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    Glen Pearson

    When the Past is No Longer the Past

    Posted on January 9, 2020

    Most of us went through the period when it seemed like some of the lurking demons of humanity had finally been wrestled to the ground through activism, legislative victories, and a growing sense that the world might finally be working towards a more democratic future.??The signs were everywhere – human rights, women’s rights, voting rights, etc.??We grew blinded to the reality that it was the Right itself that was actually on the ascendancy.

    This isn’t new information, but witnessing the rolling back of previous victories hasn’t just left the progressive movement, but societies in general, confused and worried about the growing tensions in affluent nations. The victories mentioned above were just presumed to be permanent and secure.???It used to be that the concerns were over places in the developing world that experienced ongoing battles to overcome authoritarian tendencies; now those same concerns are being felt in America, Europe, and to a lesser degree, Canada.

    The epicentre of the emerging right-wing authoritarian tendencies is firmly planted in America itself.??This is not a political statement, or a partisan jab.??Regardless of which portion of the political spectrum one adheres to, there has always been a willingness to respect legal decisions, even ones that had been fought viciously in the courts of both law and public opinion.

    But in the United States we are witnessing a growing conservative movement that is increasingly bent on defying the law or just ignoring it altogether.??The Trump White House is perhaps the clearest example of this trend, but it is emerging throughout the entire nation.??It’s why no one can recognize the present Republican Party any more.??As Andrew Cohen cogently observed in the Ottawa Citizen months back:

    “Ignoring law and judicial precedent is becoming a new normal. The view among rejectionists is if you don’t like it, challenge it, and hope a different court will overturn it. That this could happen to Roe v. Wade reflects the advancing conservatism here, which is playing out in the presidency, Congress and the courts. More and more, it seems that progressives lose more than they win.”

    There is a subtle movement of similar goals working its way through Canada as well, as the conservative movement has largely dominated provincial governments and portions of it openly speak of reversing abortion laws or defying the rights of the planet to emerge out from under the carbon-induced fanaticism of modern life.

    Undermining the political process seems to be the only way some more radical conservatives can see any way ahead. – if the courts are containing their tendencies, then they are willing to either defy law or subtly alter it back to the past.??The goal is to defy recent history and in the process be willing to risk that the demons of a longer history can be contained.??It’s a gamble unlikely to work, as racism, antisemitism, inequality towards women, ethnic groups and the poor, and the reintroduction of hatred as acceptable motivation, escape their cages and forage through democratic constituencies.

    Most assumed that legal decisions that had been arrived at over much struggle would remain and guide modern societies on the path forward, but we are discovering that politics isn’t just the power to enact legislation but to undo or ignore it as well.

    It would be correct to say that the majority of conservative minded individuals don’t condone the disruptive efforts and outcomes of their more extreme elements, but they don’t really oppose them either.??The same can be said of the moderate Left.??They have permitted those of their number supporting more extreme identity politics to occasionally overwhelm the political process in ways that make compromise and collaboration among parties impossible.

    What results is political dysfunction leading to democratic decline.??It leaves moderates in all parties frequently out in the cold and unwilling to endure the demeaning chaos that inevitably results when they attempt to steer their respective parties towards a more balanced and collaborative outlook.??It also leads to the unwillingness of well-qualified and experienced candidates to run for political office.

    What we thought was history is history no more, but forces unleashed into our present life that destabilize our cultural, social and political hegemony.??The secret to stability in these areas has always been the willingness to compromise in our tensions with one another, and that when laws are written to protect such victories, it is duly respected.??That is a pattern still followed in Canada, but it is fraying at the edges as more radical forces, this time from the Right, seek to destabilize our legal victories and practices.

    The forces of modern authoritarianism, global capital, and climate change are more than enough to challenge us without having to fight against the re-emerging forces of our darker history.??It has been a brutal lesson learned at great expense on our human journey – history unlearned becomes a civilization undone.

    Photo credit: Foreign Affairs magazine

    Democracy Bites Back

    Posted on January 8, 2020

    2019 was a tough year for democracy, on numerous fronts.??According to Freedom House, it was the 14th?year in a row where democratic freedom fell into decline.??The rapid expansion of the democratic wave following the end of the Cold War paved the way for the growth of democratic institutions around the world and introduced new nations into the democratic order.??Those days are gone, as for the last decade and more, forces antagonistic to democracy have grabbed the upper hand.

    So, we can be forgiven for worrying about this decline of freedom and political order simply because it’s true.

    But it’s not over – not by a long shot.??The sight of protests around the world is a clear sign that something massive is afoot.??Much of it has been negative, of course. A troubling example has been the Alt-Right protests against immigration and refugees.??Yet their numbers are almost eclipsed by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of mass protests across the globe that remain determined to fight for democracy against the darker forces.

    Here’s a small sample of what’s taking place: Algeria, Haiti, Peru, Ecuador, Egypt, Britain, America, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, Zimbabwe and Mexico.??Protests are everywhere and they represent the democratic spirit biting back at the darker forces of history seeking to return to the world stage.??

    And the reasons for the protests are remarkably varied.??Most often they are predicated by something the crowds are against – taxes, disliked leaders, anti-war, the 1%, authoritarian policies and inequality.??Other such events concern causes the demonstrators are for – education, peace, the vote, women’s rights, a cleaner planet.??Whatever the purpose, the sheer number of protests is unlike anything seen for decades, perhaps since the 1960s.??The?New York Timessurmised last week that the ultimate motivator has been the stagnating global economy.

    Once thing is certain: the global population is now restive in its attempt to keep democratic rights from ebbing away.??And sometimes they take public forms of civil disobedience that can be dangerous.??The hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong protestors have gathered together in ways reminiscent or Tiananmen Square a full 30 years ago – action that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries.??In both cases, the harsh policies and practices of the Chinese government were highlighted in media around the world.

    How effective are such protests???In some ways, that’s not the point.??It is the very exercise of standing up for rights that is significant enough in itself, especially in a world currently infatuated with authoritarianism.??They are signs that all is not well, but that democracy is not dead either.

    But there are varying levels of effectiveness.??In nations like Lebanon, Sudan and Algeria, leaders have been tossed from power by such actions and some thrown into prison.??Others have seen the changes in policy the protestors fought for.??Other such events appear to have been ineffective, especially in the longer term.??But while the results are mixed, the sheer number of those who are showing up are in the tens of millions and, as such, can’t be ignored.

    And neither can the political and economic causes that inspire them; their number, too, has spiralled upwards.??Brexit is one of the better known and recent examples that had pro and con forces demonstrating at the same time, often on the same streets.??America is full of similar pro-Trump and anti-Trump rallies.??These might be signs that democracy is alive, but they are just as likely to reveal that it is also divided and in deep trouble.??Analysis is now revealing that the source of the lion’s share of protests is largely found in the fallout from the 2007 financial fallout of poorly planned economic practices by the elites.??It forced hundreds of millions to come to terms with the reality that the massive gap between the wealthy and the rest was real and an economic travesty.??It also showed just how powerful the forces are that demonstrators are against – the 1%, banks, financial institutions, corporations, governments blinded by money.

    It also reveals just how desperate average people are becoming.??They feel they have little recourse but to take to the streets, since they have little else to show their displeasure.??Yes, in many cases they possess the vote, but that often seems negligible when compared yachts, monolithic financial interests, politicians blinded by the need for funds, conglomerate media interests, and the inability to find good work.??When all else fails, they find strength in one another and take to public protest as the only way they can fight back at what is happening to their world.??Feeling powerless, they find strength in assembling, in one another, and in their reawakened ideals.

    Will all these protests prove successful at bringing democracy back to relevancy???It is diffiicult to determine the answer in the midst of a turbulent time in world affairs and local frustrations.??But it does show that an increasing number of people are fighting for a democracy they believe in and are doing what they can to make their mark.??And they are living up to the challenge aired by Elie Wiesel years ago:

    “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”?

    Photo credit: Relief International

    For the World’s Refugees, the Road Gets Narrower

    Posted on January 7, 2020

    “Refugees didn’t just escape a place,” writes Nadia Hashimi.??‘They had to escape a thousand memories until they’d put enough time and distance between them and their misery to wake to a better day.”

    For a time, a few years ago, it appeared as though a growing number of refugees would get that time and better circumstances.??But then a more turbulent era in democracies around the world saw a sudden reversal as an angry wave of right-wing driven populism put an end to a larger dream.??Iinstead of open portals, nations erected both emotional and physical walls.

    Europe became the epi-centre of the anti-refugee sentiment and it wasn’t pretty.??As the world reached levels of refugee migration not seen since the end of the Second World War, European nations were in the business of restraining their humanity for domestic purposes.??Troubled economies in affluent nations eventually closed doors to the millions of those fleeing persecution, poverty and climate change disasters in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

    The sight of European parliaments voting down measures to open the doors of humanity were discouraging to watch, especially as refugees piled up at entrance/exit points to seek a better future.??Tens of thousands died, especially by drowning, on that collective journey, while at the same time European nations believed they were being victimized by the refugee stream.??Already a popular theme throughout the continent, this idea that Europeans were being “set upon” by the failures of humanity reached fever pitch in recent years.

    Germany even faced elections over the historical practice of openness towards migrants, but it was in Britain that the new anti-refugee wave found its focus.??Successive governments saw to it that only 3% of asylum seekers in Europe were welcomed in Britain.??The?Guardian, at the height of the refugee crisis in 2016, reported that the British government was purposely making life miserable for those who did make it into the country, in hopes that they wouldn’t remain and with the intention of discouraging others from seeking entry.

    As this sentiment becomes more globalized, refugees are encountering a remarkably shrinking humanitarian world.??The United Nations and other NGOs assigned with assisting refugees are simply overwhelmed with needs once countries pull out the welcome mat.??Significant segments of their populations still strive for an open door-attitude, but their governments and certain components of civil society are moving in the opposite direction.

    Just to be clear, the need to flee one’s nation in the case of economic privation, threat to life and being, and the growing devastation of climate change, is seen as a universal human right – endorsed by the very same affluent nations now in the process of restriction.

    Making matters somewhat worse, a decision was made a few years ago to classify refugees as having “economic benefit” to host countries.??That may have proved unfortunate, as affluent economies themselves are shuddering under job losses and business closures.??It was called the Global Compact on Refugees and sought to define them in economic terms as opposed to humans in dire need.??The emphasis became about their financial benefit to the host country as opposed to their pressing circumstances.

    It is now understood that this classification has, in effect, backfired as a result of economic challenges in the rich world.??Such shifts had democratic effect, as populist parties, promoting anti-immigrant policies, won increasing approval.??Political leaders across the globe witnessed the effect in places like America, Britain and Germany and struggled to keep their own nations, and their political tenure, protected by more limited policies towards refugees.??Canada is one of those nations that increasingly considers a person’s economic potential when assessing applications.

    The result of all this has seen the acceptance of refugees remains at former levels instead of adapting to the increasing wave of those seeking asylum.??This has meant that developing nations in challenging regions like Africa and Asia are witnessing huge numbers of refugees overwhelm their governing and humanitarian systems as the West has limited the options for those seeking assistance.??It can only lead to unsettled conditions in countries like Kenya or Pakistan, and as East Asia continues in its historic ambivalence towards accepting refugees, bottlenecks of humanity are destined to create diplomatic, political and military challenges.

    It is vital to remember that part of the condition that led to World War Two was the sheer number of refugees who weren’t being accepted in other nations.??This destabilized regions and heightened the prospect of nationalism and an “anti-them” series of policies.??Antisemitism and overt racism were caught up in the process and the global conflict only enflamed such passions.This is now the condition of the world’s refugees and it could soon lead to hotspots around the world that could destabilize regions, leading to conflict.??Life doesn’t seem easy anywhere – not for the politician, citizens seeking work or humanitarian agencies overloaded with human need, and especially the refugee families themselves.??The solution can’t simply be to accept refugees, but to create vitalized economies and opportunities for all in a nation.??Failure to invest in our own citizens will only result in a closing of the doors to those seeking new lives of opportunity away from the most troubled regions of the world.??It’s a two-fold solution – compassion at home and abroad – and our failure to create such conditions will leave millions moving across the globe in an endless search of a better humanity.

    Image credit: Entrepreneur

    Look Who’s (Not) Talking

    Posted on January 6, 2020

    There’s so much going on in American politics right now and there are more words and phrases going on about it in coffee shops and media of all kinds than any time in recent memory.??Even in Canada, you can’t mention the two words “Donald Trump” without ushering in a torrent of opinions.??The talk seems endless.

    But not necessarily the conversations or even legitimate debates.??They seem almost non-existent.??The positions are set, in concrete, and the partisanship is so rife with animosity that any attempt to open a door to talking is met with vitriol.

    Regardless of our opinion or political persuasion, the refusal by the White House to cooperate with any investigation has left Congress unable to use evidence-based testimony to at least hammer out some common ground for moving ahead, as when the Nixon tapes, finally released, resulted in a coming together for the sake of the country.??Not in this case, however – not ever.

    Beneath it all, the greatest irony is that people in both parties largely agree that what the president appears to have done in violation of protocol and the Constitution, he actually has done.??It all seems like some grand hallucination, but it is terribly real.??This isn’t about governance, the law or process, but about naked power and the desire to get it (Democrats) or keep it (Republicans).??For anyone watching the hearings in Congress, there was this troubling sense that none of it mattered.??So what if illegalities were discovered, professional witnesses laid out clear violations, outright lies were offered, or there was a carte blanche refusal buy the White House to release any pertinent information, even when under subpoena, the result could only be stalemate and a lot of yelling.??This was partisanship operating at a level over a lengthy period of time that we just haven’t seen before.

    This isn’t about creative differences or the usual tussle between the parties.??It’s ultimately about governing with no compromise, no true debate, no shared quest for truth, and no real desire to help Congress live upon principle.??It is naked and mean politics, supplied by reams of cash, and aired every second of every day by a media having to find and share news in the midst of the ratings wars.

    We’re not talking about historical distinctions or clearly held policy convictions.??It’s all about plenty of coverage, plenty of money, plenty of recrimination, plenty of hate, and above the overriding desire the get power.???It’s as crass as it gets.??We all say it and feel soiled in watching it all.??

    There is nothing to debate, nothing to compromise on, and no kind of action to heal the country.??It is about lust for power on such a grand scale that only something like Shakespeare’s?Julius Caesar?can match it.

    For many, including in the Congress and the White House, it’s not about talking but political war.??Any words, insight or revelation can’t change that reality one bit.??It’s written in stone.??Someday, all of this satire and intransigence will be the stuff of movies, Pulitzer prizes, philosophical treatises and riveting theatre, but not right now.??What we have is purposeful deafness and blindness at the highest level and all we can do is watch it like an impending train wreck.??If only there were some way to redeem it, to truly talk about it with a goal of finding compromise.??That’s just not in the cards.??It is one of democracy’s darkest moments with possible horrific consequences.??When humanity can’t talk, it can no longer function.?

    Only a portion of food raised by London's Business Cares Food Drive

    Are Canadians Really Less Compassionate?

    Posted on December 24, 2019

    I came across the?Maclean’s?article last April and I admit that it set me to some serious thinking.??Headlined, “The Rise of an Uncaring Canada,” the words of writer Andray Domise represented a troubling portent.??They alluded to the decline of support for immigration and linked to an EKOS poll showing that 40% of those Canadians asked said they believed there are “too many visible minorities coming to Canada.”

    Then last week came a Global News story regarding a Fraser Institute study with the headline, “Canadians are giving less to charity than they have in the last twenty years.”??The story went on to note that Canadians donated 0.54% of their income to charity in 2017.??Compare that to Americans, who donated three times that amount – 1.25% – in the same year.

    Numerous charities have claimed that givings are down this year in communities across the country.??And yet NLogic’s survey of last year discovered that 72% of Canadians said they donated to a charity in the past 12 months and that 35% of adults said they donated more than $100 per year.??Canada Helps also reported that only 33% of Canadians actually claimed a charitable donation on their taxes in 2017 – down 3% from 2010.

    If you’re confused by all this, it’s understandable.??It does appear that Canadians are giving less, but it’s also true that more and more of them are finding themselves in economically stringent circumstances – work with no benefits, lack of affordable housing, lower wages.

    With all this going on, it was a remarkable thing to learn of how our own city’s food bank had garnered significant amounts of support in food, money and volunteers during this December.??The CBC’s Sounds of the Season spent the entire month focused on poverty and hunger stories.??London’s Grand Theatre collected huge sums for the food bank from their month-long run of?Mary Poppins.??And then topping it all off came the announcement that the city’s business community, through the Business Cares initiative, collected half a million pounds of food – an amount so vast that the food bank warehouse simply couldn’t immediately house it all.??Hundreds of food drives were going on around the city in an outpouring of compassion.

    What’s going on???Are we more generous or less so???And what does it say about our reputation as a generous nation?

    We do know that donations and government aid to humanitarian efforts around the world are in decline.??And we also understand that with the rising challenge of homelessness, food insecurity, mental illness and employment unpredictability, the disposable income for millions of Canadians is not what it once was.??

    Yet as governments continue in their retreat from public sector responsibilities and citizens themselves become ever more politically divided, remarkable stories of human compassion emanate from every rural and urban area of the country.??For those involved in such ventures, however, as with the London Food Bank volunteers this month, and for those involved in numerous other charities around the city, there abides this sense that Canadians remain infused with the willingness to give.

    It is likely that both sides of this are true: Canadians are giving less but opening up to the challenges of those in need at the same time.??These are years of transition where citizens often feel a sense of hopelessness as social problems continue to mount and solutions are rare.??They are also years in which we are finding new and creative ways to reach out to people and a planet in dire need of assistance.

    This much we do know: the failure at a systems level to care for those marginalized is ultimately what is bringing us down.??All the charitable giving in the world cannot compensate for the decline of social program funding, for governments not living up to their social justice commitments, and for citizens and their lack of commitment to a fairer tax system.??Many grouse whenever taxes are introduced into discussions, but without effective revenues, governments simply can’t, or won’t, deliver on their commitments and charitable giving just can’t make up the difference.??

    Such a reality ends up leaving us in a world like that captured by Charles Dickens – great acts of individual charity undermined by the lack of effective public policy.??In such a world, donating to a cause is highlighted while leaving problems unsolved is not.??This ironic duality can only increase the more we neglect the great social ills that confront us.

    It is the Christmas, Hanukkah and holiday season, and the amount of human giving going on is truly remarkable and heart-warming.??Canadians are pursuing and supporting great acts of charity in ways that are inspiring and commendable.??But more will be required each and every year until we come together in ways that change systems of neglect, poverty and human insecurity.??That’s just the way it is. We are turning out to be generous and miserly at the same time – the great Canadian contradiction that requires a renewing sense of collective responsibility and solidarity, especially during this season.