Sunday, 25 December 2016

With Friends Like Obama, Who Needs Enemies?

Barack Obama will soon end his term as U.S. President, but not before delivering another slap in the face to Israel. If you follow the news, you know what I'm talking about. Obama allowed a U.N. resolution condemning Israel's "settlement" building in the so-called "occupied territories" by not exercising the U.S. veto at the Security Council. It was Obama's way of saying that his administration would abandon its greatest ally in the Middle East and not put a stop to a clearly antisemitic declaration telling Jews that living in their ancestral homeland is a war crime. 

I knew there was no way that Obama would end his presidency without taking a parting shot at Israel and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the U.S. president's obvious antithesis. Bibi is of course a leader who believes in standing up to terrorists and power-hungry, genocidal dictators, whereas Obama believes in appeasing them and trying to reason with them. Indeed, even members of Israel's left wing are not as naive as the outgoing U.S. president. Obama has kept taking shots at Israel, not necessarily because he hates the state and hates the Jewish people, but because Israel and its current prime minister in particular have refused to bend to his naive worldview.

Actually, Obama isn't just naive. He's also ignorant. He doesn't know his history. If he did, he'd know that trying to trade land for peace, as he has encouraged Israel to do, is a bad bargain and always has been. Israel has tried multiple times to give up land in the hopes of achieving peace, only to be attacked again and again and again. Israel withdrew from large Palestinian towns and cities, only to see them turned into safe havens from which terrorists could launch suicide bombings and other attacks to kill and maim Israeli citizens. Israel left southern Lebanon, only to be attacked again by the Islamist terrorist group, Hezbollah. Israel vacated the Gaza Strip, and in a matter of days, terrorists turned once thriving Jewish towns into sites from which to launch rockets at Israeli civilians. 

"Oh, but what about Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula," Obama might ask. Well Mr. President, the first time Israel withdrew from Sinai and the Gaza Strip after the 1956 Suez Conflict, it was under threat of annihilation from Egypt and several other Arab states just a decade later. So Israel took preemptive action to defend itself in the 1967 war and again took control of Sinai and Gaza. Egypt eventually agreed to a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, in exchange for the return of Sinai. But fast forward a few decades and Israel is still regarded by most Egyptians as an enemy state. In fact, anyone in Egypt who appears to support normalization of relations with Israel is swiftly condemned, even within the country's political leadership, despite the existence of a peace treaty for over three decades. In addition, the Sinai has most recently become a base from which Islamist terrorists like Hamas and the Islamic State attempt to infiltrate and attack Israel. So did Israel really get peace in exchange for leaving the Sinai? It doesn't appear that way, Mr. President, does it?  

If only Obama would study the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict before he attempts to impose solutions on us. Actually, he should first take a look at the history of his own country. If he did, he would find out about how Native Americans gave up much of their land in exchange for promises of peace with the expanding American empire. And look where it got them. I'm sorry, Mr. President, but I don't want my own people to share the same fate as those whose conquered lands now comprise the United States of America. 

   

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Donald Trump Will be the Next U.S. President. God Help Us All.

Election Day in the U.S. this past Tuesday was shocking and appalling to say the least. After all was said and done, Donald Trump, a man who has openly called for banning Muslims from the U.S., who has made countless remarks demeaning women, visible minorities, disabled people and even war veterans, and who has bragged about sexually assaulting and harassing women will be the next President of the United States, the most powerful nation-state on Earth. I see dark times ahead; very dark times indeed.

The fallout from Trump's election has already begun. In fact, even before the official result of the election was announced, Canada's Ministry of Immigration website crashed after being overwhelmed with Americans looking for information on how to immigrate to their good neighbour to the north. The day after the election became a day of hate as bigots across the country became emboldened by the election of a man that seems to think just like them (see: Day 1 in Trump's America). Protests against Trump's election have taken place all over the U.S. and some of them have turned violent. All this has happened in the span of just a few days and Trump hasn't even set foot in the Oval Office yet! Imagine what will happen when he does. I can imagine what's coming and it's not a pretty picture.

Within the first year of his presidency, mass deportations of suspected illegal immigrants will begin and will not end until millions are kicked out of U.S. territory. Trump will show no mercy to those who have come to America seeking better lives for themselves and their children, for in his mind these people are all criminals. And unfortunately they won't be the only ones forced to leave as a result of Trump's policies. Their misery will be echoed overseas by multitudes of Ukrainians and perhaps others in eastern Europe as Putin's Russia celebrates the beginning of the Trump administration by seizing more territory.  Meanwhile in the rest of Europe, the rise of anti-immigrant, pro-fascist politics will be getting a big boost. There will undoubtedly be a lot more bigots and xenophobes filling the seats of Europe's governments and legislatures.

Trump's foreign policy will make much of the world a lot more vulnerable to attacks by power-hungry dictatorships, like Russia, China and Iran. Trump's unwillingness to protect America's allies if they don't pay what he thinks they should will inevitably mean an exodus of U.S. military forces from key strategic areas. In the far east, Trump will pull U.S. forces out of South Korea and Japan, leaving the two countries and the whole region vulnerable to attack by an increasingly aggressive China. Trump will also pull American forces stationed in Europe out at the same time Putin grabs more territory on the continent. In the Middle East, as if the situation in Syria isn't bad enough in light of current U.S. President Barack Obama's ineptitude, it will become worse once Trump takes office. He'll do even less than Obama has done and leave the Syrians to suffer and die under constant bombardment by the forces of the country's dictator, Bashar Al-Assad and his Russian allies. As for the rest of the Middle East, Trump will likely sit on the sidelines as failed states like Iraq and Yemen descend further into chaos. After all, he doesn't really see the region as a worthwhile investment (see: Foreign Ministry: 'Trump doesn't see the Middle East as a "wise investment"').

All this I see happening in just the first half of Trump's presidency. And if you think it's bad, it will only get worse; catastrophically worse. As I've said in previous posts, I believe that Donald Trump will put the world on the fast track to World War III. The reason for this is because although Trump will preside over very isolationist foreign and military policies, growing Russian, Chinese and Iranian aggression will eventually force his hand. And once his ego collides with leaders like Vladimir Putin, God help us all! 

Monday, 7 November 2016

My Advice for Americans as They Vote for a New President: Hold Your Noses and Vote for Hillary

I really don't envy American voters right now, because tomorrow when they vote for a new president, they have to choose between a serial liar and a megalomaniac who has proven himself to be a bigot, a chauvinist and a sexual predator. I've only been around for less than forty years and I've only been politically aware since my early teens, but I must say that this year's U.S. Presidential campaign has been the absolute worst I have ever seen. Not only do Americans have a horrible choice to make, but the campaign has polarized the country so badly that I don't know if the United States can truly be united again.

It's a sharp contrast from eight years ago, when a youthful, charismatic politician named Barack Obama managed to unite Americans of every background in order to get himself elected president. If you've read some of my previous posts, you know that I am not a fan of Obama, but I have to respect a man who has been able to unite so many people and give them hope, because that's a hard thing to do for any would-be leader. In contrast, all Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have managed to do is divide the country. This has been a campaign filled with hatred. Each candidate's supporters have no respect for each other, although I'm not surprised since the two candidates have no respect for one another either.

In my opinion, neither Clinton nor Trump make an ideal candidate for the so-called leader of the free world. So what should U.S. voters do when the go to the polls tomorrow? Well, they should probably do what most voters do when faced with a choice they don't like; vote for the lesser of evils. And in the case of tomorrow's election, I believe that Hillary Clinton is the lesser of evils between herself and Donald Trump. Yes, she may spin more lies than you can count, but at least she's rational and not the kind of loose cannon that Trump is. Indeed, in a post last February, when both Clinton and Trump were still fighting for their respective parties' nominations, I warned that if Trump is elected the next U.S. President, he may set the world on a fast track to World War III (see: What If Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders Becomes the Next President: A Grim Future Awaits the World Either Way), not to mention what he would do to the U.S. itself, where he has already empowered bigots and fascists all over the country. So if Americans want to avoid an epic disaster for the next four years, my best advice for them is to elect Hillary Clinton the next President of the United States. She's far from perfect, but I don't think her leadership will lead the U.S. to disaster the way Trump's would.


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Prime Minister Netanyahu: Do the Right Thing and Give Non-Orthodox Jews Their Rights at the Kotel

Anyone who has taken the time to read my posts on Israel should know that I am a big admirer of our current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  I agree with him on most things and always trust him to protect our country from all who threaten it.  But I'm afraid I have to profoundly disagree with the way he has dealt with non-Orthodox Jewish movements in the country.  In a recent Facebook post, he scorned members of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements for marching with Torah scrolls at the Western Wall. They were protesting the Prime Minister's refusal to give them a place at Judaism's holiest site where they can pray as they choose, without the restrictions imposed by the country's Orthodox Jewish monopoly (see: Violent outbreaks at the Kotel between orthodox and liberals).  Prime Minister Netanyahu's Facebook post said, "The unilateral violation of the status quo at the Western Wall this morning undermines our ongoing efforts to reach a compromise."

I don't know what ongoing efforts Bibi is referring to, because ever since the religious parties in his coalition threatened to bring down the government over the proposal to create a non-segregated space at the Kotel for non-Orthodox Jews to pray in, he has sat on his hands and done nothing. Instead, he has allowed the religious establishment to blackmail him just as they have blackmailed other prime ministers throughout Israel's history. This isn't the Bibi I know, because the Bibi I know does whatever he feels is necessary to protect the country. He has no problem standing up to U.S. President Barack Obama or any other world leader when it comes to Israel's interests. He does what he believes is best for the country, and if the international community doesn't like it, well, too bad. Yet the Israeli Prime Minister who has no fear in confronting the whole international community to defend Israel's interests is also the same Prime Minister who won't stand up to a few overzealous religious leaders who fear losing their power to control how Judaism is practiced in the country. How does this make sense? Yes, I understand that Bibi risks losing his coalition government if he stands up to the religious bullies that don't want any sort of compromise that would allow non-Orthodox Jews to worship at the Kotel as they please. But I don't think this should scare him, because he still has the courage to stand up to Obama, even though the Neville Chamberlain-esque president's administration has tried to unseat him as Israel's leader (see: US-funded resources used in 2015 campaign to unseat Netanyahu).

Besides, even if the religious members of the coalition carried out their threat to leave the government and possibly trigger new elections, Bibi would have the opportunity to prove himself as the person who can stand up to the tyranny of Israel's Orthodox establishment, just as he has proved himself as the leader best suited to stand up to Israel's enemies. I believe that our prime minister wants to do the right thing and allow non-Orthodox Jews to worship at the Western Wall as they see fit. He just has to find the courage to do it - the same courage he uses to defend Israel on the world stage.  

Update: November 3, 2016 - Our brothers in the religious Zionist movement support the right of non-Orthodox denominations to their own space at the Kotel: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4874299,00.html

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Iraq: One Mistake After Another

Yesterday, I read an article written by Toronto Sun columnist, Farzana Hassan, in which she warns of sectarian violence breaking out as Coalition forces gain ground against the so-called Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq (see: Sectarian violence will be an issue post-ISIL). She's right of course. In fact, she's just one of many people, including myself, who have been warning the world's leaders about sectarian conflict in Iraq for years. It's too bad the world's leaders haven't been listening. Indeed, the Pandora's box of ethnic and religious conflict in Iraq was opened when some of those leaders, notably President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, decided to invade the country and remove its dictator, Saddam Hussein, from power. Now of course, removing a ruthless dictator from power is never a bad thing. What is bad, however, is not having a sensible plan to deal with the aftermath. Saddam Hussein and his despotic regime was the only thing keeping Iraq together. But once his dictatorship was removed, all hell broke loose and none of our leaders in the Western world knew what to do.

The invasion of Iraq was just the first mistake. The second mistake was believing that once the people of Iraq were given the chance, they would create a vibrant, Western-style democracy. This was a very stupid assumption. It would be as if, after defeating and overthrowing the Nazi regime in Germany, the Allies decided that they would leave the country to its own devices after a year or two and assume that its people would create a modern, democratic state. Thankfully, that's not what happened. The Allied occupation of Germany lasted until the early 1950s, almost a decade after the end of World War II. During that time, the Allies set about transforming Germany into a Western-style democracy. Even after the Allied occupation formally ended, Western military forces remained in the country to oversee the German people's democratic transition. I remember a former professor of mine, who lived in Germany during the post-war years, telling me that as late as the 1970s, they were still being force-fed messages about the values of democracy. To make a long story short, building a modern, democratic state takes time. It's not something that happens overnight, or in just one to two years. So the presumption that once left to their own devices, the Iraqis would create a genuine democracy, was extremely short sighted.

Another crucial mistake that leaders like George W. Bush and Tony Blair made was keeping Iraq together in the first place. Two years ago, I wrote a blog post arguing for the partition of the country (see: Iraq: A Country Never Meant to be Falls Apart). I still stand by this argument today. As I said in my post two years ago, the country was never an exercise of self-determination for the people therein. It was an artificial construct of the former colonial powers, Britain and France. Several very distinct groups of people, most notably Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, were forcibly incorporated into a state designed by Western imperialists, not to mention a significant number of Christians that trace their ancestry to well before the Muslim Arab conquest of the region. The creation of what we now call Iraq was not only unjust, but was the catalyst for future conflicts.

When U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein and his regime from power, they had the opportunity to right a historic wrong by dismantling the Iraqi state and allowing its different ethnic and religious groups to govern themselves independently of each other. But instead, they opted to keep the colonial-era construct together, leading to the kind of sectarian conflict that people like myself and Toronto Sun columnist, Farzana Hassan, have been warning about. What the U.S. and its allies should have done after invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein was to divide the country into separate states, just like the victorious Allied forces did to the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WWI, when they gave each of the peoples of that former imperial realm the right to form their own independent nation-states. They could then have proceeded to transform these new states into democratic countries, just as the Allies did in Germany after WWII. But alas, it's too late for any of this to happen. And although Iraq may still break up into different states (in a way, it already has when you look at the facts on the ground), there likely won't be any transition towards true democracy, but rather the emergence of new local despots - something a region as undemocratic and bereft of freedom as the Middle East hardly needs.  

Friday, 21 October 2016

Wynne and the Liberals Have Got to Go. NOW!

Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Liberal government have been destroying the Province of Ontario with their reckless spending, endless scandals and just plain incompetence. So what do we do about it? Well, the Canadian attitude is usually to shut up and take it until the next election. I never liked this concept of sitting on one's hands until voting day and I especially don't like it now, because Ontarians just can't afford this government.

The next provincial election won't take place for almost two years. Two years is a long time. I wonder how many people will lose their homes or their shirts during that time, because they can't afford to pay their skyrocketing hydro bills, not to mention the mountain of debt that the Wynne Liberals will keep piling on for current and future generations to pay as long as they stay in power. Indeed, whoever succeeds the current government will have to inflict even more pain on Ontarians as they make the budget cuts necessary to clean up the mess that the Liberals have made of the province's finances. Logic dictates that the sooner the Wynne Liberals are kicked out of power, the easier it will be to repair the damage they've done.

The question is, how can we Ontarians remove our government before the law gives us the chance to replace them? Unfortunately, I don't have an answer, for inasmuch as I would love a coup d'etat to rid us of Wynne and her cronies, I know that we don't do that kind of thing in this country, for better or for worse. Still, it's not like outright rebellion is something completely alien to the people of Ontario. Anyone who studies Canadian history will know, for example, that an uprising took place against the government of Upper Canada (now the Province of Ontario) way back in the 19th century, before Confederation. But of course, I'm not advocating a violent overthrow of our provincial government. What I would like to see instead is something akin to what British Columbians did when their own provincial government tried to bring in a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). They fought the HST tooth and nail....and won! Meanwhile in Ontario, we sat on our hands and did nothing, allowing our government of incompetents to ram the HST down our throats. Imagine if we had pushed back like the people in B.C. did. Perhaps our province wouldn't be drowning in debt and our hydro bills would not be reaching the stratosphere. It's time folks in Ontario stopped being sheep and started being wolves. And what better way to start than to tell Wynne and the rest of the Liberal bunch to resign, because Ontarians just can't afford their policies anymore.     

Sunday, 9 October 2016

TTC Has No Thanksgiving Spirit

It's the Thanksgiving long weekend, and how has the TTC decided to give thanks to its riders? By closing the Bloor-Danforth subway line from St. George station to Pape station and relegating commuters to shuttle buses for the duration of the weekend, including Thanksgiving day. As if having to ride in hot, sweltering, stone-age subways during the summer wasn't bad enough, the incompetents at Toronto's mass transit monopoly have decided to stick it to riders again by closing half the subway line at a time when many people should be using it to visit family and friends during this long weekend.

Yes, I understand that it's sometimes necessary to close part of the subway system so that upgrades and maintenance can be performed, but forcing a closure on this long weekend smacks of utter stupidity. According to police, the Thanksgiving long weekend creates more traffic in the Province of Ontario than any other weekend during the year.  So if there's any time for all of Toronto's subway system to be fully operational on a weekend, it's now. The last thing Toronto needs on this Thanksgiving long weekend is more cars on the road and more potential for impaired driving. I sincerely hope that nobody loses their life this long weekend, because someone got drunk behind the wheel of a car when he or she could have taken the subway if it had been running.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Trudeaumania 2.0 Nothing But a Farce

It's been almost a year since a federal election in Canada swept the Liberal Party back into power under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. I assume a lot of people were celebrating that night. People who thought that they were going to see real change take hold in this country.  I still remember the headline in The Toronto Star, which along with the CBC led the cheerleading section for the Trudeau Liberals, proudly proclaiming, "It's a New Canada," the morning following the election. I can't believe people are so naive. Indeed, even people I know personally who have good heads on their shoulders voted for Trudeau the younger. But of course, even smart people can do some really stupid things, like voting in a fraud to be the prime minister of this great country.

Justin Trudeau is nothing but a washed-up drama teacher with a famous last name. Whereas his father was a visionary with his own original ideas for making Canada better, his son is a person, who in the great Liberal Party tradition, hijacks the ideas of others and presents them as his own. During the election that brought him to power, Justin Trudeau stole the traditional agenda of the NDP and presented it to voters as his own, fooling them into believing that he and the Liberals were the true agents of change.  And unfortunately, voters bought into this lie.

No Change. Just More of the Same

One of the slogans that supporters of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau like to use is, "Canada's Back!" But Canada never went away. The Liberals did for a while, reduced to third party status at one point, and I couldn't have been happier, because I thought that the lifetime idea plagiarists got what they deserved. Actually, if I had it my way, the Liberal Party would cease to exist. But unfortunately, they're back and they haven't changed one bit. They brought back the same Liberal policies of the past.  Policies like multiculturalism without regard for democratic values, an immigration policy focused on bringing anyone into the country who the Liberals think will vote for them when they become citizens, and of course, pretending to be the party of compassion for refugees and aboriginals until the photo-ops end and the marginalized once again become an afterthought for the party until the next election. The Liberals also brought back the same bunch that were part of the last government run by the party.  Folks like Stephan Dion, John McCallum and Ralph Goodale. In short, the white cats have just taken over for the black ones, as has been the case throughout all of Canadian history. Hell, even Thomas Walkom, the national affairs columnist for The Toronto Star, is beginning to see through Justin Trudeau's charade (see: Trudeau government remains oddly Harperesque). So for those people who still think Trudeau the younger is a true harbinger of change and lovingly smile every time he takes a selfie (especially if he has his shirt off), it's time to face the truth. There is no change. There will be no change. It's just more of the same.   

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Someone Needs to Stand Up to Putin's Russia

Syria continues to burn, as does the Donbas region of Ukraine.  Putin's Russia has killed thousands with it's relentless military aggression that shows no signs of abating.  And what have the world's democracies done about it?  Have they created a no-fly zone in Syria?  Did they deploy troops to Ukraine to prevent further Russian incursions into the country?  Nope.  Their only response has been a few sanctions here, a few words of condemnation there, and lots and lots of trying to talk Putin into stopping his ruthless quest for more land and power.  Is any leader in the free world actually going to grow some backbone and stand up to the Russian dictator?  Little hope of that any time soon, I fear.

The United States, led by Neville Chamberlain-esque President Barack Obama, now looks weaker than ever in the face of Putin's aggression.  Remember when Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a game-changer?  All talk and no action.  Chemical weapons have been used in Syria on multiple occasions by Putin's ally, fellow dictator Bashar Al-Assad, and Obama has just sat on his hands and twiddled his thumbs.  Not that the rest of the democratic world's leaders have done much better.  The leaders of Europe, for instance, don't seem to care about what's causing thousands of Syrian refugees to rush to the continent for safety.  Did it ever occur to them that if they would get off their asses and take concrete actions to end the bloodbath in Syria, they wouldn't have to deal with throngs of desperate people seeking refuge?  Obviously not.  Well, to the leaders of the free world, I say, WAKE THE HELL UP!  Failure to take practical steps to curb the aggression of Putin and his allies has only emboldened them and will continue to embolden them.  Before you know it, the Russian dictator's tanks could be in the streets of several NATO capitals.  In fact, Putin has even said on one occasion that his forces could be in five NATO capitals in just two days.  Hence, I would say that it's about time for the free world to act.

At the end of the day, the only thing that power-hungry leaders like Putin understand is force.  So for example, if Putin's forces continue to bomb civilians and Western-backed forces in Syria, I say the West should bomb Assad's forces in order to protect those civilians and support the forces of freedom in the country.  If Putin continues to deploy thousands of troops and heavy weapons in Ukraine's occupied Donbas and Crimea regions, then NATO should do the same in free Ukrainian territory and on the European borders with Russia.  To sum it all up, if Putin wants to play hardball, then the free world should oblige him.  I'm not advocating starting a war with Putin's Russia, because I know that Putin and his allies are not yet ready to start World War III.  But if the free world doesn't act now to challenge the Russian dictator's pattern of aggression, he and his friends will have a big head start on the world's democracies once they are prepared to wage a global conflict.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Post-Secondary Education in Canada Needs to Change!

Have you ever seen the movie, "Accepted".  It's about a guy who gets rejected to every college he applied to, eventually leading him to create his school that becomes a magnet for other young people who were rejected from other colleges. The film is one of countless spoofs on college life in the U.S. and it's quite funny, though it's hardly a blockbuster. Believe it or not, the movie actually got me thinking about things that I think are seriously wrong with university education. And since tomorrow is Back to School day for millions of young people across Canada, including many university and college students, I thought that this would be the opportune time for me to share my thoughts about the subject.

I still vaguely remember the my first year of university.  I recall that before classes started, I attended an orientation session at the University of Toronto.  One of the things they told us about was something called a distribution requirement, which basically meant that every U of T student had to take a humanities course, a social science course and a science course.  The person leading the orientation session said that taking courses in all three streams was supposed to make us well-rounded.  What a load of crap! First of all, when you get to university, shouldn't it be you who decides how "well-rounded" you want to be, rather than some bigwigs at the high echelons of the university hierarchy? After all, you had plenty of time to study all sorts of subjects when you were in elementary and high school.  So if I want to major in biology, for example, why the hell should I have to take an English course?  Didn't I get enough Shakespeare in high school?  I can still remember the class I took to fulfill my science requirement.  Students frequently fell asleep during the lectures. Gee, I wonder why.  Probably because like a lot of the people in the class, they were only there to get their distribution credit, so I can't say I blame them for dozing off.  Now of course, I can't just pick on my alma mater for this ridiculous policy, because plenty of other universities do the same thing. Regardless of what the stiffs in charge of the universities tell you, taking courses in fields that you have no interest in will not make you well-rounded.  All it may do is bring down your grade point average. Besides, there are already other courses that you don't want to take, but have to take, which have nothing to do with distribution or breadth requirements.

Once you've decided what you want to major in, you'd think that you would have a free reign of courses to choose from. Fat chance of that! Because as if having to take courses for distribution and breadth requirements weren't bad enough, you also have to take less desirable courses to complete your major.  Want to major in political science, but don't want to deal with the philosophical exploits of Socrates, Plato and a bunch of other dead white guys?  Tough luck, chump, because if you want your degree, you'll have to sit in a classroom for hours on end learning about ancient Greek and Roman philosophers.  While there's certainly nothing wrong with studying Plato's Republic or John Locke's Treatises of Government, that may not be consistent with what you want to learn about political science.  Personally, I think that once you've made it into university, you should be able to decide what you want to learn, rather than having to choose from programs with distribution requirements, breadth requirements, or whatever else the bigwigs at the top make up to limit your choices.  Besides, it's your money that paying for the education that you're supposed to receive, so shouldn't it be your choice what to learn?  This brings me to what I think is the worst thing about post-secondary education: the insane cost.

Unlike elementary and secondary school, to which everyone in Canada is supposed to have universal access, post-secondary education is not treated as a right, but rather a privilege.  This despite the fact there are virtually no good paying jobs for people without a post-secondary education of some sort. Hell, even people who have a post-secondary education, including those with more than one degree under their belts, find it exceedingly difficult to find work.  This is not good news for young people who have just graduated from university or college, only to find themselves without work and thousands of dollars in debt. The cost of post-secondary education is insane.  Not only do students have to pay sky high tuition fees just for the privilege of attending classes, but they are also faced with other difficult expenses.  Everything from textbooks to housing costs can quickly eat up an average student's budget.  Now of course, there is help for needy students - a patchwork of grants, loans and scholarships offered by various levels of government, post-secondary institutions themselves, non-profits and private interests.  What Canada's aspiring post-secondary students really need is not a cornucopia of financial aid sources and the seemingly endless bureaucracy that comes with them; they need a system of universal access that allows all of them, regardless of their financial circumstances, to pursue higher learning.

I am appalled at the way post-secondary institutions gouge students nowadays.  As if the cost of tuition, textbooks and living expenses aren't enough to drive some students into the poorhouse, post-secondary schools have developed other innovative cash grabs.  When I was a full-time student at U of T, for example, you had to pay to see your own exam after you had written it.  I can also still remember the outrageous fees for overdue library books.  I can't imagine what those fees are like now, nearly fifteen years after I left full-time studies.  Many years later, when I was taking language courses at U of T as a non-degree student, I was told I had to pay $25 to "re-activate" my student account in order to enroll in courses after I had not taken a course in two years. Did I hear someone say highway robbery!?  This is the kind of treatment that I expect from the big banks, not universities that are public institutions funded by the taxpayer.  If you're a current or former student reading this, I would love to hear what other stupid charges your school has made you pay.

Now I'm sure that I'll hear some people tell me that compared to some other countries, students studying at post-secondary institutions in Canada have it pretty good.  But why should we only compare ourselves to other countries where the situation is worse?  Yes, I understand that university and college tuition is several times less than it is in the U.S., where some schools charge more than the average family makes in a year for one semester.  However, I also know about countries in Europe where post-secondary education is free and yet the quality of education is still top notch.  The truth is that a lot of folks in certain levels of government, as well as the bigwigs running the universities and colleges in Canada would like us all to just shut up and be grateful for what we have. But I for one am not going to shut up and I hope those of you reading this won't either.  We need to strive for better, rather than compare ourselves to the lowest common denominator.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Burkini Ban Won't Prevent Spread of Islamic Fundamentalism. It Will Fuel It

Who knew a full-body bathing suit was such a threat to a country's national identity? Well, apparently leaders in some towns in southern France think it's a threat, which is why they've banned the so-called burkini bathing suit from their beaches. They think that somehow, by banning the burkini, they will stem the tide of Islamic fundamentalism. But history actually shows us that banning the overt expression of religious devotion doesn't prevent the rise of religious extremism. In fact, it often does just the opposite.

Long before countries in Europe started banning Muslims from wearing face veils or headscarves, it was actually Muslim countries that were trying to prevent their people from being too steeped in Islamic observance. Many people don't know it, but Iran, which is now in the firm control of Islamic fundamentalists, was once a staunchly secular country.  In fact, the last Shah of Iran attempted to ban things like the hijab and the niqab. As is the case in France now, anyone in Iran who displayed their religious devotion in public was viewed as a threat to the regime.  But ironically, the attempts by the Shah of Iran to protect the secular state from Islamic extremism by suppressing Islamic religious observance did just the opposite.  In 1979, the people of Iran, led by Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the secular regime of the Shah and established what is now arguably the most dangerous Islamist regime in the world.

More recently, Turkey has become the latest secular state to fall to Islamists. Indeed, in just over a decade, Turkey has turned from a modern, secular state where wearing the hijab or any other conspicuous religious garb in any state institution was strictly forbidden, to a country under the near-total control of an Islamist president in the person of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who himself was once arrested and served time in prison for espousing Islamist politics.

So clearly, putting undue restrictions on religious devotion or religious practice does not prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Instead, such restrictions add gas to the fire that we call Islamic extremism. If France and any other country wants to stop the spread of Islamo-fascism, then they need to concentrate on the real threats - and folks, the burkini isn't one of them.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Save Aleppo! Save Syria!

Today, I signed a petition put together by a doctor working in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo (see: Obama & Merkel: Please act to save our lives in Aleppo).  I doubt it will make much of a difference, however, as the leaders of the free world have largely ignored the plight of the Syrian people, much to the joy of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and his fellow dictators in Russia and Iran, not to mention terrorist groups like ISIL.  More than 250,000 people have died in the war; more than four million refugees have fled the country and another eight million are internally displaced (see: Lifeline Syria Facts and Statistics).  Hundreds of thousands of these refugees have made their way to Europe, triggering the worst migration crisis on the continent since World War II (see: Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts).  And remember when our modern-day Neville Chamberlain, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a red line?  Well Mr. President, chemical weapons have been used on several occasions and you've sat on your hands and done nothing - and nothing is exactly what your word is worth to both your allies and your enemies.  No wonder then that neither the U.S. nor its allies have taken meaningful action to end the Syrian conflict.

And by meaningful action, I don't mean trying to talk Assad and his allies into ending the slaughter of Syrian civilians.  I mean force - the only thing that dictators like Syria's Assad, Russia's Vladimir Putin, the Iranian ayatollahs and terrorist groups like ISIL and Hezbollah understand. The sad truth is that the U.S. and her allies missed the best chance to end the conflict with limited military action years ago.  Had the West acted to neutralize Assad's air force the same way they did Libya's when people in that country rose up against their dictator, the war would have been over years ago; thousands of deaths could have been prevented, there would not be a massive flow of refugees into Europe, and terrorist groups like ISIL and Hezbollah wouldn't have the foothold in Syria that they have now.  But alas, the leaders of the free world failed to act.  So now, instead of planes from the world's democratic countries flying in the sky over Syria to defend civilians from the wrath of their dictator's air force, there are instead Russian warplanes flying over Syria bombing Aleppo and other civilian centres in the country alongside Assad's planes.  Clearly, it is our enemies who have the courage to defend their interests in Syria, whilst the democracies, led by a feeble U.S. president, sit on the sidelines.

I do believe, however, that it is still possible for the free world to use military force in order to save the lives of civilians in Syria.  But it means that somebody's going to have to have the guts to stand up to Putin and tell him that the air forces of the democracies will defend Syria's civilians, even if it means shooting down his planes.  Okay, maybe you folks reading this think I'm crazy because doing what I'm proposing would inevitably lead to a third world war, right?  I don't think so, for the simple reason that as tough and aggressive as Putin has acted over the last few years, he's not yet ready to take on the full military might of the Western democracies.  So I say we stand up to the petty Russian dictator on Syria now, while we still can, before his forces are ready to draw hands with us.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

It's Time We Got Rid of Streetcars in Toronto

I recently came across a CBC news article that referred to a study linking many serious bicycle accidents in downtown Toronto to streetcar tracks (see: Streetcar tracks major cause of serious downtown cycling crashes, new study finds).  To me, this is yet another reason to get rid of streetcars in Toronto.  I understand that streetcars are an iconic symbol of the city, but they're also a big traffic nuisance whether you're riding a bicycle or driving a car.  Have you ever driven in downtown Toronto and gotten stuck behind one?  Unless a streetcar has its own right-of-way, like on St. Clair Ave. or Spadina Ave., chances are that whenever it stops to load and unload passengers, the rest of the traffic behind it has to stop.  By law, all traffic in the land adjacent to a streetcar must stop behind the streetcar doors to allow passengers to be loaded and unloaded onto the transit vehicle. There are instances, however, when drivers will ignore this law and try to pass the streetcar when its doors are open, sometimes leading to riders being injured or even killed.

The fact of the matter is that if not for the presence of these annoying hulks of metal and the infrastructure they use, both cyclists and TTC riders would face much less risk to their well-being when navigating the streets of downtown Toronto.  Furthermore, traffic would flow more freely because it wouldn't be stuck behind streetcars loading and unloading passengers.  Indeed, getting stuck behind streetcars doesn't just cause a lot of frustration for drivers, but also leads more idling traffic and therefore more pollution.  Another benefit of doing away with streetcars is that the city would no longer have to do maintenance on streetcar tracks or cables.  I can't even count how many times the city has had to close major intersections in downtown Toronto in order to repair streetcar track, resulting in more traffic headaches.

Now of course, if we get rid of streetcars, we'll obviously have to replace them with something.  After all, multitudes of Torontonians rely on streetcars every day.  Indeed, supporters of streetcars will tell you that if we got rid of them, we would have to replace them with buses that run on gas rather than electricity like streetcars do and the end result would be more pollution.  But as I've already mentioned, even though streetcars run on electricity, they cause traffic to idle and that idling itself leads to more pollution.  Also, who says that we need to replace streetcars with buses when we can replace them with subways?  This has been done in the past.  Older Torontonians may remember, for example, how there used to be streetcars on Bloor and Danforth before the Bloor-Danforth subway line was completed.  There's no reason why we can't replace current streetcar lines with subway lines. There would, of course, be a major financial commitment, but I think many Toronto residents would agree that it would be worth it to alleviate traffic jams and make getting from point A to point B easier.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Young People Looking for Work Face Exploitation and Despair

I recently read an article in The Globe and Mail about how a growing number of people with graduate degrees are either unemployed or underemployed.  You would think that the higher the education you have, the easier it'll be to find full-time employment.  But it's not so simple.  In fact, the Globe article also noted that the number of employed people with just a high school education or trade certificate is growing.  The fact of the matter is that nowadays, if you want a good job, you may be better off learning a trade than spending several years in university.

I remember looking for work after I got my graduate degree and believe me when I say that one of the worst jobs a person can have is looking for a job.  It is especially difficult for young people, many of whom come out of university with a mountain of debt, looking desperately for full-time work so that they can pay off their student loans.  They try to get their foot in the door, only to have the door slammed on them by potential employers. Some are told that they don't have enough experience, leading them to ask themselves, "How can I get a job when everyone wants experience?  And how can I get experience when I don't have a job?"  The answer that the compassion-less conservatives usually give is that you need to volunteer and work for nothing.  Personally, I think this is a ludicrous answer because nowadays, students and recent graduates who are up to their eyeballs in debt can't afford to work for free.  Some of them do, nevertheless, because it's the only way for them to get the experience they need in order to increase their chances of landing that all-important full-time job in the future - or so they think.

Enter the unpaid internship, where young people can find themselves working full-time hours with no compensation.  Now of course, the compassion-less conservatives will say that the compensation is in the form of job experience.  But in many cases, young interns will find themselves doing menial tasks that do nothing to prepare them for the job market - tasks that should be done by paid employees. The sad truth is that some firms, organizations and individuals take advantage of unpaid internships to exploit young people and use their free labour to avoid hiring paid employees, leaving the young interns themselves no closer to a full-time job than before they decided to work for nothing.

The sadder truth, however, is what happens when a young person fresh out of university has pulled out all the stops, but still hasn't found gainful, full-time employment.  In a word, underemployment. Indeed, I worked my ass off in university, obtaining both a BA and a Masters degree, only to find myself working on construction sites doing manual labour because I couldn't find work in my field. How's that for a reward for my years of studying!? Actually, I consider myself fortunate because I was eventually able to start my own business.  Others, however, aren't so lucky and are forced to take on menial jobs just to make ends meet.  So it's no surprise that there are many university graduates working as waiters or retail salespeople.  Believe me when I say that being underemployed can feel just as humiliating and degrading as being unemployed.  I hope I speak for most people when I say that folks who work hard in university deserve better than to be serving drinks or mopping floors.  

Monday, 25 July 2016

Trump Endangers the West's Collective Security

I hate Donald Trump for a number of reasons.  Now I have another reason to hate him - his refusal to guarantee that the United States will intervene to protect fellow NATO members.  He says it's because they're not living up to their defense spending commitments that members of the military alliance have agreed to.  Yet at the same time, he is saying that if he is elected President, he will not live up to what is essentially most important part of the NATO treaty: the commitment of all countries to protect each other if and when one member is attacked.

Trump has implied that he may stand idly by if, for example, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin tries to push his military forces into the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, all of which are NATO members that border Russia.  I'm sure that this is music to Putin's ears.  After all, he's already annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and is currently conducting a campaign to conquer eastern Ukraine.  It is very likely that he will see the election of Trump as the next President of the United States as a green light to make more land grabs.  Before you know it, we could see Russian troops on the streets of the Baltic states as well as the rest of Ukraine and Belarus.  And if Trump doesn't lift a finger to help these conquered nations, Putin may become even bolder and try to push even further west. By the time the U.S. is ready to intervene, Russian troops may have already reached the borders of Germany.  Scary scenario, isn't it?

I have already been frustrated at current U.S. President Barack Obama's lackluster response towards Russian aggression.  Only after Russia had annexed the Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine did the U.S. and its European allies commit to stationing a few hundred troops in the Baltic states to try and deter Putin from making any new conquests.  But if Trump becomes president, I doubt that these troops will stay for long.  Now of course, as I mentioned in a previous blog, What If Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders Becomes the Next U.S. President? A Grim Future Awaits the World Either Way, Putin's interests would eventually conflict with those of Trump's and war will be all but certain. Before this happens, however, Trump will have given his Russian counterpart a giant head start.  The Donald just doesn't understand that peace for the U.S. means peace for all, especially its NATO allies. I guess he just doesn't believe in collective security, which is yet another reason why he shouldn't be America's next president.

Haredi Students Must Learn Core Subjects

Most Jews would agree that education is a fundamental Jewish value.  I personally don't know any Jewish people who don't put a strong emphasis on education for both themselves and their kids. Unfortunately, however, the leaders of the Haredi factions that are currently part of the Israel's governing coalition don't see it this way, which is why they demanded that the requirement for students in Haredi schools to study core subjects, like math, science and English in exchange for government funding be removed.  This demand was part of the coalition agreement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed with the Haredi parties in order to get them to join his coalition (see: Core subject requirements for ultra-Orthodox educational institutions to be cancelled).

By insisting that Haredi schools receive government funding without any commitment to teaching core subjects, the Haredi parties are basically implying that their people should have no obligation to contribute to the economic life of Israeli society.  Hence, Haredi students will not learn anything that would prepare them for the job market.  All they'll be able to do is pray and study religious texts, which means that they likely won't get jobs and that other Israelis will have to put more of their tax dollars towards subsidizing their unproductive way of life.

I know I speak for many Israelis when I say that I'm tired of seeing so many Haredim not being gainfully employed while at the same sucking at the teat of the Israeli taxpayer.  And I certainly don't buy the old Haredi argument that praying alone is a meaningful contribution to Israeli society.  There are many religious Zionists in the country who contribute immensely to the State of Israel and yet they still find plenty of time to pray and study.  Why should the Haredim be any different?

July 25, 2016 Update: A great op-ed piece on the importance of Haredi students learning core subjects: Leaving children, and the country, behind

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Rural Residents in Canada Deserve Reliable Internet and TV Services

During the summer, I like to spend most of my time up at the cottage.  I love the cottage!  Swimming, boating, or just sitting outside reading or writing.  But there's one thing that's always bothered me - I mean besides the mosquitoes.  What I'm referring to is the poor internet and TV services that I receive, because my cottage is located in a rural area.  In fact, I can only access satellite TV from one company because of my location and no cable service provider will expand their network to where my cottage is for the same reason.  And as anyone with satellite TV will tell you, the service doesn't work too well if bad weather comes along, not to mention the fact that it's ridiculously expensive.  I have internet access at my cottage, but it's quite unreliable and a lot slower than my internet back home in Toronto.

I guess I should be grateful I have satellite TV and internet access at all.  After all, before satellite TV, all I had at the cottage was one of those old TV antennas and I was lucky to pick up a few channels. But of course that was then and this is now.  It's the information age and I don't think it's right that just because my cottage is in a rural area, my internet and TV services should be so unreliable and my choices so limited.  The problem is that the big players in the internet and TV markets don't have any incentive or requirement to provide reliable service to people living in remote communities.  There are an emerging number of smaller companies providing TV and internet services, but they are also largely unreliable.  The problem is that it just doesn't make any financial sense to the established providers to spend money so that the few people living in remote, rural areas can access their services.  And as long as this is the case, anyone who resides in a rural area of Canada will be stuck with inferior service, if any service at all.  I believe that this needs to change and it needs to change now!

I would like to call on all relevant levels of government to put pressure on internet and TV service providers to provide rural customers with reliable service.  Everyone in Canada, whether they live in the city or out in the country, deserves equal access to communication services.  It's bad enough that we pay such high prices in this country to watch TV or access the internet.  Not being able to access these services just because you live in a rural area only makes the situation worse.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Bigoted Rabbis Must be Removed From Their Posts

Last week, the citizens of Israel learned that the new chief rabbi of the IDF, Colonel Eyal Karim, is a man who believes that raping women during wartime is okay, but that allowing women to serve as soldiers in Israel's military isn't (see: IDF's chief rabbi-to-be permits raping women in wartime).  He also referred to homosexuals as "sick or deformed" (see: More controversial comments by IDF chief rabbi-to-be come to light).  I can't help but asking, how can such a bigoted person be allowed to become the chief rabbi of what is for many Israel's most respected institution, the Israel Defense Forces?

The answer to this question may lie in the unfortunate fact that Col. Karim isn't alone in his bigotry. Just days after his comments about women and homosexuals came to light, another rabbi, Yigal Levinstein, the head of a pre-army preparatory yeshiva, referred to homosexuals as "perverts" and condemned the IDF for making efforts to accommodate them (see: Senior rabbi condemns IDF for accommodating LGBT 'perverts').  The next day, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, made comments supporting Levinstein and also accused members of the LGBT community of trying to impose a homosexual lifestyle on children (see: Ramat Gan's chief rabbi: Gays and lesbians are disabled and predatory).  In fact, three hundred rabbis across the country signed a letter in support of Levinstein (see: Hundreds of rabbis support Rabbi Levinstein).

I think I speak for many Israelis when I say that the kind of bigotry espoused by these rabbis has no place in our country.  Furthermore, I would argue that any rabbi who currently holds an official position in the country should lose that position for making the kind of hateful remarks that the rabbis mentioned above have made.  For its part, the IDF is reconsidering its relationship with Rabbi Levinstein (see: IDF to re-examine professional relationship with anti-gay rabbi) and the Ministry of Defense has condemned the rabbi's comments.  So has education minister Naftali Bennett, himself a religious Zionist like Levinstein (see: Defense ministry, Bennett condemn rabbi who called LGBT community 'perverts').  But I don't think words of condemnation should suffice.  Rather, I believe that Col. Karim should not be the IDF's new chief rabbi and that Rabbis Yigal Levinstein and Yaakov Ariel should be removed from their posts immediately.      

Trudeau Government's Policy on Syrian Refugees is Ludicrous

I have a friend from Syria who used to live here in Toronto.  We met each other through work and eventually became very good friends.  A few years ago, however, she was deported from Canada because she got bad advice from an immigration consultant.  She went back to live in Syria's capital, Damascus.  About one year later, the Syrian civil war began and my friend's life has been in danger ever since.  She wants desperately to come back to Canada, but until now she has been stonewalled in her attempts to return.  Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has seen fit to bring in thousands of other refugees from Syria in a matter of months. So my friend who speaks fluent English and who has lived here, worked here, volunteered here and paid taxes here can't come back. But thousands of other Syrians who have never set foot in this country, don't speak either official language and are unfamiliar with Canadian values and customs?  No problem, bring 'em in!  That's the Trudeau government's logic.  

The fact that my friend can't return to Canada pisses me off enough.  But what's worse is that the Trudeau Liberals just let thousands of refugees pour into the country without a plan to feed, clothe and shelter them.  Indeed, many of the Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada are having to rely on food banks and other assistance from humanitarian organizations since they're getting little to no help from the feds.  Yet Trudeau's government has decided that it prefers to take in government-sponsored refugees rather than privately sponsored ones, which is why private sponsors are still waiting for what seems like forever to get their applications processed.  Does this sound stupid to anyone else?

It also doesn't make sense that our federal government is seemingly not interested in helping some of Syria's most vulnerable refugees - ethnic and religious minorities.  In an article in today's Toronto Star, opposition politicians condemned the Liberal government for sitting on their hands and doing nothing to help Syria's Yazidis, a religious minority group that has been relentlessly targeted by the so-called Islamic State terrorist group (see: MPs clash over how Canada can help Yazidis).  They are the victims of genocide, yet the Liberals won't rush to bring any of them into Canada as they did with the thousands of refugees already here.  

So let's summarize the Liberals' priorities when it comes to Syrian refugees.  Who is not a priority? Anyone like my friend who has already lived here and contributed to Canadian society; privately sponsored refugees who will rely on support from their sponsors rather than on handouts from government and humanitarian organizations; and lastly, members of ethnic and religious minorities, like the Yazidis, who face genocide at the hands of terrorist groups like Islamic State.  Who is a priority?  Government-sponsored refugees, who will arrive in Canada with little scrutiny and rely almost exclusively on meager government support and handouts from humanitarian groups.  

By now you might be asking, why are the feds' priorities so mixed up when it comes to Syria's refugees?  The answer is that the Liberal government doesn't really care which refugees come into this country, so long as they think that these refugees will vote Liberal come election time, should they become Canadian citizens.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Too Many Haredim in Israel Out of Line. It's Time to Knock Them Back In

Today, I was appalled to hear about the treatment of members of Women of the Wall at the hands of Haredi bandits (Ultra-Orthodox curse, spit, tear up a prayer book while Women of the Wall pray). What's also disturbing is the way police allegedly responded to this Haredi mob: By doing absolutely nothing.  Indeed, Israeli authorities regularly treat Haredi extremists with kids gloves and I think this needs to stop.  There are just too many people in the Haredi community who have no respect for anyone, whether it's women, secular people or anyone else who doesn't want to live like them and do their bidding.  The rest of Israel has been living in fear of these extremists for far too long and it's time we turned the tables.  It's time for the extremists to start living in fear instead of ordinary Israelis who don't conform to the Haredi lifestyle.

Unfortunately, however, it's not just ordinary Israelis living in fear of Haredi extremists, but also successive Israeli governments, including the current one.  Almost all Israeli governments have had members of Haredi political factions sitting at the cabinet table.  The Haredim, like all other Israelis, have the right to representation.  What they don't have the right to do is to use that representation to blackmail governments into imposing theocratic laws and policies on the country's non-Haredi population.  But unfortunately, this is exactly what they've been doing.  The latest example?  Haredi factions threatening Prime Minister Netanyahu that they will leave his government if he does not cancel the agreement with the Women of the Wall to create a mixed-gender section at Judaism's holiest site - an agreement that the Haredi leaders initially agreed to.  They have since changed their minds and will now stop at nothing to prevent the compromise arrangement from taking shape.  Bibi has so far yielded to the Haredi parties, not wanting his government to fall.  I just wish he had the same courage in dealing with Haredi extremists as he does in dealing with Palestinian terrorists.

Actually, I would say that the extremists among the Haredim are terrorists themselves and should be treated accordingly.  They're lucky I'm not in charge, because if I were, the police wouldn't just be standing around while they spit and curse at women trying to pray peacefully at Judaism's holiest site. They'd be breaking the bones of these terrorists and hauling all of them off to jail.  Yes, I advocate nothing less than an iron fist policy towards Haredi extremists.  Some of them even burn Israeli flags on Independence Day and show support for our enemies - yet at the same time, they take money from the Israeli taxpayer to subsidize their lifestyle.  In my opinion, any Haredi sect, movement or organization that supports the destruction of Israel should be treated just as we would treat terrorist organizations like Hamas or Islamic Jihad. They and any of their symbols should be banned and their members thrown in jail.

Now please don't interpret my words as hatred for the Haredim in general.  All Haredim that wish only to minde their own business and live in peace with their fellow Israelis should have no fear. But as for those who want to impose theocracy on Israel or even destroy the state altogether, you are vermin and you deserve to be treated as such.    

Thursday, 7 July 2016

European Union Needs Democratic Reform to Survive

It's been just over two weeks since the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.  Now that we know the EU faces a future without Britain as a member, a lot of people have started to speculate whether Brexit could lead to a domino effect of other member states voting to leave the political and economic bloc.  Leaders throughout the EU are calling for referendums in their own countries.  Some have even speculated that Brexit is the beginning of the end for the EU.  I do think it's possible that a couple of other countries may have votes on whether to stay in the bloc or leave it, but I don't believe the EU will collapse in the near future.  Note, however, that I emphasize, near future.  If something isn't done in the long term to reform the institutions of the bloc, I do think it is possible that it could fall apart in the next decade or two.  So what needs to happen?  In short, I believe that the EU needs to reform its institutions to bring in more democratization and more accountability towards EU citizens.

The EU Needs More Democracy:

I think it's ironic that a political and economic bloc that is entirely composed of modern, democratic countries is actually very undemocratic in some ways.  It is also very distant from the very citizens whose lives it affects.  The EU does have the European Parliament,  which is directly elected by the citizens of EU member states.  That being said, the parliament's powers are extremely limited.  In fact, it doesn't even have legislative powers.  It does have the power to approve laws, but only laws that have already been proposed - proposed, that is, by the European Commission, which is the real law-making body of the EU; one that is not democratically elected, but rather composed of bureaucrats or "commissioners" chosen on the advice of the governments of each member state. They are not directly elected by EU citizens, yet it is them who are responsible for making the laws that effect each and every person living in the bloc.  So it's no wonder why so many people in the EU feel alienated by the institutional processes of the organization.  Indeed, all they see is a bunch of unelected bureaucrats sitting in far away in Brussels, making rules on issues that affect their daily lives, without any democratic mandate.

What I would suggest is that the European Parliament be given the power to both propose and approve laws, instead of simply having the power to approve laws suggested by the European Commission.  In essence, the EU parliament would have the same power to legislate as any national parliament would.  Any law would still have to be approved by the Council of the European Union, as is the case today, so that national governments represented by their ministers would retain the right to protect their national interests.  Approval of laws by the EU Commission, however, would not be required.

Ultimately, I believe that it is democratization that will save the European Union from falling into the dustbin of history.  But it is imperative that Europe's leaders begin work on bringing more democracy to the bloc as soon as possible, because right now it is opponents of European integration that have the momentum.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

So You Want a Dog, Eh?

Aside from my obsession with politics, I would have to say that my next greatest interest is dogs.  I grew up with dogs and now have a dog of my own, who I just love to bits.  I've spent a lot of time learning about dogs, their behaviour, their breeds and so forth.  In the last couple of years, I've had the privilege of volunteering with several dog rescue organizations and I am always eager to help anyone who is considering getting a canine companion.  That being said, I'm actually not going to use this blog post to talk about why you should get a dog.  Instead, I'm going to talk about why you shouldn't have a dog.  The reason I'm doing this is that a lot of people would love to get a dog, but only some of them are ready to have one.

When you come across a cute, cuddly little puppy, you might think to yourself, "I want one of those." It's the same reaction that you might have if you see a nice pair of shoes or a really elegant dress. Children are especially susceptible to this kind of thinking, because they just don't know better. Unfortunately, a lot of adults don't know much better than children and may end up getting a dog on impulse without doing their homework and finding out what needs to be done in order to take care of Fido properly.  And what happens when people don't know how to properly care for a dog? Usually, nothing good.  Some of them are severely neglected and even abused.  Some of them are abandoned by their owners and end up in overcrowded shelters, where they risk being euthanized in a matter of days or hours.  All because there are a lot of idiots out there who think getting a dog is just like getting a new piece of furniture or a new car.

So what does it mean to be a responsible dog owner?  In short, it means giving your dog sufficient food and water, giving it adequate exercise, which includes both physical and mental stimulation.  It also includes properly socializing your dog with people and other pets, not to mention training it to be well-mannered inside and outside your home.  Lastly, you must provide your dog with the veterinary care that it needs to keep being a happy, healthy dog.  None of these things are easy to do and all of them require a commitment for the dog's entire lifetime.

Giving your dog sufficient food and water is probably the easiest task of a responsible dog owner.  Or is it?  Sometimes, making sure Rover is well-fed and has enough to drink isn't as easy as it sounds. Your dog might be a picky eater and it may take you a while to convince him to eat the food set down for him.  The food that you give your dog might also disagree with him and he may throw it up all over your nice Persian rug, which means that not only will you be paying a hefty cleaning bill for your rug, but you'll also have to keep searching and paying for dog food until you find the right one that suits your dog's stomach.  That's gonna be expensive.  In fact, it might be even more expensive if your dog has some sort of allergy and requires special food that will inevitably cost more.  You may even have to get food that only your vet can prescribe, and trust me, your vet will charge you an arm and a leg, but we'll get to that later.

Okay, so now that Rover has his food and water, you can rest easy, right?  News flash, folks.  A dog is not a fish that you can just feed and leave for the rest of the day.  Your dog will need exercise and probably lots of it, especially if he's a young pup.  So you better get used to waking up early in the morning.  How's 6 am for ya?  Maybe even earlier, depending on how strong your dog's bladder is, or whenever he decides he wants to wake up and start his day.  Now if you're lucky, you may be able to let your four-legged friend out in the backyard to do his business and run around a little bit before you head off to work.  But maybe your among the growing number of dog owners who don't have a backyard.  That means you're probably going to have to take your furry pal out on a leash. Just imagine, it's the middle of winter, still dark out and minus twenty degrees.  No way you're going out there, right?  But guess what?  Fido still has to go do his business and get some exercise. How about when you come home from work dead tired and just want to crash on the couch.  Tough luck! Because your dog has been waiting for you to get home all day and he's itching for a long walk and playtime.  You may be able to get a reprieve from your dog if you hire a dog walker to take him out during the day while you're working, but of course that'll cost you a pretty penny.  So if you want a dog, be prepared for early mornings, late evenings and a lot less down time.

You might even have to sacrifice even more time if your dog ends up having any behavioural issues. Say your dog doesn't play nice with other dogs, or he's not good on a leash.  If you're a responsible dog owner, you won't just ignore these kinds of bad behaviours.  Before you know it, you might be sacrificing your hockey game during the night because you need to take your dog to obedience classes, not to mention the fact that it's going to mean more money out of your pocket.

Actually, the money you spend on feeding and training will probably be the least you spend on your four-legged friend, because you haven't even been to the vet yet!  The fact of the matter is that if you want a dog, you should be prepared to spend a lot of money on veterinary care.  And I mean A LOT of money.  Simply paying for routine vet expenses like vaccines can cost a small fortune.  And if your dog requires any type of surgery, you'll likely be shelling out thousands.  You can get pet insurance which may help you with some of the vet bills, but just like health insurance in the U.S., there's a lot of fine print, deductibles and exclusions, which means that your dog may not be covered for all cases in which he needs vet care.  Tragically, many dogs end up in shelters or are even euthanized because their owners cannot afford the vet care they need to keep them healthy and happy.

To make a long story short, having a dog requires a lot of patience, a lot of time and a lot of money. It also requires a big commitment on your part to take care of the dog for its entire lifetime; not until he gets too big or too old, not until you have that newborn baby, and not until you move someplace else; for his ENTIRE lifetime.  If you don't have the patience, time or money to commit to a dog and can't commit to taking care of a dog for its entire life, then my advice to you is simple: Don't get a dog.      

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Canada Should Join the European Union

It's been just over a week since the people of the United Kingdom made what I believe was a terrible decision to leave the European Union.  In fact, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, May Brexit Spell the End of the United Kingdom and the British Empire, the vote by the British to leave the EU may even lead to the breakup of their country.  Time will tell what Brexit will ultimately do to the U.K.  In any event, the EU has suffered a devastating blow at a time when it is still dealing with severe economic problems and an ongoing refugee crisis.  The political and economic bloc could really use a pick-me-up.  And this is where I think Canada can help.

Canada as it is now is a tiny economy compared to the giant juggernaut to the south that we call the United States of America.  Canada's economy is heavily dependent on what happens in the U.S., as is the defense of our country.  After all, there's no way Canada could fight potential future military aggression by Russia or China without American help.  We have very much in common with our American neighbours, yet we continually struggle to distinguish ourselves from them.  Indeed, I think there is even more that makes us distinct from Americans than makes us like them.  Things like universal health care and more tolerance for historically marginalized groups of people, such as visible minorities and members of the LGBTQ community.  To tell you the truth, I think we're a lot more similar to the folks in the European Union than we are to our southern neighbours, which is why I would recommend that Canada enter negotiations to join the EU.

Okay, I understand that Canada is not physically part of Europe, but as we should all know, much of this country's heritage is rooted in Europe.  Canada is of course a product of European colonialism, for better or for worse.  Most of our population also has European origins, although I understand that this is changing rapidly as most of our immigration hasn't come from Europe for a long time now. Nevertheless, Canada still has strong cultural ties to Europe.  We also have strong political ties to the continent as members of NATO and other Western-led organizations.  Furthermore, although the U.S. is by far Canada's largest trading partner, we still do billions of dollars in trade with several EU countries (including the U.K. while it is still part of the bloc).  In fact, now would be a great opportunity to negotiate with the EU about joining as we are currently in negotiating a free trade agreement with them.

Being members of the EU would have tremendous advantages for Canada.  First of all, our businesses would gain unfettered access to a market of over 400 million people, which is a bigger market than that of the U.S. with a population in excess of 300 million.  I should also mention that many European businesses may opt to relocate some of their operations here to take advantage of labour and production costs that are cheaper than in some EU states.  This could mean jobs for a lot of Canadians.  Furthermore, Canadians would also be allowed to live and work freely in any EU country, which would mean a lot more work opportunities for Canadians abroad, without the bother of passports or work permits.  

I know that there are plenty of folks out there who would argue that it makes more sense to integrate more closely with the U.S. because they are our largest trading partner and are physically much closer to us than Europe.  But the reality is that Canada's values are more in sync with Europe's when it comes to things like social justice, environmental policies and various other political and social issues.  Personally, I would prefer to be more closely integrated with people who also have universal health care systems, strong environmental protection policies and progressive tax systems, rather than get closer to a country that gives a person like Donald Trump respectability and legitimacy.  

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Canada Must Endure as a Country of Values or Cease to Exist

Tomorrow is Canada Day.  Canada is a very dynamic country; a great country.  But it's just a country, not a nation.  The reason I say this is that the word "nation" for me means a group of people with a common language, ancestry and history.  But the people of Canada don't have any of these.  All Canadians, with the exception of the country's aboriginal population, are descended from people originating in different lands.  In other words, Canada is a country of immigrants - immigrants from every corner of the world.  Many would argue that it is Canada's multicultural make-up that is the country's ultimate strength.  Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau thought so.  In fact, he practically made multiculturalism the country's state ideology.  But history has shown that multicultural countries, which I sometimes refer to as multinational empires, are usually unstable and can often become failed states, which is why countries whose borders were drawn up by colonial powers, like those of the Middle East and Africa, are home to so much violent conflict and instability. 

Canada is of course a country drawn up by colonial powers and built on the foundations of conquered aboriginal nations.  But unlike other multinational empires, most of Canada's people live in this country because either they or their descendants chose to be here.  In contrast, millions of people in today's multi-ethnic states didn't choose to become part of those states, but rather were forcibly included in the territories of such states.  For example, the Kurds of the Middle East never consented to being part of artificial creations like Iraq and Syria.  One could say the same thing about aboriginal populations in Canada, but aside from them, no one else in this country was forced to be part of it. This is one of the reasons why Canada has continued to exist and to prosper.

Another reason is that while Canadians come from many different backgrounds, the overwhelming majority of us share the same values - values like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, gender equality and so forth.  In fact, I would say that if a country does not have a homogeneous population that shares a common language, a common culture, a common history, etc., it must be a country of shared values, otherwise it will likely cease to exist.  Hence, if Canada wants to continue existing as a country, it must maintain a population whose overwhelming majority share what we would consider Canadian values.  My fear, however, is that because of certain policies brought on by successive governments in this country over the last half century, Canada may soon no longer have a population with shared values.

One of these policies is the official multiculturalism that Pierre Trudeau introduced during his tenure as prime minister.  As part of this new state ideology, Canada's immigration controls were relaxed to allow more people from places like Asia and Africa to come live in the country and become Canadian citizens.  Up until the Trudeau era, most immigrants to Canada came from Europe as immigration from other parts of the world was severely restricted and those non-Europeans who managed to come and stay in Canada faced horrible discrimination.  I certainly don't have a problem with the fact that a person can immigrate to Canada and in time can become a Canadian citizen regardless of where he or she comes from.  If I did have a problem with this, I'd be a bigot, and the last time I checked, my name isn't Donald Trump.  In fact, I mentioned in my Canada Day blog post last year, What Makes Canada Great?, that one of the great things about this country is that anyone has the potential to be a Canadian regardless of where they come from.

What I'm worried about is that since Pierre Trudeau introduced multiculturalism as Canada's new state ideology, adherents of it have used it as a pretext to look the other way whenever certain folks come to this country, become citizens and then try to impose customs and practices that are out of sync with Canada's values.  In essence, multiculturalism has become the card that its proponents will always use to justify bringing people into this country who don't believe in things like democracy, freedom of religion or gender equality.  My fear is that if this continues, Canada as we know it may cease to exist.                 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Five Cents for a Plastic Bag!? This Canadian is Tired of Being Nickeled and Dimed!

Today, I went to Shoppers Drug Mart to buy a couple of things and was asked by the cashier if I wanted to "purchase" a bag.  I said no, because in my opinion, charging a five cent bag fee is just another way big corporations are squeezing more profits out of their customers.  To make matters worse, this is a practice that's been encouraged by some of our incompetent politicians.  The pandora's box of bag fees was opened in Toronto when then mayor David Miller and his band of leftist councillors decided to make all retailers in Toronto charge a five cent fee per plastic bag. But as if this wasn't bad enough for Joe the taxpayer, the new rule didn't require retailers to turn the money over to the city or use it for environmentally-friendly initiatives, despite the fact that the whole argument in favour of the bag fee revolved around reducing the use of plastics that harm the environment. Instead, retailers could keep the money from the bag fees, which is exactly what most of them did, even after the city cancelled the mandatory fee years later. Now just to be fair, some retailers do voluntarily donate some of the money from the bag fees to environmental causes.  But for the most part, the money from the five cents per bag that people in Toronto and elsewhere pay is going straight into the pockets of big retailers.  As if the big multi-billion dollar retail giants don't charge us enough for their goods already at a time where more and more people are having trouble making ends meet.  

Okay, I understand that this is an old issue and that many people have grown used to this ridiculous example of nickel and diming.  The truth is that most of us just shrug and accept it.  This is the unfortunate case with many other dumb charges that big companies use to gouge Canadians. Remember when you didn't have to pay fuel surcharges and baggage fees at the airport?  How about when the airlines used to feed us for free on short-haul flights?  Or when you didn't have to pay to receive paper bills?  And please don't get me started on all those banking and credit card fees!  I think the real question here is, why do we let this happen?  Why do Canadians allow big corporations to levy such ludicrous charges so that they can squeeze more profits out of us?  The simple answer is that we don't complain loud enough about it to the point where our politicians can hear us and make laws to stop big business from nickel and diming us to death.  Unfortunately, the word is out that Canadians will pay more for everything.     

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

End Partisan Government Advertising!

Have you seen the self-serving, totally partisan ads that Ontario's Liberal government has been putting on TV lately?  The ones advertising some of the government's most controversial policies, like the proposed Ontario pension plan, the revised provincial sex ed curriculum and the government's clean energy policies.  One of the latest ads features a bunch of small children talking about the threats posed by climate change.  Up until recently, these kinds of ads were illegal in Ontario.  But then the government tweaked the law to allow them.  Now just to be fair, Kathleen Wynne's Liberals aren't the only ones guilty of showering voters with ads designed to make us feel good about their policies.  Other parties play the same game and play it just as well.

Does anyone remember those annoying TV ads by the Harper Conservatives?  The ads sang the praises of the so-called Economic Action Plan, much of which hadn't even been approved by parliament, hence the small and much less noticeable text in the commercials that read, "subject to parliamentary approval."  One of my favourite examples is from around twenty years ago during the days of the Mike Harris government in Ontario.  The then slash-and-burn premier talked a great deal about wasteful spending, but he had no problem spending our tax dollars on signs that proudly proclaimed, "Your Ontario Tax Dollars at Work."  

The fact of the matter is that governments of all stripes engage in self-serving partisan advertising paid for by our tax dollars.  This is a practice that has to end and end now!  So whenever you see one of those pathetic commercials talking about how much of a great job our politicians are supposedly doing, keep telling yourself to remember our leaders' cynical use of our hard-earned money come voting day.  Better yet, forget about waiting until the next election.  Instead, shout out to our politicians over the phone, through the mail or on social media and tell them to stop wasting the taxpayer's money on partisan ads.  If politicians want to pat themselves on the back in the media, they should use their own parties' funds to do it, not ours!    

Monday, 27 June 2016

Guidelines for Achieving a Semitic Cultural Revolution in Israel

Last month, I wrote about why Jews in Israel should return to their Hebrew, Semitic roots and turn away from the cultural traits that the Jewish people have adopted as a result of thousands of years of exile.  I would like to use this post in order to provide some guidelines for how I think we can do this. I will begin first by saying that although Jewish culture has been corrupted by non-Semitic elements, such as the Yiddish language and other non-Semitic Jewish dialects, or the non-Semitic Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew, just to name a couple of examples, the fact of the matter is that all cultures influence each other and that no culture, including ours, is immune from outside influences.  I want to make this clear for those of you who may have read my previous posts and assumed that my desire is to create a Hebrew, Semitic culture in Israel that is completely free of foreign influences.  This is certainly not my intention as it would be both impractical and impossible for our culture to be free of foreign elements.  I do, however, seek to rid our culture of certain elements that significantly weaken our identity as a Semitic people.

Jews Living in Israel Must Behave Like Yehudim, Not Yids!

I really don't understand Jews who make the decision to go live in Israel and yet continue to live as if they were still living in whatever country they moved from.  Like I said before, I don't think it's right for Jews living in Israel to have non-Semitic names, like Wasserman or Rubenstein.  A couple of people have called me a hypocrite because of the fact that my name is obviously not Hebrew or Semitic.  I admit that I would be a hypocrite if I were to go live in Israel and keep my name as it is. Many of the first Israelis, including some of the state's founding fathers, didn't have Hebrew names before they came to live in Israel.  For example, David Ben-Gurion was David Grun and Golda Meir was Golda Meyerson.  But of course, once these people came to live in their ancestral homeland, they took it upon themselves to adopt Hebrew names in order to help them reconnect with the Hebrew, Semitic identity of their ancestors, and I believe that any Jew who goes to live in Israel should follow this example.  Now just to be fair, virtually all Israeli Jews have at least a Hebrew first name.  Many of them, however, have maintained a non-Semitic last name and I would encourage them to do away with those names and adopt Hebrew family names in order to reinforce their Hebrew, Semitic identities.  I make the pledge here to adopt Hebrew first and last names (I actually already have a Hebrew first name) if and when I move to Israel.

I would also encourage Jews who move to Israel to do their best to learn the Hebrew language.  It really makes me nuts how anyone can move to another country and not make a good effort to learn that country's language.  I see too much of this phenomenon in Canada, where I now live, but I've also seen it in Israel. My grandmother living in Jerusalem, for example, had a friend who also lived in Israel for decades, but still hadn't mastered the Hebrew language.  I'm sorry, but unless you have a learning disability, or something like that, there's no reason you should not be able to learn Hebrew and be fluent in it within a reasonable amount of time.

Finally, for those of you who happen to be members of the Haredi community, if you're planning to move to Israel, please shed your medieval Polish garb, the corrupt jargon you call Yiddish, and that horrible, Yiddishized way you read Hebrew.  These kinds of things belong back in the shtetl, not in Israel. Israel is a country for Yehudim, NOT Yids!

Hebrew Must Be Reinforced and Reformed

I would say that one of Israel's greatest achievements is the rebirth of Hebrew as the national language of the Jewish people.  It's another reason we should do away with non-Semitic Jewish dialects like Yiddish and Ladino.  We simply don't need them anymore.  We have our real language back!  Nevertheless, I think that modern Hebrew is still a work in progress and that it has lost some of its Semitic character.  I'm no linguist, but I'm betting that the Hebrew of our Biblical ancestors sounded significantly different than today's Hebrew.  I'm certainly not advocating a complete return to the Hebrew that was spoken in the times of David and Solomon, but I do think we could make some changes to it so that it is more Semitic in character.  For instance, the letters  "ט" and "ת" sound the same in modern Hebrew, but I'm guessing that in the past, they probably sounded different.  My thinking about this stems from my study of Arabic, another Semitic language, which also has two "t" letter equivalents with both having unique pronunciations.  The "א" and "ע" also sound the same in modern Hebrew, but if the original Hebrew language was anything like Arabic, and I'm betting it was, the "ע" probably had a distinct sound.  Arabic actually has the same two letters, though obviously written in a different script.  But unlike the "ע" in modern Hebrew, the Arabic equivalent has a distinctly different pronunciation.  My point is that we should bring back at least some of the Semitic characteristics that modern Hebrew does not currently use.

Furthermore, I believe that the use of Hebrew in Israel needs to be reinforced.  Yes, I know you're probably thinking that it's contradictory for me to be saying this while writing in English, but the unfortunate fact is that most of the Jewish people still don't speak Hebrew yet.  On my trips to Israel, I see way too many signs written only in English or some other language besides Hebrew and Arabic. To combat this type of trend, I would propose adopting laws similar to the Canadian province of Quebec, where French is the dominant language and culture.  In order to reinforce the French language and prevent further anglicization, Quebec's government has enacted laws that require all signage to be in French.  Signs in other languages are legal, but French must be the dominant language on all signage. New immigrants to the province are required to study in French-language schools regardless of their mother tongue, and children in these schools are discouraged from speaking any language other than French.  I would love to see similar laws implemented in Israel, with the only exception being that Arabic be exempted in order to accommodate the country's Arabic-speaking minority.

Remove Funding and Other Support for Non-Semitic Jewish Culture

The last thing I would like to see is for our leaders in Israel to cut off all support, financial or otherwise, for the promotion and maintenance of non-Semitic Jewish culture.  For instance, any elementary or secondary school in which Yiddish or any other non-Semitic Jewish dialect is taught must not receive funding from Israeli authorities.  No government support of any kind should be given to any festivals or organizations promoting non-Semitic Jewish music, arts or other cultural practices.  In addition, no government support should be given to religious institutions in Israel that promote religious practices or traditions consistent with non-Semitic Jewish practices or traditions. As I've stressed before, Israel is a democracy and no one can prevent people from maintaining and celebrating non-Semitic Jewish cultural traditions, but no Israeli government should feel obliged to provide any support to anyone who seeks to maintain and celebrate traditions that are not consistent with the Jewish people's true Hebrew, Semitic roots.