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Remembrance Day should be about honouring sacrifice, not sacrificing truth

Sat, 2017-11-11 14:58
November 11, 2017Politics in CanadaRemembrance Day should be about honouring sacrifice, not sacrificing truthThis Remembrance Day there is special emphasis on World War I. Lest we forget, that war was not only brutal and deadly, it was also, in many ways, unnecessary and unjustVimy RidgeWorld War IRemembrance DayBritish EmpirePasschendaele
Categories: News for progressives

It's hard to avoid elitism when you're smarter than everyone else

Sat, 2017-11-11 08:51

Last year's memo from voters has finally started to sink in among the bright-eyed smarties who run things, or aspire to. The message? We don't like you or trust you. Maybe we don't need you.

Here's Campbell Clark in the Globe explaining that Trudeau Liberals "can't afford to be viewed as a party of privilege."

And here's Lawrence Martin, also in the Globe, on U.S. Democrats: they must "shed the elitist image and expand their appeal to...low-educated white folk. Mr. Trump draws on the emotional intensity of the rabble. He's uninformed..."

You couldn't find a more elitist journalistic rendering of the need to shun elitism.

The Liberals, to their credit, seem to know this. It's why they want to be the party of the people or, as they call it, the middle class. But then, why do they have such trouble getting there? It's fascinating, even touching, to watch them flail and fail. Why not just denounce those elites and separate yourselves from them, as Trump did. As Bernie Sanders did, or Jeremy Corbyn.

Maybe it's not so easy when you genuinely think you are privileged -- not in the sense of moneyed, though some are; but of being worthy and meritocratic. That's how Thomas Frank describes U.S. Democrats' flattering self-image: smarter, more educated, more compassionate even -- thus best qualified to run things. Their role models? Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett.

The speedy shortcut to not being "viewed" as privileged would be not being captivated by your own elite status: knowing it's less the result of merit than of privilege itself (via family and other startup advantages, like race), plus luck.

But that would mean downgrading your self-esteem, which is a lot to ask. It's hard not to be elitist when you know you're better than everyone else.

What are the signs of ingrained elitism? There's the odious term, smart guys, for those you love associating with and, by extension, yourself. Obama used it for Buffett, et al.

I'm not sure why it enrages me. Maybe it's the implied demotic. "Hey, we're just guys, like you dummies on the outside, except we're smart and you're not. So let us drive."

Joe Biden is implied demotic, since he goes by "Joe," though he's loyally served wealth and power forever. Hillary tries for ordinary guyness but the nearest she gets is dropping her g's when she remembers to. She dotes on Henry Kissinger, a war criminal. He talks good, it's true, but so did the huckster at the Ex who I bought a useless kitchen device from when I was 10 because of his spiel. That doesn't make Hillary smart, it makes her clueless.

Another indicator is the notion that worthiness is related to education, since everyone knows Trump supporters are uneducated. (False, actually.) I'm all for good public schools but an education makes you educated, not smart -- i.e., able to think clearly and incisively. That comes from somewhere else.

Harold Innis said that when there was no system of education in England -- late 1700s to early 1800s -- more of the poor rose to "distinction" than at any other time. Koheleth (in the Bible) learned one thing from reading many books: that there's no end of them and they make you vain, not wise, since "all is vanity."

Another sign of ingrained elitism is constantly telling Canadians what they think, feel or want. I utterly fail to comprehend the appeal of this trope. This week Tory leader Andrew Scheer said: "What drives Canadians crazy is when they think..." NDP leader Singh said: "The reality is Canadians are not satisfied. Canadians expect..."

Why not just describe what you think yourself and let Canadians decide how they roll on those things. Even better, ask them! And not just on a "listening tour," as if it's a special regimen you go on, like a kelp diet.

OK, but if you don’t think you're smarter than others, or wiser, more compassionate and capable, why would you run for office at all? Good question. Maybe that's why the ancient Greeks had democracy but not elections. Policies were determined through discussion in mass assemblies of citizens. There were officials but they were selected by lot, not votes. I'm just saying.

It meant that self-satisfied elitists weren't tempted to run for public office. Not that such a thing is inevitable with our system, but it's hardly discouraged.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: The White House/Wikimedia Commons

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elitismeducationpoliticianspoliticscritical perspectivesclass privilegeRick SalutinNovember 10, 2017There are lessons for Canada's elites in the U.S. electionWhile clearly not as grim as the U.S., features in Canadian politics and society mimic those that led to the election result in the U.S.Labour activists take to the streets at hallowed ground of Canada's financial elitesOn May 11, 2017 activists and delegates of the Canadian Labour Congress gathered at the most hallowed ground of Canada's financial elites, for a street party, and to deliver a message.Quebec elites out of touch with rest of province on IsraelOne would expect Quebec politicians to be guarded with respect to relations with the Israeli government. This could not be more wrong.
Categories: News for progressives

Roger Waters talks about Palestine, peace, and joy

Sat, 2017-11-11 06:59
Martha Roth

An angel descended among us the other week -- Thursday, October 26 to be exact, at St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church in downtown Vancouver. He must have left his wings back in the hotel, but he shone out from the crowd, his righteousness, his focus and the elegance of his mind transforming his somewhat scruffy appearance. After all, why should an angel shave?

He was 74-year-old rock star Roger Waters, founding member of Pink Floyd and composer of many of the group's best songs.  He was nearing the end of a long cross-Canada tour called "Us + Them," with a full band and backup singers and huge pig balloons, an old Pink Floyd prop. He had a bad cold, but -- old pro that he is -- he was able to talk above (or below) it, and his energy lit up the church's cavernous interior.

Roger sat in a chair on the stage, between me, a Jewish woman writer in her 70s, and Itrath Syed, a much younger Muslim woman who teaches Women's Studies and Communication Studies at Langara College and Simon Fraser University, and we tag-teamed him. We asked questions about his favourite subjects: social justice in Palestine/Israel, music, politics in general, and love.

"What do you say to people who tell you to leave politics out of your shows and just do music?" asked Itrath. "They're just dumb," responded the angel, going on to prove concisely that all art, all music is political. "People who say that just don't agree with my particular politics." Without ever using the term commodity fetishism he neatly divided the world into Haves and Have-Nots. "And if you look at all deeply into the arguments of people who tell you to leave your politics at the door, you'll find them siding with the Haves."

We asked Roger about his response to critics who call him antisemitic because he supports the Palestinian call for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against the government of Israel. "It's the best way, totally nonviolent. The only way, really." We asked him about difficulties he has faced in his professional life because of his politics. "Everyone faces difficulties." We asked him about living in the United States under a Trump presidency. "He'll be gone in three years. Let's just hope he doesn't do something really stupid in the meantime."

His songs have always taken the side of justice. "You seem like someone who was born with a keen sense of right and wrong," I said, asking him what can be done about people who don't have that. "Education," he answered. "Once you know the facts, all the facts, you can't help but make the right choices." And he told us about his mother, who was a Communist schoolteacher in Cambridge. "When I was little she used to bundle me up and take me to meetings."

We asked him about a couple of songs from his new album, Is This the Life We Really Want? One of them, "Wait for Her," is based on a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet, who in turn based it on passages from the Bhagavad-Gita. Itrath called it "a truly grown-up love song," and Roger told us it was simply about love. "No politics at all, unless you realize that love is the key to everything. If we were truly capable of loving one another there would be no wars, no inequality," said this Being, and I felt a surge in my heart, and maybe in all of the thousand hearts there in the audience. Because I realized long ago that for me there are three sources of joy: music, politics -- the politics of justice -- and love. The other song was "The Last Refugee," and Roger said it was about hope, the hope that there will truly be a last refugee.

We knew from the videos available on YouTube that he would have articulate responses to anything we could throw at him, and he never repeated himself. Angels can do that, I guess -- remember everything, stay present and switch up their responses.

I was angelstruck, gobsmacked, on another plane, and this is what I can reconstruct. We had a very brief question-and-answer period which he handled gracefully, and then he stood and received thunderous applause before leaving the stage. The thousand people who came to hear him looked different going out from when they came in, calmer, smoother, more radiant. He touched us all.

Martha Roth is a writer and editor and a founding member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.

Photo: Brennan Schnell/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

How tax havens undermine Canadian governance

Fri, 2017-11-10 22:01
November 10, 2017EconomyThe real pirates of the CaribbeanSecreting wealth in tax havens deprives Canadian governments of massive amounts of tax revenue every yearfair taxationoffshore tax havenscorporate tax cuts
Categories: News for progressives

Majority of mass shootings connected to domestic violence

Fri, 2017-11-10 09:51
Civil Liberties WatchPolitical ActionUS Politics

The mass murder in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was a horrific crime. It was also horrifically predictable, and emblematic of the systemic problem we have with guns and violence in the United States. Devin Patrick Kelley was the white, 26-year-old former active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force who is believed to have killed 26 people and injured 20 on Sunday before killing himself. The massacre serves as yet another lethal example of the link between domestic violence and mass shootings.

While he was in the Air Force, Kelley was convicted of assaulting his wife and fracturing the skull of his 18-month-old stepson. The Air Force court-martialed him and confined him for a year, but failed to report his conviction to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. He had numerous other red flags, from the violent abuse of animals to issuing death threats against his superiors in the Air Force. He reportedly had been sending threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, who attended the church where he committed mass murder.

"The majority of mass shootings are connected to domestic violence or family violence in some way," Sarah Tofte, research director at Everytown for Gun Safety, told us on the Democracy Now! news hour. Tofte's team has just published a new report. They found that from 2009 to 2016, in more than half of mass shootings, the shooters killed intimate partners or other family members. Domestic violence is more than just a red flag; it is a crime in itself.

Their report reads:

  • "The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed."
  • "Women in the U.S. are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries, making this country the most dangerous in the developed world when it comes to gun violence against women. Every year American women suffer from 5.3 million incidents of intimate partner violence."
  • "Fifty American women are shot to death by intimate partners monthly, and many more are injured. Nearly 1 million women alive today have been shot, or shot at, by an intimate partner."

"We see this pattern over and over again," Soraya Chemaly, director of the Women's Media Center Speech Project, said on Democracy Now!. "There's absolutely no doubt that the practice of violence within a home, in an intimate setting, with people that theoretically the aggressor loves, opens the floodgates to public violence."

Soraya Chemaly continued: "This bigger question is how we treat private violence, how we treat sexual violence, how we think about gendered violence. The public-private divide that we’re working with does us a real disservice...if you think of the fact that there are three women a day in the U.S. killed by an intimate partner, if that happened in one incident and we were talking about between 20 and 25 women a week being killed in one incident, people might sit up and pay attention."

Mariame Kaba is an organizer and educator who works on anti-domestic-violence programs. She added: "We get too caught up in trying to label forms of violence as terrorism. The thing that we need to do is to end violence against women, gender-nonconforming people and children at the root of these forms of gun violence and mass shootings. Let's focus on trying to end those other forms of violence, which are themselves forms of mass violence."

Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Sutherland Springs to meet with family members of the massacre victims. Pence is a longtime National Rifle Association member with an "A" rating. While in Congress, he voted for gun lobby legislation to block individuals from suing gun manufacturers and loosened rules on interstate gun purchases. Pence blamed this week's shooting on "bureaucratic failures" and mental illness. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump made it easier for people with mental illness to acquire guns by reversing an Obama-era rule.

Trump was in Japan at the time of the Texas massacre, attempting to sell billions of dollars' worth of weapons to regional allies as he continued with his bellicose rhetoric against North Korea. He should learn from the countries he visits; in Japan, a nation of 127 million people, there are less than 10 gun deaths in a typical year, primarily due to strict gun control. Compare that with over 33,000 annual gun deaths in the United States.

In the midst of the arms deals, when asked about gun control in light of the mass shooting, he said it was too early to talk about changes in gun policy. How many massacres will it take?

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: West Midlands Police/Wikimedia Commons


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domestic violencemass shootingsdomestic abusemass killinggun violenceAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanNovember 9, 2017Bringing gun control to a nation of gunsNew federal gun-control legislation has been declared all but dead on arrival this week. Gridlock in the U.S. Senate is proving to be an insuperable barrier to any meaningful change.Historic sit-in on floor of U.S. Congress calls for gun controlThe gun control debate took a historic turn Wednesday, as Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives staged the first sit-in in Congress history.Twenty years after Port Arthur Massacre, Australia shows gun control worksThe largest massacre in Australia's post-colonial history so shocked the nation that within 12 days, comprehensive gun-control law was brought in. There has not been another mass shooting since.
Categories: News for progressives

A new mayor for Montreal

Thu, 2017-11-09 00:19
November 8, 2017Politics in CanadaMontreal election: Valérie Plante's giant leap forwardPlante is a progressive step away from paternalistic, autocratic municipal governanceMontreal politicsDenis CoderreValérie Plante
Categories: News for progressives

U.S. climate report leaves little room for doubt

Wed, 2017-11-08 06:08
David Suzuki

It seems odd that a major U.S. government climate report released November 3 didn't receive more media attention. But then, the main thing newsworthy about the Climate Science Special Report is that it was released at all, apparently without political interference.

Although the U.S. government is required by law (enacted by President George H.W. Bush in 1989) to report to the public about "climate change and its physical impacts" every four years, the current administration is openly hostile to climate science and scientists. According to White House sources quoted in the New York Times, President Donald Trump was "barely aware of the report's existence."

The report, released by 13 federal agencies under the direction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, examines the available science. It was written by dozens of government and non-government scientists, reviewed by the independent National Academy of Sciences and approved by the National Economic Council.

It concludes we are living in the warmest period in the history of modern civilization, with the last three years being the warmest on record, that we are seeing more "record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes" and that all the evidence points to human activities, "especially emissions of greenhouse gases," as the main cause. Climate change should be in the headlines every day until everyone takes it seriously, but the report's conclusions are not new.

"Thousands of studies conducted by researchers around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; diminishing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea levels; ocean acidification; and increasing atmospheric water vapour," the reports says.

It's hard to imagine anyone could read this report, or read about it, and not be convinced we have an urgent problem and that failing to put everything we can into resolving it puts our survival at risk!

And yet, the government overseeing this report is filled with people who reject climate science. The president himself has called it a hoax. He's appointed climate science deniers to key positions, repealed and weakened environmental laws, had climate change references removed from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website and barred EPA scientists from presenting climate change reports. Many delegates at the UN Climate Conference underway in Bonn, Germany, have condemned Trump's decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris Agreement.

The official White House statement on the report was a rehash of tired climate science -- denial talking points. White House spokesperson Raj Shah said, "The climate has changed and is always changing." He then went on to cast doubt regarding the climate's sensitivity to greenhouse gas emissions.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has denied the well-known connection between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry has argued the science isn't conclusive.

But the report also shows that, despite its apparent descent into a post-truth, anti-science dystopia, the United States still maintains sanity in some of its major institutions. Organizations like NASA, NOAA, the EPA and the Department of Defense, along with numerous non-governmental scientific institutions, are continuing to examine the real trends and risks of a planet warming rapidly because of human activity.

It also shows we must do all we can to work toward solutions -- economic, technological, philosophical and more -- and to only support politicians who demonstrate the foresight, imagination and courage to take on this crisis with the force and intensity it merits.

One frustration of studying and communicating about climate issues is knowing that so many solutions exist and are being developed, but that widespread denial of the problem prevents us from moving beyond outdated technologies and economic systems.

That people who profit from those outdated technologies would do everything they can to sow doubt and confusion is not surprising. That a government elected to serve the people would reject the findings of its own scientists and researchers from around the world to the detriment of human health, the economy and the environment is an intergenerational crime.

Christopher Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, told the New York Times, "This profoundly affects our ability to be leaders in developing new technologies and understanding how to build successful communities and businesses in the 21st century." It also puts human survival at risk.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: U.S. Department of State

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Categories: News for progressives

I Am Affected campaign strives for 'reconciliAction'

Wed, 2017-11-08 04:53
Doreen Nicoll

Halton Region took a bold first step to addressing its history of colonization with the launch of the I Am Affected campaign. Thursday, October 19, more than 200 people gathered at the Queen Elizabeth Park and Cultural Centre in Oakville to learn about the intergenerational effects of Indian Residential Schools and the 60s Scoop.

Sherry Saevil, Indigenous Education Advisor for School Services with the Halton Catholic District School Board, guided participants on a journey of sharing, learning and healing that included live singing and drumming, acknowledgement of the land, and first-hand accounts of the impact the 150-year legacy of the residential school system had on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples.

Colleen Sym, executive director of Halton Community Legal Services (HCLS), reflected on her role as, "A descendant of European settlers who grew up on Treaty 1 territory across the river from the Red River Settlement, who attended a law school dealing with only colonial law as an uninvited guest in the unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation, who then worked for the federal and two provincial justice departments and the Anglican Church at the diocesan and national level."

Sym said her staff, "Had to explore our what our role as a colonial settler led legal clinic was in the journey towards reconciliation." She then turned the evening over to two friends with whom she is travelling on this journey, Lyndon George and Fallon Melander.

George, also known as Long Feather, is Aboriginal Justice Coordinator at Hamilton Community Legal Services. He shared his first-hand account of the impact his mother's residential school experience had on him, his siblings, and the generations that have followed. 

Fallon Melander, policy counsel on Aboriginal Justice Strategy with Legal Aid Ontario and Oakville resident, shared her, "Deep sense of shame because I didn't know who I was and shame because others around me made me feel that way when I disclosed I was Ojibway. I know a lot more now and no longer feel the shame. My goal is to raise my daughter and soon to be twin sons with the pride, strength and sense of self that I didn't have until adulthood. I want them to feel safe living in Halton. I want their voices heard and spaces made where they feel welcome and loved."

Lisa Spencer, Fallon's mother, was taken from her birth mother as a child. According to Spencer, "It was when I was taken that I became a runner. I didn't know if I was running from or running to something. I am not running anymore. I am a survivor."

The emotional testimonials were followed by the recorded voice of Dennis Saddleman reciting his poem, "Monster." Saddleman's gut wrenching account of the 11 years he spent at the Kamloops Indian Residential School was originally shared at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013.

Hollee George, or Red Sky Woman, performed a healing jingle dance in honour of residential school survivors and survivors of the intergenerational trauma that continues today.

There are plans to continue the community based conversation of intergenerational trauma and expand it to include murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and trans as well as racism and discrimination.

As the evening wound down, First Nations and settlers came together in a show of solidarity and healing to join in a Round Dance. The Red Spirit Singers provided the heart beat with traditional drumming and singing while dancers moved as one laughing and sharing the leading role.

The I Am Affected campaign started in Hamilton a year and a half ago under George's guidance. George was instrumental in helping Halton craft its own campaign which includes seven posters featuring the faces of Indigenous Halton residents who are survivors of intergenerational trauma originating with the Indian Residential School System, 60s scoop, violence against Indigenous women, girls, and trans women, and racism.

The campaign brings Halton's Indigenous and settler communities together to share the truth about the maltreatment of Indigenous peoples by Canada's governments, institutions, and their settler neighbours. The hope is that Halton can then move forward to undertake reconciliation or the process of healing settler and Indigenous relationships through public sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms. That should naturally flow to constructive action addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism. In reality, it's about successfully transitioning from education to "reconciliAction" because saying sorry is not enough.

The Halton campaign is in partnership with YÉN:TENE originating from the Mohawk phrase meaning, "You and I will go there together." YÉN:TENE works to improve access to justice for Indigenous people in Hamilton and Halton. 

More information on the I Am Affected Campaign: Halton Community Legal Services, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, I Am Committed

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

Federal lawyers should be paid for being on call: Supreme Court

Tue, 2017-11-07 15:37
November 7, 2017LabourGovernment ordered to pay lawyers for being on-callThe Treasury Board is considering the impact of Supreme Court of Canada decision
Categories: News for progressives

The flexibility of English makes it a treasure chest full of wit, wisdom, and whimsy

Tue, 2017-11-07 09:09
Ed Finn

"Wit consists in knowing the resemblance of things which differ, and the difference of things which are alike." – Mme. De Stael.

Anyone who makes a living from writing English will come to enjoy the many ways our language can be transformed into clever, ingenious, witty, and pleasurable forms of wordplay.

One of the oldest of these plays on words is the pun, which has been indulged in by writers, poets, and playwrights for at least the past six centuries. Shakespeare's plays are riddled with thousands of puns, much more than the books of other famous authors who punned a lot, including Lewis Carroll and James Joyce. Even Jane Austen got in the occasional pun, as when one of her heroines complained that "My home at my uncle's brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. I saw enough of Rears and Vices."

The pun, however, is still widely scorned as the feeblest form of humour. This is mainly because so many people's desperate attempts at punning produce so many "groaners." Stephen Leacock deplored "the social nuisance of the inveterate punster, who follows conversations as a shark follows a ship."

I have to confess to a predilection for puns myself, but in my defense I contend that quite a few of them have been well above the "groaner" level. I could spend the next thousand words quoting some of them, but maybe a few examples will suffice.

  • While working for the Montreal Gazette in the mid-1950s, I covered some baseball games at Delormier Stadium, home to the Montreal Royals, then a farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Renovations of the stadium were supposed to have been completed before the baseball season started, but nearly a third of the washrooms were still closed, leading to long lineups. Frustrated fans forced to miss key hits and plays were understandably furious. In a suffix to my writeup of the game, I offered this advice to the fans: "All you have to do is bring your own relief pitchers."
  • While a few friends and I were visiting New York, we strolled past the city's magnificent public library, on each side of which stands the huge statue of a lion. My friends were puzzled. "What do lions have to do with a library," they asked. "Surely the answer is obvious," I said. "The statues are there for the benefit of library patrons who like to read between the lions."
  • In the condominium of garden homes where I live, there used to be a problem with some owners who walked their dogs but didn't clean up their poop. Other residents who inadvertently stepped into piles of excrement bombarded the condominium board with complaints. As the editor of the condo's newsletter, I scolded the culprits and demanded that they do the requisite poop-scooping. The editorial had the desired effect, but maybe it was because of the heading I put on it: "We're having too many close encounters of the turd kind!"

By far the most popular word games are the crossword puzzle and Scrabble, both of which have millions of adherents. I spend at least 10 or 12 hours a week playing Scrabble on my computer, and my wife and I jointly complete the Ottawa Citizen's daily crossword after breakfast every morning.

Crossword puzzles range from the relatively simple to the very difficult, from those with straightforward definitions to those loaded with the most esoteric verbal twists. In his superb book on English, The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson marvels at the complexity of British crosswords, which he says are "infinitely more fiendish" than the American versions, "demanding mastery of puns, anagrams, palindromes, and whatever else springs into the deviser's devious mind."

Bryson cites several examples of this wordplay challenge from the London Times, one of which offered the clue "An important city in Czechoslovakia" to fill just four squares in the puzzle. Of course there is no such four-letter-word city in that country, but there is one in the country's name -- CzechOSLOvakia -- the capital of Norway.

You have to have an especially crafty mind to tackle and solve such convoluted crosswords, and there are indeed many people who are brainy enough to do so. (I'm not one of them.) Bryson refers to an Englishman named Roy Dean, who completes the London Times's crossword in a matter of minutes, no matter how complex it may be. "Under test conditions, he once solved a Times crossword in just 3 minutes and 45 seconds."

Anagrams used to be a popular game, too, but Scrabble has virtually eclipsed it. Like Scrabble, it provides 200 or more letter tiles, which players blindly draw one at a time out of a bag. As they each start composing words, opponents can capture them by adding one or more letters, often rearranging them in the process to form a different word. My mother was a whiz at Anagrams while my brothers and sisters and I were growing up, and still beat us four games out of five after we reached our late teens and early 20s. It's still a fun game to play, even with Scrabble tiles.

Another kind of anagram game consists of simply jumbling the letters of a name or set or words to form a new but ideally relevant phrase. My wife and I enjoy unscrambling the Jumble puzzles that accompany the daily crosswords. Bryson gives a few examples:

Ronald Wilson Reagan becomes Insane Anglo Warlord
Western Union = no wire unsent
The Morse Code = Here come dots
Victoria, England’s Queen = governs a nice quiet land
William Shakespeare = I am a weakish speller

Next to Scrabble and crosswords, the most difficult form of wordplay is the palindrome, which involves reversing the letters in a sentence or phrase so as to create a different and preferably relevant alternative. Most attempts at palindromes fall far short of producing the desired effect, but a few of the shorter ones are impressive:

The first man introduces himself to the first woman: MADAM, I'M ADAM.
Napoleon’s lament: ABLE WAS I ERE I SAW ELBA.
By far the most brilliant palindrome was this tribute to Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Panama Canal: A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL, PANAMA!

And then there's the rebus, an almost forgotten form of wordplay in which seemingly unconnected words are arranged in a way that, if properly deciphered, make sense. My favourite consists of three words stacked on top of one another:


These three words, aligned this way, were written on an envelope that was sent to the U.S. Post Office. Believe it or not, the name and address were deciphered by an unusually bright (and obviously not that busy) postal worker, who had the letter delivered to John Underwood, Andover, Massachusetts.

Although I'm now a nonagenarian, I can still read, write, and enjoy the many pleasures of the English tongue -- mainly, I think, because I keep exercising my mind. That may not be a guaranteed deterrent to the onset of Alzheimer's, on its own, but many psychiatrists seem convinced that, the more active the intellect, the less likely it is to succumb to dementia.

In any case, I urge readers of all ages who don't play word games to give them a try. You'll find that becoming addicted to crossword puzzles and Scrabble is more intellectually stimulating than the current addiction to digital hi-tech games and devices -- and certainly far, far preferable to getting hooked on narcotics.

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Categories: News for progressives

Canadians need to grow their own food

Mon, 2017-11-06 15:40
November 6, 2017Food & HealthCanadians need to grow their own foodPolicymakers must make it easier to educate children and families as the government finalizes this country's first national food policynutritionobesityAction Against Hunger
Categories: News for progressives

College faculty rally at Ontario legislature

Mon, 2017-11-06 06:05
November 5, 2017Striking Ontario college faculty gather at legislature as bargaining resumes Pressure is being put on the provincial government to encourage equity for strikers ahead of the 2018 election
Categories: News for progressives

When free speech is no longer free for all

Sat, 2017-11-04 07:44
Civil Liberties WatchPolitical ActionPolitics in Canada

Speaking, I suppose, generationally, I find it troubling that the free speech issue has fallen into the tender right wing grip of Rebel Media, the Koch brothers and their kin. For those on the other side (the left, whatever it is), issues around racism, gender and, especially in Canada, Indigenous peoples, have become central, where there actually seem to be possibilities of serious change.

To the young especially, these matters are so grievous and neglected, that they take precedence over traditional "left" concerns, including free speech. I've talked with students so determined that these matters be finally addressed -- and not lapse backward -- that they're willing to overlook suppression of speech and due process to finally grapple with them.

One said that he'd readily be punished unjustly himself, if it moved those causes ahead. In this environment, the far right has cheerily become the custodian of free speech.

But none of it is simple or static. Take the case of Masuma Khan, Dalhousie student. With Dal's student council, she rejected celebrating Canada 150, over Indigenous issues. Conservative students objected and she replied, "Be proud of this country? For what, over 400 years of genocide?... #unlearn150, #whitefragilitycankissmyass, #yourwhitetearsarentsacredthislandis."

A grad student complained to the university language police, as Khan rightly (IMO) calls them, who upheld the complaint. She refused to apologize or take counselling, since it's her "right to express my views publicly in whatever manner I choose."

This is effectively reseizing control of the free speech issue, much as Jesse Wente and Robert Jago did during an earlier flare-up. Their position was, more or less: you non-Indigenous people are free to speak any idiocy you want but don't expect us to demur politely or let you get away with it; we will call you out.

Khan didn't deny being hostile and disrespectful but she disavowed racism, since, "I would never have the power to oppress someone the way the system can oppress marginalized people." This is a nuanced step forward. Earlier free speech advocates didn't draw such distinctions, it held for everyone in the same way. So power imbalances were overlooked or deemed irrelevant in the debate. But the result is similar: free speech embraced, if less ardently.

Margaret Wente (no relation to Jesse) in the Globewas illuminating about power and privilege in this case, as she usually is. She cited "the remarkable ingratitude Ms. Khan expresses toward the country that took her parents in, and provided her with a first-class education." Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness, anyone?

She makes it sound as if Canada is a chef who cooked you a great meal. Who gets to define who must be grateful to whom? Her column makes you realize how refreshing ingratitude can sometimes be. The tone she takes pretty well requires a snippy reply. This is exactly why there should be lots of latitude vs. formal niceness à la the language police -- when it comes to public debate. You can see why those like Khan mightn't want to echo old style free speech left-liberals.

Still, I continue to think (generationally) that free speech is crucial, less on moral or abstract grounds than pragmatically. Why? Because if speech gets shut down -- not just confronted but suppressed -- it will always be the privileged who, in the long run (or medium or short) benefit because they have the power, the guns, the legal institutions, the money, to bend the final decisions to their ends.

Efforts by the unprivileged to flatly shut down speech that they see as inhumane or demeaning are simply based on delusion, buttressed by minimal, short-term victories, such as keeping a speaker off campus. It might feel good to turn that white supremacist away but look who is in the White House now -- as commander of the armed forces.

Don't be fooled, folks. Free speech is far more in your interest than his. It’s not accidental that Trump keeps attacking the press and wondering why free speech matters. In his life he's never said a good word for the first amendment. It's also why right wing billionaires fund the appropriation of free speech causes.

Free speech matters because democracy isn't about just casting a vote, which can lead almost anywhere heinous. It's about far-ranging discussion among the majority, where views can sway and change, but won't, absent open discussion.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Masuma Asad Khan/Facebook

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Masuma Khanfree speechfreedom of speechCANSRick SalutinNovember 3, 2017Lost in Translation: Understanding the campus free expression debateConspicuously absent from the campus free speech debate has been the voices of students themselvesThree ways NAFTA helps the powerful bend the rulesThe lack of transparency around NAFTA means undemocratic policies are being considered which could harm ordinary CanadiansThe Law Society’s Statement of Principles and what’s at stakeThe lack of transparency around NAFTA means undemocratic policies are being considered which could harm ordinary Canadians
Categories: News for progressives

Why are oil and coal companies given observer status at UN Climate meeting?

Fri, 2017-11-03 16:06
November 3, 2017EnvironmentCan you say, ‘conflict of interest’? Not at the UNCountries of the Global South and environmentalists are fighting developed countries oil giants being allowed in to climate change negotiationsUnited NationsUNFCCCClimate Change
Categories: News for progressives

Disaster capitalists are lined up in Puerto Rico

Fri, 2017-11-03 13:14
Civil Liberties WatchEconomyUS Politics

President Donald Trump lavished praise on himself when commenting on the federal response to the disaster that has overwhelmed Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. "I would give myself a 10," he said on October 19. "I think we;ve done a really great job," he added, as Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello sat silently by his side in the Oval Office. This was just two weeks after Trump's visit to the island, where he lobbed rolls of paper towels at hurricane survivors. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, appearing on the Democracy Now! news hour, responded, "If it's a 10 out of 100, I agree, because it's still a failing grade."

Like the mayor, few think Trump has responded effectively. "We can't fail to note the dissimilar urgency and priority given to the emergency response in Puerto Rico, compared to the U.S. states affected by hurricanes in recent months," Leilani Farha, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to housing, said, comparing post-hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Florida in a damning report issued on Monday by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Democracy Now! traveled to Puerto Rico last weekend to see the devastation firsthand. Well into the second month after Hurricane Maria hit, the island remains dark. By official estimates, almost two-thirds of the island is without electricity. In the meantime, the 3.5 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico struggle to obtain the basic essentials of life, as thousands leave the island for the mainland U.S., perhaps never to return.

There are people coming to the island, though: the disaster capitalists. As eloquently articulated by journalist Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, disasters both natural and human-made are increasingly being exploited by for-profit corporations and so-called free-market ideologues to reshape vast swaths of impacted societies, undermining social-welfare systems, privatizing public utilities, busting unions and making obscene profits rebuilding. Post-hurricane Puerto Rico is shaping up to be a textbook case of the shock doctrine.

"I wish I had never been introduced to that term," Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told us at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, the large sports arena in San Juan, where she and her staff have been living since the hurricane. "Using chaos to strip employees of their bargaining rights, rights that took 40, 50 years for the unions to be able to determine...it just means taking advantage of people when they are in a life-or-death situation. It's an absolute mistreatment of human rights. It means that the strongest really feed off the weakest, until all that’s left is the carcass."

Case in point is the $300 million, no-bid contract awarded to Whitefish Energy to rebuild the island’s power grid. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is the largest public electric utility in the U.S., providing electricity to the entire island of Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria utterly destroyed the grid. Before Hurricane Maria hit, Whitefish, named after the town in Montana where it is based, had only two employees, and had never handled a contract larger than about $1.4 million. Whitefish just happens to be where Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is from. Zinke's son had worked for Whitefish Energy in the past. We were in the Coliseum speaking with the mayor when San Juan Vice Mayor Rafael Jaume entered, carrying a copy of the Whitefish contract.

"'In no event shall PREPA, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the FEMAadministrator, the Comptroller General of the United States or any other authorized representatives have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements of the labor rates specified herein,'" Jaume read, expressing outrage. "You can read about it yourself. That's black and white." Both Mayor Cruz and Vice Mayor Jaume called the contract illegal, and demanded its immediate cancellation.

They were joined in that call by Angel Figueroa Jaramillo, head of UTIER, the Puerto Rico electrical workers union. We visited him in his office in San Juan, which is still without power. As we spoke, news broke that Governor Rossello had called for the cancellation of the contract. Jaramillo demanded not only that, but also the firing of the head of PREPA, who signed the contract, and a full criminal investigation into all those responsible for it. Like Mayor Cruz, Jaramillo is working to incorporate solar power into the rebuilt power grid, without privatizing the grid in the process.

In the meantime, Fortune 500 Fluor Corp. has also received a $200 million contract to work on the power grid. As Whitefish eventually heads back to Montana, there are two things you can be sure of: More disaster capitalists will be lining up to take its place, and the proud, resilient population of Puerto Rico, growing intolerant of the delays and the corruption, will be increasingly vigilant, while building momentum for renewable alternatives to the fossil-fuel power grid that has failed them.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Roosevelt Skerrit​/Flickr

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puerto ricoHurricane MariaDonald Trumpshock doctrineDisaster capitalismAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanNovember 2, 2017Irma hits Cuba: What is the reaction of the Canadian government?Canada should overcome its self-imposed bureaucracy and provide immediate aid to the country following the devastationPuerto Rico needs our support The need is overwhelming. If you want to help Cenadores Puerto Rico is maintaining a page of ways to get involved.Trump administration lies about climate change as lives are lost to 'natural' disasters The corporate TV weather reporting aids and abets Trump's misinformation by consistently ignoring the role of climate change in this string of disasters.
Categories: News for progressives

'Engagement Organizing' is a modern roadmap for building people power

Fri, 2017-11-03 06:02
Tom Liacas

There is a lot of talk these days about the relative merits of organizing and mobilizing in campaign strategy circles. In these discussions, mobilizing is understood as the practice of driving your base to take part in collective activities, such as signing petitions or donating online, with a focus on achieving good numbers.

Organizing, on the other hand, is the process of building deeper bonds with supporters and skilling them up to become leaders themselves.

Though many advocacy organizations have put their energies into mobilizing, analysts such as political scientist Hahrie Han and labor activist Jane MacAlevey remind us that without organizing, the campaigns and movements we are building are on shaky ground. It is the painstaking work of organizing person by person, they argue, that builds the robust base of engaged and skilled supporters needed to drive social change and political movements forward.

In the past two decades, new digital platforms have been leveraged towards efficient mass mobilization. The same platforms have also helped organiZing become more agile and compatible with mass mobilization. Matt Price's book, Engagement Organizing: The Old Art and New Science of #winningcampaigns describes this new practice as combining "community organizing practices, digital tools, data and networked communications to engage people at scale and win campaigns."

How organizing faded out and why it's fading back in

Looking through the recent history of progressive organizations and movements, Price points out that most groups working for social change, including labor unions from the 1930s through the 1960s and community empowerment groups such as the Industrial Areas Foundation in the U.S., started building their organizations with ground up organizing. Door to door canvassing and small-scale activation and recruiting meetings were commonplace.

This lasted up until the advent of the "broadcast era" in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, mass mailers to huge membership lists became the norm. Thousands of members could be mobilized to donate or take simple actions at once though these new communications channels. The incentives justifying the hard work of organizing individuals and building their capacity dropped away.

We have become much better at mobilizing in the digital age, Price points out. That is, campaigns excel at sending online calls to sign petitions, donate small amounts of money and focus pressure on corporate or political targets for brief periods of time. Organizations like the U.S.'s MoveOn.org and their global peers in the digital-first OPEN network have blazed the trail here. But over time, these repeated calls to action have hit a ceiling for these groups and some have found that heavy lifts and serious campaign wins are not possible through this kind of light engagement with their members.

Distributed and snowflake models

Resource-strapped organizations can find ways to mobilize significant numbers of supporters with just a few core staff. Most assume, however, that traditional and seemingly high-touch organizing is beyond their means. Here again, the digital age has opened up opportunities for efficient forms of organizing assisted by digital tools and networked communications that have made activating and managing remote leaders possible without great investments in staff, events and travel.

In Price's view, this next generation of organizing is distributed by nature, meaning that it follows a structure where core organizers train and activate remote leaders who, in turn, guide teams of supporters. To illustrate the distributed organizing method, Price focuses on the "snowflake" model developed and promoted by Marshall Ganz, which was successfully deployed during the Obama presidential campaigns. Here, each remote leader is trained to take charge of 8 people. In the past, such models would have scaled slowly but with the support of digital communications, political campaigns such as Obama's two races and Bernie Sanders' primary race have managed to deploy distributed organizing networks that involved hundreds of thousands of supporters.

A new Engagement Cycle

When groups combine the best of mobilizing with new organizing, a dynamic emerges that Price calls the "Engagement Cycle." This cycle marries issue-framing practices with a distributed organizing process and mobilization moments. It is through this cycle that Price believes modern campaigners score their big wins. He illustrates the Engagement Cycle at work in the evolution of two Canadian organizations from a mobilization-first focus to the practice of "engagement organizing."

The Dogwood Alliance's pipeline campaigns

Canada;s Dogwood Initiative, active in the west-coast province of British Columbia, evolved from a forest issues advocacy group to focus on fighting tar sands pipeline projects in a series of popular mobilization campaigns. Inspired by workshops lead by Ganz's Leading Change Network, Dogwood began seeding remote teams in districts across the province to influence political support for Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline. With 120 activated teams doing offline organizing activities and a subsequent victory stalling the project, Dogwood decided to replicate the same distributed organizing approach to target political candidates during Canada's 2015 federal election. Thanks in part to their efforts, candidates with pro-pipeline stances lost in most of the province's important races.

Leadnow's VoteTogether campaign

Leadnow.ca, Canada's foremost online petition advocacy group built up its lists running campaigns on a series of progressive hot-button issues. With members hungry for political change running up to the 2015 election and having also been exposed to the Ganz leadership model, the group began experimenting with distributed organizing and offline political activities in one key Vancouver district. Here, they hosted recruitment events drawing from their online base and organized teams to do door-knocking and door-to-door surveys. Having successfully piloted a scalable organizing model in one location, they deployed teams to a number of swing ridings across the country and focused on consolidating the progressive vote to oust Conservative Party candidates. In the end, the organization's efforts helped unseat Conservative candidates in 24 of the 29 ridings where they backed alternative candidates.

Price's explanations and anecdotes on Engagement organizing make for a compelling read and should be of particular interest to strategists in digital-first and big-list organizations looking to get beyond petitions and light calls to action. Judging from the case studies presented throughout, such groups could gain significant power from deeper engagement with their base and getting back to effective organizing is no longer the slog it used to be.

Engagement Organizing Checklist

Here is a quick checklist for engagement organizing:

  • Seek to align your issue in a way that helps mobilize your base.
  • Plan recruitment activities to find distributed leaders.
  • Test your new organizing approach as a pilot in one location.
  • Adopt a clear organizing model, like Ganz's snowflake.
  • Prepare resources to support remote teams and their leaders

This review of Engagement Organizing was originally published on mobilisationlab.org and is reprinted with the permission of the writer.

Tom Liacas divides his time between his position as Senior Strategist at NetChange Consulting and as a researcher and writer on new campaign trends.

Image: Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons

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Israel lobby groups' attack on Quebec MNA and Palestinian rights campaigner is deplorable

Thu, 2017-11-02 05:47
Independent Jewish Voices Canada

In a recent attack on Member of the Québec National Assembly (MNA) Amir Khadir and Palestinian rights campaigner Lorraine Guay, Israel lobby groups B’nai Brith Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) have demonstrated, once again, their proclivity for misusing and abusing the term antisemitism, as well as their bigotry toward Palestinians.

The organizations' positions were recently given a platform in the Canadian Jewish News (CJN). Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) has looked into the CJN story and the statements made there by B'nai Brith and CIJA. What follows is our response.

The CJN story examines a documentary entitled #Quebec4Palestine, where Khadir offers his thoughts about his experiences as an MNA in dealing with the issue of Israel-Palestine. The CJN quotes him as stating in the film that "The dynamics of politics is completely controlled when it comes to the Palestinian issue...by the Israeli lobby" and that "...there was a direct link to some lobby that was authorizing or not authorizing [Quebec politicians'] support of this." The CJN then quotes Khadir as saying "Unfortunately, as we know, money talks a lot in politics...In that case, the pro-Israeli -- the pro-extremist politics of Israel -- lobby is very strong."

B'nai Brith accused Khadir of promoting antisemitic tropes, stating that Khadir believes "Jews or Zionists control the political system." CIJA accused Khadir of believing that Jews control "the worldwide media and economy, as well as global politics." Khadir has never suggested any such thing. 

Khadir's statements, which comment on the power of special interest groups pertaining solely to the Israel-Palestine issue (and not to politics in general), should not be considered controversial. They are certainly not antisemitic. Israel lobby groups in Canada have access to resources that dwarf those of the organizations that support Palestinian human rights. In this environment, Canada's ruling political parties consistently kowtow to the demands of these organizations regarding the Israel-Palestine issue.  

There are too many examples to list, but a couple will illustrate our point. In early 2016, these Israel lobby groups mounted a massive defamatory campaign against supporters of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, managing to get both the federal Liberals and Conservatives to back a motion -- based on talking points provided by these lobby groups -- condemning BDS.

Later in 2016, B'nai Brith and CIJA deployed their immense resources to get the Ontario government to adopt a similar motion condemning supporters of BDS, and promoting the view that campaigners for Palestinians' human rights are motivated by a hatred of Jews. Palestinian human rights groups were completely sidelined from the discussion, despite their repeated attempts to engage with the government on the matter. Meanwhile, CIJA held a press conference attacking the BDS movement with a Liberal cabinet minister and a Conservative MPP prior to the vote.

B'nai Brith's accusation that Palestinian rights campaigner Lorraine Guay made an antisemitic comment is based on a manipulated quote from the same documentary, where they omit the final phrase in her sentence, giving it the very opposite meaning of what she was saying. Guay went on to speak about Israel's complete disdain for international law, and the Netanyahu government's campaigns to undermine it. She correctly declared that, contrary to what members of B'nai Brith and CIJA insist, Israel is not the state of the Jews (since many Jews do not subscribe to the tenets of political Zionism, and Palestinians living in Israel yearn to live in a state belonging to all its citizens). Both organizations believe that Israel is the "Jewish state," and that Palestinians, Jews and others who do not share this view are antisemites.

Hyperbolic outbursts by Israel lobby groups portraying themselves as the representative voices of the diverse Jewish communities in Canada and Québec are not only defamatory. They also debase the fight against real antisemitism. Ironically, these self-styled opponents of antisemitism remained silent when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son posted a vile, truly antisemitic meme to his social media, portraying George Soros with the very tropes that they falsely accuse Khadir of employing.

As IJV has pointed out, Israel lobby groups do not care when actual antisemitism emanates from staunchly Zionist circles. So long as those who express antisemitism also support Israel's expansionism and apartheid, these organizations are willing to tolerate or even praise them. Both lobby groups' obsession with attacking those who engage in BDS detracts from efforts to focus attention on the growth of white supremacist groups, which express real hatred towards Jews and other minorities, as well as from the Israeli government's racist and violent mistreatment of Palestinians.

Photo: Gerry Lauzon/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

Using NAFTA to control Canadians

Wed, 2017-11-01 22:24
November 1, 2017Politics in CanadaThree ways NAFTA helps the powerful bend the rulesThe lack of transparency around NAFTA means undemocratic policies are being considered which could harm ordinary CanadiansNAFTADonald Trump on NAFTAdigitalAccess to healthcare
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Hallway medicine in hospitals is unacceptable

Wed, 2017-11-01 07:17
Krystalline Kraus

The CBC published an exclusive story on October 31, 2017, concerning the Brampton Civic Hospital (BCH). An internal memo, written by a top hospital executive and obtained by CBC Toronto, warns of the potential impact that chronic overcrowding will have on patient care.

"Between April 2016 to April 2017 there were 4,352 hallway patients at BCH with significant lengths of stay ranging from 40 to nearly 70 hours," noted the study.

Interim CEO of William Osler Health System, Joanne Flewelling, noted, "Hallway patients experience excessive noise and reduced privacy, which negatively affects their overall patient experience and quality of care, and may extend their overall length of stay." 

Kathleen Wynne's government was blasted all day in provincial parliament for not staying watchful for conditions within the hospital to deteriorate to hallway medicine.

Why does it matter? Because patients' dignity matters.

I have been one of the hallway patients in hospitals around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). My care was not necessarily complex, other than my young age, but the system just didn't have room for me. Yes, the "system."

Of course, it is easy to blame the system. But when you're moved out of your room and into the hallway, you know it's to make room for a more complex patient who needs the special instrumentation that access to a room provides -- you still can't help but feel ignored and abandoned.

Let's face it, all I needed was a bed and a pole so they could hang an I.V. bag from to give me the medicine I needed. But the hallway -- and again this is from personal experience -- is the last place in the hospital where you can heal, except maybe the morgue. It's too noisy, stretchers get backed up, bumped into. Even when you close your eyes, they open instinctively every time someone jostles the sides of your bed.

The only way to fix this problem is to commit major funding exclusive to the area; as increasing patient capacity is to have more beds to allocate to more patients to.

Liberal health minister, Eric Hoskins, replied to opposition criticism by stating that the government has been responding to the hallway bed crisis problem by adding bed capacity. So far that would only add six new inpatient beds at BCH.

The memo was initially obtained by the Ontario NDP, and provided to CBC Toronto on Monday October 30, 2017. Last week, twenty-two beds were opened at Etobicoke General Hospital.

Photo: Steve Garfield​/Flickr

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