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HOTEL ROOMS in INDIA Rant #1

18 Jan
john-hertzler

J.G Hertzler

Written by J.G Hertzler

Woke up this AM hearing that Dennis McDonnough and Valerie Jarett, top White House Advisors, are the ones being “thrown under the bus” regarding the President’s no-show in Paris. Massive incompetence rearing its ugly head in Obama’s regime. Yesterday I was researching the Grand Hotels of the world and read the story regarding Obama’s recent trip in 2010 to India to discuss trade and business policy with Indian business leaders. Apparently he stayed at the TAJ MAHAL PALACE HOTEL and his party rented not only a room, or a floor, or series of floors…his party rented and cleared the entire hotel of about 600 rooms for several days. There is so much incomprehensible stupidity here I hardly know where to begin. SNOPES website denies that 200 Million dollars/day, as Republicans

Dennis McDonnough and Valerie Jarett

Dennis McDonnough and Valerie Jarett

claimed, was spent on this ten day trip…you do the math….but they could not attach the real cost. Bottom line, this “business” trip to Mumbai must have cost 10s, if not 100’s of millions of dollars, for the sake of setting up new trade agreements focused on increasing business and profits for the 1%ers and more jobs in India. But notwithstanding that, there had to have been a secure facility at a nearby US Base or Government facility that would not have involved buying the entire TAJ MAHAL PALACE HOTEL. for the week. Taj_Mahal_Palace_Hotel

What the hell is this White House thinking! I may be even more outraged than Republican Obama haters…because I voted for him twice and have sent him campaign money in amounts that neither I, nor, I suspect, thousands of other hopeful Americans of similarly slight means, could afford. And HERE IS THE KICKER…..He is returning to INDIA for five days next week! Another MULTI MILLION DOLLAR junket. Has the WHITE HOUSE NEVER HEARD of SKYPE…or the GO TO MEETING app?!?!? But seriously….you are not a 19th Century Emperor or the Maha Raja of America, Mr. Obama. Somebody in the White House better get a clue very very soon or your legacy will be nothing but incomprehensible stupidity and the demise of the Democratic Party. “Angry” doesn’t even begin to describe what I feel. I would not have thought it possible, Mr. President. jgh

J.G Hertzler Talks About the Benefit of Unions

7 Jul

Written by J.G Hertzler

PRO-UNION RANT #332: My mother was a school teacher, my dad was in the Air Force…and yet we never faced budgetary collapse as so many Americans now face. Our middle class has been “disappeared” by big John G Hertzlerbusiness/Governmental conspiracy to drive down labor costs and increase productivity resulting in 60,000 domestic factory closings over the last 15 years and ever expanding off-shoring of money and jobs.

In turn, this has resulted in the immense economic disparity in America,,,Once Upon a Time…”the land of opportunity!”….and the collapse of the great middle class that built this country. There are no Rockafellers or Vanderbilts or Romneys or Trumps or Fricks sitting on that iron girder 60 stories above Central Park eating lunch…they were the American Common Man, the middle class who literally built this nation. Such men bound together in Iron Workers Unions, Automobile Workers unions, Electricians, Plumbers, Home construction Unions…they built this country and created a pay scale that allowed for their Middle Class families to exist. Do you really believe that the Vanderbilts, Rockafellers, Trumps, etc would ever pay a living wage if they were not forced to do so by Big Labor?

Union LaborIf you believe that, we will eternally disagree. And hey…I know their has been corruption in Big Labor…there is some corruption everywhere….but without Unions, America would have grown into a Third World Power long long ago, where 1% of our society is fabulously rich and enjoying the good life but 99% of us would be living in poverty without sufficient jobs, without decent shelter, food or clothing and without hope…oh wait…that is the current breakdown of economic disparity in this nation. And you ask why I support Unions? jgh

From ‘Washington Redskins’ to ‘queer culture,’ the uneasy evolution of the slur

5 Jul
neil-macdonald

Neil Macdonald is the senior Washington correspondent for CBC News, which he joined in 1988 following 12 years in newspapers. Before taking up this post in 2003, Macdonald reported from the Middle East for five years. He speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.

Written by Neil MacDonald

The professional football team here in the U.S. capital is still called the Washington Redskins.

It’s ridiculous, but there it is.

Personally, for the sake of consistency, I’ve begun to avoid using the word “Redskins” in news reports about the controversy surrounding the team’s name.

It goes against my grain to do so; I’m a speech libertarian, and I believe we should shrink from no word if it is relevant to the discourse at hand, which, in this city, Redskins most certainly is.

But I also try, at least, to avoid hypocrisy, and there’s plenty of that in the discussions of the controversy surrounding the team.

The word itself is a self-evidently racist, slangy, condescending term for Indians, as a U.S. government commission ruled just recently. And yet we in the news media still use it when describing the team, simply because the team’s owner refuses to consider changing the name.

Imagine for a moment someone naming a team the “Houston Wetbacks.” Or the “New York Coons.” Would we repeat those names in reports? To ask that question is to answer it.

Other slurs are so radioactive they cannot even be uttered in a hypothetical discussion, so I won’t. (Again, I don’t think any word should be off-limits to discussion, but like the comedian Louis CK, I despise the fig-leaf coyness of euphemisms like “the n-word.”)

So why is it still acceptable to use the term Redskins?

Do we allow ourselves to use it because it’s the name of a major sports team? Or is it still the name of a major sports team because we allow ourselves to use it?

Some people say that not all Indians regard the word as necessarily racist. But pretty clearly a large number of them do. Indian groups have tried, and failed, to force a name change.

That leaves us with the ugly conclusion that native Americans simply don’t have the political clout in the U.S. that some other minority groups have acquired through vigorous activism.

If you want further evidence of the difficulty native groups have had in pushing back against being caricatured in the crudest possible manner, just take a look at Big Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians.

redskins-what-s-a-slur

As protests by the American Indian Movement and others grow, including during last year’s NFL Super Bowl, the U.S. Patent Office ruled in June 2014 that the Washington Redskins name is “disparaging of Native Americans” and that the team’s federal trademarks for the name must be cancelled. (Associated Press)

 

Reclaiming slurs

But our resistance to change, as a society and as journalists, applies the other way around, too, and that’s where the issue of what constitutes a slur these days can get really interesting.

pride-parade-mormons

Dyke march is another term, Neil Macdonald has trouble with. Here, gay rights supporters, including sympathetic members of the Mormon Church, march at the Utah State Capitol before the annual Pride festival in June 2013. (Associated Press)

The current practice of “reclaiming” slurs, as a means of defaming them, means that certain words that have been vile insults most of my life are now finding their way into the mainstream.

During last month’s Pride celebrations across America, for example, the term “dyke marches” began popping up in reports, used without attribution or irony. (Dyke is just not a word I will ever feel able to utter politely.)

Dyke march is another term, Neil Macdonald has trouble with. Here, gay rights supporters, including sympathetic members of the Mormon Church, march at the Utah State Capitol before the annual Pride festival in June 2013. (Associated Press)

Similarly, LGBT, the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered, has now become LBGTQ, the Q being widely understood to represent “queer.”

Olivia Chow, the former Canadian Federal NDP MP now running for mayor of Toronto, was slinging that one around at a news conference just the other day.

In fact, the acronym seems to grow by the week; some activists are pushing LGBTTIQQ2SAA, standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited, allies and asexual.

“Queer,” in particular, is a word the non-heterosexual community has been trying hard for years to promote as a perfectly respectful catch-all. They’ve lobbied news organizations to adopt it as an across-the-board neutral descriptor to replace the increasingly cumbersome alphabet-soup acronym mentioned above.

They’ve had some success with the wider public. A colleague in her thirties tells me she does not remember the term queer ever being anything other than polite.

But it will forever feel insulting to me, and to a lot of viewers and readers my age, and so most mainstream news organizations have demurred. Queer is usually only used with attribution.

 

Hard to keep up

Ultimately, though, the word will no doubt become thoroughly acceptable, having completed its journey from meaning simply odd (and being tolerated as a verb) to becoming a rather ugly insult, all the way round to a happy, inclusive term.

So what of other “reclaimed” slurs? Is it imaginable that the galaxy of insults specific groups now use in reference to themselves, but which are forbidden to any outsider, will move on to normalization?

Probably. I’d have laughed back in the 1970s if someone had suggested queer would be stripped of its insult. (I even remember when “gay” had another meaning entirely, and the honorific “Ms.” was equated with man-hating radical feminism and spoken with icy condescension.)

But the other arc will continue, too. Words that are now respectful will no doubt be shunned.

My elderly mother, a retired schoolteacher who is perhaps the most tolerant person I have ever known, a woman who is philosophically opposed to any sort of trash talk or disrespect, once remarked on a trip to Washington that “Negro men dress very nicely, don’t they?”

My daughter, then in a liberal school and alive to any racial slight, immediately explained that word is now unacceptable, and that “African-American” and “person of colour” are the respectful terms.

Flushing, my mother said she’d been taught that “Negro” is what black people themselves consider polite, and that she just can’t keep up. (Remember, it’s still the United Negro College Fund, and it’s still the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.)

Acceptable terms seem to change every decade, she protested. Hard to argue with that. Change proceeds rapidly, along both arcs.

No doubt, my grandchildren will cringe when they hear that a football team was once called the Redskins, just as I do when I remember my father’s cylindrical pre-First World War recordings of minstrel acts like Darkie School Days.

And, as outrageous as it might sound right now, the term n-word may someday seem quaint and foolish, and the slur for which it stands will have lost its stunning power.

Exposing The Monsters Among Us

13 Jun

MonaA woman who calls herself Mona wrote this blog recently. She felt she had to write about an atrocity involving an abandoned dog and it’s puppy. I have reposted this to assist with awareness that there are mentally ill people out there who cause incalculable harm to animals as they feed their own pain. 

 

THURSDAY, JUNE 12, 2014

Exposing The Monsters Among Us

Molly fostered and adopted rescued dogs. Name a rescue organization in the greater St. Louis area, and she’s likely been involved with them in some capacity. She was even featured in a photo exhibit, “I Am a Rescuer”. The professional photographer captured many heart warming happy images of her, with her son and a very good-looking, healthy-appearing pit bull-type dog.

In the photos sunlight warms her vividly red-tinted locks, her son’s heavily gelled faux Mohawk and the dog’s handsome brindle coat beneath not one, but two heavy collars; muy macho, si? She apparently had decided on an “edgy” look for them at the photo shoot.

By itself, trying on a new image — especially for the honor of being featured in a photo series about adopted rescued dogs and their families — isn’t a big deal. But the image of herself as a rescuer, which Molly projected to the community, was as false as her dye job.
She adopted dogs, all right … and then starved them to death.
At least two are known to have died, one just a puppy. Another narrowly escaped the same horrific and agonizing end, but was severely emaciated — starved, and also full of worms — after six months with Jolly Molly, Rescue Hero.
The rescue organizations involved in the adoptions of the two dead dogs are reeling. The repercussions of this were felt all the way to Chicago, where the puppy’s story had begun.
In the bitterly cold winter, investigation of a report of animal neglect led to the discovery of a mother dog tethered to a porch, with no food or water, and only minimal and inadequate shelter. She had tucked her solitary male puppy into the warmest possible corner of it, and somehow kept them both alive in sub-zero weather. They were brought into Chicago’s animal control and the call went out for any available rescues to pull them.
When a rescue “pulls” a dog, or dogs, they have a Freedom Ride. In most cases, loving homes are found for them and they have a second chance at the life they deserve. This particular freedom ride was cheered all the way down Interstate 55 as this brave momma dog and her little pup headed for sanctuary and a brighter future.
With all of her “rescue connections”, from which Monster Molly had detailed knowledge of how rescues go about screening potential adopters as well as several references who hadn’t yet caught on to the fact that she was a walking fraud and animal abuser, her application to adopt the puppy stood out. She could talk the rescue talk, and did so with chillingly convincing, Machiavellian deceit. No red flags. For these seasoned rescue professionals with many years of experience in the darker side of human nature, there were no gut feelings that something was hinky. The puppy went home with Molly.
A few months later, the puppy was dead. As it turned out, this was the second starvation death of an adopted dog on her “watch”, and she evidently had learned from the first not to take the remains to a vet with a story of sudden illness lest she be called out as an abuser. The puppy’s body was not recovered. She claimed it had been hit by a car. And suddenly all references to the pup on her FB page vanished, as if he had never existed.
Did she really imagine that a puppy who — with his sweet mother — had won hundreds of hearts from Chicago to St. Louis, whose rescue and adoption were celebrated, would be forgotten because she disposed of his little tormented body and deleted a few pictures? (The one below is not hers.)
What can be done about her, will be done. But the questions that are keeping many of us, active rescuers as well as supporters, awake at night are — how? And most importantly, why?
Why adopt a dog, if you’re going to then neglect it and not feed it and it eventually dies while you’re out there portraying yourself as a rescuer?
A possible answer: It’s not the dog that’s wanted. It’s attention and admiration. There’s a word for that particular pathology: Narcissism. The dogs are means to an end, not the end itself. Somewhere along the way, a connection to normal morality and empathy becomes unplugged.
One wonders what a child of such a narcissist has seen, behind the closed door of the home. There is a puppy; it is not fed. It cries. Does the child ever question this, and if so, what is he told? And perhaps most important: What is he learning about abusing animals that he will carry with him into adult life?
If we cannot fathom the thought process here, it’s because we are trying to apply rationality and decency to a person who does not operate on either plane, but is diabolically clever in donning whatever mask will do to feed a bottomless need for attention.
Monsters do not reveal themselves as such. They will rationalize and deflect and emote far more effectively than you or I in order to justify their actions. Monster Molly is no different. Even now, as she tries to elude questioning by law enforcement, she is in survival mode and will come out swinging when she’s caught. And the lies she tells then will potentially exonerate her, because that’s how convincing these people are.
My friends in rescue: She totally snowed you, and you are attuned to the nuances signaling that something isn’t quite right. Those in the legal system, by and large, are much less so. And they are constrained by laws which do not address animal abuse with penalties proportionate to the acts committed.
The rescue community here is doing everything possible, but she could walk … or never be charged at all. Justice for Dandelion isn’t dependent upon this particular monster’s conviction, though. It’s not ultimately the rescues’ responsibility to keep all of their adopted dogs safe from abuse, but ours. The community at large.
We can observe. We can actually SEE. And then decide to act. Molly lived in an apartment house, for heaven’s sake. How thin are those walls? How many people came and went, and knew of this woman with the dogs? What did they see and decide wasn’t any of their business? What did they hear and decide not to get involved? Do they know, now, that she starved dogs in that apartment and that at least two of them died? Do they wish they’d said or done something sooner because “they had a feeling”?
Dandelion’s justice, and his legacy, will come from that inaction changing to action. It’s not just up to the rescues to “screen better”, they already screen extremely well, and with Molly’s inside knowledge of how to make that look good I’m not sure how any rescue could have done any “better”. And while a more effective means of shelters and rescues sharing “do not adopt” information is a good practice, a person would end up on such a list only at the expense of a dog’s suffering — in effect, potentially protecting other dogs but too late for at least one. So it’s up to us in the community as well.
Narcissistic abusers fear one thing: Exposure. Let that sink in.
Then decide whether, if given the opportunity, you can be a voice for other helpless dogs that Dandelion and Treasure did not have, a voice that will help to shine light on the things done in darkness.
UPDATE, 06/12/2014, 5:00 P.M.: I was shocked, to put it mildly, to find that this post has had over 5,000 views today. This is a just small personal blog in a lazy backwater of the ‘net. I don’t even update it regularly, just write when something motivates me. I think the most page views I’ve ever before today was less than 30. A response like this would be a writer’s dream … except that I wish, with all my heart, that what compelled me to write never had happened, and this small blog was still gathering dust.My heart goes out to those in rescue — some of whom have responded below — who felt gut-punched and betrayed when all of this came to light. All I can say to you is, you can still trust your judgment; this was an off-the-charts aberration that no one could have anticipated. Keep going. The dogs need you. In truth, they need us all.
Digman Abuser poster

From Middle-Class to Minimum Wage. With No Way Back

21 May

By Michael Valpy

 

Eric Schuppert’s realization that he had left the middle class did not occur in 2008, when his $75,000-a-year salary with full benefits, pension and five weeks’ paid vacation vanished along with his job as a public-service manager for the municipality of Caledon.

It did not occur when, at age 46, he had to borrow money from his parents to meet his monthly living costs. It did not occur when he was forced to sell his house in nearby Alliston.

It did not even occur when he found himself behind a counter at his local Tim Hortons — “Standing there in that crappy uniform with that dinky little hat on serving my friends coffee” — at the minimum wage of $10.25 an hour, taking direction from kids 20 years younger.

It occurred when the fear came to him that he would never be back to where he had been, that he was looking at a slammed-shut door to anything that resembled progress.

And with that fear, Schuppert, now 51 and working in Toronto as a night-shift college porter earning $30,000 a year, became part of a new phenomenon in Canada that social scientists haven’t previously encountered: he self-deselected from the middle class.

Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research, says his firm’s surveys show that since the start of the 2000s, Canadians identifying themselves as middle class have declined from 70 per cent to about 60 per cent of the adult population and possibly much lower.

What that means is not something that can be calibrated simply by the metrics of median-income statistics. It is not really about numbers, and the bromides being offered by politicians in the U.S. and Canada about a healthy middle class being good for society miss the point.

Declining middle class in Canada

Middle class is a state of mind, an emotional state, a feeling of optimism, a feeling of belonging to the great swath of Canadian society that has been resolutely marching forward in the sunshine for decades. It is an important element of social cohesion.

When the level of income inequality rises — in tandem with a stagnant economy, which is what is happening in Canada — the relationship between income and class identity becomes stronger, says University of Toronto sociology doctoral candidate Josh Curtis, who studies class awareness and its links to political behaviour.

Inequality above all else is a profound social circumstance, a subjective sense of one’s status both in comparison to others and in relation to what one expects from oneself. Thus, especially in rich societies, a substantial income loss in an environment of inequality is more than apt to be construed as an assault on class identity.

And what EKOS finds, as inequality has risen, is powerful evidence that middle-class optimism that existed as recently as the end of the last century has crashed and burned, to be replaced by a pervasive, dark pessimism and a loss of faith in the ethic of progress.

Says Graves: “The dominant challenge of our time is to reverse this infectious belief that progress is over and produce a vibrant new liberal capitalism for the 21st century. Growing and invigorating the dormant middle class is task number one in any blueprint to a brighter future.”

A North American survey by EKOS and partner research firms in the U.S. and Mexico found that Americans who identified themselves as members of the middle class had declined from roughly 62 per cent in 2002 to 46 per cent at the end of 2013, a more precipitous plunge than in Canada, where the figures are 67 and 48 per cent respectively. But this isn’t grounds for complacency. Graves says rising inequality and a declining middle class in Canada have been driven by what’s going on in the U.S., and Canada is now sliding faster down the slope than its neighbour.

“When you don’t have people moving ahead, you have trouble,” he says. “And the trends in Canada are very, very clear. It’s the Acemoglu thesis.”

He is referring to the 2012 book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, in which economist Daron Acemoglu, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that societies fail when they move from an inclusive to an extractive economy, meaning an economy “designed to extract incomes and wealth from one subset of society (the masses) to benefit a different subset (the governing elite).”

Inequality, in other words.

And when EKOS asked Canadians which groups they thought had moved ahead, fallen behind, or stayed the same over the last 25 years, the results were a rabbit punch in the midriff.

Nearly 90 per cent of respondents said the CEOs of large companies had benefitted most; 63 per cent identified financial sector employees as the winners; 40 per cent chose public servants; 18 per cent chose blue collar workers, and just 8 per cent picked middle-class households.

Winners and losers

Eric Schuppert’s narrative, to be sure, is about income and struggling to earn enough money to survive. But primarily it’s about a place in society and his links to the connecting points of middle-class existence.

He’s a soft-spoken, thoughtful, well-read man. He tells his story without complaints, and yet a listener can hear very clearly the pain he’s experienced over the past five years.

He’d worked 22 years for Caledon, population 50,000, rising up the ladder from manager of aquatics to a senior recreation position to manager of customer services with a staff of 10. His job included being in charge of the municipal cafeteria, overseeing the municipality’s office supplies and managing the public reception services.

One the day he was fired — “restructured” in the language of the municipality’s human resources department — he asked his boss, the chief administration officer, if he’d done anything wrong and was told no, the municipality just figured they could do his job better and cheaper without him.

“It wasn’t a fun day,” says Schuppert. “But you can’t let something like that ruin 22 years associated with a wonderful community.”

The CAO sent out an email to the staff saying he was leaving “to pursue other opportunities.”

It was a bad time in the fall of 2008 to be out of a job.

Initially Schuppert says he felt marginalized but not hurt — an interesting word he chooses: without a job, he felt pushed to the sidelines of life.

End of progress

In the first six months after being restructured, he sent out about 100 resumés and got three interviews, none of which led to anything. By August 2009, he had run out of money and needed financial help from his parents. He realized at the same time he was going to have to take whatever job he could find and not wait for something commensurate with his skills and experience.

Within a week he had a job at a Tim Hortons outlet a five-minute walk from his house in Alliston, just north of Toronto. When his friends and neighbours came in, “I could see the click in their eyes when they recognized me, and then they moved on pretty quickly.”

In addition to standing for an eight-hour shift taking orders, Schuppert had to move boxes around. He has a bad back. The work gave him constant pain. He lasted a month and then quit.

The local McDonald’s offered him a job. He asked if there was a chance to move into management, was told yes, and was then assigned to be the overnight cleaner starting at midnight. He declined.

At this point he started to cut off his social connections.

He went to work for Swiss Chalet, again asking for an opportunity to move into management. He was told yes. He worked for nine months, was given periodic management training but never got beyond minimum wage.

He then went to Harvey’s, where he was actually offered a management position. He asked the owner for $16 an hour but never was paid more than the minimum wage of $10.25. Meanwhile, he had to put his house up for sale because he could no longer afford the mortgage payments.

“George saved me from full-blown depression,” Schuppert says. George was his dog, arthritic and going blind, and Schuppert loved and cared for him.

He’d saved for 20 years to buy his house. His house was part of who he was in his community, in his circle of friends. His house was where he once gave parties and cooked dinners until he could no longer afford to do either. The For Sale sign stood on the street in front of his house for eight months, proclaiming his downward journey.

“My emotional state was pretty bad, but I faked it,” he says.

And then the house sold and he decided to move to Toronto and live in the Beach neighbourhood because he had heard it was a good place for dogs.

Before he left, a neighbour offered him a one-month job building kitchen cabinets. “That was as fulfilled as I’d felt in a long time,” Schuppert says. “It was meaningful. In aquatics I had taught kids to save lives. That was meaningful.”

That’s what work is about. Either meaningful or not meaningful.

Schuppert found an apartment in the Beach where he could take George for long, healthy walks. He kept looking for a job. He was turned down for a City of Toronto posting that involved working on its 311 municipal service, which irritated him, because he had led the project to design the service at Caledon.

And then he got the college porter’s job.

The college staff, he says, are wonderful. The students he enjoys. He likes the opportunity to help people. He’s provided with dinner. “I’m underutilized but there’s dick-all elsewhere.”

There’s also the night shift. “I didn’t realize just how lost you are. I live at home alone. I get up in the morning and everyone else has gone to work. By the time I get home, it’s 11 o’clock and everyone else is in bed. I spend the whole day alone and that’s depressing.

There’s the fear — the fear that’s made him say he’s no longer middle class. “I still don’t see anything more than $30,000 a year in my future. That’s not a lot of money for a single person in Toronto. My biggest fear now that is that I’m going to wind up on the street. I’ve just got to get back to trying to find jobs. If I don’t I’m going to be well on the path to the working poor. I think progress has passed me by.”

There’s what Eric Schuppert identifies as the middle class things that are gone.

“I used to go out for dinner

“I used to throw dinner parties at home. I love to cook.

“I used to have parties all the time.

“Dating. How can I take someone out at 14 bucks an hour?

“I don’t get to see concerts and events any more. I used to see live music all the time.

“I have lost the ability to buy new clothes of some quality. I did get used to wearing a jacket and tie for 10 years and looking sharp. It is definitely a status thing.”

All things that middle class people do in middle class society.

“No house.”

Middle class people own houses, or at least a condo.

“I’m wondering if I’ll ever have a meaningful job using my skills and experience again.”

Middle class people have meaningful work.

George died two months ago. Schuppert is now looking for a smaller apartment “down the chain.”

Award-winning journalist Michael Valpy is this year’s recipient of the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy. He can be reached at michael.valpy@utoronto.ca

What I learned at law school: The poor need not apply

2 Dec

By Eric C. Girard 

‘I’m sorry, Eric, but there is nothing we can do for you.” Sharp pain and anger grew in my chest as I stared across the large wooden desk. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.

“Are you going to be okay? Let me know if I can do anything.” The words of the associate dean were meaningless, a performance dictated by institutional etiquette.Eric G. Girard's Experience at a Canadian Law School

“You mean I have to drop out of law school, in my third year?” Absurd, a comedy. I wanted to laugh and cry.

“We can make arrangements so that you can take an academic leave of absence for up to two years.”

It sounded like I would be planning the funeral of my academic career. As I walked away from the student service offices at the University of Ottawa, I felt I had reached the end of a long journey – a journey around an oval track, carrying a boulder on my back. The boulder was poverty, and its grinding physical and psychological strain had finally brought me to my knees.

The university shrugged its shoulders as the “hard work equals success” myth dissolved in front of me. Don’t come to law school if you are poor, was the message. Don’t try to become a lawyer if you are poor.

I was dropping out because I couldn’t afford to continue. Tuition for the year was $15,000 and the government’s cap on student loans for me was $12,000. I was denied a line of credit by five commercial banks because I had a low credit score and no one to co-sign. I had no one to co-sign because my mother made $19,000 last year.

What is it to be “poor”? For me it was being raised by a single mother on disability; public housing; the food bank; parcels from the Salvation Army at Christmas; seeing my brother stabbed nearly to death, police take my mother to a psychiatric hospital and Children’s Aid take my four-year-old niece. And not being able to do anything about any of this.

FoodBankbox

What does poverty look like? There’s the day to day: You open the fridge and there’s a mustard or mayo sandwich for dinner. Then the month to month: You wait for your bus, are buzzed like cattle into an Ontario Works cubicle to get your cheque, hang your head as a smiling volunteer hands you a box of food. You carry your box home on the bus, wearily eyeing the canned string beans and cranberry jelly from someone’s Thanksgiving.

Will your children be able to afford university? Tuition fees are through the roof in Canada with the average University student paying $5138 for a year of school. Ontario student assistance (OSAP)covers a fraction of the costs but the amount of long-term debt is detrimental as the average student owes $27 000 in debt after graduation.

Will your children be able to afford university? Tuition fees are through the roof in Canada with the average University student paying $5138 for a year of school. Ontario student assistance (OSAP)covers a fraction of the costs but the amount of long-term debt is detrimental as the average student owes $27 000 in debt after graduation.

You can use these images to tell a story, but what does poverty feel like? Usually it starts with anger. You are angry at yourself, your family, and the indifferent forces that eventually grind you down. You push against these feelings because you don’t have the luxury – you have to keep on. You feel vulnerable. You teeter between risks not taken because the difference between failure and success is homelessness. Or you take stupid risks because you have nothing to lose.

I learned early on that anger and envy will paralyze you. You need to deal with it somehow. My mother had prayer and Jesus Christ; my brother turned to drugs. I did what I was told and became what is known as a member of the “respectable poor.” To be in this group you study hard, stay out of trouble, respect your scummy restaurant bosses and borrow on your Visa card at 25 per cent interest. Most importantly, you buy into the myth “where there’s a will there’s a way.”

My generation has reluctantly accepted the myth amid “austerity” and a new type of poverty. We’re entering the work force just as employers, governments and unions are hedging themselves against falling pensions, benefits, pay and jobs. Two years ago we said “enough” and occupied parks across the world. Our neighbours eventually got annoyed and gave police and politicians the nod to push us back to our Starbucks jobs, where we exist between the dreams of our parents, our useless degrees and the reality of minimum-wage jobs. We make your lattes to the tune of our own contempt.

Occupy Ottawa

For those who have made it out of this youth unemployment crisis, there is a sense you are either lucky or connected. We also feed the myth. We need it. Why else would we borrow $50,000 for an education?

Meanwhile, school administrators, politicians, employers and bureaucrats prune away to make that education inaccessible. The law school adds an extra box to a scholarship application that puts it out of reach, or raises tuition another $1,000.

I faced a phalanx of administrators at the University of Ottawa, each pushing me along with a version of “No, we can’t help you until you pay your tuition.” When I got to the top of the authority chain I felt like I was meeting the all-powerful Wizard of Oz. But unlike the wizard, the associate deans weren’t incompetent – they just didn’t care. I gave them a short story of my life and current circumstances and they told me my only recourse was to apply for an “emergency bursary.” But since my financial hardship was “foreseen” I didn’t qualify.

A hidden type of homelessness, individuals unable to afford rent “couch surf” by seeking shelter from friends or family members. This situation is often thought of as temporary but with over 10,000 people on the waitlist for social housing, a person could wait four years for assistance. At times they are forced to turn to the streets or unsafe living environments.

A hidden type of homelessness, individuals unable to afford rent “couch surf” by seeking shelter from friends or family members. This situation is often thought of as temporary but with over 10,000 people on the waitlist for social housing, a person could wait four years for assistance. At times they are forced to turn to the streets or unsafe living environments.

I am by far not the only one who’s faced this crisis. Since I opened up to my peers, many have told me they are in the same boat. This is why there are so few working-class lawyers.

Fortunately for me, my own story has a happy ending. This summer, when I’d accepted I would have to drop out, a friend offered to co-sign a loan. Knowing I would graduate on time meant I could apply for articling positions, which led to an offer that I hope will be my one-way ticket out of poverty. I know I got lucky.

Globe and Mail’s article on income gap really propaganda – Nick Filmore

12 Nov

Nick FilmoreNick Filmore is an award-winning investigative reporter and a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), Nick was a news editor and producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for more than 20 years.

Journalist Barrie McKenna, writing in the main hyped-up article inthe Globe’s Focus section on November 9.13, talks about how the gap in income between the rich and the rest of us is a serious problem that will hurt Canada for generations to come. True.

However, McKenna presented the issue as though we had just learned about the income gap. The frustrating truth is that we have known for years that the changes the Conservatives and the Liberals before them were making to the tax system, plus other adjustments, was resulting in much greater income disparity and the hollowing out of the middle class.

Globe and Mail Journalist Barrie MckennaIn fact, even the conservative Conference Board of Canada recognized this as a problem 20 years ago!

The article’s weaknesses are glaring. This is particularly significant because McKenna’s article launched a two-week-long series under the topic, Canada’s Wealth Paradox series.

McKenna makes no effort to explain WHY the wage gap is still increasing. He throws around terms such as globalization as being part of the problem, but he does not explain WHY we have such serious incomes gaps.

Income disparity doesn’t just happen

McKenna leaves readers with the impression that, well, a problem such as income disparity just happens. But serious problems, such as massive income disparities, don’t just happen. These problems occur when governments choose certain economic policies over others.

You would never know from this story that Stephen Harper’s neo-liberal economic policies, which are discredited as a failure in many countries now, are to blame.

reuters-3-20-11-Stephen-Harper

It is puzzling to see the Globe launch such an important – in its own mind – series with such a misleading, dishonest article.

McKenna makes no mention of the fact that Harper, and the Liberals before him, created trickle-down financial policies on purpose to make the already wealthy and giant corporations even more wealthy. This is done based on the false assumption that those rich folks re-invest their wealth in the economy. It’s not happening – it never happens!

McKenna failed to point out that these policies are a total failure. His so-called “journalism” is unbalanced and, considering his own knowledge in this area, dishonest. This article is little more than propaganda for those who espouse right-wing economic policies.

One of the reasons why this article is glaringly flawed is that McKenna’s work normally appears in the Globe’s Report on Business (RoB) where, most of the time, journalists present only the pro-business side of issues. Sometimes an opposing view is dropped in at the bottom of a story.

When an RoB journalist writes for the regular news or features section of the Globe – as in this case – the lack of balance is often obvious.

Economic term ‘neo-liberal’ taboo at the Globe
Interestingly, even though Harper has been governing Canada with extremely damaging neo-liberal policies for seven years, the term is taboo at the Globe. If the mainstream corporate media alerted the public to all of the evil elements in Harper’s neo-liberal package, I can’t imagine the CONS. getting elected again.

globe-and-mail-logo

While McKenna briefly states that the Scandinavian countries are much better compared to Canada in controlling income gaps, he does not explain why this is the case. Simply put, those countries have economic policies that reflect their commitment to the well-being of the general population.

In addition to holding specific media outlets responsible for the integrity of their journalism, perhaps it’s time we held individual journalists responsible for their work. If we started doing this, Barrie McKenna would easily win the award for “Best Propaganda Article of the Week!”

Of course there are lots of journalists putting their bylines on misleading and dishonest stories. In this situation, McKenna is my sacrificial lamb.

Note: I imagine some of you are going to beat me up for singling out an individual journalist – oops, propagandist – for criticism. Well, going after faceless organizations like the Globe doesn’t bring change. So, as an alternative, we need to hold individual journalists responsible for their half-baked, misleading stories.

The little “crimes” that Barrie McKenna committed in the income gap story are, in fact, more serious than we might think. The large volume of such misleading journalism creates a propaganda-riddled “false reality.”

If the so called “reporting” and commentary in mainstream media continues to create the kind of imaginary world our elites want to see, can 1984 be far behind?