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.