Remembrance Day is More Important Now then Ever Before

A commentary on the importance of remembering the world wars of the past.

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November 11th Remembrance Day is once again upon us. In case you are not familiar with this holiday, it is a commemorative day observed in Commonwealth of Nations to remember the members of their armed forces who have died serving their country.  The observation of Remembrance Day in most countries is to remember the end of World War I, which ended on November 11 in 1918.

From: http://www.fborfw.com/stripcatalog/indexholidays.php?q=remembrance

I came across the above For Better or Worse comicWhy we wear a poppy—by Lynn Johnston released November 10, 2013, on social media. [In case you find the above version difficult to read, see For Better or Worse]. What is interesting about this comic is the child in the strip didn’t understand the point of the poppies and even voiced, “I’m not really sure what a war is.”  My take on this comic strip is Lynn Johnston is saying that ‘we remember, so we avoid repeating the mistake of world conflict again.’ Ironically, the first world war, or the Great War,—dubbed the war to end all wars—was thought to be a world conflict never to be repeated. Regrettably, a second world war broke out in 1939. It seems we humans are slow learners.

As I reflect on the state  of our world now, I wonder if we humans are about to make the same error once again.  The New York Times has an article, To Counter Russia, U.S. Signals Nuclear Arms Are Back in a Big Way, reporting  that Trump called on Congress to “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal” in his State of the Union address in February of this year. Trump’s administration claims that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has accelerated a dangerous game that the United States must match, even if the price tag soars above $1.2 trillion.  The Military Times says, “Since his first day in office, President Donald Trump has promised to “rebuild” the military by increasing the number of ships, aircraft and ground combat vehicles in the services’ inventory.” The Diplomat’s article, China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries, reports that China announced that its defence expenditure in 2018 would be over 1.1 trillion yuan ($174.5 billion).  The Guardian reports,

“Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia has developed and is testing a new line of strategic nuclear-capable  weapons that would be able to outmanoeuvre US defences, in a possible signal of a new arms race between Moscow and the west.” It appears that an arms race involving China, Russia and the United States is presently happening. That is not to say other countries are not building their militaries as well.”

That is exactly what happened in both world wars. Between 1890 and 1913, the European powers began building up their military power. This included the countries of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. The reason for the military buildup was primarily nationalism in which each country wanted to be “better” than the others. In the period of time leading up to World War II, Adolf Hitler publicly announced in early 1935, that a secret rearmament had been going on since the late 1920s, breaking one of the terms—the disarmament clause—of the Treaty of Versailles. When I taught history classes, I taught that the causes of World War I were alliances, imperialism, militarism, and nationalism. The world seems to be practicing militarism once again.

I also taught that one of the key causes of World War II, was fascism. Some European countries were overtaken by dictators forming fascist governments. These included Italy ruled by the dictator Mussolini, Adolf Hitler with his takeover of Germany, and the Fascist government in Spain ruled by the dictator Franco. The legal definition of fascism is

“a political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and opposes free elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.”

In my assessment of today’s world, I alarmingly see signs of fascism on the rise. The Business Insider’s article, Nine European Countries Where Extreme Right-Wing Parties Are On The Rise, lists the rise of nine European right-wing parties, many of which have won elections and taken power. The Washington Post article, How fascist is Donald Trump? describes Trump as a semi-fascist. Even in Canada, provincial governments recently elected in Ontario and Quebec are considered right-wing.

Are we living in troubling times? Is militarism on the rise? It seems so. Is nationalism on the rise? Donald Trump has referred to himself as a nationalist. (see Washington Post).  Is fascism on the rise? In the nine European countries article I cited above, it says the Swedish Democrats’ slogan is “Keep Sweden Swedish,” who are mostly known for anti-immigrant nationalism.” That sounds like nationalism to me.

From: https://malenadugroup.wordpress.com/category/political-jokes/

The Washington Post article, U.S. military budget inches closer to $1 trillion mark, as concerns over federal deficit grow, says, “the U.S. Senate [in June] voted to give the military $716 billion for 2019, approving one of the biggest defence budgets in modern American history.” The U.S. spends the most on military spending out of all nations. Think of the kind of world that could be created if just a portion of that trillion dollars—that is 12 zeros—were used for establishing respect, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, peace and equality. American politician, George McGovern, once said, “I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” Former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide.” I concur wholeheartedly. War is suicide on a mass scale.

I hope the world wakes up to what is happening and isn’t stupid enough to make the same mistake a third time. What mistake am I talking about? Another world conflict! As a former social studies teacher, I see many of the pre-war signs. We the people have the final say. We can stop these extremist governments from being elected. We just need to exercise our democratic right, and vote for governments and leaders who promote respect, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, peace, and equality as opposed to anti-isms. These are Christian values which many of these extremist leaders claim to have.  The above For Better or Worse comic reminds us of this. Remembrance Day is a day to remember the horror of  past conflicts, and a reminder to never make that mistake again.  If future generations never know what war is, then this day has done what it is intended to do.

Should We Be Worried?

A commentary on the rise of bigotry

On October 27th, yet another mass shooting occurred in the United States at a Pittsburgh synagogue. A radicalized, American born citizen expressed his hatred of Jews during the rampage, telling police officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die. Sadly, this disturbed individual shot and killed 11 Jewish worshipers during the Jewish Sabbath service. (see Pittsburgh synagogue)

anti-hateWhile watching CNN, I saw an interview with a Jewish Rabbi hours after the mass shooting happened. The words uttered by the Rabbi struck me. He said, “I worry that hatred is becoming mainstream.” These words struck me because he expressed what I’ve been feeling. It seems people feel empowered to express their hatred towards people, such as visible minorities, indigenous people, Jewish people, Muslim people, immigrants, LGBT people, transgender people, and the list goes on and on. This sense of permission to express hatred is not only happening in the U. S. but in my country as well. I began to recall all the things I’ve read or heard in the news this month.

Earlier this month, CBC News reported in an article entitled,  ‘Go back where Indians belong’: St. Albert mother frightened by racist letter from neighbour, that a  woman living in St. Albert, a city two hours from where I live, fears for her children’s safety so has decided to move out of her rented condo.

An anonymous letter, which her 12-year-old daughter found in the mailbox, complained about children riding a scooter on driveways and playing basketball and football on the street. Then the letter said, “We don’t like your kind around here.” The tone of the letter became threatening and focused on the family’s First Nations or indigenous background. The letter told the family to, “Move out or things will escalate. Would not want to see the kids getting hurt. This isn’t a reserve. Go back to the reserve where Indians belong.” The letter ended with, “Your friendly Phase II Neighbours.”

Now I find this entire worrisome incident ironic for two reasons. First, the letter is signed “Your friendly Neighbours.” I would hardly call a letter threatening a family as friendly. The author or authors of this letter is/are hypocrites to say the least. Secondly, it is ironic that these neighbours, presumably white Caucasians, are telling an indigenous family to go back where they belong—in their minds the reserve—when indigenous people have been living on this land that we call Canada for thousands of years before the white Europeans arrived. It was our ancestors who created reserves in  the first place to acquire land for the state. It seems to me that if anyone should be telling someone to go back to where they belong, it should be the indigenous people telling the Caucasians to go back where they belong. I would be willing to bet that the “friendly Neighbours” are ignorant of Canadian history.

Another CBC News titled, Indigenous man kicked out of McDonald’s after racist confrontation says he feels lucky to be alive, describes how an Indigenous man in June was kicked out of one of the city of Red Deer’s MacDonald’s restaurants  following a racist and profanity-laced encounter with another customer. Zach Running Coyote, an indigenous actor from a nearby town, says he decided to confront a man who used a racial slur. Coyote said he wanted the man to say it to his face when he heard the racist say, ‘What’s your f–king problem?’ The racist customer then turned to his girlfriend saying, ‘That, “insert expletive,” little Indian know-it-all should mind his own business.'” Leaving the restaurant’s parking lot, the bigot yelled that he was sick of Coyote’s people “mooching” off tax dollars and living on welfare, spewing more profanity as he sped away. Clearly, the xenophobic is ignorant of history. If you read my post entitled, Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary? or do some research on your own, you will learn most of the indigenous stereotypes are based on misconceptions. To stereotypically label all indigenous people as welfare recipients simply is untrue.

Also, in the province where I reside, a story came out this month about one of Alberta’s new political parties, the United Conservative Party (UCP), claiming it does not share the “hateful views” of Soldiers of Odin, a white supremist group, after three candidates, contending to run as a UCP candidate, posed for photos with members of the extremist hate group. (see Candidates unknowingly posed).

What I find ironic, is in another CBC report, UCP nomination candidate says he knew Soldiers of Odin were coming to party’s pub night, the candidate told reporters that, ‘People have a constitutional right to voice their opinions and I’m not going to deny them that.’ In other words, he knew all along who the Soldiers of Odin were. Is this new political party attracting racists? Do its policies allow extremists to feel comfortable in their party? I have a difficult time believing any political party encourages racist extremists to join them, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.

These are just three examples of intolerance in my province. There are many more, I assure you. If this is occurring in every province, then racism seems to be rampant in my country. Hate crimes are on the increase. The National Observer reported last year that police-reported hate crimes in Canada rose in 2016 for the third year in a row, and became much more violent, according to data from Statistics Canada. With all the rhetoric coming from the current resident of the American White House bombarding  the Canadian news, it doesn’t surprise me that hatred is becoming mainstream. Even some of our Canadian politicians are spouting that there should be less immigration. Maxime Bernier, a once outspoken Conservative MP who left the party and has since formed a new political party, criticized an immigration system that he said was attempting to “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada.” (see Maxime Bernier’s rebellion) Are these politicians bigots or just ignorant? Whatever it is, I don’t want to live in a world that is divisive and exclusive.

One thing I have learned from the many years of travel and experiencing numerous cultures, is that every human being, no matter what race or culture, just wants to live comfortably, enjoy life and live in peace and safety. The late Pierre Berton, a Canadian non-fiction author and journalist, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” I believe that to be true. Racism comes from ignorance. Racism is a learned attitude. Racism does not belong in my world or in my country. It needs to be met head-on and stamped out. Everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation have the right to live their lives with dignity. As stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declared in 1948,

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The bottom line is a bigot is a bully. Bullies intimidate to get their way. There is no place for a bully in my world.

Could Travelling Abroad Make a Better World?

A Commentary on the benefits of traveling

Being in Europe was wonderful, not only because of its beauty, welcoming people, and its rich history, but because for one entire month my wife and I had a reprieve from hearing about American politics. Our Canadian news media reports constantly on American politics as well as our own. Now that we are back in Canada, we are once again barraged by the political troubles, attacks on allies, outrageous tweets and bizarre behavior of the current resident of the White House. Before leaving for Europe, Trump after the G7 meeting attacked our Prime Minister and country, and even after a month away, he continues to attack Canada. At first, I will admit, I watched the news because I was curious as to what inappropriate tweet Trump would send out that day or to see what unpresidental behavior he exhibited. Now, like most Canadians I’ve talked to, I’m just tired of hearing about Trump and American politics.

Because of Trump, Canadians are more and more developing a revulsion for Americans. Most people I’ve talked to since returning from Europe are expressing resentment towards Americans. I must admit, I was one of them. I, like most Canadians, was beginning to believe that American’s were a racist, self-centred, hostile people. Perhaps such American stereotypes (according to Wikipedia) as lack of intelligence, lack of cultural awareness, being racist and arrogant are true.

The Star, a newspaper from Toronto, reported in June,

“A deep national revulsion [in Canada] toward President Donald Trump has sent Canadians’ opinions of the United States plummeting to a level of antipathy never before seen in 35 years…A major Pew Research survey…found that just 43 per cent of Canadians hold a favourable view of the U.S…

That is a steep decline since…the final year of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency, when Pew found 65 per cent of Canadians favourably disposed to the U.S. And it is lower than even the low point of the unpopular presidency of Republican George W. Bush, when 55 per cent of Canadians were favourable.”

It appears Canadians are developing a distaste for Americans. I was one of them until my European trip. Why would going to Europe change that, you ask? While we were in Ireland, we met some wonderful Americans.

Giant’s Causeway, N. Ireland

While in Ireland, besides spending time with our daughter, we took an eleven-day tour of the country. On that tour with us were three American couples. One couple was from Philadelphia, one from New Jersey and another couple from North Carolina. The first words out of the wonderful man from Philadelphia was, “we are not discussing American politics.” That won us over. During the entire 11 days, little to no discussion was had about Trump and his politics. My wife and I were especially drawn to the couple from Philadelphia as they were so sweet and personable, and the fact that they were both almost 80 “blew our minds.” They did not look or act that age. The other two couples were equally as friendly and in fact, the lady from New Jersey purposely kept her eye out for gluten free food once she discovered I was celiac. Her husband even bought me an Irish whiskey taste experience. Our time with our six American friends was wonderful, and it confirmed for me that not all Americans are racist, self-absorbed or hostile.

We often ran into Americans travelling in Ireland. One evening while staying in an Irish town, we met a couple from the U.S. in a whiskey bar. I don’t recall which state they were from. They were very friendly and we ended up talking to them for a long time. Once again, Trump did not enter the conversation. It was almost as if Americans were too embarrassed to talk about their president.

On another occasion, while exiting the place where we had dinner, a couple asked us if the food in the establishment was good. During our discussion, like we do whenever we travel abroad, we asked them where they were from. They told us they were from New York. Like all the other Americans we encountered, we found them pleasant and easy to talk to.

While taking a bus tour out of Dublin, I sat beside a fellow from Florida. We struck up a conversation and he told me he was visiting Ireland because his ancestors were from there.  As the day progressed, he ended up having lunch with us. The only thing political that he mentioned was that their country’s health care system was a mess. I couldn’t refute what he had said since the U. S. is one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn’t offer universal health care to its citizens.

Now I had to wonder why the Americans we met were so friendly and happy.  None that we met seemed racist or hostile, or self-absorbed or arrogant for that matter. I pondered this for a while and the only logical conclusion I can entertain is that the Americans we were encountering in Europe are travellers who have experienced other cultures and hence are not as racist or self-absorbed or arrogant since they have seen how other people in other parts of the world live. I’ve always believed that people who travel and experience other cultures are much more open minded and tolerant. People who only know their own “little world” and who have never experienced another culture are narrow minded, intolerant and tend to stereotype races in my experience.  I’ve met some here in Canada.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Ironically, while my wife, daughter and I were in Edinburgh, Scotland, while having a cappuccino in a coffee shop waiting for my daughter and wife to return, I met two lovely American ladies. In conversation, I learned they were mother and daughter from South Carolina—assuming my memory is correct. The mother of the pair was a travel agent who was with a group in Europe. We both discussed how much we loved Ireland and Scotland. Although we didn’t talk politics, I did mention that I believed the world would be a better place if more people travelled and experienced other cultures. She immediately got excited and said, “that is how I feel.” She agreed too many people in the U.S. are naïve about other cultures.

The article titled, Off The Grid: Why Americans Don’t Travel Abroad, supports my thinking. This article says, there is a popular belief in the United States that Americans are the second most well-traveled people after Finns. However, the article disproves that belief as it says,

“…only 36 percent of Americans hold a valid passport, according to the State Department, compared to 60 percent of passport-holding Canadians and 75 percent for Brits and Aussies. That means almost 70 percent of us [Americans] are unqualified for international travel. And in actuality, only one in five Americans travels abroad with regularity, according to a recent survey.”

It all makes sense to me now. The Americans we met are worldly and consequently tolerant and non-racist, unlike those who have never left their country. Of the three couples we toured with, all have travelled abroad—obviously, they were in Ireland with us—and all of them had been to Canada. One of the couples even lived and worked in Canada for six years.

Ideas for Leaders, is a website that analyzes research says, travelling abroad builds trust and tolerance. It goes on to say,

“The idea that travel can be important for personal development and ‘growth’ is well established. Spending time overseas can ‘broaden the mind’ — not only by increasing knowledge but also by reducing xenophobia [racism]. The maximum benefits, however, might depend on breadth as well as depth of experience. Recent empirical research finds a causal link between the ability to trust and accept others and exposure to a diverse range of ‘out groups’.”

Perhaps the typical American stereotypes like lacking cultural awareness, being racist [xenophobic] and having arrogance exist because they are true. The statistic that only 36% of Americans have passports could explain this. Those 36% likely are the friendly, open-minded Americans we encountered. The other 64% are the xenophobic, self-absorbed, hostile Americans because of their ignorance of other cultures. Now, I am not naïve enough to believe that every single person in the 64% are this way, but I would be willing to bet that the majority are.

Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. would be a better place and would not have elected a president who exhibits xenophobic tendencies, is self-absorbed, and hostile—certainly is towards America’s allies—had more Americans held passports and travelled aboard, experiencing new cultures and learning that there is so much more to the world than just America.

I will say that my numerous encounters with Americans in Europe has confirmed for me that not all Americans are stereotypical. Thank God for that.

Are Our Countries Undergoing a Divorce?

A commentary on the current relationship between Canada and the United States.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Canadian Parliament in 1961 told Canadians, “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.” Republican President Ronald Reagan in his 1981 address to the Canadian Parliament told us, “We are happy to be your neighbour. We want to remain your friend. We are determined to be your partner and we are intent on working closely with you in a spirit of co-operation.”

I have always considered our southern neighbours to be friends, family really, as my ancestors emigrated from the American states of North and South Dakota. We share the longest undefended border in the world and I am very proud of that. I believe all Canadians felt this way. It seems that is no longer the case. I, as most Canadians, were angered by Trump’s childish  behaviour at the G7 meeting. I have talked to numerous people who have told me they plan to avoid travelling to the United States because of the way the current resident of the White House treated Canada and our Prime Minister (PM), and because of the tariffs unfairly placed on Canada.  I have also seen several campaigns on social media promoting the boycotting of American made products.

The New York Post’s article, Canadians boycott US products, cancel vacations to America reports that Canadian shoppers are shunning Kentucky bourbon, California wine and Florida oranges, and avoiding American companies like Starbucks, Walmart and McDonald’s. The article claims Twitter hashtags like #BuyCanadian, #BoycottUSProducts and #BoycottUSA are spreading over anger because of Trump’s trade tariffs. The article also describes an Ottawa man who posted a “Trump-free grocery cart” full of products from Canada or from “countries with strong leadership.” It also says that many Canadian travelers have declared they would be staying in Canada this summer instead of booking trips to the US.  One person tweeted “F​–k​ you Trump. We just booked a $3,000 vacation to beautiful British Columbia. Happy anniversary to us. #Canadastrong #BuyCanadian #F***Tariffs.” 

An article by Maclean’s called, Canadians join movement to boycott academic events in the U.S., reports that hundreds of academics who teach at universities across Canada have joined more than 6,200 academics around the world pledging to stay away from international conferences held in the United States. It is very evident to me that Canadians are upset.

According to  public opinion polls, Canada has consistently been Americans’ favourite nation, with 96% of Americans viewing Canada favourably in 2012. I guess Trump wasn’t one of them. In 2013, Pew Research Centre reported 64% of Canadians had a favourable view of the U.S. while only 30% viewed the U.S. negatively. Sadly, a 2017 Global Attitudes Survey, says 43% of Canadians view U.S. positively, while 51% hold a negative view of its southern neighbour, a drop of 21% since 2013.

How can relations between two countries who share the longest undefended border in the world become so sour? The answer: Donald J Trump.  According to the 2017 Global Attitudes Survey I cited earlier, in more than half of the 37 nations surveyed, the positive views of the U.S. experienced double-digit drops. It seems it is not just Canadians who are changing their views of the U.S.A. This is a trend that both disturbs and saddens me.

What is even more disturbing to me is the number of posts on social media that refer to Trump as a fascist.  Merriam- Webster defines fascism as a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” Granted, there is debate as to whether the U.S. leader is a dictator or not, but what disturbs me is the current U.S. administration displays all the warning signs of fascism.

There are many social media and internet articles telling of a sign hanging in the U.S. Holocaust Museum that defines what to look for when you are worried that your country may be slipping into fascism. It lists the following 12 early warning signs of fascism.

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
  2. Disdain for human rights
  3. Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
  4. Rampant sexism
  5. Controlled mass media
  6. Obsession with national security
  7. Religion and government intertwined
  8. Corporate power protected
  9. Labor power suppressed
  10. Disdain for intellectual and the arts
  11. Obsession with crime and punishment
  12. Rampant cronyism and corruption

I was shocked at how many of these apply to the present-day occupant of the White House. I could easily provide evidence that the U.S. president exhibits every one of these early warning signs. I won’t do that as I think each person should draw their own conclusions. I would encourage you to do that with your own research.

An article, Canada ranked as ‘most admired’ country in the world: report, by CTV News  says that Canada is the “most admired” country with the “best reputation” in the world, according to the 2015 report from the Reputation Institute, an annual survey ranking the reputations of developed nations across the globe. In particular, the report praised Canada for its “effective government,” “absence of corruption,” “friendly and welcoming people” and welfare support system. That is what makes us proud Canadians. I have to wonder if the majority of Americans are proud of their country these days.

I know, as most Canadians do, that the majority of Americans do NOT think the same as their president. I know many are outraged by the behaviours of their elected leader. The Globe and Mail reports that Americans have written numerous letters to them reacting to Donald Trump’s conduct at the G7 meeting of world leaders in Quebec.  Here is one of many such letters.

Dear Canada: Please do not judge us Americans by the actions and words of the President. He continues to alienate our friends. What he recently said and did is not supported by all of us. Canada and the U.S. have had, and will continue to have, a great relationship. This will pass. We have far more in common than some small differences.   Name withheld, North Huntingdon, Pa.

It is letters like these that give me hope.  I look forward to that day when America returns to the principles stated in the United States Declaration of Independence, where it states in the Preamble: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Based on my observations, these principles have been abandoned under the current leadership.

A Flashback to School Yard Supervision

A commentary on Canada-U.S. relations.

Watching world events this week have dumbfounded me.  During and after the G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada, I had a flashback to my days of supervision on the school yard. Over my 35-year teaching career, I’ve dealt with numerous school yard bullies over the years. Recent world events illustrated a school yard on a grand scale. Let’s recap what has occurred this week.

from cbc.ca

There was a communiqué signed by all G7 countries suggesting these countries had reached a consensus on investing in growth for everyone, preparing for jobs of the future, advancing gender equality, working together on climate change, oceans and clean energy and building a more peaceful and secure world. There were, however, prominent points of disagreement. The United States refused to endorse the section on climate change. The U.S. and Japan refused to sign a plastics charter, a non-binding agreement promising to eradicate plastics pollution affecting our oceans. At the very least, the G7 leaders initially seemed to present a united front.

Donald Trump, who came late and left early, exited saying his relationship with the G7 countries was a 10 out of 10, and blasting reports of rifts between the U.S. and world as nothing more than “fake news.” Then all hell broke loose. While on Air Force One, Trump rescinds his signature on the communique over words Justin Trudeau said at his news conference.

As the New York Times article, Trump’s ‘Bully’ Attack on Trudeau Outrages Canadians, reports, Trump launched into a “bitter” rant on Twitter over perceived trade inequalities. He proceeded to accuse Canada’s Prime Minster (PM) Justin Trudeau as “meek and mild” and “very dishonest and weak” all because our prime minister declared that U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum were “insulting” and his insistence that Canada would not be pushed around; the same words he said in other news conferences. Trump continues with his attacks.

The attacks on our PM didn’t stop there. Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, said, “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.” Navarro later apologized admitting his words were inappropriate.

Mr. Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, declared  that Mr. Trudeau had “stabbed us [the U.S.] in the back,” betrayed Mr. Trump and made him look weak before his summit meeting with North Korea’s leader.

What is ironic is that First lady Melania Trump launched her “Be Best” campaign in the White House Rose Garden in May. One of the issues she desires to tackle is cyberbullying. It is indeed satire that her husband, Donald Trump,  notoriously cyberbullies. Merriam-Webster defines cyberbullying as “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person often done anonymously.” Granted Mr. Trump isn’t being anonymous, his tweets and attacks on our PM indicate, he is mean-spirited. Furthermore, attacking someone using a keyboard is a cowardly act! Bullies are afraid to attack their foes face to face.  Mr. Trump appeared to be cordial at the G7 summit, but attacks people when he is alone with his phone.  Trump is your classic school yard bully and I’ve seen many over my years.  A bully, according to Merriam-Webster, as “one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others…”  Trump’s behaviour certainly fits that definition. He is your classic school yard bully.

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said “The national security pretext is absurd and frankly insulting to Canadians, the closest and strongest ally the United States has had.” This is a reaction to Trump suggesting Canada was a “national security” threat. His administration argues that the increased imports have led to the closing of U.S. steel and aluminum plants, leaving the U.S. industry at risk of becoming unsustainable, thus threatening national security. An argument that is absurd as Canada and the U.S. has the longest undefended border in the world. If Canada were a national security threat, then why isn’t the Trump administration propping up defence along the border. I as a Canadian was indeed offended as the argument makes no sense.

Canada and the U.S. have always had a close relationship, until now.  U.S. allies fought and collaborated together during both World Wars,  throughout the Cold War, bilaterally through NORAD and multilaterally through NATO.  A high volume of trade and migration occurs between our two nations, as well as an overlapping of culture.

Freeland responded to Trump’s attacks on PM Trudeau after the G7 summit saying Canada “does not conduct its diplomacy through ad hominem attacks.” She said that “we don’t think that’s a useful or productive way to do business.”  I agree completely with our foreign minister as stooping to the level of bully is not the way to do business.  I am grateful that our PM is being the adult in this relationship and avoids lowering himself to the level of Trump, a school yard bully. It is the Canadian way to be nice and polite. That is what our PM is doing and I applaud him for that.

Furthermore, bullying allies is damaging.  A Pew Research survey published in June 2017 found that Canadian dislike toward Mr. Trump had helped reduce Canadians’ opinions of the United States to a low not seen in more than three decades, with only 43% of Canadians holding a favourable view of the U.S.A.

Thankfully, not all Americans think the same way as their childlike president.  As CBC News reports that American actor, Robert De Niro, at the Tony Awards verbally attacked the U.S. president. The next day, while in Toronto, Canada he apologized for Donald Trump’s behaviour at the G7 summit. De Niro called Trump’s behaviour “a disgrace.” and apologized saying, “I just want to make a note of apology for the idiotic behaviour of my president. I apologize to Justin Trudeau and the other people at the G7.”  Thank you, Mr. De Niro,! You give me hope that America is still a decent place.

The Global News article, Americans are saying #ThanksCanada in wake of Donald Trump’s attack on Justin Trudeau, report that many Americans began to point out on social media the many times Canada has helped the United States, sharing personal stories on why they are thankful for their neighbours to the north. Nicholas Burns tweeted, “Canada spirited four American hostages out of Iran in 1979, welcomed thousands of stranded U.S. airline passengers on 9/11, has our back in every war, shares the world’s longest undefended border with us and a symbiotic North American economy. THE best neighbour we could have.” This is just one example of many wonderful things Americans tweeted about Canada.

Shockingly, Trump is helping our country by uniting all Canadians. The CBC News article, MPs unite to condemn Trump’s tariffs, verbal attacks, reports that Members of Parliament set aside their partisan stripes uniting to adopt a New Democrat—one of Canada’s political parties–motion to oppose Trump’s trade tariffs and verbal attacks, and to respond with steep duties on American products. The symbolic motion called on the House of Commons to “stand in solidarity” with PM Trudeau and his government’s decision to retaliate against “illegitimate” tariffs imposed by the U.S.

As the New York Times reports, even Mr. Trudeau’s political foes rose to his defense. Recently elected premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, a person often accused of being Trump-like, tweeted, “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the prime minister and the people of Canada.”

Stephen Harper, the former Conservative PM of Canada told Fox News that Mr. Trump had made a mistake targeting trade relations with Canada. “I can understand why President Trump, why the American people feel they need some better trade relationships,” he said. But, he added, “this is the wrong target.”

What puzzles me the most is that Trump treats his allies as foes yet embraces his enemies. During the Singapore summit, he described North Korea’s leader as having a “great personality” and as “very smart.” This is the same man who Trump labeled “Little Rocket Man” and in private called him “a crazy guy.” Kim, in turn, called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” a word suggesting senility. BBC News has a long list of North Korean human rights violations. Trump signed an agreement that appears to be nothing but vague promises (see NBC).  I’m not “holding my breath” on this deal when North Korea has made deals in the past and never honoured them. Trump made an agreement at the G7 and then pulled out as soon as he left. Neither one of these leaders can be taken on their word.

Trump during the G7 summit in Quebec called for Russia to be readmitted to the group after its expulsion for annexing Crimea. Putin, Russia’s leader, has a long list of human rights violations as well (see Human Rights Watch). Even on the school yard, bullies typically, in my experience, don’t attack their friends. It seems the U.S. president is more comfortable with his enemies who are brutal autocrats than he is with his friends. That says something about the character of this man.

Could Meditation be the Answer?

A commentary on the use of mindfulness programs in schools.

If you have  been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a retired teacher who taught for 35 years. I still substitute teach from time to time, so I stay in touch with the teaching world. I’ve spent my career wondering what the best way to deal with disruptive, reluctant learners is. I often debated whether to kick a disruptive kid out of class, keep them in at breaks, send him or her to the office or just tolerate them. When I began my teaching career, the school I was at practiced corporal punishment in the form of strapping students. Physical abuse is not the answer either.  In 35 years I have never found an ideal method.

I recently came across an article on a blog called: The Way of Meditation. The article was titled: School Replaced Detention with Meditation. Now this intrigued me. I meditate regularly and it certainly has made a difference in my life. The article quotes the Dalai Lama who said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Wow!  That would be amazing. Just watching the news occasionally tells me there is an enormous need. Not only that, could this be the answer to a school’s discipline problems?

The article tells of Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, a city located in the state of Maryland in the United States. This school starts its day with a breathing exercise over the PA system and ends it with an after-school program of yoga and meditation in addition to the usual sports activities. The school’s staff guide students through breathing and other centering exercises in the Mindful Moment room, which is a calming space with cozy cushions and beanbags, lit by glowing pink Himalayan salt lamps. When one of the students become a discipline problem, he or she is sent to the Mindful Moment room. In the room, unruly students are guided to sit, breathe and meditate in order to calm down and re-center. They are also counselled to talk about what happened.

Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama

Now what a fantastic idea! A Mindful Moment room—meditation room—instead of a detention room. I wish I had thought of that. In another article, Meditation is Imperative: Schools Replacing Detention…, it tells of a dialogue with the Dalai Lama after the Paris Attacks in November 2015. The Tibetan spiritual leader claimed that humanity bears part of the responsibility for the emergence of global terrorism. He said praying to God for a solution and using the hashtag of the likes of #PrayforParis won’t do much to help. I agree! His most impactful statement was, “Let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.”  He’s right! Praying to God or wanting governments to fix things hasn’t worked so far. As the Buddha says, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”  

The Guardian’s article: One of San Francisco’s toughest schools transformed by the power of meditation, tells of Visitacion Valley middle school in San Francisco, California, which is a school surrounded by drugs and gang violence.  Students at this school were often stressed out and agitated as on one occasion three dead bodies were dumped in the schoolyard. In 2007, a meditation program called Quiet Time was brought in to deal with worried students. A month after the meditation program began, teachers noticed changes in behaviour. Students appeared happier, worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of conflicts fell dramatically.

Now, I began to wonder if there are schools in Canada that practice mindfulness. In case you are not familiar with this word, the Mindfulness Institute of Canada defines mindfulness as “a state of being fully present in the present moment, with acceptance and without judgement.”  This is really the same thing as meditation as the Free Dictionary defines meditation as “a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.” It seems there are schools in Canada that have instituted this practice.

Young girl meditating

According to Macleans.ca, in the city of Toronto, Ontario,  the District School Board introduced lessons in mindfulness to all of its 200 Grade 9 students. In six workshops over a two-month period, led by the school’s teachers, students practiced breathing, “body scans” (a meditation exercise that draws attention to different parts of the body), and learned to “surf the wave” of difficult emotions, like anger and anxiety. The article reports that the “response was overwhelmingly positive.” Another place in Canada that has adopted mindfulness is in Vancouver, British Columbia,  where Renfrew Community Elementary School is located. In this school students begin their day by heading outside to do tai chi.  The school’s assemblies always start with a mindful breathing exercise.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that mindfulness is the answer. Change.org has an online petition to remove Mindfulness Programs from Canadian Public Schools. The petition’s authors argue that legislated meditation in Canadian public classrooms is unlawful, and are alarmed that mindfulness stems from Buddhist meditation. They argue that if mindfulness meditation is permitted, then what is to stop decision makers from forcing students to engage in mandatory Transcendental Meditation? Or mandatory hypnosis? Or require all students to eat bacon three times per day, regardless of their vegetarian or vegan standing. This seems to me to be somewhat of a paranoid reaction, none-the-less, everyone is entitled to their point of view.

Forbes.com published an article titled, Science Shows Meditation Benefits Children’s Brains and Behavior, which lists the following benefits of meditation:

  1. Increased attention: A study in 2013 showed that in boys with ADHD, with an eight-week training in mindfulness, significantly reduced hyperactive behaviours and improved concentration.
  2. Increased attendance and grades in school: One school district in California prolonged its school day in some of its “high-risk” schools in order to add meditation into the day. These schools have reported better attendance and grades, fewer suspensions, and happier, less aggressive kids.
  3. A reprieve from outside trauma: Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to help kids who are dealing with stressors such as neglect at home.
  4. Better mental health: One study found that an afterschool program consisting of yoga and meditation helped kids feel happier and more relaxed.
  5. Self-awareness and self-regulation: A study found that a mindful yoga treatment helped kids improve their ability to self-regulate, or control themselves, over the longer-term in a one-year study.
  6. Social-emotional development: One study found that a social-emotional learning program coupled with mindfulness was more effective than a classic “social responsibility” program as kids using mindfulness in their treatment had greater empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional control, compared to the control group.

The Harvard Gazette reports an eight-week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, a study which involved taking magnetic resonance images (MRI) from 16 study participants two weeks prior to the study, determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter in just eight weeks.

If you are not familiar with the nervous system’s grey and white matter, here is a quick biology lesson. Grey and white matter are found in the brain and spinal cord. Grey matter is found in brain areas that control an individual’s perception, such as how things are seen or heard, the formation of memories and the influencing speech and emotions. White matter connects one region of the brain or spinal cord to another transferring nerve impulses in and out of the grey matter.  Medical science has always told us that grey matter cannot rebuild, but Harvard’s research seems to suggest otherwise.

There is no doubt in my mind that meditation, or mindfulness, reduces stress, promotes relaxation, improves personal happiness and induces feelings of peacefulness. I have personally experienced it. As a retired teacher, I would have welcomed anything that curbed undesirable student behaviours, improved student work habits and grades, and made the classroom a better learning environment. If mediation–mindfulness programs–does that, then I say bring it on.

Why is War so Popular?

A commentary on why humanity engages in warfare.

A CBC News article, Here’s a look at Russia’s ‘invulnerable’ weapons, reports that on March 1st, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced to the world that Russia possesses an arsenal of new nuclear weapons that can’t be stopped. He publicized such weapons as nuclear-powered subs called uninhabited underwater vehicles (UUV), nuclear-powered missiles and hypersonic, intercontinental ballistic missiles. This kind of language has not been used since the Cold War. Why is Putin telling the world about its weapons of mass destruction? Is this talk of war?

Wikipedia has a list of ongoing armed conflicts. Two of the most notable are the Syrian civil war and the Iraq civil war. These are the two conflicts we hear about most often in the news. There are many others; many of them on the continent of Africa. This got me thinking. Why are humans set on war?

I recently read an interesting article called, The Dalai Lama’s Hard Hitting Message for World Leaders About The Reality of War.  Now the Dalai Lama is someone I deeply respect and I believe has much wisdom to offer the world. For those who don’t know, the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally the political leader of Tibet, but the Chinese government forced him into exile in 1959 because of its imperialistic policies.  Here is some of the Dalai Lama’s message.

“…war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.”

The words “we have been brainwashed” really struck me. Have we been brainwashed? I was attracted to the military as a youngster. I always thought it would have been glamorous to come back a war hero. I never actually seriously considered joining, except maybe on the day I had to register for university classes in the 1970s; a very stressful experience. What attracted me mostly was its discipline. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama was also attracted to the military in his youth. He explains in his message.

“Frankly as a child, I too was attracted to the military. Their uniform looked so smart and beautiful. But that is exactly how the seduction begins. Children start playing games that will one day lead them in trouble…Again, if we as adults were not so fascinated by war, we would clearly see that to allow our children to become habituated to war games is extremely unfortunate. Some former soldiers have told me that when they shot their first person they felt uncomfortable but as they continued to kill it began to feel quite normal. In time, we can get used to anything.”

I think the Dalai Lama is right. Society has been brainwashed. I used to play war games as a kid. I even had plastic soldiers to play with. Nowadays, there are numerous video games involving killing in war scenarios. As the Dalai Lama says, this “is exactly how the seduction begins.”  Or, shall we say the brainwashing begins.

One might ask: Why would our leaders want us to believe war is “exciting and glamorous”?  In June of last year, the Atlantic announced that the U.S. Approves $1.4 Billion Military Sale to Saudi Arabia. CNN says the U.S. accounts for one-third of global arms sales. If you are curious to who the Americans sell arms to, see: Here’s who buys the most weapons from the U.S.  So why are we being brainwashed to see war as “exciting and glamorous”?  It seems war is big business. If you want to make money selling arms, you must have wars. It seems very logical to me.

The New York Times published an article in 2014 entitled: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth.  It says,

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits. An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention… the persistence and expectation of peace.

This is the only answer I can come up with. War makes money, so it makes sense in light of the fact that the U.S. accounts for one-third of global arms sales.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is an indigenous Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, composer, visual artist, educator, pacifist, and social activist. She wrote a song titled, ‘Universal Soldier’. If you’ve never heard it, here it is. The song begins at 1:48.

The lyrics go as follows:

He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years

He’s a catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jane
A Buddhist and a Baptist and Jew
And he knows he shouldn’t kill and he knows he always will kill
You’ll for me my friend and me for you

And he’s fighting for Canada, he’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians and he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way

And he’s fighting for democracy he’s fighting for the reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall

But without him how would Hitler have condemned him at Le Val
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as the weapon to the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame
But his orders come from far away no more
They come from him and you and me and brothers can’t you see
This is not the way we put an end to war?

It is the last stanza that reveals Buffy Sainte-Marie’s key message. The artist reveals that it is us (you and me) that are the ones who start, continue and end wars.  Remember, the politicians are controlled by the people and work for the people. Or as Abraham Lincoln, one of the American presidents, said in his Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” If citizens refuse to support and/or participate in conflict and wars, then the killing will stop. As long as people agree to fight unnecessary wars for their political leaders, the killing continues. Let’s face it. Hitler could not have carried out his atrocities without his countrymen supporting him and without their willingness to carry them out.