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The NDP leadership vote is upon us. “None of the above” is not an option. I re-joined the party to vote for Niki Ashton, although (I must here confess) it’s more a tactical boost that I’m looking at, a hoped-for rising of a significant number of NDPers, new and old (or both) prepared to support a left turn for a party that has grown more and more indistinguishable from the Liberal party it hopes one day to replace.

Those of us who are tired of “a little more of this, a little less of that” politics will support Ashton—or what she stands for, at least. She represents, however imperfectly, a politics of difference, and she dares to dream.

But a disqualifying issue has arisen.

Quebec is poised to pass a secularization Bill—or so it has been misleadingly characterized. It’s nothing of the kind, of course. To honour the principle of secularization, in the provision and the consumption of provincial and municipal public services, Bill 62 outlaws the niqab.

That’s it. That’s all it does.

This highly selective legislation, aimed at a tiny handful of women—perhaps as few as 24—will come into law under the Christian cross that decorates the wall above the Speaker’s chair in the Quebec National Assembly. It is only the latest iteration of the nasty and sometimes deadly current of xenophobia that has coursed through Quebec nationalist politics, from the days of Lionel Groulx through Hérouxville and on down to the present day.

Quebec is hardly alone in its popular racism—none of Canada is immune to that virus. But Quebec is distinct in attempting to legislate it. And we should make no mistake about the current initiative: while Quebec’s history of aggressive secularism since the Quiet Revolution is well established, the single-mindedness of this legislation cannot be explained away by rote reference to laïcité alone. How denying a woman the right to board a bus in Montreal advances that principle one whit is anything but obvious, at least to me. At best, the Quebec government is pandering to the dark side of its electorate. At worst, it has joined it.

So where are the NDP leadership hopefuls on this?

If the NDP has a future, Quebec is key to it, and the candidates all know it. Progressives, to one degree or another, accede to Quebec’s right of self-determination. But what happens when that principle collides with other rights? Especially when “self-determination” is a diffuse and contentious concept, covering a multitude of scenarios, whereas the rights of women are much clearer, better established in law and society, and more concrete? The temptation for candidates, unfortunately, is to look for rhetorical escape doors.

Ashton, disappointingly, has hedged. Her attempts to clarify her initial stance sound like waffling. Oh, “sound,” hell—I’m not about to fall into that same trap myself. She has not handled the matter well, and it’s hard to find excuses for her.

Guy Caron has been clearer, but not in a good way. While he “personally” believes that women should wear whatever they choose to wear, and that the state has no business legislating their wardrobe, he has stated that the Quebec government has the right to decide for itself. Charlie Angus has a similar position, if “position” in the singular is the correct term.

Only Jagmeet Singh, whose lack of policy specifics has been rightly criticized, has come out clearly and unequivocally against Bill 62. Perhaps he has less to lose: his candidacy has apparently sown panic in the ranks of the NDP’s Quebec wing, and one Quebec NDP MP is considering a provincial run for the Parti Québécois if the man with the turban prevails. Singh has responded with his trademark grace, but it may well not suffice to keep that wing intact, let alone attract a sufficient number of Quebec voters even to become the Official Opposition once again. Kudos to him, in any case. No dancing—at least on this occasion!

I prefer policy to leadership politics, so my vote for Ashton was cast today regardless. But this has been an unsettling spectacle, to put it mildly, and I, for one, have lost my enthusiasm for the race, such as it was. Given what’s been going on south of the border, the least I should be able to expect is moral clarity on racism and sexism from the one major party in Canada that allegedly speaks for the poor, the marginalized, and working people. With the exception of Jagmeet Singh, I’m not hearing it. And, in 2017, that’s deeply distressing.

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Unto the generations

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There’s a minor thing that has frequently mystified me, particularly in comment threads about US politics, but it keeps happening and no one ever remarks on it. Someone points out that the Republican Party in the USA has had a lot of out-and-out racists in its midst. A Republican pipes up and mentions that, at some point in the past, the Democratic Party was the party of segregationists and had ex-KKK members until recently. The (presumable) Democrat points out that the party landscape is different now since Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the polite and not-so-polite white supremacism has moved to the Republican party due to defections and ideological changes. Then this is the part that mystifies me: the Republican partisan then rejects this by essentially repeating the historical sins of the Democratic Party. They even make make elaborate propaganda videos about it.

The reasoning is really odd and perhaps goes to a deep difference in left vs. right wing mentalities, perhaps? It demands a weird sort of metaphyics that requires that institutions retain immutable essences that are transmitted and remain valid even if the bodies and minds that form the institution are changed complete and disavow their predecessors’ thinking. I mean, the result of the underlying logic is that a black voter who votes Democratic to prevent a Republican with white-supremacist dies from getting into office somehow partakes of the spirit of John C. Calhoun, and a Republican who votes for someone who will cut funding for services in black neighbourhoods somehow partakes of the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.

What strikes me even more is that while I don’t have a link on hand, I must have read this kind of exchange dozens of times, with no resolution whatsoever. It is as though the Republican participant simply assumes that everyone will recognize this metaphyics — that no matter what people do and how they change over time, some sort of fundamental institutional essence is necessarily committed unto the generations, whether they like it or not.

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Lest We Forget

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Everyone knows the phrase: it’s a staple of Remembrance Day ceremonies. But what does it mean?

Lest we forget people we never knew? No. Lest we forget the cause the fallen of WWII fought for (let’s put WWI in parentheses)? I, for one, would hope so.

They were the best and most effective “antifa” we had. As for the current anti-fascist movement, here’s a little history of its distant origins.

Now “the bitch is in heat again.” And the same liberals wring their hands. The Neville Chamberlains are everywhere, enabling, conceding, minimizing, whining about the freedom of speech that abruptly ended in Germany at the point of a gun in 1933. Violence, against people whose core ideology is violence for its own sake? Heavens. Fainting-couches. Pearls. The media, deeply complicit in all this, present us with a veritable carnival of the morally compromised.

I call it self-defence.

If Quebec City and Charlottesville aren’t wake-up calls, you aren’t merely sleeping. You’re dead.

Every day is Remembrance Day—or should be. And if history can teach lessons—which, I admit, is a debatable point—now is not the time for politesse.

Fascism must be torn out of our soil before it takes firm root.

By any means necessary.

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Deep Schadenfreude

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It’s been a rough week for the Right—and for alt-right Canadian spox Ezra Levant in particular.

Ezra sent a white nationalist “reporter” to Charlottesville to journalize on the anti-racist protesters there, and who referred to the neo-Nazis out in literal force as “patriots.” In the background, a Nazi mowed down 19 people with a car, killing one. Even for the US, that was a bridge too far. Revulsion erupted, even within Republican/conservative ranks. The President, who repeatedly excused the neo-Nazis, was excoriated. And in Canada, a red line had been crossed. From his by now heavily-bombarded bunker, Ezra pronounced himself, as it were, “shocked, shocked I tell you, that racism is going on here.” Nazi-schmazi.

Rebel Media quickly began to lose its heavyweights (relatively speaking). Over the side, one after the other, they went: John Robson, Brian Lilley (a co-founder of Rebel), Barbara Kay. And now Gavin McInnes. Sauve qui peut.

The annual Rebel Media hate cruise was scuttled. As comedian Mark Critch put it, “First time I’ve seen a ship deserting the rats.” Kudos to Hope Not Hate.

And now, in an explosive finale (see above), a young Rebel blows the whistle on Ezra’s Rebel Media money-making machine. Almost incidentally, Ezra can be heard blasting his own lawsuit against my friend Canadian Cynic out of the water (@4:30). Heavy damages and costs on a full indemnity basis for my pal are in the offing. Suing in bad faith is frowned upon by the courts.

Levant flailed back, but that bastard is well and truly flensed. And I, facing more work than I’ve had in a while, and tight deadlines to go with it, am taking a little time off, paralyzed with pure enjoyment. If I had any popcorn in the house, I’d be lying on a bed of it, eyes glued to social media.

I’m going to have to settle for beer, some of which I have already consumed this frabjous day with Canadian Cynic.

The bitch in heat again? Nope. I have been far too pessimistic. That dog is dead, and so are her infernal puppies, in utero. Including Canada’s answer to Ettore Ovazza, probably looking just as surprised at the moment as Ettore did when the SS shot him.

History repeats itself. The first time as tragedy.

The second time as farce.

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Apparently I am breaking the law by publishing a photograph of the Canadian flag. My flag, and yours.

I’m not conventionally patriotic. I dislike flag-wavers, as a rule, and those who wrap themselves in them as well.

But this is too much. Canadians should not require permission from the government to publish a picture of our own flag. It does not stand for the Canadian government. It stands for us. All of us.

Want me to take this photograph down? Make me.

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Racism and police impunity

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A police officer (see photo) armed with a metal pipe beats and blinds an unarmed Black teenager who was just walking down the street with friends. The cop’s brother assists in the attack. They break his jaw, nose and wrist for good measure. Their colleagues arrive, and together they cook up some charges to pin on the kid.

Two police forces are involved. Both cover up the incident, failing to report it, as required, to an oversight body. The boy’s lawyer has to report it instead. The oversight body, which has had a shameful history of complacency, finds the evidence so overwhelming that it charges the two thugs with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and public mischief. This, despite the fact that cops routinely ignore the body’s requests for information and cooperation.

The bogus charges against the kid are dismissed. The whole thing doesn’t get into public view until more than seven months after the incident. One police chief defends his man—claims he did not identify himself as a police officer, and, being off-duty, he was therefore outside the force’s jurisdiction. The kid’s lawyer, however, has 911 tapes that prove the contrary. Whoops! The Chief is forced to have an investigation—but gets another troubled police force to do it.

Sounds like the US, eh? But it’s not.

The young man’s name is Dafonte Miller. The city was Whitby, Ontario. The cop is a member of Toronto’s finest. The Toronto police chief trying to alibi the thugs is Mark Saunders, truly the Uncle Ruckus of Canadian policing.

Canada’s cops assault and rape and kill Black and First Nations people with near-impunity, assisted by the judicial system. Meanwhile, they ignore or shrug off the deaths of minorities at others’ hands. In Thunder Bay, for example, the killing of a First Nations woman by a young racist punk is being treated merely as an assault. Her death at his hands has led to no upgraded charges. The perp shouted “I got one!” as the truck he was in sped off—but somehow, this isn’t a hate crime, according to the police and Crown. In the same city, numerous First Nations kids have drowned under suspicious circumstances. Police complicity after the fact—refusing to take these deaths seriously—has become so notorious that a special investigation of the department has been ordered.

In Ottawa, a bruiser named Daniel Montsion, one of the highest-paid police officers in Ontario, beat an unarmed Black man to death in front of witnesses, using reinforced “brass knuckle” gloves. He is presently enjoying a two-and-a-half year paid vacation: his trial will not be held until early 2019.

It goes on. And when brutal cops are (rarely enough) brought to justice, that “justice” has proven to be more than merely merciful. So it will be interesting, in a clinical way, to watch the outcome of the Dafonte Miller case, in the light of so much history.

Justice? Real justice? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America in his own peculiar way, and no one is really surprised—the shock of the man wore off long ago. Trump is an idiot child, all Id, no superego. He was just being himself.

The lede, though, at least partially buried in most accounts, was how the Boy Scouts responded. They booed mentions of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They cheered the POTUS on. As an audience, they were in the palm of his hand.

Nor should this surprise us either.

The Boy Scouts, after all, are a regimented organization with distinct paramilitary resonances, even if arms are not carried during their parade drills. They began that way under “mildly fascist” Lord Baden-Powell, who once extended a friendly hand to the Hitler Youth. In fact Baden-Powell rather enjoyed Adolf’s best-seller: “Lay up all day. Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc.—and ideals which Hitler does not practise himself.” (Perhaps he skipped over all that stuff about the Jews—or not.) As for Mussolini, “the Duce realises that if his Fascist revolution is to live its permanence will largely depend on the moulding of the men of tomorrow.”

Obviously this is not to say that the Boy Scouts of America is a fascist organization. But if we step back a bit, we can see that the same notions of male physical prowess, militarism, flag-waving nationalism, hierarchy and obedience to authority infuse the BSA: the difference is really one of degree. The echoes up through Scouting history reveal no reversals. There is a certain consistency of doctrine, from its Ur-origin as a genuinely paramilitary group during the Boer War (the Mafeking Cadet Corps, which gave Baden-Powell many of his ideas) up to the present day.

Trump played to this set of values, and (as he invariably does) he wove in the notion of opposition. Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt would have understood perfectly: “[T]he specific political distinction, he wrote in The Concept of the Political, “is that between friend and enemy.” It’s a distinction that is rarely absent from Trump’s speeches (and Tweets), and which imbues his politics.

The boys ate it all up, primed by their organizational values to do so. Of course there was a backlash: horrified parents started withdrawing their kids from the BSA, and the BSA issued a self-serving apology for damage control.

That’s reassuring, but not entirely so. We got another peek there at the dark side of the Trump presidency, of its potential for grievous harm, of an ideological infection that seems to spread so easily through the American body politic.

And there is no sign that the fever is breaking. Trump is suffering his reversals and continual well-justified ridicule, but he’s in power, and he will be for the foreseeable future. The next step, if history is any guide, is to turn his attention to external enemies:

Gustave Gilbert: In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Hermann Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Cynical but perspicacious words from a Nazi top dog, who knew what the hell he was talking about. Be prepared.

* Jeal, Tim [1989]. Baden-Powell. London: Hutchinson.

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journo.jpgNot long ago, veteran journalist and editor-at-liberty Jonathan Kay wrote an article about social media “mobbing.” It turned out, in fact, to be mostly a tendentious attack on the Left—there was scant mention of the routine mob action of the Right in Cyberville when Black and First Nations folks raise the issue of racism, or women merely open their mouths—but you know, he had a point. The social media do concentrate and amplify opposition, sometimes for its own sake. It’s risk-free, often safely anonymous activity that, as one person admitted years ago on Usenet, “brings out my inner asshole.”

But let it not be said that the legacy media are above that kind of mucking about. The media mobbing of the woman who is to become our new Governor General is a case in point; one for the journalism textbooks, assuming such things exist.

Julie Payette is, in a phrase, larger than life. She is an electrical engineer, an astronaut, a qualified commercial pilot, a musician who sang with the Montreal Symphonic Orchestra Chamber Choir, she’s fluent in six languages, holds 27 honorary doctorates, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. I would not be one bit surprised to learn that this amazing woman could leap tall buildings with a single bound.

In other words, she’s the tallest of tall poppies. So the professional scribblers, wearing their own relatively minor achievements on their ink-stained sleeves, lost no time trying to cut her down.

And just look what they found! She was briefly charged with assault after a complaint from a vengeful spouse, but the charges were dropped a mere two weeks later. And before that, a jaywalker stepped in front of her SUV as she was proceeding through a green light: Payette swerved to avoid her, but struck the pedestrian, who died of her injuries. No charges were even contemplated: she was asked to provide cellphone logs to prove she was not using the phone at the time, she did, and she was not.

Umm..that’s it. That’s all. A classic nothingburger, with special sauce.

But the hacks have wasted vast amounts of ink and pixels going after her and, by extension, the person who appointed her—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And something tells me they aren’t done with this non-story yet, even if these newshounds were momentarily distracted by the utter scandal of the current Governor General helping the Queen down some stairs.

I urge readers to peruse the articles linked below, all of them, to observe spin in action, made somewhat miraculously in this case because there was no top in the first place.

The “story” broke in iPolitics. The PMO has “no comment,” we are told—which, there being nothing to comment on, is hardly a surprise. But here’s how the MSM set to work:

The background search record shows that on December 8, 2011 the assault case was entered nolle prosequi, meaning the prosecutor opted to not proceed with the charges. This most commonly occurs in domestic disputes because the victim refuses to press charges, witnesses recant, or the district attorney sees little chance of conviction. There’s no explanation in the background records obtained by iPolitics of what transpired or why the charge was dropped.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s known as “innuendo.” Textbook case of same. Triple-distilled.

It didn’t take long for the partisans to use this non-story as yet another stick to beat Trudeau with. “Double standard!” shrieks Robyn Urback, gleefully comparing apples to oranges. She reminds us that Trudeau expelled two MPs from his caucus after complaints of sexual impropriety had been made. The glaring difference in what she coyly concedes is “not a perfect comparison” is, of course, that no investigation of the MPs had taken place, but in Payette’s case one had, quickly clearing her. “Presumption of innocence” is what we all enjoy before a criminal trial, or, by popular extension, an investigation. But actually being cleared almost immediately (or tried and acquitted) is considerably stronger than a mere general presumption before an investigation/trial is completed.

Veteran journo Susan Delacourt weighed in as well, with an article that we social media addicts would call “concern trolling.” Oh, there is surely nothing to hide, nothing at all, why it could even make Payette look more relatably human, but if only the PMO would talk to us here at iPolitics! And she goes on to employ the same faulty comparison as Urback.

The Toronto Star, meanwhile, appears to be on a bit of a crusade. Not only was Payette cleared of an assault charge; she wasn’t charged for an accident that wasn’t her fault, too. But here’s the Star hed:

“Reports of dismissed assault charge prompt questions about vetting of Julie Payette for Governor General role.” Prompt questions? About vetting? As though being cleared of a charge in two weeks—found innocent, in other words—would be something to get her struck her off the GG shortlist? Really?

And here’s the dek:

“Payette, a former astronaut and Trudeau’s pick for governor general, has called the dismissed second-degree assault charge a case of an ‘unfounded’ allegation.” Note the suggestive shudder-quotes around the word “unfounded.” Triple-distilled innuendo once again.

In the story itself, this finding of innocence is transformed into “potentially embarrassing information.” Embarrassing? To be cleared of a charge?

And here’s the Star hed for a later story: “Future Governor General Julie Payette involved in fatal collision months before assault charge in Maryland.” I’ll just leave that there.

Oh, one more. This is the CBC’s hed: “Julie Payette’s vetting for governor general questioned amid ‘disquieting’ revelations.” Disquieting revelations? That she remains innocent after an unfounded charge was quickly withdrawn and she was demonstrably not at fault in a traffic incident?

If anything demonstrates the tribal nature of journalists, particularly those inhabiting the Parliamentary Press Gallery, this non-story should serve as an exemplar. Even a decent professional like Susan Delacourt has succumbed to those tribal loyalties, closing ranks with her fellows. What is actually eating them? Why, the PMO won’t talk to them about it—that is, indulge them in their eager pursuit of a snipe.

So just watch the tribe continue to wring a flood from a damp J-cloth. It’s what they do, when actual substance is nowhere to be found.

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Ottawa police brutality.jpgOf course it’s gratifying to see that Roxanne Carr has wrung damages from the Ottawa Police—nine years after she was brutalized by several Ottawa cops.

But let’s not break out the champagne just yet, OK?

Does the name “Stephanie Cayer” ring a bell? It should. A cop named Martin Cardinal, who smashed her head repeatedly into a car hood—after checking to see no one was watching—got a Wikipedia entry over that one. His punishment was positively Draconian, mind you: he got a conditional discharge, was docked a whole eight days pay, and was reinstated as an Ottawa police officer.

Then there was the manhandling of Leslie DeFazio.

And let us not forget Sgt. Stephen Desjourdy, who seems, in fairness, to be in a class by himself. He received a three-month demotion in 2008 for kicking an unarmed, kneeling woman in the back, smashing her head into a toilet, and then Tasering her twice. Then he lost 20 days’ pay for savaging another woman, Stacy Bonds, just a few days after he had expressed “remorse” for the first incident.

Bogus charges against Bonds were thrown out by an angry judge. The charges against DeFazio and Carr were dropped. Cayer was never charged. And so it goes.

Want to stop violence against women? Why not start with those who serve and protect?

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"Product of Israel"

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A junior employee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency finds himself in hot water for sending a letter to the Ontario Liquor Commission of Ontario stating that wine produced in the occupied territories of Palestine is not to be labelled “Product of Israel.” The LCBO then informed its stores of the ruling.

This produced the predictable whining from the Usual Suspects. The Israeli Embassy got involved, calling it “politicization.” And a spokesman for the indefatigable B’nai Brith Canada, Marty York, demanded that the employee be “disciplined.”

Needless to say, the CFIA reversed course in a matter of hours, and stated that the employee had “made a mistake.”

The Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) allegedly permits the mislabelling. In fact, it appears to state the opposite: To qualify under CIFTA, a good must be “wholly obtained or produced entirely in the territory of one or both of the Parties.”

But wait. The definition of “territory” in CIFTA contains a cunning bit of legerdemain: it is defined, not as the formal state territory, but as the area over which a party exerts customs control. As an occupying power, it is Israel that imposes that control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the prison-house of Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Voilà! Israel’s “territory,” for the purposes of CIFTA, includes Palestine.

Now, in case anyone needs reminding, the West Bank and other occupied territories are not formally part of Israel. Under international law, the territories remain distinct: Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016), reaffirming numerous earlier Resolutions, calls upon all States to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” Indeed, annexing all or part of these territories is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention: Article 49(6) states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” of which the expanding settlement program is in open defiance. Canada’s expressed position is, at least on paper, aligned with that of the United Nations.

Under the dubious cover of CIFTA, however, Canada is now effectively subverting international law by sleight of hand, permitting the labelling of products manufactured in the occupied territories as “products of Israel.” This is egregiously underhanded and wrong.

The interpretation by the “low-level employee” of CFIA, on the other hand, is squarely backed by international law. Yet he or she is the one facing possible discipline for stating the obvious. If there is to be any discipline, I would suggest that the higher-ups who countermanded his or her ruling be required to attend a remedial law course or two.

The politics here, of course, which have seemingly led Canada to flout UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, are that identifying products as being from the occupied territories might make it easier for people so inclined to boycott them—analogous to some degree to the anti-labelling lobby by GMO-content food producers. But here there is a distinction to be made: the latter lobby does not demand that misleading labels be substituted. Here, contrary to the CFIA’s own written policy, which the junior employee was conscientiously applying, the order has come down to permit labelling duplicity based upon the slippery wording of CIFTA.

Those of us who have been critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories have frequently been criticized for “singling out Israel” or applying a double standard by which we allegedly judge Israel by higher standards than we do other nations. But this is the first case that I am aware of where the government agency in charge of food labelling has ordered its staff, but only in the case of Israel, to disregard a policy that applies everywhere else. There does appear to be a double standard in play here, but it’s the reverse of the one of which we have been accused.

Let’s have one standard and one standard only. Truth in labelling is too important a concept to be “politicized.” Anyone disagree?

Photocredit: Garrett Mills/Flash 90 Photo

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