In Tuesday’s Sun: the new police states(s)

NEW YORK – Drive across the border.

That’s all you need to do, really, to figure out why so many Americans are so enraged about the killing of Michael Brown.

The fact that an unarmed teenage boy was shot six times – twice in the head – is part of it, of course. So, too, the fact that eyewitnesses say he had his hands in the air when a Ferguson, Missouri police officer gunned him down. Like he was, you know, a rabid dog.

All of that – the killing of a boy who had nothing between his fingers except the August air above his head – is part of the reason why this country has awoken from its late-Summer torpor, and is in a state of apoplexy.

But there’s another reason for the ferocity of the reaction by Middle America to Michael Brown’s killing. And that is the police themselves.

Like I say: drive across the border. I did, with my kids, and it felt like I was back in Bosnia in 1996, approaching a Serbian paramilitary checkpoint.

It wasn’t just the cameras, which we counted to be about eight, per car. It wasn’t just the general appearance of the border crossing, which closely resembled what the Berlin Wall might have looked like, back in the day.

It was the uniformed folks at the border, themselves.

They looked like they were fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, still, instead asking suburbanites if they had an extra bottle of wine to declare. Military-style uniforms, military-style weapons, and attitudes to match. Pompous, rude, vaguely threatening.

It would be a cliché to state that the mass murder that was 9-11 changed the world. Most reasonable people would also agree that the world needed changing: we’d been living like we were Switzerland, and we needed to start living like we were Israel.

That is, in a dangerous world, one where men in caves possessed weapons – if not of mass-destruction, then at least destructive to the masses, on a World Trade Centre scale – and an unkillable desire to kill us. For our faiths, for our way of life, for our modernity.

So we changed, and understandably so. Homeland Security, checkpoints on Parliament Hill, shoes off at the airport. Oh, and massive – truly massive – amounts of cash, uncritically shoveled in the direction of the cops and the soldiers.

Post-wars, some of the latter drifted into jobs as the former. Training manuals changed. Politicians signed blank cheques and looked the other way, daring not to question the wisdom of rendering ourselves a police state. For fear of being seen as “soft on crime” or “soft on terrorism.” (Ask Justin Trudeau: the Cons do it to him on a near-weekly basis.)

Thus, Ferguson. The killing of a boy without justification – anywhere, anytime – is a crime. That is why so many down here, black and white, are so upset. With a black president in his second term, some of Americans had thought all that was behind them. Apparently not.

But they are in a state of rage, in the United States, for another reason: the terrible crimes of 9-11 were used as an excuse – dishonestly, unethically, diabolically – to justify pumping untold billions into the creation of paramilitary forces where none were needed. To create, as noted, a police state.

The boy named Michael Brown has awoken a nation from its sleep, as it had been drifting into becoming something less than what it was. They mourn him, of course.

But they mourn the loss of their freedom, too.

They should.

In Friday’s Sun: TV is pictures. Warren is unpredictable.

Ezra Levant. Peter Mansbridge. Rick Mercer. Don Cherry. Tracy Moore. Lisa Laflamme. Steve Paikin. Amanda Lang. Ben Mulroney. Dawna Friesen. And so on, and so on.

To some, it is their fantasy dinner party guest list. To others, a convincing argument for reading more books. For the Globe and Mail, it’s “the biggest names in broadcasting.”

Thus, the self-styled national newspaper put together a fun little interactive thing, where people got to vote for the broadcaster who was most trusted, most respected, most entertaining.

My pick will shock you. Shock you!

To figure out who is best at TV, you need to first define what is TV.

To ascertain which messenger dominates the medium, you also have to understand the medium. Because I hardly ever watch TV – even when Sun News puts me on TV – I am the best person to define television.

First of all, TV IS LOUD. What works best on TV – ie., what attracts the greatest number of eyeballs and ears – is the thing, or the person, who is LOUDEST.

There are many, channels to choose from. There are an even greater number of things to watch. To break through the smog of data – which used to be like caviar, but is now doled out like potatoes – you have to be LOUD. Volume works. Subtlety doesn’t.

Secondly, TV is pictures. It is not just a visual medium – it is THE visual medium.

In a contest between words and pictures, the latter will always beat out the former. That may be sad, that may be regrettable – that may be conclusive proof that we are doomed as a species – but it is a fact. TV better understands the way in which our brains are wired.

TV is the dominant medium on the planet, still, because it uses pictures to tell stories, not words. Symbols move nations; syntax, not so much.

Third: TV is all about emotion, not information.

A few years back, as a reporter in Calgary, I was asked to go on TV to talk about a story I’d written. I was nervous, so I studied and I studied. Afterwards, the producer told me I was awful. “You tried to cram in too much information,” she said. “It was boring.”

TV, in its essence, has nothing to do with information, or conveying facts or statistics. It is most powerful – and memorable – when it strikes an emotional chord.

No other medium is more adept at making you cry or laugh or smile or angry – and sometimes all within the context of a single commercial – than television. Newspapers may profess to be preoccupied with minds, but TV is all about capturing hearts. It’s really good at it.

Fourth: TV is irreverent. When it comes to covering a funeral or a notable person, or the tragic death of lots of people, of course, we of course turn to TV first. Those are serious, sad happenings.

But, most of the time, the television personalities who have the greatest audience are the ones who do not take themselves seriously, at all.

How else to explain the Gong Show, or reality TV? How else to understand that the most popular TV shows on the planet are about flesh-eating zombies, or mythical medieval figures who lop off each other’s heads?

There you go: TV defined, in four easy pieces, by someone who rarely watches it.

So, if TV is LOUD, who is best being the LOUDEST? If it is about pictures, who uses them to their maximum advantage?

If TV is about emotion, who is the best at emoting? And if it’s irreverent, then who is best at not taking themselves too seriously?

The guy I voted for, that’s who. We’ve hated each other’s guts, deeply, at different points. We have despised each other in ways that most folks couldn’t begin to fathom.

But if TV is what I say it is – and it is – then only one TV personality is “the biggest name.”

And that name is this: Ezra Levant.

In Tuesday’s Sun: time to panic

For a bunch of people who should be panicking, they sure don’t look panicked.

The Conservative Party, that is.
For more than a year now, the Conservative Party of Canada has been eating Justin Trudeau’s dust.
Dozens of polls have shown them to be slightly behind, or really behind, the revitalized Liberal Party. Dozens of polls have made clear that Canadians want Justin Trudeau to be prime minister, not Stephen Harper. And yes, sure, polls have been pretty unreliable recently.

But, still.

Take a look at the big poll released by Ekos this week. For Conservatives, it was like a double root canal, without novocaine. It was like a two-week Justin Bieber Music Festival. It was like…well, you get the idea.

“This poll reinforces the notion that the now profound lead enjoyed by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is far from a blip,” said the Ekos folks, who – yes, yes – have gotten plenty of things wrong in recent months.

“It appears that the Canadian public are now moving to the centre and left…the Liberal Party of Canada has gone from a dismal 18.9 points in the last election to a muscular 38.7. The very surprising Conservative majority with an impressive 39.6% of the vote has collapsed into a meager 25.6% with the NDP within the margin of error at 23.4%.”

The question isn’t why this is happening, declared Ekos. The question is what is going to happen when a general election takes place next year: “[It] isn’t whether the Conservatives can repeat its stunning majority triumph of 2011; it may be whether it can even hold onto opposition leader status.”


Now, if you were a member of the Conservative caucus – or someone who has sought and won a Conservative nomination in some riding somewhere – wouldn’t that sort of prose have you looking for the exits? Wouldn’t it, at the very least, have you reassessing your election strategy?

Not the Conservatives. They, and their stoic leader, are the very picture of serenity and calm.

In the New Democratic Party, those kinds of numbers would have Gerry Caplan and Judy Rebick scrambling to write self-flagellating op-eds in the Globe and Mail about how social democrats are an endangered species. Those numbers would have Liberals burying stainless steel between each other’s shoulder blades.

But not the Tories. The Conservative caucus, historically a mutinous bunch, remains unified. No leadership challengers have started second-guessing Harper in the morning papers – all anonymously, of course. And the prime minister himself has given no sign that he intends to take a proverbial walk in the proverbial snow.

So, the Conservatives continue to try to depict Justin Trudeau as a dope-pushing, strip-teasing, shaggy-headed member of al-Qaida. They’ve spent millions on that attack strategy, in fact, and millions of Canadians remain unmoved. In fact.

Despite all that, ink-stained wretches – such as the one who writes in this space – have yet to start typing up Harper government obituaries. How come?

Because Harper is smart. Because he undersells and overperforms. Because he is an expert at political rope-a-dope. Because his party has more money than God, and because they have a budgetary surplus, and because we are still the best country in the world.

Because (as noted) the polls have been proven too wrong, too many times. That’s why.

But here’s the thing, and it’s a good place to conclude: what if the polls are right? What if the Conservative trend line is all down, not up? What if the stuff the Con war room used against Messrs. Martin, Dion and Ignatieff just doesn’t work on Trudeau? What about that?

Sometimes, in politics, things truly are as simple as they seem. And that means this:

The Conservative Party of Canada, and Stephen Harper, are going to lose.


Dear Facebook friends

I’ve got 5,000 of you, and you’re all smart. Help me with my problem, please.

Facebook, as you undoubtedly know, has been forcing users to download and use their “Messenger” app. They’ve made it so you can’t stay with the old system.

I therefore read some of the stories about Messenger (you should too). I have no doubt, now, that it violates several privacy laws. It is actually scary.

So I refused to download it.

That creates a problem, however. I am no longer able to receive any messages from folks on Facebook. Moreover, that annoying red dot showing I have messages – messages I can’t read – won’t disappear.


• Is there any way to get back to the old platform? (Unlikely.)
• Is there any way to get rid of the annoying red message notification dot thing? (Please God.)

If you have answers, I would be most grateful. In the meantime, I look forward to Facebook getting its Orwellian ass hauled into court.



Down the memory hole

Several posts have gone down the memory hole, seems. There’s a big glitch when I use WordPress on the iPhone – stuff disappears, and I get error messages. The WiFi up here ain’t so good at the moment, either. Frustrating.

Anyhow, I repeat my offer of a Reddit-style AMA thing. Send your questions and I will faithfully answer – although not perhaps in a video thing (see above).

Have a great August weekend, in the meantime. Was pretty cool last night – it feels like the end of Summer 2014 ain’t far off.