A few thoughts on the Kony 2012 campaign

Over the last couple of days, a viral video has propelled the crimes of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army to the consciousness of many people.

The viral campaign has been incredibly successful, but it has also proved to be very controversial. 

This controversy is not without merit. For example, the organization behind the viral campaign, Invisible Children is not exactly clean themselves. For example, they support direct western military intervention against Kony and the LRA, which has the potential to make the problem worse. They also support the Ugandan military, which is also responsible for committing its fair share of atrocities, including rape and murder. The organization has also been accused of exaggerating the facts about atrocities committed by the LRA, although no one is denying how brutal they really are. If you want to read about all this, please click here. 

I will admit that I did pass along the video on both Facebook and Twitter and encouraged people to watch it, but I didn’t pass it along because I wanted people to write to their politicians to ensure that governments commit direct military action against Joseph Kony, nor did I pass it along because I agree with invisible children, or their methods. 

I passed it along because I had been following the story of Joseph Kony and the LRA for a number of years now, and I thought that anything that would increase people’s knowledge about Kony and the LRA would be a good thing.

However, the Visible Children Tumblr does make a very good point about this:

Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on supporting ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn’t helping. Do I have a better answer? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that you should support KONY 2012 just because it’s somethingSomething isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.

While I do agree for the most part with these complaints, for example, I would never advocate giving a cent to an organization such as invisible children, nor do I really believe that this conflict is as simple as the video lays out, nor is Kony the only bad guy, but at the end of the day, the more people who are aware of Kony and the LRA, the better. The danger, once again, is if people only look at this video on the surface without questioning its content. 

Most importantly, I passed along the video because I thought that at the very least, it was a brilliant example of viral marketing, and a model that can be used by any organization with a pet cause.

This type of campaign is both powerful and dangerous. 

However, I do recognize the slippery slope that this may cause, and how providing a link to the video can be seen as indirectly supporting invisible children as well as causing people to think that I believe something like changing your Facebook profile pic and putting up a bunch of posters is going to somehow cause Kony to get captured. 

This, of course, is preposterous.

For me, this whole campaign is similar to other types of charity work, the marketing is perhaps more important than the actual cause.

For example, breast cancer research receives significantly more funding than other deadlier forms of cancer, simply because the breast cancer foundation has a better marketing campaign, and is better at soliciting donations to their cause.

But because this is the case, does that now mean we should stop donating to breast cancer research?

The lesson in all this? If you have a pet cause and a good enough marketing campaign, in today’s digital world, you can build global awareness towards almost anything.

And this alone, at least in my opinion, makes the video worth watching. Nevermind the oversimplification of an issue that is not black and white and the perhaps questionable practices of the organization that has pumped out the video.

Are campaigns like this a good thing? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is the reality that we face, and they are things that we need to be made aware of.

At the end of the day, I hope that the effects created by viral campaigns like this one will be more positive than negative.

Once again, it all goes back to the famous words of Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message.”

Why Occupy Wall Street is not just a flash in the pan

For those of you who haven’t been following, Occupy Wall Street is a grass roots movement inspired by the Arab revolutions which first took shape this past winter and the indignado movement which spread across Spain and Italy this past spring.

Scores of demonstrators have been camped out in New York’s Zuccotti Park — which they have renamed Liberty Park — since Sept. 17 in order to protest what they deem to be the excesses of the American corporate elite.

You can watch a 24 hour Livestream of their protests here

Among the Occupy Wall Street movement’s chief complaints is that 1 per cent of the population of the United States controls more than 40 per cent of its wealth, and this figure is growing.

There is a real serious economic undercurrent to the movement, as many of the protesters are young, unemployed university educated people who are neck deep in student debt without any sort of medical coverage. Many trade unions and progressive groups have also offered their support.

Because of this, the movement has begun to spread far beyond Lower Manhattan.  

Some of the complaints of the supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement can be found in this blog entitled We are the 99 percent. 

A counter blog, showing the views of those who oppose the Occupy Wall Street movement entitled We are the 53 percent, which argues that only 53 percent of Americans actually pay federal income taxes, can be found here.

If the fact that only 53 per cent of Americans pay federal income taxes seems rather alarming, this article will hopefully help to sort fiction from reality. The article cites this study from the Tax Policy Center, which is a nonpartisan group, that points out a large part of the reason that many people do not pay such income taxes has to do with tax loopholes which they can use as tax credits.

Such benefits are given to elderly people for social security payments, child-care tax credits, or even for investments. Another reason so many Americans do not pay federal income tax is the fact that many do not make enough money to qualify to pay them.

The article goes on to argue that a lot of this problem stems from the fact that the tax cuts introduced in 2001 by then U.S. President George W. Bush actually made it far easier for people to offset their federal income taxes.

Of course, as the article states, this does not mean that these people do not pay any taxes at all:

just because 47 percent of households do not pay federal income tax does not mean that they do not pay any federal taxes. Indeed, almost everyone pays some: There are federal taxes for Social Security and Medicare, on gas, alcohol, and cigarettes. Plus, there are also state and local taxes, and property taxes.

Because some of these economic issues are so real for which there looks to be no immediate solution, it would be unwise not to take this movement seriously, even if they don’t as yet, have any concrete demands.

While the movement itself is leaderless, and was loosely organized over the internet, many in the media, like with the Tea Party, have been trying to find a leader, or a “puppet master,” who is behind the whole thing. 

This Reuters article, featured prominently on Drudge Report, asks “Who’s behind the Wall St. protests? The name that keeps coming up, is billionaire financier George Soros. This is something Soros himself, often a target of the American right, denies. Even if Soros, or organizations funded by Soros might have provided funding to the Occupy Wall Street protesters, this would hardly make him “behind” the movement. 

The American left points to the Koch brothers as being "behind" the Tea Party movement.

There have been some comparisons made between it and the Tea Party movement which swept across the United States over the past couple of years. The reason for this, as Addison Wiggin writes in this article, is that both sides have the same core complaint:

Both movements are born in part from outrage over the 2008-2009 bank bailouts. Both feel the “American Dream,” however they define it, is out of their reach. Both feel left out by a ruling class. 

Of course, despite the fact that both movements share the same root cause, and while they would probably agree on the need to curb Wall Street excesses, as well as the hollowing out of the middle class, they differ on how to achieve it.

As this article shows, despite the fact that both groups are generally angry about the same thing, they spend an awful lot of time trying to discredit one another.

While one group tends to hold up Ronald Reagan as their patron saint  and the other rallies against Reaganism, if you peel back the layers, both sides have more in common than one might think. The true enemy of both groups, and the true source of their anger is the growing income gap.

It is this larger story, which will likely begin to take a greater place in the public consciousness in the coming months.


It is extremely rare for a politician to be as well received and generally well liked as Jack Layton.
At a time when the global economy is sinking like a rock and where politicians seemingly give people less and less of a reason to trust them with each passing day, Layton’s importance to the Canadian political scene could not be overstated, whether you agreed with his politics or not.
Thus Layton’s passing at the age of 61, after a lengthy battle with cancer, although not entirely unexpected, sent a tidal wave of mourning throughout the country.
Never in my lifetime have I seen one single individual as completely integral to his or her political party in this country as Layton was to the New Democratic Party.
It seems incredibly cruel that Layton would be taken away shortly after the NDP’s meteoric rise to the role of the official opposition. This rise was largely due to the avalanche of voters in Quebec who likely didn’t even know who their local NDP candidate was, yet still voted for them because they “voted for Jack.”
However, as sad as this news is, there are many things we can learn from Layton the politician as well as Layton the man.
Many of these lessons can be found in his final letter to Canadians. 
For me, the most important lesson is that you can be optimistic and pragmatic at the same time. While Layton was always extremely optimistic on the campaign trail, no one could ever accuse him of being unrealistic, even if some thought his policies might have been.
The letter itself proves this point. While he continued to remain optimistic about his battle with cancer, he also helped to devise a plan for what should happen, should he succumb to his illness.
This is a lesson many people, myself included, who sometimes tend to unfairly associate optimism with naiveté in these times of great economic turmoil, should take heed.
We must always remember, that even in his time of greatest despair, and just two days before his own passing, Layton ended his final address to Canadians with these uplifting words of optimism.
These final words of wisdom are applicable to anyone, regardless of their political beliefs, because, the truth is, people cannot create change unless they truly believe they can:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

It is extremely rare for a politician to be as well received and generally well liked as Jack Layton.

At a time when the global economy is sinking like a rock and where politicians seemingly give people less and less of a reason to trust them with each passing day, Layton’s importance to the Canadian political scene could not be overstated, whether you agreed with his politics or not.

Thus Layton’s passing at the age of 61, after a lengthy battle with cancer, although not entirely unexpected, sent a tidal wave of mourning throughout the country.

Never in my lifetime have I seen one single individual as completely integral to his or her political party in this country as Layton was to the New Democratic Party.

It seems incredibly cruel that Layton would be taken away shortly after the NDP’s meteoric rise to the role of the official opposition. This rise was largely due to the avalanche of voters in Quebec who likely didn’t even know who their local NDP candidate was, yet still voted for them because they “voted for Jack.”

However, as sad as this news is, there are many things we can learn from Layton the politician as well as Layton the man.

Many of these lessons can be found in his final letter to Canadians

For me, the most important lesson is that you can be optimistic and pragmatic at the same time. While Layton was always extremely optimistic on the campaign trail, no one could ever accuse him of being unrealistic, even if some thought his policies might have been.

The letter itself proves this point. While he continued to remain optimistic about his battle with cancer, he also helped to devise a plan for what should happen, should he succumb to his illness.

This is a lesson many people, myself included, who sometimes tend to unfairly associate optimism with naiveté in these times of great economic turmoil, should take heed.

We must always remember, that even in his time of greatest despair, and just two days before his own passing, Layton ended his final address to Canadians with these uplifting words of optimism.

These final words of wisdom are applicable to anyone, regardless of their political beliefs, because, the truth is, people cannot create change unless they truly believe they can:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

If I ran my finances like the United States government

I would live in a mansion filled with luxury items that I paid for on my my credit cards, and when it came time to make my payments, I would complain that the minimum payment is too high, and that I could not afford to pay it, yet I would refuse to borrow the money necessary to make that payment.

However, despite my claims that I could not afford to pay my bills, I would take 90 per cent of whatever money I earned and put it into a safe.

When asked about that money, I would forcefully claim that money is mine and that the big, bad bill collector has no business putting his grubby little hands on my hard earned money.

Quite simply, I would want to live my life of luxury, but I wouldn’t want to pay for it.

I wouldn’t want to give up the nice house in the suburbs, or the BMW in the driveway, I wouldn’t want to give up the swimming pool in the back yard, the home theatre system, the Italian leather sofas or the wardrobe full of designer suits.

I wouldn’t want to give up all the meals at all the city’s finest restaurants, but at the end of the day I’d treat everything as taken care of with a swipe of a credit card.

However, once I looked at my bank and credit card statements, I’d throw a fit complaining that I paid too much, yet received too little for what I paid.

I’d look at how much money I’d borrowed over the years and tell all the people who had lent me money, who were more than happy to continue doing so, that I would no longer be paying them back.

If I ran my finances like this, I’d be forced to make an important choice. Either open up my safe and start spending more of the cash I have hoarded away, or give up on the lifestyle I had always taken for granted.

Likely though, I would have incurred such an enormous debt that I would not be able to pay it off even if I put all of my savings into it.

If I ran my finances in this way, I’d be forced to face the same core problems that the United States government is currently facing.

While this is obviously an oversimplified explanation of the United States debt crisis, the main issue remains that regardless of what political ideology one adheres to, at the end of the day, the United States government needs to pay its bills, and it faces a fundamental choice of whether to increase taxes or to continue to borrow money just to keep itself afloat, thus increasing its debt.

However, the one thing it can not do is refuse to raise taxes while at the same time, refuse to raise the debt ceiling, as is currently the case.

A real slippery slope

When I was news editor and managing editor at Excalibur, York University’s Community newspaper, one of the topics I dealt with most often was the Israel/Palestine issue.

This was always a difficult task to deal with as there are so many accusations leveled back and forth from both the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian sides with such passion that one had to be able to tell the story without providing a megaphone to those wishing to transform a political conflict into a religious one.

In covering such an explosive story,  I set up a few basic ground rules, the most fundamental of which was that I would not allow any of my writers to refer to pro-Israeli students as Jewish, or to pro-Palestinian students as Muslim. There was a real point to this other than the obvious reason that not all pro-Israel students were Jewish and not all pro-Palestinian students were Muslim.

The simple fact is that one could disagree with the policies of the state of Israel without being anti-Jewish and in the same vein, one could also support the State of Israel and denounce Palestinian extremism without being anti-Muslim.

This is why I was shocked today to read in a report released by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) that statements against the state of Israel should be considered anti-Semitic.

I find that statement to be highly unfortunate because, by singling out those who criticize the policies of the state of Israel as engaging in anti-Semitic behaviour takes away from efforts to curb actual anti-Semitism.

This is a really slippery slope because it essentially mixes religion with politics, an abyss for which there can be no compromise.

Even if there are some cases where those who criticize the state of Israel go on to make racist remarks about Jewish people or the Jewish religion, their criticisms of Israel are not what make the comments anti-Semitic, rather it is their attacks on the Jewish people which makes it so.

I find it unacceptable that in a democratic society, one can not criticize the government of another democratic nation without being labeled an anti-Semite.

Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us the freedom to criticize any government we so choose. What it does not grant us is the right to make derogatory and hateful remarks about any race or religion.

The two points are completely separate. At least they were up until the release of the CPCCA report.

While I applaud the efforts of the committee to combat anti-Semitism in this country, I think there is a real need to differentiate between those who are opposed to the state of Israel and those who seek to harm the Jewish people.