Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Crisis that Trudeau Ignores

Few people notice or really care, but there is a daily newspaper crisis in Canada. It is a crisis that has huge ramifications, now and certainly over time, for our country and our culture.

The daily newspaper industry is in fact dying and resuscitation efforts have been meagre and not well thought out.

The Canadian Media Guild, representing workers at CBC and the country’s largest news services, estimates that between 2008 and 2016 more than 16,000 media jobs disappeared across the country.

Accurate numbers are difficult to assemble because news media job losses mount every month. However, it is likely that roughly 10,000 of the 16,000 jobs were lost at newspapers.

In the U.S. between 1990 and 2016 the newspaper publishing industry shrunk by nearly 60 percent, from roughly 458,000 jobs to 183,000 jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Job Statistics reports.

What we do know for sure is that Canadian daily newspaper titles such as the Orillia Times and Packet, the Guelph Mercury and the Moose Jaw Times-Herald, which served significant urban areas for decades, no longer exist.

Last November the Canadian newspaper industry took a huge hit when Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Inc. traded 41 papers then closed 36 in places where they compete. The closures, including weeklies and dailies, eliminated 291 jobs.

This death spiral has prompted a daily newspaper industry attempt to get the federal government to include help for journalism in its cultural policy.

The Trudeau government did commission a study of the problem, which last year resulted in the report titled The Shattered Mirror. It produced a number of good thoughts and recommendations, which the government has pretty much ignored.

A Commons committee also investigated the failing industry and made some practical recommendations. Those also have been ignored.

Trudeau and his ministers have done nothing to help newspaper journalism because they feel that they cannot "bail out industry models that are no longer viable."

That is an uninformed, unintelligent position.

First, it shows a lack of knowledge about the importance of daily journalism to a country’s democracy and culture. Secondly, the industry does not need a financial bailout. It needs fresh, smart thinking to help it reinvent itself in an age where online companies (Facebook and Google to name two) are amassing trillions of dollars by killing traditional industry models.

The newspaper industry desperately needs help in re-inventing itself. Its own efforts to date have been pathetically slow and unimaginative.

Just one example is the TorStar launch of Star Touch, a tablet platform that cost the company $40 million and two years of re-invention time. Many people in the industry said it was a silly project destined to fail. It did and was closed down last summer.

Re-invention efforts outside Canada have been better. Companies like the New York Times, Washington Post and The Guardian in England have been somewhat successful in their efforts to provide strong online models that produce journalism that people are willing to buy.

More and more Canadians are getting their non-local daily news from online dailies in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, London and Melbourne. That likely is the future - people around the world subscribing to one or more online dailies located in major world centres.

Community newspapers, like this one, have a brighter future than the dailies. That is because they focus on hometown news that people want and need.

As the daily newspaper industry has shrunk, huge black holes have developed where news coverage no longer is available to the entire country. Newspapers like the Moose Jaw Times-Herald and the Orillia Packet and Times shared their news with newspaper and broadcast services that distributed it nationwide.

The dailies that survive now are mere shadows of themselves with much reduced news coverage areas, skeleton staffs and therefore less news to share.

The result is Canadians have fewer news sources for learning about what is happening in other parts of their country.

Instead of saying “why should we do anything to help?” the Trudeau government should be asking “what are the ways we might help?”

That’s the way leadership is supposed to work.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

The spy who fed me Shrooms

The tiniest things lead to the most important discoveries.

With nothing else to do I was thumbing through news photos on the Internet. Boring stuff. Trudeau dabbing his eyes with a Kleenex. Trump in a tied-too-long red tie. Trump in a tied-too-long blue tie.

Then onto the computer screen jumps Vlad Putin, bare chested, taking the sun in a remote part of Siberia during his vacation last summer. It was one in a portfolio of photos dumped onto the Internet by Russian state photographers.

Vlad fishing in a stream bare-chested. Vlad scuba diving, Vlad, bare-chested again, horseback riding.

They were part of a public relations effort to show Vlad as the world’s muscular, most powerful leader. The superman who has outboxed and outfoxed Humpity Trumpity of the U.S.

Almost unnoticed in that montage of PR offerings is Vlad, wearing a shirt this time, sitting in dense forest examining and discussing mushrooms with Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s  defence minister.

Eh? The Russian president and his defence minister sitting in a Siberian forest discussing mushrooms?

As Sherlock Holmes would say: “Exactly, my dear Watson!”

Yes, the humble mushroom is master spy Putin’s secret weapon for achieving world domination. Not just any mushroom, but those known in the dark side of mushroom gathering as Shrooms –  psychedelic magic mushrooms.

Russians are mushroom crazy, and love those fleshy fruits of the soil almost as much as they love vodka. They consume two million tons of wild mushrooms each year, most of which are collected in the forests by individual consumers. Mushroom picking is a national sport.

Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, wrote stories about mushroom picking. Composer Peter Tchaikovsky scribbled melodies during mushroom picking expeditions.

Shrooms contain hallucinogens that cause mental disturbances similar to those created by LSD. The Russians over the years are known to have used Shrooms to trick people into believing and doing crazy things.

Siberian shamans consumed Shrooms to achieve spiritual journeys and sometimes gave dried, powdered Shrooms as gifts at Christmas. That is how the Santa Claus legend was born.

When the Siberian snows were too deep to go door to door, the shamans fed magic mushrooms to reindeer and flew from rooftop to rooftop, delivering presents of Shrooms through the chimneys.

Don’t believe that? Well, consider this: one of the most popular magic mushrooms in Siberia has a bright red cap with white dots, the same colour combination as Santa Claus’ winter suit.

So, although he ain’t Santa, Vlad is secretly delivering magic mushrooms around the world. We don’t know how he is doing it but he is getting Shrooms into the bloodstreams of world leaders.

Britain’s Theresa May is doing peculiar things and some days looks like she is about to snap. Normally aggressive Angela Merkel is a quiet mere shadow of herself. Justin Trudeau is speaking oddly, lecturing people to say personhood instead of manhood.

More evidence that world leaders are going strange came when Barack Obama appeared on a Jerry Seinfeld show and said a "pretty sizable percentage" of world leaders are crazy.

Last summer an Australian study reported that magic mushrooms cause people to lose their sense of self.

"People who go through psychedelic experiences no longer take it for granted that the way they've been viewing things is the only way," said one of the report’s authors.

Psychedelics create ‘ego dissolution’ which could result in re-engineering “the mechanisms of self, which in turn could change people's outlook or worldview.” And, “ego dissolution offers vivid experiential proof not only that can things be different, but that there is an opportunity to seek change."

That’s exactly what Vlad is working on – re-engineering the minds of world leaders until they dance for him like puppets.

Obviously he hasn’t managed to get Shrooms into Trump’s Diet Coke yet because that ego remains as large as the Rocky Mountains. However, he no doubt is working hard on it.

I also suspect that Vlad is trying to get Shrooms not just into world leaders’ food and drink but into the general populations’ as well.

Now that I think about it, my coffee did taste a bit different this morning.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Political pipe dream?

It’s time that we all started thinking and doing politics differently here in Ontario, and elsewhere.

The way we do politics is old and rusty. Our political systems are snared in a party system in which the parties and their goals are more important than the people and the common good.

Three major parties are contesting the June Ontario election, none of which is fully capable of providing the leadership that people want and need. All three have had their chance to lead in the last 30 years and all three have failed to provide the new ideas and decisiveness critically needed in a wildly changing world.

Democracy has been weakened in Ontario, but it is not the only place. Failing democracies are seen throughout the world.

Democracies flourish when people believe they can improve their lives. They start to fail when people feel their lives are stagnating, and they see  a not-so-bright future for their children.

A recent Pew Research Centre study found that many people in advanced democracies like Germany, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands and Italy are worried about their children’s economic future. In France, the study found, 70 per cent of people said they doubt their children will be better off financially.

In the U.S. some research says that in 1970, a full 90 per cent of 30 year olds were better off than their parents at the same age. By 2010, only 50 per cent of 30 year olds were better off than their parents at the same age.

There is more evidence closer to home. In Ontario 42 per cent of young adults were living with their parents in 2016, an increase of 20 per cent since 2001.

Concerns about the future are one reason why cracks are showing in democracies,
even in countries where democracies have thrived for many decades, or longer.

Freedom House, a freedom and democracy watchdog, reports that in 2017 “political rights and civil liberties around the world deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade.”

It adds: “Democracy is under assault and in retreat around the globe, a crisis that has intensified as America's democratic standards erode at an accelerating pace.”

Voters continue to believe in democracy but more and more of them see it not meeting their needs. They are upset by what they see as serious world change – growing inequality, sputtering economies, climate change, an evaporating middle class and unprecedented displacement and immigration that is swamping governments.

Many voters around the world are turning to anti-establishment political movements in hopes they can make things better. Populist nationalistic parties have made impressive showings in a number of European countries, and of course the United States.

So far these movements have brought little that can change the world for the better. They have brought, however, a retreat from common decency, political buffoonery, alternate realities and fake news and a disturbing rise in racism.

The alternatives to what we have now do not lie in these so-called populist movements and their alternate realities. Nor do they lie in the political systems and the political parties from which we have to choose.

The alternatives surely are in the people we choose, not the parties. We need to begin nominating and electing people who understand and believe in true bipartisanship – the
working together for the best solutions for all people. 

We need more youth, and more women in politics. More people who spurn tribal thinking and work seriously to develop their own thinking. People who are committed to bipartisan good governance without political party ties.

These will be people who believe that growth should be about meeting and sustaining  needs, not growth simply to ratchet up profits and build bigger stock market numbers. People who see that the goal now must be to meet present basic needs without screwing up the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Attracting and electing people to work independent of political parties may be a pipe dream. But our dreams are the hope of the future.

We need change in how we govern ourselves because the current political party system is corroded and corrupt.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

The dead and the dazed

They just don’t get it, do they?

Our neighbours to the south, I mean. Only three weeks into the new year and they already had experienced 11 school shootings.

Last week’s Kentucky school shooting, which left two 15-year-olds dead and 18 other students wounded, was the 50th school shooting in this academic year.

There probably will be another this week, and another next week because research has found that since 2013 a school shooting occurs somewhere in America every week. Some are suicides and some do not involved killing or injuries, but one a week is shocking.

Also, an FBI study found that of all shooter episodes in the U.S., 25 per cent were in education environments and the number is rising.

Gun death figures are totally insane south of the border. In 2013, 1.3 per cent of all deaths in the U.S. resulted from guns. Between 1968 and 2011 a total of 1.4 million people died from gunshots. That is more than the population of Dallas, Texas or San Diego, California.

Not only are the figures ridiculous, so are the arguments against any form of gun control, or research into why the U.S. has so many more gun deaths than any other so-called civilized society.

The U.S. Congress has rejected efforts to have the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research the underlying causes of gun violence.

John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives at the time of that rejection, said the CDC’s job is to look only at diseases that harm public health. He added:

“I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people — people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”

A gun may not be a disease yet thousands of people in the U.S. die by the gun every year.

The country just keeps burying its gunshot victims and moving on without trying to find out what is causing the epidemic, or trying to cure it. Those who have lost children to gun violence no doubt would welcome some CDC research into why the country is so gun violent.

Americans, however, continue to wander about in a daze, increasingly numbed by the gun violence around them. The outrage over the latest mass shooting is lesser than the outrage from the one before, and more short-lived.

Many no longer can distinguish between reality and the constant violence they see on their screens. Defence mechanisms have kicked in, allowing them to disassociate from what’s happening around them.

We in Canada should not feel superior. Our gun violence is many times less than that of the U.S., however, shootings in our major cities have been increasing every year.

There is gunfire every day in Toronto and shootings no longer are uncommon in cities like Halifax, Edmonton and even Regina.

However, Canadians at least are willing to talk about what is behind gun violence and what we can do to prevent it. For instance, Halifax police have appointed an in-house research co-ordinator to study the problem. Surrey, part of the greater Vancouver area, now has a task force working on gun and gang violence.

And the Canadian Public Health Association has been advocating a public health approach to ending gun violence.

More gun control laws are not the answer for Canada. We have effective gun control laws and we have research that shows more stringent control will simply hurt responsible gun owners while not getting at the real problems.

Illegal guns and streets gangs account for much of Canada’s gun violence. We need to corral the gangs, and keep them from getting guns, most of which are imported and
obtained illegally.

The U.S. needs to open its mind and begin talking about gun violence and how to start putting a lid on it.

That’s a good thought, but not likely to happen. Kentucky, where the two young teens were blown away at school last week, has been considering legislation to allow people with concealed weapons permits to bring handguns onto public school campuses.

Fight gun violence with more guns. Another terrific idea from America’s gun sales folks.