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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Terri Chu: The Fearless Tax Fighter


I believe we've established that Terri Chu, Councilor candidate in Ward 20, is an engineer, a civic leader, a pilot, scuba-diver, community organizer and baker of amazing peach pies.  Oh, and she founded Why Should I Care and has been a committed bicycle commuter.
But I'm gonna guess you didn't know what a tenacious fighter against wasted dollars and inequity she is.
Let us set the scene a bit.  It's 2008 and Terri's husband is a professor working at University of Cape Coast in Ghana.  Terri is there for the duration, doing what Terri does; getting involved in the community, identifying structural problems and suggesting solutions on a blog clearly labeled (Author: Terri, Thoughts and Ideas). 
Here's an excerpt from her blogpost:
 To summarize - Terri saw what felt to her like a misuse of public funds; she did her homework on the issue and then had the temerity to call the public official abusing dollars, including Canadian donations, to account.
It was Ghana, and she was there as spouse of an temporary foreign worker; they couldn't get to Terri, but the university had no problems taking out their revenge on Stephen.
Stephen was hauled into the President's office and fired on the spot.  They then asked if he had any questions.  Stephen asked one: "I thought Ghana had Freedom of Speech." 
The answer yelled back at him was "Yes, but you used your freedom of speech wrong.  You have the freedom to say good things about the university.  What you did was not appropriate."
This is why I love these two - they stand together, no matter what.  Terri had written a post that clearly troubled the University enough for them to take action against Terri's husband.  He had her back the whole way, as she has is.
And they both have the backs of those on the team.
It's been an amazing experience working with Terri on Why Should I Care - she is the most respectful, yet mission-oriented leader I know.  She'll let you know where you've messed up, but with the intention of getting things back on track.
When it comes to misinterpretations or blatant abuses of rights and responsibilities, however, she has zero patience. 
Of course, Terri's arsenal doesn't consist of attack ads or bullying comments - she brings her technical expertise, wit and way with words to the table.   Terri will be fearless in going toe-to-toe with developers, public servants and fellow Councilors alike and win her case on the facts and the conviction with she presents them.
Terri Chu had no qualms standing up for citizens and respect for public dollars in Ghana - she's successfully managed some massive infrastructure projects in town; just imagine what she can achieve at City Hall.
This it a woman you want in your corner, Ward 20. 
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Friday 3 October 2014

The Collective Conscious: Design-Thinking Democracy

“You change the structure, and the way things operate is going to change. But at the moment, the incentives are all there to do things at a base level.”
Or, to put in a more familiar narrative - we human beings are flawed, imperfect.  It's only through committing ourselves to something greater than ourselves can the promised land be achieved.
Rumi would have loved the concept of Networked Intelligence - he'd probably laugh and say something about schools of fishes contemplating the existence of the ocean.
The story isn't new.  The context isn't new.  The objectives aren't new. 
What changes is the frame.


The ReCreation Myth


There are universal stories that resurface with each generation, slightly modified to meet the times.  These stories will emerge, almost as if there is a social need for them, at certain moments in history.
We count these moments - moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars or to make the unknown known - we count these moments as our highest achievements.
The epic tales we tale are meant to inspire greatness, to remind us of what can be done or what can be lost when man goes astray.
But the way those stories get told give us a bit of focus on the temper of our times.
If you look closely enough, you'll see certain personality traits emerging in our heroes or being retconned into our legends. 
Just an observation.

The Protocol of War

Exactly.  Militaries fight wars.  They have hands-on experience of the risks and consequences of war from the personal up to the political level.  Which is why they have developed standards and protocols for combat
Politicians like to play at war, but for all their War Rooms and Campaigns and Boots on the Ground, they have no idea what actual combat looks or feels like.  They cause wars - it's always the military's job to get us out of them.
ISIL isn't a military - they're a gang.  They're terrorists.  They don't care about the long-term consequences of their actions; like a hormonal teenage boy, they're strictly focused on their now.  They go with the frame of "the Apocalypse will take care of the future" but that's really just an excuse not to plan ahead (though, funny enough, the politicians within ISIL are developing complex governance structures - shouldn't that be God's job in their perspective, or are they assuming they're his proxy?)
Being tough is not the same as being organized.  Aggression cannot succeed in the face of discipline.
There are meta-lessons in this, if anyone in position of authority can get it through their heads they aren't "history's actors" and learn from them.

Calling a War a War

I'm fine with Canada play an active role against the non-state of ISIL. 
I think that role needs to be clearly thought through and that any military action needs to be one component of more all-encompassing efforts that address the hearts and minds and growth capacity for civilians on the ground in the Middle East, but also looking at some of the conditions here at home which are leading disgruntled Canadians to choose terrorism over citizenship in a democracy.
If we are going to war, though, Team Harper should have the decency to call it such.  Afghanistan wasn't technically labeled as a war, which impacted the compensation available to our soldiers.  If you're going to send them into a war zone, have the dignity to honour them for going through that.
There are political reasons not to want to call a war a war - we like war on video games or watching it play out overseas, but with an increasingly laissez-faire culture (which has been championed by our Prime Minister himself), we are less fond of the notion of sacrifice.  There's no ROI in it.
ISIL, like Nazisim, isn't a state - it's an ideology built on hate.  It cannot be beaten from a distance with technology only - a more concerted effort of boots on the ground, behavioural economics and the provision of better alternatives is necessary.  We have to be clearly seen as placing the lives and livelihoods of ISIL's victims above our own if we are to convince them our way of life is better.
That means going all in.
It's war, people - one that has to be won, and therefore has to be fought.  Sacrifices will be made, including of political capital.
If Harper is really committed to stopping ISIL - and he should be - he needs to put that mission ahead of his own personal electoral successes. 

Thursday 2 October 2014

Poor Rob Ford

Rob Ford isn't concerned about his health.  He knows he should be - at some level, he feels pangs of concern about the consequences of his health - but he doesn't have a deep-down emotional connection between his behaviour and his health, which is why he was out pounding in signs at midnight.
It's foolish, this obstinate, pig-headed behaviour; he put himself at risk, as he has always done.  But he doesn't quit, does he?  There's something admirable in that.  For most people quitting is a default setting.
What upsets us the most about Rob Ford is the same fundamental behaviour that we admire the most.
Something to think about in that.

ReThinking War

Two notions enter my head as I read this.  One - the Fall of the Roman Empire.  Two - the Clone Wars.
Can we get used to war in perpetuity?  Of course we can - it's been the norm for people in various parts of the world for ages.  There's a massive impact on education, productivity, infrastructure, social cohesion, healthcare, etc. but hey, that's all sociology stuff.
Unaccounted in this narrative is the other emerging threat - climate change.  Military minds the world over are pondering the grave risks that worsening storms, changing landscape and access to arable land and fresh water will have geopolitically.
So where do we go from here?

Politics in War

Read this after watching Warren Kinsella and Brian Lilley talk about Canada's involvement in The War.
It's funny; leadership, we're told, is about taking the lead.  Youth are encouraged to get out and hustle, to pitch hard, to take risks by taking on tasks above and beyond their pay-grade to show what they're capable of.
Yet that's not how the game's being played by the people with power, is it?  Risk has become something to be downloaded so as to avoid responsibility (which may be why there's so much emphasis on other people doing the heavy risk taking).
Is the government cooling it's heels, waiting to be asked by someone else to participate?  Who?  A council that they are (or aren't) a part of, the US?
Are the Opposition Parties cooling their heels, waiting for policy to comment on instead of crafting alternative plans to pitch? 
Where's the leadership?
Of course, this is about political positioning, not saving lives.  Saving lives, bringing peace and the like is all well and good, but you gotta be in power to do any of that, right?  So the power comes first.
At this very moment, while we fixate on the shenanigans of the Fords or the horrific details of the Magnotta trial, war is destroying lives.  Women and children are being raped and killed.  Generations are being scarred.  Recruits, mad at the West and unhappy at their prospects are flocking to ISIL because if the world's going to end, they want to be powerful when it does.
Politics is about success - you don't go into the line of fire without a decent prospect of a personal ROI.
War against folk like ISIL isn't about personal return; it's about righting wrongs.  It's a risky, messy business, but none the less necessary.  If you want to be taken seriously, you've gotta have skin in the game.  If you want the people to know you're on their side, you have to walk among them, bleed for them and to commit to being there for the long haul.
Leader's put themselves in harm's way so that others may be free.  That's always step one.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Mapping: the Future of Citizen Engagement

Boots on the Ground

The lesson the West took away from massive ground wars ranging from World War I to Vietnam was that the more hands-off you can be, the less costly (in terms of resources, personnel and political will) conflict will be.
Increasingly sophisticated weaponry including satellites and drones plus longer-ranged offense capabilities and so-called "smart bombs" add to the world's arsenal of arm's length weapons.
War is never an "over there" thing for those in the war zone, however.  It's immediate.  It's intimate.  It's horrifying.  And the enemy you can't see - the one who fires weapons from the office, like they're playing a video game, then goes home to their family at 5 o'clock - they are vile, despised creatures to be hated, not feared.
Switching tracks for a bit; World War II was an unpleasant war that cost the lives of many soldiers, including Canadian ones.  To this day, the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers are honoured in Northern Europe; last time I was there, being Canadian pretty much guaranteed me free drinks any time I was in a bar.
Even the grandchildren two generations removed from war remember the sacrifices made so that they could be free.  They recognize the price their freedom came at.
Back to the Middle East.  In attempting to avoid a messy conflict (for our side), we can arm rebels, impose sanctions and whatnot, but what we're doing is escalating the war and its impact on civilians.  At the end of the day, people want to live in peace - it doesn't matter who destroys your home or kills your children; when they're gone, they're gone.
So I propose something that would be very unpopular and definitely out of touch with the mood of the times.  I would propose inserting international forces on the ground with a mandate not to stop ISIS, but to protect civilians and help keep them safe and supplied with the resources they need to survive.  For strategic value, I'd want this force to comprise mostly of female soldiers and commanders.
Clearly, their mission would have offensive capabilities, too - you can't defend against David if you've not got a stone and slingshot.  Yes, there would be definitive risks and a loss of life that results; such a mission would be of strategic value with loss of life expected.
Here's the game; by putting female soldiers on the ground to help protect civilians, you're putting Western boots directly in the line of fire - suddenly, we're not the bogeyman.  These soldiers would be a natural target for ISIS, but that means ISIS will be directly targeting civilians as well as hiding among them - which sends the wrong message.  It's all well and good to say you're the only ones with civilian interests in mind (which isn't what they're saying, of course) but when you continuously put your own people at risk and when it's outsiders that have to come in to protect them, the people see the gaps of logic.
Lastly, the gender issue.  This plays the psychological card; I have no previous models to turn to for metrics, but I believe this would give the ISIS alpha males the heebie-jeebies.  It would also present the more nurturing side of the West to the civilian population (because, like it or not, women are identified as nurturers and peace makers globally) as well as providing strong female role models for women and girls being treated like chattle.
The best option ISIS would have at that point is to recruit women as soldiers themselves, which only works when those women are given a certain amount of privilege that they don't have now.  Empowering women can only detract from their end-game.
At the same time, amp up the HeForShe campaign and create a global movement of men supporting women so that we're walking the walk and nurturing a global zeitgeist change that presents a better alternative to ISIS - for everyone except the chauvinistic bullies that flock to ISIS' banner.
It's a back-of-napkin idea, one that I doubt the powers-that-be would take seriously.
But it's certainly a better plan than the re-hashed failure they're pursuing now.  So far, the West's engagement in the Middle East for a decade plus has consistently made things worse.  It's time to try something different.


Zombie Hoards: Define or Be Defined

See what Netanyahu did there?
ISIS is not a recognized state.  They really really want to be recognized - that gives them legitimacy, an ego boost, a win to feed their propaganda machine with.  We don't want to call them a state for all those reasons.
Netanyahu, however, has different priorities.  His enemy is Iran; he wants the world not to forget Iran.  So, calling ISIS a state suites his interests; it makes for a bridge to the line "Islamic state of Iran."
That was his first mistake.  It gets worse.
If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's a duck, right?  What do ISIS, Hamas and Iran have in common?  Islam.  Different forms of Islam, mind you - and if we get down to it, the people perpetuating war in the Middle East are breaking faith with Islam with their actions.
This doesn't make for a simple narrative, however, and we all know how important sound bites are.  Netanyahu has found his; "it's Israel and allies vs. the Muslims."  Israel has international allies like the US and Canada; what Netanyahu is doing, intentionally or no, is choosing a ballot question for those allies - you're with us or you're with the Muslims.
Though there are Muslims and non-Muslim citizens/residents of Israel's Western allies who may disagree with that black-and-white frame and may get mad at their government for declaring them or their friends as enemies of the state.  That's all sociology, though, isn't it?  Don't worry about context, keep your eye on the prize - this is about the survival of Israel, not the stirring of civic dissent within her allies.
Politics is all about framing; you want to identify yourselves as the good guys, but more importantly you want to position your foes as the bad guys.  Part and parcel of this game is picking fights to stir up your base.
Well, what's good in politics is also good at polarizing society and building the kindling of war.  When you frame them as an intractable, inhuman enemy to be vanquished - a zombie hoard of Muslims, if you will - then you're helping them to define you and your allies the same way.
This is how escalation happens and war erupts.  And it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
It's no consolation that they can't say "nobody could have seen this coming."  We all have to live with the consequences of their willful blindness.

Monday 29 September 2014

Id vs Super Ego: The Conscious Tonic

Populism is like the teenage brain; emotion runs high and drowns out logic.  It's Id vs. Super Ego.
There are all kinds of examples of populism out there right now, from the crass to the dangerous.  The former, unchecked, invariably leads to the latter, which is why we have a conscience in the first place - it's how we plan ahead.
Therein lies the big secret that's being missed.  When you focus on messaging and attacks both verbal and non-verbal, you're trying to control an opponent or audience.  You want to limit their frame and stoke emotional responses - which is likely what they're trying to do, too.  It's political escalation.
How we redress this isn't through force or functional fixedness, but through the application of behavioural economics.  You can't teach the old maestro a new tune, but you can twig them with a familiar refrain. 
Our is not to do or die - ours is to question why.
Why matters.

The Wrong Tune for the Times

Once again, we're hearing reports of new Conservative TV attack ads in Quebec. 
With less than 24 hours left before tonight's critical fundraising deadline, this dramatic development illustrates what's at stake in this fundraising drive.
OMG!! Attack ads! Critical fundraising deadlines! Dramatic development!
Look, we get it; people aren't paying attention to politics, so a bit of drama is required.  You need a lot of money to reach people via ads and whatnot, which is much more controllable than empowered local riding associations and the like.  And yeah, all parties are guilty of the same damned thing.
But let's maintain a little bit of perspective, shall we?  It really helps with the credibility angle.
Canada is country filled with people both born elsewhere and with families in foreign countries.  Even those with no direct roots overseas are surely exposed to a little bit of international news.
The Middle East is one fire and the fire is spreading.  What's happening in the Ukraine with Russia - are we back in the Cold War?  What will happen with the massive protests in Hong Kong?  The conflicts in Sudan or Somalia?  The drug war in Mexico?  Ebola?
What about job opportunities for our kids instead of us giving money to monied people to spend pitching us for more money?
Attack ads aren't pleasant, but they're not dramatic, either.  Partisan fundraising isn't "critical" - few Canadians know who the players are, or even what issues the policy discussion is focused on.
What we are worried about is a world that increasingly feels like it's spiraling out of control.  We want to have confidence that our political leaders are paying attention, are hearing our concerns and have some idea of how to weather this storm and maybe help tame those troubled seas a little.
Are we getting that?  If the question was asked, not on a candidate-vs-candidate basis, but in general: "do you feel Canada's politicians are up to the global challenges facing us?" - what would the answer be?
I get in trouble for suggesting that maybe there's more to politics than partisanship, that maybe what the people think is critical is less about political coloration and more about the world we live in.  Nobody likes a party pooper.
But I've been right before, haven't I?

I Support This

TBS CanadaVerified account @TBS_Canada Sep 1
Canada’s Open Government Action Plan 2.0 is coming together. Are you in?

Hey, Canada!  We recognize the need for change and have rolled up our sleeves to get it done.  First, we talked with you, reaching out in as many ways as we could think of.  Now, we've taken your ideas and culled them into some potential action items.
We have to move forward on this - we will move forward on this.  Canada deserves nothing less.
But you are Canada; we can only be sure we've made the right choices with your participation.
Open Government is for you - all we ask is that you join us in creating the change we all want to see in the world. 
Are you in?
I am.  I'd love to take this journey with you.
It certainly beats the other way.

I Object to This

Justin Trudeau is the Leader of a political party and a potential Prime Minister.  His frame is that he's different - hope and hard work, the people first, all of that.

Yet here I am being told that, should I have the paid-for honour of talking to Trudeau, I've got to be prepared to pitch him, like I'm at a job interview.  The emphasis is on how I can convince him, not the other way around. 

This is my one shot at "the political experience of a lifetime" - donate now, the opportunity won't come again!  You don't want to blow this opportunity to engage in the democratic process!

And just to make sure I'm clear on where my standing is with the party, there's a helpful little notice of how much I have donated compared to XX number of other folk and what they've donated.  Gotta measure up, don't you know, if you want a shot at participation!

You'll note my donations equal zero.  I haven't had the luxury of being able to donate to much of anything to anyone of late, except advice and contacts, which folk like these are all too willing to gobble up without thought that perhaps something in return is in order. 

Not that it matters.  This is a race to the top, after all - if you can't contribute, if you can't support the leader, you're not of value.  Your access to the leader doesn't exist unless you earn it. 

That's fine - such is the nature of partisan politics.  The question is "what can you do for your party/leader" rather than "what your party/leader wants to do for you."  Harper's fund solicitation gimmicks use the same frame.

What I object to, rather strongly, is the notion that unless I give money to Team Trudeau and psych myself up to make an amazing sales pitch to Trudeau himself, I'm not "all in" with my commitment to shaping Canada's future.

Perhaps Katie Telford won't recall the conversation we had, many moons ago, where she advised me it was a hard road, committing to community-building over putting financial wins for oneself first.  I remember it very clearly, because she was absolutely right.

I have dedicated countless hours and my considerable, if varied talents towards pursuing the liberal dream of "strong individuals for a strong society"; I've put in more than my fair share of hope and hard work. I have done so because it's what I believe. 

Katie knows what my big idea is, though she probably hasn't paid much attention to how hard I've been building it.  Occupational mental health, workplace culture, open government, opportunities for grassroots empowerment, actual job-training for political staff - I've spent the past four years pursuing these things with dogged determination which is starting to pay off for many people, possibly society at large - just not so much me.

I have dedicated every fibre of my being and made more than a few sacrifices in furtherance of the vision of Canada that I, Katie, even Justin Trudeau say we believe in.

Part of that vision is that every Canadian has value and that political access should not be exclusive, nor based on how much money you make or how skilled you are at sales-pitches.  Some of the most amazing ideas are emerging at this very moment in marginalized communities from people without money, or access, or refined speech.

These folk believe in themselves; what they need now is for others to believe and invest in them.

That's how moving forward really works - not through exclusive access, like a political indulgence, but by leaving no one behind.

Craig --
When it comes to meeting political leaders and debating big ideas, I’ve been there.
So if you win the chance to brainstorm your big idea for Canada with Justin Trudeau over breakfast, here’s my advice.
Come prepared. Take a deep breath. Smile. And believe in yourself with every fibre of your being. Because you’re about to have the most interesting conversation of your life.
With only 36 hours left to win the political experience of a lifetime, it’s time to decide.
Are you ready to go all in to shape Canada’s future? I hope so, and have included your 2014 donation history below to help:
Third Quarter Fundraising Drive donation status: PENDING**
Total donated nationally in 2014: $0 (You have $1,200 in contribution room left in 2014)
Estimated 2014 tax savings: $0 (of a total of $625 in potential savings)
Recommended donation: $3
When you give, you’ll be joining 3,785 Canadians who’ve chipped in $265,486 in response to emails like this one:
After you donate, share your big idea for Canada and enter to win the political experience of a lifetime: a return flight to Ottawa, breakfast with Justin Trudeau and one of his senior advisors (you bring the big idea!), and a chance to hear former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak over lunch on October 6, 2014.
Everyone who gives will receive an exclusive electronic preview from Justin Trudeau's new book, Common Ground. And if you give $200, or more, you’ll receive a complimentary hard copy of the book.
Thank you.
Chrystia Freeland
MP, Toronto-Centre