Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Favourite Films of 2017 - UPDATED

I'm delighted to share my annual list of my favourite feature films released in 2017.  Of course, I'm no movie critic so I haven't been able to see every major release this year, so there are several probably great films I have yet to see which could find their way into my top 13 favourites (in fact, one just did; The Florida Project has jumped to number 1 on my list!)  As I continue to see more movies, or as my opinions evolve upon more reflection, I'll continue amend this post, like I always do.   While I do consider myself a refined cineaste, this list is still, first and foremost, a list of my favourites.  So very good films that simply didn't appeal to me or even offended me won't make it on this list.  Still generally, I don't think any film critic or film lover would quibble with my top 13:

1.  The Florida Project:  Wow! Everything about this tender, incredible film is note perfect.  The film depicts life for a little girl living with her troubled single mother in a Florida housing project/motel and it's quietly riveting.  The performance by Bria Vinaite as the mother is mesmerizing and so is young Brooklyn Prince as Moonee, through whose eyes we see the experience unfold.  Plus I don't remember enjoying a performance by Willem Dafoe this much.  He most certainly deserves the acclaim he's getting for this.  This is great filmmaking. 

2.  Dunkirk:  Stunning visuals and direction from Christopher Nolan, as well as a stunningly hot and talented cast, depict the efforts to rescue the British and French armies from the beach in France in early World War II.   Gripping and beautiful to watch, I loved this war film from beginning to end.  It's nice to see Nolan stay true to his vision, perfectly execute it and now receive the acclaim and hopefully the nominations he deserves.

3.  Lady Bird:  I saw this recently and loved it.  Saoirse Ronan gives a performance as equally lived in and authentic as Timothée Chalamet did in Call Me By Your Name.  This is a brilliant character study and I loved the unique relationship portrayed between daughter and her mother, played by the amazing Laurie Metcalf, who I haven't seen much of since Roseanne.  I also adored Tracy Letts as Lady Bird's dad, as well as Lady Bird's relationship with her best friend Julie, played by Beanie Feldstein.  There are so many moments in this gem that I truly cherished.  Touching, intimate filmmaking here by Greta Gerwig.  (Formerly #9 but moved up after some more consideration.)

4.  Call Me By Your Name: This film is a sensuous delight that perfectly captures a unique moment in time and place for its characters.  It's the classic coming-of-age/first love tale many of us in the queer community have always hoped to see, free from queer film tropes like gay bashing, hateful parents or inevitable punishment and death.  This film chronicles the evolution of young Elio from genius yet inexperienced teenager to broken-hearted adult, and actor Timothée Chalamet embodies the role with seemingly effortless authenticity and feeling.  He is the beating heart and soul of this movie. (This was my #1, but upon more reflection and another viewing, I do find the romance fairly unsatisfying here; it works mostly as a one-sided reflection or memory of a teenager's first love that got away rather than a true romance.  Plus Armie Hammer's performance seems often unconvincing to me.) 

5.  Get Out:  This timely, anti-racist, satirical masterpiece by director Jordan Peele was released last winter, yet is now poised to do well this awards season, even perhaps take Best Picture.  It deserves to.  It's a perfect, original exploration of its subject matter about a young black man who visits the home of his white girlfriend only to find a house of horrors, playfully pushing buttons that need to be pushed today in our culture.  Loved it!

6.  The Post:  Steven Spielberg taps into the zeitgeist today in this note perfect film about the 1971 backroom deliberations at the Washington Post to possibly publish details of the infamous Pentagon Papers after the New York Times had been temporarily barred from doing so.  There is heady stuff here including the fight between government and the press, the competition between newspapers, the fight for equality and respect for women in the workforce.  And it's all handled with a non-melodramatic touch that felt completely realistic and appropriate.  Spielberg does thankfully keep some of his stylistic Spielbergisms in check, focusing on moving the story forward at all times.  And the film is gorgeous including the 1970s art direction and the awesome focus on the old-fashioned news gathering and editing process, not to mention the printing press mechanics.  Meryl Streep is perfect as are the rest of the cast.  I was born to love this movie!

7.  Baby Driver:  Super-hot Ansel Elgort plays the sympathetic driver nicknamed "Baby" who transports his fellow crooks away from their crime scenes.  Every element of this film - from the music, to the editing, to the sound, to the writing, to the acting - is masterful.  I watched this before the Kevin Spacey scandal erupted, so I have no idea if his presence might ruin it now for viewers.  But I suggest it's still demands a try.   

8.  The Shape of Water:  This just might be director Guillermo del Toro's best, most accessible film. It's certainly my favourite one of his.  It's still a little strange, but what else could it be coming from him?  Let its beautiful colours, sounds, effects and performances wash over you as soon as possible, I say.

9.  Okja:  If you've never thought about the conditions in which your food is engineered and brought to your table, you need to see this film immediately.   Director Joon-ho Bong does some of his best work here ever, artfully telling his tale without being preachy.  If you have Netflix, watch it!  Not only does this film enormously entertain, it inspires audiences to think.  It certainly inspired me to start buying "free run" eggs despite the extra costs, although I'm not quite ready to give up meat.

10.  Detroit:  I didn't know much about the 1967 Detroit riots, nor the shocking and heart-breaking Algiers Motel incident that took place during it, before watching this film.  But I do now thanks to the incredible talent of director Kathryn Bigelow.  Harrowing and essential viewing for anyone who thinks the police are just great and that black people complain too much about discrimination and police violence.

11. I, Tonya:  Hilarious and completely entertaining.  Margot Robbie superbly captures the essence of Tonya Harding's humanity, in all its tragedy and ridiculousness.  Allison Janney as her mother is an unforgettable villain.  The rest of the cast is awesome, as are all other elements in Craig Gillespie's film. 

12. Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool: I read that many people were moved to tears during Call Me By Your Name or Lady Bird, but I wasn't.  But I did cry toward the end of this lovely film, which tells the tale of aging Hollywood starlet Gloria Grahame's affair with a much younger man, upon whom she depended during the final months of her life.  Annette Bening is perfect as Gloria Grahame, as is the supremely sexy Jamie Bell as Peter Turner, her lover. 

13.  The Big Sick:  I didn't think that star Kumail Nanjiani was sexy before seeing this movie, but I definitely do now.  Funny that.  Fabulous all around. 

14.  Wonder Woman:  Director Patty Jenkins (who helmed Monster back in 2003 with Charlize Theron) outdoes herself with this perfect telling of the famous heroine's story.  I'd always lamented the fact that Hollywood had not yet put Wonder Woman on the screen, but considering how great this film is, the wait was worth it.

Honorable mentions: 

Battle of the Sexes
God's Own Country 
Spider-Man: Homecoming  
Land of Mine 
I Am Not Your Negro 
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
All the Money in the World  
The Lost City of Z
Victoria and Abdul
A Bad Moms Christmas 
Blade Runner 2049

Strangest, completely fucked, but a masterpiece: 

mother!: Darren Aronofsky's most daring work can only be viewed and understood as an extended, tragic and violent metaphor.  It's a tough watch and definitely not for everyone.  But I've never seen anything else like this movie and remain glad I got through it.  


Darkest Hour:  Gary Oldman gives a great performance as Winston Churchill.  But director Joe Wright has no idea how to make historical dramas gripping.  Instead, he spends his time using odd lighting and showing his hero "huffing and puffing" and marching quickly down dark hallways.  In calling it Darkest Hour, they mean that literally.  This is the most poorly lit film I saw this year.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri:  I thought Frances McDormand, unlike in previous roles, was a little one note here.  There were many great characters here with stories playing out especially with Sam Rockwell, whose character was thoroughly repulsive.  Overall as a film: not horrible, but I just didn't like it that much including the (spoiler alert) non-ending.  

Beach Rats: Where was all the much-hyped male nudity?  And haven't I seen this closeted teen story done this way dozens of times before?

It:  Unsettling and not in a good way.  Watching kids fend off child molesters and killer clowns for two hours is not my idea of entertainment. 

The Dark Tower:  Way too short and rushed.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:  Lots of visual eye candy but little depth.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle:  Ugh, nowhere near as enjoyable as Part One.

The Great Wall:  Look, it's white guys saving the day in People of Colour land again.

Life:  Look, the black guy is the first one to die again.  Couldn't finish it.   How do you make a film with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds together in tight quarters, and yet it still disappoints?

Worst film of 2017:

Geostorm:  Makes all other apocalypse films look like masterpieces.  So bad.

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 Politics in Review, and a couple Predictions for 2018

As 2017 draws to a close, a few political observations:
  • 2017 saw the cancer that is Donald Trump assume the Oval Office and proceed to denigrate American democracy and government - from constantly promoting white supremacy to muddying all waters simply for the sake of causing trouble.  His own fragile, pathetic ego was his only priority.  The good news: because of his inherent unsuitability for office, Trump was barely able to get anything accomplished, except for the big tax cut bill passed in the Republican Congress.  If there's anything Republicans (and most conservatives) are good at it's cutting taxes for the rich and powerful, at the expense of the rest of us who pay for it with degraded public services and higher service and tuition fees.  
  • But perhaps in response to the grotesque Trump, we saw an important push back from the left this year with key victories that may portend more progressive wins in 2018 and beyond.  Pendulum swings to one extreme tend to eventually provoke similar swings in the opposite direction.  With Democratic wins this year in Virginia and, most importantly, in the special Senate election in Alabama where progressive hero Doug Jones bested bigot/accused rapist Roy Moore, it looks like the Democrats will do very well in 2018 mid-term elections. 
  • But should the Democrats stay the safe centrist course, or follow the Bernie Sanders route of authentic progressive politics?  Time will tell.  2017 did also provide some important insight into how well an unabashedly progressive agenda might play with voters: 
    • Voters in Great Britain upended the Conservative establishment by turning to far-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in droves in last June's election.  Written off as politically dead before the campaign, Corbyn inspired a new generation of voters to turn out with his "For the Many, Not the Few" campaign that echoed sentiments promoted by Bernie Sanders in 2016.  As a result, Corbyn held Conservative Theresa May to a shaky minority government and stands well-positioned to topple the Tories next time. 
    • Voters here at home in British Columbia also turned to both the NDP and the Green Party to displace the long-entrenched conservative BC Liberal Party.  Despite a booming economy, voters decided last May that policies designed only to benefit the privileged needed to go in favour of helping the many, and the combined NDP-Green vote jumped from 48% in 2013 to 57% in 2017.   Now a NDP-Green alliance is governing British Columbia, with a fair vote on proportional representation set for 2018.  
    • Voters in France embraced flawed centrist Emmanuel Macron over the governing Socialists (who got trounced), and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon to beat back the horrid Marine Le Pen, whose racist politics mimicked those of Trump.  The final tally saw the centrist Macron beat out Le Pen 66% to 34%.   But Macron now has seen his popularity plummet and it remains unclear if he can maintain his centre-left coalition over the forces of the far right in that country. 
Those gains by Corbyn in the U.K. and the NDP and Greens in B.C. proved to me that authentic progressive agendas can win wide support from voters.  Federally in Canada, we continue to see the progressive left divided between a moderately progressive Liberal administration under Justin Trudeau, and the third-party NDP under the novice but promising Jagmeet Singh, forcing the question: what is the best way for progressives to beat conservatives?  As an authentic left-wing option under the NDP or Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, or as a mushy/moderate/barely progressive option like under Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron?  This question will continue to dominate my thoughts in 2018.   

Besides the above predictions of Democratic victories next November, I'll predict that the upcoming Ontario 2018 election will be closely fought between a superior incumbent, Kathleen Wynne, who's worn out her welcome with most Ontario voters, and her sub-par opponents Patrick Brown and Andrea Horwath.  Ontario voters will be largely uninspired by their choices.  I honestly can't decide who will win this.  Although my gut is telling me that, in the end, Brown will fall flat on his face due to his inherent mediocrity, opening up the election for a narrowly re-elected Wynne government.   To that end, Wynne has already embraced the policies and politics of the Sanders left, sensing that Ontario voters will want to swing as far away from the neo-con Trump right as possible.  In the end, Ontario voters might just decide to accept the devil they know (Wynne) rather than the ones they don't (Brown and Horwath.)  We shall see. 

Stay tuned soon for my annual Favourite Movies of the Year post....

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When good people like Nancy Leblanc step away from partisan politics, we all lose...

As long as we've recorded human history, we've known that politics is a nasty business, perhaps the nastiest. But also one of the most important - the pursuit of power will always be.

Plato wrote about a "philosopher king" as the ideal ruler. Such a person in practise has never existed, of course. Or if such a person actually did pursue political power, their idealism and principles would soon undermine those efforts. No doubt, history is filled with thousands of such decent people who considered politics but stepped back rather than compromise their integrity and ethics. The tragedy here is the absence of decent people relinquishes the realm of politics to the ruthless, nasty, amoral jerks who make up the vast majority of our politicians and those who work for them.

So there is nothing profoundly new about this post, except highlighting just the latest example of how the nastiness of politics has once again pushed aside a decent person. Nancy Leblanc is such a person. She may humbly disagree with being compared with a "philosopher queen," but for me, the comparison is apt as Nancy is exactly the kind of person our politics needs: someone who's in it for the right reasons, to help make people's lives better and to promote better public policy and governance.

Nancy is an accomplished Toronto lawyer who entered the political arena in 2014 as the Ontario Liberal candidate in Parkdale-High Park in west-end Toronto, then considered a thankless task taking on NDP veteran incumbent Cheri DiNovo.

Given only a handful of weeks to raise tens of thousands of dollars and her public profile, Nancy ran a great campaign and came within 600 votes of knocking off the well-entrenched incumbent. Had the party deemed to allow her to take the nomination sooner, as it did other non-incumbents in Toronto NDP ridings, Leblanc might've prevailed.

"I got involved in the political process because I sincerely want to make a difference in people's lives for the better. I am a lawyer and as such ethics and integrity are very important to me. So after coming so close to winning in 2014, I persevered and continued to work in good faith because I knew I could do a good job of representing this riding," said Leblanc in a statement this week. 

Since 2014, she's continued working in the grassroots, knocking on well over 20,000 doors in her riding, engaging with and advocating for local residents, working on riding specific policy ideas for the coming 2018 election.

She also used her considerable organizational skills to raise $50,000 for the local riding association, as well as raise over $50,000 for the Ontario Liberal Party separate and apart from riding resources.

She is the ultimate grassroots candidate with the kind of skills, local base and established profile you'd think the Ontario Liberal Party would want to take on the NDP again in 2018.

But sadly that doesn't seem to be the case and that's a shame. Another nominee with no public profile who doesn't even live in the riding, but close with the party backroom, seems poised to take the nomination instead.

Leblanc announced yesterday that she won't be continuing to pursue the Liberal nomination.

"I have come to believe that the path for me to continue to make a difference for the people here in Parkdale-High Park is not with the Ontario Liberal Party in 2018. This was a very difficult personal decision to make, especially after all the hard work over the past few years, but it is one that I have firmly made after much consideration around all of the circumstances involved," said Leblanc.

In life and in most professions, massive hard work, intelligence, integrity and years of grassroots campaigning will usually produce results.

But not in politics, sadly. Certainly not in Ontario provincial politics, it seems, these days. This is a major loss to the Ontario Liberal Party and to all Ontarians, frankly.

Despite this setback, Leblanc would still make an incredible politician and community leader and I hope she finds other ways to serve the public in the future. If she does take the plunge again, I will support her 100 percent.

Because if good, decent people like her step away from politics, we all lose.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Australia becomes 2nd country to pass same sex marriage by popular vote

Results of Aussie vote on equal marriage, courtesy ABC

Ireland was the first country in 2015 to pass equal marriage by national popular vote, by a margin of 62% to 38%. 

Today, Australia released its results in that country's postal survey of voters in which almost 80% of voters participated on the issue of legalizing same sex marriage in that country and the results are wonderful: 62% in favour, 38% opposed.  Observers expect the Aussie government to pass same sex marriage into law perhaps by the end of this year.  

I want to congratulate all Australians on this historic victory for equality! 

It's heartening that these national votes, at least in the western world, are starting to result in wins for human rights and equality.  Sadly other national votes outside the west in recent years, like in Slovenia, have been won by the bigots.

But referendum victories even in the west are a recent phenomenon.  Defeats in similar referendums at the state level in the United States used to be common.  It wasn't until 2012 that American voters started embracing equality by popular vote at the state level.    

Other victories for same sex marriage happened either in legislative bodies or in the courts, including in Canada where a court victory in 2003 legalized same sex marriage in Ontario, followed by passage of full marriage equality across the country in the House of Commons in 2005.  Full marriage equality was granted by the American Supreme Court in 2015 across that entire country.

Of course, we must not forget that homosexuality remains illegal in many parts of the world, so we must keep up the fight for equality the world over and not forget those LGBTQ people not fortunate enough to live in mostly progressive countries. 

As always, we can't forget that many other issues remain for LGBTQ people: Freedom from discrimination in human rights laws, protection against hate crimes, as well as a host of other economic equality issues which are even more relevant to all LGBTQ people than marriage laws.  On those fronts, much more progress, especially in over half of American states where LGBTQ people can still be fired from their jobs for being queer, is needed. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

I never thought Frank Underwood's comeuppance would look like this...

Actor Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
Netflix has announced that Kevin Spacey will no longer play any part in its series, 'House of Cards.'  

This follows a series of allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault leveled against the actor from various House of Cards male crew, former colleagues and actor Anthony Rapp, who made public last weekend complaints that Spacey made inappropriate advances on him when Rapp was 14 (and Spacey was 26.)

It also follows the maelstrom that has erupted across Hollywood recently in response to allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and other powerful straight men.

For a country that heard gross admissions of sexual assault and harassment from Donald Trump, but then proceeded to "elect" him anyway over a more qualified woman, these recent developments are a minor step in the right direction.  We have to continue to fight to make sure all sexual predators, straight or queer, pay for their behaviour (that means that Trump must be tossed out on his ass in 2020 if not sooner).  It's nice to see that the immense bravery it takes to come forward with allegations like these is being partially rewarded with some major professional consequences for those who clearly seem, due to the mere volume of complaints, to be far from innocent.  That's heartening.

This article this week by writer Natasha Chart proved to be one of the best articles on the connection between sexism and homophobia I've ever read.  I recommend it highly. 

But back to Kevin Spacey and 'House of Cards.'   Please allow me a bit of glee at Spacey's demise from the increasingly tiresome show.   This was a show that since Season 3 or 4 (of six) has become incredibly annoying, ditching any pretense for realism in favour of the repeated formula that went something like this: "Let's introduce weak adversaries for Frank, let them annoy him for an episode or two, then let Frank flick them away like dust off his lapel only to become stronger and even more powerful than before. Repeat."

It wasn't good writing the last three seasons, it was bullshit.  No politician has ever experienced the kind of uninterrupted climb to immense power as Frank Underwood.  And to get there, Underwood killed at least two people.  Furthermore, his wife Claire joined the murderous club last season just before the heavy-handed writers made her President of the U.S. 

I've been watching 'House of Cards' since the first season but have been disappointed since Season 3.  I stopped watching mid-way through Season 6 when it became clear the writers were taking delight in deceptively teasing us with the continued hope that Underwood and his wife would finally pay in any major way for their crimes.  In life, that kind of evil should face consequences, but so rarely does.  The last thing I need is to experience dramatized and exploited evil in my entertainment.  I'm kind of sensitive that way.  

That's why I've also refused to watch the celebration of misogyny and violence against women that is "Game of Thrones." Other sadists may love that shit, but not me.  (In a culture that adores such entertainment, is it any wonder that sexual harassment and violence against women remain such problems?)

Who could have foretold that Frank Underwood's demise would be due to the complaints of one man?  Anthony Rapp is my new hero. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Jason Kenney sure can't get enough of bullying LGBT kids

Jason Kenney's at it again, arguing that public taxpayers which include many who don't agree with retrograde Catholic beliefs, should have their tax dollars finance lessons that teach that LGBT people are "disordered."

Kenney even has the gall to claim his position is in favour of a "diverse society," when in fact it achieves the opposite, giving power to religious bigots to crush the lives of LGBT teenagers.  

This issue reinforces again my belief that no public tax dollars should be spent on religious schools, including Catholic ones, in Alberta, Ontario or anywhere else.  

Kenney's latest bullying of LGBT kids is in line with the weaselly candidate's past recent pronouncements.

Earlier this year, the anti-gay candidate argued that vulnerable teens who wish to join straight-gay alliances in high schools should be outed to their parents.  

You know, the kind of thing that might terrorize a closeted teen struggling with their sexuality.

On all of these issues, the slimy Kenney proves time and again how awful he is when it comes to human rights and equality, always siding with bigots.

No decent person who supports equality can have a kind thought or any support for Mr. Kenney.   

As Kenney appears to be the frontrunner for the upcoming United Conservative Party leadership against former Wildrose leader Brian Jean (who actually seems more reasonable on equality issues than Kenney) and social liberal Doug Schweitzer, this paints a fairly depressing picture of the future of Alberta politics.   I'm hoping somehow either Jean or Schweitzer can pull off a victory against the disgusting Kenney. 

Thankfully, the current NDP government is adamant that public tax dollars should not be spent to promote religious bigotry in publicly funded schools.  So at least that progressive policy will remain in place until the next election expected in 2019. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Jagmeet Singh will change federal politics and Canada for the good

New NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
Just a short note to express my happiness with Jagmeet Singh's resounding victory in the federal NDP leadership yesterday.

I did have a sense a couple weeks ago that Singh would prevail easily and that turned out to be the case. 

Singh is a star but he also seems to have all the goods needed for leadership success, including policy chops, vision, compassion, supreme communication skills, and charisma.  He commands attention and when he receives it, he impresses.

Like I wrote a couple weeks ago, I think many Canadians including many Quebecers will give Singh a chance and a listen and most will be impressed.   His turban, as a practising Sikh, ought not to offend anyone who listens to and understands Singh's story as to why he chose to wear a turban in the first place - as an act of rebellion in favour of social justice.

Some critics have written him off as a silver-spooned socialist who likes the finer things in life.  On that, I say, "So what?"  His description of his choices to dress impeccably well, as well as earn a law degree and even learn mixed martial arts, all fit in with a member of a visible minority who was "arming" himself against racism and oppression.  Singh's description of his personal history rings true to me and I find him extremely sympathetic.

Now, Singh will get the chance to challenge underlying / sub-conscious racism that still exists in Canadian society.  Just by standing on the leaders' stage, he'll confront old prejudices. 

In the end, his power as leader may indeed end up one day or year soon truly challenging Justin Trudeau's Liberals and Andrew Scheer's Conservatives for government.  He brings to this considerable strength and promise. 

I'm looking forward to watching him over the next several years as he begins the process of challenging for power in Canada.  It's true that Justin Trudeau's Liberals have disappointed many progressives and clearly stand too closely with the Conservatives on too many issues that need real action today.   Singh's NDP will provide a viable threat to the Liberals on the left and force them into action on progressive issues, or risk defeat and huge losses of support to their left-wing rivals in the next election.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Coming out of the closet: I joined the NDP and I'm voting for Guy Caron

NDP leadership candidate Guy Caron
I wrote last week about the future of the New Democratic Party, as well as the future for progressive politics in Canada.

Since then, I've done a lot of thinking, including watching yesterday's NDP Leadership Showcase online from Hamilton.  After a great deal of reflection, I have some confessions to make:

1) I'm coming out of the closet as a card-carrying New Democrat.   Yes, this follows having joined the Conservative Party of Canada earlier this year and participating in their leadership race.  I remain a pragmatic progressive who cares deeply about the shape of our Canadian democracy.  For me, joining these parties including the Liberals in the past is the equivalent of voting in open primaries in the U.S.  More Canadians should be engaged in this way, as far as I'm concerned.  I, of course, quit the Conservatives after the regressive Andrew Scheer won that close contest.  

2) Up until last week, I was most attracted to leadership candidates Charlie Angus (for his passion, authenticity, and clarity) and Jagmeet Singh (for his passion, charisma and similar authenticity, as well as the fact that his victory would be an important breakthrough for people of colour in Canada.)  I had come to think poorly of Niki Ashton whose ambitions to lead a renewed "movement" of socialists didn't seem to ring true to me.  I also didn't think much of Guy Caron, who seemed like a nice enough guy but hadn't yet reached me emotionally or intellectually in this campaign.

3) As of yesterday, I've done a complete switch.  Guy Caron's stellar showcase presentation yesterday impressed me greatly, including the heartwarming introduction by his wife.  Suddenly, Caron's very well-thought out plans on basic income, proportional representation and many other issues are resonating with me.  Yesterday, he even clarified that he opposes the Quebec government's proposed plan to tell religious minorities what to wear when they provide or receive public services; he simply respects the jurisdiction of the Quebec legislature, which frankly so do I and anyone else who respects Canadian federalism.  Caron has also been showing his charming and humorous side of late.  He's clearly a likeable guy, much more likeable than Tom Mulcair could ever be.  He's no recent recruit to the NDP cause in Quebec like some other pseudo-separatists; he's been fighting for the NDP in that province for decades and his federalist credentials are clear.   Add to this Caron's ability to speak both official languages fluently, he offers a truly credible option to not only hold on to the NDP's base in Quebec but also to build on it (and deny the Bloc Quebecois a comeback anytime soon).  None of the other candidates can offer that, so he's suddenly skyrocketed from being my last choice to my first.

4) I still think highly of Jagmeet Singh and I think he'd be a fine leader who will easily engage with young people across most of English Canada.   He may even be able to similarly connect with Quebecers, I suspect, although that will be a struggle at first as his French language skills, as we saw yesterday in his showcase speech, remain merely adequate. 

5) Niki Ashton has been passionate in this race and her drive to renew the NDP as a movement is well-timed after it lost those roots under Tom Mulcair.  Her speech yesterday was solid, showcasing her decent French skills.  Furthermore, it's now clear to me that her youth and her clarity on the issues puts her in a great position to connect with millenials.    

6) Charlie Angus is still a great man and leader.  I've been inspired by his passion and clarity in this race.  However, when it comes to his weak French skills, or his ability to connect with the next generation of voters, I suddenly have major doubts.  In him, I saw someone a bit charming and older in the same vein as Bernie Sanders.  However, Angus has yet to show the kind of passion needed to inspire young people the way Sanders did.  While the other three candidates might quite naturally or easily connect either to young people or to Quebecers, Angus will have a huge struggle on his hands.  In him, I see flashbacks of Howard Hampton, another earnest and well-meaning NDP leader from Northern Ontario who ultimately failed to have much of an impact.

Thus, to my shock, I will soon fill out my online ballot in the NDP leadership race in order: 1) Caron, 2) Singh, 3) Ashton, and 4) Angus.

Yes I've changed my tune big time since last week.  I felt it important to clarify my new position.

A stronger NDP will keep the Liberals on their toes and force them to protect their left flank.  For me, I want a viable NDP that challenges for government, not just third-party status.  While the Liberals have done some good on the progressive front, if they become complacent about their progressive support, that'll spell trouble for many of the issues we progressives care about and want real action on.   And if the NDP can become strong again, should the Liberals falter, we'll have a decent and clear alternative to whom we can turn. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

How to beat those Liberals and Conservatives? My prediction in the NDP leadership race.

Ever since the horrible Donald Trump conned his way into the White House by winning working class support in the American Rustbelt, I've been consumed by the question: What mistakes have progressives been making that led to this and how can progressives do a better job preventing right-wing idiots with or without fascist tendencies from ever winning the votes of working class folks again?

It's clear that establishment Democrats in the U.S., and Liberals and even New Democrats in Canada - those who love playing the insiders' game of politics, rubbing shoulders at elite parties, barely distinguished in style or substance from typical conservatives - lost the confidence of many working class people long ago.

Support for establishment forces like the big banks and Wall/Bay Street badly undermined claims by liberal politicians that they were on the sides of ordinary people, who've struggled more and more over the last 30 years as their incomes have stagnated while the wealth of the top 1% has skyrocketed to obscenely historic levels.

Ordinary folks in the U.S. lacked confidence that anything would change under Hilary Clinton, so they narrowly opted for a guy who at least was not aligned with the same powerful forces that surrounded the Democrat.   It was a lesson for progressives: when you abandon the interests of your working class base, be prepared to be defeated.  In retrospect, the progressive messages and authenticity of Bernie Sanders were the better option over Hilary Clinton.

In 2017, we've seen the U.K.'s Jeremy Corbyn use a message similar to Bernie Sander's that proved to be remarkably effective in winning new Labour Party support; he almost tied the Conservatives in June's national election.   Also, in British Columbia's provincial election last spring, the New Democrats ran on a similar message, as did the Greens, and together they managed to form a coalition government.

For me, the answer isn't narrow partisanship, particularly in Canada where we have two big parties on the centre-left at the federal level: the Liberals and the NDP.   I'm truly pragmatic and not naive about the realities of our politics.   It's entirely possible that a Liberal could authentically embody genuine progressive policies and do the right thing for people in government, just as much as a New Democrat.

On some issues, I've been a bit disappointed that Justin Trudeau's Liberals haven't been progressive enough (ie. abandoning electoral reform, introducing legislation to possibly undermine defined benefit pensions, not doing much to take on the big banks, cell phone companies or big oil).  But on others, like marijuana legalization, or promoting carbon pricing, or Finance Minister Bill Morneau's proposals to close corporate tax loopholes used by wealthy individuals to pay less tax than the rest of us, the Liberals do occasionally fight the good fight.

At the Ontario level, only Kathleen Wynne has pursued an unabashed progressive agenda in government, including proposing to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and to provide free university tuition for more students.   This while NDP leader Andrea Horwath sits on the sidelines fighting for the ability of folks to burn more fossil fuels without restraint. I really don't like the choices Horwath has made as leader, which has led to some residual resentment against Jagmeet Singh, at least perhaps undeserved. 

While Labour is the sole credible choice in Britain for beating Conservatives, and the Democrats remain the only true option to stop Republicans in the U.S., our choices as progressives in Canada remain more complicated, depending on where you live.

The federal NDP had second place firmly in its possession from 2011 to 2015, yet it slipped away because Tom Mulcair played it too pragmatic and safe.  Ironically, the Liberals outflanked the NDP on the left with their 2015 platform and the rest is history.

Yet that history also makes clear that progressive Canadian politics is fluid and that, given the right circumstances, the fortunes of our two progressive parties could switch again.  Perhaps Justin Trudeau will get into a major scandal and cause his party to collapse again.   Part of me does long for a more consistently progressive governing option instead of the Liberals, one that routinely takes the side of ordinary folks in the face of an ever-powerful conservative/business elite that has the worst plans for working people in their sights (beware mass automation of the economy.)

That's why it's important to see what path the NDP takes this year in its leadership race.

On the far left, we have the somewhat unconvincing Niki Ashton, who claims to be the champion of a social justice movement.  I haven't bought it; you can't just stick a "movement" label on your campaign and have it magically be a movement.  Still I applaud her tenacity and her drive.  Were she to win, she'd be a new mother at the same time.  It would make a great story.    

Generally charming and intelligent, Guy Caron, has also annoyed me with his deference to the xenophobia of Quebec.  Should Quebecers feel the need to use the power of government law to destroy the basic human rights of minorities just to feel more secure in their secular mainstream culture, I want my federal leaders to stick up for all human beings.   Special message to Quebecers and everyone else: if your culture can only survive by purposefully suppressing the rights of other peoples, your culture isn't worth saving. 

Is it possible always in politics to be 100% pure?  100% consistent, never wavering from one's ideology in the face of new complicated realities?  I don't think so.  I've never thought so.  That's why I became a Liberal, because I understood that while we generally must tack progressive left, on occasion, a bit of conservative common sense makes sense.

The most important things in politics: authenticity and clarity.

Progressives who come across as phony and inconsistent will lose to conservatives who appear genuine and authentic.  Every time.  Despite what elitist snobs sometimes think, the public is generally smart and can see through liars and frauds.  They are more than capable in our mature democracies to sift through the nonsense and make decent choices considering their priorities and who they feel has their backs.

If progressives can prove to the working public that we are the real deal - that we will actually implement policies that will help, not hurt them - and we communicate a vision and a plan that the public understands, victory will be ours more than not.

Charlie Angus has run an incredible and inspiring campaign.  I've toyed seriously for most of the campaign with supporting him.   He is super clear when it comes to his vision and the value he'd add to Canadian politics were he the NDP Leader.   He's walked the walk and talked the talk.  He's passionate.  As leader, he'd try to drive important issues too long on the back burner like Aboriginal rights.

His only problems: he can't really speak French well and he seems to have the inability to develop colour on his face either tanning or burning.  He has this dead looking complexion.  At 54, he doesn't represent the next generation, at least superficially.  But he's passionate and a firebrand, he'd connect easily with average Canadians.

Jagmeet Singh is a sensation who's lit his community on fire, politically speaking.  He also walks the walk and talks the talk.  He talks like a surfer dude and is charming, compassionate, and super-smart.  In many ways, his rise to national leader, the first of a non-white person to such an achievement, would be an incredible story.  He can probably more easily reach new voters the NDP needs to win if it's ever going to break through, especially in Ontario.

One note of criticism of Singh: For a man who claims to be all inclusive now in his leadership campaign, it didn't quite seem that way a few years ago when Ontario was updating its public school curriculum, including its sex-education curriculum.  Homophobic parents were spreading misinformation about the changes in many communities, often times in various languages targeting Toronto suburbs including Singh's territory of Bramalea-Gore-Malton.   Despite the fact the new curriculum finally acknowledged the existence of LGBT people and went through a thorough consultation as per any curriculum update, Singh told a local Sikh audience the Liberals were to blame for the controversy surrounding it for not communicating the changes clearly enough to various communities in various languages.  The Liberals of course had spent a lot of money communicating the facts of the curriculum update including in multiple languages.  It was a partisan swipe from Singh, the kind of which most opposition politicians make from time to time against governments.   While I do believe Singh when he says he's in favour of equality for all people including sexual minorities, I just wish he had shown more leadership in supporting the changes instead of just blasting the government. 

Overall, I can't blame Singh for Horwath's flaws.  And he's leaving her team, after all.

My prediction: New Democrats are going to put Singh over the top easily in this leadership race.  I love Charlie dearly.  But sadly it's not going to work out for him.  Caron and Ashton will trail far behind.  Not sure if Singh has the numbers to pull off a first ballot win, but it's possible.   We'll see how it goes next month.

With Singh as leader, they'll struggle in Quebec in the short term, but I think Quebecers will be listening to hear what he has to say.  He'll also be listened to by Canadians right across the country.   I think he's going to impress.

I'm totally looking forward to it.  Somehow I think Singh could possibly go the whole way if he's lucky and Trudeau and the Liberals self-destruct one day.   Anything can happen.  With a relatively underwhelming Conservative leader in Andrew Scheer, Singh's brilliance will shine all the more brightly. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

U.K.'s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers...

U.K. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Just a quick note about yesterday's election in Great Britain.

Called by Prime Minister Theresa May to grab a huge majority, she instead found herself and her Tory party reduced to a minority government.

Why?  Her arrogant campaign inspired few, it seems.   Polls showed her party started the campaign in April 20 points ahead of Labour.  She ended up barely two points ahead last night, and now her leadership has been badly damaged.  It's unlikely she'll lead the Tories into another campaign, I predict.    

But the main reason why: Jeremy Corbyn's highly effective campaign.   Where May's Tory campaign bored Britons, Corbyn's campaign to govern "for the many, not the few," resonated.   His longtime activism and obvious integrity connected with Britons looking for major change.   Although he didn't win outright, he emerges from this campaign stronger than ever.

Corbyn's campaign was the latest example of a left-leaning leader inspiring the public with an unabashed progressive agenda designed to help the working and middle classes in these trying economic times.  

This follows similar success in British Columbia where the provincial NDP ran a similar campaign and reduced the governing conservatives there to a minority government and now seem poised to form a NDP minority government with the support of the Green Party.

This article by Owen Jones in the Guardian nicely sums up the state of affairs for the left: 

"This was about millions inspired by a radical manifesto that promised to transform Britain, to attack injustices, and challenge the vested interests holding the country back. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. People believe the booming well-off should pay more, that we should invest that money in schools, hospitals, houses, police and public services, that all in work should have a genuine living wage, that young people should not be saddled with debt for aspiring to an education, that our utilities should be under the control of the people of this country. For years, many of us have argued that these policies – shunned, reviled even in the political and media elite – had the genuine support of millions. And today that argument was decisively vindicated and settled."

Bernie Sanders was clearly on to something with his campaign in the U.S. last year.  It's too bad Democrats didn't embrace him.   I'm now of the opinion it's highly likely he would've prevailed against the insidious Donald Trump had Democrats not picked the flawed Hilary Clinton to lead their presidential ticket.  

There are some major lessons here for progressives that need to be absorbed.  Serving elites and insiders against the interests of ordinary people will get you defeated and your party destroyed.  Justin Trudeau better take note.  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Victorious thanks to social conservative lemmings, Andrew Scheer has zero appeal to Canada's progressive majority

New Conservative leader Andrew Scheer
While following the now-finished Conservative leadership race, I always felt supremely irritated when listening to Andrew Scheer speak.  The same kind of irritation that hits when being forced to listen to youngish know-it-alls who are just spinning their bullshit ideology as common sense fact.

So sadly, I'm going to probably feel a lot more irritated in the years to come now that Scheer has narrowly won the federal Conservative leadership.    And not just because his face reminds me of someone who could've starred in the 1984 Stephen King horror film "Children of the Corn." 
Stephen King's 1984 horror "Children of the Corn"

I have a confession to make: as a pragmatic democrat, I decided to actually join the Conservative Party as a member to vote in this race.  I had been extremely concerned about the chances of a Trump-style idiot like Kellie Leitch or Kevin O'Leary taking over one of Canada's main parties that I decided to put my money where my mouth is.

However, the exercise proved ineffectual in determining the outcome as my choices were, in order: Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt, Erin O'Toole and Deepak Obhrai.   That support for Chong hung in until the 10th ballot, after which it swung behind O'Toole.   I had toyed with possibly picking Maxime Bernier as my fifth pick, but his policies on health care and the CBC were simply unacceptable to me.  So any influence I had on the final result evaporated for the final count which put Scheer over the top (not that my one vote would've changed the outcome.)  If any social conservatives get wind of my actions, I'm sure that last fact will be comforting to them. 

The support for the two social conservative nobodies on the Conservative leadership ballot - Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost and former MP Pierre Lemieux (who lost his seat in 2015, begging the question why would someone who can't win their own seat be considered a decent leader for the party) - was disturbing, if not surprising.

Trost was a joke of a candidate whose only major contribution to the debate was to emphasize how much he hates gay people.  That seemed enough to garner him almost 15% of the entire Conservative membership on the 11th ballot, putting him far ahead of other leadership candidates who actually brought some leadership ability to the table.

That reminded me of the disgusting rise of Ontario MPP Sam Oosterhoff, who, despite being 19, home-schooled, with almost zero adult life experience, decided he was MPP material and signed up hundreds of fanatics from his local fundamentalist church in Niagara region to support him.   That was enough for Oosterhoff to push aside seasoned veterans for his local nomination and elect him MPP in a safe Tory seat.

It seems that the only qualification that matters to these social conservatives is shared hatred of gay people, among other issues that continue to drive a wedge between them and the vast majority of Canadians.   Only in the Conservative Party do these folks have influence, demonstrating how truly out of touch the Conservative Party is from the rest of the country.

“Frankly, looks like my voters were part of [what] put [Scheer] over the top,” said Conservative MP Brad Trost.

“Me and Pierre Lemieux had about 15 per cent of [the points] on the first ballot. That’s the hard core social conservative [vote], and they cut disproportionately to Mr. Scheer. Had they even split 50-50, he would not be the leader today. So, that tells you pretty much how this thing went down.”

Scheer is also a social conservative, but more in the Stephen Harper mold of being a politician willing to flirt with other social conservatives but never actually implement their extreme agenda into government policy.  In that sense, I don't fear Scheer re-opening old social issues.  But nevertheless, I find little comfort in a politician who hates my guts just because I'm gay and wants to deny me full citizenship in my own country, but simply won't because he's afraid of the political consequences.

That's why I disliked Harper so much and why I dislike his successor too.  Scheer is very much just a smiling, younger version of his predecessor.   Nothing else is changed: he still sounds arrogant discussing Harper's so-called "principled" foreign policy, such as unconditional support for every single thing the Israeli army does to Palestinians.

Special memo to Scheer (which I'm sure he'll completely ignore): the progressive, Canadian position supporting justice for all, including Israelis and Palestinians, is actually more principled than your ideology.

Let's face it: Christian fundamentalists like Harper only supported Israel simply due to their religious beliefs that Israel must remain in Jewish hands until the Rapture finally happens (at which point, all Israelis will drop dead and shuffle off to the Christian hell while true Christian believers ascend into their glorious Heaven.)  Or something like that.  
This compromise winner who only garnered 50.95% support on the 13th ballot to clinch victory I suspect will have a very difficult time beating Justin Trudeau in 2019.   Especially if he starts throwing little bones to his social conservative base in the party as thanks for putting him over the top.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

BC election proves unabashed left-wing messages can win wide voter support

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan on election night
I wrote last weekend about how the progressive/socialist left needed to start winning elections in order to prove they (and not wishy washy centrists) should be leading the charge against conservative opponents. 

After so many disastrous electoral battles which saw left-wing candidates trounced by conservatives posing as the "safer" option, particularly when it comes to managing the economy, I had my doubts about the electability of leaders like Bernie Sanders.   Hence, why I and many other moderate progressives felt more comfortable backing Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination last year or Justin Trudeau for Prime Minister in 2015.   

But Clinton's defeat including her inability to win over angry, middle-class white voters in rust belt states gave credence to Bernie Sanders' message: progressives need to do a better job at connecting with working class peoples' lives and shed the stench of elitism that has taken over too many party establishments.

We'll never know if Sanders might've been able to win over those votes Clinton lost to Trump.

But Sanders' message and progressive or, dare I say it, socialist policies designed to diminish the gap between the rich and poor, not ignore or widen it, and help out the working and middle classes instead of governing just for the top 1%, may have much wider appeal.   

The British Columbia New Democrats under leader John Horgan just this week did something that party has failed to do in 16 years: connect with voters and almost topple the conservative B.C. Liberals.   At the same time, the B.C. Greens also pushed policies of fairness, equity, and democratic reform, including removing the stench of big money from politics.   Together, both parties increased their support in B.C. from a combined 48% in 2013 to a combined 57% this week and now they hold the majority of seats between them, barring recounts in the very tight election.

Despite B.C.'s buoyant economy and Premier Christy Clark's message not to shake the boat, B.C. voters did some major shaking.

So while the NDP didn't take it over the top, they made big gains and may indeed find themselves in government there soon as I'm sure Horgan will continue to push his message that province needs a government more in tune with ordinary people's needs.   This is instructive for progressives going forward.

The B.C. result followed the massive victory in France last weekend of centrist reformer Emmanuel Macron over right-wing racist Marie Le Pen.  Yes, centrists have long proven their ability to beat conservatives.

But now the B.C. NDP and Greens have taught us that unabashed left-wing platforms can also win wide support and topple nasty, elitist, out-of-touch conservatives, or at least reduce their power too.

If Jeremy Corbyn manages somehow to turn things around for his Labour Party in the U.K. ahead the June 8th election, it'll redefine what's possible for progressive, left-wing parties the world over.   I'll be watching very closely. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Far left progressives need to put up or shut up when it comes to beating Conservatives in key electoral tests

French Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron
Last year, we heard often from Bernie Sanders supporters and other sympathizers that the Democratic Party had forgotten about their poor and progressive base.   Choosing Hillary Clinton, the great centrist, part of the family machine that first defeated conservatives after a long period of dominance under Reagan/Bush Sr, was said to be a mistake that alienated ordinary, angry white folks who then turned to Donald Trump.

Far left progressives or socialist types have long lectured pragmatists who've learned to put some water in their progressive wines about the alleged errors of their ways.  They've often chastised such pragmatists for accommodating or cozying up to business interests and resembling some of their establishment conservative opponents.   We know there were many far left activists who saw no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  Now, of course, the U.S. and the world are suffering greatly because of those real differences. 

I agree that the partisan establishments of centrist parties like the Liberal Party in Canada, or the Democratic Party in the U.S., or even mainstream New Labour types in the U.K., are largely distasteful to most ordinary progressives.  I worked in politics - I know how sleazy backroom politics can be.  Many in the left rightfully yearn for progressive political leaders who are rebels, who can rescue us and rid societies of longstanding economic and cultural injustices.  The list of injustices sadly runs long.  Such progressive folks rightly suspect the establishment which has largely taken over the Liberal and Conservative parties will never on its own relinquish its power over them.  So the program and populist message of Bernie Sanders resonates.  But it's never been tested, at least not recently, in the current context which is seeing right-wing populism, or outright racism enjoying a renaissance.

We know that centrists can beat conservatives.  Justin Trudeau is the latest example of a moderate progressive who could beat conservatives.  Ironically, he bested Tom Mulcair and the federal NDP by veering far left, as Mulcair moderated himself into a typical centrist and blew the 2015 election.

Is it easier for a centrist Liberal to win by veering left and beat conservatives?  Or for a Socialist to win by veering to the centre?  Who can do that with greater credibility?  Who's had more success?

The British Labour party has rarely beaten the U.K. Conservatives over the decades and looks right now to be facing another massive defeat under leader Jeremy Corbyn, the hero of the Far Left if there ever was one.  After two years of lacklustre press, Corbyn is unleashing some passion in this campaign.  He's a firebrand socialist with obvious convictions promising to shake things up.   If Bernie Sanders was truly on to something with his populist message of reaching out to disaffected white people, then Jeremy Corbyn should win the U.K. election for Labour.   But so far, Theresa May's Conservatives seem to be far ahead in the polls.  The U.K. votes June 8.  

British Columbia also votes on May 9th in a provincial election which pits the 16-year reign of the B.C. Liberals, which are essentially a conservative/blue Liberal coalition, against the NDP under John Horgan, their main challenger.  Horgan has been channeling Bernie Sanders too with arguments that the incumbents are in bed with their big donors and the top 1%.  He's calling for political finance reform.  He wants the B.C. government to do more to make housing more affordable.  He's promising to implement a stronger plan to fight climate change. 

Meanwhile, the B.C. Greens are also attracting a lot of support in this race, polling around 20% in several polls.   It remains to be seen how many seats that vote gains.  Many think the Greens are taking votes equally from both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP.   Some voters tired of Christy Clark's Liberals who aren't willing to vote NDP might choose the Green option this time, putting all kinds of seats in play.

By any standard, after 16 years, the BC Liberals probably need a time out.  I'd like to see the NDP win this one and put in place a government in B.C. more in tune with ordinary people's needs.   Horgan has come across this election as a passionate, hard-working guy many would like to have on their side in government, a welcome relief after Christy Clark.  In some ways, this is another big test for a Bernie Sanders type at beating down a conservative foe. 

France votes even sooner this Sunday with a presidential run-off between far right fascist Marie Le Pen and centrist progressive Emmanuel Macron, a globalist who wants to cut taxes on business and individuals.  But he's had a difficult time getting some far left types to back him to stop Le Pen.

Those far lefties need to kick themselves and vote against the one candidate who can stop their country from dissolving into a racist hell hole a la Trump.  I agree with this Guardian writer that Macron is the person they should support this weekend.

So we have three major electoral tests coming up: one with a French centrist facing down a hard right conservative opponent, and two with a socialist party - the NDP in BC and Labour in the U.K. - as the main opponents to conservative incumbents. 

If the far left is to have any traction in leading the fight against conservatives, it has to start winning.   If the BC NDP get swept back into opposition, or Jeremy Corbyn's passionate defense of his policy agenda leads to a historic defeat by the Conservatives, while Macron wins, it'll be clear to me that the Bernie Sanders solution was not much of one at all.  

This won't mean that centrist pragmatists need to do nothing to win back the support of progressives who rightly want major policy changes, especially when it comes to dealing with economic inequality, and demand their leaders and progressive parties to do a better job helping average people.   Centrist leaders and parties most certainly need to do a better job of that as failing to do so is giving rise to dangerous right-wing populism. 

But more defeats for far left heroes will mean that pragmatic, moderate progressives are far more successful against conservative opponents and actually implementing any kind of moderately progressive agenda. 

You can't always get exactly what you want when you want it, but as long as progress is being made toward it, rather than regression under conservatives, isn't it a better option?   In my opinion, yes.   I'd rather live under a moderate liberal doing some good things rather than some conservative fascist. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Anti-gay horrors in Chechnya need to be investigated and stopped!

Putra Kurniawan/EyeEm/Getty Images
After various reports in minor media outlets or websites about this story, the Guardian has finally published about it.   Still, questions remain:

Just what is going on in Chechnya?  Are Chechen authorities "rounding up" gay or gay-suspected men and putting them in concentration camps to face violence and even death?  

As the Guardian reports: "Journalists at the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which first reported the story, say they have incontrovertible evidence that at least three gay men have been killed since the operation started, and believe the full death toll could be much higher. Chechen society is extremely conservative and homophobic, and there are fears that some gay men may have been killed by their families after being outed by authorities." 

Of course, the despicable crew of folks running Chechnya and Russia deny the reports, claiming no gay people exist in Chechnya.

I hope more international media pick up this story and find out the truth. 

I'd also really like to know what my national government is doing to stop this outrageous treatment.  No doubt, our federal government is not particularly friendly with Russia these days, so I hope they are taking action to try to stop this.  

I've signed an Amnesty International petition.   I urge everyone to do the same. 

Let's not let this story disappear like so many other atrocities being experienced in our world have been.


Glad to see Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, speak out yesterday against the anti-gay violence in Chechnya. 

Here's another petition from OutRight definitely worth signing.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Trudeau Liberals keep major promise by introducing marijuana legalization bill

Thursday was a good day for Canada.   The legalization of a banned substance far more innocuous than dozens if not hundreds of other fully legal substances or activities has now been proposed in federal legislation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a major step to keep one of his signature promises, which is good because he's broken too many of them already.   Had this one been abandoned like electoral reform, it might've caused a complete collapse in his support among cool progressives who voted Liberal in 2015, who'd probably no longer care much if Trudeau beats out the next Conservative leader in 2019 (as there'd clearly be little difference between them.)

Now New Democrats won't be happy because those cool lefties will not be pissed at the Grits.

Conservatives won't like legalizing pot, but conservatives don't tend to like the good things in life much at all, so who cares?

The pathetic caution and unease of certain commentators I'm seeing today is definitely annoying.  The media largely continues to err on the side of hysteria, producing alarmist "news" reports on today's legislation that often quote unproven "facts" about the use of marijuana, proving how out of touch they are with the public. 

There are some fundamental truths that make this legalization move the best way forward: organized crime, which has benefited for decades from the ban, will lose massive profits when the underground pot market shrinks to near nothing.  Profits from other drugs that remain illegal will be considerably smaller as other drugs will never be as popular as marijuana.  Plus, a regulated regime will ensure that legal pot growers and sellers on the market become accountable.   Those who have embraced pot but don't grow their own will now be able to know and understand what's in their pot, how it was grown, unlike today where thousands of users simply don't know.   This move today is a win for public health.  

Will this legalization lead to an increase in use?   No.   I can say that with confidence as I truly believe, as all should believe if they're honest, that most human beings are always attracted to that which is "banned" or "taboo" by greater society.   Ban something, you increase curiosity about it.  Legalize it and put it in boring, brand-free packaging, and make it as commonplace as beer, you take away one of its greatest appeals.  Those who like pot will use it legally, the majority of Canadians who don't like pot will continue not to use it (but will at least benefit from the tax dollars raised from the legal sale of it.) 

Years from now, we'll laugh about how silly it was that marijuana was illegal for so many decades.   It's a shameful legacy based on lies and bullshit thinking.   I'm glad we have a government that knows that and is finally prepared to do something about it.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

History made as 'Moonlight' becomes first LGBT-themed film to win Best Picture Oscar

What a beautiful shocker!

I'm thrilled this morning after last night's win by Moonlight as the surprise Best Picture winner at the Oscars, which is now the first LGBT-themed film to take the top prize ever!

It's also the first film with an all-black cast to win Best Picture at the Oscars!  Bravo! 

After previous disappointments, especially Brokeback Mountain's sad loss to a far lesser film in 2005, one might have assumed a queer movie would never earn the consensus of a body of voters known for their traditional choices and love of grandiose epics.  But last night that changed as the best film of 2016 prevailed, as far as I'm concerned.

We can also probably thank the Academy's preferential balloting system which allows the film with the most widespread support in the Best Picture category to rise to the top with subsequent ballot counts over polarizing or flawed front runners.   It happened last year when Spotlight beat out The Revenant.   And it happened last night too. 

It's also wonderful that this win is shared both by people of colour and queer people together.  That was the magic of Moonlight as it presented African-American characters that are marginalized in our society, including the LGBT community itself, and made their struggles and loves universal.   This is exactly what the world needed at this moment of increasing and alarming hatred and ignorance. 

I'll soon buy a copy of this classic film.  Maybe I'll even go see it again in the theatre to celebrate.  If you haven't enjoyed the poetic beauty of Moonlight, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My short film "Tri-Curious" reaches over 50,000 views on YouTube!

I've mentioned before my side gig as a filmmaker. I finally decided to make my own film as director in 2015 and recruited some talented friends and artists in Toronto to make Tri-Curious, a short film that explores the awkward and anxious moments between a couple about to embark on their first threesome together.

The whole conflict between between traditional, strict monogamy versus more open-minded, experimental relationships intrigues me greatly.

I tried to embed a bit of that conflict in this film with this couple, along with some humour.  It was my first film as director (as well as full-fledged producer, writer and editor.)  I learned much from the experience and I look forward to making many more films.

Tri-Curious played in a handful of film festivals in 2016 and early 2017.  It also got picked up by U.S.-based, LGBT-focused streaming service Dekkoo.

But it was always my plan to put it on YouTube for the wider world to see it for free.   I posted it on January 30th and I'm proud to say that it's garnered over 50,000 views since then, and counting. 

Please check it out and let me know your thoughts, either here or on the YouTube page itself.   I hope you enjoy it!

And remember: if you want to get into movies as an artist, learn the craft and start making them yourself!   

Friday, January 27, 2017

Screw the police after this week's abysmal behaviour

I've tried to be a moderate person in my writings here and elsewhere, trying to respect both progressive and conservative sides of the political divide, while staying true to my own liberal values.  Perhaps some have thought that makes me wishy-washy or a little too compromising.

But lately, especially since the grotesque election of Donald Trump, which followed my choice to endorse Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders (not that that matters too much as I'm Canadian), I've been re-thinking my whole "centrist" schtick.  I want to stop compromising with those on the conservative side who show zero or little respect for those of us on the left.  It's time to stand up for what I believe in again.  If that offends easily offended conservatives, too bad.

Previously, I criticized the decision by the vast majority of (mostly Caucasian) members at the recent Toronto Pride annual general meeting to put the issue of Black Lives Matters onto the agenda without notice and pass a resolution endorsing all of their demands made last year during the Pride parade.

I want to take that back.  In discussions, it's been pretty clear that members did have the right to amend the agenda and overrule the chair of the meeting to do so.  So the vote was valid.

Furthermore, I can no longer take the side of the cops.   The incident captured in the widely seen video above was perhaps the straw that broke the camel's back for me.  That comment from the ignorant and sadly representative male cop, threatening the videographer with AIDS from "spit" from the arrested person, was simply disgusting.  

That cop reminded me of virtually every under-40 male police officer I've encountered in recent years in Toronto: bullying, drunk on his own power, happy to lie to get his way.  And that's just been my personal experience as a relatively innocent looking white man (usually on a bicycle, which might explain the disdain with which I've always been treated by police in Toronto.)

But of course my experiences are nothing compared to my fellow queer people of colour community members, who've experienced harassment and intimidation from the police for years.   A couple of decades ago, white LGBT folks consistently received the same kind of mistreatment.  Even today, the police are still targeting gay folks where they suspect the heterosexual majority don't approve of their behaviour, like recently in an Etobicoke park

Now the police and their supporters are outraged that Pride members would vote to ban police from future Prides?  Screw them.

I don't believe for a moment that Toronto Police have seriously tried to change the culture of their force.  If anything, the culture has become more brutal and bullying in recent years in terms of how cops treat ordinary members of the public.  All the P.R. talk from Toronto Police about "teaching moments" and implementing sensitivity courses are simply bullshit.   

In my opinion, the entire force, especially the under 40 male cops, seem to believe they are above the law like a bunch of storm troopers.  It's time they face consequences for that.  

We are living in a time in which the top cop in the U.S., James Comey, literally intervened in the recent presidential election at the last minute to try to sway the vote in favour of the grotesque conservative, Donald Trump, and Comey got away with it.  The time to stand up to police power is now.  

I support shutting the police out of Pride.  Perhaps we could make the ban on police last for 5 or 10 years.  After that, the community can decide if the police really have changed and can be welcomed back into Pride.   If not, the ban should continue.  

We'll call this the latest "teaching moment" for the police.  Clearly, nothing else has worked to change them.  

The LGBT community must put all of its members first, including its many people of colour. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Completely banning police from Toronto Pride is simply wrong

I'm a member of Pride Toronto.

Had I known that a vote on accepting all of the demands put forth last year by Black Lives Matters protesters during their Pride Day protest was going to take place last night at Pride Toronto's Annual General Meeting, I would've gone to voice my opinion and cast a vote.

But I had no such advance notice.  No other community members outside the room in which the AGM was held did either.

According to well-established procedures governing public meetings and organizations like Pride Toronto, which profess to be community-based, that kind of sneaky move by some community members to hijack the meeting last night and force the issue of Black Lives Matter onto the table without notice was inappropriate.  

The vote to accept all Black Lives Matters conditions is invalid, as a result, in my opinion.  However, it does set up another public debate about the future of Pride Toronto that needs to happen.  

I do sympathize greatly with those who have faced unjust brutality at the hands of police and why they wish to see no police presence at Toronto Pride.

I even think it might be a reasonable balance of rights to ban official floats by police including police unions in the actual Pride parade.

However, I can't support any ban on individual police officers marching in the parade, including in their police uniforms, should they choose to do so.  The point of Pride is personal expression. 

I also can't support the proposal to ban the police from setting up booths in Pride community spaces.   Such booths provide important opportunities for police to dialogue with the community and recruit LGBT people into their profession. 

The vote last night at the AGM does not represent the wider LGBT community.  The new Pride Toronto board should consider it when moving forward, but not take marching orders from people who are good at hijacking public meetings for their own ends.

I hope the issue of how to address the demands of Black Lives Matter continues to work its way through Pride's unique dispute resolution process.   That is how this and all controversial issues should be resolved.