Friday, October 30, 2015

Prime Minister-designate, Justin Trudeau, invokes former Prime Minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier

“Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways!”

Evoking the words of history, those specifically of Prime Minister Sir
Wilfred Laurier, Justin Trudeau celebrated his electoral victory on Monday night, October 19, 2015.

Like a glass of milk for a bleeding ulcer, a gin and tonic for an alcoholic, a drop of Zoloft for one seriously depressed, a lottery cheque for the homeless, and a job for the unemployed, “sunny ways” sounds like the political version of “Pacabel’s Canon” to the factory worker who spends all day among jammering and screeching gears grinding out the metal parts of other machines.

There are certainly storm warnings on the horizon, clearly detectable without GPS, without radar, without Early Warning Systems and without much intimate knowledge of the intricacies of diplomacy. Unless one has been living under a rock for the last two or three decades, the rise of military, intelligence, pharmaceutical, insurance and security apparatus(es), twinned with the accompanying sacralising of the money and the transactions that provide the oceanic tide that keeps all of those boats afloat, and not merely afloat but steaming along in growing numbers and larger editions, cannot be missed or ignored. We now learn that the Koch brothers will spend one BILLION dollars in their assault on the American electorate, just to elect a presidential dummy fit to their liking, and obedient to their commands.

We are not comparing Justin Trudeau to the Koch brothers; we are, however, attempting to describe the political and cultural context in which Trudeau’s “sunny” disposition, and rhetoric were delivered. And the ease with which the Canadian electorate was wooed by both of them. Some pundits describe Trudeau’s victory as one of the “left” of centre, compared with the austerity and coldness of the Harper decade. And there is some validity in that thesis. Others compare Trudeau to Mulcair, hoisted on the petard of his party’s stereotypical reputation (unwarranted) as spendthrift and profligate. Deficit budgets, depending on the manner by which they are presented, are similar to the “wage and price controls” predicted and promised by then Progressive Conservative leader Stanfield, and condemned by his Liberal opponent Trudeau 1, only to be implemented by none other than that same Trudeau following his electoral victory. Deficit, wage and price controls, a specific tax proposal, like a specific benefit proposal... all of them are offered or disdained depending on the campaign strategy adopted, and then potentially relinquished once the full picture of the nation’s books is known.

It was a Greek rescuer in Lesbos, caught on camera, shouting “where are the leaders?” in the midst of the largest refugee migration since the second war, who expressed the angst of his community about the failure to end the savagery in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, given the ubiquity of the terrorism and its many faces. We all have little confidence that the meetings in Vienna will come to any meaningful resolution on the Syrian conflict. We also have little confidence that the upcoming meeting in Paris, to attempt to confront the global warming and climate change crisis will come to any meaningful resolution notwithstanding the United Nations cautiously optimistic report from some 150 countries today. And we also have little hope that the growing gap between the rich and the have-not’s both in Canada and in the rest of the world will be closed, even with Trudeau’s tax hike for the wealthiest Canadians.

“Sunny days!” may sound like someone in your family suggesting we all watch a sitcom, as we attempt to ameliorate the stress from watching the news. Sunny days may also sound like a trip to the ice cream parlour after completing some extended project, for a simple reward of self-indulgence. Sunny days may also sound like a “take five” on Julie Nisralla’s Tempo on CBC Radio 2, a feature that includes a specially selected and especially calming piece of classical music, as an antidote for all the stresses in everyone’s day.

Some political pundits have commented that even if Trudeau continues to set a “different tone”, he will have gone a long way to meeting the expectations of the Canadian electorate. “Not so fast!” it says here.

Trudeau’s sunny ways has to go much farther than a new tone. He has to meet many expectations he himself has set, including the following:

·       a specific target for carbon emissions,

·       select and appoint a Royal Commission to investigate and report on missing and murdered aboriginal women,*

·       appoint a blue ribbon committee to craft a response to the Supreme Court’s opening the door to doctor assisted suicide,

·       craft a budget to implement his promised tax cuts, and tax hikes, his enhancement of child support and seniors’ support,

·        make good on his commitment to a $2 billion energy innovation fund,

·       Make good on his commitment to enhanced transit and infrastructure funding....

Sunny ways may well be a poetic aphorism that evokes happy times; nevertheless, in the face of the last decade, both at home and around the world, Trudeau’s time on the world stage, while it may be brief,  has the window of opportunity to shift the balance of power from the richest people, corporations and nations to the less advantaged, including both citizens of Canada, as well as the impoverished and refugees whose numbers threaten the peace and stability of the world.

It was only this week that a leader of the European Union issued a very dire prediction: If the EU does not find a way to manage the refugee crisis, it could spell the beginning of the end of the EU. It was also this week when Prince Charles (don’t double over in derisive laughter) warned that even a two degree rise in  temperature could be catastrophic...and the UN is already forecasting a 2.7 degree rise by the end of this century.

Sunny ways, in the middle of a cloudy decade, are both welcome and more than a little tantalizingly seductive. While the Canadian people have offered Trudeau four years, just like his predecessor, he will be monitored carefully, and hopefully fairly by the Canadian people, the Canadian media and the parliamentary opposition. Our dauphin is not really a member of any royalty, except perhaps in social terms. Politically, and in the long light of history, Trudeau 2.0, will be judged not only on his highly successful campaign and sunny rhetoric. He will also have to prove his “chops” as a visionary and compassionate and detail-dedicated leader of a political party whose recent past still leaves some bitter taste in the mouths of many Canadians.

And, by the way, the next pundit from outside Canada (read The United States) who calls him “hot” ought to have her press credentials cancelled. There is no excuse for such sexual objectification and were it reversed on a female candidate, the male reporter would be pilloried!

* Today’s report from Sudbury about people there selling and buying Hallowe’en costumes depicting First Nations people is more than a little unsettling, to many of us, not to mention to the First Nations people themselves. Another similarly disturbing report aired today on a piece of public art at a university in the maritimes, in which one dozen red dresses were hung from tree only to find many of those dresses have been stolen or attacked. The art was to commemorate the many missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Complicity in narcissism and its denial could be our undoing

And then there is the "inner voice" that continues to wrangle with our public "persona" and tells us those deeper truths that we often do not wish to expose, or even to deny their existence, so embedded in our public "face".
It is the inner voice that recognizes the slightest slight, the almost imperceptible insult, the hollowness of the other's patronizing, the brutality of another's taking us for granted, the assault of conventional attitudes and perceptions and words, especially those words calculated to "persuade" us to another point of view.
It is not only on facebook or twitter where insults are hurled.
It is not only among competitors on Main Street that competition is allowed to run amuk over the truth.
It is not only among school children, many of them struggling to find both mentors and the acceptance that makes their guidance so valuable and so relevant to young minds, that bullies abound,
It is right there, in plain sight of everyone breathing, and willing to name the insult when one person's ambition and need for the spotlight trumps another's legitimacy in where to sit in a public meeting, or how to respond when asked a serious question, and after having done so, having recoiled from the impact of the cold, ostracizing stare and then the inevitable movement to the other side of the room, because the response to the question did not fit within the bounds of the expectations of the family or group.
The anthropologists and the psychologists and the sociologists agree and continue to remind us that humans are "social" beings, that we gravitate together, that we read others' responses as a pathway to our own discovery of the paths we choose. And, especially when there is an impending disaster, a family tragedy, a community fire, or even a disastrous car accident, there is an immediate and both expected and warranted outpouring of human support, in flowers, candles, prayers, vigils, and even some liturgies that comport with the customs and the traditions of the victims. At that moment, we are all "good Samaritans" at least in our public display of "support" and "comfort".
And yet, most are unaware of the hidden impact of the original story of the Good Samaritan.
A Jew, taken for dead, is lying in a ditch. He is passed by by both a priest and a Levite. And then the Good Samaritan lifts him from his ditch, takes him to shelter, pays for the shelter and receives rave reviews among most contemporary Christians.
A different "take" on the story, however, sees in the divinity, not in the Good Samaritan, but in the Jew lying in the ditch. He is the most vulnerable, the most ignored, the most taken for granted and the most hated by the Samaritan community. For some, he represents the Christ, and not the Good Samaritan, as conventional 'wisdom' would maintain.
And, for every one of us, we are much more like the Jew, taken for dead, by all the passers-by in our lives. We are mostly ignored, passed by, offered the most basal token of notice: "Hello, and how are you today?" "Fine thanks!" is our response, because we all know too intimately and too painfully, that any other answer would be a bother to the inquirer. The question is both automatic, even autonomic, as is the response.
We are paying lip-service to "belonging" to the human race, to the local community, to the staff of our workplace and we are "fitting in" with the expectations of others.
And the price for our conformity, and for our compliance and for our repression of how we really feel and think is demonstrated in the statistics in our cardiac and our cancer wards, in our rehab programs, in our prisons, in our thousands of drop-outs, in our millions of insults, that campaign for the delivery of which makes us all willful and dutiful soldiers.
We neither really notice the other, nor do we consider it "appropriate" to inquire further, or to take the time needed for additional engagement, although we know deeply and profoundly that we both share such an encounter.
Our churches, have abandoned this human need for being known, for being considered valuable, in spite of the scriptural phrase, "image dei" (made in the image of God). We have been fed, and our ancestors and our families have rushed headlong to the feeding frenzy that feeds us the non-nutritional belief, perception and attitude that we are basically evil, sinners, imperfect in every way, and desperately in need of redemption. We have turned God into the most arbitrary and most powerful and most hated critical parent of all, and that is the most powerful "inner" voice in our head.
It plays the tapes of the most unsettling and the most upsetting and the most painful episodes in our lives, over and over, whenever a situation presents itself that triggers a similar moment in which we were abused, insulted, bullied yet were unable to respond in a manner fitting to the abuse of that power.
And, then we have so designed our culture that it becomes something "noxious" when and if such a response leaps unexpectedly from our unconscious, causing embarrassment for both the "erupter" and for the audience. "Oh, there must be deep issues still unresolved in that life," in the sometimes unspoken reaction to such an outburst; often that sentiment is even expressed in company where the people have refused categorically to acknowledge their own unresolved conflicts, tensions, abuses and victim. We may be "social" in a minimalist sense of the word, but we are also extremely quick and willing to dismiss the other at the very moment when that other may be expressing real truth, not only from that person's inner life, but also a truth that addresses something dysfunctional in the public arena.
And that is the rub!
We absolutely refuse to accept that truth, given the fragility of our public "group" or "organization" or family, or political party. It is a Conservative candidate from the most recent election in Canada who told CBC News that the Conservative party was absolutely unwilling to even hear, let alone acknowledge, the fact that their leader Stephen Harper was unpopular, even though all of the opinion polls told the world that well over 74% of all voters wanted him removed from office.
It is this kind of denial, and obfuscation and cover-up and dismissal of the ugly truths that make our lives uncomfortable, from which extremely valuable relationships can build, new truths discovered and from which all individuals and organizations can grow, deepen their insight and develop new approaches to old problems.
And, of course, the nation voted "strategically" to send 184 Liberals to Ottawa, in a majority government because they believed that in their specific riding, a vote for the party of their real choice (other than Liberal) would tend to prevent the removal from power of the hated government of Stephen Harper. It would "split" the vote and leave the country with the unacceptable future of a minority government, even though many insightful political scientists pointed to our history of minority governments that worked very effectively. Lester Pearson's Liberal minority in the mid-1960's is the best example. And yet, that was a time in which world peace, and the expectations of prosperity abounded, notwithstanding both the Cold War and the Bay of Pigs. While Trudeau was denouncing Harper for his "politics of fear and division" he was also defaming Mulcair for his vision's long-term execution, while he offered "instant gratification" something the electorate is unwilling to acknowledge.
Democracy may be the best of many bad systems of governance. It certainly panders to an insatiable appetite for "sugar" and for sweetness and for youth and energy and the promise of 'valhalla', when we all know that no Prime Minister, even with 184 seats, can or will deliver on such magnanimous and patronizing promises that paved the way to the majority government.
And of course, when (not if) the Prime Minister fails, demonstrates his "feet of clay," and negotiates a bad deal, or insults an unsuspecting segment of the population, as he inevitably will, we will not own a single iota of responsibility for having put him in  such a position, along with his compliance, in the first place.
We have come to believe, I guess, that we can buy anything, including a utopian government, fair to all constituents, to all special interests and to all ethnicities, and regions and economic sectors. In our blatant naivety, we have rushed headlong away from something the taste of which we found abhorrent, to something the initial taste of which is like candy floss at the midway. And we all know how nourishing that ephemeral sticky stuff really is.
It is not that the Liberals and Mr. Trudeau insulted us; it is rather that we were so voraciously hungry from something different, that we may have compromised the real and not so hidden ugly truths of our national consciousness, and our national culture. It is filled with racism, bigotry, even some including us, would argue apartheid, but we do not wish to hear or to acknowledge our part in that dark secret.
We are also a national of co-dependent pleasers who like nothing better than looking good for the stock market, for the investment community, for the power-brokers internationally, while ignoring the deliberate assault on working people of the last decade, (unlikely to be reversed under the corporate-dependent Liberals), and while ignoring the glaring income disparity that has followed the globalization of the world economy. While Trudeau has promised a tax hike for the wealthiest income earners, that will disturb literally no one, given their capacity to withstand such a slight alteration in their tax payable. And yet, no one is decrying the lowest corporate tax rate among the G7, the urgency of the now of extreme action on global warming and climate change. No one can watch the largest storm in recorded history slam into the shores of Mexico, nor the plethora of storms that continue to plague many countries and not wonder if and when the world is going to curb its appetite for fossil fuels. And leaving the stage to the private corporations, with a few government subsidies for renewables, with minimal impact caps on carbon emissions is not enough.
In fact, while Liberals historically (and successfully) campaign from the left and then govern from the right, that is not enough either, for the dangers and the threats we all face. Keeping the corporations and the stock markets 'happy' and undisturbed' is precisely the opposite of what the world needs.
And the capacity and willingness of the Canadian electorate to comply with what feels good, and what looks good, and what causes no serious discomfort,  both in our private lives, in our families, and in our political lives, could well implicate each of us in a series of outcomes for which we all share responsibility.
Is that good enough, in a country where "better is always possible" according to the Prime Minister- designate?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thursday morning quarterbacking after Monday's Canadian election

Post mortems are usually reserved for dead bodies. Autopsies are the work of pathologists, those specially trained and experienced medical practitioners who take tissue samples from the deceased and examine them under high power microscopes for their hidden “data base” of evidence of the cause of death.

In a nation’s political life, immediately following a long and exhaustive and exhausting  election campaigns, those who demonstrate interest take the pulse of their political party, its leader, its policies and its future prospects. And this space is dedicated to that process.

For the NDP, endorsed whole heartedly here, Monday’s results were dismal, disappointing and disheartening in their raw numbers. Beginning in first place, in opinion polls, the party and its leader could and did actually envisage forming the first NDP government in Canadian history. Cautious, promising a balanced budget, in order to neutralize the false stereotype of being in favour of high taxes and extravagant spending, the party promised a national day care program for $15/day, something they believed would attract many young families, and something already demonstrated to have worked in Quebec. Also prominent among their plans were tax hikes for corporations (not individual families, as promised by the Liberal for the top 1% of income earners), a withdrawal of combat forces from Syria and Iraq, a balanced approach to resource extraction and environmental protection,  a proportional representation system of electoral reform, abolishment of the Senate, a commitment to work with other parties, should a minority government emerge from the vote, and a commitment to oppose Harper should he form a minority government.

Their leader, Thomas Mulcair, a seasoned politician from his days as Environment Minister and senior civil servant in the Quebec Liberal government, a lawyer and one of eight children, spoke with energy and clarity and even showed signs of the father/grandfather he is, especially when capturing the mood of the country upon learning of the drowning of a young boy on a Turkish beach, one of hundreds of thousands of refugees, upon whom the then Conservative government had already turned its back, and that of the country. Deploying the nation as his contemporary court room, and the people/media/opponents as his jury, Mulcair was explicit and detailed in his presentation, pausing to be sure his audience heard each and every work, digested its meaning and refusing to sound “mushy” or uncertain, although the policies he articulated were certainly more left of centre than those of the Conservatives of the last decade. The courtroom legal beagle, however, suffered from a two-headed foil, in the form of first, the Liberal “happiness oracle” on one hand and the embittered cynic of the Conservatives.

It is not merely the policies of the Liberals (singing from the Jack Layton manuscript) that promised a protracted deficit for the next few years, with billions spent on new infrastructure, and restoring social programs gutted by the Conservatives, that swamped the NDP vote. It was also a capacity of the Liberals to couch their rhetoric in less legal, less bureaucratic, and less specific language, the language that permits “wiggle room” that is the life-blood of all politicians. The hard and specific edge of Mulcair’s legal presentation is not the stuff of the neighbourhood party on Saturday night. His arguments, his demeanour and his very presence, while filled with integrity, passion , conviction and authenticity, remained by their own parameters, somewhat aloof, detached and less warm and fuzzy than the ideas and their presentation by the Liberal leader. Sadly, as might have been predicted by some, the Liberals, having campaigned from the left, will now likely govern, as is their predilection, from the right. Had the NDP been elected, while promising a balanced budget, it would have, as promised, delivered a pharmacare plan to complement the National Health Act, restored that program to its highly warranted position of respectability and sustainability, while also imposing a decisive limit to the emission of carbon dioxide. Not at all beholden to the large corporations, as the Liberals are wont to be, the NDP would have faced much different winds off Bay Street than those that will greet the Liberals.

Not only were NDP television appearances more edgy, in their tone, but over-all the proclivity of the “brains” of the party to take the cautious middle road, in a what now appears in hindsight to have been a failed strategy, now only backfired in this election; it may well have set the party’s fortunes back decades, in terms of being able to envision and plan to form a national government.

There is a very fine line between the micro and the macro statements of both style and substance in a political campaign. Too close attention to the finer, nuanced points tends to make peoples’ eyes glaze over; and too many broad uncosted promises garners a legitimate scepticism, even cynicism among the public.

We have all had more than our fair share of cynicism from Ottawa over the last decade. Cynicism, liberally laced with anger, deception and talking points, was the last quality we sought from anyone or any party seeking to replace the previous government.

Unless the NDP is prepared to provide great national policies, for others to implement through successful election campaigns, in the future, it will have to be far more courageous and trusting of the generosity and the decency and the hopefulness of the Canadian people, and also be willing to be true to its principles and the historic place it has already carved out of the rocks of the political landscape, if it is ever to generate the kind of public support not only for its generally insightful and compassionate and farsighted vision and policies.

As for the Conservatives, their campaign is the work, as was the decade of power, of one man. And all Canadians have had done with that kind of arrogance from their political leaders. And, while Conservatives are our neighbours, they are not the most collaborative or negotiable or flexible of neighbours, just as they are not the most collaborative, negotiable, flexible or reasonable instruments of governance.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Living "under the table" breeds deceit, denial and uber hypocrisy...not in our national interest

It was in a grade twelve English class in northern Ontario that a visiting student from Australia was asked, "What is the difference between the United States (where she had also visited) and Canada?"
Without pausing, she responded, "That's easy; the Canadian bigotry is under the table while the American bigotry is above the table."
It is not only Canadian bigotry that is fossilized "under the table" as it were.
Under the table, is a metaphor for how the country operates.
A supervising bishop once warned me directly, "You know John, people cannot stand too much reality!"
And of course, in other places in this space, stories of family secrets can be found.
And then there are the cultural implications of keeping the real story "under the table".
It was a NDP insider earlier this week, in speaking with her family, who said, "You know, it is really hard for a party without a newspaper, without a radio or television station to mount an effective political campaign." The inference is that her party struggles to overcome 'the establishment' still, in that both 'older parties', the Liberals and Conservatives, have already deployed their megamedia supporters in their pursuit of national power. The National Post has, as expected, endorsed the Conservatives. As a paper of the corporate world, they would do nothing less. The Star, in Toronto, has traditionally supported the Liberal Party. And while the Globe and Mail has shifted from one to the other of the older parties, it would make history if it were to endorse the NDP.
There is a 'new kid on the block' aspect to the NDP, in that the party has never been trusted sufficiently to be voted into power in Ottawa. There is a history of 'corporate welfare' lexicon from former NDP leaders, far ahead of the real events of the last few decades, during which the words of the David Lewis's and the Ed Broadbent's have only come to pass. Corporate siamesing with government, especially the government of the Republican and Conservative and Liberal parties in both the United States and Canada, has generated the greatest income disparity in the history of both countries. It has generated the worst economic depression  since the 1920's. It has generated the worst environmental pollution from carbon dioxide emissions in the history of the planet. It has generated the largest gap in salary between ordinary workers and CEO's in the history of both countries. It has generated political campaigns that are funded by the cheques of the executives and middle managers of large and medium-sized corporations. And it has also relegated the NDP and similar political voices in the U.S. to the sidelines of power, in both Washington and Ottawa.
Headlong plunges into the seductive arms/promises/policies of the wealthy, by the electorates in both Canada and the United States has enabled thousands of jobs to be exported to less wealthy countries, where wages are an insult to the workers there as well as to the rest of the world's people, who may be paying attention and giving a damn. Trade agreements have been negotiated that damage both the environment, on which we all depend, and workers' rights, on which our children and grandchildren will fail to enjoy. And all of this, in order to pursue unfettered profits, based on unbridled greed and nepotism, of the kind that is sufficiently abstract so as not to attract specific legal actions in protest. If the whole world is doing it, then no court would even hear a case brought against the establishment, especially one funded by the world's rich and powerful.
A presidential candidate, such as Bernie Sanders, while exemplary in his castigation of the co-dependence of the government with the wealthy, is merely one voice. He is joined by Robert Rauch, former Secretary of Labour in the Clinton administration, Elizabeth Warren, and in Canada, Thomas Mulcair. However, the campaign rhetoric in Canada does not speak of the broad implications of the cabal of the rich in this country. Both Liberal and Conservative parties are funded by the corporate class. And, let's not shy away from the exposing of the reality that it is a class war that is being waged, (without ever using such harsh language, because, we don't speak in such terms in polite company).
Polite company, politically correct behaviour, of course, is endorsed, encouraged and modelled by the establishment, given its claim to 'high' standards and 'high expectations, and clean campaigns with clean candidates. Grabbing the high moral and linguistic ground for itself, the establishment has, for centuries, on both sides of the Atlantic, shrouded itself in a self-declared 'right to govern' that brings with it, expensive cars, humungous homes, executive offices, compensation for its own of a magnitude that would feed a whole country in the developing world. And both Liberals and Conservatives in Canada, have relied on, counted on, and benefited from the largess of the wealthy, in the natural and sycophantic and co-dependent relationship of the tree and the fungus, with each party serving at times as tree (in dollars) and as fungus, (dependent for government release of corporate regulation), or in government's case, as tree (in granting special favours to its puppeteers) and as fungus ( sucking up corporate funds for political campaigns). The role merely reverses, like a dance of Siamese twins on a single mother, the body politic, whose future, and whose rights and whose security and independence, are all battered and bounced like the political football the establishment is conditioned to consider them (within the temper and the spirit of the moment, depending on which of the monsters (corporations or government) are most in need.
Even Donald Trump has exposed this diabolic dance, for what it is, a two-headed monster of voracious appetite, nurtured and fed by the ambition for profit,  in one head, and the ambition for power on the other. Nevertheless, the real source of the income of both heads is the people, through labour for the corporation, and through taxes for the governments.
Should a cry escape from the polite and submissive and repressed ordinary people, (as it has with Sanders) such a voice is immediately decried as shameful, an embarrassment and so unconventional as to be easily dismissed.
It is not merely the distribution of the national income, through tax and benefit policies, that national governments operate. It is in their capacity and willingness to comply in this charade, that covers-up the real power struggle in which the United States and Canada are currently engaged. It is a class war, although neither side wants to admit such an open conflict. Social unrest might, could and possibly will emerge from too much divisive language that tells the full truth of who is pouring money into the Conservative and Liberal coffers, (a story no national media in Canada is prepared to cover, because that would expose their own complicity in the nefarious dance.) Similarly, stories of the thousands of individual donors, who contribute small donations under $50 dollars, while adding to a smaller but still significant campaign fund, do not receive the kind of national reporting they deserve. This is manner in which the NDP has been able to wage an effective, if less opulent advertising campaign, without being able to attract the kind of reporting that would penetrate the psyches and the voting patterns of undecided voters.
One example of the impact of deconstructing national institutions like the CBC: The Harper Conservatives have effectively declared open warfare on the CBC, and in so doing, has rendered the national broadcaster (publicly funded) a dependent on the promises of whichever political party declares their support for public funding, should they win power. However, no newscast is ever opened with a declaration of support for those parties that will keep the corporate alive.
So, while the campaign has received copious time and attention by both the public and private broadcasters, their political persuasion, and that of their reporters and analysts (excepting the talking heads that represent respective political parties) remains shrouded in mystery. Compare this, for example, with national broadcasters like MSNBC, whose political persuasion, like the Fox network, is open, admitted and even championed.
In Canada, such obvious partisanship would render any broadcaster impotent, politically incorrect and thereby worthless. Yet, in the U.S. their favouring the Democrats does not seem to impede their research nor their presentation of important and revealing insights that would never receive the light of day, without the passion and the subjectivity of their staff. Of course, they have their token "opposition voice" to retain some audience among the Republicans (in the case of MSNBC) yet their support of Democrats is significant, especially in light of the billions of corporate dollars that flow to corporate, Republican candidates, and lobbyists working for their specific issues among Congress.
Let's do some 'growing up' in Canada, and relinquish our dependence on the charade of objectivity, while holding passionately and fervently to a political party, under the table in both our funding of political parties and of news media
Corporate culture dictates that all public statements made about that corporation or by corporate executives be and remain positive; such a culture is not only crippling to that culture in the long term, it also fosters a social and political model that covers its "warts" with layers of obfuscation, deceit, denial and avoidance. Political correctness, as an instrument of national culture can and will breed the kind and degree of hypocrisy for which most grade nine classes are famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view.
Can and will we graduate from  the cocoon of living "under the table" on political issues, parties, funding and reporting? Or are we so embedded in our self-sabotaging traditions that we prefer permanent adolescence?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mulcair and NDP, the best option for Canada for next four years

If there ever were a time and set of circumstances when the level of education, the capacity of critical thought, the willingness to parse the rhetoric and to get past the charisma of political campaigns are highly valued and valuable as national traits, that would be the week from now until next Monday, Election Day in Canada.

Nevertheless, one party leader takes to “props” of piles of Canadian small bills, to illustrate the cost of one of his opponents’ platforms on middle class taxpayers. It is as if that leader is so cynical about our ability to conceptualize numbers into piles of ten and twenty-dollar bills that he has an attractive female pile them one by one while the national television cameras are running, recording and eventually spinning this tripe across the country.
Another party leader, like the most recent iteration of his fabled father, struts, literally struts, while smiling and telling the country “what he is not ready for”, in a direct shot at one of his opponent’s national advertising spots. Growing up in the back of  chauffeur-driven limousines, and in the private cabins of the prime minister’s plane, and on the slopes of the world’s best downhill skiing mountains, one could hardly do more than mouth the words of “a struggling middle class” knowing so little of that way of life as to hold it merely as an abstraction, a talking point, written by some wordsmith in his camp, written in the profound conviction that the middle class has suffered under the current administration.

Another party leader stoops to the lowest nadir of all, premising his campaign on a balkanized country divorce, and deploying the most base kind of racist debate, whether or not the niqab is a national issue of significance...anything to get on the radar screen of the national media! How insulting can this campaign become?

Throughout, only one leader has consistently demonstrated a level of decorum, decency, moderation, thoughtfulness, and intellectual rigor worthy of becoming the country’s next national leader. And after all, when all the promises have been costed, compared, graphed, digitized and disseminated, (and their comparative merits generally point in the same direction to the middle or left of the political right of the last decade), the country needs a new leader, a man (Ms May is not yet in a position to win sufficient votes to form a government, although she too has demonstrated a level of intellectual discipline, and adult demeanour worthy of the top job) who can and will take “our” place in Paris, and in New York, Washington and London and Berlin and Brussels, representing the country with incisive insight, a serious presentation that will quickly earn the respect of his international peers, and advocate positions that will add to his respect back home.

Of course, there  will be some of us whose vote for the NDP will get lost in a riding where the NDP have no hope of winning; nevertheless, voting NDP is still a principled expression of a mature and thoughtful citizen, one that has not and cannot be swayed by either of the ‘old party’ leaders.

The last decade has clearly left the Conservative leaders scraping the bottom of the public opinion barrel. However, let’s not forget, that in the decade before him, the Liberals were so tarnished that the country threw them out. Their hold on national power, over the last century-plus has been so extensive that, of course, their current class of operatives cannot help but be imbued with a sense of national entitlement, a sense that their party is “the national political party” of record. And this sense of entitlement, while perhaps moderated under the current leadership, is nevertheless completely excised from the culture of the party.

We need a government of a party whose history of apprenticeship in many provinces over many decades demonstrates a capacity to bring in new ideas that have garnered national acceptance and even respects, a willingness to bring about social change without blowing up the vault, and leaving a huge burden on the next generations, and a capacity to lead without arrogance and offense, even providing considerable weight to the national debate. Witness names like Broadbent, Blakeney, Douglas, Romanov, Barrett, Harcourt, Rae (before his magical conversion to the Liberals), and Shreyer, and both David and Stephen Lewis, and now Notley, among others.

Polls that point to a Liberal minority have only emboldened the Liberal leader; they have only pointed out the impact of a slick campaign, a slick platform and a kind of political opportunism (its all about gaining power, not about whether the policies or the leadership or the culture of the party really matter). The Canadian electorate has been induced by scintillating political advertising and campaigning in the past. This time, there is so much turbulence in the world community, and so many large and threatening issues confronting the world leaders, that, Canada needs a seasoned, veteran, experienced and modest party and leader for our national government.

Harper has proven his time is over. Trudeau has yet to demonstrate more than a theatre arts/teaching capacity, not unworthy in themselves, but hardly demonstrating a kind of grit and experience both the country and the international community so desperately need. Talking points, backroom advisers, managers and “bagmen” do not comprise a government. And elected members, no matter their respective skills and talents, can not and will not substitute for a empty suit in the PMO.

On Monday, October 19, Tom Mulcair and the NDP offer the best combination of experience, policy, demeanor and temperament to the Canadian electorate.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A bow toward transcendentalism....and a push back against materialism

The Scottish Presbyterian church is roiling over the ago-old conflict between Christian evangelicals and Christian liberals. The Canadian election is roiling over the conflict between those who favour a woman's right to wear a niqab while swearing the oath of citizenship and those who think she must 'unveil'. The United States government is roiling over the Russian military incursion into Syria and its dropping cruise missiles on what they claim to be 'terrorist cells' which the Americans claim are strongholds of the opponents to President Bashar Al Assad. The European Union is roiling over the tsunami of refugees that are beating the doors down pleading for entry into a life of peaceful fulfilment while fleeing conditions most Europeans would reject as both disgusting and sickening.
The Republican Party is roiling over who is an authentic black man, President Obama or candidate Dr. Ben Carson, and in the process opening historic wounds of racism, classism, and the relation of both to political ideology. The United Nations General Assembly was/is roiling over its apparent impotence in terminating the Syrian conflict, resolving the Ukrainian incursion by Russian-supported militants (are these terrorists too, in Putin's definition?) and the corruption charges against the General Assembly Speaker. North Korea is roiling over its president's hubristic claim that his country is more than ready for war against the United States, rattling sabres of new detonations of nuclear weapons, probably underground. China is roiling over the 70+% of its male population who smoke, the two-thirds of young men who begin to smoke and the projected deaths of at least one third of all smokers in China by 2030. China is also roiling over the smog that blankets some of its cities from industrial carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired energy plants. South Carolina is roiling over the hit imposed by the 1000-year storm that flooded her towns, cities, people and land. The Republicans in the House of Representatives are roiling over the resignation of Speaker John Boehner, and the stepping aside of his perceived successor Kevin McCarthy, leaving them exposed to their own self-sabotage as elected representatives and a political party. The aboriginal community in Canada is roiling over the insulting indifference that hangs over the over 1100 murdered or missing aboriginal women whose deaths are still not accounted for, and for whom there is considerable national resistance to a national public inquiry. Most Canadians are roiling over the racism and the hypocrisy that hangs over our treatment of aboriginal peoples since the date of confederation.
Roiling, in other words, seems to be a condition of contemporary culture. The public is "roiling;" it is "disturbed;" it is "angry;" it is anxious and uncertain.
Public figures, especially those running for political office, take it upon themselves to play "doctor to the soul" of whatever region or constituency they purport to represent. And yet, that "soul" is so assaulted by the language and the actions of the "religious" community. Knowing the "public soul" is such a fraught phrase in terms of its literal meaning, its connotative meaning and the sources of those who offer both diagnoses and prescriptions for its healing.
It was the transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau, following upon the heels of the romantics, who argued that everything, every person, every rock and tree and stream constituted the soul. Of course, their "theory" or "philosophy" was anathema to the Christian belief that centred on a biblical narrative of the New Testament that posits a Saviour's birth, ministry, death and resurrection as the model of both discipleship and salvation. It the deity is in everything, then Jesus is another 'container' and recipient and voice and poet and visionary of and for that deity.
And if the institutional Christian church, as the legitimate expression of the story of Jesus, is replete with its own cracks, misgivings, misrepresentations, and even abuses of the deity, then clearly other public institutions could and would have their own ethical, moral and spiritual failures. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to argue that the institutions, per se, are at the root of the many roilings that we read about above.
Institutions, by definition, have a set of parameters to which they must adhere, as well as a history of their own abuses of the people whose stories comprise the 'shoulders' on which the institutions were built. In the deity is within each individual human and every other thing on the planet, then, while that deity could also be ascribed residence within the ecclesial walls, the institution will, by definition and by all other actions, words, stories and  beliefs and dogma, comprise a 'less than' complete expression of something which will not fit into any specific words, actions, or beliefs. In fact, as history demonstrates so abundantly and tragically, many of the human expressions of conflict, including murders, and exclusions, and excommunications and most other human aberrations and what are considered crimes, can be traced back to the failure of the institutions to incarnate the deity's essence and example in its own life.
We are all, paradoxically, imbued with a divine quality, and capable of transgressing against that divinity, as well as transgressing against ourselves and perhaps it is only in the individual's divinity that we find the most pure expression of the divine. Hence, it is not so difficult to posit that many of our transgressions are linked to, if not absolutely resulting consequences of, the imprint imposed by the institutions of our culture, including the family, the school, the church, the governments, the military and certainly the business conglomerates.
The purist of expressions of beauty and truth and love, for example, could easily and arguably be expressions of the only divinity, the only deity, known to human beings. And following from that premise, our life patterns could be, arguably, a search to restore our affinity for and our need for such expressions of beauty, truth and love. Of course, we fall short, in our pursuit; and of course we blame others for our failures. And, perhaps, it is not so much individuals who must bear our accusations, but perhaps the institutions themselves that we should be holding accountable. It is not, perhaps, our mothers and fathers, our bosses and teachers, our mentors and partners who share responsibility for our failures, as some would have us believe. Perhaps it is the institutions of all, those inanimate, and imperfect and clearly self-interested and self-aggrandising and morally and ethically 'detached and neutral' things that human beings have erected as monuments to our own hubris, and our tragic need for power and control, that need to bear more of our resentments and our anger and our frustration and our aggression and our "dark side."
However, most of the "roilings" we are confronted with and by today, emerge from conflicts in our extremely limited and capped conceptions of deity, and thereby of  beauty, truth and love. We are living in a world whose conceptual framework is limited to the acquisition of money and power. We are living in a world whose metaphysical framework is limited to the definition of "wrong" acts committed and the punishment of those wrong acts by a state whose own conception of  the unlimited beauty, truth and love surrounding it is so impaired as to be virtually inconsequential. At the same time, its exaggerated fear of losing control is so out of control that it requires punishments so severe and incompatible with the wrongs committed, that its neurosis is in charge. We have participated in a drastic and tragic reductionism of the meaning the expression and the expectation of the deity, of the divine and of "god" in both capitalized and non-capitalized versions, that we have insulted all expressions of the deity, however we define and conceptualize that entity.  And we have agreed to our own complicity in this reduction, so much so that even our churches, whose existence is dependent on a celebration of the divine, have lost most hope of recovering a visceral and credible approximation of God and of the divine and have also lost the language and the experience of the living inspiration and enthusiasm that can and does come from a relationship with the divine, with the deity.
What if, for example, the Scottish church is debating the inconsequential differences between the evangelicals and the liberals, differences which evoke only a benign smile from the deity?
What if, for example, the nuclear threats, and the terrorist threats, and the threats of sexual differences are, to the deity, merely more indications of our lostness in our own hubris, a hubris that requires our tenacious hold to "something absolute" because our fears are in charge, and because have become embedded in our own minutiae of perfection, while losing our perspective on the  beauty, truth and love we share in our private lives?
What if our dedication to the institutional definitions of success and meaning, (power and money) demonstrate our obsequiousness to the wrong sources of meaning and purpose for human life, and our simultaneous blindness and deafness to the cries of the really needy and the really suffering among us?
What if our power and control need is subverting our pursuit of human relationships, of art and poetry and music and discussions of the meaning and purpose of life, resulting in our filled emergency rooms, and our over-flowing pubs and parties and Gatsby-esque narcissism, as we chase our idols, and reject our own divinity?
We if, instead of pointing fingers at the other religions, and shooting bullets at those whose beliefs differ from ours, and instead of beheading infidels, we were to stop and reflect on our own potential for the divine, our own expression of the deity, and our potential sharing of the beauty, truth and love that gives life to each person who searches for those expressions of the divine?
What if, for example, our politicians were able to unpack their own fears and their own anxieties, and seek for the "common good" as a path toward a shared expression of beauty, truth and love, rather than pontificating in a charade for power and control, the limits of which pursuit can and will only cause pain and devastation for many?
What if, in our open acknowledgement of the divine, the deity, within, we were finally able and willing to remove the plank in our own eye, that precludes our focussed and shared initiatives in  reclaiming the healthy planetary ecosystems that sustain all hope for the survival of life on the planet?
What if....dreams were no longer acceptable, feasible and responsible...
Would we finally have slain the deity within us all?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Unpacking family secrets, thanks to Patrick Kennedy's lead

Once while serving as a copywriter for a local auto dealer, I received firm guidelines from the owner of the dealership for all prospective copy.

“Never, never write an advertisement for radio or television that is directed to teachers, lawyers or doctors! They are the cheapest people on the planet. Also, do not read or follow the consumer opinion polls, because we all know that people will and do not tell anyone their real preference or the reasons for that preference,” came his succinct and intense instruction. “If they think you represent one company’s product, they will tell the pollster that they prefer something else,” he continued. Today, that dealer might say something like, “Teachers, Lawyers and Doctors are not influenced by the same pitch as the ordinary buyer and there must be specific messages targeted to different demographics.” Of course, that car dealer would never have uttered those words “in public” fearing the kind of backlash that his car sales quota could not sustain.

 And we all say things in private that we dare not utter in public. That is how family secrets become family secrets.

We all know that hypocrisy is very much a part of our culture, as are avoidance, denial and secrecy. Son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Patrick, has written and published a book that exposes the secrets of his family of origin, including the alcohol dependency of both his father and his mother and the veil of secrecy that surrounded both of their dependencies, as well as the denial of any problem even after the family conducted an intervention with his father. Telling the Senator that his drinking was impacting each member of the family resulted in his father’s silent exit from the room, without uttering a word, following by an extended period of icy silence and ostracism between the father and his son. With the book, Patrick has opened the wounds of his family, and incurred the wrath of those remaining who hold fast to the code of silence that has wrapped the family in secrecy for decades. Even when his father took him, at twelve, to the site of the Chappaquiddick car crash in which an aide to Senator Bobby Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopoechne died, he did not hear the story, so painful was its scar on the Senator/driver of the car, that the silence was preserved. Only through his research in newspapers and books written by those who had delved into the details of the incident did son Patrick become familiar with his father’s truth.

Patrick Kennedy was Leslie Stahl’s guest on 60 Minutes last night. He now works in his own foundation to bring mental illness, from which he suffers (bi-polarity), along with his own addiction to alcohol, now moderated and controlled somewhat by daily AA meetings, and a new wife who refused to marry him unless and until he stopped drinking, with three children and a fourth expected, to the public debate, and out of the shadows.

The alienation from his father continued from the day of the intervention until Patrick, by then a Congressman from Rhode Island, proposed a bill calling for increased expenditures on mental health measures and defended it on the floor of the House. The now proud father finally opened the door of his life to his previously estranged son.

It is the stuff of legend that Patrick Kennedy’s uncle, the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, continued his philandering long after his election to the White House, a pattern the details of which were kept secret by a compliant media, dependent as it considered itself, on the access to the president for their very survival as reporters. Without access, there would be no stories; without stories, they would have no job. It really is that basic.

Keeping secrets, while presenting a smiling face to the public, is a feature of millions of homes from the history of too many countries, states and towns and villages. Young women who became pregnant for decades suddenly disappeared from their home towns, to follow their pregnancy, and preserve the reputation of their families, in a different location. Even today, the disclosure of files including names, account numbers and addresses of millions of individuals who have allegedly accessed the services of a website that engages in providing sexual partners for married clients gets front page prominence in daily papers, threatening both the marriages and the reputations of public figures.

Yet this hypocrisy is not restricted to the rich and the powerful. It occurs right on our neighbourhood streets, in our church pews, and in our community organizations. It is an integral part of our cultural DNA, and Patrick Kennedy, while heroic and admirable in bringing light into the family closets, will likely be considered another Don Quixote, in too many quarters. Family secrets, ecclesial secrets, business secrets, political secrets….these are the stuff of deception, drama, conflict and often tragedy, both in their cover-up and in their disclosure. Conflicts of interest, for example, accompany too many politicians who serve in jurisdictions where neophyte reporters are too innocent and also too inexperienced and therefore too cautious to expose them. Small towns, and big cities continue to operate with their unique “family compact” comprising the insiders who have and who exercise power over many of the decisions that are taken, allegedly in the public interest. Developers, for example, are renowned for padding the pockets of aldermen, in order to achieve the needed permits for their real estate developments. And we’re not talking exclusively about third world countries, where corruption is so rife that it constitutes the primary path to power.

 Also on 60 minutes last night, we learned of a French priest who has spent his career in ministry researching and finding mass graves of Jews, graves that were filled in the Second War. He is proving that not all of the Holocaust deaths occurred in the gas chambers of the concentration camps. Thousands of Jews were herded onto farm fields, in which ditches had been dug, lined-up along those ditches and shot, often from the back, toppling them into the ditches. Respect for the Jewish tradition of not disinterring dead bodies, this highly sensitive and determined priest merely records the co-ordinates of the locations of these mass graves, without erecting anything on their surface, in order to prevent vandalism and execration. According to the report on 60 Minutes, he has discovered some 1700+ sites, along with still living witnesses to these atrocities. Some accounts are so despicable that we learned that mothers were required to hold their babies while they were executed first, and then the mother was shot by these inhumane firing squads.

 There is little doubt that, decades from now, grad students will uncover many of the documents, including videos, instagram pics, utube images, that have already been recorded by the Islamic terrorists, for their recruitment and also their legacy. Secrets that  never came to the light of day will be unpacked before thesis advisors, degree panels and eventually by the public at large. Even today, we are learning more about the current administration in Canada, some of whose highly respected and placed advisors, such as one named Carson, were allegedly manipulating the public purse for their own benefits while serving as senior to the Prime Minister.

We have all read stories about gay clergy, participating in relationships, under cover of the secrecy of their supervisors who, too, were gay; yet when this charade was uncovered, all participants denied their complicity. Preserving one’s “calling” is regarded as far more important than telling the truth, even though the truth is central to the discipleship of a religious.

In my family, stories of my grandfather’ attempt to take his life, following my own father’s hunting misadventure resulting in the death of his hunting buddy, linked to my own father’s overt move to take his own life, when I was twelve, were never discussed openly in our family. Even when they were introduced to my father, he vehemently denied their veracity, not  being willing or able to withstand the fallout of such disclosure. On my mother’s side, her persistent physical and emotional abuse of both my sister and me was never openly dealt with, even when, at thirteen, I wrote a letter to my father’s two sisters, detailing some of her more heinous abuse. Stories, too, of my mother’s demand that my father, as a young husband, choose between parties and alcohol  on the one hand and his marriage on the other, were never discussed. Demonstrating actions and attitudes that today would be likely from what we know as a “dry drunk” (one who exhibits all the traits of one who is dependent on alcohol), without ever taking responsibility for her behaviour, my mother was in effect “the elephant in the room” through her total consumption of all of the oxygen in every room she visited. No one ever saw the welts on my arms, legs, shoulders and even neck, following one of the beatings. I merely covered them with long sleeves and long pants, high collars and, most importantly, total and complete silence.

Proud to a fault, neither my sister nor I would have dared open the closet on our family’s hidden secrets. We would have been beaten even more severely than was already the case. In one’s childhood and adolescence, one knows only what one has experienced, and nothing about the emotional or mental turbulence going on in the lives of those who seem to be the source of so much turbulence, pain, projection and impunity. I often wished, in my adolescence, that my father had been able and willing to take me and my sister and leave our family home. However, divorce and separation, even temporarily, was deeply and profoundly frowned upon, even ridiculed in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, and would likely have resulted in as much pain for him as full disclosure from either  my sister or me. There was certainly another complicating factor: my father, perhaps recalling his early life and sworn commitment to abstinence from alcohol, feared my mother, and was simply unable to confront her and/or her abuse of their children.

And so, our family secrets went to church with us each Sunday morning for decades, without so much as a hint ever slipping out from the vault of family drama, locked in each person’s body, heart and mind. Our family secrets also accompanied me to twelve years of piano lessons, and to thirteen years of schooling, and to many years of summer employment. Those secrets went off the university with me, although none of my luggage would have uncovered their existence. They joined the fraternity with me; they served on student council with me; they hosted a campus formal dance with me; and they failed to graduate with me, at the appropriate time when my “class” was graduating.I did not once think about how I was carrying those beatings and those verbal scars of rejection, alienation and lack of acceptance by my mother in all of those chapters of my life. What I knew and cared about was that I was “free” and “away from home” and “out from under” her contempt and abuse.   And those welts not only scar the body; more significantly they scar one’s identity with a conviction of being “not good enough”….Otherwise, why would those beatings even have to take place, if I were not doing, or not doing, something outside what was acceptable? There must be something “wrong” with me, since I knew intimately and without doubt that none of my friends were undergoing anything even remotely similar. Were they “better” than I?
Was their mother more compassionate, or more duped, or more long-suffering, or more engaged with her partner so that discipline was a shared responsibility? Of course, I never learned the reasons why my friends were not being abused.

It was not until much later, after graduation from university, and after teaching for well over two decades, that my life began to disintegrate; my marriage fell spstrt; I entered therapy to begin a discernment process as to who it really was that had emerged from this psycho-drama of early childhood. And then, I decided that, rather than enter a doctoral program in one of the academic disciplines, such as English or History, both of which were interesting and even compelling in their own way, I decided that a stint in seminary, where I believed then, and still do today, I might spend some time looking “inward,” reflecting on some of the pain that had not been resolved, reading some of the stories of others who had written, prayed and reflected on their dark nights, without knowing anything about what might be the outcome of all this “internal processing, additional therapy, spiritual direction, and more walking and more digging deeper into emotional identity.

I had never even known that I did not know the words that would or could name my feelings, prior to entering seminary. I did not know that other men, of my age, were also on a journey to find their emotional centre, their spiritual identity and their life path for the ensuing second half of the chronology, should there be a second half. And then, I began to discover that I was the agent and the origin of many of my screw-ups, that the world did not really care how I lived, or even who I was. They saw a face, asked a few questions, debated the purpose of active ministry and the real meaning of evangelism, attended seminars and chapel services, rehearsed their own homilies and their readings in preparation for their participation in daily chapel services, of both morning and evening varieties.

I enrolled in a chaplaincy training program, which required a highly focussed and attentive verbatim of each encounter with each patient in a large suburban Toronto hospital, then presented to a supervisor and classmates, each of whom were free to ask the kind of penetrating questions like, “Why did you say that? That’s  more of your shit, and has nothing to do with the condition or situation of the patient.!” These were riveting sessions, compelling and twisting though they were; they demanded, not requested, a level of both honesty and openness eve, vulnerability to which I had never been exposed. Even the many novels had not penetrated into the deepest darkest corners of the psyches of all of the characters between the covers. Many of the manuscripts told stories of the emotional life through something I later learned from T.S. Eliot, was called the “objective correlative” the metaphor, and the figures of speech on which the narrative was hung. And while there is a significant overlap between the imaginative presentation of a fictional narrative and one’s personal biography, given that both use metaphor, simile and personification extensively, there is a degree of detachment  in the literature, unless and until one knows the experience of the novelist. And even then, there is a kind of veil of protection that keeps the most private details locked away from the heat and the glare of public scrutiny. Family secrets are nevertheless shared in most novels, although the actual characters and the actual times and places are hidden by changes permitted by the genre.

Two years of pastoral counselling training in parallel to the seminary work provided additional exposure to the issues of personal crisis, family secrets, repressed feelings and an opportunity to encounter all of this in what I can only hope was a healthy and healing and caring environment in the counselling room. My memories of some of the best encounters with clients come out of adolescents who were referred to the centre by the courts. Their experiences in their families were so familiar to me, although I had fortunately not crossed the line into the judicial system in my own pattern of self-sabotage.

The lasting imprint of the abuse is that one does not really believe that one deserves a life of success. Consequently, one enters situations, engages, and then too often, finds something or someone who triggers all the repressed angers, frustrations, unresolved conflicts and memories from the previous several decades. Only then, is one able to see the patterns of the pursuit of perfection, for example, to rid my mind of punishment potential, (why would anyone wish to punish me, if I were doing things correctly?) and then, I learned that even that approach put others on the defensive, made them potentially envious, or jealous, or snide and abusive and they called my “Jesus” in a mocking reference to their contempt for my lifestyle.

And then, I had to re-evaluate on a daily basis, both the meanings of others’ actions and words, and their import to me, as well as how a newer and more insightful me might proceed without resorting to self-sabotage. And that path continues to unfold each day, with struggles and with the care and compassion of a loving and empathic wife. And together we are putting one foot in front of the other, without falling or stubbing our toes every day.

And those secrets, the unpacking of which will continue to long as I draw breath, will, even with this partial unpacking, continue to ripple through the pride and the shame of those members of my family who may still be unfamiliar with their magnitude. And for that I can say, I apologize, but do not recant. I understand but do not completely grasp the totality of the gift of the buried pain that is still to emerge from my unconscious.

As the Pope reminds everyone he meets, “Please pray for me, a sinner!” and yet this sinner is not permitting his sin to define his identity, nor his history nor his future. We can only hope that Patrick Kennedy is not permitting such a sophisticated self-sabotage to encumber his life, or that of his wife, children and family either.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

An open endorsement for the New Democrats to take power in Ottawa

Once upon a time in an expansive northern kingdom, a kingdom very rich in jewels and many precious assets, that there was a large family meeting to decide whether or not to re-new the contract of the reigning monarch, a monarch who had sat on the throne for a decade. This monarch, everyone knew, certainly had many flaws, and those who sought to earn the new contract were like two suitors pursuing a young maiden’s hand in marriage.

There was the suitor who promised fairy dust, including a life without all of the problems previously ignored or denigrated by the current monarch. Unrestrained was this suitor’s petition by the mundane rigors of balancing the books, and burnished in charisma was his presentation in his every public appearance, having been reared in wealth, culture, worldly travel, and the kind of blue-blood aristocracy that provides the  best food, the best clothes and the best contacts with all the important people in the kingdom. Young, dashing, energetic and highly sophisticated, this suitor brought a kind of innocence and naivte that positioned him as an ideal target for the projections of the younger female segment of the population. With every encounter, expectations were raised, beginning with his first boxing match with a public figure, designed to demonstrate that he was more than a pretty face, with a famous name. His performance in each of the public debates rose beyond such limited expectations that almost anyone could and would have exceeded them. Nevertheless, his seasoned advisers knew that his appeal to the kingdom would and does require monies spread like fairy dust in all regions of the kingdom, based on the historic pattern of his predecessors to endear the kingdom through patronage, including bridges, roads, and office buildings filled with workers paid for  by the public purse. Using the people’s money to endear the people living in the kingdom was a treasured and almost sacred path to power, for all of those whose shoulders provided the public ‘golden road’ this suitor walked, or really skipped and danced. His demeanor evoked images of Nureyev in tights on a stage, both before and after his defection from a prominent theatre, once known as the O’Keefe Centre, named for a then prominent and now vanished beer company, in the business capital of the kingdom.

As preparation for this campaign to his anointing to the chair once occupied by his father, this suitor studied among the thespians, knowing that his father’s appeal to the kingdom came as much from his “style” as from his decisions on public policy, perhaps even more so. As the French never shy away from reminding the world, ‘le style, c’est l’homme’. And having found itself beside arguably the largest and most profitable factory of style, for its own sake, this northern kingdom was deeply committed to competing with the “factory” for a position of recognition on the larger world stage. Some would and even do argue that this competition to be just like the factory to the south, especially in terms of fashion, being in vogue, being contemporary and even being equal to or perhaps even better, was so dominant in the northern kingdom, that many of the head offices of the companies that operated here were south of the border where the taxes were lower, the services reduced and the fashion led the world. Some people in the part of the kingdom where this suitor was raised, the part where his father was born, even prefer attempting to attract the approval and friendship of the ‘factory’ to reaching agreement and accommodation with the other parts of the kingdom.

Nevertheless, this suitor has numerous attributes that make a pleasant and even charismatic image on television, notwithstanding the fairy dust of promises embedded in his heavily funded, and thus promising the inevitable short-fall in the budget for years to come. The argument that his advisors have implanted in his head to justify these expenditures (fairy dust) is that the current monarch has neglected so many things that need repair that the money must be spent.

And then there was another suitor, very different from the first. The second of eight children, in a humble working class family, a long-time legal public servant who brags about his 35 years of serving the kingdom, including his service during a time when the country threatened to split apart when he worked to preserve the nation. A father and grandfather, this suitor is older, more seasoned and more careful with both his public persona and his political promises, dependent as they are on both funding by the people and the credibility that can only come from a newcomer to the cusp of the throne of the kingdom. His predecessors, while often permitted to hold the reigns of power in smaller sections of the kingdom, have never been considered ready, capable or even credible enough to sit on the kingdom’s throne. Ironic this, given the history of those who actually reigned in the outback where they consistently kept their promises, balanced their budgets and delivered some of the most progressive and compassionate laws in the history of the kingdom. In fact, so attractive were the ideas and laws of these predecessors that previous monarchs brought them to the national capital, and embedded them  both in the national laws and in the consciousness of the kingdom. Caring for one another, as a respectable goal of the kingdom, has become so deeply impregnated in the consciousness of the kingdom that many wonder why it has been so deliberately abandoned by the current monarch, in favour of laws that not to secretly shove much of the wealth of the kingdom to those who least need it, but whose voice is loudest in the halls of the palace where the current king reigns. It is the strength of those rich and powerful voices that this suitor seeks to replace with more modest and more numerous voices of ordinary people should he and his party win the approval of the people in the kingdom.

He has made some limited promises that have less fairy dust than his free-spending opponent, and less magnetic appeal given the scepticism of the people that they can be implemented. His opponent has also cast doubt on the timing of delivery, bringing a classic ‘instant gratification’ aspect to his presentation, consistent with the demonstrated culture of the kingdom. This second suitor is more demure, at least unless and until provoked, which the monarch has succeeded in doing several times when the kingdom’s court was in session, and the results were significantly damaging to the monarch that his trustworthiness came into question. The people who had originally supported his elevation to the throne began to think out loud about not granting the privilege this time. A middle-aged man, of some girth, a full if trimmed beard, and a too-ready smile, as if his handlers were pushing a button so that he would remember not to frown, scowl or grow impatient with the rigors of this seemingly perpetual blind date with the people.

And then, there was the monarch himself, he who so revered the throne that he reinstated the moniker “Royal” onto the kingdom’s military forces, although their equipment had become so obsolete and out of repair that the monarch had signed contracts to build many ships and attempted to secure a contract for a new fighter jet. Claiming an education in economics, the monarch persists in blowing the trumpet to remind the people that he is the best person to guide the economy through the unchartered and predictably turbulent waters that lie ahead, although his performance through what is considered the worst economic storm in a century has not secured many accolades from the public. A stodgy and somewhat pompous mand, with grey hair neatly coiffed and moused into shape, like a stainless steel saucepan, so as never to be disturbed by the winds that gallop over the streets and highways whenever he appears in public. Known abroad for being excessively controlling, muzzling  both his acolytes and his scientists, in order to avoid any potential public controversy, the monarch has, however, suffered the ignominy of watching many of his more prominent appointments to his inner court and the upper chamber stray from their narrow ethical path, embarrassing the monarch and siphering considerable public support from the royal family and supporting cast. Searching and finding several divisive wedge issues on which he is confident he has the upper hand, in public support, the monarch has sought to deflect public attention away from his soiled appointments, his non-entity treasurer’s bumbling public performances and confused policies, (having lost his first and most honourable to death), keeping the media farther away than “arms distance”, screening all attendees to his public appearances, and warding off most public shouts for opening the doors of the kingdom to poor and threatened refugees fleeing from wars in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan. The monarch’s principal argument against opening the gates of the kingdom is that some of these people may be terrorists who threaten the kingdom, and yet, we already have hundreds of radicalized young men within the kingdom some of whom have been tried and convicted for their actions, while others await their judicial fate. The monarch is quick to commit the planes and personnel of the kingdom to a far-away fight against a new breed of terrorists who espouse a radical interpretation of the Koran, the holy book of their Muslim religion.

The existence of and the threats posed by these terrorists both inside the kingdom and far away has opened the minds of the government to seek new powers of surveillance and detention under the guise of “protecting” the kingdom from danger. However, as in other places, especially the neighbour to the south, much money and concentration of good minds and considerable time have been spent building a multi-faceted fortress to guard against the unpredictable violence which is some threat, but not necessarily as large as the monarch would attest, or would like the people to believe.

The young and dashing and charismatic suitor, father of three very young children, is trying to establish the picture in the mind/heart of the public that he is the best choice to replace the monarch and move into the residence of the kingdom reserved for the monarch, the same home in which he was raised. The second suitor, not as young and dashing, but still bearing his age and experience gracefully, and demonstrating a quick and alert intellect, ready to adapt to whatever exigency arrives, is a little more the senior navigator among the trio. His  party are starved for the opportunity, the first in the kingdom’s history, to sit on the throne. However, his party often seems to get entangled in the finer points of principle, thereby risking a loss of attention from the saturated public, and the glaze in their faces, from the subtleties of those views. While the devil is in the details on all files, nevertheless the campaign rhetoric seems to preclude all but the headline-grabbing “goodies” that attempt blatantly to seduce the people to marking their ballot for the most Santa Claus-like candidate.

According to reports from the kingdom reaching the outback, some 75% of all the people want to replace the monarch. However, with both suitors currently locked in what looks like a tie at approximately 30% of the popular opinion, the danger for those in the 75% is that each suitor will get enough votes to permit the monarch to stay sitting on the throne. Many people regret and some even resent the fact that the two suitors cannot or will not see the folly of their pursuit, in the potential for keeping the monarch on the throne. So, some people are shifting their thinking from voting for their preferred choice between the two suitors and contemplating a strategic vote, that sends a member of the other suitor’s party to the kingdom’s court, in the hope that the monarch will not be permitted to stay on the throne.

From this desk, we see a simplified picture of the voter’s choice: to return an ogre to the throne, one obsessed with power and control for himself and the court, or to choose a young fairy-dust salesman who blatantly promises to seduce the people with their own money, or  to choose a more seasoned, more moderate more nuanced and more long-term vision that is focussed on the best interests of the kingdom and its people, in which the court are really the servants of the people. The vote is not merely an expression of the character/policies/image of the suitor; it is also, and more importantly, an expression of the maturity and the courage and the vision of the people marking their ballots.

And from this corner of the kingdom, only the last choice can and will provide some substantial relief and hope given the two other options. Real issues of income inequality, joblessness, health care including pharmacare, and the environment will be openly and comprehensively detailed, discussed and solutions and options offered. The fear and the critical parenting of the last decade can be terminated, best with the third option.

The kingdom awaits….the answer in two weeks.