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Archive for December, 2013

BOXING DAY: A GOOD TIME TO STOP SHOPPING

Posted by strattof on December 27, 2013

Today, Boxing Day is a mega shopping event, part of the December – January consumer-spending frenzy. In Canada, it is the busiest shopping day of the year. However, Boxing Day used to have a very different meaning.

Originating in England in the Middle Ages, Boxing Day was traditionally a time for wealth redistribution in a manner benefitting the least advantaged. Although its exact origins are unknown, there are several theories:
• Every Church had an Alms Box which was used to collect donations for the poor. This box was always opened and its contents distributed on the day after Christmas.
• Servants had to serve their masters on Christmas Day, but had the next day off to visit their families. The lords and ladies of the manor would give each servant a box containing gifts and leftover food to take home.
• Before every voyage, a priest would place a donations box on every great sailing ship. To ensure a safe journey, members of the crew would put money in the box, which was sealed up when the ship set sail. If the voyage was successful, the box was given to the priest who would distribute the contents to the poor at Christmas.

CONSUMERISM – IT’S KILLING US!
A consumer society equates personal happiness with the purchase of material possessions. It is a widespread cultural belief in capitalist societies that more and more STUFF brings happiness and well-being.

A culture of consumerism consumes – uses up, destroys, squanders – the earth’s resources: resources that make our lives possible.

• The manufacture and transport of all that stuff we buy requires plenty of energy. Most of that energy comes from fossil fuels which pollute the earth’s atmosphere with CO2 emissions. Rising CO2 levels in the earth’s atmosphere are the main cause of climate change.
• Fossil fuel production, as well as the manufacture of goods, pollutes water supplies.
• Vast rain forests are destroyed to make way for cattle ranches, plantations, and mines, the products of which are sold mainly to North Americans.
• Much of the stuff we buy is tossed out shortly after purchase, and ends up in ever-expanding landfills.

ALTERNATIVES TO SHOPPING OR HOW TO FIND TRUE HAPPINESS
Studies show that, after basic needs are met, real happiness comes, not from all that stuff we buy, but rather from such things as ●fulfilling social relation-ships ●intellectual engagement ●community involvement ●creative activities ●simple exercise ●mental and spiritual enrichment ●contact with nature.

We can get out of the rat race by putting a stop to unnecessary shopping.

REINVENTING BOXING DAY
Our culture of consumerism has brought about an environmental catastrophe. One way to turn the situation around would be to reinvent Boxing Day.

At one point, Boxing Day was about wealth redistribution as a way to a more equal society. Let’s stop shopping and take back that earlier version of December 26. Then, just as retailers are keen to do for the sake of profit, let’s make every day of the year Boxing Day in order to save the planet.

A QUIZ FOR SHOPPERS
5 QUESTIONS TO ASK OURSELVES EVERY TIME WE GO SHOPPING
1. Do I really need it?
2. How long will it last?
3. Could I borrow it from a friend or family member?
4. Can I get it second hand?
5. What resources have been used to produce it?

A MORE EQUAL AND A MORE JUST SOCIETY
Like England in the Middle Ages, our society suffers from massive inequality. Shockingly and shamefully, today 1 in 7 Canadian children lives in poverty.

A reinvented Boxing Day/Year will address this issue. But we need to update the charity model of wealth redistribution used in the Middle Ages and replace it with a 21st century justice model.

What the federal government can do:
● Restore the income tax rate. 30 years ago the top federal income tax rate for the wealthiest was 43%. Today it’s only 29%.
● Restore the corporate tax rate. 20 years ago the federal corporate tax rate was 36%. Today it’s 15%, the lowest since 1938.
● Develop a long-term national program to create and maintain affordable housing and provide it with adequate funding.
● Provide proper funding for First Nations education.
● Introduce high quality universal early childhood education.

What you and I can do:
● Join a group working for environmental and social justice. Studies show that activists are healthier and happier!

HELP FOR THE RECOVERING CONSUMER 

BOOKS – available at Regina Public Library

●Kingslover, Barbara. Flight Behaviour (novel)

●McQuaig, Linda. All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust and the New   Capitalism (social criticism)

ONLINE RESOURCES

Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping

The Compact, a movement to buy nothing new beyond necessities for one year.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed. – Mahatma Gandhi

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REMEMBERING NELSON MANDELA: 1918-2013

Posted by strattof on December 12, 2013

It is a time for great sorrow. The Making Peace Vigil joins with people the world over in mourning the passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

It is also a time for joyous celebration. The legacy of Nelson Mandela lives on, with his name having become a universal symbol of peace, reconciliation, justice, and unyielding resistance. He struggled for all of us.

NELSON MANDELA’S DREAM
Nelson Mandela had a dream. He wanted
• to end the brutal racist apartheid system in South Africa; and
• to bring economic justice to the overwhelmingly poor majority of South Africans.

It is a dream for which he was willing to lay down his life. Facing the death penalty, Mandela said at the end of his 1964 trial:

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela achieved his dream of defeating apartheid. However, his dream of a country without poverty has not yet been realized. The forces of global capitalism have so far proven too strong. Today, the majority of South Africans are facing the same economic inequality as they did under apartheid. The struggle continues!

LIVING UP TO MANDELA’S LEGACY
South Africa’s apartheid legislation, passed in 1948, was modeled on Canada’s Indian Act, which provided the blueprint for many of its tactics, including its reserve system, used to displace South Africa’s majority population, and the pass system, used to control movement.

When he established South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, Mandela asked South Africans to confront together the truth of their history: injustice, oppression, torture, killings. In Canada, we are finally beginning to face some of the darkest chapters of our own history, which include the use of starvation as a method to dispossess Indigenous people and malnourishment experiments on Indigenous children.

Truth is a necessary precondition for reconciliation. But, as Mandela knew, reconciliation also requires justice.

There is no justice for Indigenous peoples in Canada. ●Today, the Canadian government continues to break the Treaty agreements it made with Indigenous peoples. ●Today, a child who attends school on reserve receives 25% less in government funding than other Canadian children. ●Today, 4 in 10 Indigenous children live in poverty.

To live up to Mandela’s legacy, Canada must commit to dismantling structures of privilege and to achieving economic justice for Indigenous peoples by the end of the decade.

NELSON MANDELA: WORDS TO LIVE BY

Our motto should be: let us make peace so that we can concentrate on the really important work that needs to be done. That is, alleviating the plight of the poor and the defenceless, for as long as most of humanity feels the pain of poverty we all remain prisoners.

While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.

Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.

To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

Reconciliation means working together
to correct the legacy of past injustice.

LIVING UP TO NELSON MANDELA’S LEGACY: FURTHER READING

BOOKS – available at the Regina Public Library

●Arthurson, Wayne. Fall From Grace, 2011 (novel)

●Daschuk, James. Clearing The Plains, 2013 (history)

●Gosse, Richard. Continuing Poundmaker and Riel’s Quest (law)

●King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian, 2012 (history)

●Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 2007 (political and economic analysis)

●Wagamese, Richard. Indian Horse 2012 (novel) 

OTHER RESOURCES – available online

●Angus, Charlie. “Four Horses at the Great Divide”: Google “four horses charlie angus u of r press”

●Gebhard, Amanda. “Pipeline to Prison,” BriarPatch Magazine, September-October 2012

●Green, Joyce and Michael Burton. “A Twelve-Step Program for a Post-Colonial Future,” Canadian Dimension, November-December 2013

●Henderson, James Youngblood. Implementing the Treaty Order

●Human Rights Watch. Those Who Take Us Away

●Idle No More, The Manifesto, 2013

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THE HUNGER GAMES: CANADA 2013

Posted by strattof on December 6, 2013

Catching Fire, the second installment of The Hunger Games series of films, has just opened. Based on Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy, the movies, like the novels, have been enormously successful. Set in the near future, the story takes place in a country known as Panem, a post-apocalyptic totalitarian society established in North America following the destruction of our civilization.

At the centre of the story is Katniss Everdeen, a mere 16 years old at the beginning of the series. We learn of her struggles, first to provide for her mother and beloved younger sister after their father’s death, and then to survive the Hunger Games, a nationally televised event in which children between the ages of 12 and 18 are required to fight to the death until there is only one remaining.

The Hunger Games trilogy is categorized as “young adult fiction.” However, its multitude of fans represents a broad demographic, extending from pre-teens to senior citizens. As many of them know, it tackles serious issues and offers a critique of contemporary society. What can The Hunger Games tell us about present-day Canadian society?

CLIMATE CHANGE

In The Hunger Games, climate change is responsible for the demise of North America. As the Hunger Games contestants are about to be selected in District 12, the mayor “tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained.”

In 2011, the Harper government pulled Canada out of the landmark Kyoto Protocol climate change agreement. At last month’s UN climate conference in Warsaw Poland, Canada was dishonoured with a special Lifetime Unachievement Fossil Award for our country’s practice of blocking progress at UN climate conferences. 76% of Canadians believe Canada should sign on to an international climate agreement.

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY
Panem is an extremely unequal society. The people in the Capital live in unimaginable luxury, while those in the outlying districts, like Katniss and her family, are poor and starving. It is a classic case of what the Occupy Movement calls the 1% and the 99%.

Since the 1980s, inequality has been rapidly increasing in Canada, reversing the trend since the 1930s that saw increasing equality. Today:
• The richest 1% of Canadians earns 11% of Canada’s income, up sharply from 7% in 1982.
• The highest paid 100 Canadian CEOs earn 122 times more than the average worker, up from a ratio of 84 to 1 in 2002.
• 900,000 Canadians use food banks every month.
• 1 in 7 Canadian children live in poverty.

Reducing Income Inequality: 5 Measures Governments Can Take
1. Increase tax rates on high incomes. In 1948, the top income tax rate for Canadians was 80%. Today it is just 43%.
2. Reverse corporate tax cuts. The federal corporate tax rate has been slashed from 28% in 2000 to its current 15%, a 46% tax rate cut.
3. Raise the minimum wage to $16 an hour and then index it to inflation.
4. Invest in social housing.
5. Introduce high quality universal early childhood education.

BREAD AND CIRCUSES
Panem, the name of Katniss’s country, refers to the phrase “Bread and Circuses.” Coined by a first century Roman writer, it describes how ruling classes pacify commoners by providing entertainment that serves as a distraction from their exploitation and subjugation.

In ancient Rome, it was gladiatorial contests that provided the deadly distraction. In Panem, it is the Hunger Games. What is it in our society?

Collins has said that her main model for the Hunger Games was Reality TV. Her portrayal of the Panem games suggests that Reality TV not only diverts our attention away from the REAL issues, it also hardens viewers to violence, suffering, and cruelty.

WAR AND PEACE
The Hunger Games are a metaphor for war. We too send our young people off to kill other young people – in our case in other countries, such as Afghanistan. As Collins indicates, even the most brutal of the young fighters in her novels are creations of the adult world which programs them, almost from birth, to fight and kill.

The anti-war stance of The Hunger Games is also evident in the portrayal of the impact of violence on the young characters. Like many soldiers returning from Afghanistan, Katniss suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and guilt.
Spoiler alert: Another indication of the novels’ attitude to war is the resolution of the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle in favour of Peeta, “the boy with the bread,” and not Gale, Katniss’s childhood hunting partner. A man so consumed with “rage and hatred,” Gale sees violence, no matter the cost, as the only way forward.

The ultimate futility of armed resistance is, however, most clearly apparent when Coin, the president of District 13, the centre of the armed rebellion, begins to replicate the power plays of the Capital, dropping bombs on children and planning to reinstate the Hunger Games. Violence begets violence is Collins’s message.

If armed resistance is not the way to respond to brutal, unjust power, what is? Collins’s answer seems to be a fostering of certain values – community, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, love – combined with a strategy of revolutionary non-violence.

DANDELIONS

In The Hunger Games, dandelions are a symbol of hope, “the promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses.” Dandelions are also celebrated as a source of health-giving food. On the point of starvation, Katniss spies a dandelion and that evening she and her family feast on dandelion salad, along with the bread Peeta has provided.

In Regina, dandelions are considered noxious weeds to be eliminated with poisonous pesticides. The Canadian Cancer Society warns against the use of pesticides, citing research that links them to cancer and other serious health issues. Over 150 Canadian municipalities have banned pesticides. But not Regina. Here the pesticide lobby has more authority and influence than the Canadian Cancer Society.   

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