Jonathan Brun

Satyagraha

Liberal Party of Québec or Bust?

What will it take for anglophone Quebecers to vote for a party other than the Liberal Party of Quebec? That will be the question of an upcoming evening of discussion between anglophone, francophone and unidentified Quebecers on May 4th. For over 40 years, Québec has been divided into sovereigntist and federalist parties, with the Liberal Party of Quebec holding power for the vast majority of that time thanks, in part, to a core base of voters who have no other option.

While massive emigration hit the province after the first and second referendums, those that stayed remain stuck in a frustrating situation of having to vote for a party that has been unable to turn our economy around. Despite numerous majority governments, the Liberal Party of Quebec has failed to create substantial economic growth, they have been tainted by corruption and their most recent proposals sound like more of the same. To believe that by electing the same people year over year, tied to the same interest groups, we will have a different outcome smells of insanity.

Yet, who to vote for? The PQ and Quebec Solidaire are proudly sovereigntist at all costs and the CAQ proposed a temporary 10 year moratorium – hardly comforting. Some of us have gotten angry, others stopped voting and most just tune out in frustration. Yet this behaviour of tuning out of Quebec society leads to a reinforcement of the two solitudes and a lack of fresh ideas and new blood into institutions that desperately need different perspective. Michael Sabia, from Ontario, has successfully led the Caisse de Dépot to outperform the markets while investing our pension money in Québec and abroad. Our crown corporations such as the Hydro-Québec, Loto Québec, SAQ and others are in desperate need of fresh takes on their mandate as they stagnate and fail to improve. The same can be said of our government and public institutions. Quebec still receives seven billion dollars a year in transfer payments, has lower economic growth and a lower family income than almost anywhere in Canada.

It is time to change and it is time for the anglophone and allophone communities to seek different electoral options than the Liberal Party. Because the Liberal know they have these votes locked up at every election, they have little incentive to invest in the concerned ridings – mostly on the island of Montreal. Ever wonder why Montreal has so little political power, run-down schools, and poor roads? Simply travel to the swing ridings in the suburbs and you will see where your tax dollars are going. Until anglo and allophones start to have options other than the Liberal Party, the situation is unlikely to change.

There are rumours of an Québec NDP and of a new party tentatively titled ‘Orphelins politiques’. Neither of these are likely to take power soon. The other option for engaged anglophones may be to infiltrate a non-sovereigntist party and attempt reform, the CAQ or PLQ being the only options. There are no easy solutions. Yet, inaction on this critical issue of a viable political party that can rally anglophones, allophones and francophones and that is not called the Liberal Party is likely the only way to change things or force the existing parties to change. Until then, we will remain on our little merry-go-round that takes us nowhere productive.

[:en]TEDxQuébec – Un revenu de base pour tous[:]

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[:en]On Haiti and Freedom[:]

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Haitians are a proud people and for good reason. They were the first colony to free themselves from slavery and overthrow a ruling class. The revolution, set off in part by the French Revolution, led to a bloody battle and punishing reprisals from European nations. Some two hundred years ago, one of my ancestors, Philibert Fressinet was a commanding officer in an invasion force sent to Haiti by Napoleon in the worlds then largest naval fleet to attempt to recapture the wealthy colony of Saint-Dominique (now Haiti) and re-instate slavery. In some ways, I wanted to go Haiti to absolve my ancestors sins and to see for myself what a revolutionary colony looks like. It’s not pretty.

I have travelled to poor places before – Ethiopia, rural China, Mongolia and others – but Haiti in 2015 is truly a place in desperate need of massive assistance. The Haitians fight for liberation started in 1791 and allowed them to free themselves from the bonds of slavery, but it left them in a political quagmire that lasts to this day. Walking through the streets of Port-au-Prince or smaller cities you see abject poverty nearly everywhere, yet you also see tremendous pride in the faces of everyday citizens. This fascinating contrast is difficult to explain. The expressions on their faces are different from any other non-white people I have met. Nearly all people of colour around the world were subject to colonialism at some point in time – everyone from the aboriginals in Canada to the people of Africa and Asia. When I visited Tanzania many people did not look you in the eye, their head and eyes turned downward upon sight of a white person as if to say they were subjugated. I would claim that this is even true in the United States with African Americans. An ingrained inferiority complex beaten into certain peoples takes generations to root out of a society. Some mouvements can accomplish the feat of instilling pride in a oppressed people and one of the most recent attempts was the Black Panthers, who led a fight for equal rights and dignity in the 1970s before imploding due to FBI sabotage and infighting. They had a similar image of pride in their eyes.

The leader of the Haitian uprisings, Toussaint l’Ouverture perhaps explained it best when he stated that he planned

“to cease to live before gratitude dies in my heart, before I cease to be faithful to France and to my duty, before the god of liberty is profaned and sullied by the liberticides, before they can snatch from my hands that sword, those arms, which France confided to me for the defence of its rights and those of humanity, for the triumph of liberty and equality.”

The Haitian people, if anything, are about freedom – freedom of spirit and of body. You can see this passion and righteous freedom in their eyes like I have not seen in may other people, except those of the ruling classes in other countries.

Haiti is tiny and mountainous an has over 10.32 million people who congregate in the valleys and near the water, making towns and countryside incredibly dense. The deforestation and its impacts on agriculture and sustainability are well documented in book such as Collapse by Jared Diamond. Simply flying over the country you can see the demarcation with the Dominican Republic, which has remained forested thanks to strictly enforced laws. All this to say that Haiti has a serious and not easily remedied problem: too many people and not enough land and resources.

The second main issue I could see in Haiti is that anyone with either an education or a bit of wealth leaves the country. This emigration empties of the country of a potential middle class. After the revolution some of its leaders got greedy and established a ruling elite not dissimilar to other central and Latin American countries. One leader, Henri Christophe ruled the north and even thought it was a good idea to reproduce, in exacting detail down to the specific titles, the aristocratic structure of Europe. This ruling elite has continued to exist until today and they seem to have little interest in developing the country. Much of the the aid money sent to Haiti often ends up in their hands. Without an educated middle class to counter the power of an elite, it becomes very difficult to establish the rule of law and build up an economy.

Third, foreign intervention is not new to Haiti. After the 1791 revolution and under threat of invasion, reparations estimated at 20 billion 2015 dollars were paid by Haiti to France for loss of property including Slaves. Successive interventions occurred over the years up to the American invasion in 1915. Today, foreign intervention is more subtle, but it is a major influencing factor on the politics and opportunity for the Haitian people. From controversial deals that prevent the application of Haitian law in a section of the North Coast and potentially an island Carnival Cruises has leased out land for foreign tourists to enjoy. The massive investments by foreign embassies, aid organizations and other non-profit groups has an impact on the relationships between foreigners and Haitians and between Haitians themselves. These investments, often done behind back-doors, makes it challenging for an economy to be built as Haitians will often use aid money to buy products from China or the Dominican Republic instead of building factories for their own production. In short, a system of dependency has been created that is sadly aligned with some of the interests of the ruling elite and certain foreign entities.

It would be nice to say that I am optimistic for Haiti, but I fear I cannot be. With no president and increasing violence, Haiti seems to be in a situation that cannot easily be corrected. There are so many problems that any realistic solution would need to involve the relocation of millions of people, the investment of billions of dollars and the return of educated émigrés. If there is one thing Haiti undeniably has it is honour and pride in their remarkable revolution that is well documented in C.L.R. James book, The Black Jacobins. It would be a great victory to see Haiti prosper, but if there is any lesson to be learned from them, it is that one should not understate the power of foreign countries, corrupt elites and revolutionary fever.[:]

[:en]Montreal Stores around the World[:]

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The economic and political power of cities is on the rise due to changes in the economy and continued migration to urban areas. Montréal, like other cities, must continue to invest in itself if it hopes to compete on the global stage.

As a born and raised Montrealer, I may be biased. Though our city has much to offer, we are often cast in the shadow of larger cities such as Toronto, New York, and Paris. To compete for investment and tourism dollars, Montréal must focus its attention on its killer features. Of course, I think most will agree that we need political and economic reform along with more devolution of power from the province to the municipality and an integrated transportation system to efficiently move goods and people. But beyond reforms, we need something essential to our growth – investment. The quickest path to more revenues is more people, leading to higher property value and more economic activity.

If we want Montréal to become a strong city, it must advertise its specificities on the competitive world stage. We cannot and should not compete with major financial centres such as London, Hong Kong, New York or with the mega-cities of Mexico City, Istanbul and Shenzhen. Montreal is unique in many ways and we should advertise that uniqueness to attract business and tourism. I propose that we capture and bottle the unique Montreal flavour, creating a physical presence for others to taste and visit at home: Montreal Stores.

One simple solution to some of our economic woes is to drive more tourism dollars to our economy. With a 320 million person country next door and a strong US dollar, this should be a straightforward proposition. Instead of promoting ourselves through closed off Canadian Embassies or Québec delegations, we should build on success in the private sector and perhaps the greatest retail experience of all, the Apple Store. An Apple Store lets you test their new products, get consultations on the best products for you and even attend courses, lectures and musical events centred around the company’s products. A Montreal store would follow a similar model.

Having recently visited to New Orleans, I was struck by the number of Americans who traveled to New Orleans to visit the old French Quarter, listen to Jazz, drink cocktails and enjoy fantastic food. Montreal has many of the same cultural and culinary attractions as New Orleans and we are as close to the United States as one can get. The same American tourists who visit New Orleans for a modest amount of diversity and culture are the same tourists we want to visit Montreal. Curious Americans who want some culture, but might not be inclined to travel to Europe or Asia can come to visit us, in Montreal.

To promote our unique attributes and drive tourism to our city, Montreal should establish store fronts in cities around the world (even Canada). I would start with a storefront in the busy tourist filled French Quarter of New Orleans. The same tourists that travel to New Orleans are ones who would be thrilled to come to our Jazz Festival and enjoy our amazing choice of restaurants. This storefront, with an operating cost of a few million dollars a year could be modeled the Apple Store. Instead of iPads and iPhones, we would promote our music, innovation, language (french!), culture and food. The side-by-side promotion of our cultural uniqueness with our high tech industry and generous tax credit system might even incite some companies to open offices here. The goal of each Montreal Store would be to generate more revenue through tourism than it costs to operate, which strikes me as an easy target. The stores could host and promote Montreal musicians, innovative companies, art and culinary showcases to lure new people to our island city.

These tangible stores would help Montreal promote itself as a cultural and business hub for US tourists and businesses. Of course, we must also engage in a number of reforms here at home, but bringing US dollars onto our island would provide some key financing for our other projects. It’s time that Montreal take the bull by the horns and unabashedly promote itself as the fun, francophone and high tech hub that it is.[:]

[:en]Four Ideas to Change the World[:]

[:en]Time passes by so fast, I have been busy at Nimonik and had little time to write about the things I see in this crazy world. Luckily, NASA just announced the discovery of a 0.98 similar planet, so we can have a back-up planet if we do not sort out issues here. We will however need some form of traveling device near the speed of light to get there, or faster. Elon Musk? If Elon cannot solve it, here are four ideas that I am really passionate about these days and that I think can change society for the better. Read on about them if you can, I hope to elaborate in more detail in the near(ish) future.

  1. Liquid Feedback – A system to make decision making democratic and fluid.
  2. Rolling Jubilee – debt annulment for medical debt or the creation of a debtors union to free people from quasi-debtors jail. Don’t forget to read the great 5,000 years of debt.
  3. Basic Income – Distribution of common wealth (land tax, spectrum charges, pollution charges) to all citizens on an equal basis. Great book here on Citizen dividends, another term for basic income.
  4. A Tax on Capital – reduce the influence of capital in society and encourages people to invest their money in active assets that produce goods and services, as opposed to become rentiers living off the work of others. Read Pikettys Capital in the 21st century, best book in a long, long time.

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[:en]Response to The Walrus Prostitution Debate[:]

[:en]Here is a recent letter to the Walrus that I wrote. If you are interested in Canada, The Walrus is a great publication.

Traffic Jam

As the organizer of a recent debate on the new prostitution bill, C-36, I am familiar with the emotional discourse surrounding sex-trafficking numbers (“Dirty Tricks,” December). Both sides of the broader debate, for legalization and for abolition, have a tendency to distort statistics. And as Alexandra Kimball indicates, each side has a hidden agenda: the legalization camp sees money to be made, while the abolitionists see sin.

We cannot deny that this debate is a moral one, and not simply a matter of mathematical analysis. Should society simply condone the selling of sexual services, primarily by women to men? Progress requires equality, and the abolition of prostitution is a stepping stone toward greater gender equality. As long as it is profitable and socially acceptable for women to sell their bodies, the practice will continue. The solution is to remove the demand from the market and encourage women to seek alternative means of employment. Sweden’s prostitution laws (passed in 1999 and the model for Bill C-36) have led to a precipitous drop in human trafficking and the sale of sexual services in that country—numbers, yet again.

What’s clear: we must choose between believing our fellow Canadians sometimes have to resort to prostitution to earn a living, and believing that we can offer them something better.[:]

How to build a Citizen Movement for Basic Income

[:en]This is the text to be presented at the North American Basic Income Guarantee Conference in New York City on February 28th, 2015. More information on the conference here.

 

Introduction

Hello, my name is Jonathan Brun, I previously founded two citizen action groups that successfully lobbied for more government transparency – or what we call open data – in Montréal and in the province of Québec. I am the Québec spokesperson for the Canadian Basic Income Network and the cofounder of the Québec Basic Income citizen initiative. I am a web entrepreneur and obviously passionate about basic income.

This talk is aimed to help those who are looking to organize around basic income. It is of course not a comprehensive guide or contextualized to your environment. I hope it helps some organizers here in the United States and elsewhere structure your efforts, build them out and exert influence. I believe basic income is possible in our lifetimes, but it will require thousands of hours of hard work, dedication and discipline. The following steps are not comprehensive, but I believe they are essential to any citizen initiative.

The five steps I wish to cover today in about 10 minutes are:

1. Building an Identity
2. Getting Organized
3. Spreading the Message
4. Growing a Mouvement
5. Exerting Pressure

1. Building an Identity

The first step to any mouvement is to clearly lay out your own identity. Who is the Basic Income mouvement and why does it exist? When people hear about Basic Income they should immediately have a clear picture in their mind of the organization, its aims, goals and its way communicating. Ask yourselves this, if the Basic Income Mouvement were an animal, which animal would it be?

This need for an identity is essential to any successful organization – non-profit or for-profit. What do we think when we are asked what the World Wildlife Federation is, Greenpeace, the United Farm Workers, the Teamsters, The Tea Party, The Occupy Mouvement, etc. There is an image that comes to mind within a few seconds, that image will define the way people react the following things you say – so it is of the utmost importance.

Part of building an identity is branding. In a modern society, such as the United States or Canada, we have tough competition of people’s attention – and donations (eventually). Our competition is not so much other non-profits or other mouvements, but rather the media landscape in general. People are bombarded with advertisements and content 24/7 – they see advertisements and information all day, every day, on their televisions, radios, computers and phones. If we want to gain even 5 minutes of the average person’s attention, the Basic Income mouvement must be presented in a catchy and professional manner.

This requires a professional logo, powerful copy on websites and printed material, a great catch phrase and even more. The recent social mouvements in Ukraine and Thailand and elsewhere had a number of common features – one of which was a colour. A colour or colour scheme is a powerful symbol – think of the national flags or the major corporations we know about, their colours are a pillar of their identity. This is not recent and includes everything form the thirteen colonies to the french revolutionaries, who used the red white and blue to symbolize their difference with the ruling classes. The Basic Income mouvement should consider adopting a colour that allows itself to be easily identified. This colour would then be used on t-shirts, communications and other items. In Canada, we are adopting purple to ensure we are not tied to a political party and it is a colour that is not commonly used – it also has a link to peace.

The fonts and layout used on the website and the printed materials must also be consistent. Building an identity requires  number of pieces, but it should not be taken lightly or disregarded as something for large organizations, well funded political mouvements or corporations. No mouvement can be successful without a strong and clear identity.

2. Getting Organized

It has been said that there are two challenges in building a sustainable mouvement – getting organized and staying organized. Basic Income, in North America at least, has yet to get organized. It may therefore be premature to discuss staying organized, but it is something we should keep in the back of our minds. Part of the reason that the civil rights mouvement fell apart after the death of Martin Luther King, was that its organizational structure was terribly poor. But I digress, let’s discuss getting organized.

Start small, but use scalable models. In the business world, when someone is proposing a new venture, one of the first questions is, “Is it scalable”. Which means, with more capital or ressources, does your model grow in a cost effective manner. If your model cannot grow cost effectively and generate a profit, then you are not scalable, which is a death sentence. While the initial work done by any organization is typically arduous and labour intensive, it needs to lay a foundation on which the organization can sustainably build up its structure.

The beginnings should be simple. The United Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez, defended the rights of farm workers, but when they started they did so in a simple format not dissimilar to certain corporations such as Tupperware. They organized discussions at people’s homes, around their kitchen tables, by doing this for five months, they were then able to call a general convention that brought together farmers and their families to define a common way forward.

Now, one challenge with comparing basic income to other social mouvements is this: “Who is most concerned with basic income?” In all likelihood it is the underprivileged and the disenfranchised, though a good article by Geoff Simmons in New Zealand laid out 10 potential people who would benefit most: Students, The Working Poor, Volunteers, Entrepreneurs and a few more. However, should we base a Basic Income mouvement around this group of people – the poor and students, it is likely going to affect our identity – making basic income  harder sell to the middle class and the political elites. To ensure a broad base of support for the mouvement, we must create  coalition of groups that all have something substantial to gain from basic income. If they have too little to gain, they will not mobilize their ressources to help.

So, getting organized requires that we very actively reach out to anti-poverty groups, right wing government reduction groups, student organizations, volunteer networks and single revenue homes while also explaining the tax benefits to the middle and ruling classes. This process will take a significant amount of time and lots of hard work.

3. Spreading the message

Once a base has been established, the next step is to spread the message. This can be done through a series of tactics. Publicity stunts, such as the coin deposit done by the swiss mouvement help in attracting press attention. Op-eds, and articles in the mainstream press would help as well. But, the key element is the need to leverage existing institutions to help scale the mouvement.

On a side note, we all know there is growing mainstream press coverage of basic income and people in high places murmuring things about it. Even Bill Clinton was seen carrying the book, With Liberty and Dividends for all, that covers the need for Basic Income. However, do not confuse this with spreading the message about a Basic Income Mouvement – we are talking here about spreading the message that a mass citizen mouvement is requesting basic income.

Many successful social mouvements in the United States leveraged powerful organizations that already had scale such as religious organizations. In New York, where religion is perhaps less prominent in people’s lives, we often forget the importance of the Church, Mosque Synagogue or Temple in people’s lives. Everything from the Civil Rights mouvement to the Farm Workers to anti-war mouvements were able to effectively leverage religious institutions to both spread their message and position themselves as a just and holy cause. This piggy back effort can also be applied to other groups such as unions, non-profit groups and celebrities. It can be an important tool to spreading the message farther and faster than what we can do alone.

4. Growing a Mouvement

Once you are organized, a major challenge is maintaining momentum. You must constantly keep your troops motivated, at attention and willing to take action. This can be done in a number of ways.

You can organize events, conferences and common meals. One key element is that the members of your mouvement must see progress and small victories, or else they get frustrated and leave. For example during our effort for more government transparency, we hosted letter writing campaigns where we sent hand written letters to elected officials, many of them got a response, which led them to remain motivated. We also hosted Hackathons, which is an event that brings together technologists and other people to design technological solutions to problems. In Montreal, corruption had been making headlines for the last few years and so we leveraged or piggy-backed on this problem to organize an event called “Hacking Corruption”. The event brought together bureaucrats, technologists, journalists and others to build technological solutions to help fight corruption. Due to its timing, catchy headline and our identity, we were able to get 300 people, 10 politicians and most of the local, provincial and national media to cover the event. The visibility brought us new members, but more importantly it reenergized the existing base of volunteers.

Another thing to mention when growing a mouvement is how to handle motivated highly volunteers. As you grow and attract new people to your mouvement, you inevitably come into contact with highly motivated volunteers who are willing to go above and beyond typical requirements. It is essential that you empower these individual to take action and demonstrate that they are valued by the organization. If you do not, you risk losing them and they may start rival organizations. However, some motivated volunteers, can have difficulty following orders or sticking to a party line, so you must find a way to frame them into something productive that they are satisfied with and that allows you to maintain control over the messaging. This is perhaps one of the more challenging parts of growing an organization and each volunteer who wants to go beyond the typical tasks needs to be treated according to their specificities.

In summary, to grow a mouvement you need to piggy back on existing movements, groups or actions. You need to empower individuals and you must achieve small periodic victories to keep the troops motivated.

5. Exerting Pressure

When civil rights leads met with Franklin Delanor Roosevelt and asked for help for African Americans, he replied “Make me”. By this he meant that the social mouvements must form enough pressure so that the decision makers are obliged to act and have a public legitimacy to do so.

During our efforts to increase government transparency, we identified people within the city administration who were already advocating for our policy. We did this through LinkedIn – which is a powerful tool. We met with these people, off the record, to gain insights into how the city worked and why the policy had not already been done – who was opposing it, who was for it and what were the key roadblocks inside the administration. This is essential information, that is actually easy to obtain, and will pay huge dividends.

You can apply pressure from outside an organization, but your mouvement can also allow people within the organization to apply pressure. When we started the group, there were already people within the city administration who had been asking for such a policy. However, because there was no external pressure on the city, the higher-ups could point out the lack of public support and dismiss the internal demands of the employees. Just as we are competing for the attention of the general public when trying to promote basic income, we are also competing for the attention and decision making time of the powers that be. Our outside group empowered our insider allies to go back to their superiors and apply pressure.

Ultimately, effecting massive change on government or society requires us to identify the current pillars of support for a policy or system and systematically move those pillars of support to our own goals. We do not want the pillars to crumble, as that leads to anarchy (see Libya), but we want to transfer their weight bearing capacities to our structure.

I hope this has been useful information and that you an use it to build a citizen mouvement for Basic Income in the United States.

**Bibliography**

From Dictatorship to Democracy – Gene Sharp
Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow
Why David Sometimes Wins – Strategy, Leadership and the California Farm Worker Mouvement – Miriam Pawal
Bolivar: American Liberator  – Maria Arana
The Black Jacobins – C.L.R James
Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
Ghandi an Autobiography – Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi
René Lévesque, un homme et son rêve – Pierre Godin
The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns – Sasha  Issenberg
The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction – William Doyle

http://blog.okfn.org/2011/09/12/how-to-build-an-open-data-initiative-for-your-city/[:]

[:en]The CBC Must do Slow TV and More[:fr]The CBC Must Do Slow TV and More[:]

[:en]slow-television

Over the past few years I have come to know many journalists at the CBC/Radio-Canada and as a concerned Canadian citizen, I have grown worried about the fate of our public broadcaster. This summer and fall, I had the pleasure and privilege of sitting down with Shelagh Kinch, head of CBC Québec, and twice with Hubert Lacroix, president of CBC/Radio-Canada. The meetings were all a closed-door frank discussions of the challenges our public broadcaster faces in this evolving media landscape.

I went into the meetings as a skeptic, thinking that Lacroix might be doing Harper’s biddings with the cuts he has implementer or thinking that the CBC did not really want to change. During the three meetings, both Hubert and Shelagh expertly outlined the important changes the organization is making to trim costs and modernize its service offerings. They confronted challenges – from Aboriginals who felt left out of the CBC reporting to millennials who hated their simple apps to rural communities who were not getting coverage. They spoke truthfully and honestly and I am now convinced there is progress.

High Tech Solutions

The apps are looking better and specific projects such as the World Cup video player and the Sochi Olympics show the CBC understands the potential for digital tools to compliment and augment content. Yet, the cuts continue and one wonders how much innovation and high quality content they will be able to produce with their reduced staffs and budgets. There is enough commentary on their need for better technology, going mobile and going online – so I will not add to it.

Low Tech Solutions

Though the CBC needs to keep its apps, online solutions and interactive productions up to speed with consumer expectations, there is an area that the CBC has yet to tap. The national Norwegian broadcaster, NKR, recently embarked on a simple, counter intuitive and powerful type of show: Slow TV.

One of their producers recently gave a hilarious and inspiring TED Talk on the subject. The concept is ridiculously simple, film apparently mundane events in real time and show them on television. The Norwegians did a seven hour show that filmed a train crossing the country, then they filmed a five day boat journey from southern Norway to Northern Norway, then a show an 8 hour show that included cutting and burning firewood and most recently, they filmed 8 hours of salmon fishing, it took 3 hours to catch the first fish!

There are a few remarkable things about this. First, over 20% of the Norwegian population tuned in at some point to these shows. Secondly, it build a link between Norwegians as the events filmed were all closely tied to their National identify. And lastly, the shows go against everything you are taught about the modern viewer – that you need action, plot-lines, big budgets and drama to keep someone engaged. Of course, Slow TV cannot replace all forms of television, but it is a beautiful compliment to our frenetic lives and bombardment of our minds with action, explosions and violence.

As you watch these shows, you are forced to slow down your own thinking and you suddenly start to see the layers and nuances that exist in life. You watch someone cutting firewood and you slowly see the scares on their hands, the look in their face and the forest around them. You see details and perhaps you even start to construct a plot. Was this person who is cutting wood a good father? Was he a good son? How did he end up where he is? Of course, you do not and will not get the answers, but just having the time to ask the questions changes the way you see yourself and your fellow citizens.

The CBC should produce Slow TV. They can start with just one show and like the NKR, it should be an annual or semi-annual event. The show should focus on something Canadian and it should help build our national identity. Perhaps the Trans-Canadian train, a long sled ride across the north, a long canoe trip, fishing, or some other event. Slow TV would be a low-tech, low-cost solution that makes Canadians wake up to the need for a National Broadcaster to link us together and maintain our national identity.

No Magic Solutions

Yet, despite progress, there are no magic solutions. A number of interesting statistics were highlighted by Hubert Lacroix. In short, the CBC only receives $29 per Canadian per year and has a mandate to serve all Canadians, in two languages and in six time zones. In contrast, the Norwegian broadcaster, NKR, receives 180$ per Norwegian. Also of note, the cuts did not start under Harper, but have been a continuous trend for the last twenty years. If you also include the current massive migration of ad revenue to online platforms such as Facebook and Google, the CBC is between a rock and a hard place.

funding-chart
It is easy to say, “Be like the BBC” – produce more and better content and you’ll get more funding. However the BBC gets $ 97 per Brit (and there are more of them) and they only have to serve one time zone in one language, it’s like an NHL team competing against a junior hockey team.

Despite the underdog story, the CBC has clearly thought through their options and there are many smart and devoted people working there. They have summarized their strategy in the CBC Plan for Us All, which lays out their attempt to modernize their offerings and go digital. The plan is good, but ultimately not enough. Hubert Lacroix is a very smart man and I believe he is sincere in his attempts to save the CBC, despite what some former Radio-Canada journalists might believe. Beyond government cuts and ad revenue issues, there are problems with the unionized workforce that protects older employees and reduces their ability to hire young digital natives, there are also inherited costs of infrastructure and a perception in Western Canada that the CBC is not worth anything. The list of problems is long, but the key element here is a lack of resources.

At the end of the day, the CBC needs to drive eyeballs and ears to their content and the best way to do that is through high quality and differentiated content – such as Slow TV. Easier said than done. When top-quality productions like House of Cards cost 7 million dollars to produce, for one hour of television and the most costly CBC show ever, The Border, cost 1.3 million dollars an hour to produce, it is clear that the CBC cannot compete with HBO and Netflix. Ultimately the English part of CBC is competing with the United States and so far, Canadians seem to prefer US shows. The CBC could cut a lot of mediocre shows, but that still won’t be enough. And, it is notoriously hard to pick winners and losers based on scripts. The head of a major Hollywood studio once said, “If I had said yes to all the films I refused and no to all the films I produced, I would be in the same place.” With the current funding, the numbers just do not work and there is no clear way the CBC can dig itself out of its current death spiral.

Sure, they could try and emulate some other broadcasters with higher quality reporting. They could try and jump on a variety of internet platforms that the ‘cool’ kids are using, Facebook, Twitter, today and Quartz and Medium tomorrow. Tackling multiple and ever changing platforms is a very hard challenge and likely futile, it requires intimate understanding of the nature of the platforms and constant adaptation to new platforms. It strikes me as unsustainable for the CBC to chase after all these broadcast channels. The only way to bring back the CBC is to produce great, innovative and Canadian content.

To produce great content, in a market that is overshadowed by Hollywood, we need to decide as a society if the CBC is something Canada believes in. At first, I was a skeptic of the CBC’s desire to change or to invest in new talent. They have been slow to move on data journalism, online access to content, mobile apps and data visualization – but they are headed in that direction. Their plan is good and their top brass seem keenly aware of the need to move faster. Now, there remains only one remaining piece in the ‘Save the CBC puzzle’, Canadians.

A public broadcaster is a societal decision. We must decide if we want one and if we do, we must give it the means to fight in a competitive market and produce great content. Each Canadian should contribute, from one source or another, as much as the average of the top twenty countries, 82$ per year. That would nearly triple the current funding and would allow the CBC to actually invest in it’s people, which represent 70% of its costs, and its technology. Frankly, more money is the only solution for our public broadcaster and the only people who can make that happen are Canadians. Canadians need to wake up and choose between a well funded CBC or no CBC at all.

So, in no particular order are four crazy ideas for the CBC.

1. Become a Landlord Not a Tenant.

The CBC is proposing to sell its real estate and become a tenant of newer, more modern buildings. It has closed large buildings in Canadian cities and is downsizing its physical footprint. Instead, the CBC should grow its footprint and use the extra real estate to offer affordable rents to emerging artists and innovative technical organizations who can work with and compliment CBC offerings – helping plant good ideas in the CBC.

2. Move away from Windows and costly web hosting

CBC could likely save millions of dollars by movings its computer terminals away from Microsoft products and movings its hosting solutions to lower cost hosts.

3. Reduce the footprint in Toronto and grow operations in Montreal, or other low cost cities

By moving a good portion of operations to Montreal or other Canadian cities, salaries and real estate costs could be dramatically reduced from the current downtown Toronto operation.

4. Go on a Strike and/or Run

To wake Canadians up to the reality of the funding at the CBC, the staff and administration could hold an unlimited strike. The risk is of course Harper shuts down the CBC, but the upside is he might be forced to increase funding – a little friendly wager shall we say. Hubert Lacroix likes to jog, so perhaps during the strike he could run across Canada – Terry Fox style – to raise awareness for the CBC and its handicap. It could even be filmed as Slow TV!

I hope you will join me in encouraging the CBC and its attempt to modernize and grow for a 21st century audience.[:]

This Christmas, Give Cash

Walking home from the bar last night I came to a dark underpass. Under the bridge there stood a man who asked me for 25 cents. Too often, I would walk by and not give anything, making up excuses, “No change”, “No Time”, or “No Interest”. Last night I did not have 25 cents or any change, but I did have some bills. Since learning about basic income and the philosophy behind it, I am more and more convinced that the ideal way to help others is to let them help themselves. And the best way to help people improve their situation is to give them the means to do it. So, instead of walking past the man under the bridge, I pulled out my wallet and gave him 10 dollars. He was thrilled, opened his  arms and gave me a hugging embrace. He seemed genuinely grateful.

Giving money directly to the needy is growing in popularity. Joy Sun gave a good TED Talk on her conversion from a traditional aid worker to becoming an advocate for direct cash transfers to the world’s poorest, leading her to start GiveDirectly. Another TEDx talk explains well the benefits of Basic Income and a shorter talk by a founding father of modern basic income mouvement explains that a direct cash transfer puts a floor under people’s feet and allows them to stand up. We give cash presents at our friends’ weddings or our children’s birthdays, so why not give cash to the less fortunate?

Of course a 10$ gift to a person on the street will not be enough to change his life, but it is a good exercise in compassion and direct exchange with the less fortunate. Direct cash transfers and basic income do not negate the need for societal investments in infrastructure, education and other common services. Yet, when it comes to helping someone who is down on their luck, cash is often best.

Last year a Chinese billionaire announced he would offer a free Christmas lunch and a direct cash transfer to the homeless in New York City. Thousands showed up for their meal and cash, but at the end of the meal the homeless were informed that the cash would instead be donated to a local charity and not given to the people present. They were understandably angry. Many had planned to use the money for travel, clothes, food or other items of their own choice. The local charity had good intentions, but the point is that no matter how much effort we put towards understanding someone’s needs, we will never know exactly what they want.

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This advertisement above is a perfect example of the complexity of poverty, it states “Why can’t street kids get a life?”. The explanation that follows is unreadable from the distance where you can stand, about 10 feet away, but is clearly long, complex and detailed. It concludes simply “That’s why”. We should have the humility to respect all people and their unique challenges and life stories. To help them, we need to trust them and one way to demonstrate trust is to give them your hard earned money without constraints. Try it this holiday season.

What unites the left and right?

Artwork by Pawel Kuczynski

Artwork by Pawel Kuczynski

The media portrays the left and right as two indissociable social blocks that only speak to each other through talking heads shows. Yet on many issues I have found consensus between apparently left and right wing folks. The question therefore arises: what ties them together when they disagree on so many things?

Reading Jonathan Haidt’s excellent book The Divided Mind or watching his TED Talk explain well what makes the left and the right different. According to Haidt, the left operates on two molar pillars when they evaluate issues: Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity, whereas right wing people tend to evaluate decisions on all five pillars including the first two and adding  Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect and Purity/Sanctity. Both his book and talk are convincing, but they leave out the key element of what binds the two groups together.

On many social issues I manage to find agreement with right wing people – especially on moral questions such as the abolition of prostitution, organ sales, pollution and responsible financial management. In a great article by Fréderic Lordon in Le Monde Diplomatique (# 726) I finally found a convincing answer. Lordon summarizes what it is to be ‘left wing’, he states that to be a leftist is to refuse the sovereignty of capital, and to refuse to let capital rule our society. I would go further and add that this principle is not a leftist mantra, but one that defines progress.

To let capital rule is not to be right wing per se, but it is a form of apathy towards the forces of the powerful. To let the powerful, both individuals and corporate, dictate the rules of the game is to leave an open field for their control of society by the mathematical dictates of money. For most of history this was the case, capital in the form of land and resources dictated the norms of society and its structure. Born a peasant, always a peasant. Historically the poor could never accumulate enough capital to free themselves from servitude and the landed aristocracy were thus secure in their place. Only with the American and French revolutions did we see an evolution towards a different power structure that was less centered on capital accumulation. This was further reinforced in the 20th century after the two world wars, which destroyed a significant portion of our accumulated capital, helping reset the parameters of power.

Perhaps the most important book of this young century is Thomas Picketty’s tome on Capital, Capital in the 21st Century. His remarkable work outlines how capital interacts with society and how in our capitalist system, capital inevitably tends to accumulate at the top of the pyramid. Seven hundred pages might be simplified as “the rich get richer because they start richer and the masses can never hope to catch up”. Picketty traces capital movements in France, England and the United States since the late 18th century and clearly demonstrates the interactions of capital and social power structures. His book is worth every page and though it is long it will change the way you see our modern day society. For an even longer perspective on the role of capital, or rather debt – which is just negative capital – the book and long article by the same name, 5,000 years of debt, outlines how debt and money set the path for slavery, war and control of power.

What I have found in my discussions at conferences, events and with politicians is that the only path of progress is through the prism of a refusal to let capital rule society. It is tempting to use currency to try and quantify everything, we see this even in the environmental mouvement, which is too often negatively labelled as left wing or “tree hugging”. Numerous environmentalists want a cap and trade mechanisms for carbon emissions or wish to quantify the ‘value’ of nature, such as the Amazon Rainforest, and then issue bonds on the financial markets for the forest’s consumption of CO2. But, to place all of human society and the natural world we live in in the frame work of capital is to cede to the desires of the powerful. It is a trap. If we frame all of our decisions in financial terms, we are voluntarily giving in to a world view that will place us under a ruling elite who control the vast majority of the capital in the world.

The path of a progressive society is not through revolution or through higher taxes, but through a shared understanding that capital is not our master. There are certain things that should not be capitalized or even quantified; a Sequoia tree is beautiful as it is, not as a financial bond and a clean river is holy in and of itself and is not simply a sum of its value when bottled and sold. Capital has its function and its place, but that place must be tightly controlled and boxed off by democratic institutions that truly represent the people and their priorities for a society which prioritizes health, equal opportunity and quality of life for all. On that goal, I believe both the right and the left share a common desire.