Tag Archives: Canada

Welfare: For Freeloaders or Desperados

The history of social welfare has been long and varied, being part of the Roman, Islamic and Jewish empires. It has covered different groups with different criteria but overall it was for the poor and needy, for the elderly, widows and people with disabilities.

Canada has had a welfare system since the Great Depression. Part of a social welfare system, in Canada’s case includes health care, education and supporting the underprivileged. It can vary from province to province as to what specific criteria are. There is also the specific welfare part of welfare, which is helping those who are unemployed or unemployable.

I have had the unfortunate experience of needing welfare firsthand. When I was in my 20s I hit a time of recession in the province and couldn’t get a job. Putting in over 50 applications a month landed me nothing. I had no choice but to go on welfare. As it turned out there was a period when my other two roommates were in the same situation. We would get a few tins of food from the food bank and limp celery and eked by. I had no savings, no car and was not even sure how to do more than I already was.

Eventually I ended up with a part-time job for two days a week. The business was good enough to pay me under the table. If they had taken deductions and given me a pay slip I would have had to report it to welfare. That amount I made would then be deducted from my welfare payments. Welfare at that time paid something like $300-400 a month, hardly enough to live on. I could lay around and get $400 or I could work part-time and get $400. There really wasn’t incentive to even work part-time. So the under the table arrangement helped me survive because who can survive on that amount when rent is $300?

I then got a second part-time job and worked under the table there for two days a week. That gave me four days at part-time. It made the welfare bearable but still hard to do much. At the same time both businesses offered me a full-time job and I went with the one that I thought would keep me interested longer. I got off of welfare with a huge sigh of relief. It was humiliating and belittling.

In Canada’s past, women and single mothers on welfare weren’t allowed to have boyfriends and their virtue and chastity were watched as much as their bank accounts. This attitude can perpetuate in our society. It’s one thing to be buying designer clothes but to have nice clothes and a haircut for applying for jobs is another thing. Yet people have been scrutinized and punished if they try to have any normal aspect of living. “Welfare bums” are relatively rare and those who are like that often have other underlying conditions that could do well with other government services. If a person is an alcoholic or drug addict or socially inept or unhygienic, which stops them getting a job, then the answer is not to leave them on welfare but to help them become another useful cog in society’s great machine.

Yes cogs. The cut and dryness, or the black and white world of welfare is denigrating and hard. Most people don’t choose to be there as it’s no way to live. My second brush with welfare was at a point when I was trying to move out of freelancing into another job. I was in school full-time for three months doing an apprenticeship program in script supervising. Unlike every other person in the course I had neither a spouse to support me through the program, nor was I able to get unemployment insurance because I was a freelancer. I did have two publishers in New York and on average received one manuscript a month from each. This was enough to get by on while finishing the program.

Unfortunately, both publishers went under or changed focus (one to movies) at the same time and I lost my source of income. I didn’t want to forego the course but what money I had got me through to the end of November and I still had December to go with no options. I went to welfare and said I only needed $300 to pay my rent and I could get by. ( I lived alone and had no roommates). At that time I had a grand whopping total of about $4,000 in RRSPs. RRSPs are heavily taxed if you take them out early. They are also taxed if you take them out when you’re older. But people get them as retirement income, a way to cushion one’s unemployed elder years.

Welfare would give me no money at all. Not even $5. Here I was, in school, going through training, with no options and they wanted me to cash in that $4,000, so that I could then depend on the state for longer when I was older, use medical services more because I was not living well, or more likely, end up living under a bridge. This was the government’s solution. Of course the rate of welfare isn’t much higher than it once was but I probably needed to be a drug addict to get any support. It was the only time in my life where I was seriously contemplated prostitution. I just couldn’t get up my nerve to do it, yet this is where my government wanted me to be.

So the next time you pass judgment on one of those welfare bums, trying walking and living a mile in their shoes. Welfare isn’t for the weak at heart and most people can’t even survive on it. There is no such thing as living a free and easy life while on it. Oh, and how did I get through that month? By the good graces of friends and family. My landlords only charged me a half a month’s rent. People sent me money and I gave out no Christmas gifts. I thank my lucky stars I had such generous people in my life.

http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/bc_welfare_time_limits.htm

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Rationing During the World War

I wasn’t around during either World War so can only use my imagination, history texts and those oh-so-accurate Hollywood movies for my impressions of it. My parents both had been in the tail-end of WWII. I can also take memories as my mother has told me a few stories about those times.

Velorution_vintage_poster_pin_up_giWhen I was a child my mother had this drawer in the china cabinet (a pretty old and shoddy one) that was full of stuff. It had playing cards, some with girly pinups (of my father’s), ashtrays, rumoli chips, cribbage boards, coasters and whatnot. It also had a small stack of postcards. Where they came from I’m not sure. Some were joke or funny postcards but all were illustrated as opposed to photographs. A few of these had those classic pictures of a woman, pin-up style of course, showing stockings and peeks of underwear.

One particular card I remember had a woman holding her hand over her mouth as her underwear puddled around her feet while she watched a man change her tire. I recall other cards with the dropping underwear thing and just never got it. It wasn’t until my mother told me that rubber was rationed in the war that I started to understand.

When the Japanese and Germans cut off supply lines for various items, the UK, Canada and US (along with needing various items to feed the troops) brought in war rationing as well as other countries affected by the war. Rationing lasted from 1942-47 in Canada, from 1942-46 in the US and from 1939-1954 in the UK. Obviously European countries were harder hit as they were directly in the line of fire and did not have the range of resources that N. America had.

Rubber was needed for tires and other items so it was rationed on civilian cars, but it also affected fashion. There were no elastic waistbands in underwear, nor straps on bras. And no wonder women cherished the silk stocking from France. Clothing in general, especially in Europe was rationed as well and people were only allowed to buy so much in a year and had to use ration coupons for everything. Of course rationing affected all types of food as well.

My mother told me about the problems of wearing the button underwear of yesteryear. The buttonholes were given to stretching, which often caused a malfunction of the underwear. She said she saw this well-dressed woman walking along the street one day and slowly this pink fabric began to creep below her coat. The woman stopped, stepped out of her underwear and kept walking, leaving the pink offender behind. Women often put safety pins into their underwear to secure it better. Imagine our world now, if we had nothing that stretched. That would eliminate almost all underwear out there including yoga and exercise wear, bumpers, steering wheels, tires, boots, shoes, electronics from phones to kettles, you name it.

We don’t realize how much we have and in a world of the world wars, people were cut off from various supplies. My mother also commented on chocolate and while she was stationed in England a friend was sent several squares of chocolate. Not even a whole bar. Her friend shared with my mother and they would take one small bite of chocolate. She’d stare in windows at pastries she couldn’t afford with her rations.

We live in the have and have not world now. A third world country has people who won’t read this. They’re not thinking of internets or blogs or social networking. They’re thinking of how to get another meal and finding enough shelter. In North America, for almost all countries, the poorest people have TVs and phones and several sets of clothes. They may be of poor quality and made of stretchy material that was so hard to get so long ago, but they have the essentials.  We toss out clothing that is out of fashion by a few months. We get rid of clothes that are too tight or too big.

During the war, people would have made do, or would have taken up needle and threadmake-do-and-mend to adapt. In some ways it wouldn’t be a bad thing to bring back some rationing. Too many countries are using resources at a phenomenal rate, depleting trees, water, minerals beyond our ancestors’ wildest nightmares. We waste millions of tons of stuff a year that gets sent to landfills, and yet, we want more. If our society continues to live in the more is better attitude and that a person’s success is judged by how much they accrue, well then, we certainly won’t have more in fifty years.

Everyone needs to take a history lesson, thank their lucky stars and consider how we could use those mindsets that were done for war but could be done for economy today. I’m sure I would moan with everyone else if rationing came in (where backyard gardens also flourished) but I would make do and be no worse for wear.

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Who Watches the Watchmen: Police Investigating Themselves

Canada’s police have been going through the ringer lately and rightfully so. We have both civic police and the RCMP. In some cities and jurisdictions the RCMP are the only police force where there is no other policing body. They are spawned from Canada’s oldest police unit, the NorthWest Mounted Police (NWMP). They began with the fur trade, the frontier and the Gold Rush. There are romantic images of Mounties on their horses, dressed in the traditional red serge uniform with the brown stetson hat. They were considered noble and strong, and the Mounties “always get their man” was a tagline for years.

Now, a cumulation of mismanagement, inferior training, bad judgment calls and arrogance have come back to smack the force in the face. Their reputation has deteriorated so much in recent years that they are becoming a laughing stock. It didn’t help that they sold the copyright to their image to Disney. Yes, perhaps Mickey Mouse could do better in red serge.

What has lead to this now lamentable record and public scorn? There are several very public cases, the most notorious, that of Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death at the Vancouver airport by four RCMP officers. Dziekanski’s biggest fault: he didn’t speak English and was confused from hours of being lost in the airport with inept handling from airport staff. And he picked up a desk stapler. The ensuing inquiry that wrapped up recently showed a farce of statements by the supposedly well-trained Mounties who should be able to resolve many situations with communication and not escalated violence.

Besides statements that contradicted the video footage (and without it Dziekanski would be dead and we would never have come close to the truth) the big, strong and supposedly fit officers feared for their lives and that of their fellow officers, because Dziekanski picked up a desk stapler. As I’ve said before, if these guys get scared so easily then they have no right being a police officer. And this statement, them fearing for their lives, is a crucial phrase that probably every RCMP officer ever investigated for a death at their hand has uttered.

Other notable cases were that of Kevin St. Arnaud, shot dead after being chased through a field and surrendering. The officer, a rookie, said St. Arnaud looked threatening and was overtop of him where he fell, when he fired. Witnesses (including 24-year veteran officer) and forensic evidence indicated the officer was standing and five meters away when he fired, and that St. Arnaud had raised his hands in surrender. The outcome: the officer was not found to have committed any wrongdoing.

The other case was Ian Bush, shot in the back of the head while in police detention. Again, it took place in northern BC and a rooky copy said it was self-defense because he was being choked. Yet Bush was shot in the back of the head, not the side or front. Forensic evidence and character witnesses didn’t match up to what happened. Yet again, the officer feared for his life.

These are just three cases that took place in BC, and rookie cops were involved in two of them But in all three a man died and the officers feared for their lives in questionable circumstances. And in all three, charges were not laid, though the Dziekanski case could still see charges brought against the officers because of its high publicity if nothing else. And in all three cases the police investigated their own.

There have been outcries of biased investigation, which the RCMP adamantly deny. Of course they would but the evidence stacks against them. Questionable outcomes, officers never found in the wrong and a system that perpetuates itself in negligence and inefficient training have knocked the RCMP down to little better than some criminals. Still, this is not the majority of officers, but bad and very notorious publicity hurts their image as a whole.

Some areas in Alberta use retired police officers to investigate deaths involving officers but even so, there is still the possibility of the police protecting their own and staying loyal to an ethic that has been passed down through the years. Having different officers from other regions investigate an event has the same problem. Sometimes junior officers have investigated senior officers, where inexperience will lend itself to abuse or misjudgment.

The recently completed report on RCMP self-investigation recommends “that serious cases involving sexual assault, death or serious injury cases should, in some cases, be turned over to outside investigators to ensure independence.” Absolutely. And though the RCMP are balking at some of these recommendations, there shouldn’t be a problem if an investigative body was set up. These situations are still relatively rare and no matter where a death or sexual assault happened in the province investigators could fly there within two hours.

It will be extremely rare where there could be two cases at once. The RCMP should welcome a nopartial investigation. As well, as I’ve said before they need to look at themselves and their training all over again. New drivers in BC have to display an “N” for a year or two and have certain restrictions. Perhaps rookies in the RCMP should have the same and not be allowed out on their own or maybe even carry a gun until they know how to handle themselves. (Ireland actually runs with no police officers carrying guns.) And some retraining in nonagressive means needs to be carried out. A friend who was once a police officer said that officers are not given much training in martial arts or even negotiation, which means they’ll often go for weapons before negotiation.

I hope the RCMP will see this as a way to buff up their now very tarnished image (especially in BC) and accept the recommendations gracefully. I hope they’ll look at retraining and extended training in peaceful negotiations and in disarming someone without escalating violence. And I hope they will be able to live up to the former image of being Canada’s finest and noble security force.

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Separtism vs Unity

I was going to write a book review today but this is more important. Thanks, Stephen Harper, for raising the hoary head of separatism yet again. Wasn’t it enough that it’s almost torn the country apart twice in the past?

Stephen Harper is like Gordon Campbell. They both have this smooth plasticky look that I’ve never trusted. And Gordon Campbell’s adamant voice this last week against a coalition partially formed of his party (albeit at a federal level) really cements that he is a Conservative in Liberal clothing. BC Liberals are the same as Alberta Conservatives.

Anyway, I wouldn’t trust either as far as I could throw them. But back to Harper who in his arrogance not just poked at the sleeping lion of separatism, but prodded it with a red hot poker. He has single handedly guaranteed that the Conservatives will not win in Quebec’s provincial election that’s coming up.

Although I do not like what the Bloc stands for and there is a huge problem in having a federal party that is only concerned with one geographic area (I don’t think it should be allowed at all but how do you word something like that?), they are a valid party in the current parameters and have to be respected in that aspect.

When Harper said, “The highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if one wants to be prime minister, one gets one’s mandate from the Canadian people and not from Quebec separatists,” he pried open the lid on the issue that will not die and now has another chance to suck the lifeblood from Canada. Somehow, he neglected to understand that Quebec is part of Canada.  He pitted anglophone Canada against francophone.

But of course, he isn’t the only one who sees Quebec as separate. Jacques Parizeau, a former Quebec premier, was quoted as saying, “The fact that the Bloc got Stéphane Dion to sign a political accord in which it is explicitly written that he undertakes  ‘to act in partnership with Canadians and the Québécois should bring a smile to the face of many sovereigntists.’ ” Here again we see Québécois as separate or other from Canadians when in fact they are Canadians.

The separatist (or soverignist if you want the word that muddies the connotations) movement has surged like a tide in the past. A good French-Canadian friend has told me that the provincial government often keeps the Québécois insulated from the rest of the goings on in Canada. We’re a bilingual country but truly it’s Quebec and New Brunswicks and some of the other areas in eastern Canada that speak French and that right is protected. Western Canada predominantly speaks English. There is a law that public signage has to be in both languages, especially official and government signs, yet in Montreal when I was there, there was a lack of English

The Québécois have received many rights protecting their culture, which is absolutely fine but they don’t always realize that they sometimes have more rights than the rest of Canada. And then on top of that, there are those who foment views that they’re hard done by, they’re picked on, they’re whatever. Canada is a large country with not an overly large population when you compare it to smaller countries. But Quebec is about a third of Canada’s population. There are unique areas and cultures throughout this country.

Any split of Quebec from Canada would sever Canada as a nation. We wouldn’t survive. You can’t take a chunk out of the middle and expect it to continue. Of course the Québécois wouldn’t want to take one-third of the deficit and other costs that have been spent to maintain the provinces. And the US would be waiting like a hungry shark to get the little provinces that couldn’t survive on their own. The maritimes may be the first to go. BC and Alberta (especially) would most likely survive as their own little nations.

But more than the geo-political aspects, there are those of nationality, of identity. I very much feel that I’m Canadian, so much so that when I thought of moving to Seattle to work I just couldn’t do it. Only love could make me move. I love my country in a way that’s not stand-up-and-wave-the-flag, hand-on-my-heart patriotic. But it is a deep and visceral love of this land and way of life.

It makes me furious whenever someone stirs the pot and makes people think they’re disenfranchised. Stephen Harper gave in to base prejudices and let his arrogance get the better of him. He’s been accused of showing little respect and it is damaging the nation, just as the Bloc would if they ran this country for it wouldn’t be a country for long. But saying that a government can’t work with the Bloc is thumbing one’s nose in their faces. We have a government and it is made up of several parties, including the Bloc. The governing includes all parties coming to decisions.

Unfortunately people often vote with their hearts and not their heads. I just hope that the Quebec people realize that there are many people in Canada and that we’re not all Stephen Harper. I’ve been to Montreal and it is beautiful and intriquing and full of artistic life and unique culturer. I don’t want it to be somewhere else. I want it part of Canada. Just as I want all the idiosyncratic pieces and cultures and diversity.

And I just wish that we could see more effort in the political parties (all of them) at working together and finding solutions, rather than finding the flaws in each other and name calling. I’d rather see a party saying what they’re going to do and do it, than pointing fingers at others and saying what they’re doing. Some integrity in politics again would really be nice. So let’s stay united.

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Coalition Calamity?

Well, yes, it was inevitable that I might have an opinion on the proposed coalition of the opposition parties in an overthrow of Canada’s minority government.

Minority governments always walk a tightrope. Stephen Harper tried to set the stage for the best time to hold our election. But that’s not unusual. Politicians and all people really try to work things to their advantage. But it didn’t work quite the way the Conservatives hoped. Yet again, another minority government.

This is not a good time for anyone moving into a position of government. Obama has his work cut out for him, picking up George Bush’s mess and the plummeting economy. But it’s the same here. Economy has moved to the forefront and Harper, with a minority government has a had lot. Yet, he has come across already as totalitarian and keeping such a tight leash on his MPs that they’re often crippled in making their decisions.

Then the new budget came, the tightening of the belt and the Conservatives seem to have made a fatal mistake. Many donations by companies to political parties have been severely limited. It makes sense because these factors could unfairly influence (bribe) a party in power to consider their wishes. When the Conservatives said they would cut public funding to the parties, it seemed the last straw. Here are the pertinent bits about funding from the Elections Canada website: http://www.elections.ca/content

The legislation was rooted in the belief that the primary source for contributions to political parties and candidates should be individuals giving relatively small amounts, as opposed to larger donations. The new regulations, therefore, stipulated that each elector could contribute up to a total of $5,000 a year to the electoral district associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a registered political party, while donations to these entities from corporations and trade unions were limited to $1,000. Furthermore, while individuals could contribute directly to the registered party, corporations and unions could not. To police the new rules, the act also stipulated that candidates and parties should disclose contribution information within a set period of time after an election, and leadership contestants should do so during and after a leadership contest.

As a counterbalance to the new contribution limits, however, Bill C-24 also introduced significant ongoing public financing for political parties. These provisions entitled any party receiving a minimum percentage of the popular vote in a general election to an annual public allowance proportional to its share of votes. The concept was not new – both the Barbeau Committee in 1966 and the Lortie Commission in 1992 acknowledged that funding for political parties through direct public subsidies was a good idea. Bill C-24 introduced annual allowances, recognizing that parties should be compensated for the loss of their customary funding stream from large corporate and union donations – and that the political party is arguably the focal point of a vibrant and viable democratic system.

Oops, the parties really didn’t like that. But there was some fast backtracking by the Conservatives and they said they would not lower public funding. But since the Liberals and NDP have tossed in their lot, they’re now steaming ahead saying there wasn’t a good economic package. And we’re off to the races.

Now the Bloc has thrown in with the Liberals and NDP to form a coalition government. But compare the Bloc to Judas or any other turncoat. They’re in it for themselves, not for the good of Canada. It’s the one biggest flaw in the coalition package. I think there should be a bill against allowing a party to run that has no federal or countrywide interests because the Bloc doesn’t care about any province but Quebec and they’re happy to use everything to their own advantage. Splitting up Canada doesn’t bother them because they think it will make Quebec stronger, not seeing the big shark that waits south of the border to gobble up the pieces of a dismembered nation.

They can be trusted to support a coalition as long as it serves them. Harper and the Conservatives are now taking out ads saying the other parties are conniving, stealing the leadership of the country, undermining our democracy. Though these moves are far from common, there is room in our constitution for such a coalition. I’m willing to see what happens. After all, Italy has had to function this way quite a few times. What I’m not for is public tax dollars going to any campaign for or against the coalition. The ads coming out that I couldn’t care less about better not be using public money but then if the parties are publicly funded, I guess it is, one way or the other.

The one thing all the political parties know is that if we went to another election we would make two records, The most federal elections in the shortest number of years, and the lowest voter turnout in Canada’s history. I for one don’t want to see more campaigning. I’m sick of it and campaigning for/against the coalition is not going to endear me to any party.

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Prince Chuck Turns 60

It was in the news today. England’s Prince Charles turned 60, the oldest Prince of Wales ever. The media hyped it as “he’s been waiting his whole life to be king.” Well, la de dah. I’ve been waiting forever to be queen or a goddess and it’s not happening either.

But besides sour grapes I think the monarchy is a thing of the past. Over the millennia of culture growing and changing (and it seems, sometimes devolving) we’ve gone from loose-knit tribes through feudal states and monarchies to the current trend of dictatorships, distorted democracies and fanatical regimes. Hmmm, maybe we haven’t evolved or changed as much as we thought.

The media talked about Prince Chuck throwing himself into environmental and humanitarian affairs. That’s great. Really. And I doubt he or much of the royal family would survive long if they just sat around on their royal duffs. But you know, I too could do great works and wonders if I had the wagon loads of cash these guys have. And I would get to wear expensive jewels, attend gala affairs and be called ruler of my country when in fact I was nothing but a figurehead.

Yep, there are no teeth to the British royal family. Should they exert their might they would find it circumvented very quickly. After 1600 and Cromwell’s reign royalty roles changed. Unlike France, where they lost their heads, or Russia where the royalty went to a mass grave, the Brits managed to stay in some semblance of power.

What I’ve never been able to understand is the kowtowing that my country, Canada does to Britain. Once upon a time we were a colony. But we gained independence, didn’t we? Yet our coins are festooned with the head of Queen Elizabeth II and our constitution has her listed as the top honcho. The Governor General, a role appointed by the Prime Minister, is the Queen’s representative in Canada. Again it’s mostly a figurehead role though the Governor General is head of the Canadian armed forces. Could we see a day where the Governor General raised up in a coup, representing the queen (or king), and fought parliament for the right of sovereign soil?

I doubt it but weirder things have happened. Still, the role of Governor General, or monarch of Britain for that matter is that of cheerleader and publicist. A very rich publicist but when it comes to politics we (Britain, Canada, probably a few other countries that still have monarchs) let our elected politicians make decisions. It’s not that much better or different. We don’t pay tithes to the king or queen anymore but we pay enough in taxes that it equals a king’s ransom. But look at the countries with no figureheads; it’s not a lot different. Still, I prefer at least the belief that I chose who is ruling my country than someone who gets born to the position.

And should anyone wish to make me queen or goddess, I promise to do as much as the British royal family.

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Politicians, Pot and Prohibition

In the last week two NDP candidates have had to step down because there were pictures/videos of them smoking pot. And another candidate once upon a time skinny dipped in front of teenagers. There were never any charges laid, none of the teenagers or parents ever complained, and RCMP cleared him of wrongdoing. Yet he’s had to resign from running. Something that people need to understand about the West Coast and the island communities is that it’s not abnormal for people to be free an easy. To get your knickers in a twist over someone skinny-dipping is a little over the top. The politicians are really desperate if that’s all they can find. I certainly would rather have someone dipping into the drink nude than have them scam the country of a few million or outright lying.

But that’s the lesser issue. There is the oh so horrible aspects of marijuana. Granted it was pretty stupid letting yourself ever be filmed if you have aspirations in politics but smoking pot is pretty much so minor that it doesn’t amount to even a crime. Being filmed driving under the influence of anything is a little more serious.

But let’s look at this. Pothead politicians. Hmm. When a person is high on pot, they tend to sit around, maybe eat, maybe sleep. People on pot are never seen as being zippy and really, how much crime is contributed to just potheads? I’m not talking grow ops or dealing but just plain ole smoking. Compare it to drinking. Drinking alcohol and buying/distributing it is legal. A person drunk can cause way more damage, possibly get in fights, and then drive cars. Our premier Gordon Campbell was caught and fined for drunken driving in Hawaii and he certainly thumbed his nose at everyone and didn’t step down. So why should someone who smokes pot, or swims naked do so when they’re not even in the government yet?

This comes down to the decriminalization of marijuana. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is… Why? I wish I really knew. There are illegal grow ops everywhere, the Hell’s Angels and other criminal organizations are involved in it and make millions every year. If it was decriminalized and regulated like alcohol was, then the government would actually make money on it, like it does on alcohol. When prohibition was in effect, more in the US than Canada, criminals raked in the money and not only that, became better established. We all have images of Bonnie and Clyde times (though they were bank robbers) and moonshine.

In Vancouver, with all the crime we have (home & car break-ins) you never hear that some crazy pothead was doing it or that potheads are living on the street. No, it’s crack and crystal meth and heroin that puts people on the street, and leads them to prostitution and burglary. Legalizing marijuana would actually make it far more controllable. I’m not even sure who is against it, some conservatives obviously that feel that it’s what, the devil’s tool, undermining our youth? I just don’t know but the harms of pot are far less than alcohol and people aren’t killed in car accidents by multitudes of pot smokers. Sure there may be some accidents but the majority are alcohol induced. Better the devil you know.

As far as I can see it, some guy running in politics who confesses to having smoked pot seems such a minor misdemeanour compared to a drunk driving premier. (But then Campbell was in good company with the equally drunken Klein–actually Klein was much more an expert at drinking and only cursed beggars and threw money at them.) It would be better for our resources if police could concentrate on serious crimes and just think, the proceeds of selling marijuana could go to fighting other drug crimes.

I think we have a very skewed society where true perpetrators of crimes and politicians who break promises and rip up emplyment contracts (Campbell) can stay in power (including the mayor of PoCo charged with violence and yet won’t step down) and some skinny dipper has to give up running. It makes me even more dubious that anything can ever change in this country because the old crusty suits still run the show in outmoded ways. Do I find a broken campaign promise worse than a guy smoking pot? Yes. I certainly wouldn’t care if he did smoke pot. And like past US president Clinton, these guys should have said that they didn’t inhale.

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Omar Khadr, Politics and Guantanamo

From CBC’s website: http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/khadr/omar-khadr.html

On March 31, 2008, Senator Romeo Dallaire added his name to the growing list of people calling for the Canadian Government to do more to get Omar Khadrout of Guantanamo Bay and back into Canada. Khadr has been held without trial at the U.S. military prison there for five and a half years. He’s being tried for the murder of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002, and questioned repeatedly about his own and his family’s links to al Qaeda.

There has been much ado about Omar Khadr, the child soldier caught during one of the Afghanistan raids by US forces. He’s the only Canadian still held at Guantanamo Bay and is finally, supposedly coming to trial. But there are complications. Part is that he was a brainwashed teenager who believed in fundamental Islam. The Canadian government hasn’t wanted to dirty its hands and his family here has come across as unsympathetic in their support Al Qaeda beliefs.

However, there are some fundamental aspects to war and Guantanamo Bay that I’m finding hard to fathom. Guantanamo, holding pen for people on the wrong side of George Bush’s crusade. I’m betting that 90% or more of them have brown skin. I’m betting a fair number are Muslims. Today CBC was talking about the unwanted in Guantanamo Bay. Nine hundred people have been processed through there in seven years. And most of those people were innocent, probably living quietly now and too afraid or ashamed to mention what happened, that the US made a mistake, a huge mistake There are another five hundred still there and most of them will never be charged. What to do with them.

Well, the US is trying to send them off to other countries or their home countries, to settle back in. But the US will not send people to a country that has other human rights issues. Does anyone else see the irony in this?Hello? What was being held for seven years without representation or a trial? Putting the people on Guantanamo Bay instead of US soil doesn’t excuse US policy and the military for infringement of rights. We could call this one of the biggest follies in recent history. George Bush’s little rug under which to sweep the dirty politics.

Now, of those people who don’t want to go back to their home countries (because they’d be tortured) or the US won’t send them, well they’re stuck waiting for some other country to help the US clean up its mess. The US, for some odd reason, doesn’t want to actually repatriate any of these people in the US. Come on, CIA, you can watch those potential bad guys right on your own doorstep.

Okay, so Guantanamo is made up of a mixture of several groups. Some are people picked up as suspected terrorists. You can bet that anyone they thought for sure was active was already shipped to a country with “soft” human rights when it comes to prisoners, and that those people were already tortured for information.  Just look at Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who after being sent to Syria by US officials for torture, was found to be innocent. Even after that, the US refuses to give him an apology. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/arar/

We know there are many other innocents, people in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong color skin, who ended up in Guantanamo. There are also those who have fought against the US in Afghanistan or Iraq. Hmm, let’s see, the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to say that there wasn’t huge subjugation and injustices perpetrated against those citizens but I always thought that soldiers (whether paid or volunteer) were taken as prisoners of war. Those taken, say, in WWII, who were Nazis, were usually released back at the end of the war. Those who had committed unspeakable humans rights violations were tried for those crimes that contravened the Geneva Convention.

So, what about those people in Guantanamo? Are some awaiting an end of an endless war? Are some awaiting trial? It’s a pretty grey no-man’s land there. But let’s look at Omar Khadr again. He was a soldier recruited/influenced/brainwashed at a young age to fight. He was in a firefight when he was taken. Soldiers against soldiers in Afghanistan. But he’s being tried as an adult (they had to wait several years for that) for terrorism? For war crimes? There have been many child soldiers from Somalia. I have a friend in Massachussetts who helped raise four who were teenagers when they were freed and re-socialized. Those men all went on to university. What does Omar Khadr get?

What’s the difference? Religion. If we take the religious fear/bigotry/misunderstanding out of the picture we still have a teenage boy who was caught up in a war, fighting in battle. It’s pretty difficult to remove it completely, obviously but when someone is treated differently than other child soldiers and other soldiers because of fear and hatred, well it really puts into question the human rights abuses of the US. I wonder if George Bush will be tried for war crimes when all is said and done? Probably not. There is a bigger fear than religious bigotry and that is of the US setting an embargo against your country or riding slipshod over the Geneva Convention to suit its ends. Which country was it that used a nuclear device?

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Politicians: Good or Evil?

My brother is in town visiting. We always get into interesting discussions about many things and often poltics. You see, he was a politician in Alberta for fifteen years. He told me that when he began they would spend at least 25% of their meetings looking at long-term solutions and problems. When he finished, no time was spent on the long term.

As a member of the population I often rale against the government for being so short sighted, not looking to our future and planning properly. Like many people, I have less faith in politicians. I don’t believe they’ll do what they say they will. I do believe that they will take on a cause, not for it being right, but because it will garner them votes.

My brother blames the media for the change; for making all politicians look corrupt, for changing the attitude of the population and therefore the government’s to short-term vision, for being biased. He does have a point. After all, most politicians are not caught in scandals; my brother wasn’t corrupt. But I believe the blame can be shared three ways: by the politicians, the media, the people.

The media is a very powerful tool. The best way to take over a country is to control the media. Writers/journalists get imprisoned all the time, proving that the pen is more feared than the sword to those in power. The media can make or break a career, a scandal, the outcome of an election. Over the years, we know, good news is no news. Much better to report on the disasters, the murders, the scandals. It won’t sell if it’s sweet and good and positive. No, we must always always delve to the deepest darkest depths of even the most innocuous thing.

What then happens is that an even is blown out of proportion. The molehill does become the mountain. M. Bernier leaves a dossier in his girlfrend’s place and no one knows till she seeks revenge after the break up. I’m no fan of the current Conservatives but in perspective, almost every single politician takes work home with them. Those that are married probably have it where their spouses, children or even friends of the family might happen upon it, especially if they want to. Those who have boyfriend/girlfriends have the same situation. Truly it’s done all the time.

My brother said that England has a closer check and balance. Politicians still take their work home but it’s delivered in a locked box and they must enter a code. It’s then returned the same way. But if a politician forgets something somewhere, hopefully it’s not of highest state security and most likely they made a mistake. They are human. But one hopes they’e not lackadaisical and not purposefully sabotaging their office or the people.

Yet polliticians will pick up a cause when it’s newsworthy and will keep them in the best light. Look at Tony Blair announcing that the environment was in dire trouble from pollution. Duh! I knew this when I was 18 but the government of Canada suddenly jumps on the bandwagon that Blair provided and makes it sound like they’re the first to notice and that they will be innovative in what they’re fixing. (Let’s not mention the rebate that they’re getting rid of this year for buying smaller, gas-efficient cars).

So, they make a big hullabaloo and everyone goes, oh aren’t they wonderful. And in the meantime, everyone forgets that the government is running slipshod over the medical system, because the media is waving the flags and the government is singing the party line and the shortsighted population only thinks for the moment.

Worst of all is that politicians say what they think people want them to hear. They do their dire worst in the first two years of their governing, then pull out the cake and champagne and the fickle voters forget everything. I still remember Bill VanderZalm, premier of BC, offering to lower the price of beer because it was a working man’s drink and they needed to be able to buy it. Of course he never did lower the price. It wasn’t really his jurisdiction and who remembered?

So, are politicians good or evil? Considering that most do try to do their best, aren’t corrupt and are human, able to make mistakes and great strides, most aren’t evil. Some are definitely self-serving. Others are two-faced. David Emerson stands out in that crowd. But politics is not pretty, by its very nature.

The voters, they’re not good or evil either, but they are fickle and shortsighted so the politicians cater to that. The media, well, it might be the most insidious evil or the greatest good. The media can certainly develop a hive mentality and chew something past the marrow in the bone.

And of course, nothing is absolute. Not all of any of these groups is one thing. There are those of us who work for the benefit of others, and those who do for themselves. There is good, evil, mismanagement and ineptitude. There is the flow of favoritism. I like to think that I want a long-sighted government that doesn’t ignore the short-term needs. Perhaps one day everything will swing back again. After all, the government even acknowledging that the environment is in danger speaks of looking to the future. Now if they would only come up with some real long-range solutions.

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Health Care: Canada & the US

One great difference between the US and Canada is the litigiousness of the US. Americans seem to sue over a pinprick, a spilled coffee, personal stupidity. I remember a friend who does some sailing sending me an article at one point from one of his sailing magazines.

It was about a man trying to sue his sailboat insurance company because his ex-girlfriend was suing him for giving her genital herpes. His case against his insurance company had been dismissed with the following (paraphrased) statement: Unless the boat veered suddenly and Mr. Jones fell with his open mouth upon his girlfriend’s naked vagina, it is impossible to list this as the insurance company’s fault.

It was hilariously ludicrous that the guy would even try but through the years of talking to my many friends over the border I’ve come to understand some of the litigious nature. It boils down to the difference between our universal medicare program and the “everyone for themselves” system of the US.

True, many companies (most?) offer healthcare benefits in the US because people can’t otherwise afford to have themselves covered, but there are horrendous gaps. I know a couple with two kids who can only insure their children under their work insurance but can’t afford to cover the whole family. I have a friend who is diabetic and, years ago, was paying $800/month for health care insurance. Another friend would have to drive over an hour to a practitioner covered by her insurance plan. And, unbelievable to anyone in Canada where we have a shortage of practitioners, I know a doctor who couldn’t get a job because of how the insurance companies worked. Not to mention all those people with low-paying jobs and no insurance. How do you get it? Join the navy, army or air force.

Still, in Canada, you might wait months to see a specialist, to even get a doctor, for an operation and die in the process. But if you have a baby, break a leg or need emergency surgery, the cost to you is covered. You don’t come out of the hospital and suffer a coronary because you’re in debt for life. It’s not a perfect system and it’s being mismanaged but it’s better than nothing.

How does this relate to the litigious nature of the US? Simple. Any time a person is injured or needs medical treatment they end up paying astronomical medical bills. Weighing the price of a lawyer against the rising medical costs leaves most people with one option: sue to cover the bills.

The US is a much more populated place than Canada. This works better for many businesses; costs for production are similar in both countries but if 10% of the population buys the item, well, that’s a big difference between the two. Could universal medicare work in the US? Since Canadian medicare comes from taxes, I bet it could. But I’m no expert or analyst. However, if one looks at the cost of suing people, of tying up the courts with medical lawsuits vs freeing them up to deal with crime, it might be that it’s cheaper all around to give some modicum of healthcare to everyone.

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