It is Time to do the Right Thing.

A commentary on fair pay and gender equality.

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Two stories caught my attention this week; both stories about doing the right thing. The first was a story I saw on CTV News about a Bracebridge, Ontario.-based Muskoka Brewery that was paying its employees a living wage.  That is a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. Muskoka Brewery is the first brewery in Canada to do so. The president of the brewery, Todd Lewin, said the decision “definitely had an impact on the budget,” but the benefits have so far outweighed the cost. Mr. Lewin said boosting the hourly wage to $15.85 has resulted in a better workforce.

The CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Grosche International, Helmi Ansari also pays his employees at least $16 per hour; a move he says paid off in better productivity, improved customer service and staff retention. Mr. Ansari believes paying their staff a minimum wage in his coffee and tea merchandise business would make the company less successful.

Mr. Ansari is also a co-founder of the Better Way Alliance, an organization that is calling on companies in Canada to embrace the living wage. The website says:

There is a myth that the “high turnover and low-pay” model is the secret to success in business. But many employers see things differently. We know from experience that a commitment to decent work makes good economic sense. By speaking out, we hope to open up the conversation about what makes the most sense today.

American author, Mark Twain, once said, “Always do right – this will gratify some and astonish the rest”. Hearing of businesses doing something altruistic astonished me.

Typically, what is reported in the news media is corporate greed. The Huffington Post reports, the middle class in the United States is on a 40-year decline. The article says millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and average family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999. I am sure Canada is no different.

The article reports that the 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%, while the top one-tenth of 1% own almost as much wealth as the bottom 40%. In the last two years, the wealthiest 14 people in the United States increased their wealth by $157 billion. That increase is more than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans combined. It seems to me that businesses, and especially the corporations can easily afford to pay a living wage.

In my province, the provincial government has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. That sparked much debate in the province. Really, the minimum wage debate has been going on for years.

Those in favour of raising the minimum wage say it would improve the overall standard of living for minimum wage workers by providing them with a more appropriate income level to handle cost of living increases. It is pretty difficult to refute that argument. Some also say it would boost economic growth as consumer spending typically increases with increases in wages. A higher minimum wage would put more dollars in consumer’s hands and that money would subsequently flow to retailers and other businesses.

Those arguing against increasing the minimum wage say it causes businesses to increase prices, thus fuelling inflation. Opponents argue that raising minimum wage increases operating expenses for companies thereby increasing the prices of products and services to cover their increased labor costs. Increased prices mean an increase in the cost of living consequently offsetting any advantage gained by workers having more dollars in their pockets. One of the biggest arguments in my province is an increased minimum wage causes the potential for job losses.

No matter how much I read in terms of research into the minimum wage debate, there seems to be research to support both sides of the issue. There seems to be no clear answers. I do know from experience that it is impossible to have a decent standard of living on a minimum wage. I used to have my students do a project in one of the courses I taught in high school. The project was to have my students plan a budget while living on minimum wage. They had to rent accommodations with or without a roommate. They had to plan expenses such as food, utilities and transportation. The bottom line is not one of my students could come up with a budget living on minimum wage that suited their desired standard of living. It was not possible. As of today, the minimum wages in Canada range from $10.72/hr. in Saskatchewan to $13.00/hr. in Nunavut.

A report released in 2016 calculated the living wage for Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, as $20.64 an hour. This would be the amount needed for a family of four with both parents working full-time at $20:64 to pay their necessities.  The province of British Columbia’s minimum wage at the moment $10.85/hr. In my view, the right thing to do is for businesses to pay a living wage.  It is morally right! It is the altruistic thing to do! It is our duty to do what is best for our neighbour. It should be a no brainer.

The other story that caught my attention was that Iceland is the first country to propose equal pay legislation. Iceland’s parliament is considering a new law forcing most companies and institutions to prove that they are paying men and women equally. Any company with 25 or more employees will have to go through audits and receive certification that equal pay is provided, or they could face fines (see BBC). That is “ground breaking”. That is fantastic! Hopefully, more countries will follow suit.

I worked in a career where gender pay was equal. It didn’t matter whether you were male or female, you got paid the same. Your pay was determined by years of education and years of experience. It seems that is not the case in most working environments. The Globe and Mail 2015 article, Gender pay gap in Canada more than twice global average, study shows, says Canadian working women are making about $8,000 less a year than men doing an equivalent job. I once thought that gender inequality was becoming a thing of the past, but once again I was just naive.

So, I applaud the living wage movement. It is the right thing to do. I give a “thumbs up” to Iceland. Why? Because it is the right thing to do. To quote one of my heroes, Mohandas K. Gandhi, “You have to do the right thing… You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result”.

Is There a Cure for Racism? You Bet There is.

A commentary on racism

Obviously, I must be naiver than I thought because I truly thought that my generation was less racist than my parents and grandparent’s generations. I believed that racism was disappearing more and more with each generation. It seems I was wrong. The racism, at least in Canada, was hidden; below the surface so to speak.  Racism in Canada was intangible until all the rhetoric from south of the border starting filtering into Canada’s news media.

From cbc.ca

CBC recently published a news article called, Ottawa church fi
ghts racism. A Baptist church in Westboro, an area in the west end of Ottawa, Canada, is trying to use lawn signs to build community, and combat the negativity and racism being directed towards refugees in both Canada and the United States.  The First United Church printed 200 signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” in the languages of English, French and Arabic. The idea for the signs was inspired from similar campaigns in the United States and southern Ontario.

It was felt that the signs were a way to make a public statement without being political. One church volunteer said, “Make it clear that we’re happy, that diversity is a positive thing, that having neighbours from all over the world and from diverse places is great and that we’re happy to get to know our neighbours and welcome everyone to the community.”

There seems to be a perception in Canada, and seemingly more so in the United States, that diversity is a bad thing; that immigration needs to be slowed or even stopped. Well the truth is, diversity makes for a better society and scientific studies prove that.

In the Scientific American article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, studies show that being around people who are different from us makes us humans more creative, more diligent and harder-working. One study involving “more than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us”.

This is just one of the numerous studies stated in the article. The fact of the matter is, the article clearly shows how diversity improves creativity, increases innovation, and increases open-mindedness. In other words, society is healthier with diverse environments.

A debate has gone on for some time over whether people are inherently racist; whether infants are born racist. Personally, I think it is a ridiculous argument. If you’ve ever held a child under six months old, you would clearly see that babies love everyone. They just want to be loved by everyone.

A US News’ article, Babies Not Racist, reports on a University of Massachusetts—Amherst study. The study found white 9-month-old babies were worse than white 5-month-old babies at telling apart African-American adults. The news media had a “field day” suggesting that the study is evidence for inherited racism. Time reported the study with the headline, Your Baby Is a Racist, and the Telegraph with the headline, Babies show racial bias. As the US News article points out, all the babies in the study had “little to no previous experience with African-American or other black individuals.” In fact, at that age, babies can’t tell apart something they’re not used to seeing. At least four previous studies suggested that infants who aren’t familiar with other races have difficulty identifying differences in facial structures.

There is convincing proof that racism is learned. In Jane Elliot’s infamous “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise, she clearly demonstrates how racism is learned. Ms. Elliot was a third-grade schoolteacher in the 1960s and 1970s. She decided to base the exercise on eye colour rather than skin colour in order to show the children what racial segregation would be like. If you are not familiar with the exercise, here is part of a documentary explaining her exercise.

The results from the exercise are startling. As a result of the exercise,  Jane Elliot declared,

 “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it, because they’re afraid they’ll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Atlantic’s article, New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’, reports on a 2013 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of four researchers who performed amygdala studies, previously done on adults but now was being done on children. The amygdala is mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions. The researchers found that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14 and once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader in the 1960s said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” This is what I believe as well. Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, 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.” There is no doubt in my mind that racism is learned and evolves from fear and ignorance.

I’ll finish with another one of Jane Elliot’s quotes.

“White people’s number one freedom, in the United States of America, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”

The same holds true for Canadians. We too have the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white and we too have the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant. “Ignorance is bliss” they say. It is time to speak up against the stupidity of racism!

“Peace Through Strength”; I Don’t Buy It!

A commentary on the belief that peace is achieved by strength.

NBC News reports that current Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, made the comment that “all options are on the table” over derailing North Korea’s weapons program. The news article also reports that Tillerson’s bluntness was met with immediate alarm by national security analysts and academics.

The Washington Times article, Trump administration: ‘America First’ and ‘Peace Through Strength’ national security policies states that President Donald Trump and his administration face an array of security threats and challenges around the world as the new president seeks to refocus U.S. government policies on putting America first. It also says the Trump administration’s immediate priorities include revamping the military and intelligence policies toward the Islamic State terrorist group. Just on March 16, the budget released by Trump’s administration proposes a $54 billion hike in defence.

Time, the online version of Time Magazine, has a section titled, Unpredictable America. In that section it says, the world’s sole superpower was once the international trump card, imposing order to force compromise and head off conflict. Now it’s a wildcard, because instead of creating policies designed to bolster global stability, President Trump will use U.S. power overwhelmingly to advance U.S. interests, with little concern for the broader impact.

On January 14, 2017, US Senator, John McCain said,

“What we have to understand is what Vladimir Putin is and so we have to go back to the days of Ronald Reagan. Peace through strength, the only thing that Vladimir Putin understands is strength, that for his aggression the price is higher than what he might gain from it.”

Those of us who are more matured remember the Cold War. Wikipedia explains that this was a “war” of geopolitical tension between powers in the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its satellite states) and powers in the Western Bloc (the United States, its NATO allies and others). Each side had a nuclear strategy that discouraged an attack by the other side, on the basis that such an attack would lead to the total destruction of the attacker. In essence, peace through strength. “Peace through strength” is a phrase which suggests that military power can help preserve peace.

George Washington, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, allegedly said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace”. But it was Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, who made the phrase standard when he said, “We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression”. What alarms me is Mike Pence, the present vice president of the United States is quoted as saying, “I think I’ve always believed in Ronald Reagan’s adage, “Peace through Strength”.

Ironically, I received the following quote in my email inbox from NealeDonaldWalsch.com.

On this day of your life, Dear Friend,

I believe God wants you to know that peace cannot come to this world until you are convinced that violence will never produce it. Hurt does not heal hurt. Violence will not bring an end to violence. Help the world to understand this by reacting differently, responding newly, when anger and a need to hurt you is sent your way.

You will have such an opportunity in your life. And probably, more than once. Do not miss the chance to humbly send a message of love.

The words, “peace cannot come to this world until you are convinced that violence will never produce it… Help the world to understand this…” literally jumped out at me. Why I wondered? Then the answer came to me. This is truth!

It is what is said in the western religions sacred scriptures of the world. In the Hebrew scriptures it says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it”. In the Christian scriptures it is written, in 1 Peter 3:11, “let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it”.  In Islam’s sacred scriptures, the Quran, it says in chapter 49, verse 11, “Surely all believers are brothers. So, make peace between brothers, and fear Allah that mercy may be shown to you”.

Even many of the world’s greats have said that “peace through strength” is not the way. A man who is one of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India, famously declared, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind”.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American activist for the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of those rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and the influence of Gandhi. King once declared, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”.  Even Albert Einstein, widely regarded as a genius said, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”.

Bridget of Sweden, a mystic and saint, and founder of the Bridgettines nuns and monks, allegedly once said, “The world would have peace if the men of politics would only follow the Gospel”. Margaret Mead, an American anthropologist during the 1960s and 1970s, is quoted as saying, “The first step in the direction of a world rule of law is the recognition that peace no longer is an unobtainable ideal but a necessary condition of continued human existence”. With all the world’s racism, war mongering, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigration rhetoric, citizens of this planet are craving to obtain a peaceful world and Mead is right; it is necessary for human existence.

For the most part, men have been the leaders in this world and still are. UN Women Website reports that as of June 2016, only 22.8% of all national parliamentarians were women, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995.  We continue live in a world, as it has been for most of world history, ruled by males.

BBC has an article called, What if women ruled the world?  The article quotes Janet Napolitano, United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, under President Barack Obama as saying, “I think it’s fair to say that women are a little more collaborative in their approach overall, and a little less driven to conflict as opposed to driven to working out problems.” Mary Robinson, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, once said, “We need to take decisions now that will make for a safer world for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, and I think women are more likely to do that when they come into positions of leadership.”

More and more I am coming to the conclusion that people like Janet Napolitano and Mary Robinson are right. Maybe the world would be a more peaceful place if more women were running things.

Alice H. Eagly did a study in 2013 at Northwestern University called Women as Leaders. In this study she looked at leadership style versus leaders’ values and attitudes. Northwestern University is a private research university based in Evanston, Illinois. Her conclusion was, “There are multiple indications that women, compared with men, enact their leader roles with a view to producing outcomes that can be described as more compassionate, benevolent, universalistic, and ethical, thus promoting the public good”.

Something has to change if peace on this planet is ever to be obtained. Women, by their very nature would understand that peace cannot come to this world until humans are persuaded that violence will never produce it.

The Hideous Consequences of Political Rhetoric

A commentary on the increase in “hate crimes” due to political rhetoric.

rhetI am deeply disturbed by some of the events occurring in my beloved country of Canada. I have always been proud of the fact that Canada celebrates cultural diversity. Multiculturalism in Canada is the sense of an equal celebration of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds.  The Canadian federal government, under then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, put forth the ideology of multiculturalism which places emphasis on the social importance of immigration. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act is a law that was passed in 1988 and it aims to preserve and enhance multiculturalism in Canada. When I taught high school social studies I always proudly emphasized this fact to my students. So, when I learn of islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration views expressed in my country, I am alarmed and angered. These are some of the things that have happened in Canada.

In early March, Montreal police arrested a 47-year-old man hours after a bomb threat targeting Muslim students forced the evacuation of three buildings at Concordia University’s downtown campus. Apparently, several media outlets in Montreal received a bomb threat claiming to be from the “Council of Concerned Citizens of Canada,” a white supremacist organization also known as C4, which claimed that “small […] amateur explosive devices” had been placed in two buildings on the University. The email stated that C4’s goal was to injure Muslim students. The email also began by citing the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as inspiration for the group’s violent agenda (see CBC News).

Also in early March, a late-night fire at an Islamic information centre and mosque is being investigated by Toronto police. A police spokesperson said the fire is considered “suspicious” and being investigated as arson. It was not ruled as a hate crime then, but it certainly “smells” like a hate crime (see CBC News).

The Globe and Mail is reporting that police are investigating the discovery of swastikas inside an Ontario university classroom this week which left some students feeling distraught; the school calling the symbols “hate graffiti”. The news report says the police are treating the incident as a case of mischief at the time of the article. Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario told reporters, “This incident is an unfortunate reminder that anti-Semitism continues to persist even in a society as welcoming as Canada and a city as diverse as Toronto.” Hillel Ontario is an organization that strives to enrich the lives of Jewish students attending Ontario’s colleges and universities (see Globe & Mail). Sure seems like a hate crime to me.

Far right groups opposed to a federal government motion condemning Islamophobia took to the streets of Montreal in early March. On the opposing side were around 100 representatives of anti-fascist groups, carrying signs saying “Make racists afraid again” and chanting “Immigrants in, fascists out.” Tensions between the groups quickly flared despite a police presence (see CBC News).

Then there was the Quebec City Mosque attack that occurred on January 29th. Alexandre Bissonnette, only 27, was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm. During that attack, six men died in the shooting while evening prayers were underway at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic cultural centre of Quebec) [see CBC News].

A Winnipeg business owner who identifies herself as a witch says her store has been repeatedly vandalized over the past six years and she wants police to investigate the incidents as hate crimes. Dominique Smith owns Elemental Book & Curiosity Shop Inc. Smith sells alternative spirituality products such as herbs, crystals, incense, books and tarot cards. She also teaches classes out of the business and occasionally has gatherings for worship and rituals. She says her shop’s window has been broken three times. She has had people come into the store harassing her and her staff, telling them that we were evil and needed to repent. Ms. Smith says she’s had to clean spit and urine off of her door and windows countless times over the past few years (see CBC News).

Now I ask the question: what has happened to “tolerance and understanding”? Why does it appear to be disappearing? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that naive. Canada has always had its share of racists and bigots, but for the most part my country is seen as a tolerant, multicultural society. In fact, analysts at the London-based think tank, the Legatum Institute, ranks 142 countries based on their economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom and social capital.  In 2015, the Institute ranked Canada as number one for being the “freest country in the world” with its tolerance of immigrants, minorities, freedom of expression and beliefs. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of Canadians (92 %) agreed that their country is a good place for immigrants. The United States was ranked 15th for personal freedom (see CTV News).  In 2016, Canada dropped to second place and the United States dropped to position 26 in terms of personal freedom. (see Legatum 2016).

mother-teresa-beautiful-words-love-thy-neighbor-quotes-if-you-judge-people-have-not-time-acknowledge-them-caring-givingCanada is predominantly a Christian country. In the 2011 National Household Survey, two-thirds of Canada’s population reported affiliation with a Christian religion. Christianity is a religion that follows the teachings of Jesus whose teachings focus on the themes of love of God and love of neighbour. In fact, Matthew 22:36 – 40 in the Christian scriptures says, ‘Teacher [Jesus], which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He [Jesus] said to him,” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ If Christians believe this, then I do not understand why Canadians (at least some of them) are becoming (maybe they’ve always been so) increasingly intolerant and bigoted. At least this is what the various news articles are suggesting is the trend. It just doesn’t fit with the teachings of Jesus.

Sadly, this trend seems to have begun when the US presidential campaign began and much anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and anti-Mexico rhetoric began filtering into Canada’s news. Middle East Eye, an online news organization that provides news from a Middle Eastern perspective, reports that Donald Trump’s election victory is causing a ‘spill-over effect’ in Canada, where hate-motivated incidents have seen a recent spike (see MEE). Even some of our Canadian politicians are now spewing toxic, divisive rhetoric. I truly thought Canadians were different; that Canadians were more tolerant because of our multicultural diversity.  In fact, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, during an address in London, United Kingdom, in November of 2015 said, “Diversity is our strength.” Now I always thought so, but perhaps I’m just naive.  It was Pierre Bayle, a French philosopher, who once said, “It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling”. He is so right! I still choose to believe that the majority of Canadians are tolerant and welcoming people no matter what race, religion and belief a person may have. The individuals carrying out these despicable hate crimes act out of fear perpetrated by rhetoric. Publius Cornelius Tacitus, a senator and an historian of the Roman Empire, once said, “Fear is not in the habit of speaking truth.” People are acting out of fear and thus executing heinous, hateful, acts because of lies spread by toxic political rhetoric. This has to stop!

You Just Have to” Give Your Head a Shake”

An outsiders view of the Trump presidency (so far)

Now I have been trying to avoid writing about Trump because I think he gets far too much attention than he deserves, but this man just keeps delivering me something more to write about.

A news headline that recently caught my attention was, Trump says anti-Semitism is ‘horrible’. My immediate reaction was to laugh. I literary shook my head. Why, you may ask? This is the man who said in June 2015, while announcing his candidacy for president, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”  Then in December 2015 rally in Charleston, South Carolina, he called for a complete and total halt of Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Both of these statements are clearly xenophobic demonstrating his intolerance to Muslims and Mexicans.

09-donald-trump-bully.w536.h357.2xThe article, Trump says anti-Semitism is ‘horrible. reports that on Tuesday, February 21, after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Trump told reporters that the museum was a “meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all forms.” He then called the recent threats against Jewish community centres “horrible and painful.” Several Jewish community centers across the United States were evacuated the day before after receiving bomb threats. Trump reportedly said, “I will tell you that anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop”.

Trump has been accused of encouraging, or ignoring, bigotry against groups including Muslims, Mexicans and Jews. He refused to take a question about anti-Semitism during a news conference, plus his administration came under fire for not mentioning Jews or anti-Semitism in its statement marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It is hypocritical when someone utters anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist remarks and then talks about anti-Semitism being horrible. How can Americans, or the world for that matter, take this man seriously or believe anything he says. I am not the only person who sees Trump’s hypocrisy. Steven Goldstein, executive director of Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect (see Anne Frank Center Criticizes Trump) said on February 21,  “His [Trump’s] statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism.”  These are pretty strong words.

The CBC news article, Human rights at risk amid rise of ‘fear and disunity’: Amnesty International, discusses Amnesty International’s annual report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, which documents “grave violations of human rights” in 159 countries. This 408-page report described 2016 as “the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs. them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s,” when Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. I find these words rather upsetting. The report laid much of the blame on Donald Trump who’s “Poisonous” rhetoric in his election campaign exemplified “the global trend of angrier and more divisive politics”.

I am proud to say, the 2016 report highlighted Canada’s recent record on treatment of Syrian refugees, noting that at least 38,000 Syrians were resettled in my country. It was not all praise for Canada, though, as the report expressed concern regarding Indigenous people’s rights. I’ve always felt Canada has failed in its treatment of the First Nations people.

I am also alarmed by the effect Trump has had on Canada. I have always supposed Canada to be a much more tolerant and understanding society, but since Trump came into the picture, I’ve seen some intolerance and racism rise up in this country, like the January 30 Quebec City mosque attack. As a Canadian, I also find it disconcerting that a CBC news article, 1 in 4 Canadians want Trump-style travel ban, reports that an Angus Reid Institute poll that looked at Canadians’ attitudes toward the federal government’s handling of refugees, revealed a “significant segment” of Canadians say the country’s 2017 refugee target of 40,000 is too high.  It alarms me even more that one in four Canadians wants the Canadian government to impose its own Trump-style travel ban. This is the direct result of the rhetoric Trump has been spewing since announcing his candidacy for president.

Trump’s campaign slogan was, “Make America Great Again”. An AlJazeera news report, Mapping hate, provides some unsettling statistics. It reports that there has been a rise in the number of hate groups operating in the United States for a second year in a row. This is according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) monitoring group.  The SPLC found that the total number of hate groups in the US in 2016 grew to 917 from 892 a year earlier. Since 1999, the total number of hate groups in the US has more than doubled.  The article says there are now more anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, white nationalist, neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate and black separatist organizations than ever before. The sharpest increase was among anti-Muslim groups, which grew from 37 to 101, a 197% increase in just one year.

maxresdefaultWhat is especially troubling is the sharp rise in “bias incidents” following the election of Donald Trump. Bias incidents are instances of hate crimes or harassment and intimidation. In the first three months following Trump’s election, 1,372 bias incidents were reported. Of that total, more than 25% were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments. Now I ask you, how is this making America great? I would argue the opposite is true. What Trump is doing is making America repugnant.

In my previous post, I discussed the Golden Rule and its relationship to karma, the law of cause and effect. When people spout anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist rhetoric it comes back to haunt them, as “what goes around comes around”.  Gertrude Buckingham, an American poet, says, “Hate brings to men wars and fear.”  I agree!  Hate begets more hate. Trump’s “hate rhetoric” has clearly caused more hate to come around. That is what the statistics suggest.

photoMartin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.  What America needs is more love. Ironically, in July of 2016, at a rally in Tampa, Florida, Hillary Clinton said, “You can’t put this into laws: We need more love and kindness in this country. We need more respect between and among our fellow Americans. We need to be listening more to each other.” One has to wonder what America would be like under a Hillary Clinton administration. Now give your head a shake! I am.

Do Europeans Really do Things Better?

My wife and I recently watched Michael Moore’s latest movie called, “Where to Invade Next”. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Michael Moore as he is not afraid to question the status quo in his homeland, the United States of America. In the movie, Moore leaves North America and heads to Europe with a stop-over in North Africa, ready to claim any policies that would make the U.S.A a better country. If you’ve never seen it, I would encourage you to do so. Here is the trailer.

According to National Observer, Americans kill 51 times more people with guns than Canadians do. That is but one reason why I’m thankful to be living in Canada; a country with strict gun controls (for which I am grateful), a country that has pretty good social programs, free health care, and is a very safe country to live in. Having said that, my wife and I were still blown away by some of the European polices and attitudes. Canada, like the United States, could learn a thing or two from the Europeans.

flag_of_europe-svgHere are some of the things Europeans do that Mr. Moore claimed as ideal policies for his country.

ITALY is a country that knows how to have balance when it comes to work life. Italy has one of the highest rates of paid vacation, maternity leave, and honeymoon allowance in the world. That is not even mentioning the two-hour workday lunches.  Italians seem to know how to take the stress out of a working life. Being a bit of a cynic, I did some research. Time reports that the American Psychological Association found that average stress levels in the U.S. rose since 2014, from 4.9 to 5.1 on a 10-point stress scale. Statistics Canada reports that in 2015 Canadian workers ages 15 to 75 that 28.4% reported high work-related stress. That is not to say that there is no stress among Italian workers. Eurofound, a European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, reports (2010), 33.6% of respondents consider their work as a source of excessive stress. These figures were higher amongst respondents selling and/or promoting financial products.

FRANCE is a country that feeds its school children with amazing, almost gourmet style healthy food. In the movie, school children shun Moore’s offer of a coke and feast upon a four-course healthy lunch. Lunch hour in France is considered a course where students are taught proper etiquette.  In the French school system, adolescents also learn about the realities of sex and respectful relationships.

FINLAND is a country whose school system went from being one of the worst in the world to one of the best.  What is their philosophy? Children spend less time in school (about three hours a day), no time doing homework, write no standardized tests, and lots of time playing.  As a retired teacher, I wondered how this could be and if indeed it is true. In 2015, Finland was ranked 5th in the world. (see The Best Education Systems in The World in 2015). Canada was ranked tenth (not to shabby) and the U.S. was ranked 29 out of 76 countries.

SLOVENIA is an eastern European country where school is considered a basic human right for all. As a result, students can get a complete college education costing them nothing. Not only is it for Slovenian students, but a college education is afforded to anyone no matter what passport a student may hold. This is not unique to Solvenia as  schools and universities are free in many European countries.

In GERMANY employees are given an equal say in business matters as company boards are composed of at least 50% workers.  If workers get stressed, a doctor can authorize a stay at a government funded spa since Germany prioritizes health before productivity. It is also noteworthy that Germany does not ignore its dark past regarding Hitler and the Holocaust. This country has a policy of acknowledgment and understanding of the past to affect a positive future.

PORTUGAL’S answer to the war on drugs is to decriminalize its usage and offer free treatment and comprehensive healthcare. In the words of a Lisbon police officer, “Human dignity is the backbone of our society.”

NORWAY’s penal system is one of rehabilitation and not revenge.  Prisons in Norway offer a chance for prisoners to rehabilitate and regain self-worth. There are no guard towers, no fences and no beatings in Norway’s prisons; even in their maximum-security prisons. Instead, prisons have a fair amount of freedom with four prison guards carrying no weapons responsible for over 100 inmates. It is also amazing to learn that of those coming out of the penal system, only 20% reoffend in Norway. Compare that to the United States.   A Bureau of Justice Statistic study reported that of inmates released from state prisons, 76.6% have a five-year reconviction rate. Canada’s reconviction rate is in the range of 41% to 44%, according to Public Safety Canada.

TUNISIA is a majority Muslim country, yet it provides government funded abortions and free women’s health clinics to ensure women are in control of their reproduction and in turn their basic rights.

ICELAND is a country that during the 2008 economic crisis had three of its major privately owned commercial banks default, all of which were run by men. The only bank that did not fail had female executives. It is also a country that had the first female president. Iceland empowers its women. The Economist named Iceland the world’s best place for working women in 2016. In comparison, Canada was ranked 11th and the U.S. was ranked 20th.

One thing that struck me was that in every country visited by Mr. Moore, the interviewees always stressed the importance of human dignity. What is human dignity? Oxford dictionary defines dignity as the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dignity as the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. All humans deserve to be treated respectfully. Really, it boils down to the Golden Rule which the Christian scriptures state as, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matthew 7:12).

So, do Europeans really do things better? According to the article, 16 Ways Europeans Are Just Better At Life, Switzerland came in second to Japan for the world’s longest life expectancy, according to a 2015 World Health Organization study. In fact, eight European nations have a life expectancy of 82 years. Canada is also at 82 years. In fact, 24 European nations rank ahead of the U.S. on the list, which comes in at number 33, just one spot ahead of Cuba at 79.3 years.

As the new Trump administration repeals Obamacare, Europe offers a number of examples of far more efficient health care systems. According to a Bloomberg study, America is number 50 out of 55 countries that were assessed for their health care systems. All European countries ranked higher than the U.S. Canada ranked 16th which is pretty good but still five European countries ranked ahead of Canada.

Who are the top nations in the world, in terms of time off? According to USA Today, all are European. Austrians get 35 paid days off per year. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the sole developed nation that requires no paid vacation time or holidays by law. As for Canada, the law is employees must receive at least 2 weeks of vacation per year for the first four years of employment, and a minimum of 3 weeks of vacation after the fifth consecutive year.

It seems to me that Europeans do know how to live life better. We Canadians do a pretty good job, but we could still learn a thing or two from the Europeans. According to Business Insider, every European nation has a higher standard of living than the United States which is ranked number 19. I’m proud to say, Canada is ranked second. Michael Moore is on the right track looking at the Europeans.

Now I’ve heard Americans refer to Canada and the European nations as socialist countries. Peerform, an American financial institution, lists Canada (along with 7 European countries) as socialist countries. One definition of socialism from yourdictionary.com is a system based “on principles of community decision making, social equality and the avoidance of economic and social exclusion, with economic policy should giving first preference to community goals over individual ones”. The way I see it is, I would rather live in a socialist country where we take care of each other as opposed to a strictly capitalist country where individualism is the focus, where individuals fend for themselves, and the sole goal is to get wealthy. It seems obvious to me that countries who adopt “socialist” ideals do better. The statistics speak for themselves.

Should the World be Worried About Trump?

A commentary on the actions of Trump’s first week in office.

8409107_origJanuary 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  This is a day in which the victims of the Holocaust are to be remembered. The Holocaust was a genocide (the methodical killing of a large group of people) that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime during the 1930s and 1940s. As a social studies teacher, I taught my students about this event and emphasized the importance of remembering such events so that such atrocities would never happen again. Now I have to wonder if history is about to repeat itself.

My New Year’s resolution this year was to watch less news which I’ve been successfully doing for the most part, but on January 27th, everyone that I met or connected with on social media was talking about Trump’s travel ban.  Mr. Trump signed an executive order implementing a travel ban of people from seven majority Muslim countries for 90-days. The seven countries are Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. This order also suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days with “case-by-case” exceptions and suspends entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. This caused confusion as permanent residents and green card holders didn’t know if they could enter the country due to conflicting advice sent to airlines by the White House. It also sparked outrage in the form of protests across the United States (see Protests Held). The President claims he is “Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States”.

According to the Huffington Post, from 1975 to 2015, foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen killed exactly zero Americans on U.S. soil. The article sites an analysis of terror attacks by the Cato Institute.  In 2016 alone, 188 people were killed on U.S. soil in mass shootings not involving Muslim American extremists, the report says. Meanwhile, there have been 230,000 murders in the U.S. since 9/11. These are Americans shooting Americans.

The White House stated “Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001,” when it issued the order. What is interesting to note is on Sept. 11, 2001, 19 militants hijacked four commercial airlines to carry out terrorist attacks on the U.S. that killed 2,996 people and wounded more than 6,000 others. The 19 men were associated with al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. Of the 19 hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. None of these countries are on the ban list. People from those three countries are still welcome to apply for U.S. visas and travel permits. This made no sense in my mind. The question is why? According to the Daily News,  Trump’s business empire holds multi-million dollar licensing and development deals in all of those countries raising alarming questions over what actually went into the decision process behind the executive order.

On Facebook, a video went viral of an Irish Senator, Aodhán Riordáin, reacting to the victory of Donald Trump. I encourage you to have a look. (see Trump is a Fascist). What struck me is that the senator referred to Trump as a fascist. During the U. S. Primaries last year my son sent a text me and referred to candidate Trump as a “modern day Hitler”. I’m now beginning to wonder if there might be some truth in his assessment of the man. There are several definitions of fascism but I like the definition on businessdictionary.com. It defines fascism as a

“Political ideology that imposes strict social and economic measures as a method of empowering the government and stripping citizens of rights. This authoritative system of government is usually headed by an absolute dictator who keeps citizens suppressed via acts of violence and strict laws that govern the people. The most noted form of fascism was implemented under Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, who both stripped citizens of their rights and maintained strict regimes that resulted in the deaths of thousands of humans. Some of the defining characteristics of fascism are: (1) racism, (2) militarism, (3) dictatorship, and (4) destructive nationalistic policies”.

rtx1gzco (1)Now if we look at the entire definition, we cannot say with conviction that the Trump administration is a fascist government. The key part of the definition that would dispute this is “headed by an absolute dictator who keeps citizens suppressed via acts of violence.” Mr. Trump was elected democratically, has not carried out acts of violence to my knowledge and is not an absolute (as in his word is final) dictator although signing executive orders is sort of dictatorial since it hasn’t been approved by the Senate or House of Representatives.

Are citizens being stripped of their rights?  The January 21 Women’s March was held because woman, believed women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights were all threatened under a Trump presidency.  The Independent reports that Donald Trump’s travel ban has been denounced by the UN as “mean-spirited” and illegal under international human rights law. Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law. Essentially, this ban is removing human rights on the basis of nationality and religion. There is little doubt that citizen’s rights are being infringed upon. That smacks of fascism to me.

The above definition says, “some of the defining characteristics of fascism are: (1) racism, (2) militarism, (3) dictatorship, and (4) destructive nationalistic policies”. Are these characteristics of the Trump administration?

Racism:  According to dictionary.com, a definition of racism is “intolerance of another race”.  The travel ban targets Muslim majority nations, and one could argue the Muslim religion, since no terrorist acts on US soil have been carried out by people from these seven countries. How does this protect Americans? Sounds like intolerance to me. The only logical explanation is racism. So is the Trump administration racist? Looks that way to me.

Militarism: Is Trump militaristic? He just signed an executive order to rebuild the military. You be the judge.

Dictatorship: Is Trump a dictator? He has signed several executive orders. These orders were not investigated by legal, policy, or political staff to ensure acceptability. An executive order is an official statement from the president about how the federal agencies he oversees are to use their resources. The president’s executive orders are recorded in the Federal Register and are considered binding, but they are subject to legal review. What this means is Trump is governing by decree; as if he had been elected dictator. One definition of a dictator is undemocratic rule. Close enough for me.

Destructive Nationalistic Policies: Is Trump putting into place destructive nationalistic policies? The travel ban sounds destructive to me or at the very least divisive, and is certainly a nationalistic policy since it is a policy based in fear. Nationalism is the policy of asserting the interests of one’s own nation separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations. According to that definition, all of Trump’s actions are nationalistic. Sounds eerily like fascism to me.

donaldtrumpadolfhitler
from .breakingnews.ie

I think it is fair to say that some of the things Trump is doing draws parallels to the Nazis. Hitler was able to tap into the Germans’ frustration by blaming the Jews. He claimed the Jews were taking over the country by stealing high-paying jobs. He was able to animate the uneducated by saying that Jews were destroying Germany. Now compare that to what is happening now. The Trump “movement” claims that the Mexicans are stealing jobs and are responsible for much of their crime. He is also perpetrating the idea that Muslims are terrorists. Most of his support appears to come from the uneducated. The Vox article, Election Results 2016, reports, Trump won “on the basis of overwhelming support in rural areas, particularly among non-college-educated whites” 

Now there are two ways to look at this mess. We could all be fearful and think the worst convincing ourselves that the beginnings of WWIII are happening. I refuse to believe that. It excites me that the actions of Trump appear to be “waking” the American people up. Perhaps this will force the United States to decide what type of a society they truly desire. Do they want a society based in fear, isolationism, individualism, and nationalism; a society that seems to have lost the of values “human dignity and respect.”  Or, do they want a society that cares about its citizens or even better all citizens; a society that values human dignity and a society that loves, cares and respects all people and not just their own. I like to think that Americans desire the latter and are waking up to the reality that Trump is creating the opposite of what American’s desire; a society built on fear, intolerance and perhaps even hate. The Huffington Post has an article called, The Inevitability of Impeachment, which states “Impeachment is gaining ground because it’s so horribly clear that Trump is unfit for office”. I sincerely hope they are right!