politics

Ralph Nader On Democracy, Optimism and His Life as an Outspoken Citizen

Renowned progressive Ralph Nader certainly has no shortage of descriptions that can be attached to him: author, outspoken consumer advocate, lawyer, environmentalist,  public citizen,  the list goes on. But to many – especially those of us who were born from the 1970s on-wards, Nader is probably best known for challenging the dominate two party system in America as a four time presidential candidate, running both as an independent, and under the banner of the Green Party.

His presidential efforts include his controversial run in the 2000 election,  when some progressives and former allies blamed his campaign for siphoning off votes from democrats in critical swing states and causing Al Gore to narrowly lose the presidency to George Bush.

But the true extent of Ralph Nader’s contributions as an individual to American society, go far beyond any debate as to the positive or negative impact of his presidential runs. Many of the institutions and the key regulations that are taken for granted in the United States today  – things that protect consumer rights, democracy, ralph-nader-12and the environment – are virtually the direct result of his  work. This includes such things as the EPA, The Freedom of Information Act, The Clean Air and Water acts, and countless other pieces of crucial federal legislation  which were enacted into law in the 60s and 70s thanks to Nader’s efforts along with the public interest institutions he founded.

He first came to prominence in the 1960s when he took on the large U.S. car manufacturers such as GM over known design and safety flaws that they allowed to be built into their models vehicles. His research and findings led to his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed, which in turn helped usher in –  by an unanimous vote in congress –  the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act which gave the government new oversight powers into the safe design of cars and roads.

Now, Ralph Nader is out with a Nader_ToldYouSo_150dpi_1024x1024new book called Told You So, The Big Book of Weekly Columns. It’s a collection of his best weekly column that he has been writing since 1972 and covers subjects ranging from coporate crime, and foreign policy, to the media, and health care. It’s a compelling and fascinating look at the determined work of one of America’s most outspoken and progressive figures. I reached Ralph Nader by phone at a studio in Washington, D.C.

Two New Documentary Films: 1) Tiny – A Story About Living Small & 2) Caucus

This week a look at two new documentary films, which played at this year’s Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto.

First up – Tiny A Story About Living Small takes a look at the new movement of living small in a big way.

We North Americans are known for our love of material things, including large houses. But a growing community of individuals and couples have started questioning the more is better paradigm and have begun experimenting just how little we need to be happy.  One of the most interesting examples of this are the self-proclaimed “Tiny Housers” – people who have have opted to radically downsize their lives by building and living in tiny houses 200 square feet or less, a size no bigger than your average parking space!

Filmmakers Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith

Filmmakers Merete Mueller and Christopher Smith

Now the new film Tiny – A Story About Living Small takes a look at this trend of small living. The filmmaking team of Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller document their own journey of building a tiny home (despite having no previous experience building) and also profile six families who have opted for the small house lifestyle and the reasons they decided to so radically simplify and downsize their lives.To find out more about the film and about Tiny houses check them out at http://tiny-themovie.com/

And in the second half, Caucus is a rare behind the scenes look at the ground battle of american presidential politics. The film by AJ Schnack and Nathan Truesdell follows the 2012 Republican Iowa Caucus and documents the nine often lonely months the 8 republican candidates – From Michelle Bachmann to Mitt Romney spent traveling, stumping and campaigning around Iowa in the lead up to that states “first in the nation” primary vote.  From corn dogs to lonely town halls, it’s a look at the bizarre nature, spectacle and life of being a presidential hopeful.

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It’s a verite look into american politics we haven’t seen since 1993’s The War Room. You can find out more at http://caucusfilm.com/

Canadian Children’s Performer Fred Penner – Making a positive difference in the life of a child

Well if you’re like me, and belong to a certain generation of Canadians, who grew up in the 80s and 90s, there’s a good chance that hearing the name Fred Penner triggers a series of fond memories from childhood. That’s because Fred Penner was the man behind Fred Penner’s place, a popular children’s television show that ran on CBC from 1985 to 1997.

growingup6Over the course of almost 1000 episodes,  Fred Penner entertained his young viewers with stories, music, and words (you might remember the famous “Word Bird”) and in the process influenced an entire generation of young Canadians.

Fred Penner with The Cat Came Back

Fred Penner with The Cat Came Back

Fred Penner grew up in Winnipeg, and from a young age developed a love for music.  But it was through playing songs for his younger sister Suzy, who was born with Down’s Syndrome, that he came to see music as a way to connect and make a positive difference in the life of children.

After graduating after from the University of Winnipeg, he started performing and touring around Canada both as a solo musician and as a member of various groups and acts. But it was in 1979 when he recorded His first LP of songs for children, The Cat Came Back that his career really took off. The album became hugely popular, and went on to sell more than 150,000 copies in Canada alone.

The success got him noticed by popular childhood musician Raffi, who invited Penner to tour with him around North America. And after a few years of performing both with Raffi and as a solo artist to ever increasing audiences, Penner was approached by the CBC and asked if he would be interested in developing a children’s show based around his musical performances.

And so Fred Penner’s place born, and it quickly became one of the most popular and beloved children’s shows on TV.   His warmth and his obvious love for music endeared Fred Penner to a generation.   And although the show was abruptly cancelled by CBC 1997, Penner never stopped believing in the importance of what he was doing, and  continued performing and positively connecting with young people right up to the present.

He’s recipient of the Order of Canada and multiple Juno Awards.  And when he’s not busy performing, he’s actively involved with numerous children organizations and causes. I can only imagine how thoroughly impressed my 5 year old self would be that I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with Fred Penner in person!

Fred Penner with Kevin Caners

Fred Penner with Kevin Caners

Journalist Carl Honoré on ‘The Slow Fix’: Finding Our Slow Mojo

It’s fairly safe to say that we are a society enamoured, if not outright obsessed, with quick and easy solutions. Practically everywhere you turn we’re bombarded with promises of how in 5-easy-steps or 6-minutes-a-day we can achieve a flat stomach, earn more money from home, or cultivate the perfect marriage.

Carl Honoré author of The Slow Fix

You can see it in how we treat our problems from business to politics. Underperforming sports team? Fire the coach! Rising crime? Put in mandatory minimums!

But in his new book The Slow Fix: Solve Problems, Work Smarter and Live Better in a World Addicted to Speed Journalist Carl Honoré makes a compelling case that our problems are rarely as simple as we like to imagine, and that when we go for the quick fix, often it means we’ve failed to undertand the complexity of the issue we’re trying to solve.

The Slow Fix

The Slow Fix

So how to overcome this impulse to just do what’s easy? How can we learn to better deal with the issues at hand?

Using a blend of case studies from around the world, science, as well as a touch of philosophy, Honoré delves into the type of qualities that typify successful approaches to finding solutions to complex problems. From looking at the big picture, and fostering collaboration, to admitting mistakes –  Honoré lays out a manifesto for a new way of approaching problems, and shows us that to solve well, often it means we need to solve slow.

To find out more about The Slow Fix, or see some of Carl Honoré’s other writings,  visit him online at http://www.carlhonore.com/

Longtime Harper’s Editor Lewis Lapham on The Flaws of Journalism and Excesses of The American Ruling Class

Lewis Lapham editor of Lapham's Quarterly

Lewis Lapham editor of Lapham’s Quarterly

Whenever anyone happens to mention the name Lewis Lapham – the renowned American writer, and social thinker – chances are that a reference to Harper’s Magazine isn’t too far away. Over the course of the almost 30 years he spent in the role as editor of the influential magazine, Lapham and Harper’s became virtually synonymous.

Although he left his day-to-day role at Harper’s in 2006, the magazine still bears many of his distinctive marks; from its layout, to the style of writing  – even the Index and Readings sections which were created in a 1984 redesign he spearheaded – Lapham in many ways shaped the magazine into what it is today. And although the circulation of Harper’s has never rivaled that of more mainstream publications, an impressive number of people, from Ira Glass to Thomas Frank, credit Lapham and the magazine with influencing their journalistic sensibilities.

Harper's Magazine

Harper’s Magazine

But it’s not just for his role as an editor that Lapham become widely known. He is also by many considered one of the most prescient voices in America today. For decades through his columns and books, Lapham, with sharp wit and fierce independence, has been deconstructing the social-cultural landscape of America  – traits which have seen him compared with both H.L Menken, and Mark Twain.

He came from a privileged background –attending both Yale and Cambridge,  but Lapham has never been shy in criticizing what he sees as the excess, greed and short-sightedness of the ruling elite. He vocally argued for the impeachment of George W. Bush for launching the Iraq War, was openly critical of the Clinton’s,  and regularly has taken to task the mainstream media and press for their subservience to power and unwillingness to tackle the important issues.

Lapham's Quarterly

Lapham’s Quarterly

While he left Harper’s in 2006, Lapham has by no means slowed down. Having long been passionate about the wisdom that can be gleaned from examining history, he immediately went to work founding and editing Lapham’s Quartery a unique publication that takes an issue or topic of current interest and concern—War, Religion, Money, – and examines it in a historical context using the voices and events of the past to bring the topic to light.  

I spoke to Lewis Lapham at his office in downtown Manhattan.

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Journalist Doug Saunders, on ‘The Myth of the Muslim Tide’

It’s an argument that is becoming increasingly common in the mainstream media throughout the west, that immigration by Muslims is undermining the liberal and progressive values of modern democracies around the world.

But in his new book “The Myth of the Muslim Tide”, Globe and Mail journalist questions this argument. And through a compelling look into the history of other waves of immigration, and by bringing to light some compelling statistics, Doug Saunders challenges this idea that western values are being threatened by a wave of Muslim immigration, and digs deeper into the issue.

Doug Saunders, Author of The Myth of the Muslim Tide

Doug Saunders, Author of The Myth of the Muslim Tide

The Myth of the Muslim Tide

The Myth of the Muslim Tide

To find out more about the book, or to purchase a copy,   visit muslimtide.com
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Filmmaker Daniel Cross & on Arts Funding in Canada and Toronto Star Columnist Rick Salutin on Democracy, Citizenship and Obama

Filmmaker Daniel Cross Rick Salutin

Episode two of The Public!

This week award-winning Canadian filmmaker Daniel Cross on the recent culture cuts by the federal government and what it means for the future of documentary filmmaking in Canada, and in the second half of the program, writer, playwright, and Toronto Star Columnist Rick Salutin shares his thoughts on democratic renewal and talks about some of his formative experiences growing up in Toronto.

Activist and Feminist Judy Rebick: On Occupy, Historic Social Movements, and Becoming A Radical

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Activist, author, and media commentator Judy Rebick

For the very first episode of The Public, a full hour interview with writer, political commentator and Q media panel member Judy Rebick.

Judy has been one of the leading progressive voices in Canada for years. She has been involved with many issues from social justice and labour rights to woman’s rights.  She also is the founder of Rabble.ca, the progressive online news magazine.

She has recently published an ebook called Occupy This!  which looks at the Occupy movement in a historical perspective.  I spoke to Judy speaks about Occupy, the Quebec student protest movement, the state of democracy in Canada, as well as about her early transformative years traveling around the world from India to Iran, and how she started getting involved in political action.

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Her new e-book Occupy This is available from Penguin Canada here.

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