nothing for them. In the end they formed their own country, a country that was “for the people, by the people.”
This latest slogan, in the years since, has become the founding phrase for democracies all around the world. It seems to fly in the face of what JFK said. In fact, democracy, at its core, is founded on the notion that a country, and its government, must do for its people, not the other way around!
Yesterday I was in a cafe where I overheard the young server complaining about people who are forever expecting their government to do for them. Its a common complaint. Anyone who is expecting their government to help them out is somehow a welfare bum, a miscreant, a ne’er do well. At least that’s what many of us have come to believe, but is it reality?
Seems to me the whole point of democracy is governence for the people, representing the people, by the people, not the other way around. Government, in the democratic system, is meant to represent the people against the power.
Today the corporations and the wealthy have replaced the king. And in democratic systems, the task of government is to balance the people’s interests against that power. Its the whole purpose of elections, to give the people a say in how they are treated by the power, and to keep the power in check. At least, that’s what is supposed to be going on!
Unfortunately, somehow, it is not what is going on. We have supposed democratic governments that spend the lion’s share of their time representing the interests of the power, corporations and industry, against the people. The current economic mess, and bailout plans, are a prime example. Banks, the auto industry, big corporations, the rich, are all being handed huge sums of the people’s money. Yet, if its even suggested that money should be going directly to the people, all of a sudden we hear cries of “socialism” as if it would be anti-democratic to help the people. Yet it is somehow okay to help the powerful!
Why is socialism okay for big corporations, but not for the people? Its a question no one can answer. We’re told its because the big corporatons create jobs, but all the evidence says otherwise. Every study ever done illustrates it is not the big powerful coroporations that create jobs, but small business! Small businesses run by the people are the primary sources of new jobs in every economy in the world. Big business is better known for cutting jobs, for moving jobs offshore, for polluting, for using tax lawyers to get around paying taxes, for reaping huge profits while cutting manpower. Yet our governments continue to bend over backwards to keep big business in business, while everyday people, and the businesses they operate, go under!
For all intent and purpose we’re back where we were when the noblemen launched their protest and created the Magna Carta. We’re in the same place France was, when the people stormed the bastille and overthrew their king. We’re in exactly the same place we were in the when the colonists climbed aboard the ships in Boston harbour and had themselves a tea party! Our government has become the servant of the rich and powerful and the mantra is: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” We’re being called upon to go along with the premise that we should ask nothing of our governors, and gracefully accept whatever they decree for us.
We’ve been here before and it is not too difficult to imagine what will happen next. The king must capitulate or lose his head!
As much as I’ve been taught to honour the memory of John F. Kennedy, and I have, his creed reads more like golden rule of Fascism than Democracy! And it shouldn’t be a matter of asking what our government can do for us! The point is, the government, in a democracy, should be doing for us without us having to ask!
Perhaps we all need to ask what our country has done for us of late, before we go blindly asking what we can do for it. Our governments have stood by idly while we lose our jobs, while our health and educations systems deteriorate, while our houses are forclosed on, while our young men and women are sent off to fight unwinnable wars, while our environment is driven to the brink of disaster, while we pay more and more and more, for less and less and less!
No, JFK had it backwards. We should be demanding our country do for us what it is supposed to be doing for us. And if it doesn’t, then we owe it to both ourselves and our country to do the one thing we can do for our country! That is the thing the nobles did in England, the peasants did in the Bastille, and the colonists did in Boston. If our country won’t do for us, then we should change it!
Ask not what your country can do for you, demand it!

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

BC Liberals Gang Response Equals Social Bankruptcy

If all we need do, to effectively deal with gang violence, is hire new police and prosecutors, and build a few more jail cells, then why didn't our provincial government go ahead and do just that when economic times were good.
Could it be because our Attorney General and Premier have seen the results of similar practices in the USA, and know more police, prosecutors and jails will do no good?
Why waste money on efforts that do no good? Unless, it is politically expedient to do so.
The announcement today, by the BC Liberals, is designed only to appease a frustrated public, who desperately need to see something being done. Sadly, it also speaks to the ever more apparent bankruptcy of ideas and strategies in the Campbell government.
Ending gang violence will require a multi-pronged solution, involving not only law enforcement and justice, but social and economic measures. Before it will end, we will have to remove the impetus that drives our young people into gangs in the first place. The effort will not only need to be long term, but perpetual.
We cannot continue to pour all our political and economic capital into mega projects, tax cuts, bailouts and deficits, while ignoring the very real life tragedies of poverty and wholly inadequate social services.
What we need more than anything is fresh ideas and strategies that work. Unfortunately, we won't see either of those things until we start electing people who are actually in possession of such qualities.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Saving Canada Newspaper Industy

When was the last time you picked up a newspaper and read anything new, controversial, or different?
These days, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting your news from TV, radio, or the papers. Its all the same stuff. You can pick up a Toronto Star or a Vancouver Sun and read all the same stuff, from the same perspective, with all the same subjects.
Is it any wonder people have abandoned the newspapers for sources like the internet, where one can at least get another side of the story?
Most papers in this country now go at the news from one particular angle, business! Reporters no longer ask how events affect people in their home communities. They ask how it affects business! It may come as a surprise to many of our modern day editors and publishers, but not everyone is interested in the business perspective.
The other major issue is what I call “mob mentality.” Take politics for example. All the reporters are gathered in one place interviewing the same people. Heck, some of them don’t even bother to ask their own questions. They just stick out their recorders and later transcribe all the same questions and answers.
When I was a kid I recall how folks would wait outside the St. Catharines Standard offices waiting for the paper to be printed. Sometimes they’d be pushing each other aside just to get copies when the paper was finally delivered to the box. Once people had their copies, they’d step aside and start reading, then the debates would begin.
It would be the same scene ten miles down the road in Niagara Falls, where a whole different set of stories and perspectives would be covered. Most folks would in fact buy The Standard, The Niagara Falls Review, and the Welland Tribune, just so they would be up to date on all the different news, from all the different little towns in the region. When they wanted a wider perspective, they’d go buy a Globe and Mail, a Hamilton Spectator, a Toronto Star, or even a New York Times.
Nowadays it doesn’t matter which of those papers you buy, one is as good, or bad, as the other. And the same picture on the cover of the Globe is more than likely going to show up in the Standard. Why buy more than one, when all the news and perspective you’re going to get is in one?
In my opinion, you can blame it all on the Blacks, both Conrad and David! Conrad began the process, buying up over half of the papers in the country and homogenizing them to the point where they all looked, smelled and tasted the same. David has taken it one step further, nearly eliminating any sort of news at all (especially local), and focussing the giant share of the papers’ content on advertising. These days you can get as much local information from a “Buy and Sell” as you can from most traditional newspapers.
Now, the industry seems intent on carrying through on their slow suicide by laying off their reporters and photographers, relying even more on the news wires and centralized information sources. With less reporters and photographers, local papers can no longer cover their own courts, police beats, neighbourhoods. Sadly, this results in less and less people turning to the local papers for information, mostly because there’s no new information in them.
This has a domino affect on advertising too. People stop reading the paper, and advertisers realize no one is reading the paper, so they stop advertising in it.
Sadly,this whole scenario is also starting affecting radio and TV. It no longer matters which radio or TV station you tune in. The news is all the same, and so is the opinion. Pretty soon, all we’re going to need is one national paper, one TV station, and one radio station.
But its not all doom and gloom and there is a solution. One example is right here in the West Kootenay. Out of New Denver BC there is a fledgling little paper called “The Valley Voice.” Its not well written, the photos are often grainy and out of focus, and it doesn’t have a lot of flashy ads. However, when that paper hits the street, everyone in the region makes sure to pick it up!
Why? Because there’s news in that little paper that can’t be found anywhere else! The opinion pages, at least two or more full pages every issue, are full of local voices, and the editorials are entirely from a local perspective. What’s more, the publisher of the paper is not entirely focussed on the bottom line. He’s not trying to make a million. His bottom line is producing a rag that people will read, while earning him a modest living. And the biggest threat to his business comes not from a lack of readership, but from big conglomerate, widely circulated, papers that suck up the lion’s share of advertising dollars from large corporations and government sources, and control the source of paper and ink. To him, the failure of these big sheets is good news, because when they finally go under, he will be left standing.
All this considered, if we really want to salvage the newspaper industry in this country, it is imperative the newspaper industry go back to its roots, and begin delivering news people want to read, the news going on down the street, up the block, and around the corner.
The solution is not in laying off reporters and photographers, but in hiring more of them to cover the stories in our home communities. Moreso, the resolution to the current problems in the newspaper industry is not to be found in more coroporate control.
Newspapers were invented for no other purpose than to give a voice to the people. For as long as they were the voice of the people, they thrived. In modern times newspapers have become parrots for big business and government. Therein is the real issue. To survive, they must once again become the place the people turn to hear what their neighbours have to say.

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