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On the arrests in Baltimore

A few thoughts on the news of the day:

1)The most striking thing to me about today’s announcement was the statement that Freddie Gray was innocent of any crime – that police had no probable cause to arrest him, the knife he carried was legal, and, by implication, that State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office would not have prosecuted Gray even if he survived unharmed.

2) Further to that, the six officers charged at best committed bad police work. Hence the misconduct in office charges against all six officers and false imprisonment charges against the senior officer involved. If there are convictions on these charges, police departments across America should take notice.

3) I doubt most of these charges don’t happen if the medical examiner hadn’t returned a finding of homicide.

4) Does anyone in Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police understand the definition and purpose of “crisis management?”

5) Seriously, the FOP’s implication that Mosby’s marriage to a city councilman is a conflict of interest reads like a petty, ad hominum attack (at best) and makes it harder to take their other accusation of conflict (re: the Gray family’s lawyer) seriously, nevermind its strange comments about conflicts of interest in local media coverage. If they’re trying to win public support, this isn’t the way to do it.

6) While there may be some merit to the FOP’s conflict accusations re: the Gray family’s lawyer, I doubt the conflict is serious enough for Mosby to have to recuse herself from this case. To accept the argument that donating to a prosecutor’s political campaign and/or serving on a transition team affords one special treatment by her office would, to me, imply that much of the American justice system is unbelievably open to corruption.

7) What’s more, if Mosby hadn’t laid charges, people would have cried that her family’s long history in policing as a conflict, just as protesters did when indictment failed in the Michael Brown case.

8) The conflict accusations, however, remind me how flawed the idea of judicial and prosecutorial elections is. It leaves open much more possibility for corruption and the perversion of justice than simple judicial appointment.

9) The officers charged have not been found guilty of any crime. They will have their day in court, which seems to be the least anybody on the streets of Baltimore City wanted from this case. They are presumed innocent unless and until they are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which they are accused. This is not the end of this story, merely a beginning.

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Sun News has set

This is about as accurate a report on Sun News’s setting as you’re likely to get, courtesy Montreal-based media blogger Steve Faguy. My additions:

  • The “supporting network” point is a biggie. CBC and CTV’s News Networks were built onto existing network news operations, including local network-owned stations and foreign bureaus. Sun News had to build and maintain its news service practically from scratch.
  • That said, “news doesn’t pay” is an equally salient point. At the start of this decade, Rogers tried to start CityNews Network, a 24 local news channel in Toronto, building off the resources of the (well-respected) CityNews and CityPulse brands. It foundered within three years, unable to compete with the far more established CP24. Again, parallel with the young SNN and the well-established CBCNN and CTVNN.
  • SNN’s most-watched program in its short history was the boxing match between Patrick Brazeau and Justin Trudeau. 92,000 watched it. I’m not sure what exactly to draw from this point, though I note the two most-watched English specialty channels are TSN and Sportsnet.
  • It’s hard to see how a third mainstream, English 24-hour national news channel can succeed in Canada. For comparison, Australia (a slightly smaller country) only has ABC News 24 and Sky News Australia; the UK (about double the size) has BBC News, Sky News Channel, and Al-Jazeera English (if you think Russia-owned RT UK counts, you’re kidding yourself). That’s setting aside imported news stations, which in Canada includes CNN, HLN, and (if you shell out for the right package) Fox News and MSNBC.
  • Shaw Media would be the group most likely to make a viable go of a 24-news operation, as they own the Global network and a reasonably successful local news station, Global News: BC 1 (itself built on the operation of Global’s popular and respected Vancouver operation, formerly known as BCTV). Al-Jazeera could also try a Canadian operation, piggybacking off its American cousin the same way its fledgling beIn Sports channel does (though it would likely need a Canadian ownership partner).
  • Be honest: how many of those myriad cable channels do you watch? Sun News Network is not the first cable station to fail (RIP Cool TV, WTSN, and The Ecology Channel), but it will be far from the last, especially as digital streaming and over-the-top services gain traction.

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The Pen Is Mightier

Roughly translated, "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter." Copyright Charlie Hebdo.

Roughly translated, “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” Copyright Charlie Hebdo.

If you know not the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, Paris, then I invite you to read this news report and search for “Je Suis Charlie” on your favourite social network.

The editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, and the bodyguard and police officer who were also killed, died doing their jobs. For those artists, that job was satire.

Satire, from Aristophanes to Jonathan Swift, the court jester to Mad Magazine, has always been about using humour to ridicule the powerful, the self-important, and, more often than not, society. But satire is also supposed to make people think. Consider Swift’s “modest proposal,” Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It, Thomas Nast’s cartoons of Boss Tweed.

Islamic extremism should be a ripe target for satire – extremism of any stripe tend to be extremely self-serious and full of inherent self-contradictions, and its power and influence continues to grow worldwide. And, in a way, the actions of January 7 justified Charlie Hebdo’s continual targeting of Islamic fundamentalists, a class of people who have so weak a grasp on their religion, and such cowardice, that they are willing to terrorize and kill defenceless people whose only “sin” was pointing out, in living colour, the fundamentalists’ own hypocrisy.

I was reminded today of something Mel Brooks said about Hitler. I’m paraphrasing, but he once told a news program that he wanted to make Hitler such a figure of ridicule that no one would ever take him or his ideas seriously again.

If we want to honour the victims of January 7, we can do so by making those criminals, those terrorists, and their perversion of peaceful faith, seem as ridiculous as Brooks wants to make Hitler, because today, we are all Charlie Hebdo.

This piece was edited for grammar.

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In 2015, Let’s Not Forget How Ugly Misogyny Is

A plaque dedicated to the victims of 1989’s Ecole Polytechnique massacre, Canada’s most violent act of misogyny. 25 years later, can we tell misogynists “enough?”

If the title didn’t tip you off, this piece is going to discuss misogyny and some of the generally awful things women have endured, particularly in the year gone by. This may be triggering for some readers. If you are among them, click here to watch a Powerpuff Girls cartoon instead. If you wish to read on, see you after the jump.

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Jim Flaherty and Ruminations on Mortality

The photo accompanying Jim Flaherty's final tweet after announcing his resignation as finance minister in March 2014.

The photo accompanying Jim Flaherty’s final tweet after announcing his resignation as finance minister in March 2014.

You have likely already heard of the sudden passing of Jim Flaherty, Canadian finance minister from 2006 until March 18, of a massive heart attack this Thursday afternoon.

You have already seen dozens of people on social networks, newscasts, and elsewhere discuss Flaherty’s legacy as one of the figureheads of two of the most important conservative governments this country has had in my lifetime (Mike Harris’s Ontatio PCs and Stephen Harper’s federal Conservatives). Those governments, for better or ill, created/are creating a legacy that will last for at least a generation.

You’ve heard politicians of all levels and political ideologies offering condolences to his friends, wife Christine Elliot, and sons Galen, John, and Quinn. You’ve heard and seen how shaken they are at the news, particularly NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Toronto mayor Rob Ford. If you’ve watched television coverage, you’ve seen how comfortable, how natural a smile came to him, and how he was a “gentleman brawler,” someone who’d pummel you professionally and offer you a friendly, respectful handshake when the time came to clock off.

I want to instead talk about mortality. The country has today lost Flaherty, suddenly. Last month, my Great-Aunt Mitty died after falling and breaking her hip (though, in imitable style, she apparently decided to have lunch before deciding she had to go to the hospital). She was 99 years, 11 months. Earlier in March, Dave McCaffrey, someone I graduated from Kennebecasis Valley High School eight years ago, was shot by police during a domestic dispute and died of his wounds. He was 27.

Death is sudden. Most of us won’t get the choice of when it comes into our lives, few of us know when it will take someone close to us. Tempus fugit, and all that. It is imperative, for our own sake and the sake of others, to cherish life and share as much of ourselves with others as possible.

We must do things we enjoy in life, be that public service like Flaherty or a game of cards with a nice sandwich like Aunt Mitty. We must try to have as positive a role in the lives of our family and friends as possible, with a helping hand, tough but necessary criticism, or even a quiet smile and laugh. We must not be afraid to take risks, to let others into our lives even if we risk being hurt by their leaving.

We must embrace to the time we have alive to the fullest but, more than that, we must embrace the time we have with others to the same extent. The effect it will have on ourselves and on others will be incalcuable.

Apologies for the self-indulgence. Go, live.

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On Ends, Means, and Boston

As I write this, I am watching coverage of the manhunt/stand-off of the remaining suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing (he has neither been charged nor proven responsible for the crimes, so suspect is the proper term). Through this whole affair, many in the media (not including myself, my mother, my prom date, etc.) have had one question, repeating, on their lips.

WHY?

I can’t speak for all humanity, but I ask myself this question today and after any other act of terror or massacre for a simple reason: I don’t understand what drives someone to commit these acts and I’m curious why someone resorts to such a brutal, violent act.

Then I remember.

Martin Richard was a bright eight year old Bruins fan who was cheering his father as he finished the world’s most famous road race.

Krystle Campbell was a restaurant manager, an energetic young woman who loved animals.

Lu Lingzi was a young Chinese woman who came to one of the world’s great seats of education to earn a Master’s Degree in statistics and mathematics.

Sean Collier was a jolly campus police officer with the courtesy to bring extra earplugs on Outing Club expeditions because of his snoring.

I hope the suspect survives. Authorities need to question him and, through their investigation, learn if anyone else was involved in these heinous crimes. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts must give those responsible an open, fair trial and, should it prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, a judge should mete out appropriate punishment. But it hardly matters if we find out why.

Nothing justifies the taking of those four lives this week in Boston.

This post edited for grammar.

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On U.S. Election Day, A Remembrance of Things Past

As Americans flock to their polling places and fill out ballots that are longer than most Hemingway novels (I kid), I thought a novel way of analyzing the election and its probable result was to revisit a column I wrote four years ago for the Aquinian. It was published Election Day, November 4, 2008, but due to layout and printing requirements was written the previous Saturday, November 1.

Barack Obama is the next president of the United States. 

If you’re reading this on Tuesday, you’ll know that sentence isn’t true. Not yet. 

But, despite the hopes and dreams of the Republican Party, it will be. 

Election Day will not be pleasant for the Republicans. In addition to losing the presidency, the party’s minorities in the House of Representatives and Senate will shrink. 

It will be painful, but the party brought defeat on itself.

This Election Day will be just as painful for Republicans. Mitt Romney will not earn enough electoral votes to claim the presidency, the Senate will remain in Democratic hands, and there’s an outside chance the GOP will lose its majority in the House of Representatives. And again, the party has masterminded its own downfall.

When the Republicans first gained control of Congress in 1994, they promised to make government smaller. They would cut government programs, cut government spending, and cut taxes. For 6 years, with Bill Clinton as president, they delivered on their promise, bringing America balanced budgets and prosperity.

Republicans took control of the House two years ago because Democrats screwed up, using two years of political capital up on a complicated health care reform while the country was suffering its highest unemployment rates in decades. Whatever you think of Obamacare (and I think it’s quite good policy), for the average person everything else takes a back seat to finding a good job if he/she doesn’t have one (or keeping it if it’s under threat).

Spurred on by the new Tea Party movement, Republicans said in 2010 that the trouble with the economy was too much government, especially in fields where (according to conservatives) the market could do just as good a job if not better, like health. Democrats, by not focusing on jobs in 2009 and 2010 (or even arguing much about the possible economic benefits of health reform), lost the argument and the House by default.

Through the George W. Bush era, the Republicans abandoned many of those small-government ideals. They made a new government department (Homeland Security) from thin air and started the war in Iraq for no apparent good reason. 

That war, whose final costs are now expected to be $2.4-trillion, is a very expensive government program. 

As government spending ballooned, the Republicans cut taxes dramatically. This slashed revenue so badly that the government has had to borrow trillions (mostly from China) just to pay for itself. American public debt has nearly doubled under Bush, a level that just isn’t sustainable. 

Hypocrisy has also hurt the Republicans. Over the past four years, several of it most prominent figures have been caught up in scandal.  

The sex scandals are embarrassing to a party that promotes traditional family values. The ethical scandals make people question whether Republicans are fit for office and taint the party brand. 

Bush promised a safer America in 2004. Hurricane Katrina showed that he couldn’t deliver, as the government response was as disastrous as the storm itself.

Outside of perhaps the 2009 stimulus package (which kept that year’s recession from becoming worse), Obama and the Democrats did not embark on any massive spending programs during the last four years. Not even the lasting legacy of Obama’s first term, his health reform package, will add a penny to the federal debt – the revenue raised by the reform, for instance, is projected to outstrip by $200-million between now and 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

What’s more, Obama has ended one very expensive government program, the Iraq War, and is ending another one, the Afghanistan combat mission (troops withdraw in 2014).

The biggest piece of hypocrisy I’ve taken from the Obama Administration is the fact the president, a Nobel Laureate for Peace, has a kill list, although blame for that bit of nonsense is better placed at the feet of the Norwegian Parliament.

As for the safety of the country, compare the scrambling of the headless chickens of Bush and his government to Katrina in 2005 to the coordinated, swift, and efficient reaction of Obama and his administration to the USA’s worst natural disaster since: last week’s Hurricane Sandy.

Oh, and Obama killed bin Laden.

The clinching blow to the Republicans was delivered by the economy.  

In Congress, they introduced a laissez-faire economic policy. Laissez-faire is apparently French for “let businessmen play Texas Hold ‘Em with everybody’s money.” 

Predictably, gambling piles of money led to the loss of piles of money. The American economy is now burning in a dumpster, and people are blaming the Republicans. 

That blame disregards the fact that Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress since 2006, but no matter. 

That’s why the Republicans will lose.

The Tea Party has, since the 2010 elections, become the Republican establishment. As the populist, naïve small-government movement made itself at home on Capitol Hill, its ideological rigidity presented itself front and centre. Witness last year’s debt ceiling crisis.

Purity to the cause became more important to Republicans, particularly Tea Party Republicans, than anything else. Approval of anything Obama and the Democrats proposed became akin to blood treason. The Grand Old Party began to race to right on seemingly every issue or policy, from food stamps to abortion. As the message of the party narrowed and more obstructionist, so too did its audience.

What’s more, the only Republican solution to the crisis is more of the laissez-faire economics that worked so brilliantly during the Bush Administration, particularly as banks and auto companies started to go bankrupt in 2008.

That’s why the Republicans will lose the Senate and perhaps the House.

John McCain will lose because, despite his rhetoric, he’s as much a political maverick as he is a Dallas Maverick. 

Yes, he’s opposed his party in areas like election financing and prisoner treatment at Guantanamo. But his record of supporting many of the Bush administration’s policies undermines his promises to change Washington. 

Choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate will also harm McCain. The Alaska governor looked like a good choice at the time, a strong woman meant to appeal soccer moms and bitter Hillary Clinton supporters. 

It’s now clear that 2 years as Alaskan governor and 6 years as mayor of suburban Wasilla does not qualify one to be vice-president of the United States.  

It’s also clear that her selection was meant to pander to the Republican social conservative core. This will turn off moderates who otherwise might have voted for McCain.

Mitt Romney will lose because he is a man out of time.

Perhaps in any other cycle of the last forty-four years, Romney would have had the skills, message, and resume Americans look for in a president. He skillfully crafted a bipartisan health reform package as governor of Massachusetts, crafted a small-government, low tax niche for himself, and was a wildly successful businessman.

This cycle, the one he’s actually running in, he’s had to abandon any bipartisan instinct to earn the trust of his party’s base. He also had to turn sharply right ideologically to win the Republican nomination this spring, adopting a pro-life position where he was once pro-choice and, most glaringly, disparaging Obama’s health reform, despite the fact it was based mostly on his own reform in Massachusetts.

Moderate Massachusetts Mitt returned to the scene after August’s Republican Convention, but trying to sell contradictory messages to the party base (Romney the Right-Wing Hawk) and independent swing voters (Moderate Mitt) doesn’t work in a social media world.

What’s more, his business success hurts him this cycle, namely because in order to return many of the companies his Bain Capital firm invested in to profitability, he gave pink slips to hundreds of workers. At a time when many Americans, especially in Rust-Belt states like Ohio, lost their jobs for the greater profitability of their employer (and the growth of the bank accounts of said employer’s executives), that lay-off legacy is a liability.

That being said, Obama will also win this election on his own merits.  

He is not as divisive a figure as Hillary Clinton, his competitor for the nomination. His captivating speeches give him a rock star aura and appeal to nearly everyone. 

Most important to Obama’s election is his message of hope. To a nation that for the last eight years has been paranoid about terrorism, security, and, recently, the economy, hope is the great salve. 

It’s up to President Obama to make that hope into something more so America can get itself out of moral and fiscal bankruptcy. If he can’t, his country will be more demoralised or worse.

Obama may win this election on his merits. See his national security record above, the snowballing popularity of Obamacare, and the gradually recovering economy.

That said, whether because of his health care reform, the economy, his race, or something else, he is a far more polarizing figure now than four years ago. The rock-star aura, the bipartisan promises, changing the culture of Washington – all are gone.

There still is hope in America, as the unemployment rate gradually falls. That hope is diminishing, however, and Obama will win tonight because the alternative, to most Americans, is worse.

Restoring that hope will be the great project of the next four years. Its success will be Barack Obama’s legacy.

If, by chance, I’m wrong and McCain wins on Tuesday night, fasten your seatbelt. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

If, by chance, I’m wrong and Romney wins, just get as far away from the United States as you can. I hear Western Australia is nice.

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