On the Benevolence of Slippery Slopes: Women Taking the Lead

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/51/KimCampbell.jpgI had the pleasure last week of attending a public talk called “Women’s Voices: What Difference Do They Make?” featuring Canada’s first and only female prime minister, Kim Campbell.

Appearing at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre campus of Simon Fraser University, the former PM sat down with Shari Graydon of Informed Opinions to discuss women’s participation in government, business, and the media. She spoke with ease and humour about her time in politics, relating such anecdotes as the aura of stunned silence which prevailed when, having recently been promoted to cabinet, she disrupted the old boys’ atmosphere by launching into a graphic elucidation of some of her own personal struggles with birth control; or the way the press hammered her during the 1993 election over such irrelevancies as her choice of earrings, or whether it was wise for her to have made a proclamation she never actually made (i.e. “an election is no time to discuss serious issues”).

The moment I had been waiting for, however, came towards the end when, in response to a question from the audience, Campbell talked about a proposal for electoral reform she had outlined some weeks earlier at a women’s conference in Prince Edward Island. The proposal goes like this: every federal riding would elect two members of parliament — a man and a woman — instead of just one. Thus, the perennially out-of-reach goal of gender parity in the House of Commons would finally be achieved.

The plan is not without its difficulties. It would require either an increase in the number of MPs, a decrease in the number of ridings, or, most likely, some moderate combination of the two. I also worry that with the reintroduction of multi-member districts under what is still a plurality voting system, the problem of disproportionality would be exacerbated. In fact, Campbell herself admitted that gender parity might fit more easily with proportional representation, under which parties could simply be required to alternate female and male names on their party lists.

But it was not minor quibbles such as these which captured the attention of Canada’s newspaper commentariat. By way of critiquing Campbell’s scheme, the National Post’s Kelly McParland writes:

Once a law was passed requiring a woman MP in each riding, there would inevitably be pressure to expand the mandate. Gays have as much right to demand more gay MPs, as do transgendered Canadians, and all the colours of the Canadian sexual rainbow … And if we are to introduce gender quotas, should we not also be making provision for aboriginals, the handicapped or any of dozens of significant ethnic blocks?

Trying to be cheeky, the Toronto Sun’s Adrienne Batra takes it a step further:

Create a special case for female candidates and where does it end?

Special seats for the left-handed? Dog owners? Those suffering from male pattern baldness?

The common thread seems to be that any proposal for gender parity in parliament will open the floodgates to other traditionally oppressed groups demanding fair representation of their own.

And this is a bad thing how, exactly?

Why shouldn’t our elected institutions reflect the broad demographic spectrum of Canadian society? Why shouldn’t we expect our representatives to be, you know, representative? Marginalized communities tend to bring with them lived experiences which differ from those of the rich white males who still largely hold sway. To bring about the greatest possible diversity in public office would benefit not just this or that group, but everyone.

Later on during the question-and-answer session at Campbell’s event, somebody mentioned the recently unveiled Up for Debate campaign, put forward by a coalition of more than 100 organizations calling for a televised leaders’ debate on women’s issues leading up to the 2015 federal election. The proposal has a precedent in the form of a similar debate held 30 years ago, and already, both Elizabeth May and Thomas Mulcair have accepted the challenge to give it another try.

Media coverage has been minimal, but once attention starts to pick up, it is easy to imagine the objections. Why a debate on women, the opinion page contrarians will crow, and not First Nations, LGBT issues, poverty, immigration, or the environment? Won’t other groups expect equal attention? Taken to its logical conclusion, this well-meaning proposal will produce an unstoppable proliferation of televised debates the likes of which a Canadian election has never seen.

As before, I fail to see the downside.

Leaders’ debates are some of the most substantive policy discussions that take place during elections. This is not to say they are perfect — their choreographed, over-rehearsed nature makes them about as stimulating as a Stephen Harper piano recital — but compared to the usual fare of self-congratulatory press conferences and BBQ photo-ops that constitute modern-day electioneering, the debates are practically paragons of intellectual vigour.

We need not fear efforts to raise the political profile of women. To pursue gender parity in parliament, to bring to the electorate’s attention issues like childcare and violence against women — these are just causes in and of themselves. But if these priorities also help to embolden others in their struggles for justice, all that does is make a strong case even stronger.

More than 20 years have passed since Canada’s singular experiment with having a female prime minister. Perhaps the time has come for us to think about giving it another shot.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Bigotry Against the Rich: Is That a Thing?

ScroogeSo apparently the rich are an oppressed minority now.

Last month, in what is thought to have become the most widely read letter to the editor ever published by The Wall Street Journal, venture capitalist and former News Corp board member Tom Perkins writes, “I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.'” He concludes, “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

In other words, mild resentment of the rich = the Holocaust.

What evidence does the eccentric Bay Area billionaire (or multimillionaire — there’s some disagreement, but let’s not quibble) cite for this astounding equation? The smoking guns seem to be Occupy Wall Street, protests against Google’s commuter buses in San Francisco, outrage over high real estate costs, and media attacks on novelist Danielle Steel (Perkins’ ex-wife).

Okay, I’m sold.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before we 99 percenters see the error of our ways. Perhaps we could start building museums and monuments to commemorate the systemic obstacles faced by the wealthy. The UN could establish some manner of international day of memorial to mark the injustice of anti-rich oppression. School districts around the world could develop lesson plans to teach children about the hurt feelings and bruised egos suffered by Perkins and his fellow job creators throughout history. Never forget.

Of course, Perkins has been dealt his fair share of condemnation over the letter. Some have accused him of paranoia and megalomania, of trying to use money to insulate himself from reality. Others might be inclined to state the obvious: that if the rich were truly persecuted, they wouldn’t be rich anymore. Even Perkins himself now says he regrets the Kristallnacht comparison, though not his letter’s message. (I thought the Kristallnacht comparison was the message, but never mind.)

All these critiques miss the point. What we must understand, apparently, is that the wealthy, simply by virtue of being wealthy, benefit everyone. Listen to deranged Canadian multimillionaire Kevin O’Leary, for example. “It’s fantastic,” he says regarding an Oxfam report that the world’s richest 85 individuals have wealth equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion, “and this is a great thing because it inspires everybody, gets them motivation to look up to the one per cent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people, I’m going to fight hard to get up to the top.’ This is fantastic news, and of course I applaud it. What can be wrong with this? Yes, really. I celebrate capitalism.”

Exactly. When those on the bottom gaze up to those at the top, they know it is time to start climbing. Only I’m not talking about wealth. I’m talking about the ability to engage in … let’s call it … artful hyperbole. That’s what I truly admire about economic übermenschen such as Perkins and O’Leary. For me, a political blogger, the scent of heaping shovelfuls of rhetorical manure is like perfume, and never in my life have I felt so envious and, at the same time, so inspired.

Just imagine what I could accomplish if I were to take the lessons of these two masters to heart. Imagine the powers of persuasion I too might possess if I would just buckle down, work hard, and — somewhere down the line — learn how to synthesize such potent strains of bullshit all on my own.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Three New Year’s Resolutions for Canada

New Year'sI have never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. The practice always struck me as little more than an excuse to put off self-improvement until next year. But now, with year’s end upon us, and solutions nowhere in sight for the host of problems that we face as a country and as a world, the moment may finally have arrived to exploit this silly annual tradition and appropriate its language for purposes of cynically presenting a false common cause with any blog readers who happen to be into that sort of thing.

With such ingeniously devious trickery in mind, I present to you, O blogosphere, three New Year’s resolutions for the great nation of Canada:

1. Fight Climate Change

The year 2012 marks the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. It also marks Canada’s official withdrawal from the treaty so as to avoid embarrassment for failing to live up to our legally binding emissions targets.

Perhaps not all the blame can be placed at the feet of the Conservative government that has ruled our country since 2006, as the Liberal government that preceded it was infamous for its inaction on the climate file. But current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in his slavish allegiance to Big Tar and the climate distorting effects thereof, has proven himself to be just about the most environmentally unenlightened leader one could ask for short of an all-out climate change denier.

Here’s hoping that in 2013, we start holding our representatives to higher standards.

2. Tackle Poverty

I realize that worldwide anti-austerity protests and the birth of the Occupy movement all took place in 2011, the year when equality finally made its long overdue comeback in the North American public’s consciousness. But good ideas do not come with expiry dates.

It is unforgivable, in an industrialized country, in an era of almost unprecedented material wealth, for 150,000 to 300,000 Canadians to be homeless, or for one in seven Canadian children to live in poverty. And horrendous though these injustices are, they are dwarfed by the heartbreaking extremes of destitution that exist in the developing world, symptoms of unconscionable global inequality.

In 1969, former Prime Minister Lester Pearson famously recommended that industrialized countries devote a minimum of 0.7 percent of their national incomes to foreign aid, a Canadian idea that has become a widely embraced international standard. Four decades later, Canada’s foreign aid level is at 0.3 percent.

This is not acceptable. In 2013, Canada needs to improve its performance on poverty both at home and abroad. And we have to be able to afford it. An adult conversation on taxes is urgently needed.

3. Respect First Nations

Most Canadians benefit from the historic legacy of colonialism. This does not mean that we consciously choose this legacy for ourselves, nor does it mean that Canadians today are all bad people, but this legacy is a fact that deserves to be acknowledged. The country was founded upon the massacre, assimilation, and cultural genocide of the people who first lived here, and to this day their descendents suffer disproportionately from poverty, unemployment, incarceration, addiction, health problems, and suicide.

In the context of this crisis, Prime Minister Harper is making it clear that he cannot be bothered to meet face-to-face with Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence, as her hunger strike is set to enter its fourth week. Her courageous actions, meanwhile, have inspired Idle No More, a First Nations-led cross-country protest movement against the government’s recent omnibus legislation, which activists claim dismantles many long-established measures to protect the natural world, thereby violating the treaty rights of the people who depend upon it.

Indigenous communities are always on the front line of fights against environmental destruction, and all Canadians owe them unlimited gratitude for the sacrifices they make on our behalf. If our government will not respect the First Peoples of this country, then at the very least, regular Canadians of all backgrounds need to stand together with them in the Idle No More movement.

In 2013, we need to actively demonstrate our support for their cause. We need to accept it as our own cause too.

Emerging Consensus on Gay Marriage

Marriage Equality USA

Assuming that the world survives this coming December 21, the United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on two cases in June which could result in the nation-wide legalization of gay marriage.

I cannot forecast with certainty how the court will decide, but supposing for a moment that it rules in favour of marriage equality, the short-term results are easy to predict: conservative commentators across the country will complain of judicial activism, despite having in many cases urged precisely such an overreach one short year before when Obamacare hung in the balance. Right on cue, public support for same-sex marriage rights — steadily on the rise for years — will drop by approximately ten points.

But despite this frothy chorus of apocalyptic whining (maybe that’s what the Mayans were referring to!), the homophobic naysayers will not succeed in preventing a single same-sex couple from exchanging vows. The US Constitution is the law of the land, and the Supreme Court has final say over its interpretation. Gay marriage, assuming a favourable ruling, will be here to stay.

A more interesting topic for consideration, however, is how American attitudes to marriage equality will evolve over the long-term. Will the coming Supreme Court decision be more Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade? The former ruling from the 1950s, which desegregated public schools and marked a major victory for the civil rights movement, was incredibly controversial at the time, but is now almost unanimously recalled as a just and necessary decision. Roe v. Wade, by contrast, the 1970s ruling that legalized abortion across the country, has done nothing to settle the debate over a woman’s right to choose. So is gay marriage more like desegregation or abortion?

I believe it is more like desegregation. Marriage equality can very easily be framed as a civil rights issue, since after all it is about guaranteeing equal rights for a persecuted minority. On the subject of abortion, however, the applicability of equality is muddied by the fact that some people demand rights for women while others demand them for fetuses. Although I personally count myself in the former category, and believe that any depiction of the pro-life community as a modern-day civil rights movement for the unborn rests on a fundamental confusion, I can at least understand how such a confusion could come about and how much work it will take to clear it up. Gay marriage is far more clear-cut, and I see something approaching a consensus emerging over time.

But might it actually be something else that determines the public’s attitudes on social issues? Might it instead be the powerful influence of religious conservatives? If so, gay marriage could be doomed to share the stage with abortion as a highly symbolic subject of perpetual debate whose status is never secured.

Fortunately, I do not think this is likely. Take a look at Canada. We have had same-sex marriage for nearly a decade now and unrestricted abortion rights for a quarter century. While the latter is not nearly as much of a hot issue here as in the United States (perhaps owing to the reduced influence of evangelical Christianity), occasional attempts to chip away at a woman’s right to choose still make their way into Parliament. But marriage equality has not been up for serious contention in years, and that appears to be just how the public likes it.

This does not mean that homophobia has completely disappeared from Canada any more than racism disappeared from America within a decade of Brown v. Board of Education. But after a little time passed and the Canadian public saw that the institution of heterosexual marriage was not under threat after all (at least not from homosexuals), gay marriage quickly lost its status as boogeyman to be exploited by reactionary politicians.

If the United States Supreme Court comes to a similarly enlightened conclusion a few months down the road, I think the American public will look back on the present day ten years from now and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Free Speech, Hate Speech, and Chick-Fil-A

Chick-Fil-A

In honour of Pride Week here in Vancouver, I can think of no better time to wade into the growing Chick-fil-A row currently ruffling the feathers of our southern neighbours.

For those who don’t follow American news (it’s not like we’re a different country or anything), Chick-fil-A is a US-based fast-food chain whose President, Dan Cathy, is known for supporting anti-gay Christian groups. The controversy boiled over in recent weeks with a couple of high-profile interviews in which Cathy expressed his opposition to gay marriage: “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” and “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.'”

While some regard such literal interpretations of scripture as praiseworthy (no word yet where he stands on mixing more than one fabric in a single garment), the mayors of Boston and Chicago responded by saying that the restaurant’s expansion is not welcome in their cities. Predictably, anti-gay apologists like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee declared this past Wednesday Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, and the hateful hordes turned out right on cue.

To my mind, the sight of thousands of Americans lining up at Chick-fil-A locations across the country to show their support — clogging their arteries for bigotry — suggests that government efforts to silence hate speech do not work. The pattern is a familiar one. Preachers of intolerance claim they are being persecuted by an intolerant government, and public sympathy for the poor little martyrs is cultivated. What is really a civil rights issue — marriage equality — is being turned into a free speech one, and millions of Americans are now convinced of the absurd notion that homophobes are the ones being victimized.

A much better approach than that taken by the Boston and Chicago mayors is for reasonable people to make reasonable arguments on why Dan Cathy is wrong. And, of course, for comedians to ruthlessly make fun of him and his supporters. Nothing more effectively demonstrates the ridiculousness of a position than its well-deserved ridicule. But to give homophobes the opportunity to distract the public with charges of censorship is counterproductive and puts at risk the trend of steadily increasing support for gay marriage in American society.

After all, if the goal isn’t to convince the public, then what is it?

The Forgotten Issues of Quebec’s Student Strike

Higher education

The ongoing three-month strike by Quebec university students over tuition increases has sparked near-unanimous outrage from members of Canada’s mainstream commentariat — and not just over the violence, but over the very content of what students are demanding.

What do these spoiled rich kids have to protest against, the pundits wail, when already they pay the lowest tuition in Canada, and Canadian tuition in general is but a fraction of that in the United States? They are unrealistic. They feel entitled. In Andrew Coyne’s words: “The student leaders, at this point, are absolutely delusional in their sense of their importance to the universe.”

What is rarely included in this chorus of condemnation is an honest look at higher education elsewhere in the world. Dozens of countries offer free post-secondary education — not just in wealthy Northern Europe, but also in Cuba, Sri Lanka, and Botswana. In some cases, they share these benefits with international students as well as citizens, and even offer cost-of-living allowances. There is nothing in the Canadian experience that would make it impossible for us to gradually implement such practices. It is simply a matter of using tax dollars to spread the costs around — something we already do with K-12 education.

Some object that students are the ones who primarily benefit from their education, and therefore they should be the ones to pay. But this argument fails to acknowledge that society as a whole gains from a highly educated population.

However, if people decide that students should be made to sacrifice something for the benefit of a higher education, perhaps conditions could be placed on free tuition. For instance, graduates could have their student debts wiped clean in return for working a certain number of years in whatever jurisdiction offers them the deal. The number of years required could even be reduced if the student agrees to spend them working somewhere deemed especially important — such as remote rural communities or perhaps the developing world.

Another common objection to free tuition is that it is highly regressive. Most university students come from middle- and upper-class backgrounds, this argument runs. To divert society’s resources for their benefit, by reducing or eliminating tuition fees, only increases the problem of inequality.

In a way this is true, but we must realize that it becomes less true as the cost of education drops. Tuition fees are a barrier to higher education — especially for those with low incomes. They may not be the only barrier, or even the most important. Some evidence shows that parental influence and early formative experiences play a larger role in determining whether or not an individual will attend university. But while tuition fees may not be the whole problem, they are certainly a substantial part of it. Any comprehensive program to make post-secondary education more accessible for everyone — regardless of one’s finances — ought to include the phasing out of tuition fees.

Equality of opportunity is what it all comes down to. In the current war of words over the Quebec student strike — over the behaviour of that “self-serving, self-satisfied, self-dramatizing collection of idiots” (quoting the inexhaustible Andrew Coyne once again) — I hope that this basic principle does not get buried.

President Obama and Marriage Equality

Same-Sex Marriage

First thing’s first. Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage yesterday should be celebrated. On the heels of similar pronouncements by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, this marks the first time that a sitting US President has taken such a bold stance in favour of marriage equality.

However, just as light can be considered both a wave and a particle in quantum mechanics, every announcement by an elected official exhibits a similar duality. Was Obama’s decision motivated primarily by principle or by politics?

I believe there were elements of both. On the surface, a stronger case can be made for principle. Although most recent polls show a slim majority or plurality of Americans in favour of legalized gay marriage, it is still an incredibly touchy subject. And with Mitt Romney, Obama’s soon-to-be-confirmed opponent in November’s Presidential election, railing against the evils of not just gay marriage but even civil unions, one would think that Obama could safely have continued speaking favourably of such watered down compromises in order to pacify the left — who after all have virtually nowhere else to go — without overly alienating the right. So the fact that Obama rejected this strategy suggests that he acted for reasons other than mere electoral advantage.

However, according to administration officials, Obama was already planning to come out in favour of gay marriage in a matter of months — i.e. closer to the election. Biden’s announcement simply forced his hand. If this is true, the Obama campaign must have seen some kind of political benefit in backing gay marriage — probably as a means of mobilizing the base and portraying the President as strong and decisive.

In fact, if Obama can be accused of cynicism and political gaming at all, it is not for the announcement he made yesterday, but for his failure to do so earlier. The President almost certainly supported gay marriage all along, as he admitted while running for Illinois state Senate in 1996 — back when it was far more of a liability. The fact that, in the intervening years, he stuffed his true beliefs back in the closet (so to speak) reflects a concern that they might have jeopardized his ever-escalating political ambitions.

But different times and different campaign strategies have changed all that. Politics and principle have finally converged to compel the President to make the right choice. This does not mean that legalized gay weddings will immediately sprout up in all fifty states. But the cultural shift is undeniable. Obama has done something without precedent, and it falls on officials in all three branches of government and at federal and state levels, as well as on individual Americans, to act. Will they one day look back upon their behaviour with shame, like those who resisted women’s suffrage and desegregation? Or will they join with the current of history and stand up for equality?

Obama has made his decision. Romney has made his. Let’s see how these next few months play out.

A Manifesto of Hopeless Abstractions

I have started this blog mostly in order to give voice to my political opinions, so I feel that an appropriate place to begin is with the three fundamental principles that underlie what I believe: freedom, sustainability, and equality.

Freedom is the most basic of the three — the axiom from which the other two spring forth.  I define it broadly to include doing what you want, getting what you want, and satisfying your preferences (in preference utilitarian fashion, for any moral philosophers out there).  Overall freedom in a society is a product of the negotiation of these sometimes competing individual preferences.  Needless to say, my conception of freedom incorporates both negative and positive rights.  For example, governments can and should provide the positive rights of health care, education, and income assistance.  One cannot meaningfully be said to be free without the basic means of survival and the minimal ingredients for a good life.  But this is not to dispute the importance of government stepping out of the way when appropriate to facilitate the growth of negative rights.  I am a strong believer in the anti-paternalism of John Stuart Mill: “the only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.  His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”  To me, this means that very high standards of necessity must be met for a government to grant itself jurisdiction over sex, drugs, religion, or expression.

My conception of freedom manifests itself not just individually but collectively as well.  In other words, democracy is not, as it is sometimes purported to be, in conflict with freedom, but rather is its collective manifestation.  (Some might consider “self-determination” a more appropriate term here, but I still believe that freedom is at the heart of my axiom, and I do not wish to dilute it with endless rewordings and qualifications.)  Democracy, according to this line of thinking, should be defended, broadened, and deepened.  In general, consensus is to be preferred over majoritarianism, decentralization over centralization, and participation over representation.  Furthermore, democracy ought to be expanded to realms beyond the political.  The economy, for instance, is in crucial need of democratization through well-designed government regulation and growth of the public sector, as well as increased unionization and the spread of cooperatives.

So where do sustainability and equality fit in?  Beginning with sustainability, it goes without saying that any value derived from freedom is limited by time — by how long it lasts.  And with air and water quality, natural resources, the global climate, and the integrity of ecosystems on which we depend for survival all under threat from the excesses of our civilization, it is not entirely clear how much longer the “good life” will last.  It it therefore imperative, for the sake of holding on to what we have, that we view each individual and collective decision we make through the lens of environmental sustainability.

What is more, we must recognize that it is not only humans whose freedom is important, but all those sentient beings who are on the front lines of the ecological damage that we cause.  It may sound strange to speak of the freedom of animals, for they lack rationality and human language, and for the most part are probably without self-awareness.  But the basic mark of inherent moral worth, as Jeremy Bentham noted, is the ability to feel pleasure and pain.  Just like us, animals are drawn to pleasure and repelled by pain, and we are obliged to fairly weigh these preferences (or proto-preferences) against our own.  To consider only human interests when altering the natural world is the height of selfishness and arrogance.  Other species too deserve our consideration.

Which brings us to equality — by which I mean economic equality, sexual equality, racial equality, intergenerational equality, and even inter-species equality (with qualifications).  The principle of diminishing marginal utility states, plainly speaking, that the more you have of something, the less you want of any additional unit.  One more dollar in the hands of a millionaire, for instance, while he or she will still certainly want it, will not be nearly as appreciated as it is in the hands of a welfare recipient.  This principle is the line that connects freedom (as broadly defined by me) and equality — two values that are commonly (and wrongly) thought to be locked in an eternal battle of mutual exclusivity.  In fact, those on the bottom must be lifted up in order to satisfy their preferences and truly experience freedom, and in a finite world this can only realistically happen if those on top are knocked down a peg.

This is not to say that we must be in a state of absolute equality.  There is some truth to the conservative claim, for instance, that some economic inequality is necessary to provide incentives for good work.  All that I say is that because of the principle of diminishing marginal utility, the burden of proof must be on those who resist calls for greater equality.  It is hard to deny that in today’s world, and in most of its countries, current levels of inequality are far higher than they need to be (to say nothing of the shaky link that exists between riches and merit in our imperfect world).  Accordingly, it is reasonable to judge any policy proposal in part by how it affects the haves and how it affects the have-nots.

So that, briefly, is what I believe.  The principles of freedom, sustainability, and equality are what inform my pie-in-the-sky vision of utopia: a diverse, decentralized, participatory democracy; structured around a strongly civil libertarian constitution; and coexisting with a zero-growth, de-centrally planned economy leaning towards the libertarian or associational end of the socialist spectrum.  I hope to continue to expand on these themes in future posts, as current events unfold and as new ideas come to me.  Thank you for reading!