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The News Stories that Changed the World in 2011

Okay, so it’s December 30th and time to recap 2011. So here is my list of the stories that changed the world the most this year – not necessarily the biggest stories but the most changing (for that reason the death of Kim Jong-il is not on the list as I fear there will be no change with his son taking over).

10. The death of Qian Necole Liu – She was a student at York University who was murdered. The crime was witnessed half a world away via webcam. A man is now in jail charged with her death thanks to witness statements from Asia. Gotta love technology!

9. Death of Osama Bin Laden – It may or may not mark a major change, it all depends on how much it slows Al-Qaeda down. For a bit it seemed that the US military was taking out “the next leader” or the “Number Two” every few days. We haven’t heard anything in a while now.

8. Atlantis’ Final Mission – This is most definitely a change as it’s the end of the current US space program. There are no more missions planned and if the Americans want to go into space they’ll need to catch a ride with the Russians (that seems odd…) I guess NASA can cut their budget now.

7. The death of Steve Jobs – For most changing this could be further up the list if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Steve Jobs. He hired people who thought outside of the box so the great inventions that he started will continue. This move ensured Apple wouldn’t fall apart when he departed.

6. The Occupy Movement – It’s not clear yet how much change the Occupy Movement will bring. Disenchanted and disenfranchised people got involved with politics and civics for the first time for many (the first time since the 60s for others). Hopefully the interest will continue into more action and next year I may need to move it up the list.

5. Japan’s Disaster – Earthquake, then tsunami then nuclear issues. Again, it’s not clear how changing it will be overall. It’s greatly affected the lives of many Japanese who lost homes, jobs and loved ones. It’s also started protests in Japan over the use of nuclear power. The auto sector in North America was also affected as many of the local auto manufacturers get parts from Japan. We still have to see the impact that the debris will have on the beautiful British Columbia cost as it’s expected to make landfall this coming year.

4. Arab Spring – First Tunisia, then Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Each country has had a different experience and it’s been more beneficial in some countries than others. Overall, it had a major impact by allowing everyday people experience that they can influence government, even when that government is a dictatorship. We will need to see what permanent changes come from it.

3. The Economy – This was a major story on both sides of the pond. The US almost was unable to pay their employees due to bipartisanship and their bond rating was consequently downgraded for the first time in history. On the other side was the European Union which may or may not exist next year this time. Germany is holding the power right now and many are unhappy about the politics of that (since upset over World War 2).

2. London’s Jobless Rate – I had to add a purely local story and this one does it. The jobless rate in London Ontario is 9.8%, 2nd only to Windsor Ontario. We’ve had too many plants close and lay off mass amounts of employees. I call on our mayor Joe Fontana to step up with his plan to bring more small business to London. I think he’s right that it’s more important now to go after 10 businesses that employ 10 people each than 1 business that employs 100. Unfortunately, the jobless rate in London may climb again soon with a nasty strike expected to start at Electro-Motive in the next few days. If the parent company CAT pulls them out of London that will be another 700 good-paying jobs lost.

1. The most changing story of the year – JACK LAYTON! The NDP was elected on good ideas and the personality of Jack. For the first time ever a party besides the Conservatives and the Liberals held the position of the Official Opposition. Jack showed us how to fight in politics and in life and was out there on the campaign trail waving his cane after hip surgery. Unfortunately, after the great height of the election wins came the great loss of Jack Layton passing away from cancer. We will never know what good he could have done in the opposition, nor will we ever know what he could have done should he have been elected Prime Minister. He got many young people involved in politics for the first time and I hope that the enthusiasm carries into the next election.

So there’s my list. Do you agree or disagree? What did I leave off?

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Occupation Movement, Uncategorized

 

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A View of North Korea

So Dear Leader has died.  It’s hard to believe that all the mourning in the street is being done out of pure grief.  I think much of it is a fear of the ruling party and fear of what will come next.  Maybe the North Koreans really are mourning the loss of a great man but really, what is life like inside North Korea?

You’re greeted by the soldiers – soldiers everywhere on the border.  Then once you pass the checkpoint you hit the roads – 6 lanes across and a lone cyclist crossing it. Very few people here can afford a car; the only vehicles you’ll see belong to the military (often broken down) or the Mercedes that belong to the North Korean officials. As you drive on you come to the capital, Pyongyang.  As a tourist, you’re forbidden to leave your hotel – make sure you get your sleep while you can since the loudspeakers blast patriotic songs on the hour from 6 am to midnight. Life is hard with back breaking work in construction or manufacturing. Most of the time there’s not enough to eat but you don’t dare complain about the Dear Leader.

Don’t get me wrong – life isn’t all hard. We like to attend the mandatory National Day dance. It’s fun to dress up and dance and pretend that all is good.  There’s enough to drink that it’s easy to forget for a while.

My family lives in the countryside. My mother and grandmother and I all toil long days in the rice paddys, so bent over grandmother can no longer straighten up at the end of the day. My father is in the military and walks all day. I don’t know why Dear Leader needs so many in the military – who could possibly harm him? In the evening we light a fire and cook up the small amount of food we have for the family (once less mouth now since the baby died.)  It’s a hard life but Dear Leader takes care of us.

I’m scared now though. Things weren’t always good under Dear Leader (don’t say I said that) but we knew what to expect. Like everyone else I don’t know much about Kim Jong-un but grandmother says he’s very young to be running a country as powerful as North Korea. Maybe he can get more food to the people without blowing anyone up….

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Where are you Christmas? Why can’t I find you?

Why have you gone away?

Where is the laughter you used to bring me?

Why can’t I hear music play?

Written by James Horner and Will Jennings for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000)

I apologize to you readers as my plan for daily or every other day updates fell by the wayside this past week.  Why you may ask… Christmas.  I’ve been busy shopping, running around and stressing.  I love Christmas but I’m surrounded by Grinches, which makes it hard to get into a positive mindset.  For me – Christmas is about family and friends and I just need to keep reminding myself. (It helps to avoid the avoid the craziness that is the mall this time of year.)

But Christmas is also a hard time of year.  More people are visiting the food banks this year than before.  The toy drives in the area are empty and the suicide rate always goes up in December.  We place such high expectations on ourselves and the holidays that they are impossible to measure up and thus we think we’ve failed.

My idea for everyone this year – give what you can to others (time or money or gifts or skills).  Have one realistic goal for Christmas and let the rest all happen.  This year I will be giving to the food bank and showing up on time for Christmas dinner (a change for anyone who knows my family).  What about you?

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Christmas

 

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The Occupations are done – what now? (Or How Badly the Bottom of the 99% have it)

Most of the occupiers have been removed – many by force while remaining non-resistant and peaceful (and unarmed).  The remaining occupiers in Canada have orders for them to move or they’re just waiting on a judge’s signature.  In the cities that have been “cleaned” the discussion around the occupation has slipped from the media’s radar.  The talks are still going on but few are following it – they’ve moved on to other things.

BUT – Our role now becomes to fight for our place in society since we have asked to claim it.  We must continue to ask the government of Canada about wasteful spending on helicopter rides and crime bills (while crime rates are actually falling across most of the country).  We must ask how that can go on while 1 in 6 reservations are living in the conditions we have seen this week from Attawapiskat.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/11/30/f-video-8thfire-doc-attawapiskat.html

I don’t claim to know how this can happen – $90 million over the last 5 years from the federal government  seems like a decent amount of money but I don’t know everything that it has to cover.  (Last year there was an additional $4 from the Ontario gov’t and $3 million from Casino Rama.)  I know the Minister of Northern Affairs says his team have been up there 11 times this year but they didn’t notice the problems (how do you not notice that there are no toilets and there’s no water in the taps???)

My understanding is that private ownership of homes is not allowed on a reservation and thus a home cannot be used as collateral against a bank loan for repairs.  The average income on a reservation is under $20,000 a year and because many are remote everything costs more.  This particular reservation has 314 requests for housing but the band can’t afford it, particularly with the condition of perma-frost melting and the land shifting. I’ve seen some Northern reservations while traveling on the Trans-Canada.  Some were quite rough and much different than the reservations I’m used in Southern Ontario.  Many of the remote locations do not have clean and running water – OUTRAGEOUS in the country with the most fresh water in the world!

So what is the answer?  I don’t know.  I know it needs to change and I know that advocates are needed.  I don’t claim to know what’s best for another culture in another climate but I know that the people who are living it know if we just listen.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Occupation Movement

 

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Friends

It’s been a busy weekend and I have my friends to thank for that.  Yesterday I was invited to a great southern supper by an American friend who was missing her family on Thanksgiving (but is happy to be in Canada with her new husband and daughter).  Today, I visited friends out of town who had recently had some medical issues (which were taken care of by the Ontario Health Plan).  I realized that when I was giving thanks on Saturday, I didn’t say thank you to this great country we live in.  I’m thankful for my friends but even more thankful for Canada.  It’s not perfect and as citizens we have a responsiblity to make it the best place possible.  That’s my challenge for all of us – do something to make it better.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The smartest man on the planet

I think I’ve fallen in love with David Suzuki again.  When I was a kid every month I got a slew of magazines in the mail.  I loved getting mail at all but to recieve pages and pages to read with a window onto the world was amazing.  Ranger Rick was on of my favourites, along with Owl.  Great science and nature pieces.  I loved David Suzuki then (along with Robert Bateman).  I haven’t seen him this riled up in a while and he makes my point much more elequantly than I did last night.

David Suzuki at Occupation

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Occupation Movement, Uncategorized

 

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Why Occupy

Don’t you know, they’re talking ’bout a revolution, It sounds like a whisper

Don’t you know, they’re talking ’bout a revolution It sounds like a whisper

While they’re standing in the welfare lines

Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation

Wasting time, in the unemployment lines

Sitting around, waiting for a promotion
Don’t you know, they’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution It sounds like a whisper

Poor people gonna rise up and get their share

Poor people gonna rise up and take what’s theirs

Tracy Chapman, Revolution

I have to admit I don’t fully understand this. I agree with the basic premise that they are protesting. The economic divide is worse than it has ever been. In the United States right now 99% of the nation’s wealth is held by 1% of the population. (In Canada the divide is not as great but it’s growing.) It’s okay to be wealthy in a capitalist society but when that wealth is gained by kicking other people down it’s not okay. I understand bailing out big banks so they don’t collapse but think of how different the situation would be if the same amount of money had been given to the home owners who were losing everything. Or perhaps, the bonuses that were still given to the CEO’s could have been paid into a fund for people who were losing their jobs.

If the people who were the other 99% were doing okay then it wouldn’t be as big of deal. However, the middle class is disappearing, soon there will only be upper and lower class and where do you think you and I will land? This movement has been growing for years as I think John Q, a 2002 movie starring Denzel Washington, showed how the average Joe (or John Q. Public as our title character) can lose everything so easily. Don’t think we’re immune in Canada just because our hospital care is paid for. Prescriptions aren’t, medical supplies aren’t. I know people who have to choose between food and prescription drugs or rent. The protests make sense to me.

However, I don’t really get the whole occupation. Originally it was a novel idea that brought attention to an issue in North America that would have continued to be ignored otherwise but now it is bringing out more attitudes. We have issues with police using excessive force and pepper spray. We have people upset that their public spaces are not accessible. And we have people that want nothing to do with outright civil disobedience and I think that’s where I find myself.

A better idea to me is for the movement to continue general assemblies and teach-in’s but to go home at night. That way there is some visibility but no built in excuse for people to hate it. It just seems like the illegal occupation has stopped the conversation.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Occupation Movement

 

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