Monday, October 26, 2015

Stop partisanship!

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27-28 ).

Partisanship is, without doubt, one of the most serious political problems. This term describes how political parties and politicians rip each other apart, especially at election time. Unfortunately, this problem is getting worse. In some countries, it is endemic and never seems to stop.

Partisanship is so serious that it threatens democracy itself. Democracy cannot function in a toxic environment that is marked by hatred and enmity. Compromise is what makes politics possible, but the type of hyperpartisanship that exists in certain countries preclude even the possibility of compromise.

In the recent Canadian federal election, partisanship played a prominent role and contributed to the defeat of Stephen Harper's Conservative party which has practiced it for a long time. A majority of Canadians voted against partisanship and for a return to a healthier politics.

Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal party which won the election, rejected the negativity that marked the campaign and promised a new attitude. While the Conservative campaign focussed on dividing Canadians, the Liberals preached unity.

Many Canadians have remarked, even before the new government was installed, that they already discerned a new spirit in the country. The divisiveness that marked the Conservative era seems to be gone. Trudeau set the tone in his victory speech on election night.

Harper's entire tenure as prime minister was marked by partisanship. Everything became politicized: it was always us against them. Politicians from other parties were regarded as the enemy. In fact, anyone who disagreed with Harper was treated the same way.

Harper also turned ethnic groups against each other. This is illustrated best by the niqab issue directed against Muslims. At the end of the campaign, he associated himself with the infamous Ford brothers in Toronto, who are noted for being hyperpartisan.

Harper, in desperation, hoped that the "Ford nation" would align itself with the Conservatives, but this did not happen. Instead, many Muslims and other ethnic groups rejected partisanship and voted against the Conservatives.

This sort of partisanship is largely imported from the US. While partisanship is not unknown in Canada, this fierce hyperpartisanship is foreign to a parliamentary system that allows for many political parties to be represented in Parliament, unlike the presidential system in the US where two parties are dominant and voters register as one or the other, although independent is also an option.

Any political system is adversarial by nature, but it does not have to be partisan to the degree that is evident especially in the US. The Canadian Parliament seats parties opposite each other as much as possible.

In Canada, as in Britain, the House and Senate chambers are separated by an aisle that is two sword lengths wide. Such a martial spirit is not common in Canada, where the only duels are fought with words.

Partisanship in the US has reached such heights that Congress has become largely unfunctional. The Tea Party is perhaps the most extreme example of partisanship since they not only refuse to cooperate in any way with Democrats but they reject any Republicans who do not endorse them.

The 2016 election is still more than a year away, but the Republican swords are already out for Hilary Clinton. The House Select Committee on Benghazi has met for 18 months now and they are relentless in their grilling of the former Secretary of State and leading Democratic candidate for the presidency.

The enmity between these two parties is palpable. This partisanship is due in part to the US having only two parties that count. But that does not explain the vehemence involved, especially on the part of Republicans.

As a person of faith, what concerns me, in particular, is the way Christians (and some people of other faiths) support and even encourage partisanship. It makes me wonder where their true allegiance lies: with the party or their faith?

Fortunately, there are always people who transcend partisanship. They are capable of forming friendships across party lines. That is the way it should be. Political opponents should not be treated as the enemy, but rather as colleagues who together can craft legislation that benefits the entire country.

When partisanship reigns supreme, there is no room for beneficial legislation. Instead, narrow interests driven largely by ideology or economics are the only beneficiaries. Obamacare is vilified by some Republicans in part because they despise the president. In this case, there may even be an element of unacknowledged racism that lurks under the surface.

Conservatives espouse small government, but this should not come at the price of cutting necessary services. A belief in low taxes must not benefit the wealthiest most of all. Instead, the poorest must be taken care of properly, not just those who contribute the most to political campaigns.

Where is the love of neighbor that Jesus teaches? However, Jesus goes further. He commands us to love our enemies, to bless them, and to pray for them. This is unheard of today!

Love does not leave any room for the sort of partisanship that is evident in the US and is now being exported to Canada. Hyperpartisanship is impossible those who sincerely want to obey this injunction.

Loving our enemies is difficult, but it is the only way for people to live and work together, especially when they are in close proximity, Justin Trudeau realized that when he in his victory speech he said, "Conservatives are not our enemies, they are our neighbors." If our political opponents are also our neighbors, then the partisanship that we witness in both the US and Canada should be ended.

Stop partisanship! That ought to be our cry today. Stop treating those who have different political views as the enemy. Instead, we should love them.

Admittedly, the word "love" sounds strange in the political arena or many other areas of life today. Such language is foreign to most people, but it is the language that is required in a pluralistic society where people of different faiths, different ethnic groups, different languages, and different political opinions live side-by-side. We must love each other. There is no other way to survive.

"Stop partisanship!" For the US, that means, for example, stop the Tea Party, Donald Trump, and others from dominating the political platform. These people are extremists who do not deserve much public support since their message is a negative one that is focussed on fear and even outright hatred.

Within one year in Canada, the political tone changed with the defeat of Rob Ford, as the mayor of Toronto, and Stephen Harper, as the prime minister of Canada. Trudeau has earnestly promised to usher in a new era that is marked by unity rather than divisiveness. 

In saying this, Trudeau follows in the footsteps of the late Jack Layton, former leader of the New Democratic Party whose quote has become iconic: "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."

Layton's closing triad is similar to St. Paul's even more famous one: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:11).

If we truly want to change the world, let us begin by eradicating partisanship. The only way to do that is through love. Am I being too naive when I cry, "Stop Partisanship!"? I hope not! And I hope you agree!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wanted in Canada: A Good Leader!

I want to apologize to my readers who do not live in Canada for the numerous times that I have dealt with the Canadian election in my blog. The election will be over by next week as I am writing this, so bear with me one more time as I ask Canadians (who constitute about 7% of my readership) to vote for good leadership.

On October 19th, Canadians are going to the polls. Everyone, not only the politicians, is worn out by a 78-day election campaign in which many issues were raised, but many other issues were ignored. However, there is one issue that is paramount because it lies behind all them, and that is the issue of leadership.

During this campaign, the leaders of the main political parties have revealed their leadership abilities or inabilities. In this election, Canadians will indicate their preference for who should lead Canada for the next term. They should vote for good leadership as well as the programs offered by each party.

If you have not yet made up your mind about whom to vote for, I suggest that you consider the crucial issue of leadership in this election. And if you have made up your mind, perhaps you should consider this issue as well. You may yet change your mind if you do. In either case, go out and vote!

What is good leadership? I am not an expert in this area; thus I rely on others who have variously defined leadership. I have added a few of additional traits. Some of the major traits of good leaders include the following list. Evaluate each of the leaders carefully using these traits as your criteria.

The leaders of the three major parties: Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau

These traits are not in any particular order, but all are important even though no one person will possess all of them or to the same degree. Neverthless, a good leader has many of these traits.

  • Honesty/integrity -- able to be ethical and convey it to others 
  • Focussed -- able to think ahead without being distracted
  • Visionary -- able to create a vision and impart it to others
  • Flexible/Adaptable -- able to adapt and adjust to new situations
  • Good Communicator -- able to listen and understand others 
  • Respectful -- able to treat others with respect 
  • Empathy -- able to feel what others feel
  • Quiet Confidence -- able to be sure of oneself
  • Humility -- able to have a modest view of one's abilities
  • Enthusiastic -- motivated and able to motivate others
  • Open-Minded -- able to consider all options and input from others
  • Resourceful -- able to utilize resources and create access to new information 
  • Rewarding -- able to recognize efforts of others and reinforce these efforts in others
  • Well Educated -- able to know issues and act accordingly 
  • Open to Change -- able to be willing to change 
  • Evaluative -- able to evaluate and reformulate ideas or programs if need be
  • Organized -- able to be well prepared and do things efficiently
  • Consistent -- able to be coherent and not contradictory
  • Accountable -- able to take responsibility for one's own actions and those of others 
  • Delegate -- able to recognize talents and delegate responsibilities accordingly 
  • Initiative/creative -- able to formulate and start new ideas and programs
  • Wisdom -- able to discern the best thing to do at all times
  • Unifier -- able to unite people and not divide them 

This list is not exhaustive nor is it intended to be, but I provide it not only as an example of what traits characterize good leadership but also as a standard to judge leaders, or those who aspire to become leaders.

Using this standard, I invite you to examine the leaders of the major parties and see how they measure up. Do not look only at their programs but also examine them as persons. Ask yourself this question: Who do you trust the most to lead Canada for the next few years?

We often select programs that benefit us personally or appeal to us because of our own world view. Programs are alright, but we must never forget the selfishness that motivates many of our choices. That, of course, is what politicians count on. 

Good leaders are careful not to use programs, especially at election time, that appeal to our baser instincts but also in order to benefit the whole country. Selfishness must not drive leadership but rather the common good.

Good leaders also recognize that, while not everyone shares their world view, we live in a pluralistic country where many world views are operative. Thus they will not try to force one particular world view on everyone, but will respect other world views. The current government, under Stephen Harper, has not respected other world views sufficiently and practiced a politics of division instead.

Similarly, as voters we must not just choose leaders just because their view is one very much like to our own, There are other considerations, such as leadership. that need to be considered.

Therefore, before you mark your ballot on the 19th, I invite you to think carefully about who would make the best leader for Canada, and then vote accordingly.

I am not going to encourage you to vote for any particular party. I have mine, as you probably know by now. My preference is still for Thomas Mulcair and the NDP. While he has his faults, as we all do, Mulcair is a man of integrity, which he demonstrated by his willingness to take a stance on issues such as the niqab which is unpopular in Quebec and may yet cost the NDP first place in the election.

Justin Trudeau and the Liberals come a close second. Trudeau has shown strong leadership skills, although Steven Harper and Mulcair have repeatedly dismissed him as "not yet ready." He too is not perfect, but he may yet become Canada's next prime minister, following in the footsteps of his late father from whom he, no doubt, learned a lot about leadership.

Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green party, would win the.leadership contest with flying colors except for the fact that her party currently has hardly any seats in Parliament and thus has little influence politically. Ethically, however, May provides an outstanding example to her opponents in this campaign, especially to Steven Harper who is ethically-challenged.

Harper has many more faults when it comes to leadership -- too many to enumerate. Just look at my list and you will see what I mean. That is why many Canadians will vote ABC (Anyone But the Conservatives). They have measured and found him wanting.

Harper has many negative traits when it comes to leadership. His message in this election has been to trust the Conservatives at the helm, but after almost a decade many Canadians feel that it is high time for a change.

I respect your right to choose whatever party and leader you want. But vote wisely. You are voting first of all for your local candidate, but remember that each one represents a party and a leader.

So, when you vote, make sure that this leader is indeed a good leader, and not only that, the best one of all!


Saturday, October 3, 2015

A "routine" shooting in Oregon

Mass shootings have become "routine" in the United States of America. The word "routine" is not mine but that of President Obama.

In a speech delivered soon after the shooting in Oregon, Obama used these words repeatedly: "Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. We've become numb to this." 

Two paragraphs later, Obama repeated the word "routine""And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation." 

He explained that "routine" response: "Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out: We need more guns, they’ll argue. Fewer gun safety laws."

Then, several paragraphs later he used the word "routine" again: "And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic."

To summarize the President:

Mass shootings have become "routine."

Media reports have become "routine."

The response of the National Rifle Association has become "routine."

And the charges of politicization have become "routine."

Now the question on everyone's lips is: When will these shootings stop being "routine"? Or even better: When will they stop entirely?

Obama put his finger on the problem, but the US is still far from a solution. These shootings will not stop until Americans change their attitude to guns.

Obama concluded his speech with these comments about his hope that change will happen:
I hope and pray that I don't have to come out again during my tenure as President to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances. But based on my experience as President, I can't guarantee that. And that's terrible to say. And it can change. 
May God bless the memories of those who were killed today. May He bring comfort to their families, and courage to the injured as they fight their way back. And may He give us the strength to come together and find the courage to change.

Obama is more hopeful, perhaps, than many people are, although his hope is tempered by realism. His Oregon speech was the eleventeenth on mass shootings during his term of office. His first was in 2009. In the latest, he said that doesn't want to give any more such speeches, but he realizes very well what he is up against. 

The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, and it is unlikely to change. Although polling, according to the President, shows that a majority of Americans, including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners, understand that gun laws should be changed. Yet this is not likely to happen.

According to Mass Shooting Tracker, "a mass shooting is when four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events, likely without a cooling off period." This includes all the people who are shot and not just those who are killed. It differs slightly from the FBI definition, which only counts three or more murders as a mass shooting. The MST listing is wider and thus better.

By their count, in 2015 there have now been 294 mass shootings in the 274 days until the Oregon shooting on October 1. That is an average of more than one a day. There have been a total of 994 mass shootings since Obama's reelection in 2012.

Only in the US have mass shootings become "routine." Other countries by crafting appropriate laws have largely eliminated mass shootings. In Australia, such shootings stopped after these laws were passed.

There are an estimated 300 million guns in the US, which is roughly one for every man, woman, and child, as Obama also mentioned in his latest speech.  The US has nearly half the world's civilian-owned guns. It is also home to 31 per cent of the world's mass shootings, despite making up only five per cent of the world's population.

I live in Canada, and I don't own a gun. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, do any of my neighbors. There have been killings here, but very few mass killings. However, the Conservative government has tried to blame all the killings on terrorists as part of a politics of fear that they hope will make their reelection possible.

In the US, most mass killings are caused by white males who have serious emotional and other problems. They are not ISIS-sympathizers or terrorists, as the government alleges in the Canadian killings. 

In the Oregon shooting, Chris Mercer, the alleged killer described himself politically as a "conservative, republican" whose hobbies were "internet, killing zombies, movies, music, reading" and who lived with his parents.

In regard to his religious views, he listed himself as "Pagan, Wiccan, Not Religious, but Spiritual." Not exactly a terrorist, although he had earlier expressed an admiration for the Irish Republican Army.

(Click to enlarge)

Apparently, Mercer told the students and the professor he shot, "I’ve been waiting to do this for years." He specifically targeted Christians. "Are you a Christian?" he would ask them, "and if you are a Christian stand up."  And if they did stand up, the shooter said, "Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second."

According to reports, Mercer had 14 weapons, six were with him during the shooting, while the rest were found at his home. All the weapons were legal. The question that the US faces is how to prevent troubled people from committing such horrendous crimes so that these "routine" shooting might stop.

I doubt that any solution can be found, except to keep these people away from weapons that they can use in these shootings. New laws are needed in the US to reduce these shootings as well as the daily ration of homicides. They have proven to be effective in other countries and they should prove equally effective in the US.

How many more "routine" shootings will it take before such legislation is passed in the US? 

Canada has its own problems. Here nearly all shootings are being blamed on terrorists. I am hopeful that this blame game will stop after the election on October 19. A new government must change this.

However, I am not so hopeful about the US solving its problem with guns anytime soon. Like Obama, I pray for change, but until then mass shootings will continue to be "routine." God help the USA!