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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

I still remember the day when I discovered that the world was not the safe and inviting place that I imagined it would be. I was 16 and my geography teacher had invited a young woman from East Timor to speak to our class about the invasion of her country by the Indonesian army. A small island nation, the Indonesians exterminated one-third of the population. And nobody in the first world gave a damn.

You see, the problem with East Timor is that there are no lucrative natural resources for a foreign government to exploit, or multinational corporation to capitalize on in the shady markets of ‘free trade’. I remember feeling unimaginable sorrow that day as I contemplated the seeming unending capacity for cruelty that human beings had for one another.

It is almost 20 years since that day of awakening and my eyes continue to open wider and mind continues to be turned to the pain, sorrow and suffering that is so much a part of the human experience. There are definitely some days where I wish that I could climb back into the matrix and bury my head in he sand. I even feel jealous of those who seem completely oblivious to the world around them, able to consume, act and react with impunity — sometimes. (Mostly I just feel sorry for them though)

Here is what I know. There is profound evil in the world, but that evil is a choice. Just because the guy next to you is vile and nasty doesn’t mean that you should jump on his bitter bandwagon. You get to make a choice about the goodness and valor that you exhibit in you life with each decision that you make.

Looking back to that wide-eyed teenager, I am grateful that my eyes were opened. My life has been filled with rich knowledge and a sense of hope that cannot be found without engaging in the complex emotions of the world. While it might appear easier to live a life of ignorance and gluttony, the wealth of experience and knowledge can only be found by surrendering your emotions, to understand joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy.

To be human is to feel. Choose to be human.

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What is the value of money? If you are like most people the value of money is expressed by the things that you can purchase. If $100 can buy you what you value then the worth of that money is great. If, on the other hand, $100 cannot buy you what you want then we tend to believe that the worth of that money is small.

I’ve been considering the worth of money a lot over the past few months, perhaps because it is tax season, a time to reflect on all of the money earned and spent during the year. How much is money really worth to me? Granted, money allows me to purchase the necessities of life including food, shelter and clothing. On top of that it affords my a plethora of luxuries which also happen to include food, shelter and clothing, among other indulgences. The fact that I spend a disproportionate amount of my day earning, or preparing to earn, money would suggest that I place a very high value on money. That would be wrong.

I strongly believe that there will come a day, in the not too distant future, that we will be forced to reconsider the value we place on money. Decisions like the US quantitative easing devalue the worth of a currency while flooding billions into the coffers of the ultra-rich. There will come a time when money will have collected so disproportionately in the pockets of the minority that the majority will simply decide that money no longer has any real value and we will recalibrate the measurement of value in our lives.

Might I suggest some measurements of real value:

1. Access to clean drinking water
2. Access to, and the ability to grow, clean and nutritious food.
3. A diversified and resilient local economy. (Economy does not equal money!)
4. Friends and family that you can depend on to assist in times of need.
5. The freedom to learn and apply the skills learned.

This is a short list, one that could definitely be supplemented by the comments of others. My point is that we invest, sacrifice, even lie, cheat and steal in some cases, to gain more money, when the precarious relationship we have with money is built on the pretext that money holds a constant value in our lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Money is no more constant than the shifting sands of a desert or the drifting winter snow.

What I would suggest is that we revalue our lives and the actions we take based on those things that hold true value for us. As we gain permanence of perspective, as we build resilient and powerful communities and families, when we can find peace in doing what we need to do and want to do we will finally rediscover the true value of life and the experiences that make it an adventure. Then, and only then, will we realize that money is nothing more than a polite social contract between friends and that our perception of worth has been hijacked to make the minority wealthy in this new paradigm of value.

It is time that we take back the definition of wealth and revalue humanity and nature as invaluable resources that are worth saving through collective sacrifice.

What do you value? What are you willing to sacrifice?

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Partisan politics are poison.  Politics, like sports, seem to be some obscene justification for the vilification of your neighbour, postman, and complete strangers.  Even more tragic are the inherited party allegiances that seem to pass from parents to children in this age of identity confusion.

I grew up in a small town in Ontario.  My parents were, and still are, Liberals.  In the intervening years since leaving the protection of their voting history I have voted Green (at least twice, maybe three times), Liberal (at least twice) and Conservative (a couple of times, maybe more).  I’ve never voted NDP, though I think that Jack Layton is an upstanding guy, as I can’t agree with their pro-union stance.  Workers rights, absolutely — pro-union, not so much.

Why am I baring my political soul online?  I do it to make a point.  I am not Liberal, Conservative, or Green.  I have liberal views, conservative views, and views from all over the political map.  I vote for fiscal conservatism, small government, and environmental sustainability.  I also vote for preservation of the family, for the supports of our aging population and our children.  Moreover, I refuse to be classified by my political views, no matter the business, personal or political advantages it may bring to me or my family.

To be classified by a political policy, especially one that I have no part in developing, minimizes my contribution to the world and underestimates my ability to assess and react to the changing tides of the world.  To identify myself as ‘Conservative’ (or any other party) makes me an indentured servant, forever defending their positions, even when I may completely disagree with the absurdity that they foist on the Canadian people.  I am an individual, with unique thoughts, ideas, hopes and aspirations.

If you want to win my vote, don’t promise to spend my tax dollars giving back a pittance of what I pay, *DO* these three things:

1)  Be open, honest and transparent.  I may not like the decisions you make, but if I can understand the logic you followed at least I can begin to understand why the decision was made.

2) Don’t vilify your opponents.  They are men and women, husbands and wives, sons and daughters … just like you and I.  Sure we may disagree on the nuances of governance, but we are all civil human beings, and should act as such.  We are not our political stripes, but part of the human family.

3) Be democratic.  If our children behaved the way that our politicians behave, we would have grounded them for eternity.  There is nothing civil about politics.  Instead of being ambassadors for our cities, provinces and countries, politicians come across as spoiled brats bent on making life miserable for their co-workers while blatantly ignoring the concepts of equality and justice that everyone else in society seem to hold in high esteem.

Next time you are in a conversation with someone and discover that they are not of the same political stripe, take a deep breath and set it aside.  Their political profile doesn’t really matter after all.  You can still enjoy a BBQ together, work together, or volunteer together.  You can break bread, hatch ideas and, most important of all, you can depend on one another in times of need.

Politics should serve humanity, not dissolve it.  If you have to wonder which political party someone belongs to before offering them a hand of help or friendship, then you are a slave to the ideals of a failed system.  Yes, the poison of partisan politics are slowly killing humanity.

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It seems like only yesterday that Canadian voters were faced with a Federal election debate that did not include the Green Party. So, imagine my surprise when the consortium of television stations decided once again to exclude Elizabeth May and the Green Party. Here’s my talking points on a travesty of democracy.

1) We spend millions of dollars to defend ‘democracy’ in foreign countries (that is a discussion for another day) but are content to circumvent the process at home.

2). The consortium seems unable to publicly justify the position they took to exclude May. Where’s Wikileaks when you need them? If this was a legit position then it wouldn’t be a problem to defend the position.

3) If elections Canada is willing to finance the party, based on their results in the last election, then that qualifies them as a legitimate party.

4) Since when did a group of corporations (remember, that is what this media consortium really is after all) get to weigh in on the process of democracy in Canada?

5) I’m not a feminist, but I think it is important for May to be acknowledge as the only female party leader. That isn’t the “only” reason to let her in, but it supports every other reason.

The reaction of the other party leaders, or more specifically their inaction and subsequent reaction, is disappointing. I don’t agree with everything the Greens stand for on their platform, but there isn’t a single party that I agree with 100%. I had considered spoiling my ballet in protest, but I think I may just vote Green instead. (Some may say that is one in the same! Touché!)

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Part of the election campaign by Barrack Obama included the declaration that his presidency would provide the ‘way forward’.  Casting himself as a beacon of hope in a turbulent world, this promise of a guidance in an uncertain world was interpreted as a return to little-r republican values — hard-work, honesty, democracy, freedom, and prosperity.  George W. Bush, and rightfully so in my mind, was portrayed as a crack-pot dictator who frightened the American people into believing that the world was out to get them and that the US military might, backed by legions of US intelligence operatives, could protect us from an unseen enemy.

The American people, and with them most Canadians and Brits, fell for it hook, line and sinker.  I can remember watching the invasion of Iraq on CNN and thinking — “Fantastic!  Once the invasion is done, and Saddam is gone, we can get back to business as usual.”  Yes, I was that nieive.

Today I watched the movie End of America, based on the book of the same title by Naomi Wolf.  In that movie, Wolf makes the assertion that the US government, along with countless other dictators of the 20th and 21st centuries, have begun to systematically remove the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution of the United States as set for by the founding fathers.  She repeatedly drew similarities between actions of the US government and the Socialist party, later the Nazi Party, in Germany in the 1930s.  This struck a chord with me as I had similar feelings when the Department of Homeland Security announced a joint effort with Wal-Mart stores across the United States in which shoppers were to watch each other and report any “suspicious” behaviour to store managers.  Much as the SS encouraged Germans to watch friends, neighbours and even family during the Nazi rule, Americans are being asked to be the eyes and ears of an already oppressively complex and invasive surveillance network that has tentacles throughout the world.

As I sat pondering what Wolf was saying in her movie, I wondered if there is a way back?  Obama promised a way forward, but I’m not particularly fond of where the United States, and my own Canada, are headed.  The environment is taking a beating because we are trying to restore an economy that was built on promises that couldn’t be kept, a veritable Ponzi scheme of stocks, bonds, pipe-dream prospectuses.  Civil liberties have been suspended for the good of society, at least that is what we tell ourselves as long as it isn’t us or our families who are being targeted by those laws.  Voters distrust their elected officials, yet they still vote along partisan lines in the hopes that, although the system is permanently fractured by nepotism, cronyism, and exploitation, that somehow they can get a few crumbs of the pie and come out ahead.

Wolf addresses the idea of a way back, but doesn’t leave much hope for reversing the exploitation of democracy.  Like sand in a clenched fist, she describes, the harder you try to hold onto the grains, the more easily they slip through your fingers.  Her analogy doesn’t offer much in the way of opportunity to fight this oppression, except through outright rebellion and revolution.  I don’t believe that is the only way, but avoiding that route requires more people to give up their bread and circuses and to give a damn about politics, the economy, the environment, their community, and spend less time worrying about themselves, getting ahead, retiring in Boca Vista, at the age of 50, or any other of those egocentric behaviours that have been fed to us as “our right”.

So, do you think that there is a way back?  If so, where is back anyway?  Once we know where we are going back to, how do we get there?

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When the sitting Liberal government announced, via the throne speech, that Islanders were going to enjoy a 14% reduction in the costs of electricity, even my usual pessimism of political proclamations gave way to a momentary sense of euphoria.  Having enjoyed the ridiculously low rates of Ontario for so many years, coming to PEI and paying $0.15 per KWh vs $0.06 was very hard to stomach.  However, recent disclosures by the Premier and the CEO of Martime Electric reveal that this is simply a game of Hide-The-Debt.

The PEI government is going to assume $35,000,000 of Maritime Electric debt to be repaid at a rate of 4% over the next 25 years.  As a result (but only in part) of that assumption of debt, Maritime Electric has agreed to reduce electricity rates by 14% over the next 2 years.  If your BS alarm is going off — good, it should.  Here`s why:

1)  Maritime Electric made $236 million in profit last year and their parent company, Fortis Inc., holds over $12 billion in assets.  Does a corporation that has consistently returned a profit, that has a market capitalization of $5.2 billion, really need the PEI government to float them a $35 million loan?

2)  Maritime Electric might be reducing the electricity rates of Islanders by 14%, but what sort of savings does that actually guarantee us?  According to Stats Canada, the average Island home used ~8300 KWh in 2007.  Given that usage hasn’t changed, and using the cost per KWh from October 2010, we can assume that the average home spends $1328 / year on electricity.  If we were to save 14% ($185.92) per year for 2 years, and given that there are 72,000 households in PEI (as per StatsCan) that means our total savings would be $13,386,240 / year or $26,772,480 over the 2 years.

Now, I’m not much of a mathematician, but that leaves us almost $10 million short on that loan we made to Maritime Electric/Fortis Inc.  As was suggested on the CBC forums, if we had just handed over the $35 million to Islanders we’d have saved ourselves an additional $114.27 per household.  Instead we use some convoluted process to route savings through a corporation that may or may not result in any real long-term savings for Islanders.

3)  Long-term savings are non-existent.  According to Martime Electric, the $35 million loan will be repaid, according to Maritime Electric, by the ratepayers.  I don’t know about you, but my home is not off the grid, nor do I have the fiscal capacity to take it off-the-grid in the next two years.  That means that, in addition to loaning Fortis Inc. $35 million, of which we’ll only see about $26 million of that returned in rate savings, we’ll also be on the hook for re-paying a loan than we lent.  This is a true “rob Peter to pay Paul” scenario.

Unfortunately we are disconnected from the political process.  There is no accountability for poor investments (ahem!) like this, nor is there a way to hold the government accountable until we go to the polls again in a little over a year.  By that time obfuscation of the truth, combined with the short-term attention spans of the general electorate, will mean that little will be debated or accounted for as politics continues its downward evolution into a popularity vote.

I’m sure there are lots of other loopholes or fiscal considerations I haven’t made in this article.  (My wife mentioned the fact that borrowing money for energy upgrades to your home is 6% — and that has the treble effect of increasing property values, reducing energy consumption, and reducing associated pollution)  If you have any other ‘gotchas’, let me know in the comments.

(Note:  I’m neither Liberal nor Conservative.  I vote for whomever strikes me as being the most able to address the short and long-term needs on my community.  Rest assured that my displeasure with this deal is not personal, but fiscal.  All I want is transparency and clarity from our elected officials, is that too much to ask?!)

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Open Government

The UK has data.gov.uk.  The US has data.gov.  Even the miserly Windsor (also my former hometown) has recently decided to get into the open data game by publishing crime statistics to a Google Maps-powered portal.

Welcome to Government 2.0.  Yes, I know that web is working its way into the version 3.0 (if you listen the pundits), but government is still stretching to web-enable services and information almost 10 years into the 21st century, let alone open the troves of data that it has stashed away in its archives.  Unlike some conspiracy theorists, I don’t believe that the dogged pace that government releases data is a direct result of some secret oath, but rather a historically slow adoption into digitized information and information sharing.

Data, once digitized, has a tendency to gather with like data.   Simply put, it has been my experience that, once a piece of information is digitized, even in notoriously closed formats like PDF, that the information will ultimately find a way into the open, whether directly or through relational databases.  Peter Rukavina’s OpenCorporations.org, now aptly named ClosedCorporations.org, is a brilliant example of what happens to digitized data.

I truly believe that if the political will to bring open data to government, whether federal, provincial or municipal, is there it will succeed.  San Francisco has been publishing municipal data in open formats for years.  Vancouver, BC has recently jumped onto the open data bandwagon with data.vancouver.ca.

So, to the candidates who will knock at my door, to those who wish the job (some may say burden) of representing the electorate for the next 4 years, I remind you “ye shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

HT @roblantz for getting me thinking about open governments again.

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