“Torontonamo Bay”

Toronto just finished hosting the G20 Summit, which literally lasted about eight hours in our city. The meeting got started at around 9am on Sunday and by 5pm leaders were already on their way out of town. An eight-hour meeting sure cost a whole lot and wreaked a whole lot of havoc.

I was glued to live news coverage on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday I skipped out on plans and watched the news from about 5pm until midnight. On Sunday, after participating in the completely peaceful, happy, and fun bike rally protest for a couple of hours, I was glued to the TV again from about 5:30pm until 11pm. I want to say that CP24 did an amazing job…for those two days…covering the vandalizing and police standoffs. It would have been nice if they had also provided wall-to-wall, commercial-free coverage of the demonstrations that took place all week—thousands of people in the days before the summit peacefully demonstrating on the streets of Toronto, getting their message out. That wasn’t so interesting, you see, because there were no assholes lighting police cars on fire.

Where were the media for the “Shout Out For Global Justice,” which took place at Massey Hall and featured Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, and Maude Barlow (among others)? And when Naomi Klein led the entire audience on a peaceful walk to the temporary “tent city” at Allen Gardens in solidarity with the homeless, where were the media? And when Allen Gardens became a peaceful dance party? That wasn’t so interesting to the media since there were no assholes smashing store windows.

What occurred this past weekend in Toronto was nothing short of a clusterfuck. These meetings should not be held in densely populated urban settings. They should not cost, for two days, what the United Nations spends in an entire year. They should be held in places that are already fortified and secure enough to protect the heads of state that reside in them—the White House, Parliament Hill, Downing Street, the Palace…or the freakin’ UN! And they should not pick the pockets of cities, small-business owners, and residents when it’s the federal government making the decisions.

There’s a lot to say about the G20, the politics, and what happened in Toronto on the weekend. There is a vast echo chamber now and there’s little chance I’ll say something that hasn’t already been said. Except for one thing.

Yesterday there was another demonstration, an extremely peaceful and massive “jail solidarity” demo for the 900+ people who were arrested and detained in the makeshift detention centre. I heard two or three people who were interviewed on the news refer to the detainment facility as “Torontonamo Bay.” And today I read the report of Cameron Fenton, a 24-year-old who was arrested and detained for 17 hours; he referred to the detention centre as “tantamount to torture.”

No one is denying that the conditions at the detention facility were bad—they probably were terrible. I would have been miserable if I had had to stay there for even 3 hours, let alone 24. I would likely be complaining about it to anyone who would listen. I might even be seeking legal representation. But let’s be reasonable and respectful. There are innocent people at Guantanamo Bay and other detention facilities overseas who have been held—without charges, without lawyers, without habeas corpus—for many, many years. There are innocent people in these facilities (and some who are likely not innocent) who have been tortured. Truly tortured. To compare your treatment for 12, 17, or 24 hours at a makeshift detainment facility in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to a military-run torture centre that exists in a legal no-man’s land is completely ignorant. It’s akin to comparing Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, or anyone besides Hitler, to Hitler. It’s like Gretchen Carlson comparing her job as a talk-show host to that of the President of the United States.

People who have been held in a legal abyss and who have truly been tortured would likely have a thing or two to say about your experience versus theirs. So no more of this “Torontonamo Bay” and “tantamount to torture” bullshit. If you want to have your issues taken seriously, then be serious.

Lies about Canadian health care

Fear: Why is it working?

As a rational Canadian watching the completely irrational American ‘debate’ on health care these past few months, I would almost find it almost humourous if it weren’t so infuriating.

Here are some of the lies that the anti-reformers are telling about proposed health care reform: You won’t get to choose your doctor. There will be a government bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor. Grandma will be euthanized if she gets sick. Health care will be rationed. Everyone will be forced to pay for abortions, sex-change operations, and health care for illegal aliens. “Death panels”?!?!

But people are believing it. Anti-reformers have launched a campaign of outright lies and absurdities, and a lot of people are believing it. Why?

Why are the fear tactics quashing rational debate about health care? Because appeals to emotion generally trump appeals to logic. (It’s the bane of a rationalist’s existence.) And the most powerfully motivating emotion is fear. Fear is our most primal emotion; survival is linked to it.

I don’t know about all world cultures, but certainly most western cultures are uncomfortable with death. We don’t like to discuss it, and we don’t know how to handle it when we (or someone we care about) are confronted with it.

There has long been a campaign in the American federal government to encourage Americans to make living wills and have end-of-life-care discussions with their doctors. It’s not new. The Bush administration advocated it. It’s a good idea. It’s a smart idea. It’s an important idea. People should have all of their wishes honoured when their inevitable end comes, and those wishes cannot be honoured if they’re not known. Therefore, they should have a living will. And they should be able to make informed decisions about what measures they would like taken (or not taken) at the end of their life. Therefore, they should talk to their doctors about it.

This idea of having living wills and end-of-life-care discussions with doctors was included in ‘Obamacare’ because it’s a good idea and a smart idea. It is, by no means a new idea. In ‘Obamacare,’ as it has been proposed, no American will have to pay for this out of pocket—it will be covered by the government.

When the American public learned of this, compounded by the scare tactics of the anti-reformers (“death panels”), they freaked out. Suddenly they were being forced to confront the idea of their own mortality. That’s scary. Even after millions of years of brain evolution, existential fear trumps logic and reason.

Fear is also contagious. This is another mechanism of evolutionary biology. Survival of a species requires signalling danger to others and being receptive to danger signals, even subtle ones like dilating pupils.

So fear of death is one culprit. Others include fear of change and losing the things they have, fear of diminished freedom of choice, and fear of government. I understand that people don’t trust the government, but it’s selective. Americans currently trust the government to fight its wars, to keep traffic moving, to catch and prosecute criminals, to educate their children, to help them when they need it (social assistance, food stamps, employment counselling), and so on.

There are very good examples of the American government providing health care, and all work very well (although not without problems): Medicare for seniors, Medicaid for the very poor, the Veterans’ Association for veterans, the Department of Defense for soldiers, and the federal government for all members of congress provide the best health care in America. Anti-reformers know that people like and trust these systems of health care, so they are including them in their scare tactics, telling people that health care reform will take away Medicare or veterans’ health care.

While people are chanting “no government in health care” they are simultaneously chanting “hands off my Medicare!” using selective ignorance to deny that Medicare is government-run health care.

The truth about U.S. health care

Again, as an outsider, I see the ‘debate’ about health care in the U.S. as patently ridiculous. I know enough about the current American system to know that most of what anti-reformers are yelling about are railing against already exist in their current system.

“I don’t want some bureaucrat standing between me and my doctor!” or “I won’t be able to choose my doctor!” are two that come to mind. Insurance company executives currently stand in the way of Americans and their doctors, and their choices are already limited.

If an American is lucky enough to be able to afford a health care plan, or have a job that provides one, and if she goes to a doctor or hospital not on her insurance company’s ‘in-network provider’ list, then she’ll likely be paying for it herself. An in-network provider is one contracted by the insurer for agreed-upon rates. An out-of-network provider is one not contracted with the insurer. If Americans go to a doctor or hospital that is ‘in-network’ then they will pay less than if they go to an out-of-network doctor or hospital. In some cases they will have to foot the entire bill because the insurance company may refuse to pay for out-of network services. So if you’re an American who is unconscious and being rushed to the hospital, you’d better regain consciousness long enough to tell people which insurance company-approved hospital to take you to.

People in the current American health care system can be denied coverage by their insurers for pre-existing conditions, or denied reimbursement of drugs not approved by their insurer. Doctors and nurses spend a good part of their day on the phone with insurance companies to make sure that certain treatments and drugs are covered by their patient’s health care plan (often they are not). Sick people are often turned away by a hospital and told to go to another one because that hospital isn’t on their insurance provider’s pre-approved list. And yet some believe that they currently have free choice, that no one is standing between them and their doctor?

We keep hearing that America has the best health care system in the world. It’s true that the U.S. spends more (by all measures) than every other country. In fact, it is the most expensive in the world. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve bought themselves the best system. In fact, the World Health Organization ranks France, Switzerland, Britain, Canada, and Japan higher than the U.S. in health care. The U.S. ranks 37th. Forty-six million Americans can’t afford health care. Seventy-five percent of those who file for bankruptcy because of medical costs had insurance when they got sick and went bankrupt anyway. The system is run by huge health insurance corporations that make enormous profits off of denying care to patients.

And this is the system that anti-reformers are fighting, fighting, to keep.

The truth about Canadian health care

I live in Canada and I am appalled (and a little naïvely surprised) at the lies being bandied about regarding the Canadian health care system. In Canada we have universal, single-payer, non-profit health care called Medicare. It is a single-payer system: The government pays the medical bills, but doctors and hospitals are private and independent. The provincial governments and the federal government are responsible for providing non-profit health insurance to all citizens—they pay for it, they don’t run it. And citizens pay no deductibles or co-payments in most cases (some medications and treatments are not covered or are only partially covered).

As a Canadian, if I get sick I go to my doctor (any doctor of my choosing!), I get diagnosed, I get prescribed some medication or treatment, and I (hopefully) get better. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I don’t have to pay for it. If I have an accident while biking to work, I am taken to the emergency room, I get emergency treatment or surgery, and I (hopefully) get better. Oh, and I don’t have to pay for it. (Actually, I may have to pay for some of the prescription drugs and for the ambulance, which is dumb, but it’s never thousands or even hundreds of dollars.)

Canadians do not have to fight with insurance companies (or the government) for reimbursement. We are not denied reimbursement so that insurance companies can increase their profit margin. We do not go bankrupt from medical bills. We are not denied care because of pre-existing conditions (or for any reason). We do not have to suffer from illnesses or injuries because we cannot afford medical care. Canadian doctors and administrators do not have to waste precious time fighting with insurance companies, or turn patients away because they are not ‘in-network.’ Drug prices are negotiated by the government with the pharmaceutical companies, which keeps costs down. Doctors are reimbursed monthly by the government, which means no time-consuming paperwork for thousands of different insurance companies. (In the U.S. which has between 1,000 and 1,500 different insurance companies, about 30% of health care costs are purely administrative—dealing with all the paperwork for insurance company reimbursements.)

Why is it that Canada pays less for a better system? In Canada, medical care is a basic human right; it is not for profit. Health care is not a market. Therefore, it is not motivated by companies trying to make as much money as they can. We don’t have bloated administrative costs, high-paid insurance company executives, ridiculous bonuses, and millions of dollars spent on marketing. It is a not-for-profit system.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals. We know now that it is bad economics.”

Canada pays for more hospital days and doctor visits per capita than the U.S., but spends 40% less. We pay medical personnel less, our equipment and services cost less, the government negotiates drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, and the government is responsible for financing health care through its budget so therefore must keep its costs down.

In Canada, general health insurance is not tied to employment, so you’re free to quit your job and change jobs without having to fear, “What if I get sick or hurt?” And health care is not age- or prior condition-based. My grandma died in December. She was 86 years old. When she was 78 years old she fell and broke her hip. She had hip-replacement surgery immediately and recovered nicely. When she was 86 years old she fell and broke her hip again. She was rushed to the hospital and had hip-replacement surgery the next day. Mortality rates from hip-replacement surgery increase exponentially the older you get, and my gramma remained in the hospital due to complications. She was treated with the utmost care and concern. She had many tests, many treatments, many drugs. She got well enough to be moved to the rehabilitation ward and we thought she’d be coming home soon, but she took a turn for the worse and ended up in palliative care. Gramma died in the hospital after just over a month, but never was she denied care. The doctors and nurses always did everything they could to heal her, make her better and, at the end, to make sure she was comfortable. The only thing we had to pay for was her phone.

Canada’s health care system is not perfect by any means. It is sadly true that there are wait times in the Canadian system. But it is a problem that has improved exponentially over the years due to better administration and management. If you require surgery and waiting a while is not life-threatening (for example, cataract surgery), then yes you may have to wait a couple of months. But if you require essential, life-saving surgery, then you won’t have to wait at all.

There is a Canadian woman (from my aunt’s town, no less!) making the rounds on American talk shows condemning the Canadian system because she required brain surgery and went to the States for it. This woman has been thoroughly debunked (see here, and here, and here, among other places).

Shona Holmes claims that she was diagnosed with brain cancer and needed emergency surgery, but was forced onto a waiting list so she went the States for her life-saving surgery. The truth is that Shona Holmes did not have cancer, she had a benign cyst, which is not life threatening. She probably would have had to wait two or three months in the Canadian system. But instead she went to the U.S., mortgaged her house, and paid $100,000 out of pocket. Had her non-life-threatening benign cyst been a life-threatening malignant cancerous tumour, the Canadian health care system would have provided Shona Holmes with surgery immediately, and she wouldn’t have had to pay one red cent. But because it was a non-life-threatening benign cyst, she was put on a short waiting list, freaked out, went to the States, and mortgaged her future.

Yes there are wait times in Canada, but nobody waits for emergency surgery.

The ways in which our health care system has deteriorated over the years are ways in which it is being made more like the American system. Things that used to be covered (eye doctor, physiotherapy) are not covered any longer. So if you don’t have benefits from your job and you don’t have money, then you cannot afford the kind of health care that someone with money and/or benefits can afford. It’s turning into a two-tier system that can cause disparities between classes. And Canadians abhor it.

Not every person can be privately wealthy—the world economy wouldn’t be able to support that—so we need services like public transportation, education, and health care. Countries like Canada and the United States are supposed to be meritocracies; that is, people’s worth is supposed to be derived from their abilities and not their wealth or lineage. A system wherein only the wealthy can afford education and health care breeds a classist society with an underclass that is treated as such because the people in it don’t come from money and have jobs that aren’t valued as much as those in the upper class.

But I digress.

Despite its imperfections, inadequacies, and increasing classist structure, Canadian Medicare is still a universal health care system that ensures no Canadian will ever go bankrupt, lose their house, go into debt, become homeless, or die because they have an accident or get sick.

Not too long ago Tommy Douglas was voted “The Greatest Canadian” by a national poll. Tommy Douglas is Keifer Sutherland’s grandfather. But this isn’t why he was voted the greatest Canadian. He was voted the greatest Canadian because he is the man who ushered in our universal health care system.

A friend of mine once said that if anything were to ever cause a revolution in Canada, it would be the government trying to take away our universal health care. I think he was right.

Further reading:

Let’s start with the obvious: America has not only the worst but the dumbest health care system in the developed world. It’s become a black leprosy eating away at the American experiment — a bureaucracy so insipid and mean and illogical that even our darkest criminal minds wouldn’t be equal to dreaming it up on purpose.

The system doesn’t work for anyone. It cheats patients and leaves them to die, denies insurance to 47 million Americans, forces hospitals to spend billions haggling over claims, and systematically bleeds and harasses doctors with the specter of catastrophic litigation. Even as a mechanism for delivering bonuses to insurance-company fat cats, it’s a miserable failure: Greedy insurance bosses who spent a generation denying preventive care to patients now see their profits sapped by millions of customers who enter the system only when they’re sick with incurably expensive illnesses.

Tricky Politicky

My last post was actually about Canadian (well, Toronto) politics! I’ve written very little about Canadian politics and quite a bit about American politics, and it makes me sad that I seem so much more interested in America’s politics than my own country’s. I guess because it’s so much more ubiquitous, steeped in drama and absurdity, and often affects the rest of the world.

I intend to make more of an effort to stay abreast of Canadian news. I have a bunch of Canadian news sites in my Google Reader, and I will try to start reading them first thing every day rather than all the American and world news blogs I read. I will try.

But for now I can’t resist commenting on some clever politicking going on in Washington!

It’s beyond my comprehension how actual government officials can blatantly get away with the most egregious bullshit—lies and conspiracy theories—and infect the public and the media with said bullshit.

I am speaking of the “Birthers” and the “Deathers.”

The Birthers, as you probably know, are the whack-job conspiracy theorists who claim that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and therefore cannot be president.

It’s not only radical fringe right-wing radio/TV hosts and conspiracy theorists wearing aluminum-foil hats who believe this; actual Republicans in congress believe it too (or pretend to, which may be worse).

They all claim that the controversy would be laid to rest if Obama would just release his birth certificate. Why won’t he let us see his birth certificate? If he has nothing to hide and was really born in Hawaii, then why won’t he just release his birth certificate?

Of course the answer is: He has.

Not only was the birth certificate made public ages ago, it has been validated by many sources, including conservative ones.

Not only has he released his birth certificate, but his born-in-Hawaii “story” has been confirmed by the doctor who delivered him, Hawaii state officials, and the birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser.

See the evidence for yourself.

But the thing about conspiracy theorists is that they can never be disproven. No matter how much real evidence you throw at them, they will always counter it with an even wilder proclamation about a conspiracy. I suppose this could all be a 48-year conspiracy by Muslims or Kenyans to install one of their own in the White House. Anything’s possible.

The Deathers is a group of lying, fear-mongering anti-healthcare-reformists who are feeding the public the outright lie that under Barack Obama’s proposed healthcare reform bill, old people will be killed.

Many Republicans in congress, not to mention the conservative pundits, have been busy trying to quash healthcare reform by scaring the public. Now they’re claiming that the U.S. government will mass euthanize the elderly under “socialized” medicine.

One cannot even claim misunderstanding or confusion of facts on this one—it’s simply a bald-faced lie.

This is just the latest tactic to try and undermine a public healthcare option. Republicans are against “socialized” medicine, saying that the government has no place in healthcare, even though the best healthcare administered in their country is provided by the government: Medicare for seniors, the Veterans’ Association for veterans, the Department of Defense for soldiers, and the federal government for all members of congress. These are all rated among the very best healthcare systems (particularly the VA’s system).

The truth (if anyone cares) is that a part of the proposed healthcare bill entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation” would enhance Medicare to pay for end-of-life consultations with doctors to prepare for the inevitable. It’s essentially about living wills, powers of attorney, palliative care, etc.—informing senior citizens as to the options available to them and making sure they have everything in order when that inevitable end comes.

The consultations would include “an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.” (Thanks to Talking Points Memo for providing the text of the bill.)

And it’s optional, not mandatory.

But conservative crazies trying to scare the general public are feeding them the lie that this will mean government workers will knock on your grandmother’s door and ask her if she’d prefer a needle, a pill, or the gas chamber.

The fact that Republicans are using this as a scare tactic now is not only disgusting, underhanded, and despicable, but it’s hypocritical. From Talking Points Memo:

Discussions between sick or elderly people and their doctors about end-of-life treatment have long been an accepted part of modern patient care. As Politico itself notes, in 2003, a Bush administration agency “issued a 20-page report outlining a five-part process for physicians to discuss end-of-life care with their patients.” And since 1990, Congress has required health-care agencies to inform patients about state laws regarding advance directives such as a living will.

This web site has a good overview of the absurdity, plus a video compilation of the Deathers and their lies.

Okay, so now onto the fun politics part.

The Democrats are calling the Republicans’ bluff on both of these issues.

Congressman Neil Abercrombie introduced a resolution in Congress to recognize and celebrate Hawaii on the 50th anniversary of its entry into the union. It’s a pretty standard tradition. Business as usual.

But, Abercrombie introduced the following language into the resolution: “Whereas the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii….”

And voila: Gotcha!

The language turns this standard lip-service bill into a sort of anti-Birther bill. Thus, Republicans would have to choose to vote against recognizing and celebrating Hawaii as the 50th state, or for admitting that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and therefore is a U.S. citizen.

The bill passed unanimously.

Brilliant!

Now onto those trying to block a public option on healthcare. Their latest tactic to convince the public that government-run healthcare would be a terrible, horrible, very bad thing is the “government-run healthcare will kill your grandparents” line.

So Congressman Anthony Weiner introduced an amendment that would eliminate Medicare, the popular publicly funded healthcare plan that cares for America’s elderly (quite well), and has done for over 40 years.

Every Conservative who says they are against publicly funded healthcare had to go on record and put their money where their mouth is. You’re against publicly funded, government-run health care? Fine then, vote to eliminate Medicare.

How many Republicans voted to eliminate Medicare? Why, that’d be zero.

Brilliant again!!

You gotta love this new calling-your-bluff, cutting-through-the-bullshit politicking. I hope they keep it up. The mythmakers shouldn’t win. I’m getting pretty damned sick of the fear mongers spewing lies and vile invective about Canada’s universal healthcare system.

But more on that later.

Sparring with ghosts

Not only will same-sex marriage be nationally legalized in the United States, but so too will marijuana. Moreover, same-sex marriage will ultimately be legalized in all but the most oppressive political regimes in countries the world over. I predict it now. Check back in ten years to see if I’m correct. (That is, ten years for western/industrialized/democratic/economically well-off countries; maybe 20 for some others.)

Because the fact is that the law and institutions always lag behind societal and cultural progress.

Whether we’re talking about cultural, social, political, economic, or technological changes, “the people” are generally ahead of the law, which inevitably has to play catch-up.

Which is why it’s somewhat amusing (in a non-funny way) that the debate over equal marriage keeps raging. That California, for the first time in history, revoked the civil rights of a significant segment of its population in its Proposition 8 vote is more than appalling—it’s embarrassing. In a few years, Californians will look back and shamefully shake their heads, as I believe most Americans will in time.

Countries like Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, and even South Africa legalized same-sex marriage long ago, and people in these countries already look at countries like the United States and shake their heads. Because we have embraced the truth that opponents of equal marriage seem to be denying: the debate is actually over.

Looking back at history, the same always holds true: while some people are busy fighting to prevent change from occurring, change occurs.

The torrent of social and cultural change cannot he held back with lies, propaganda, fear, hatred, or even constitutional amendments. It’s like trying to hold back a tidal wave with your hand. Humanity moves ever forward (from time to time it’s two steps forward and one step back); this is most evident in civil rights and technological advancements. It can’t be stopped. Shut down Napster and five other file-sharing sites will pop up.

The Civil Rights and Suffragist movements did not halt because they had ardent and often violent opposition. Society mostly agreed that black people and women, in their respective times, should have equal rights despite pockets of folks who felt differently and tried their damnedest to hold back the tide. And as society went, so went the law. Eventually.

During the industrial revolution in the U.S., the chasm between the working conditions of the rich versus the poor was great. Progressives decided that the working class needed to be protected and so established minimum wages and maximum working hours. The Supreme Court struck down much of this progress, saying that it was unconstitutional (something about the freedom of contract, but it was really about the free market and capitalist economics). And what happened? Society progressed anyway, insisting on minimum wage and fair working hours, and the law had no choice but to follow.

So why do people bother trying to fight the inevitable? Do they really think the progress of human rights can be halted or turned back? I don’t know about this. I really don’t know the answer. I suspect that even the most ardent opponents of equal marriage have to realize that they are sparring with a ghost.

The legalization of marijuana may be an even more contentious issue on its surface. But logic dictates that pot should, and will, be legalized.

Prohibition does not work. The first point of evidence is…well, prohibition. In the late 1920s and early 1930s the U.S. made alcohol illegal. It’s pretty common knowledge what the outcome was. The buying, selling, and use of alcohol did not cease, it was just driven underground where it led to a hell of a lot of crime and profiteering. Criminals got rich, people paid a lot more for alcohol than they should have, and the government lost great amounts of money “fighting” the crime syndicate, not to mention on lost revenue they could have been making on the taxation of alcohol.

The second point of evidence is this “war on drugs” that has been waging for decades. People are still using drugs, only now the prohibition has caused a very dark and violent criminal underworld to emerge that is making society less functional and less safe. Look at what’s happening on the Mexico-U.S. border right now.

People will never stop using drugs. They have been using drugs since the beginning of time and will continue to do so. Legalizing and regulating them—taking the “market” out of the hands of the criminals—is the only way to deal with criminality.

One can easily argue, with evidence, that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Yes, pot kills brain cells, but it seldom if ever incites people to kill each other. No one has ever fatally overdosed on pot, nor gotten “pot poisoning.” Seldom do people smoke a joint in a bar and end up attacking each other with broken bottles and pool cues. Most people don’t get high off marijuana and beat their spouses or kids. This article is a pretty decent overview on the subject.

Pot is arguably less harmful than tobacco, too. There are no ties, as yet, between marijuana and any form of cancer. Yet alcohol and tobacco are legal and regulated, and marijuana is illegal. It seems absurd to a rational person. But those hardliners who are anti-pot base their stances on a mythical sense of morality. There is nothing inherently immoral about smoking pot, and nothing moral about drinking alcohol. The cultural mores are in fact cultural myths.

People are starting to realize this. And since the latest spate of bloody violence in Mexico and the United States by the drug cartels, it’s not just the hippy fringe groups who are arguing for the legalization of pot; members of the U.S. government know that the war on drugs isn’t working. They know that there are a great many benefits to legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana, not the least of which is taking away the one thing the drug lords need to be drug lords—a desperate population of consumers who can’t get their product anywhere else.

And so, over time, the moral outrage will wane and rationality will emerge victorious. Because progress happens, things change, even while those who fear it have both feet planted firmly in the past with their shoulders bracing against the wave that will eventually carry them away.

Save the CBC!

This is specifically for Canadians, but feel free to read on if you’re from outside of Canada. CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation—our publically funded television and radio network (much like the BBC in the UK, and similar to NPR in the U.S.).

I love the CBC. They are extremely supportive of independent music and always present high-grade television (especially documentaries). Many, many Canadians I know could not imagine life without CBC, so please sign the petition linked to below.

Dear friends,

The government is forcing the CBC to drastically cut 800 staff and programming. We urgently need a massive public outcry to Save the CBC:

Canada’s media networks have all been slammed by the recession. But the government is reportedly considering bailouts for its friends at private companies CTV and CanWest, while forcing the CBC and Radio Canada to drastically cut 800 staff and programming.

Our CBC is a national treasure, and a pillar of public-interest journalism in a country whose media is owned by a few large firms. We won’t hear an outcry from their media outlets, and the CBC is too principled to use its megaphone to make the case for itself. We are the only voice the CBC has.

We urgently need a massive public outcry to Save the CBC, click below to sign the petition. The government is weak and falling in the polls and enough outrage can make the difference. Parliamentarians have promised to deliver the petition directly in the House of Commons, and we’ll even fly a plane and banner over Parliament Hill with the message! Sign now, and forward this email to everyone who might care about this:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/save_the_cbc

The number of signatures on the petition will be crucial to the effectiveness of the campaign, so let’s get everyone who cares about the CBC and Radio Canada to sign.

The CBC is facing a budget shortfall that amounts to just $6 per Canadian, but its request to the government for a bridging loan to cover this was denied. The deep cuts the CBC is making will damage the organization across the board, and they will not be the last. If we don’t stand up for the CBC now, it stands to die a death by a thousand cuts. Harper’s minority government is politically vulnerable and falling in the polls – public outrage could turn the government around on this, but it has to happen now. Let’s move quickly.

With hope,

Ricken, Lisa-Marie, Laryn and the whole Avaaz Canada team.

P.S. Here are some links for more info on this:

An excellent web resource for information and action on the CBC, including the government’s consideration of bailouts of CanWest and other companies: http://www.friends.ca/

The Star reports on how opposition parties accuse Harper of using the recession as an excuse to gut the CBC:
http://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/article/608591

Union says Harper government strangling CBC:
http://www.cjad.com/news/565/899819

Ian Morrison: Stephen Harper’s hidden agenda for the CBC:
http://www.straight.com/article-206164/ian-morrison-stephen-harper%3F%3Fs-hidden-agenda-cbc

A crisis of identity: A reader letter to the Globe and Mail:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20090327.COLETTS27-1/TPStory/Comment

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How to be Bill-free

It was announced recently that a lawyer in Madrid, Spain prepared a case to seek criminal investigation into violations of international law by six former high-level Bush administration officials.

No, not Dick Cheney (more on that later), but former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (the guy who “can’t recall remembering” much of anything), former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo (the guy who wrote the legal memos stating that the president had the authority to essentially ignore the Geneva Conventions), another former Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee (Yoo’s former boss), former Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff and legal adviser David Addington, former Department of Defense counsel William Haynes, and former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith.

The charges against these folks are based on the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture. The 145 signing countries have the authority—and, some would argue, the obligation—to investigate torture cases. Of course the stakes are somewhat higher when a country’s own citizens have been abused, as five Spanish citizens held at Guantanamo Bay were.

Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, and the others are said to have violated international laws by providing the legal framework (read: ass-covering) for torture, including waterboarding.

The National Court in Madrid sent the case for review by none other than Baltasar Garzon—the judge who ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (who was nabbed in Britain, but never stood trial).

Spain is the first country to take seemingly serious action on this, but certainly not the first to be talking about it. Canadian lawyers got in on the act, and there were hopes that they would pounce on Bush himself when he made an appearance here in March. But it turned out to be just talk. Or at least much more complicated than simply slapping the cuffs on him and dragging him away.

Though prosecutions in cases like this are extremely rare, if Spain were successful in this, it could clear a direct path to Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush.

Enter Bill O’Reilly.

An endless source of amusement, O’Reilly has threatened Spain, saying the following in his Fox “News” television show:

“Here’s the deal, Spain—if this goes forward, you’ll be insulting America. Unless this action is condemned by Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, then I am not going to that country.”

Shortly after this aired, Spain released a statement in response:

“Oooooh, we’re scared.”

The following countries have since hurriedly announced that they too would be seeking criminal prosecutions against former Bush administration officials:

  • Afghanistan
  • Albania
  • Angola
  • Argentina
  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Bangladesh
  • Barbados
  • Belgium
  • Belize
  • Bermuda
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Bulgaria
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Chad
  • Chile
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Croatia
  • Cuba
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Egypt
  • Fiji
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • Greece
  • Greenland
  • Guyana
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kenya
  • Kuwait
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Luxembourg
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Moldova
  • Morocco
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Nepal
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Nicaragua
  • Nigeria
  • Norway
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Senegal
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Syria
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turkey
  • Uganda
  • Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam
  • Yemen
  • Zambia

and

  • Zimbabwe

…so far.

Slippery slope made of shit

Newshounds is a great web site. Their tag line is: “We watch Fox News so you don’t have to.”

It’s perfect for me because even though I know some people watch Fox “News” from time to time just for a laugh, I can’t do it. It (almost literally) makes my blood boil. I’d love to strap on a blood pressure machine and take some measurements while watching Fox “News.” At any rate, I have to settle for reading about their inanity and then seeking out clips on YouTube and such.

Newshounds, though, cuts my workload down quite a bit because they usually post the videos right there for me! I don’t envy them having to watch Fox “News” and I thank them for doing it so I don’t have to.

Today this little tidbit struck me. On his show, Bill O’Reilly—railing against equal marriage once again—said this:

“Remember, ladies and gentlemen, if gay marriage is okay then you’re going to have all marriages okay. You can’t say gays can marry but triads can’t, or polygamists can’t, or marrying your cousin [sic]. Under equal protection, it’s everybody can do whatever they want. You can’t say we’re just going to get one group in.”

There aren’t enough arghs and blergs in the world to capture how I feel about this.

Okay, first of all, I could just say this and end it right now: Heterosexuals are a group. Therefore, based on O’Reilly’s logic that you can’t just let “one group in,” then no one should be able to get married. “Thankfully straights can’t get married, because if they could then everyone would want to get married. Phew!”

I love how that logic seems perfectly…logical to him, but the same argument for equal marriage does not: You can’t say heterosexuals can marry but homosexuals can’t.

A big derrrr to that one.

Sadly this debate keeps going on and on and on, as if there is legitimately anything to debate. I can’t wrap my mind around it. Letting two consenting adults get married is NOT in any way equivalent to polygamy, pedophilia, or bestiality.

This “slippery slope” argument is often used by bigots, hatemongers, and anti-equal marriage crusaders to oppose equal human rights. It’s absurd. These slippery-slopers say, “If we let two consenting adults of the same sex marry, what’s next? People will want to marry their children, or their dog!”

I wish I could laugh, but sadly these arguments sometimes work on people. It’s a classic scare tactic used by fearmongers and hatemongers.

I also oppose this argument from proponents of equal marriage: “What the hell difference does it make who gets married? People should be able to marry whomever they want! I should be able to marry a chicken or this chair if I want to!”

No.

When people use arguments like this to support equal rights, they instead embolden the enemies of equal rights. It lends credence to ridiculous arguments. No, we should not be able to marry a chicken. Nor a child. Nor a chair. That’s absurd, and to even put it in the same category as a woman marrying a woman or a man marrying a man ridicules and weakens the real and logical arguments for equal marriage.

Marriage between two consenting adults of the same sex should not and must not be lumped in with things like bestiality, pedophilia, and whatever the hell it would be called if people could marry inanimate objects. There is the consensual agreement and commitment between two adults, and then there’s everything else. Equal marriage does not fall into the “everything else” category.

The bigots are now calling their campaign “defense of marriage,” as if equal marriage will somehow endanger the oh-so-stellar reputation of this pristine institution that has a 40% divorce rate.

(By the way, for those religious folks who claim that the bible dictates that homosexuality is wrong, and therefore it is wrong: The bible condemns divorce waaaaay more than it condemns homosexuality. And the argument that it condemns homosexuality at all is specious at best. Oh, and the bible also condemns worshipping false idols, like all those little Jesus and Mary statues and pictures you’ve got in your house, around your neck, or on your car’s dashboard. And it condemns gambling. And owning stuff. It also condemns the observance of special days, like Christmas and Easter and Good Friday and…. )

Let’s get real here and address the fears these scare tactics are meant to stir. Netherlands was the first country to federally legalize same-sex marriage, in 2001. I think Netherlands is still a country, eight years on, and that it hasn’t fallen into the sea. Belgium followed, in 2003, legalizing same-sex marriage country-wide and it didn’t melt into a seething lava pit of sin. Canada (yay!) and Spain were the third and fourth countries, respectively, to federally legalize same-sex marriage, in June 2005.

I live in Canada. It’s been four years. So far I have personally witnessed the happy weddings and marriages of a few homosexual couples, as well as those of a few heterosexual couples. What? Did I just say heterosexual marriages? Yes I did. And no, I do not jest. It was a surprise to all, but allowing same-sex marriage did not cause the institution of marriage to instantly implode.

South Africa was the fifth country (2005) and Norway the sixth (2008) to legalize same-sex marriage. Yes, apartheid South Africa.

So can everyone please just shut the fuck up about gay marriage ruining whatever-the-hell? “It will ruin the institution of marriage!” “It will ruin families!” “It will ruin children!”

You know what’s ruining the institution of marriage? You, when you watch The Bachelor, get quickly and drunkenly married in Las Vegas, or abuse your wife.

You know what’s ruining children? You and your hatemongering. Like it or not, gay exists. A significant portion of the population is gay. Someone you love is gay. One (or more) of your children may be gay. A child is born gay. If you believe such things, then god/the gods made her that way. She is told all her life that she is wrong, sick, bad, sinful, distasteful, dangerous, gross, and that she is not afforded protection under the law or equal human rights. She is told these things by you. Do you know that the highest suicide rate among teenagers is among gay teenagers? Yeah, that’s all on you. Have fun living with that.

This argument is always used whenever people fear something, even if they fear it for no legitimate reason. Oh, think of what it will do to families! The institution of marriage! The children! Won’t somebody think of the children!?!?

Families will not crumble if two consenting adults are allowed to get married. Society will not crumble if two consenting adults are allowed to get married. The institution of marriage will not crumble if two consenting adults are allowed to get married. And children will not suffer if their parents are allowed to be married.

In fact, two consenting adults are already allowed to get married all over the world—as long as they’re straight. If they happen to be infected with “the gay” then they can only get married in Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, and Norway. For now.

Secondly, can we please start focussing on things that actually do hurt society? How about rape? We could start with priests raping children—that’s a good place to start if you care about the children. What about “deadbeat dads” who don’t pay child support, thus stigmatizing and sending into poverty single-parent families? There are a few wars going on somewhere I think, not to mention some genocides that could use our attention. Homelessness? Addiction? Poverty? Hey, how about the fact that we’re killing the earth, which is already overpopulated and unable to sustain its population? Human trafficking. Child labour/slavery/abuse.

There. I’ve just given you anti-equal marriage crusaders plenty of things you can do to fill your time rather than opposing two consenting adults committing to one another in a loving and legal way, thus enjoying all of the rights they are entitled to as human beings.

Go fight those wars because this is not a war. And even if you think it is, you’ve already lost anyway. Society is always ahead of the law when it comes to civil rights; it’s just a matter of time now before the law catches up in most of the world. So save your breath, your time, your energy, and some trees, and stop protesting equal marriage.

Use your resources for something important. If you really care about children, then go save a child from a real enemy right now—an abusive parent, a pedophile priest, slavery, poverty, gang violence, illiteracy…. Go. Go now.

For further reading on the “slippery slope” argument: http://www.slate.com/id/2100824/.

Can the United States impeach Fox “News”?

On a Fox “News” show Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld the host and his panelists called Canada a “ridiculous country” and made light of Canada’s sacrifices in Afghanistan.

The remarks came after Canadian Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie had said the military would “have to explore the possibility of taking a short operational break” after Canada’s mission in Afghanistan ends in 2011 because of personnel and equipment shortages.

Gutfeld said:

“The Canadian military wants to take a breather to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white capri pants…. Isn’t this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country? They have no army.”

Clearly he has no understanding of “operational” break. It means no more fighting in wars for a while, not that we’ll “have no army.”

His panelists were all equally absurd, having a good laugh at all the people who have died in Afghanistan.

Doug Benson said, “I didn’t even know they were in the war. I thought that’s where you go if you don’t want to fight” (laughing off Canada allowing war-resistors and moral objectors into our country).

Gutfeld then arrogantly asked, “Would Canada be able to get away with this if it didn’t share a border with the most powerful country in the universe? Isn’t Canada doing what most of Europe does anyway, which is just rely on the U.S.A. in case anything bad happens?”

Another panelist, Monica Crowley, said that yes, of course Canada can only survive because of the “security backdrop of the United States.”

And Bill Schulz went even further in displaying that trademark ignorance by saying, “We have police, they have Mounties. Our cops ride heavily armoured cars [sic], their cops ride horses. We have bullet-proof vests, they have wonderful little red jackets that can be seen a mile away. This is not a smart culture, Greg.”

First of all, Mounties are police. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It’s a national police service that, according to the RCMP web site: “[Is] unique in the world since it is a national, federal, provincial and municipal policing body.”

See? Cars, vests, and no "wonderful little red jackets".

See? The RCMP with cars, vests, and no "wonderful little red jackets".

Those “little red jackets” and horses are mostly symbolic and are seen in parades and other public relations events. The RCMP wears police uniforms (including bullet-proof vests) and rides in cars. Like the military has combat fatigues and military dress, the RCMP has its uniforms and its symbolic dress.

Back to the fun right-wing pundits belittling Canada. Crowley went on to say that the Canadian military will be getting “manicures and pedicures.” Oh, and of course she mentioned that we’re “up there” in the “frigid cold,” like that has anything to do with anything. I’m surprised she didn’t say we all live in igloos.

The first thing that comes to mind in response to all this is, who the hell is Greg Gutfeld? Or, for that matter, Doug Benson, Bill Schulz, and Monica Crowley? Let’s all collectively not google them to find out.

The second thing that comes to mind is this: Not doing much to repair the world’s perception of Americans there folks!

But the most important thing is this: Canada has 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan and 116 of them have died. The death rate among Canadian soldiers is four times that of American soldiers because the Canadians have been fighting in one of the most violent provinces, in the south.

These Fox “News” panelists seem to think of Canada as some differently abled little sibling.

Canada prides itself on being a peace-keeping nation, and it fights when it has to. We were in both WWI and WWII (and we entered those wars before the Americans did). We chose not to get involved in Vietnam or Iraq because neither of those countries was a threat to us or to the United States. The reason we went to war in Afghanistan is because the strike on September 11th can be traced back there, and we were morally obligated to get involved because the U.S. is our NATO ally. Canada is morally obligated not to get involved in unnecessary and/or pre-emptive wars.

This is all so ridiculous I can’t believe I am even giving it the meager amount of attention it will get here on this blog, but I think ignorance and absurdity like this must be called out.

Gary BADyear!

Aren’t I clever? See the pun above? The guy’s name is Gary Goodyear and I…well, you see what I did there.

Gary Goodyear, who is Canada’s Minister of Science and Technology, is a chiropractor by training, doesn’t seem to understand evolution and is not able to provide an explanation or valid example of it, and is probably a creationist.

Here’s what he had to say when asked if he believes in evolution: “I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate.”

This is our SCIENCE minister!

The fact that he equates a question about evolution with a question about his Christian beliefs is evidence enough that he is a creationist. If he were a true scientist he would know that a question about evolution is a question about science, not religion.

He also said, “My view isn’t important. My personal beliefs are not important.” Argh. This is not about personal beliefs; it’s about scientific fact. Clearly he thinks that evolution is a personal belief. Maybe he thinks gravity is a personal belief, too. How about the fact that the earth is round? Is that a personal belief? Or that the earth goes around the sun? Germ theory?

He is our SCIENCE minister!

After refusing to the answer the question for a few days, he finally did on CTV by saying that he does believe in evolution. Goodyear then proceeded to provide the following laughable examples of his “evolution”. Anyone who knows anything at all about evolution should get a huge kick out of this (or a sharp sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach):

“We are evolving every year, every decade…. Whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels–of course we are evolving to our environment.”

This has caused many scientists to speak out. One of them, Brian Hall from Dalhousie University, was quoted in the Globe and Mail saying, “This is not evolution. The minister is confusing evolution with lifestyle adaptation.”

Evolution is small genetic adaptations passed from one generation to the next, causing big changes over hundreds, thousands, millions of years. As Brian Hall pointed out, the minister’s examples would be real examples of evolution if humans had adapted sun-resistant skin or extra padding on our feet to make them resistant to concrete. We have not.

Kudos to the media and the scientific community for being relentless on this one. They have continued to probe Goodyear, asking him to clarify his “explanation” of evolution. Guess what? He refused.

Now can we do something to get him fired?

What the hell is happening to my country?!?!?

(Here’s a great article about this on the CBC web site.)

Canada and the U.S.: Collectivism and individualism

DISCLAIMERS:

  • This is a long posting, so settle in or read it in chunks.
  • This one could get me a lot of comments, particularly from Americans. I know how it will come across to some and I understand defensiveness, but please try to read with an open mind.
  • The opinions herein are opinions, but they are informed by research. They are generalizations only. No one statement refers to all people. Never would I use the word “all” and in fact I seldom use the word “most.” What I’m talking about here is big-picture perceptions of Canada and the U.S. I know that some Canadians are awesome and some Canadians suck. I know that some Americans are awesome and some Americans suck. Canada and the United States are both great countries, relative to many of the other countries in the world. I like the U.S., and I appreciate your contributions to the world in science, art, humanitarianism, and your good people.

Map of North AmericaMany people see North America as one homogenized socio-political glob. Or, more aptly, they see North America as the U.S., and Canada as barely distinct from America, as inconsequential, as America’s “little sister.” (I like to joke that this is true in that Canada is Lisa Simpson and America is Bart.)

Americans don’t really care much about Canada (except those who wanted to immigrate here during the reign of Bush Jr.), and they don’t really care if they are lumped in with Canada politically, socially, or culturally (although they are always quick to point out that Celine Dion belongs to us!). On the other hand, many Canadians don’t like being lumped in with Americans, especially in the past eight years. (You read about Americans travelling overseas having to pretend that they’re Canadian, even going so far as to wear Canadian flags and get fake Canadian passport covers. Now imagine being an actual Canadian mistaken for an American during this time!)

Yesterday U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ottawa and Canadians were practically peeing their pants with excitement over it. It got me thinking about why we’re so excited about this president, and about the historical differences between Canada and America.

Sure, we share the same chunk of land and ingest the same food, art, and pop culture, but from equal marriage (in 2005 Canada became the third or fourth country, depending on the source, to legalize same-sex marriage), to legalized pot (Canada has decriminalized small amounts of marijuana), to the separation of church and state (Canada keeps religion where it belongs—out of politics), the two nations are almost diametric. Why?

I first started thinking about this many months ago when a friend of mine told me about an article he read. It was something about Flagshow the births of Canada and the United States as nations reveal a lot about what kind of countries they are today. Wouldn’t it be nice if I had the link here? Sadly I don’t even know the name of the publication or what exactly the article said. But what follows is what I think the gist of it was.

Here is Canada’s birth in a nutshell. Both the English and the French came to Canada in the late 1550s/early 1600s and established settlements and colonies. Of course there were wars between the two and a bunch of other stuff happened: the original 13 colonies of the United States were handed over to America by the British, “New France” grew and shrank, Canada was divided into Upper (French) and Lower (English) Canada, there was the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain, blah, blah, blah.

Although Canada came close to having a massive rebellion and maybe even a civil war, we did not. Instead, Canadians were hungry for unity and responsible government, so French and English Canadians united under the Act of Union. In 1840 “The Canadas” became “The United Province of Canada” and by 1849 parliamentary democracy was established for all of the provinces. Confederation occurred in 1867 with The Constitution Act, and “The United Province of Canada” became “Canada.”

Canada gained independence slowly throughout the years via the Constitution Act, participation in World War I, and joining the League of Nations independently from Britain in 1919, among other things. In 1931 Britain affirmed Canada’s independence with The Statute of Westminster, deeming Canada and the other former dominions (including Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa) “autonomous communities.”

Throughout the years, Canada adopted official bilingualism, official multiculturalism, social programs such as universal health care, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All was looking just dandy. But Quebec’s “Quiet Revolution” sparked a nationalist movement seeking secession from the rest of Canada. In 1980, Canada held a referendum, in which we rejected secession (sovereignty). In 1995 we held a second referendum, in which we also rejected sovereignty (but just barely). In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled secession unconstitutional.

Okay, now on to the U.S. The United States was colonized by a lot of European countries from the late 1400s until the 1700s, but mainly Britain, which established the aforementioned 13 colonies (“The Thirteen Colonies”). In 1775 The Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from Britain and attempted to gain said independence via armed conflict. This was the American Revolutionary War and, with the help of France and Spain, the Americans were successful. But it was a bloody and brutal war.

For about 50 or 60 years following, America expanded westward. But in the 1850s and 1860s, conflict between northern and southern Americans escalated. Essentially they disagreed on just about everything, especially the issues of slavery and how the government should be run. In 1861, after Abraham Lincoln was elected, most of the southern states seceded from the union and established The Confederate States of America (P.S. see the movie by the same title!), which sparked the Civil War. And we all know how bloody and brutal that was—the U.S. lost 8% to 10% of its entire male population.

The point of this quickie history lesson is that Canada did not have a bloody revolution. Rather, it quietly gained its independence from Britain. Nor did Canada have a bloody civil war. Rather, it democratically held referendums on the issue of separatism. The United States had both a bloody revolutionary war to gain its independence from Britain and a bloody civil war to deal with the issue of separatism.

This, I think, was the thesis of the article my friend told me about: The independence and unity of Canada was achieved politely, quietly, and democratically, whereas the independence and unity of the U.S. was achieved through violent wars. This illustrates the divergent…aesthetic? ethic? ideology? sensibility?…of these countries today.

While Canada and the U.S. share the famed “longest undefended border in the world” and are each other’s best ally and largest trading partner, we couldn’t be more different in what makes us us.

A little-known fact is that when World War II ended, Canada had one of the largest armed forces in the world. Who would have thought that?! But Canada didn’t go all imperialist and superpower-y. Instead we were one of the founding members of the United Nations and are known the world over as a peace-keeping nation.

During the last U.S. election, it was funny to the outside world, especially Western countries like Canada, to see some Americans demonize any candidate favouring peace over war, taking care of the less fortunate over “every man for himself,” or seeking unity over individualism.

I’m sure you remember it. Argh, I hate to even bring up this guy’s name because I am so sick of him, but…Samuel Wurzelbacher. You know, the guys who’s name isn’t Joe and who wasn’t a licensed plumber? Yeah, that guy. In his exchange with Barack Obama over Obama’s plan to raise taxes by 3% for people making over $250,000 a year and lower them for the rest, Obama said this:

“I’m gonna cut taxes a little bit more for the folks who are most in need and for the 5% of the folks who are doing very well—even though they’ve been working hard and I appreciate that—I just want to make sure they’re paying a little bit more in order to pay for those other tax cuts. And I do believe for folks like me who have worked hard, but frankly also been lucky, I don’t mind paying just a little bit more than the waitress that I just met over there…[who] can barely make the rent. My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

And you remember what happened next. Republicans took “spread the wealth” in a death grip and would not let go.

CommieCommunist! Socialist! Commie! Red! Terrorist!

Suddenly the party line on the right seemed to be that if you are in favour of balancing out the classist economic structure by making the stinking rich a little less stinking and the poor a little less poor, then you’re a communist/socialist. If you’re in favour of pulling troops out of Iraq, you’re a communist/socialist. If you’re in favour of universal health care, you’re a communist/socialist. If you’re in favour of welfare reform, you are a communist/ socialist.

So many things about this are funny. First of all, that these Americans used “communist” and “socialist” interchangeably (not to mention “liberal” and “terrorist”). They are not synonyms. Communism is a system whereby the government controls the means of production—there is a very rich upper class, but everyone else makes the same amount of money. (So if anything, Obama’s plan is anti-communist.) Socialism is a system that allows private enterprise and personal success, but the government provides necessities such as hospitals and schools, plus welfare for those who can’t work to afford food and shelter.

America is not yet socialist, but the funniest part about this to me is that many Americans believe this would be evil!

Some people are anti-science, until they need that new cancer treatment to save their life. Some people are anti-socialism, until they lose your job and can’t get another one. Some people are anti-government, until the market needs a bailout.

I would say Canada is a socially democratic country. We have universal health care. I don’t have medical benefits through my job, so if I fall down and crack my head open I can go to any hospital, get treated, and go home, and I will not receive a bill. I will not have to go on social assistance, sell drugs, rob a house, sell my stuff, or be rendered homeless because I cannot pay my medical bills. If I get sick or injured and can’t work, or if I lose my job and can’t find a new one right away, the government will help me afford food and shelter while I’m not working, but I can’t just sit around on my ass in the meantime.

These aren’t handouts. We all pay taxes. We pay taxes to keep our roads paved and cleared of snow, and our street lights working. And we pay taxes so that every single person, regardless of how much money they make, can get healthy if they are sick, fixed if they are broken.

But for some astronomically unbelievable reason, many Americans (let’s face it—it’s mostly Republicans) think this is a bad thing.

I think that Canada’s “nationalism,” our sense of what makes Canada Canada, comes from its people preferring a system of justice, fairness, equality, and democracy for all.

America’s nationalism seems to come from its pursuit of “the American dream,” which originally meant to amass material wealth. It has morphed through the years, piquing in the 1950s and 1960s I think, into getting married, owning a house (or two) and a couple of cars, having a couple of kids and a dog, and making lots of money so they can buy boats and go on vacations and retire wealthy. But do not ask me to sacrifice for anyone but me because I’m pursuing the American dream! This propagates a system of justice, fairness, equality, and democracy for some—mainly those who can afford it.

Canada recognizes and values the role of government in society to keep order and peace, and to make sure money is collected from individuals to better society as a whole. From what I can tell, the U.S. values a limited government to do the bare-bones stuff, and leaves everything else in the hands of the marketplace. That good ole free market that was left to run rampant so that citizens would never be curtailed in their pursuit of happiness (i.e., accruing the most money and stuff).

Canada has a collectivist nature. The United States is based on individualism.

That being said, while Americans claim individuality and are in fact individualistic in their system, they are politically conformist. Most Americans are “registered” as an adherent to either the Democratic or Republican party (some are Independent). The two-party system ensures that most Americans pledge blind allegiance to their party, regardless of its actions or stances.

Blind allegiance is a dangerous thing. All it takes is a rally, speech, commercial, or talk-show appearance to make people start chanting “drill baby drill” or “Iraq has WMD” or “Obama is a terrorist” like mindless automatons.

While Canadians generally respect their government’s authority, we are not blindly obedient to it. We tend think critically, analyze evidence, and question authority.

We have a multi-party system and we do not “register” as a party member. Our political system is much more nuanced, much more of a spectrum. It is not black and white.

The American point of view seems to be that Canada is boring and inconsequential. They think our lack of drama or militaristic history deprives us of an identity or “destiny.” I guess it depends on what your priorities are. I am proud of our lack of drama and militaristic history. During Vietnam (and the Iraq “war”), Canada opened its doors to American draft dodgers and war resistors. We firmly said “NO” to George W. Bush’s invitation to join America in its invasion of Iraq (for some Canadians, one of our proudest moments).

I’m glad my country is not a superpower because history has shown us what being a superpower leads to. Was it Ghandi who said “absolute power corrupts absolutely”? If history has taught us anything, it is that the rise of an imperialist power always leads to the fall of an imperialist power. And sadly, they take down a lot of others in their wakes.

Canada would rather fight for the progress of social justice than fight for world power.

But America seems to have a messianic sense of its destiny as a world power, a democratizer (new word for conqueror?). Political speeches and interviews are littered with language to this effect. There is an action movie-like, self-inflated, overly confident, exuberant sense of a mission to “save the world!” But often they jump in over their heads (Iraq anyone?) and then are too proud to admit mistakes and cut their losses (Vietnam, Iraq).

I understand this from a moralistic viewpoint. Clearly those of us living in democratic countries believe it’s a better system than, say, communism or fascism! But the U.S. seems to view its own politics and international politics through a moralistic, ideological lens only.

It’s hard to peer through an ideological lens with a critical eye.

And most of the world does not view America as the moral beacon they seem to think they are.

The United States is the most religious country in the western world. Not only does it use religion to dictate morality (not realizing that morality predates religion), but it politicizes religion. “Separation of church and state” is a quaint ideal, but anyone who pays attention to U.S. politics knows that it’s not the reality. The ironic thing is that the U.S. shares much in common with regimes they purport to despise. Having religion dictate politics and law is more akin to the Muslim world.

If I were to describe a world leader who had weapons of mass destruction, was fundamentally religious, and believed that his god spoke to him and told him what to do, you’d be scared. Your mind’s eye would probably look towards the Middle East. But that leader was George W. Bush.

Canada is a more “typically” Western society; it is more European than American in its sensibilities. It is politically secular, hierarchical, law-abiding, and respects authority when it is right and questions it when it is wrong. We have the aforementioned multi-party system of government. I do not know what my Prime Minister’s religion is, and I don’t care! Most Canadians don’t.

That’s not to say that there aren’t religious people in our nation—there are, but they know that religion should play no role in politics. Our Prime Minister would never end a speech or press conference asking any god to bless our country, [I stand corrected: I have been informed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has begun a greatly controversial habit of saying “God bless Canada” after speeches. Many people consider this “un-Canadian” and another way in which Harper was too close to George W. Bush for our liking. For an article on this topic, read this; it’s pretty frightening.] …nor invoke the power of any deity to help him do his job. But the presidents of the United States always do. In a Canadian candidates’ debate, no one would ask any

This joke overtook the web and inundated inboxes after the election of George W. Bush.

This joke overtook the web and inundated inboxes after the election of George W. Bush.

question having to do with the candidates’ religion or religious ideals. In America, they had an entire debate dedicated solely to religion!

Michael Adams is an author and pollster at Environics who has polled Canadians and Americans and reports on the differences between our values. He claims that there is a lot that makes Canada distinct from America, and that the distinctiveness is growing. Adams says that religion means different things to Canadians and Americans. Canadians view religion as “a means of confronting the mysterious aspects of our lives.” For Americans, it’s “a way of eliminating rather than exploring mystery…, one big answer rather than a collection of venerable questions…the end of dialogue, not its beginning.”

Adams confirms my earlier conjecture that Americans tend towards political conformity, and also reports that they express themselves violently and are more apt to accept violence than Canadians, who can have disagreements without violence. Adams states that Canadians accept cultural and ideological diversity much more so than Americans.

(Adams’s findings are very interesting and I encourage you to read them. For example, the differences between Canada and the U.S. in their views of patriarchy raised my eyebrows. Check out the link above and read his book Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values.)

So while Canada may be akin to the United States in many ways, it is different in more important ways. We fight for our own cultural identity with laws protecting Canadian art and commerce, for example, because we know that what makes Canada fundamentally Canada is too important to be lost.

And with their landslide election of a president whose socialist and diplomatic ideals are much more closely aligned to those of Canada than to those of the America of the past (excepting his religiosity and anti-equal marriage views), maybe Americans are realizing they could use a dose of “Canada-ness” in their country.