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I’m riding the Greyhound north savouring the last of Vermont’s colourful October forests. Although we are riding over dry pavement here, I am very aware that elsewhere many people I know are suffering from torrential rains and the subsequent damages they cause. Reports from Monteverde have been full of soggy complaints following about two weeks of downpours, grey skies and lack of sun. That means that landslides are probable and so traveling becomes quite unpredictable, making my hour-behind-schedule-otherwise-smooth bus ride from Maine to Montreal seem quite insignificant.

More seriously, my friends living on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala – an enchanting place I’ve written about frequently over the last few years – have been watching the water levels rise at a rate that they couldn’t imagine and were hoping they wouldn’t see quite yet. The pictures being posted on Facebook are truly alarming. I believe that many living close to the shoreline on the lake have been forced into evacuating their homes, perhaps permanently, for even if the water hasn’t entered the building, it has destroyed septic beds and compromised their water system – and is still rising. They say the lake has a fifty year cycle of rising and the elders know that the lake still has a ways to go. My heart goes out to those who built their homes and businesses only to have their dreams gradually washed away like eroding sand castles.

In Monteverde, our friend Wolf has just spent close to two weeks again in the Puntarenas Hospital. I am happy to say that he is back home and apparently doing fine. He had a bladder infection that they couldn’t control with antibiotics administered at the house so he was put into the hospital to receive treatment intravenously. Experience has shown that bladder infections cause a greater distress in older people, confusion and weakness being common symptoms and I guess that is what was happening with Wolf. Fortunately it seems that Wolf has rebounded well. I am anxious to be back down there, to see with my own eyes how he is doing. Once I’m there, I’ll be blogging about all things Wolf, Monteverde and booklike much more regularly.

I’ll be headed back to Costa Rica on November 16, just in time to attend a concert honouring the late Fidel Gamboa, Costa Rica’s recently departed musical genius. Malpais, the band he fronted along with his brother Jaime and five other great musicians, have decided to disband. I expect that the strength and reorganization it would take to carry on without their main composer, singer and guiding spirit was just too great. I believe it will be an incredible night of Fidel’s powerful music performed by his musical brothers and sisters, his lyrical poetry sung by friends and the night augmented by the addition of Costa Rica’s Philharmonic Orchestra. I am so glad that I can make it back to Costa Rica in time for this last-in-a-lifetime show.

In the meantime, I’ve been paying attention to the Occupy Wall Street movement as it ignites our world. For those of us who have been paying attention to the corporate takeover of the world with trepidation for decades, the rising of the 99% in North America is a wonder to behold. It’s about time! I move around with the sound of Lorraine Segato’s “Rise up, Rise up” playing in my mind – a song performed at Jack Layton’s wedding years ago and again at his funeral in August (for those unfamiliar with this man, I wrote about him a couple of posts ago.) I know that Jack, if he had not died so prematurely of that nasty cancer, would have been joining Canadians in the street and helping to inspire the peoples’ movement.

The timing and strength of the protests has surely exploded with the examples set in other parts of the world – Egypt, Tunisia, Libya – where populations of largely oppressed people realized that they have taken enough abuse from the upper echelons of power. At a certain point, people figure they have nothing to lose but plenty to gain in rising up. North Americans don’t like to think that such revolutions, sometimes violent, could happen here, but I’ve always thought, or at least hoped, that even in the comfort zone of the passified North American consumer society, people would eventually realize the folly of our system. It’s based on the lies and greed that reward a few while keeping the masses distracted with shopping and sports addictions (how many corporate logos can you wear in one outfit or fit on one car?) and fed with the belief that one day they too will get to feed from the golden trough. It would seem that we have reached the tipping point here, where people have had enough of supporting a system that isn’t supporting them any longer. While the 1% licks the cream off their lips too many others never even get to lick out the bottom of the pot.

Surely the movement has been fueled by the frustration of people trying to get ahead with hard work, if they can find it, but without the rewards promised. We pay for insurance that doesn’t guarantee security, for schools that don’t properly educate, for health care that isn’t available when you really need it. The two industries that seem to thrive in this harsh climate, that people are forced to seek work within, is the military and prisons, neither of which offer any hope for the future or health benefits for our society. Even here in soft-shelled Canada our very conservative government has decided to buy into this draconian way of creating jobs and controlling the poor.  As French/Basque musician activist Manu Chao says, a country that spends more money teaching their citizens to kill than they do on education is a country based on fear, not hope for the future.

Besides following the leads of other dissatisfied societies around the world, perhaps the 99% movement in the US is taking advantage of having a president in power who may be somewhat sympathetic, at least enough not to have the protesters immediately tear-gassed and jailed, though there are signs that mayors in some cities are going in that direction. Although there is plenty to be disillusioned about with Obama’s presidency, it was always obvious that he was up against a corrupt and well-entrenched system that retains power and wealth for the select few in a historic perfect storm of global collapse. I believe that he can still do the right thing as this movement gains strength, and I will continue to believe that deep in Obama’s gut, there is a spark waiting to burn a hole from where his real strength and humanity will fly. I like to imagine that he and Michele watch the news at night and embrace each other, happy with the knowledge that the citizens of the United States, as elsewhere, are passing the goblet overflowing with empowerment and justice. When it makes its way to them, the Obamas will be ready to replenish it. At least that is what I like to think.

Being Canadian, I obviously didn’t have a chance to vote for Obama, but I joined with the millions who celebrated his election and believed in his message of hope and change. A simple fact of global life at this point in time is that though the citizens within the confines of the US may be able to live in ignorance of the governance of other countries, the rest of us are as deeply affected by the politics of the USA as we are the global governance by multinational corporations.  How to explain what has been going on for the last three years? A system so entrenched in corporate power and elite privilege that even a man of deep principles and experienced in community welfare can’t remain immune nor stand up to the force of its greed. I remember Obama’s 100-days in power interview when he answered the questions “What has surprised you the most?” What has troubled you the most?” by expressing his not-so-naive understanding of just how difficult it is to work within the system, that change in Washington (and on Wall Street) comes very slowly, that even in the middle of a big crisis the discussion is lost to a lot of partisan bickering. Even as President of the USA, he can’t make the bankers do what he would want them to do or turn on a switch and have congress fall in line. Well, that is why he needs the help of the population to stand up and insist that the corporate rulers, the bankers, and the outrageously wealthy pay their share. It is time to get the power back into the hands of the people.

I also believe that it is the responsibility of people everywhere to stand up to the massive brainwashing that has created a global epidemic of consumption. The belief that owning a bigger home, a newer car, a better wardrobe, every new appliance and electronic device available, that all these things are going to bring happiness and peace to your soul – well it is time to step back and stop the madness. How can one possibly defend the needs of those who own several mansions, a fleet of luxury vehicles, whose bracelet probably costs more than your monthly salary unless you are thinking that it your own goal? This kind of ostentatious outlandish decadence is setting the example of so-called fulfillment. It has tricked everyone else into supporting those who feed this dream to us even as it is making people physically, emotionally and mentally ill. If one can’t afford the luxury items, they shop with the same abandon in the dollar stores. Junk, stuff, tomorrow’s landfill. It is insanity and, to me, it is a big part of the problem, this desire for more and more of everything. The drug lords are the corporations, the pusher is the television, the addicts are everybody…and the loser is the earth.

Instead of spending so much money on the war on drugs and the criminalization of marijuana, the government should be cracking down on the real crack – stuff!!!!!

Those of us who are the protesters, the 99%, whether we are living in a tent in one of the occupied city parks, or disseminating information through the social media, or speaking up in support of the Occupy Earth movement at every chance we get, know that it is time. We don’t need a “leader” or a single headline for the media to grip on to that will simplify their job. It is impossible to narrow the issues into one stream when it is already an ocean out there, full of inequality, insane policies and despair. The “free market” system, capitalism as it is called, has stopped working for the majority of not just the humans, but all creatures who share this fragile earth. A few may be getting rich – even very very disgustingly rich– but most are experiencing life as one crisis after another with nowhere to hide. Climate change, environmental degradation, health decay, economic collapse, fiscal mismanagement, the inequities that pit workers against workers and the middle-class against the poor… the absurdity of it all is well beyond a single slogan or one spokesperson. It is time. Gather your loved ones, put on your dancing shoes, be peaceful, open your mouth, feed your mind and RISE UP!

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Two weeks ago I arrived back in Hamilton, Ontario. After more than two months on the long road between my tropical home in Costa Rica and my northern nest in Canada, I was both relieved and overwhelmed. I had issues to deal with in my house, my backyard is, once again, a jungle, and I realize that the two months I plan on being here may not be sufficient time to accomplish the things I need to.

Sadly, my trusty little camera pretty much died on the journey, so except for the odd image from my files or pulled off the internet, there will be less pretty pictures until I break down and buy another camera. Anybody got a slightly used digital for sale?

Since getting here, my mind has been absorbed with various themes, but for the sake of writing, there are two big ones – the World Cup and the G8/G20 Summit. Both are internationally-based, one drawing the world’s attention to South Africa, the other bringing the world’s political leaders to Toronto, just down the road from where I live; one incited fever and fun, the other incited rage and frustration; one will result in a clear winner (even with the probability of controversial referee calls), the other has already left a smashed-up city in rage with many questions where it feels like everybody has lost.

I’ve been watching the soccer games each day, surprised at my own accumulated knowledge after twenty years of exposure to the beautiful game in Costa Rica. If you have the slightest capacity for watching sports, it is impossible to ignore this game when you live in a country where it is the only game. Here in North America, I think people suffer from sports fatigue – people follow baseball, football (American and Canadian), basketball, hockey, Nascar, golf, tennis – one season overlaps the next and there is never a break.

 In Costa Rica there is only one season – futbol – and though it ebbs and flows throughout the year, in the end people are pretty much only watching this one sport. Men spend their Sundays on and around the “plaza”, which isn’t a mall but a soccer field, and by the end of the day their wives, children and parents are all there watching the game and visiting with each other.

In other countries there may also be rugby or cricket, huge sports outside of North America, but definitely futbol is the universal game that only requires a ball and a somewhat flat area to play in. It provides hope to  youth living without privilege everywhere that if they are good enough, they can make their local team, then a national team, then be picked up to play in the big leagues overseas and one day possibly play in the World Cup. This year, there were more countries in contention to go to South Africa and represent their homeland’s team than there are countries in the United Nations. World Cup indeed!

We are now down to the elimination round and the South American teams are going forward. The big European leagues draw the most attention throughout the year – as their star players get paid massive sums of money (think David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo) and take on the lives of celebrities (think the same boys again) – and the international media, the original celebrity gawkers, is paying attention to them. So the expectations have been that these are the best teams and Spain was crowned the favorite. Many of the great players that fill the European leagues are from South America and now they are back home and playing the poetic kind of futbol that they were raised on and it is carrying the Latinos to the top in South Africa.

Brasil is the perennial favorite but Argentina is putting on a huge show this year. Their star-player-gone-bad, Diego Maradona, is now their coach. He was the world’s best and then fell into scandal from too much fame and money, got fat then went on a diet, and has now come back as the coach of his country’s team. Although he is generally not considered a great coach, his team is winning. I love watching his passion sizzling at the side of the pitch – he looks like, with the blow of a ref’s whistle, he’d strip off his Italian designer suit, throw on a team shirt, run onto the field and take off down the field with the ball if he could get away with it.

So my prediction is this – I think that Holland will play Argentina (Brasil will unfortunately fall out of the competition a game before) and Argentina will win. Maradona will be re-crowned King of Argentina and his picture will show up next to their other chosen one, Che Guevera, on T-shirts and coffee mugs all over the world. I would prefer a Brasilian/Argentina game (so hope I’m wrong on my prediction) but would have a hard time watching either team lose.

Speaking of Che, I expect he’d have been a keen participant in the chaos known as the G8/G20 Summit that took place this last weekend in Toronto. These gatherings of political leaders have proven to attract all kinds of activists objecting to corporate political and economic control and the subsequent diminishing of human/environmental rights. I expect if he was alive today, Che would be fighting for the poor and the disenfranchised and to remove power from the ivory corporate towers.  And no doubt, Che would’ve been arrested, probably punched and roughed up for being an insolent if innocent protester, and held under a secretly-instituted temporary (and apparently misleading) law that gave the police undemocratic and frightening short term powers.

 Although blame is flying and everyone is under suspicion for who caused what and what was intentional as opposed to random, spot-provoked violence, one should look to the leaders who set up this expensive ($$ billion-plus) circus, erected a huge fence ($5.5 million) to make sure the division of power over people had a focus, built an $$ million-plus artificial lake to keep the international media in Toronto (instead of letting them know our beautiful natural lakes and countryside) close to what became out-of-control street destruction and great photo-ops, with an outrageous security bill (the bulk of the $$ billion-plus budget) that then seemed to be justified by what happened in the streets. If you build it, they will come.  

 What transpired in Toronto was a massive mess of provocation and power abuse. It also managed to move the focus away from the intelligent, important messages of the many thousands of peaceful protestors who had been assembling for days in Toronto. Throughout the week, while they held events concerning human and environmental rights, the fence was being erected. As the G8 leaders came into town and with a minimum of fanfare headed north to Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka for their meeting, more people poured into the downtown core of Toronto. By Saturday, when the G20 were gathering inside the downtown Toronto Convention Center, there had already been days of organized and peaceful gatherings according to the right that we have here in Canada to organize, gather and protest.

Then things started going wrong and this is where the onion gets really smelly and the layers pull back to suggest something much more deeply sinister. By all accounts, on Saturday there were up to 25,000 protestors who marched between the fence and the government buildings, continuously chanting their messages in a typically-Canadian orderly calm. At some point in the afternoon, several hundred protestors of a different kind – call them Black Bloq, call them anarchists, call them revolutionists, call them angry suburban youths given big sticks & free reign – started using tactics of a very different kind that resulted in burned out police cars and smashed storefronts. According to eye-witnesses and youtube images, the police did little to stop this wanton violence – in fact, it would appear that they brutally instigated much of the violence. While letting the destruction rage on on some streets, they formed lines in other areas that corralled groups of peaceful demonstrators and herded them, often with abusive language and physical violence, towards holding cells. They also raked in joggers, tourists, journalists, and protestors who remained peaceful and non-aggressive.

I have no doubt that among the anarchists who (whether I agree with their message and methods or not) have a very strong anti-corporate ideology, there were just youths raised on computer game violence and a desire for thrills, given the chance to trash the downtown – photos of  marauders with expensive clothes have emerged. And I don’t think there is any question that there were also agitators – supplied by the police, the government or corporate interests – who helped get the destruction rolling. Photos of these undercover provocateurs have also come out. As these crimes are exposed, the Toronto Police and the RCMP will have much to answer to. I also don’t believe that all the police were acting inappropriately or with bad intention, though put into this kind of insanity, calm heads seldom prevail and adrenalin, power issues and a big stick can cause a lot of damage. Just as people have pointed out how many innocent bystanders were picked up in the huge sweeps that resulted in over 900 arrests, I expect that there were also non-aligned people who were happy to take part in a violent free-for-all. Growing up in a wealthy suburban city, Iwitnessed this early in my life – destruction for the fun of it – and I really don’t see why this circus atmosphere would be any different. Tigers living in cages will go nuts when the cage door is opened.

Amongst all this mayhem – eaten up and regurgitated by mainstream media which thrives on conflict and violent images – there were well-respected journalists who were close to the action and either twittered or blogged their observations. One of these is Steve Paikin, a journalist of 30 years and host of a very sane and intelligent public television show called The Agenda. Here is the link to an interview that he gave following what he saw as police provocation and brutality. I appreciate that someone I consider a relatively conservative journalist is speaking out. Perhaps his comments will be listened to by some of the middle class masses who look at it all in pure disgust but don’t know where to lay the blame.

     http://www.therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=5328

If you want to see a huge selection of images from this fiasco, just go to youtube and look under G8/G20 Toronto. I couldn’t begin to tell all the stories that have been coming out, including wrongful midnight arrests of innocent citizens in their homes and gender-based trauma on the streets and in the holding cells.

The media discussions continue looking at the actions of the police – as they should – while more stories of abuses on the streets, during and following arrests, appear. I am a firm believer in peaceful protest and non-violent civil disobedience and although I can understand the anger of the more aggressive protestors, I don’t have any interest in joining in that kind of negativity. I don’t believe in war under any circumstance, and would rather see all this energy put towards finding peaceful resolutions. It is how I have approached more than thirty years of some kind of activism.

An inquiry has been called for – perhaps it will figure out who was behind the curtain. My outrage lies with our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who, against security experts’ advice, chose to set up this warzone in downtown Toronto. In the face of the experiences of past summits held in large cities inevitably leading to violence, arrests, and destruction (Quebec City, Seattle, London UK, etc.), he still decided to spend a phenomenal sum of money to create this circus, most of that money going to security. My outrage also lies with Dalton McGuinty, Ontario’s Premier, who passed regulations under the cover of darkness that allowed police to use measures and harass, detain, and arrest people in ways that aren’t consistent with Canada’s constitution, democracy or freedom to gather.

If ever it felt like the Conservative government of Canada, very much advocates of corporate and multi-national economic power as opposed to a more national socialist view, was moving its agenda forward to empower police and to marginalize the voices of sanity and the rights of the poor, the environment, natives, workers, women,  gays & lesbians, the time is now. The fiasco of Toronto has pushed people into corners. The extremists have new fodder to keep their agendas moving – they certainly aren’t going away. The middle-class may not like what the police did, but no doubt will blame “activists” who they think should just stay home and they will ultimately hold responsible for bringing this mayhem to their beautiful city (you just have to read Facebook posts and letters to the editor to know that many don’t agree with social activism taking to the streets). The hard-working, committed social activists who saw their messages lost in the barrage of burning police cars and broken store windows (and many traumatized by violent arrests) must be highly frustrated, angered and disillusioned by their sincere intentions for change getting so lost in the mess. And depending on what an inquiry says about how the police conducted themselves, the police forces involved will certainly be starting at square one in rebuilding their relationship with the citizenry of Toronto. Meanwhile, Stephen Harper goes off on a gentile tour with the Queen of England who is visiting Canada and leaves the fallout to the local and provincial politicians.

Once again, I believe strongly in the right to organize, gather and protest. I also believe strongly in peaceful protests, because it is a peaceful world I want to live in, and so, to me, every action must be intentionally non-violent (even when one’s anger and disgust prompts something different). If it weren’t for activists being willing to step up to the line, indeed crossing it, we would never advance human, civil and environmental rights throughout history and throughout the world. One has to be disgusted by what happened in Toronto. The problem is how the blame will be transferred and what will come out of this. I fear that Harper’s corporate/police state agenda will rise to the top as all the pawns on his chessboard spin around in anger, disbelief, self-righteousness and confusion. Harper should never have brought this circus to town and then released all the animals into the streets. I doubt that he will ever apologize for a poor decision or even enter into the discussion. I think he got exactly what he paid for and wanted.

October 2018
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