Category Archives: Human rights

Bombshell

 

 

This was a film released in 2019. It stars 3 outstanding female actresses in 3 outstanding roles. In this film the men are the sidebars. The women are the film. Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, and Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil. The women were all women television personalities at Fox News involved in the claims of sexual harassment against the CEO of Fox Roger Ailes. I actually don’t know the true story of the events so can’t complain about the truth or accuracy of the film’s version of events. That is good, because then I am free to say, the story is true. It is true in the same sense that Macbeth is true. That is what counts.

I was particularly engrossed by the role of Kayla Pospisil. She wanted to be a star on Fox like Megyn and Gretchen She is a true child of Fox. For her and her family is Fox is their religion.  Kayla, played by Margot Robbie,  boldly said, “I don’t want to be on TV, I want to be on Fox. My family, everyday, especially holidays is Fox News. Fox News is how we go to Church.” This nicely captured the theological devotion to Fox. That is what Fox is all about.

Trying to get a spot on Fox News, preferably a show like Kelly or Carlson you see how she would do anything to get on the show no matter how degrading and she gets the opportunity to do exactly that. She gets solid advice from her friend a secret lesbian, and horrors, someone who doesn’t automatically hate liberals. Fox is not the place for her to be. But the friend gives her this advice:

“You have to adopt the attitude of an Irish street cop. The world is a bad place. People are lazy morons. Minorities are criminals. Sex is sick, but interesting. Ask yourself what will scare my grand mother, or piss off my grand father, and that’s a Fox story. Frighten. Titillate. Frighten. Titillate. Frighten. Titillate. When you start a story you need to start with a clear villain: Liberal judge, Vermont, Hollywood. Conservatives want to conserve. You are the last defence against Jesus hating, trans loving, Clinton controlled Armageddon.”

That is Fox News! Particularly the commentators like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity.  Again from my experience, even though I admit I have not watched Fox often, except for excerpts on Comedy News,  that must be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This felt true. Of course, that is a poor way to judge truth.

The men on the show are largely rogues. Again this just has to be true. As is said of Bill O’Reilly: “He cannot scale his anger. He is a perpetual anger machine. That’s why the crazies love him.” When he appears on television, and I think this was a “real” clip he said,

“In this country every famous or wealthy man is a target. You’re a target. I’m a target. Any time someone could come out and sue us, attack us, or get the press, and that’s a deplorable situation.”

That’s the whimpering cry of rich and powerful men. We should feel sorry for them. They are the ones that are oppressed.

The women who want a job must pass the Roger Ailes test. They must give a spin in a circle in front of this powerful  sleazy old man to demonstrate they have the body for the job. This certainly must be true. Ailes tells Pospisil:

“This is the most competitive industry on earth. I could pluck you out of a line and move you to the front. But you have to give me one thing. Do you know what it is? (He pauses for a long time) Loyalty (like his hero Trump and with just as much grace.) You have to prove you are loyal. And you must find a way to prove it. That’s about it and we’ll talk again”.

The message is clear enough. Pospisil knows what she must do. Will she do it? If she does it or not she will pay a price either way. A big price.

The movie is about women standing up (or not) to powerful men. No let me rephrase that. This is the story about people standing up to powerful people. People who can oppress you and make you pay a big price. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. It takes great courage to stand up and those who do, rarely “win”. Even when they “win” they lose. That makes it a universal story. That’s why it’s a true story. No matter what the facts.

I don’t want to give away the truth of the film, but I want to point out 2 facts with which the film closes.

Fox paid $50 million dollars to 2 women who alleged sexual harassment which its 2 male stars denied. And it also paid $65 million to the two male stars it said it had “just cause” to fire The two women who risked their careers to make the claim and were among the first to bring down 2 powerful public male television news stars, but they were not the last. And they were paid less than the male alleged harasser. What kind of “victory” is that? Reminds me of the fact that after the Civil War the United States paid reparations after the slaves were freed because of centuries of enslavement. The reparations were paid to southern plantation owners who lost their property!

At least one of the women had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Darn I hate those and the lawyers who get away with demanding them.

This was an excellent film with a lot of truth. Ugly truth.

 

 

Religious Freedom on trial again

Another church hit the news in Manitoba. This time it was the Springs Church. Though from Winnipeg, Steinbach has a lot of connections with the Springs Church. Many Steinbachers attend it and are members in it.

The church  felt it was unfairly treated by Manitoba Health orders requiring all church gatherings to be virtual. In my opinion, they actually had a stronger argument than the Church of God Restoration in Steinbach. All they wanted was permission to conduct church services in the church parking lot through a broadcast  and loudspeaker with promises that they would not allow participants to use the washroom facilities and would not permit socializing. So if anyone had to go they would have to go.

They even had some scientific evidence that the chance of the virus spreading if people remained in vehicles with windows up there was very low. The province though feared members would socialize and then the damage would be done and it could not be undone.

It was unusual, but the court agreed to hear arguments from lawyers for both sides on a Saturday so that a decision could be made before Sunday services.

The church argued the most recent Manitoba public health order, which required religious services to be only available online or via broadcasts, violates their members’ freedoms of religion and association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The order also bans public gatherings of more than five people, whether religious or not.

Springs Church asked on behalf of its members for a temporary stay of enforcement of the order so that drive-in services could continue until a full hearing on the charter issue could be held. Their lawyer argued the drive-in services do not pose a threat to public health, since attendees are told to remain in the vehicles while a pastor speaks from the stage. I must admit this argument makes some sense.

The province’s lawyers argued the restrictions on in-person gatherings whether religious or not are required to slow the spread of COVID-19. Until recently, Manitoba had for a while the highest per-capita rates of new infections among provinces. And Steinbach was at the top of the list in Manitoba.

It should be remembered that this was a preliminary motion. That means it was a temporary order allowing parties to present more time and arguments later if they wished Sometimes courts like to act quickly. More often they like to meander towards the truth. Being a recovering lawyer, maybe that is where I get my meandering tendencies.

The Springs Church requested a stay of legislation. As a result the church had a high onus of proof. It is not enough to prove that they are right in their argument. They also have to prove they would suffer irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction against the government was not granted. That is hard to prove. And according to the Court of Queen’s Bench Judge they failed to prove it. I agree with that decision.

Justice Joyal decided that the Springs church failed to show sufficient evidence that being able to sit in a car while listening to a church is required to practice their religion while they could sit at home and participate remotely form there. Isn’t one as really good as the other? Are their religious freedoms really being significantly violated?

It must be remembered that because this is a preliminary motion, once the trial is held, if it is held, the church could still win the case.

It was also interesting that on Saturday Manitoba had the highest number of deaths in one day—19 in the history of this pandemic. I really think Manitoba health officials should not be wasting their time arguing with churches in court. Their energies could be better spent fighting the pandemic. I really think Christian churches should think more about others and demonstrate that they take seriously the words of their God to love others as they love themselves. I think so far members of this church have only demonstrated that they love themselves.

 

Where is the love?–Faith and public health collide near Steinbach

 

 

Steinbach was in the news again. Religion did it again. Last week, the police confronted more than a 100 vehicles at the Church of God Restoration south of Steinbach yesterday. The members of the church had been warned that if they tried again to flout Manitoba’s Health orders against religious gathering they would be ticketed. So the police warned them not to gather or they would be ticketed. The RCMP went one step farther and blocked off the driveway from the adjacent highway after the maximum 5 vehicles drove onto the parking lot of the church. Earlier, the same church was fined $5,000 and their pastor $1,296. It was the pastor’s second such fine. Under current Manitoba public health orders all faith-based services must be conducted virtually. The church is certainly taking what they perceive to be their rights seriously.

One of the congregants made an interesting argument:

“You can go back into Winnipeg and go to Walmart, and there’ll be 800 cars in the parking lot, just like there is in Costco, but we can’t go in this parking lot because it’s deadly? What if I put a Wal-Mart sign on that building, would that make it better?” Dube said.

Yet, are they really analogous? At Wal-Mart is there a danger that people will socialize as they wait in line to get their groceries?

The Minster of the church, Tobias Tissen, was not backing down. He said he was going to continue to have Sunday church services. This is what he said:

“Really, these police officers that are here blocking our entrance, they’re not blocking us, they are blocking God … by laying fines upon us, handing out tickets — mister officers, do you realize you are doing that to God?” he said.

Can anyone block God? Is that possible? According to Manitoba’s top public health official Dr. Brent Roussin who is charged with the responsibility of making these public health orders,  “faith-based gatherings had been identified as proven resources of Covid-19 transmission.” As well as saying that, Dr. Roussin added this by way of justification:

“We know that from the literature, from our own experience, that prolonged, indoor gathering such as faith-based gatherings are high risk for super-spreading events.’

Dr.) Roussin why we can’t be here?” Allard, one of those in attendance asked.

The province’s top doctor reiterated on Friday that faith-based gatherings have been identified as proven sources of COVID-19 transmission:

“We know that from the literature, from our own experience, that prolonged, indoor gathering such as faith-based gatherings are high risk for super-spreading events.”

Another visitor who asked not to be identified and who it seems was not a member of the church at all, made perhaps the most interesting argument of all when he said,

“The gym provides essential services for me. It helps me to boost my immune system. The church provides essential services for those who believe in God — it’s essential to them … some would say it’s more important to them than food and water.”

This argument is analogous to those who argue that schools should be kept open even though they do pose a health risk, because schools are essential for the health of young people. Is it not reasonable to suggest that for some people religious services including a communal or even social aspect, are essential to maintaining mental health?

One of the attendants took the actions of the province as a challenge saying,

“I hope they try to make an example out of me. I hope the Crown attorney keeps this ticket alive. Don’t drop the ticket, come at me — we’re going to set a precedent.”

One thing that disturbs me about all these arguments made by self-proclaimed Christians. What about love thy neighbour as thyself?  I always thought that was the most important part of religion. I did not see any concern for others among these conservative Christians. That makes me distrust their assertion that their claim is based on religion.

Where is the love?

Public Health vs. Religious Freedom

 

The issues between the Church of God Restoration outside of Steinbach and public health officials have raised some interesting issues relating to freedom of religion. How far does it go?

Members of the church and their supporters have said Manitoba’s laws that make the wearing of masks compulsory in public places and require faith-based institutions to confine their gatherings to virtual on line gatherings which they believe violates their Charter Rights to Freedom of Religion as well as their right to mobility, security, and personal liberty.

Recently, University of Manitoba Professor of Law, whose course on aboriginal rights I audited a couple of years ago, had this to say in response:

“These organizations might be correct that Charter rights have been violated, since the threshold for establishing a rights violation is low. Idiosyncratic religious beliefs and practices are charter-protected as long as they are genuine. Yet court challenges to the face-mask and business-closure laws based on charter rights violations are bound to fail.”

She recently published an article in the Winnipeg Free Press and I want to expand a bit on what she said.

It is not enough to say that Charter Rights to Religious Freedom have been violated. That is only the first step in the analysis. That is because the Charter recognized that no Charter Rights are absolute. We live in a pluralistic society so rights always have to be balanced against the rights of others. It is never as simple as the supporters of the Church of God Restoration are making it out to be.

The Canadians Charter specifically provides that a Charter right may be justifiably violated if a restriction imposed by the government is a “reasonable limit” that is “demonstrably justified” in a “free and democratic society.” If a law passes this test even if it does infringe on Charter right like freedom of religion it is nonetheless lawful.

When rights clash a court may be called upon to determine how the conflict should be resolved.

The Province of Manitoba takes the position that its public health orders are justified because they are necessary to protect the public from a serious international health pandemic. The first question judges ask in such a situation is whether or not there is a “pressing and substantial need” for the government to respond to a problem. Charter violations will not be permitted for trivial needs. Is there any doubt that the current problem is both pressing and substantial? Not in my mind, but no doubt, in the minds of the protesters the need has been greatly exaggerated. But they must present evidence of their claims in court if they want to successfully challenge the admitted infringement.

People making claims in court, will learn that they must present evidence. Courts make decisions based on evidence. Making wild claims to the media may work when you are trying to persuade the public, but courts demand evidence. We too should demand evidence. I have not seen any evidence that supports the claim that Covid-19 is not a serious problem. Have you? As a result I think the church and its supporters will lose on this part of their claim. So the second step goes to the province. This is a serious health problem that deserves a serious response. But this does not end the dispute.

The third step in proving the province’s case is that government response must be proportionate to the harm done to the supporters of the church. The supporters of the church have had their Charter rights violated so the government response must be proportionate to the harm suffered. The province can’t wildly overstep in other words. I think most of us would agree that the admitted harm done to the church members is proportionate to the harm they have suffered and proportionate to the seriousness of the harm done to the public. Again evidence would be needed for a court to decide.

Fourthly, the province must establish in court  with evidence, that there is a rational connection between the means to achieve a goal and the goal itself? In other words, does the public health order imposed by the Province of Manitoba actually help solve the serious health problem Manitoba faces? If not, and it is just there for show for example, the law would not pass as a valid violation of a Charter right. This is a bit more difficult to prove. The province would have to prove to the court’s satisfaction, again based on evidence, that the measures it imposes are really needed to curb the pandemic and would in fact help to keep the public safe.

There is still a fifth step the province must overcome. The province must prove, again based on evidence, that there is no less intrusive way to achieve its goal of protecting the public. For example, is it possible for church members to meet in a way that maintains social distancing? If the province is able to prove there is no other reasonable and viable way of achieving its goal the public health order in the circumstances it would survive the Charter challenge as a reasonable limit on the member’s religious freedom in a free and democratic society. I admit I have some doubts on this score, but suspect the province could bring sufficient evidence to bear to convince the judge that less intrusive measures would be inadequate.

 

I think this is a very rational approach. Letting ignorant pundits on the Internet tell us what to do would not be a rational approach.

I want to make one last point that courts will often defer to governments who have to make decisions in pressure packed environments such as an international health pandemic when governments are trying to protect vulnerable groups such as us old guys. Such decisions really should be made by public health experts and related professionals such as economists and others debating freely with the best available data in front of them. It would not be right for a single judge to make such a decision. Nor should it be made by radical protesters who ignore science at the expense of everyone else.

 

I agree with Donald Trump about the “Wuhan Flu.”

I find some sympathy for Donald Trump on one issue (among others actually). When it comes to China he gets conflicting advice.  Some of his advisors want him to be tough on China and others urge him not rock the economic boat.  The hawks wanted Trump to take a public critical stance against China and to  start calling the virus the “Wuhan Virus.

I must admit at first I thought this was nuts. Childish and nuts. I called it an attempt to deflect blame from himself to China. No doubt that was part of his rationale for starting to do that. But there is more to the issue than that. I changed my mind after listening to a very unlikely source for a contrary view—Bill Maher. Maher has a weekly rant on his TV show and for the first time ever, by my recollection, he ranted in favor of Trump. This is his rant in full with a couple of editorial interruptions by me.

I am not sure what the cause of the Coronavirus is, but if (and as far as I know that is a pretty big if), if it is established that the cause was in fact the wet markets of China I agree with this illiberal rant by Bill Maher in response to a poll that showed Americans are split on whether or it’s racist to call COVID-19 the Chinese virus. Here is Maher’s rant in full:

“You can’t yell at someone for breaking a rule you just made up. Scientists–yes scientists who are usually pretty liberal, have been naming diseases after the places they came from for a very long time. Zika virus is from the Zika forest. Ebola from the Ebola River. Hantavirus from the Hantan River. There’s the West Nile virus, And Guinea worm, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and of course the Spanish flu. (although that one did not originate there) MERS stands for Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome. It’s plastered all over airports and no one blogs about it. So why should China get a pass?

Congressman Ted Lieu tweeted: “The virus is not constrained by country or race. Be just as stupid to call it the Milan Virus.” No, that would be way stupider because it didn’t come from Milan. And if it did, I guarantee, we’d be calling it the Milan virus… Can’t we even have a pandemic without getting offended? When they named Lyme disease after a town in Connecticut the locals didn’t get all ticked off.

Seriously it scares me that there are people out there who would rather die form the virus than call it by the wrong name. This isn’t about vilifying a culture. This is about facts. It’s about life and death. We’re barely 4 months into this pandemic, and the wet markets in China, the one’s where exotic are sold and consumed, are already starting to re-open. The P.C police say it’s racist to attack any cultural practice that is different than our own.

I say liberalism lost its way when it started thinking like that and pretending that forcing a woman to wear this (he showed an image of total body niqab ) was a just a different way, instead of an abhorrent human rights violation. (Again, I only agree with this to the extent that women are forced to dress like that. To the extent they freely chose to dress like that, I am OK with that). It’s not racist to point out that eating bats is bat-shit crazy. In 2007 researchers at the University of Hong Kong wrote: “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.”

Dr. Fauci says, we should force a global closure of the wet markets because the current crisis “is a direct result of them.” On Monday the acting head of the UN’s biodiversity said the same thing.

So when someone says, “what if people hear  ‘Chinese virus’ and blames China, the answer is we should blame China. Not Chinese Americans, (or Canadian) but we can’t stop telling the truth just because racists get the wrong idea. There are always going to be idiots out there who want to indulge their prejudices, but this is an emergency. Don’t we have bigger tainted fish to fry? Jesus, if the sun was exploding, the Twitter would pile up against the first person who called it a ‘dwarf star.’

Sorry Americans we’re going to have to ask you to keep 2 ideas in your head at the same time. This has nothing to do with Asian-Americans, and it has everything to do with China. We can’t afford the luxury anymore of non-judginess towards a country with habits that kill millions of people everywhere, because this isn’t the first time. SARS came from China. And the bird flu. And the Hong Kong flu. The Asian flu. Viruses come from China like short stops come from the Dominican Republic.

If they were selling nuclear suitcases at these wet markets would we be so non-judgmental? And isn’t this pretty close to what they are selling? And the next one could be even worse. If the Chinese military had purposely infected this country with coronavirus  as a bio-weapon, we’d be at war with them. We are always griping about how China manipulates their currency. Well I’m not monetary expert but I think you would agree this one hurt our economy a little more than currency manipulation. And China can do this. China once built a 57-story skyscraper in 19 days. There’s been a pothole on my street for 19 years. They’re not like us. They can actually get shit done. This is a dictatorship that for decades enforced a one child per family under penalty of forced sterilization. But you can’t close down the farmer’s market from hell?

They need to use that iron fist and pound it down because it kind of does. And I hope that if Americans were told that eating hot pockets could cause a world- wide pandemic that we would have the good sense to stop doing it. Although I wouldn’t bet on it.”

That’s what Maher said and I think I agree with that. I hope you appreciate, this is hard for me to do. I have to publicly admit Donald Trump was right and I was wrong!

In Canada, we have had cases where Jehovah Witnesses who were parents of children, were refusing on their children’s behalf to take life-saving blood transfusions when the science was clear the transfusions were medically necessary to save their lives. The court held, and I agreed, that the state had the right to interfere to protect the children who were too young to decide for themselves. Parents are entitled to make such unwise decisions for themselves, but not for children too young to decide for themselves. This was a severe interference with their right of religious freedom, but I agreed with the court that it was a reasonable limit on freedom of religion, a Charter right, which is justified in a free and democratic society.

If religious or cultural beliefs are scientifically proven to a reasonable certainty to cause harm to others, we have a right to interfere to stop it. Even if that looks culturally insensitive.

In a much less serious, case, on classic liberal principles that it is permitted to call COVID-17 the Wuhan Flu, or shut down a wet market, if that will save the lives of others.

As well, in my opinion, we have the right to interfere with Muslims when they interfere with the rights of others or cause them harm without their consent even though that looks like we are trying to impose our cultural views on others. For example, if Muslim father tries to inflict an honour killing on his daughter for disgracing the family, that should not be permitted. I think that one is pretty clear.

The same holds for China. We have the right to try to stop them from harming us even if it might appear that we are culturally insensitive. Other we have allowed political correctness run amok.

Is Donald Trump a King?

Recently, I learned some astonishing things about the United States. One of my legal heroes, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, made astounding statements in the U.S. Senate in defence of President Donald J. Trump from impeachment charges launched in the House of Representatives.

Susan Glasser a reporter with the New Yorker interpreted what he said as follows:

Donald Trump’s lawyer said that the President can do just about anything he wants.” This is an astonishing claim. It amounts to saying the United States is not a democracy. Dershowitz was asked by Senator Ted Cruz, during the question and answer phase of the Senate Impeachment Trial of Trump whether or not the President’s motivations mattered when he imposed a condition on the release of hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid for the Ukraine’s defence against Russian aggression. If the President insisted on a quid pro quo that Ukraine investigate Trump’s leading Democratic Party rival before getting the military aid was that permitted?

Dershowitz, one of Trump’s lawyers, went beyond saying what he needed to say to answer that question. Dershowitz said, Donald Trump has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and there’s nothing that the U.S. Senate can or should do about it. There are no limits on what the President can do. Dershowitz in effect suggested.

 I was stunned to hear this. Democracy is more than counting ballots. Counting ballots is important. It is a vital part of democracy, but it is not all of democracy. A democracy must be a country that permits all citizens to vote and for all their votes to count equally. But there are many forms of democracy. Democracy is more than that.

The majority must be constrained by civil liberties or human rights. In other words, we must have a liberal or constitutional democracy. Even majorities in a genuine democracy cannot impose their will on the minorities in all cases. There must be reasonable limits on what the majority can do. For example, the majority cannot be allowed to ban freedom of religion or freedom of speech.  Another example: the majority cannot be permitted to ban free speech, or the free press, or the freedom to assemble.

In Canada such limitations on democracy are contained in the Charter of Rights and Liberties. Added to that, to have a democracy we must have a society in which the rule of law is respected. We do not elect dictators or kings. Our elected representatives, even our top leaders, must govern by law. Political leaders must be governed by law like everyone else. They cannot do anything they want. This is the flaw in Dershowitz’s argument. Saying the President can do “anything he wants,” amounts to saying the President can be an absolute dictator. That is contrary to democracy.

I am no expert on the American constitution so don’t want to comment on it. But a democratic society cannot be led by a dictator or king, even if the term of the leader is limited for specific years, such as 4 years in the case of the United States.

Dershowitz had something larger and more profound to say, however: Donald Trump has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and there’s nothing that the U.S. Senate can or should do about it.

Dershowitz argued,

“If a President does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” he argued. Dershowitz was offering Trump—and all future Presidents—a free pass. His argument seemed unbelievable: as long as the President thinks his reëlection will benefit the country, he can do anything in pursuit of it without fear of impeachment.”

Really?

Of course, earlier Trump himself made it clear that this was his position. No surprise there. He said “I can do whatever I want.” Trump’s actions and statements, ever since he got elected, make it clear that is precisely what Trump believed. If Trump is right, America is not a democracy! If Trump is right the US has elected a King!

In the impeachment trial in the Senate the House managers who acted as prosecutors, played the video of Trump making this statement over and over again. It was no surprise that Trump believed this. All of his actions and statements since being elected in 2016 made it clear that this was his belief.  Few others have expressed similar views. Therefore is it was shocking to see this position supported by Alan Dershowitz a respected Harvard Law Professor emeritus.

As shocking as all of this is, and it is shocking, what is even more shocking is that millions of Americans agree with this!  Millions don’t challenge his statement. Whatever Trump says or does, he must be right. We will soon see how many Republican Senators agree with this. I suspect almost all of them agree. In my view this means all of these people do not think it is important that the country is democratic! That is shocking!

I wonder how many Americans think Trump is a king?

I am a feminist

 

OK my cousin, who actually knows what she is talking about, unlike me, says a sex change operation won’t work. I have to face the hard facts.  I plan to do that. So I have cancelled my sex change operation, but I have a plan B.

I herby announce that I am a feminist! Just saying we believe in equality is not enough either. Men who have been the beneficiaries for centuries of a system that rewards males  and are so embedded in that system that we don’t even see our own privilege, have to take a hard look at that system, our place in it, and what we can do about it.  We must renounce that system clearly and unequivocally. It is a noose around our necks, not just our wives, daughters and grand daughters. It is grossly unfair and the first step is to acknowledge that. We men must all do that.

We must also admit that we can never fully experience or appreciate what it is like to be on the pulverizing side of that system of dominance. We can never appreciate how women are often in fear when we think there is nothing to be afraid of.

Last night I watched a powerful film, Polytechnique, that gave me a glimpse into that world of fear, when I saw the faces of the women who had to stay behind in the class room with Marc Lepine holding an automatic rifle at them, as the men slunk off sheepishly, to relative safety. Lepine came after them too later, but none of the men died. 14 women died. The fear is real and it is justified. Women live in a society in which they are vulnerable to attack and weak men will attack them. It happens. Just like weak men take advantage of a system that erodes the opportunities for women in favor of men. That has happened for a long time and it must end.

We men have to speak up. It is not up to women to speak up. We must do it. Each in our own way. If we don’t speak up we acquiesce in a system that is fundamentally unjust and we are stained by our own silence. We are weinees.

Marc Lepine said he hate feminists. He blamed them. So I say, “I am a feminist.”

The Ungrateful Refugee

 

 

 

I listened to an interesting interview with Dina Nayeri the author of the book The Ungrateful Refugee. I have not read her book.  I hope to. She is a refugee from Iran who came to the United States at the age of 10 with her mother and a sister. Her father stayed behind and her mother supported the two girls on her own as  he rarely sent money to help.

She asked an important question: Just because she is a refugee who became a naturalized American citizen does that mean she has to give up the right to criticize her country? Other Americans are allowed to do that? Why not her?

Recently Donald Trump criticized 4 American Congress women of colour all of whom are  American citizens. In fact 3 of them were born in the US.  After he made comments suggesting that they go back to where they came from, he said what he really meant was that if they did not like it here they should go back. “If you re not happy here you can leave,” he said.  I suspect that many people agree with that. But are they right?

As Nayeri said, by such actions, Trump, and those who agree with him, are trying to separate immigrants from US born citizens. Lets call them native citizens. He is really saying these citizens who criticize their adopted country are second-class citizens. No one denies that native citizens have the right to criticize their country. Free speech is fundamental to being an American (or Canadian) citizen. Why not citizens who were born elsewhere?

We have to remember as well that the old refrain, “Go back to where you came,” is a common racist trope used since time immemorial as a way to tamp  down the immigrants, or refugees, or anyone who is “other,” or anyone who is unlike us. Particularly this has been used against people of a different color. It is a racist trope. Do we really want to endorse such?

When Nayeri escaped Iran with her mother and sister they fled first of all to Dubai, then to Italy, from where they became asylum seekers in the United States. Eventually they were allowed to get asylum in the United States and in time became American citizens. She was grateful for the help she got.

However, Nayeri was signaled as a very young child that she was different. She was an outsider. She did not belong there. Other kids called her mean names.

She reacted by trying to be the perfect immigrant. She had to be “the best refugee possible.”  She felt she had to over achieve in order to belong. As Nayeri said in an article in the Guardian, “We were never comfortable. We kept squirming inside our own skin, trying to find a way to be ourselves while satisfying all the people who wanted us to transform instantly into them.”

She responded to these pressures  by getting tough. She became a “kick ass” martial arts athlete.  It was hard. She had to put up with a lot. As she said, “I loved winning at a male sport. I was still angry about so many things – hijab, the Islamic Republic, the fat old church men who made high-school football players feel like gods while they shamed women who dared to want too much. I survived on egg whites and water-packed tuna doused in vinegar and mustard, salted baked potatoes and watery fruit.” In time she got straight A’s in school and became a national Tae Kwon Do competitor all in an effort to get accepted into Harvard University. She did not quite make it. But she got into another Ivy League school—Princeton. Not a bad second choice.

In my opinion any citizen should be free to criticize her country. After all that is the only way countries get better. They are never perfect. Even if we love them and love the way things are now, we should be able to criticize them and hope to improve them. No country is perfect. Every country should welcome criticism. Every country should welcome refugees and that means giving them the right to speak up.

Inequality of Power in the Military

https://www.dropbox.com/s/iqn5jwmvsk8cb60/Screenshot%202019-03-27%2023.13.07.png?dl=0

 

The military is peculiarly powerful. This is particularly true in the United States where I have spent the last 3 months. It is also one of the most hierarchical institutions on the planet. Wherever you have a military you have those in power and those subject to power. You have the officers and the grunts. You don’t want to be a grunt.

If you add sexual/gender power imbalances things get even worse. Arizona, where I have been living, has been exposed recently by an American Senator of all people. Recently Arizona U.S. Senator Martha McSally surprised the state and even the country by announcing during a Senate subcommittee meeting that she had been raped while she was in the Air Force. McSally spent 2 decades in the Air Force before she became a Senator. Much of that time was served here in Arizona at very bases close to where we are living. In fact she was the first female pilot to see combat. She also said she felt like she had been victimized again when she reported the incident to her superior officers. Interestingly, she said, “I thought I was strong, but I felt powerless…The perpetrators abused their position of power in a profound way…I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experience was handled…Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me allover again.”

If this could happen to a woman who ultimately was promoted to Commander, we have to wonder what would happen to a less powerful female in the Air Force? The uncomfortable fact is the American military, probably like every other military in the world, Canada’s included, has for too long been a male dominated institution in which there is a strong power imbalance that is magnified when gender inequality is added creating a truly toxic brew.

As reported by the Arizona Republic, The Pentagon officially reported 6,769 sexual assaults in 2017, nearly a 10 percent increase over the prior year. But advocacy groups such as Protect Our Defenders say the true number is likely 15,000 to 26,000 annually. I don’t know about you but I found that a shocking number. According to the Pentagon’s own statistics that amounts to about 20 sexual assault per day! If you accept the number from the critics it could be as high as 722 per day! According to a Rand Corporation Report last year, in a Sierra Vista base here in Arizona, about 1 in 12 female soldiers were sexually assaulted during the year of the survey. Remember these are assaults not harassments.

The American military, like the Canadian military, has for years been trying to stamp out sexual assault and harassment under pressure for various sources. Clearly their success has been about as great as the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the Arizona Republic reported that a recent Pentagon report showed that sexual assaults spiked nearly 50% in 2017-2018 despite years of focus on the problem. That report also showed that 60 percent of military victims who reported rapes suffered career-ending retaliation. It is hardly surprising that young women are reluctant to come forward with complaints.

The report also identified 2 particularly vulnerable groups: young, unmarried females of lower ranks and personnel aboard ships (where women are far from protection.) It is clear that the issue is power. Powerful men (and yes most of these are men) abuse vulnerable women. It really is that simple. Not all of the men, but too many. The inequality of the power is the key. Just as it is in cases of coaches abusing athletes, priest and nuns or priests and young people in the church , employers and employees, teachers and students, parents and children, and men and women. Wherever power is uneven, people must be on alert.

I don’t know if there is any evidence that women would do a better job of this than men, but it is difficult to believe that they could do worse. Maybe its time to give women a chance. We need someone like John Lennon to create a song about that. We can’t all compose songs, but at the very least it is time for men to speak up. All of us.

Fear Porn

Fear Porn

 

In recent years many people in the west have characterized refugee issues as security decisions rather than humanitarian issues. This has had important negative consequences for refugees. As Jennifer Welsh said in her Massey lectures, “One implication of this ‘securitization’ of asylum seekers is the tendency to reframe the responsibility to tackle refugee situations as a matter of peace and security and to focus on immediate causes of displacement.”

This approach causes many people, such as my own current Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, to concentrate on the destabilizing effects of the presence of refugees on neighbouring country’s security, communal cohesion, and national identity. People like Falk believe that refugees are dangerous. They fear refugees and therefore make poor decisions about them.

Such irrational fears have spread around the world but particularly to the United States. Of course, as I have indicated elsewhere, the United States is a peculiarly fearful nation. They especially fear the influx of migrants and immigrants and refugees from the Muslim world and from Mexico. It is not an accident that many of these people that they fear have skin colours other than white. In my opinion this is the legacy of the American history of racism going back for centuries to its horrible treatment of indigenous people and importation of African-American slaves and their offspring.

President Trump himself was filled with venom and anxiety at the thought of the approaching brown hordes. Then he turned to filling his supporters with fear. That is something he has a unique talent for. Of course it is easy to mock absurd fears, but fears are important. They are used to generate hate against people seeking asylum. Stoking fear and hate in a democratic state is a very dangerous thing.

Donald Trump capitalized on these fears to get elected President in 2016. It did not matter that the United States had an extremely onerous vetting process of all such possible entrants to the country. It’s not a perfect system, but it is probably the best in the world.

Trump also tried again, with less success, to capitalize on such fears just before the Mid-term elections in 2018. He warned of the so-called “Caravan” of refugees and asylum seekers heading from Central American including Hondurans and others to the United States. Donald Trump and his close ally Fox News ratcheted up the fear to such an extent that millions of Americans feared this group of rag-tag people consisting by most accounts of a lot of women with young children.

The Republicans claimed the Democrats were organizing this crusade and that they believed in completely open borders. Trump was a master of manipulating this to his own advantage. He said he would send 5,200 troops. Later he increased this to 15,000 troops. Not just border guards, but troops. According to the Washington Post, “This appears to be the largest such peacetime deployment of active duty U.S. troops a the border in a century.” This was more troops than the Americans sent to fight super scary ISIS. The American troops were also ordered to secure the border walls (remember many already exist) with razor wire.

Of course all of these security people were being added to a border already hyper-militarized with 16,000 border guards, 5,000 ICE personnel, 2100 National Guards and many deportation agents. All this to oppose men, women and children who might throw rocks.

Many Americans interviewed on television said this was an invasioneven when they were more than a thousand miles away. It became a huge election issue and fired up his base of supporters. This was not surprising since Trump and his Fox allies relentlessly fueled the fears. Sean Hannity, watched by millions of Americans, repeatedly referred to this as “an invasion” as did other Fox contributors. He also referred to it as a “a mob of humanity.” Donald Trump himself repeatedly referred to it as an imminent “invasion of our country.”

All of this was done while the invading “army” without weapons was a couple of months away. What kind of invading forces give the target country a 3 months heads up?

Would young mothers take their children on such a perilous journey if they were not fleeing something they really feared? Like gangs that were to a large extent fueled by American deportees returning to their presumed homeland. These gangs were often fueled by drug money from American consumers. Should we not show some empathy for them? Or should we listen instead to demagogues? These people are suffering; they should not be demonized.

Even other stations, besides Fox, are getting on the bandwagon against these demonsapproaching the border? Trump tweeted, “the caravans are made up of some very tough fighters.” Later in the same day, October 31, 2018, 5 days before Mid-term elections he tweeted again, “Our military is being mobilized at the Southern Border. Many more troops coming. We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our border is sacred Must come in legally. TURN AROUDND!”  Clearly he wanted to scare the crap out of people. Some have called it Trump’s scaravan.

Talking about the Caravan while helping a Republican candidate in Florida Trump said this about the Democrat rival,

 

“Andrew Gilliam wants to throw open your borders to drug dealers, human traffickers, gang members, and criminal aliens. That’s great. That’s what we want. Let those people pour in folks. Let them join come join you on your front lawn.”

 

Trump is a master of stoking fears.

There were actually 4 caravans that appeared to be heading toward the U.S. The Washington Postdescribed the situation this way,

 

Military planners anticipate that only a small percentage of Central American migrants travelling in the caravans U.S. President Donald Trump characterizes as “an invasion” will reach the U.S. border, even as a force of more than 7,000 active-duty troops mobilizes to prevent them from entering the country.

According to military planning documents, about 20 percent of the roughly 7,000 migrants are likely to complete the journey. The unclassified report was obtained by Newsweek on Thursday.

If the military’s assessment is accurate, it would mean the U.S. is positioning five soldiers on the border for every one caravan member expected to arrive here.

“Based on historic trends, it is assessed that only a small percentage of the migrants will likely reach the border,” the report says.”

 

It turned out the military planners were not as worried about the potential migrants as the American President. The military report was more concerned about Americanmilitia groups eager to lend their well-armed support. As the Washington Postsaid, “The assessment also indicates military planners are concerned about the presence of “unregulated armed militia” groups showing up at the border in areas where U.S. troops will operate.”

Trump was also quick to characterize the members of the caravan as scary individuals, even though most other reports, other than Fox News of course, said they were mainly women and children fleeing violence in their own countries often caused by gang members that had been deported there by American authorities. Trump described them this way at different times: “many young strong men,” “very tough fighters,” “terrorists from the Middle East,” “hardened criminals,” “lepers,” “people with small pox and TB,”  and “a lot of bad people.” Another Republican added, “pedophiles,” and “wife beaters”. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for anyone else. Added to that, according to the Washington Post, “He also insists the number of migrants heading north is much larger than estimates put forward by U.S. and Mexican officials.” Of course Trump has never allowed the facts to stand in the way of the hateful or fearful messages he wants to send.

Trump said similar things in April that everyone forgot about. Trump painted a picture of a large group of migrants near the border as rapists and pillagers. It turned out to be 400 people requesting asylum which they are legally entitled to do.

Then Trump added that if any of these people throw rocks the troops should fire their guns. Reminds me of the Gaza strip. Is that what American has come to?

It was no accident that Trump made a huge issue of these caravans a few weeks before the American midterm elections of 2018. He did not want to wait until the potential migrants arrived as that might blunt the political message he wanted to use in those elections. Now he is doing it again to gain support for his big beautiful wall.

Trump, together with many of his supporters loves what Bill Maher called Fear Porn. Why is that? I think that Trump like populists and demagogues around the world uses fear to drum up support for his policies. He does that because his ideas have little rational basis. How else can he get people to support them? Porn sells.