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Monthly Archives: September 2015

Capitalism should be for the many, not the few, book argues: Wells

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By: Jennifer Wells Feature Writer,

TORONTO STAR

Published on Tue Sep 29 2015

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Robert Reich, labour secretary under U.S. President Bill Clinton, has written a book called Saving Capitalism, about income inequality.

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“I have no standing to say this,” says Robert Reich. “I probably shouldn’t.”

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Reich’s blue eyes seem impish beneath a furrowed brow, so, you know, he’s going to say it, whatever it is.

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He’s leaning forward in conversation at Le Germain on Mercer Street, talking wealth and politics and power. The United States principally, but Canada and parts of Western Europe too.

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Slight pause. “I am surprised that the NDP seems to be moving to the right on macroeconomic policy. The last thing you want to do right now when you still have underutilized resources and capacity is to make a fetish over deficit reduction. Our countries have to invest in education and infrastructure and our people. That’s the future.”

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Reich, secretary of labor in the Bill Clinton administration, has read this script before, when the parties on the left “became worried that they had to establish their credentials as fiscally responsible. I saw it in the Democratic Party in the 1990s. Fiscal responsibility is often translated into balancing the budget. It’s completely absurd. The idea of balancing the budget as a goal is utterly silly.”

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What role government must play is central to Reich’s just-published Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. The title beguiles because, as we all know, we’re in a mess. “The issue of widening inequality, the decline of equal opportunity, the stagnation of median wages, [these] have become central issues,” he says.

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This is well established fact. But the political activist, public policy professor (University of California, Berkeley) and prolific author argues now that a “huge misunderstanding” underlies what he describes as a false political dichotomy. That is, between the so-called “free market” and government intervention. “There is no choice to be made between the free market and government. Government determines the rules of the market. The real question is what those rules are going to be and who is influencing those rules and whether the market is going to be working for the vast majority as a result, or whether it’s going to be rigged in favour of a small minority.”

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You don’t have to be a fan of the clear-speaking, untethered Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose run for the Democratic Party nomination is far more compelling than any antics Donald Trump throws down on the Republican side, to assess the existing system as “rigged” or gamed. When chief contender Hillary Clinton asserted last spring that even in economic recovery “the deck is still stacked in favour of those already at the top” she went on to lament chief executive officers making 300 times the wages of typical workers, and how handsome productivity gains have been achieved without commensurate pay increases and on and on. “There’s something wrong,” Clinton said, with all of that.

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“It is gamed,” says Reich of the system, warning of an unraveling of the social fabric “unless the economy starts working for most rather than a small group at the top, and unless democracy begins to be responsive to the vast majority rather than a small group at the top. What we have in store is an ever more polarized politics, a more angry populace, potentially vulnerable to demagogues, sotto voce like Donald Trump, and also mounting distrust.”

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Saving Capitalism is rich in examples of economic disequilibrium. One not often cited is this: “the share of corporate income devoted to compensating the five highest paid executives of large public firms went from an average of 5 percent in 1993 to more than 15 percent in 2013.” Reich adds: “Not incidentally, this was money corporations could have invested in research and development, additional jobs, or higher wages for average workers.”

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Instead, pay packages for top executives are pushed ever upward in a “faux competition,” benchmarked against other CEOs.

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The book runs much deeper than executive winnings. Bankruptcy rules that favour the big over the small, diminished union power, the agglomeration of market power into near monopolies — they’re all explored. Reich packages it all together in what he describes as one big myth and two mythical offshoots.

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“The big myth is that there’s a free market separate from government. The second myth is that we have a meritocracy — that people are paid according to what they’re worth….And the third myth is that somehow redistribution [how much you tax the rich] is the central political question when in fact people are overlooking pre-distributions that are really quite central to why the top has got more and more of the wealth and more and more of the income.” Pre-distributions that are hidden, or baked into, the market.

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I tell him that in Saving Capitalism he lets his old boss, Bill Clinton, off rather lightly in repealing the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. “Do you?,” he laughs. “Some people think I was too critical.”

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It’s a newsworthy topic, given the current long-shot gambit to reinstate the Depression-era legislation that separated commercial banking from investment banking. Glass-Steagall was aimed at protecting the little guy. Wall Street won that fight. “This was a Democratic administration that was essentially saying to Wall Street: do whatever you want to do. This was the culmination of two decades of deregulation on Wall Street.”

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There hardly seems an inch of hope. Yet Reich says he remains optimistic that capitalism can be corrected and made to work for most people. It’s happened before. He hopes his latest book will reframe the debate: “We can’t get anywhere without an educated electorate.”

 

 

DECADENCE

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The spread of junk culture

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Treadmill consumption, growing income disparity, b-grade leadership, they’re obvious signs of a culture adrift.

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In a posh eatery in Sydney’s CBD, the former SBS TV host is discussing his new film about the ills of modern life. Called Decadence: The Decline of the Western World, it explores the rise of porn, the demise of egalitarianism and the spread of junk culture. It examines the neutering of democracy and the unstoppable growth of mercantilism. It touches on the collapse of faith and the fracturing of families.

09 04 15

A PERSONAL NOTE:

IT SEEMS LIKE THE FORMER SBS TV HOST AND THE HOLY FATHER ARE IN ACCORD IN THEIR WORLDVIEWS.

09 27 15

ONE QUARTER OF CANADIANS UNPREPARED FOR FINANCIAL EMERGENCY

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by Andrew Rickard

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In a survey conducted by the Bank of Montreal (BMO), 24% of respondents said that they were living paycheque to paycheque and had not set aside much money for a financial emergency.

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While BMO’s annual Rainy Day Survey showed that Canadians have an average $41,694 in emergency savings, the numbers were skewed by high levels of savings at the wealthier end of the spectrum; 44% of those surveyed indicated that they have less than $5000 in emergency savings, and 21% have less than $1000 on hand.

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Asked how long they thought they could last if they had to live on their emergency funds, one quarter said they had enough money to pay the bills for a year or more, but 29% said they would exhaust their savings in one month or less.

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The survey also considered the effect that not having savings has on Canadians, with 46% saying that they had to take on more debt to deal with emergencies, and 60% feeling stress when financial troubles occur. Even when there is no immediate crisis, 49% say they still feel stress because they lack an emergency fund, and 46% say they feel guilty for not having more money on hand.

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“An emergency fund represents more than just a cushion – it provides peace of mind and helps reduce the risk of increased debt when faced with a financial emergency,” comments Christine Canning, Head of Everyday Banking, BMO Bank of Montreal. “Having the resources to handle unexpected expenses helps to keep the impact contained to that time period, avoiding further financial obstacles.”

 

The Insurance & Investment Journal

Sept. 4, 2015

CANADIAN HOUSEHOLD DEBT CONTINUES TO RISE

The Insurance & Investment Journal

Sept. 15, 2015          

by Andrew Rickard

Data collected by Statistics Canada shows that household debt increased again during the second quarter of 2015.

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Statistics Canada’s national balance sheet and financial flow accounts for the second quarter show that per household net worth only increased by 0.9% during the period, which it says is the slowest pace since 2013. When measured per capita, Canadian household net worth now stands at $243,800.

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The value of non-financial assets increased by 1.8% in the second quarter, thanks mostly to gains in real estate. However, this was offset by a 1.8% increase in mortgages and other financial liabilities, as well as declines in mutual fund and pension assets. Overall, net financial assets declined by 0.1% during the period. As a result, the ratio of total household debt to total assets has increased to 17.9%.

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The household debt burden as measured as a percentage of disposable income also rose from 163.0% to 164.6% in the second quarter. “In other words, there was $1.65 in credit market debt for every dollar of disposable income,” explains Statistics Canada. “Disposable income (+0.8%) increased at a slower pace than household credit market debt (+1.8%).”

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Statistics Canada says that the household debt service ratio, which is measured as total obligated payments of principal and interest as a proportion of disposable income, stood at 14.1% in the second quarter; this is higher than the historical average of 12.4% recorded between 1990 and 2015.

‘Boomerang kids’ stick close to the nest, affecting their Boomer parents’ real estate and retirement choices, report says

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Postmedia News

November 21, 2011

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CALGARY — The adult children of their Baby Boomer parents are continuing to have a large financial effect on the Boomers well into retirement, influencing everything from their real estate buying decisions down to where — and when — they retire, according to the TD Canada Trust Boomer Buyers report.

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Many Boomers plan to move as part of their retirement strategy, with nearly one-third downsizing, but adult children who are still living at home well into their 20s or even 30s are keeping some parents from making a move or causing them to delay retirement while their “kids” are finishing university or otherwise struggling to find their footing on their own.

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“If you have adult children living at home, consider asking them to help with the mortgage payments,” says Farhaneh Haque, director of mortgage advice with TD Canada Trust. “If they are living with you to save money, their contribution to your household finances would probably still be less than they would pay in rent elsewhere.”

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Of those Boomers who plan to downsize, 17% are delaying moving to accommodate their adult children who are living at home — or so-called “boomerang kids” — while 12% who are staying in their homes say they’re doing so because they plan to have their children living with them after they retire.

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Nearly four in 10 (39%) of Boomers who plan to retire in the next three years still have a mortgage on their home, yet two-thirds expect to retire mortgage-free (65%).

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The report also found that one-third of Boomers who plan to move say the move is part of their retirement strategy, while 41% say they will not require a mortgage to finance their home. Sixty-eight per cent want to put down as much of a down payment as possible; 44% will try to save on interest by increasing the frequency of mortgage payments; and 34% will try to save on interest with a shorter amortization period.

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As Boomers near retirement, it’s clear that in one way or another, their adult children are still having a big impact on their retirement plans and real estate purchasing goals.

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Take Mary and Frank Duffin, who are 64 and 67. Frank continues to work and doesn’t foresee retirement any time soon. Their adult children aren’t living at home, but they are having a direct influence on where the couple lives.

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They recently purchased a new home on the same street as their son and daughter-in-law just to be closer to them as they build their own lives together.

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“We’re going to be living five doors away from our son and daughter-in-law,” Mary says. “I thought: What daughter-in-law would want her mother-in-law down the street, but it’s been her encouragement to build on the same street as them.”

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They’ve lived in the same house for several years, but don’t want to downsize into a condo as they near retirement age. “It’s a big step for us to even think of selling our house to do this,” Mary says, adding the whole motivation for their recent purchase has been their son.

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“Our main partners in life are our kids — all the family,” she says. “This is a great opportunity for us to build another home from scratch to be near our (son).”

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They’re not ready for the seniors’ home any time soon and Frank plans to work for many years to come. “There’s no way he’ll ever be ready for retirement,” Mary says, joking.

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She looks at the new home as an opportunity to take the next step in their life together. “I don’t call it downsizing,” Mary says. “I call it rightsizing.”

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Jessy Bilodeau, a mobile mortgage specialist with TD Canada Trust, says it’s clear how much effect the adult children of Boomer parents — living at home or not — have on serious financial decisions such as real estate and retirement planning.

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“We are seeing parents stepping in to help their kids financially, which of course does affect their retirement goals,” Bilodeau says. “If there are adult children living at home, obviously that might be delaying or affecting the retirement strategies of parents.”

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It’s a trend that has increased in recent years, but one Bilodeau expects to continue. “The cost of education isn’t going down, the cost of living hasn’t gone down and rent definitely hasn’t gone down,” she says. “We see most parents are willing to help out their kids in some way.”

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That help often brings with it some serious financial considerations, though. Even paying an extra $100 a month can substantially reduce your amortization, or the length of time remaining on your mortgage, Bilodeau says.

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Aside from increasing your mortgage payment, Boomers may also take advantage of weekly or bi-weekly payments. By making smaller, more frequent payments, you can reduce the interest costs of owning a home and pay off your mortgage faster.

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Making lump sum payments when you have extra cash, such as a tax refund, will also help homeowners become mortgage-free sooner. “That could potentially cut years off your mortgage,” Bilodeau says.

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Adult children will undoubtedly continue to have some effect on Boomer parents and their retirement plans, so just be wise about your choices and build that into your long-term financial strategy

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For the Duffins, the decision to build a new home at a later stage in life was a no-brainer. “We’ve got a great family and that’s what it’s all about,” Mary says.

 

 

America’s Decadence

Signals the end of an Empire?

IS TRUMP RIGHT?

    U.S. Economy

    May 5, 2014

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Sir John Glubb, a British author and lecturer, argued that most empires generally don’t last longer than 250 years.

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Greek Empire? 231 years. Roman Empire? 207 years. Ottoman Empire? 250 years. Romanov Russian Empire? 234 years. British Empire? 250 years.

The United States of America?

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Well, we’re sitting at a ripe old age of 237 and deep in the midst of what Glubb called the Age of Decadence — the final stage of an empire that is marked by defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity, and the Welfare State.

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But we’re too big and powerful to fail! This is America, the land of freedom and opportunity.

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I’m sure the Greeks and the Romans felt much the same way.

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The fall of the Greek empire is, among other things, a story of a top-heavy government that could not tax enough producers to sustain a growing number of bureaucrats.

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Conflict and competition between city-states destroyed a sense of national unity. And the citizens were more interested in living the good life than in nurturing their culture.

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The demise of ancient Rome has been assigned to many culprits. The empire became a dictatorship, with the citizens removed from the act of governing. Heavy taxes were paid by the provinces to support the luxuries of Rome. To pay for their excesses, emperors devalued the currency. And a generous welfare state, manipulated by elites to gain power, eventually bankrupted the empire.

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But that was hundreds of years ago. Things are different now.

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Really? Let’s see …

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American citizens have never been more affluent.

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We have wondrous new discoveries of oil and natural gas; the biggest threat to our national health is obesity, not hunger;

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we have easy access to the greatest technology in the world; we have the world’s strongest military; and we enjoy a relatively stable system of government.

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We are on a course of destruction and decay that has struck down too many countries before us. As a nation, we have lost sight of our founding principles of liberty and the pursuit of prosperity.

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The Age of Decadence

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We have become a nation that pursues a policy of enforced equality, rather than unconstrained opportunity and liberty.

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We have become a nation that argues over receiving entitlement goodies, even as we continue to pile up trillion-dollar annual deficits.

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And we have become a nation addicted to debt-fueled instant gratification, spending our future on consumption today.

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The result is the some $17 trillion of national debt more than $148,000 per taxpayer. We have also created trillions of dollars in new money supply that, besides creating asset bubbles in housing and student loans, will ultimately destroy our currency. And our government passed a wasteful and ineffective $800 billion economic “stimulus” plan packed with spoils for its key constituencies — and that was just for starters.

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What this ruling class chicanery has produced are real unemployment figures that show that nearly every fifth person in America is out of work. At the same time, every fifth person relies on food stamps.

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And we have loaned more than $1 trillion of money that we don’t have to college students who can’t pay it back because they are relying on jobs that no longer exist.

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Much like the ruling classes in ancient Greece and Rome, our government is focused on redistributing our declining wealth, instead of pursuing policies that foster the private sector’s creation of it.

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The Dangers of Decline

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The United States is but 237 years old, but her decline is clearly underway. U.S. debts are so large they will never be fully repaid, so a default is coming.

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Meanwhile, U.S. interest rates are so low and government is so reliant on short-term debt to fund daily operations that when interest rates begin to rise, the cost of running American government could spiral out of control, destroying the dollar.

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We’ve seen the fall before. We’re not able to personally recall the demise of the Greeks and Romans, but we watched as Argentina, Zimbabwe and the Balkans suffered political and economic collapse during the past couple decades. During each of the instances, lives were lost, savings were wiped out and families were destroyed.

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Our friends at Casey Research, along with our own Jeff Opdyke, have released an exposé called Meltdown America that looks at the harrowing survival of three people who escaped the collapse of Argentina, Zimbabwe and the Balkans, as well as examines how close America is now to that same precipice. Click on the image below to watch this important video before it is taken down at midnight tonight.

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It may be hard to accept that such a fate is coming to America, but Jeff has offered up some wise advice that comes to mind.

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“To survive, you must be willing to see what you don’t want to accept … and willing to make moves that others will call crazy. Remember: It’s never those who stay behind that survive. It’s those who act to get out of the way of an unpleasant future that live to tell the stories of how it all fell apart.”

In Wealth & Prosperity,

Erika Nolan Executive Consultant,

The Sovereign Society

 

 

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WHY DO WE PLACE SO MUCH VALUE ON ENTERTAINMENT AND ESCAPISM?

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by Manal Ghosain

September 30, 2013

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Entertainment is a booming business. Its appeal continues to grow as it adapts to different formats to keep up with technology. Television has exploded in the past decade or so. There are more channels and specialty channels than ever before—on TV screens, tablets, and computers.

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We have DIY videos (thanks to YouTube and what followed). Netflix is responsible for roughly a third of the Internet bandwidth usage. Social media has become a fertile ground for entertainers and entertainment promotion. And let’s not forget the massive video game industry.

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Thanks to globalization, the insatiable appetite for entertainment knows no bounds. More people are willing to pay for entertainment with their time and money.

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Why do we value entertainment so much?

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Passive entertainment is a form of escapism. It takes us away from our reality and transports us to another world—not our own.

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I’m in no way placing blame or judgment on entertainers or consumers. The purpose of this article is to explore the inner workings of my own mind and desire to escape and share that with you.

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I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with entertainment. It’s the passiveness and escapism part that need further examination.

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Why do we want to escape?

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These are the three reasons that I feel cover most areas.

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Boredom or loneliness: We don’t know what to do with ourselves. The monotony of daily life gets to us and we feel we need some excitement and variety to change things up a bit.

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A TV constantly running in the background, and maybe catching our attention every now and then, keeps us company.

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Fear and avoidance: We don’t want to face something we fear, or can’t bring ourselves to move past the fear and do something about it. We’re scared to pursue what we want, so we choose the most familiar path—turning on the TV.

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Struggle: Life sometimes feels like a battle—traffic, work and family demands, taking care of ourselves and keeping up with what’s going on. At the end of the day all we want to do is forget about all of it and sit mindlessly in front of the screen.

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Escaping has never been easier than today. We have unprecedented access to all forms of distraction at our fingertips. And the most favored escape is entertainment

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Why is entertainment in such high demand?

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Most of us live stressful lives at an ever-accelerating pace.

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The desire to take a break and unwind passively makes entertainment the best option to escape.

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Some of the reasons entertainment has mass appeal are below.

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Easily accessible and affordable: You can stay at home and watch TV, stream Netflix or surf online all day long.

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Social connection: One can line up for a movie’s release and socialize with other people or go to a ballgame and cheer for his or her favorite team. Or talk about last night’s episode of XYZ show with coworkers. Entertainment has become something people have in common and can talk about.

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Living vicariously through others: Entertainers are not only admired for their talent, but how they look, what they do, and how they live. Their lives continue to unfold enticing us to seek more—even if the fairytale turns to a nightmare—we still want to know what they’re up to.

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We also live through our superheroes and their adventures. We become the masters of our domain and have all the adventure our heart desires—on screen.

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All forms of entertainment are okay if we know what we’re doing. And more importantly, we can stop when we want to. In other words, we don’t use entertainment as a drug to escape and avoid.

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Let’s take a look at what happens when we passively escape through entertainment.

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What happens when we escape through passive entertainment?

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There is nothing wrong with using our imagination or borrowing someone else’s imagination to escape, if we want to. But we need to address the following concerns first.

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Depleting attention (mental energy)

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When we escape, we give our attention and energy away without anything in return other than escaping.

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Nothing in our lives changes because we passively watched hours of TV or went to every ballgame for an entire season.

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Just like physical energy, our mental energy (attention) is a depleting resource. The more we spend it, the less we have at the end of the day. Which brings me to the next point.

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Lower brain waves and suggestibility

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Watching TV can numb the mind and induce lower alpha waves that are associated with suggestibility.

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Product placement and advertising have become an art and science that is geared towards one thing only—to convince you to buy what you see.

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Even when you don’t buy into the commercials, the message of the show that you’re watching can seep into your subconscious.

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Guilt and pain

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Escaping as an aversion technique comes with a high cost—guilt. If I’m watching TV instead of writing, I won’t enjoy the show because a nagging thought that I should be writing will continue to pester me.

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Guilt is an absolute waste of energy. Add to it depleted mental energy and I won’t stand a chance of writing anything. I would’ve wasted my energy watching TV and feeling guilty about it.

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I don’t think we need to eliminate entertainment; that would be extreme and uncalled for. But we can do things differently to reduce the negative side effects.

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How can we actively enjoy entertainment?

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I’m working with these steps and I hope they work for you too.

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Priorities and choice

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We always have a choice: face our fears and reality or escape.

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If you tried escaping before and it didn’t help, it’s time to deal with the real issues.

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Before watching a TV show, playing a video game, or surfing the net, make sure that the important stuff is taken care off. For me I would finish my writing before I start watching.

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With DVRs and constant online streaming, there is no rush to watch something right at this moment.

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Leave your favorite show to the end of the day, after you’ve taken care of what matters to you. This will eliminate the guilt and allow you to indulge and enjoy every minute.

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If you feel tired after work and want to rest, do that. Take a nap or meditate, or go for a short walk. Such activities are relaxing but they renew rather than deplete your energy.

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Actively engage

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When you stop using entertainment as an escape, you can use it to inspire and motivate. Entertainment can be a wonderful medium of creative and artistic expression that elevates and educates.

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Watch with intention and immerse yourself in the show. Be selective about what you want to watch. And it’s better to do it commercial free. Record the show and skip the ads if you can.

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Reflect after you watch a show and think about its message and how it affects you.

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Don’t be afraid to drop something. I used to feel if I invested time (misleading thought) in watching a show, I should watch it to the end. If something is not grasping your attention, cut your losses and stop now.

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Time limit

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Any form of escaping can be a massive time suck. Before you know it, you wasted three hours with nothing to show for. So set a time limit for each activity to reduce the risk of slipping back into passive mode.

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Take a break

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Whatever form of entertainment you enjoy, take a break every now and then. A break will give you a different perspective. If you enjoy something, you’ll miss it. And if you don’t, you’ll feel relieved. Then you can make a different choice.

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There is nothing wrong with entertainment, if we don’t place a higher value on it than our own reality and what matters to us.

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When we entertain ourselves mindfully, we won’t need to escape. We turn entertainment into the reality of the moment. We do it with clarity and intent, and when we’re done, we move on—with no attachment or regret. And that can be a lot of fun.

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A PERSONAL NOTE:

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75% OF THE POPULATION ARE STIMULATED EXTERNALLY (ENTERTAINMENT)  – 25% ARE STIMULATED INTERNALLY (THOUGHT).

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DAN ZWICKER

TORONTO

IF YOU WANT MORE CONTINUE

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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ENTERTAINMENT :

DOES ENTERTAINMENT HAVE AN EVOLUTIONARY PURPOSE?

 

February 24, 2010

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One of the interesting things we found about the 20th century was that humans are not really built to deal with abundance. Anytime we have too much of anything, our evolutionary guidance control systems seem to go awry. The human survival mechanisms were designed in an environment of scarcity.

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In the words of John Locke:

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“The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

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We were built to rise above the odds, to survive in spite of adversity and hardship. In that scenario, the resiliency of humans is astonishing. But once the fight is over, we tend to languish and drift. History has repeated the story over and over again. The first well documented case was the fall of the Roman Empire:

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“But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight…. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians.”

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– Gibbon – Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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Getting Soft Does Not Equal Survival

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The Inevitable Effect of Immoderate Greatness….a cautionary tale if ever there was one. What does that have to do with the psychology of entertainment? Well, everything. With abundance comes leisure time. With leisure time comes a desire to seek entertainment. And when we seek entertainment to excess, we tend to get mired down as a society. As Edward Gibbon documented, the Roman Empire fell because of many factors – a wide spread empire that overcame its notion of centralized government, the rise of Christianity, economic reasons, but most of all, Rome fell because most Romans found themselves in the leisure class and didn’t know what to do with themselves. They got soft.

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We’re A Modern Rome, and that’s not a Good Thing

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My personal feeling is that we’re currently following in Rome’s footsteps. The 20th Century was one of extreme excess. The richest parts of the world got fat and lazy. No, not everyone. But on the average, the facts speak for themselves. Over 70% of Americans are fat or obese. If we look at the last 50 years, the percentage of US adults who are obese or extremely obese has gone from under 15% (in 1960) to 41.3% (2006) according to the National Health Examination Survey. And the latest AC Neilsen numbers indicate that the average American spends over 5 hours a day watching TV. That’s 153 hours of TV every single month. Of course, TV’s not the only passive form of entertainment we consume, but it’s by far the most measurable and easiest to identify. Using the internet is rapidly catching up, with Forrester reporting we spend about 12 hours a week, or 50 hours a month, online. Of course, one of the challenges we’ll identify with online time is that it’s difficult to categorize it as entertainment. But let’s say that at least 25% of our time online is spent being entertained in some way (consumption of online video is a popular activity). That brings the grand total to about 165 hours a month being passively entertained, about the same time we spend at our jobs and almost as much time as we spend sleeping.

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 We spend almost a third of our lives being entertained, in one way or the other. This is not active entertainment, this is not social entertainment, and in most cases, this is not intellectually stimulating entertainment. This is sitting in front of a screen consuming mindless entertainment. Humans were not built to do that.

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If one were a Darwinist (which I am) one would have to ask – what is the evolutionary point of entertainment? With the single minded view of Richard Dawkin’s selfish gene, how does our creation of and need for entertainment increase the odds of our genes propagating? It’s not an unusual question. The same question has been asked about art, for example. Here, I think it’s important to explore the difference between a genotype and a phenotype, as the two often get confused when evolutionary questions arise.

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Genotypes and Phenotypes

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The genotype (courtesy of Professor John Blamire) is “the “internally coded, inheritable information” carried by all living organisms. This stored information is used as a “blueprint” or set of instructions for building and maintaining a living creature. These instructions are found within almost all cells (the “internal” part), they are written in a coded language (the genetic code), they are copied at the time of cell division or reproduction and are passed from one generation to the next (“inheritable”). These instructions are intimately involved with all aspects of the life of a cell or an organism. They control everything from the formation of protein macromolecules, to the regulation of metabolism and synthesis.”

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The phenotype is “the “outward, physical manifestation” of the organism. These are the physical parts, the sum of the atoms, molecules, macromolecules, cells, structures, metabolism, energy utilization, tissues, organs, reflexes and behaviors; anything that is part of the observable structure, function or behavior of a living organism.”

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The difference between a genotype and a phenotype is where many nature/nurture debates get hung up on the rocks. It might be helpful to use an analogy, going back to the concept of a “blueprint”.

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The Genetics of Urban Renewal

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Imagine you’re the architect of a new building that is to be built in the downtown core. You design the building to be the best possible fit for the location where it’s to be built. You put together a highly detailed plan for the building, down to where each outlet is to be placed and the finish of each door knob. Then, you pass the plan over to the construction crew. This is the building’s “genome”.

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The building gets built according to your plan, but then your influence over the building is finished. The building becomes a physical object within an environment, and as such, it has many interactions with that environment. These interactions can alter the nature of the building (especially if you’ve built flexibility into your initial design, which is certainly the case in the human genotype) and also, the building will alter the nature of the environment. For example, let’s say this new building was meant as a showpiece for renewal in an older and more run down part of the downtown core. If the building was successful in this goal, one might see it’s spark further development around it, literally changing the face of the environment.

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Here’s another example. Let’s say the building was a 32 storey office tower that replaced a 2 storey run down apartment block. Obviously, that’s going to significantly increase the number of people who occupy the “footprint” of the building. In the old building, we might have had 20 lower income families. Suddenly, we have almost 5000 office workers who come to the building between the hours of 8 and 5, then go home. Any urban planner is going to see the dramatic impact that is going to have one the surrounding area. Parking, services, recreational areas, traffic routes…all these things will have to change to accommodate your design.

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None of these environment changes were captured in your original blueprint, but they all resulted directly because of your plan. These changes, the interplay between the building and it’s environment, is a rough analogy for a phenotype. The phenotype is the “long shadow” of the genotype.

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Evolution is a Harsh Critic of Phenotypes

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Here’s another important fact to consider about phenotypes and genotypes. Evolution is relatively ambivalent about phenotypes. While they’re important to the organism, they serve a perfunctory role in natural adaption. Phenotypes are the acid test that determines whether or not genes get passed on. If the genotype leads to a phenotypical environment that results in higher reproductive success, it will get passed on. It if doesn’t, it dies out. This is the sole driver behind Dawkin’s selfish gene.

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To go back to our building analogy, it’s as if the sole success of the building was determined by how much lease revenue it generated over a 50 year period. If it generated more than all the other buildings in a 5 block radius, your design would be used again and again. Using this one measure of success, all the phenotypical impact of the building – the rerouting of streets, the sparking of new construction, the addition of parking facilities, the very change in this section of the downtown core – only matter if these led to more lease revenue. If not, all these outcomes of your design are irrelevant.

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If we talk about entertainment, I suspect we’re talking about phenotypes, not genotypes.

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GORD HOTCHKISS

 

 

THE GOP’S PROBLEM IS NOT DONALD TRUMP

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THE UNVARNISHED TRUTH

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It’s their voters.

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By David Corn

MotherJones

Sep. 3, 2015

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Only a few weeks ago, pundits and political observers roundly proclaimed that Donald Trump, the reality-show tycoon who’s mounted a takeover of the GOP, would flame out, fade, implode, or whatever. Jeb Bush’s campaign aides were telling journalists that they had no concerns about Trump threatening a third Bush regime. “Trump is, frankly, other people’s problem,” said Michael Murphy, the chief strategist for Bush’s super-PAC. It’s becoming clearer, though, that Trump, still dominating the polls and the headlines as the Republican front-runner, could well pose an existential threat to the Grand Old Party (or at least its establishment, including the Bush campaign). But the fundamental problem for the Rs is not Trump; it’s Republican voters.

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Trump is a brash and arrogant celebrity who is well skilled in pushing buttons, belittling foes, uttering outrageous remarks, causing a ruckus, and drawing attention to one thing: himself. He’s a smart marketer and a brilliant self-promoter. His name recognition is over 100 percent. He cooked up a wonderful ready-for-swag tagline: “Make America Great Again.” He’s incredible. He’s yooge. But none of this would matter if there was no demand for his bombastic, anger-fueled, anti-immigrant populism—that is, if Republican voters did not crave a leader who equates undocumented immigrants with rapists and who claims that everyone else in political life is a nincompoop selling out the US of A to the Chinese, the Mexicans, and just about every other government.

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The polite way to say this is that Trump’s message is resonating with Republicans. And polls show that his support is not ideological. He’s winning over GOPers across the spectrum, from conservatives to evangelicals to supposedly moderate Rs. His assault on the GOP powers that be (or powers that were) is not the rebellion of one wing against another. (Political commentators are so programmed to view party conflicts as battles between conflicting factions.) Instead, Trump is tapping into a current that runs throughout the various strains of the GOP. It’s a current of frustration, despair, anger, and yearning—a yearning for a time when the United States will not be confronted by difficult economic and national security challenges, and when you will not have to press 1 for English and 2 for Spanish.

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Republicans are pissed off. (In polls, they express far more dissatisfaction with the nation’s present course than Democrats.) And they believe the nation has been hijacked by President Barack Obama, whose legitimacy most Rs still reject. A recent Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus participants found that 35 percent of Republicans believe Obama was not born in the United States. A quarter said they were not sure. (Nine out of ten Democrats said the president was born in the United States.) So nearly 60 percent of Rs believe there is cause to suspect Obama has hornswoggled the nation. Meanwhile, according to another poll, 54 percent of Republican voters say Obama is a Muslim. A third were not sure. Only 14 percent identified the president as a Christian.

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These findings—which echo a long string of surveys conducted during the Obama years—would seem to indicate that at least half of the GOP is unhinged and living in its own fact-free and perhaps Fox-fed reality. To top it off, many Republican voters have expected the GOPers in control of Congress to kill Obamacare, shut down the government and slash the budget, prevent Obama from issuing executive orders, and impeach the pretender who inhabits the White House. Oh, and there’s this: Benghazi! So they are mighty ticked off and seriously disappointed. The Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll found that half of GOP caucus-goers said they were unsatisfied with the US government and 38 percent were “mad as hell” at it. Slightly more than half were unsatisfied with Republicans in Congress; a fifth were mad as hell at them.

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Given the psychological state of the GOP base, it’s not surprising that the fellow expressing the most outrage on the campaign trail—the guy who sounds like he, too, is mad as hell—has taken the express elevator to the penthouse floor of the polls. After all, he’s the only one in the pack who has confronted Obama on his birthplace. Trump has not renounced his birther ways. He has already made that point for this audience and can move on. (In the past few days, Trump also came close to endorsing another far-right conspiracy theory. He essentially accused Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide, of being a security problem because she is married to disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner and presumably shared classified State Department information with this “perv.” For years, conservative conspiracy theorists have claimed Abedin was a Muslim Brotherhood mole within the US government.)

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The anti-immigrant, anti-Obama, anti-establishment sentiment that Trump is tapping runs deep within the Republican electorate. Many Republicans clearly see the president as a foreign-born secret Muslim with a clandestine plan to weaken, if not ruin, the United States—remember the death panels—and they have a dark, nearly apocalyptic view of Obama’s America. (My email box of late is full of fundraising notes from right-wing groups claiming Obama is about to confiscate all guns, suspend the Constitution so he can run for a third term, relinquish American sovereignty to the United Nations, and mount a military operation within the United States to subdue any opposition to him.)

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If this is your perspective when seeking a presidential candidate who will represent your desires and demands, you are unlikely to be drawn to a politician who wants to gain your vote by presenting a 27-point economic plan or by advocating charter schools. Voters this dissatisfied and this detached from reality will be looking for someone who can vent for them. Trump does that. He also promises quick and simple action to address their concerns: a wall (not  a fence), great trade deals at a snap of the finger, the end of ISIS, you name it. And you just won’t believe how great this country will be after four years of President Trump. A focus group of Trump backers recently conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz found that Trumpites fancied Trump as much for his cut-the-crap manner as for the substance of his remarks.

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As a way to counter Obama, the Republicans eagerly courted the tea partiers and other dissatisfied voters. They rode that tiger into the congressional majority in the low-turnout elections of 2010 and 2014. They whipped up the frenzy. (During the Obamacare fight, House Speaker John Boehner hosted a tea party rally on Capitol Hill, during which the crowd shouted, “Nazis, Nazis” when referring to Democrats.) Washington Republicans vowed they would take the country back from Obama for the tea party. They exploited the Obama hatred, but their often effective obstructionism was still not enough to feed the beast that had carried them into power.

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Though Trump may beg to differ, Trumpmania is not about Trump. He’s merely supplying the rhetoric and emotion craved by a large chunk of the GOP electorate. That yearning won’t go away. Ben Carson, who in the latest Iowa poll tied for first place with Trump, is pushing a similar message—America is going to hell and the nation needs an outraged outsider to clean up the mess. His tone is kinder and gentler (and musical!). But like Trump, he is mining profound dissatisfaction and promising a national revival. Combine the Trump and Carson electorates at this point, and it’s close to a majority of Republicans.

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A Trump-Carson ticket? Maybe not. (But if so, you heard it here first.) The point is, the GOP is overflowing with voters who long for a candidate who echoes their rage and resentment. Whatever happens with Trump in the months ahead, this bloc of voters won’t go away. Neither will their fury. This is the true dilemma for the Republican Party and its pooh-bahs. Trump, the deal-making businessman, is merely responding to market forces. He’s just the supplier. Trump is the drug, and the voters need to score. The demand is what counts.

 

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Twentysomethings sapping their parents’ bank accounts

One in four parents said they spend more than $500

a month to cover their adult kids’ rent, groceries and other bills.

By: The Canadian Press Published on Wed Sep 02 2015

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A new poll suggests adult children are draining their parents’ retirement nest eggs.

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The CIBC survey has found that two-thirds of Canadian parents polled say they’re feeling the financial impact of supporting their adult children.

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Almost half of them said supporting their adult kids is hampering their ability to save for themselves, while 20 per cent say it has actually delayed their retirement.

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“Parents may have the will to help their adult kids but they may not always have the means,” said Christina Kramer, executive vice-president of retail and business banking at CIBC.

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One in four parents said they spend more than $500 a month to cover their adult kids’ rent, groceries and other bills.

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The top two expenses are groceries and other household expenses and cellphone bills.

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The survey of 1,054 randomly selected Canadian parents was conducted two weeks ago. It’s considered accurate within plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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The most recent data released by Statistics Canada in 2011 showed that 42.3 per cent of adults aged 20-29 lived at their parental home, “either because they never left it or because they returned home after living elsewhere.”

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In 2006, 42.5 per cent of young adults lived at home, a marked increased from previous decades (32.1 per cent in 1991 and 26.9 per cent in 1981).

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Monica Boyd, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto who researches the reasons young adults live with their parents, told the Star the rising rate is linked to several factors, including school attendance, postponement of marriage ages and family structures.

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“Living at home is highly associated with going to school, and unlike the United States, a lot of young adults who are attending schools don’t go very far away. They go to school in the area in which they grow up,” she told the Star.

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An emphasis on family and the prevalence of intergenerational homes among first-generation immigrants means that they have a higher proportion of children living at home, Boyd said.

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This includes families from China, India, Southeast Asia and countries in the Mediterranean region, like Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

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But how does adult children living at home affect family structures?

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Boyd said it varies, but the best relationships are ones in which both the parents and children are behaving like mature adults. “Both parents and children have to adapt,” she said.

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“The parents in a sense have to learn not to parent so much, which is difficult when you’re financially contributing to the well-being of this child in your midst. And the children have to learn to stop sliding into being a 9-year-old or a 13-year-old, which is very easy when you have parents who want to parent. There is always a give and take.”

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–With files from Jillian Kestler-D’Amours

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A PERSONAL NOTE:

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A GENERATION AGO A UNIVERSITY EDUCATION ASSURED A JOB UPON GRADUATION.

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TODAY A UNIVERSITY EDUCATION ASSURES A 5 – 6 FIGURE DEBT UPON GRADUATION.

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WHY? 

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EDUCATION IS NOT VALUED UNIFORMLY IN OUR SOCIETY OTHER THAN AMONG THOSE WHO ARE ENGAGED IN THE PROFESSIONS.

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THE PROFESSIONS ARE REFERRED TO AS ‘DISCIPLINES’.

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THAT DISTINCTION IS KEY.

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PROFESSIONAL DISCIPLINE IS IN SHORT SUPPLY IN OUR SOCIETY.

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MAJOR LEAGUE SPORTS HEROS HAVE IT.

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IT DOES NOT REQUIRE A UNIVERSITY DEGREE.

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A DEGREE, HOWEVER,  IS A BONUS BECAUSE IT SIGNIFIES PERSONAL DISCIPLINE.

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IT IS A CULTURAL ISSUE.

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NORTH AMERICAN MILLENNIALS AND THEIR PARENTS ARE PAYING FOR A DECADENT SOCIETY WHICH ONCE WAS AND WHICH WE THOUGHT WAS GONE.

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DAN ZWICKER

TORONTO

CJN

The Canadian Jewish News

August 27, 2016

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Winnipeg community, CIJA to honour Asper family

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WINNIPEG — Over the last 30 years, the Asper family, through their generosity in giving of their time as well as their financial support, has become the dominant philanthropic family both within Winnipeg’s Jewish community as well as the community at large.

Their impact is reflected in the Asper Jewish Community Campus, the Asper Foundation Human Rights and Holocaust Studies Program, the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, the I. H. Asper Clinical Research Institute at the St. Boniface General Hospital and the Lyric Theatre at Assiniboine Park, named after late family patriarch Izzy Asper’s family-owned movie theatre in rural Manitoba in the 1930s and ’40s, and – the pièce de résistance – the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which opened last September.

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On Sept. 9, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is partnering with the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg to recognize the many contributions of the Asper family and the Asper Foundation to the economic and social well-being of Canada.

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Elaine Goldstine, interim CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, said some 800 tickets have already been sold.

“We would like to have 800 to 900 people in attendance. This is an event not to be missed,” she said, adding, “The Asper family is committed to community. It is wonderful how generous they have been with their money and time.”

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The Words & Deeds Awards Dinner is different from annual events and awards, Goldstine said. “It is a special honour for very special people,” she said.

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Speaking for the family, Gail Asper said she and her brothers, David and Leonard, are delighted to receive the recognition.

“It’s very meaningful coming from our Federation and CIJA, because we all respect and value the contributions those organizations make and really hope the dinner raises significant funds for them,” she said.

“I have enormous respect for past recipients like the Richardson family [the last Words & Deeds honorees in Winnipeg eight years ago] and recent honoree [Ontario] Premier Kathleen Wynne. To be included with them is indeed an honour,” Asper said.

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“We have all been influenced by our wonderful parents, for whom philanthropy and tikkun olam were an integral part of their daily life. Dad always reminded us not to take up space in this life, but to try to leave the world a better place than the way in which we found it.

“And of course he was passionate about ensuring we understood the concept of being fair-share donors to our community. If we benefited from a healthy society, we had to ensure we were helping that society to flourish.”

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The late Izzy Asper was a leading Canadian tax lawyer who became leader of the Liberal Party of Manitoba and later a Canadian media mogul.

After leaving politics in the mid-1970s, he and a couple of partners bought a small TV station in North Dakota and moved it to Winnipeg. Asper built that single station into CanWest Global Communications Corp., a multi-billion dollar media empire.

One of Asper’s guiding philosophies in life was giving back to his community. He founded the Asper Foundation in 1983 for that purpose and stepped down as CEO of CanWest in 1997 so that he and Babs, his wife and partner in philanthropy, could concentrate more of their time on giving.

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The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was his last great vision. Asper died in October 2003 and Babs Asper passed away four years ago.

Following her father’s death, Gail took up the campaign for the museum and through her tireless fundraising and lobbying efforts over the course of a decade, managed to bring her father’s vision to fruition.

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 In recent years, Gail has been the most visible member of the family in the Jewish and general community in Winnipeg. She co-chaired the CJA campaign for two years and is a prominent supporter of the arts here.

Goldstine said the funds raised from the dinner will be divided evenly between the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s endowment fund and a CIJA project of the Asper family’s choosing.