Time for Confederate statues and holidays to go

Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis rising from smoke and ashes is depicted in this enormous carving “etched” into the side of Stone Mountain. (By Bryce Edwards, Creative Commons)

by Tom Regan

About 25 years ago I accompanied my then fiancé, and now wife, to visit friends in the small town she grew up in just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I had never really been in the South before, and so I was unprepared for what I found.

During our visit, one of the tourist attractions that she took me to see was Stone Mountain. In case you have no idea about what Stone Mountain is, it is the Confederacy’s equivalent of Mount Rushmore. In what is apparently the largest bas-relief carving in the world, three of the main figures of the Confederacy are carved into the north face of a huge granite outcropping: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davies.

What is also interesting about Stone Mountain are historical markers and plaques placed around the outcropping. In all these various bits of historical literature, not once was the Civil War mentioned. Instead, the great conflict that took place between 1861 and 1865 is referred to as “The War of Northern Aggression.” It’s also interesting to note that Stone Mountain was the initial meeting place of the second version of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

And I remember that my main thought that day was, “Wow. These people have a really problem with historical revisionism.”

It has always puzzled me why so many Southerners, and their sympathizers in other places around the country, are so intent on linking their “heritage” to a bunch of racist losers. Because that is what the Confederacy was. A group of racist losers. But the whole idea of racism, and the whole idea of losing, seems to have been vanished from this pro-Confederacy narrative, better known as the “Lost Cause.”

It has always puzzled me why so many Southerners, and their sympathizers in other places around the country, are so intent on linking their “heritage” to a bunch of racist losers.

The Lost Cause was one of the greatest propagandistic public relations efforts ever conducted. It did not begin until after the Civil War was over. The government in Washington, reeling from the loss of Abraham Lincoln and trying to deal with the inadequacies of his successor Andrew Johnson, was busy just trying to put things back together. Meanwhile southern supporters of the Confederacy saw their chance. They invented the story that went something like this: slavery was on its last legs anyways, it would’ve died of its own heavyweight, and the real fight was about states’ rights. All Conderate leaders were great men, who really didn’t believe in slavery. This is of course nonsense – any legitimate reading of history would show that. There are numerous statements by Confederate leaders made during the Civil War that document th Confederacy was fighting to retain the right to own slaves.

The numerous Confederate statues that sprung up in places like Richmond, Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana are just one outcropping of this propaganda battle. But they’re more than that. I think New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu really hit the nail on the head in the speech he gave the other day after his city removed the last of four statues of Confederate figures.
The statues, he said, “were designed not to honor the men, not to honor Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis. They were put up to send a message [of] who were still in control, notwithstanding the fact the Confederacy lost the war. Now that’s intimidating, and the consequence of that was that people who didn’t feel comfortable here left.”

The message of who is still in control. And that is the real meaning of these monuments. It was a way for the racists who had lost the Civil War to ensure they would continue to terrorize the African-Americans they had fought to enslave. And they did so for almost another century.
But it’s time for them to go. All of them. Stone Mountain. Monument Alley in Richmond, all of the statues of all the Confederate figures scattered throughout the cities and towns of the South. And holidays that celebrate the Confederacy, like the one in Virginia known as Lee-Jackson day. Because it’s time people who claim that the statues and things like the Confederate battle flag are their “heritage” face the truth: they are honoring a group of men who fought to enslave other human beings for purely racist, monetary reasons. Plain, pure, and simple.

And by claiming this is your rightful “heritage” you make yourself no better than they were.

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Democrat establishment must pay more attention to grassroots

Democrats need to capitalize on what is happening at the grassroots level. [Illustration by DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons]

In the recent special election in Kansas to replace Rep. Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s pick to head the CIA, it looked like a cakewalk for the GOP. Pompeo had won the seat by 31 points in November, 2016, and Trump easily won the district. It has been called one of the safest Republican districts in the country.

The GOP ran Ron Estes, the state treasurer, a guy who had won two statewide elections in the past. The Democrats’ candidate, James Thompson, had never run for any office of any kind before. But it didn’t turn out to be a cakewalk. Democrats across the US have been energized by the election of Donald Trump, and this energy can be found at town meetings held by GOP reps across the country (at least those not afraid to hold them) or the many demonstrations in front of their offices, or in one of many protest marches. And in Kansas, there was another factor – the wild unpopularity of Governor Sam Brownback, probably the GOP governor with the worst chance of being re-elected in a solid GOP-controlled state in the country.

The GOP candidate won, but only 6.8 points, and only after a panicked GOP poured thousands of dollars and robocalls by prominent Republicans into the state. A win is still a win and a loss is still a loss, but it’s no secret to say that some loses are more meaningful than others. Whittling down the GOP margin of victory by more than 20% points in “one of the safest GOP ridings in the country” was a real lift to many Democrats across the country. Political pundits had said that if the GOP only won by single digits, it would be a problem for them.

So one has to wonder that if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had paid more attention to the race who knows what might have happened. Its excuse for not getting more involved was, ‘well, if we paid attention to the race, it only would have hurt him,’ which is only so much horse manure. On the one hand, you might understand in the beginning that establishment Democrats were reluctant to get involved in Kansas. It’s a pretty red state. But on the other hand, the signs that something extra-ordinary was happening were seen by lots of people. But other than last-minute phone calls, the DNCC pretty much ignored what was happening. It didn’t even provide a link to Thompson’s website on its home page. And when the GOP launched wave after wave of negative ads against Thompson, he did not have the resources to respond.

If the DNCC had helped Thompson when it mattered, the result would have been even closer, or perhaps a totally unexpected victory. But the organization’s reluctance to throw its weight behind what grassroots Democrats across the country are doing, even in solid GOP districts, is a real mistake and if not corrected will come back to bite them. Right now, there is a real split in the Democrats between the Bernie Sanders “Build the party from the ground up” folks, and the Obama acolytes still running the party in DC who see the special election in Georgia 6th district as more of a target because it’s largely college-educated suburban area that they think will trend against Trump.

Yes, Georgia is promising. But here’s the problem with only that thinking way. When people work hard to make a difference, they need to see that what they do matters. They need small victories. If the Democratic establishment doesn’t help them find those small victories, they will become discouraged and stop what they are doing. They will stop coming out to town meetings and to protests. Even more important, they will stop donating money to the Democrats. Or instead donate it to the Green Party or something similar.

And the DNC can count on primary and convention fights in 2020 that will make what the GOP was afraid of happening in 2016 with Trump look like a slumber party. If the Democrat establishment does not find a way to work with what is happening at the grassroots level, they can forget about taking back the House, they will lose even more Senate seats in 2018 and will not win back the presidency in 2020.

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The problems with Trump’s strike on Syria

RED SEA (Sept. 23, 2014) The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke launches a Tomahawk Cruise Missile. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez II/Released)

By Tom Regan

If you want US talking heads, liberal or conservative, to hyper-ventilate for your presidency, it appears you just need to blow something up, preferably somewhere in the Arab world. Suddenly, you become “presidential” and every other misfire, error and mistake of the past few weeks is forgotten about.

Considering the horrific deaths suffered by the people of Khan Sheikhoun, and the images of dead and dying children broadcast around the world, you can understand that people were legitimately horrified when a Syrian (or Russian) jet dropped a deadly Sarin gas bomb on the town. Assad is a butcher and his regime does need to go. President Trump’s bombing of Syria looks like a winner for him on the surface level. But it doesn’t take much digging to find the cracks in its foundation.

1) Until Friday, the Trump administration’s ‘policy,’ if you can call it that, was totally hands off Syria. Trump wasn’t interested in replacing Assad and there had been no expression of horror at the almost half a million Syrians who had died in the preceding years, including ‘beautiful babies’ who had already perished in horrible bombings, or who had drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean to escape Assad. In the past, Trump had suggested that he believed many Syrian refugees were terrorists. While it’s interesting to think that Trump suddenly overwhelmed by a surge of humanitarianism, he hasn’t changed his position on his Muslim ban that includes Syrian refugees, many of whom currently live in abysmal conditions. It’s hard to see his concern as more than a hiccup in his emotional state.

2) Policy? What policy? The world is a complicated place. The leader of the world’s only superpower needs a plan to deal with those complicated matters. It is a somewhat disturbing idea that President Trump will jettison whatever policies he does have every time he sees horrible images on cable news. Did he think about how Russia would respond? Or Turkey or Egypt? Will one attack lead to more? The Syrians already have the base back in operation. Will he bomb it again to ensure it’s not used again for a similar kind of attack? If this attack hinted at more than ‘feel good’ retaliation, it might be more understandable. But it’s hard to see any master design behind the attack. And the sudden “guest” appearance by Rex Tillerson as the Secretary of State only seems to have confused the issue even more.

3) That creeping question of emoluments, domestic and foreign, that just never seems to go away with Trump. Trump ordered that 59 Tomahawk missiles be fired. Raytheon, the company that makes the missile, immediately saw its stock price go up. Guess who has stock in Raytheon – Trump the man who ordered they be used. By taking this action, Trump also made himself a bit of money. The Trump tendency to see the presidency as a cash cow – already under question because of his use of his own properties for cash-payer supported events at Mar-A-Lago, or having the taxpayers support his wife staying at Trump Towers in New York – seems to get worse and worse. Sooner or later, his blatant actions to make himself even richer than he is at the expense of the US taxpayer will blow up in his face.

4) In a different vein, the US media’s reactions were also problematic for the US and the world. In times of conflict, American editors and reporters grow epaulets. And the attack on the Syrian air base was deja vue all over again with the media. Across the board, media talking heads and experts fell over themselves to applaud Trump’s decision to bomb. Fareed Zakaria of CNN said this was the “start” of Trump’s presidency. David Ignatious of the Washington Post said Trump put “credibility” back into American power. And Brain Williams, of MSNBC, practically wrote a love poem on the air describing the beauty of the missiles as they were fired. It was as the American media had learned nothing from the long nightmare of their miscalculations and errors about the Gulf War. Years ago, I had a senior foreign editor at a national media outlet where I worked tell me to be careful of inside-the-beltway journalists. “They are just a pack of lemmings attracted by bright shiny things,” he said. He was right.

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The war to end all wars slowly disappears from history

World War 1 tanks and soldiers, probably British or American. [Great War Observer, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

For Canada and the United States, World War 1 has very different meanings.

In America, it is a barely remembered oddity. Very few Americans know that 100 years ago today, April 6, 1917, America entered the First World War. Buried under the tsunami of the Greatest Generation that won World War II, and wedged in between that war and the Civil War some 50 years beforehand, the war to end all wars rates barely a blip in a country that pays scanned attention to its history at the best of times.

It’s a completely different story in Canada. World War I is very much present in the minds of many older and younger Canadians. And that is primarily because of one battle – Vimy Ridge which started 100 years ago this coming Sunday, April 9. It was the first time that all four Canadian divisions in the war fought together. Both the British and the French tried to take Vimy Ridge but failed. In reality the repeated assaults on the Ridge were little more than diversionary tactics designed to draw German strength away from a more important battle, the battle of Arras. But that did not matter to Canadians, who stormed and captured Vimy Ridge in a battle that became mythologized, true or not, as the “moment” Canada became a country.

In America, World War I was seen as a problem that the United States needed to avoid. The imperial powers of Britain and France fought the imperial powers of Germany, Russia and Turkey for control of the European continent. Although Britain and France upheld democratic ideals that were very close to what Americans believed in, American politicians distrusted their long-term objectives and saw the war as a way for the countries involved merely to increase their territorial holdings. (And in some ways, this was very true, particularly in areas like the Middle East, where the Sykes-Picot agreement on how to divide up that part of the world between the imperial powers continues to haunt us to this day.)

Two events changed America’s perspective on the war. The first was the sinking of the British ship the Lusitania in 1915 where 128 Americans were killed when it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea by a German submarine. After this, American President Woodrow Wilson became much more vocal in his support of Britain and France, despite the attempts of German-Americans to keep America out of the war.

The final straw was the Zimmerman letter. Issued by the German Foreign Ministry in January 1917. The Zimmerman letter or telegram was sent to the government of Mexico and proposed a military alliance between the two countries and Japan if the United States entered the war. (Germany, which had decided to return to unrestricted submarine attacks on merchant shipping, anticipated this would draw in the US.) It called on Mexico to invade United States and Germany promised that it would help recapture and hold the land it had lost in the 1840s including Texas and Arizona and New Mexico. The letter created a firestorm in the United States and after that it was only a matter of time before the Americans went “over there.”

But despite its current low profile, World War I did affect America in many important ways. Perhaps the most important way was how many immigrants, who had always been viewed with suspicion by Anglo-Protestant Americans, came to be seen as “real” Americans for the first time because of their willingness to sign up and fight. It also promoted America’s move from a mostly rural culture to a much more urban one. For many of the thousands of troops who went to Britain and France this was the first time they had been more than 20 or 30 miles away from the spot on which they had been born. And, as the song says, “How ya going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris.”

A copy of the Vancouver Sun from April 10, 1917 celebrating Canada’s role at Vimy Ridge. [Vancouver Sun, Creative Commons]

Meanwhile Canada had been involved in the struggle from the very beginning, but always under the command of British officers. Which was what happened at Vimy Ridge was so important because the Canadians won that battle with minimal British help.

There were dark moments. In Newfoundland, which back then was in a colony of Britain and not yet a part of Canada, July 1 does not only mark the day Canada became a country in 1867. July 1 marks the day that 758 Newfoundlanders took the field at Beaumont-Hamel on the first day of the battle of the Somme in 1916. By the end of that day 90% of the Newfoundland Regiment were dead, dying, or wounded. At the next day’s roll call only 68 men were present. There was hardly a town or an outport in all of Newfoundland that was not touched by that day’s events.

For me, World War I is also very present. I was named after a great uncle, my grandmother’s brother, who was killed by a sniper during the war. I have very strong memories of watching First World War veterans taking part in ceremonies at the National Cenotaph in Ottawa when I was growing up. As a youngster, I met several men who had fought in the war. It does not seem like it was 100 years ago to me.

After the war, Canada was different. It no longer saw itself as a colony of Great Britain but as its own country and some 20 odd years later when World War II started, Canada did not declare war on Germany the same day as Great Britain but purposely waited several days before doing it on its own to make the point ‘we call our own shots from now on.’

Taking a more realistic view, World War I was an unnecessary slaughter ofmillions of men on both sides for reasons that are still not very clear. And while Vimy Ridge was an important moment for many Canadians, it’s fair to say that it means more to English Canada than to French Canada, so the claim that it is the moment that Canada became a country needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

I think that after this year’s anniversaries, World War I, the war to end all wars, will continue to disappear into the background, perhaps only commented on in British historical dramas, Canada’s National Film Board documentaries, and maybe some Ken Burns-like filmmaker in America deciding to do a series on PBS. For a war that meant led to so many changes for so many countries, I doubted 50 years from now it will be little more than a few paragraphs in high school history books.

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The danger for Democrats in being ‘ideologically pure’

[Illustration by Georgia Democrats, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

I want to tell you about my mom. She’s the main reason that I’m the outspoken progressive that I am.

Mom been gone for about six years now. She was an advocate for gay rights. She was one of the first people I knew who openly embraced people with HIV in the late 80s. She was pro-immigration. She supported universal health care and public education. She believed in equal pay for women and fought for it her whole life. She was pro-union. She supported left-wing candidates for as long as I knew her.

But there are two other things that you should know about her. She was very anti-abortion, a result of her strong Catholic faith. And she was Canadian and lived in Canada her entire life. Which means that she was never ostracized for her abortion position by other liberals. There was no ideological purity test that you had to vote a straight ticket on every issue of importance for liberals or socialists. That’s just the way it works in Canada.

I’m not so sure my mom would have been so accepted by liberal Democrats in America. And that’s a problem. Not just because it was my mom, but because the dangers of being ideologically pure were on full display last week. The vexed party in this case was the GOP. The major reason the GOP was unable to enact its destructive ‘Trumpcare’ version of health care was that for a group of about 30 Republicans, better known by the misleading name of “The Freedom Caucus,” being ideologically pure was more important than actually governing.

And while I’m personally very glad that the healthcare plan went down in flames, there is a cautionary tale in this failure for Democrats – beware of ideological purity for that way destruction lies.

In opposition, it’s easy to agree with each other and have everybody sing from the same political hymn book. But governing is a whole different animal. Effective governing involves compromise and bipartisanship, especially in the American political system.

The same is true of being an effective political party. If the Democrats want to be the party of women, African-Americans, Latinos, Millennials, Baby Boomers, environmentalists, AND blue-collar whites, that’s going to require some compromise. While there are a lot of issues that all these groups can agree on, there will be disagreements.

If they want to be successful, the Democrats must make room for those disagreements. The leadership, as well as ‘rank and file’ party members, need to listen and respond appropriately. If the Democrats make ideological purity a pre-condition of being a Democrat, then they will fall into the same kind of trap the GOP set for itself.

It’s an exciting time to be a Democrat. A vibrant grassroots movement has sprung up since last November 8 and the election of Donald Trump. Borrowing from the ideas of the conservative Tea Party movement, the Indivisible movement is quickly turning into a real player in American politics.

And that movement is flexing its muscles. It played a role in convincing many moderate GOP members to say they couldn’t vote for Trumpcare. (One GOP rep told a cable news network that the calls were running 1000 to 1 against the bill in his office.) And that effort needs to continue. But Indivisible also needs to be smart about its goals and objectives. It not only needs a view of what’s happening right now, but also a “view from 30,000 feet” as a friend used to say.

If Indivisible borrows too much from the Tea Party playbook, Democrats will end up in the same kind of internally divided boat as the GOP. And I’m not just talking about when they return to power, I’m talking about right now.

GOP factions forgot how to listen to each other. And a significant section of the party came to believe that ideology was more important than doing what many members thought was best for the country.

If Democrats want to be an effective party right now, they must not repeat this fatal mistake. Just because they may not agree on everything, they can still work together to find compromises and move this country forward.

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Trump’s climate change changes really don’t matter

About 41% of the current 250,000 people employed by the solar industry work in installation.

By Tom Regan

My grandfather had a saying that he would use every time I did something too late to have any effect.

“You closed the barn door after the horse was already out past the gate.”

I thought of that saying this morning as I read about President Donald Trump’s plans to undo the climate change regulations that his predecessor Barack Obama had put into place to fight climate change, especially in the late stages of his administration. It’s fair to say that Trump hates Obama so much he will go to any length (or try to, though often not successfully, as we just saw with his Trumpcare debacle) to sabotage anything that Obama did. Trump wants nothing left of the Obama “legacy” by the time he leaves office.

But I’m afraid that on climate change that horse is already out past the gate and despite Trump’s best attempts, he won’t be able to get it back in the barn. While his latest actions will slow down the effects of some of the later regulations that Obama put into place, and cause some headaches for the Paris Treaty on climate change, the United States (like much of the world) is already moving away from fossil fuels like coal and oil and more quickly towards solar, wind and natural gas.

Trump officials say the reason that he is wiping out the Obama era regulations is his desire to make America ‘energy independent’ and help coal miners in states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia who carried him to the presidency.

This is, however, only so much hot air. America is already well on its way to energy independence. And broader economic trends have already spelled the end of the line for coal. Robert Murray, the head of the largest privately held coal mining company in the US told the Guardian this week that coal jobs aren’t coming back, regardless of what Trump promises. Murray says the jobs have been lost to competition and technology, not regulations. Also, many of the changes that Trump wants to make will take years to put into place and will make little difference in the end.

Here is what will, and is, making a difference. In less than a week, Elon Musk will start taking orders for his solar roof shingles. They are expected to be tougher than regular shingles but cost less. Along with his Powerwall 2, Musk wants to make renewable energy available to every home. Meanwhile, Amazon has announced that it will cover 15 massive warehouses around the US with rooftop solar panels, generating as much as 80% of each facility’s annual energy needs. And where Amazon goes, others will follow.

As it is, solar power currently employs twice as many people in the United States as does coal and slightly more than natural gas. And here’s the thing. Many of those solar jobs are in installation. They are exactly the kind of jobs that many coal miners or other blue collar workers could be easily retrained to do. If Trump really wanted to create more jobs, he would be continuing Obama’s actions, not trying to blow them up.

[Care of the Solar Foundation]

Or take the better fuel efficiency standards for cars and lighter trucks that the Trump administration says it wants to “review.” Again, the horse is well out of the barn. Turns out Americans like driving cars that give them more miles to the gallon. And the two states that have the most drivers – California and New York – have sworn to fight the Trump administration on just about everything (about an hour after Trump took office on January 20th, California’s air regulators released a plan to cut emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030). California says it has every intention of continuing its plan to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2015. And seven days ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $70 million electric car rebate. Eligible buyers would get a $2000 rebate.

And that’s not even examining what’s happening with wind or natural gas.

Once again, as is his way, Trump is grabbing the axe by the wrong end. His actions show little foresight and worse planning. It’s like he is only talking to his billionaire buddies who show up to play golf at Mar El Lago on the weekends and who complain to him about the problems of the 1%.

In the end, Obama’s legacy of starting to move this country down the road of renewable energy in order to help prevent climate change will long outlive any ham-handed attempt by Trump to kill it.

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Little difference between London and New York terrorist attacks

Attacks in London and New York were both terrorist incidents. [Photo by Ben Rowe, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

On Wednesday there was a “lone wolf” terrorist attack in London. Four people, including a police officer and the attacker, were killed. Late on Monday, there was also a “lone wolf” terrorist attack in New York. A 28-year old white man named James Harris Jackson, a military veteran, started roaming the streets of the city looking to kill black men. He proceeded to attack and kill Timothy Caughman, a black man he had never met before. After the killing, he looked for more victims but says something “spooked” him and he hid in his New York hotel room instead until he surrendered to police Wednesday.

Both attacks were done by men who, while acting alone, identified with groups who promote a violent agenda. Both men deliberately choose to commit their terrorism to attract as much media attention as possible. Jackson admitted that he came to kill black men in New York because it’s the “media capital” of the world and he wanted ”to send a message.” The London attacker, who has not been identified yet, was “inspired by international terrorism” according to police reports (as in ISIS) and obviously choose London and Parliament because it would attract the most media attention. Both men wanted to start a “war.” The London attacker is part of ISIS’s attempt to start a war between the West and Islam. James Jackson said, like Dylan Roof who killed nine Africans-Americans in Charleston in June 2015, that he wanted his actions to inspire a war between blacks and whites in America.

Looking specifically at the New York attack, it can be seen as part of a consistent uptick in hate-related crimes since the start of Donald Trump’s campaign for president. While Trump has not made an overt racist comment during the 2016 campaign and election, or during his short-term as president, his reluctance to condemn outpourings of support from white-supremacist, racist, and neo-Nazi groups has acted like a dog whistle to these groups, who see this reluctance as an invitation to be more open with their often violent hatred and bigotry towards Muslims, Jews, Hispanics and African-Americans.

As well, Trump’s hesitation in condemning recent attacks against Jewish cemeteries and community centers, or the murder of a visiting Indian engineer who was mistaken by a racist attacker for a Muslim, has also led leaders of these targeted communities to question Trump’s motives. Some have been quite specific. Steve Goldstein, head of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said Trump “quacks, walks and talks like an anti-Semite. That makes him an anti-Semite.”

Where this becomes a problem is in how Trump deals with hate-crime terrorism in the United States, because make no mistake, these attacks are designed to terrorize a community as much as yesterday’s London attack was. It must have been more than a bit disturbing for members of these minority communities to read the report from the Reuters news agency in early February that the Trump administration “wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism.” This deliberately ignores the reality of frequently deadly violence directed towards minorities in the United States by people who adhere to a white supremacist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic ideology.

Donald Trump needs to be president for all Americans, not just his hard-core supporters. He needs to denounce these white supremacist terrorist groups as much as he denounces the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda. Until he does that millions of his fellow countrymen will be concerned that they may be violently attacked, not by Islamist terrorists, but by Americans who do not like the color of their skin or their personal religious beliefs.

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Why jobs Trump promised aren’t coming back

Cleveland’s now deserted industrial flats. The kind of jobs that once kept these businesses in operation are not coming back to the US, despite President Trump’s promises. [Photo by Lisa Chamberlain, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

If you want to know why I don’t believe that manufacturing jobs will be returning to the United States as President Trump promised in his election campaign – at least not the kind of manufacturing jobs that once existed in this country – then you need to travel back with me 20 or so years to the Harvard Business School.

Back then I had the chance to sit in on an entire course taught on the Ethics of Business. What I witnessed was fascinating.

The main argument in the class almost always boiled down to duty to shareholders. The professor would offer up example after example of a possible ethical conflict and in the end, the class would invariably break down into two groups: Those who felt that businesses had an ethical duty to society at large and those who felt the only duty was to shareholders and what was necessary to make them happy. This latter group was by far the much larger group and were often identified by the little shark stickers they would place on their cardboard name cards.

I think of that group to this day. By now, they are all in their late-40s and no doubt running business across America. And many of those businesses have probably dramatically changed their manufacturing processes. Some have outsourced their work to China or Taiwan or Thailand or Mexico. Many others have used technology and robots to improve the way they make their cars, air conditioners or tractors for example.

Making those cars or air conditioners or tractors are the jobs that are no longer available to many of the people who supported Donald Trump, the jobs he promised to bring back to help make America great…again. Recently I wrote about how technology is the main reason for the decline of these older forms of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Studies have shown that up to 87% of American manufacturing jobs have been lost to technological innovation while only 13% have been lost to trade or companies outsourcing their work to other countries. A recent McKinsey report showed that by 2050 almost 50% of current American jobs in all industries will be replaced by some form of technology.

I deliberately wrote “older forms of manufacturing jobs” because the jobs themselves have not been lost, they just changed. In September 2016 there were more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs available in the United States. But almost all required advanced education or training.

All these factors taken together show why these jobs aren’t coming back despite Trump’s promises. The first duty of publicly owned companies is to their shareholders, not to the “American people.” Much has been made of Donald Trump’s background as a billionaire businessman, so he knows how true this is. Even companies like Carrier and its parent company United Technologies, which did agreed to keep some jobs in the United States after being pressured by Trump, is still outsourcing an even greater number of jobs to Mexico because this will reduce costs and make shareholders happy.

Then there’s technology. Many people currently left unemployed by changes in the economy could find work again if they were willing to get that additional education or training. The truth is, however, many of these people just don’t want to do that. They want their old jobs back and really don’t want to deal with the fact that that’s not going to happen. In fact some industry experts have said that even if Trump did bring some of the jobs back to the United States, they would then be lost to technology.

Even more daunting is that McKinsey prediction because we are doing such a poor job right now of preparing young people for the future. A high school education will literally get you little more than a burger flipping job. Once it might have gotten you a good job driving a truck or a taxi but with driverless cars and trucks only a decade away from being an everyday reality that no longer holds true. Even burger flipping might be taken over by robots.

No, the jobs aren’t coming back, one at least not in their old form. Unfortunately, this will probably make people even angrier than they are now. What President Trump needs to be doing is what President Obama was trying to do and that is promote education at all levels and helping people understand that without that education they face a bleak, probably jobless, future.

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The myth of ‘Middle America’ values

The values of hard-work, creativity, innovation and inspiration can be found as much on either coast as they can in the middle of the country. [Photo ‘Field of Gold’ by Nicholas Henderson, Creative Commons]

by Tom Regan

There is a myth that circulates in the media of this country, particularly among talking heads on cable news channels and frequently on the opinion pages of newspapers. The myth goes something like this: “real” American values can only be found in Middle America (what is sometimes called fly-over country). The kind of values that you find on the two coasts really don’t represent ‘real’ America.

I’m sure you’ve all heard various versions of this myth. God-fearing, patriotic (as in football loving, flyover, flag-waving exhibitions), blue-collar, family-oriented etc. etc. it’s been around for as long as I can remember and the recent election of Donald Trump has only enhanced its status as a myth since many people see this is the constituency that elected Donald Trump.

Well, this myth is only so much nonsense. In fact I would argue that the opposite is true; these are not the real American values. In some ways are almost anti-American values not because of what they claim on the surface but because of what lurks underneath. And what lurks underneath is too often in fact anathema to “real” American values.

From the beginning of this country Americans have challenged the status quo. The very founding of the country, an act of rebellion against a world superpower, set the tone for the coming decades. While it took a while for Americans to find their footing and their place among the citizens of the world, once they did they never looked back.

The result is an almost unparalleled story of innovation, creativity, and inspiration in more fields than can be imagined including art, medicine, science, music, law, education, film, and a hard-working entrepreneurial spirit that literally changed the world. And all this accomplished while accepting wave after wave of new immigrants who, while viewed with suspicion and alarm at first, grew into the very best of what America is all about and often became the leaders in the fields mentioned above.

This, to me, represents real American values. And they can be found just as much on either coast as they can in the middle of the country. These are the values that have made America the leader in so many fields for so long.

But that leadership is now threatened by the kind of values represented in that myth of Middle America. Behind all the razzmatazz about God and country and family values lurks fear, suspicion of others, suspicion of progress, a desperate clinging to a world that does not exist anymore, and a refusal to accept the reality of the situation that they face and what needs to be done to change it.

It’s not just that there are many Americans, and they are mostly white and often older, who want the world to go back to “the way it used to be” but knowingly refuse to accept the idea that “the way it used to be” is vanishing. It’s not that the values of God, or country, or family values are out of date, it’s just that they were often a patina that covered over a sense of superiority and entitlement that made too many think the world was their oyster and that they would not have to change as the world changed around them.

It’s always been my personal belief that the greatest thing about America is the idea of America. It’s really what separated it from every other country on the planet. The idea that anybody could be an American no matter where they came from.

And it was those ideas mentioned above of creativity and innovation – and the freedom that they represent – that defined the best in us as a people. Which is why I find the fear and suspicion represented in that myth of Middle America so un-American at heart.

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Prayer space in Canadian public schools a mistake

Canada has had publicly supported religious schools since its founding. But the open practice of religion in public schools has been frowned on by Canadian courts since the mid-1980s. (Above, St. Phillips Elementary Catholic School in Ontario) [Photo by Amir Syed, Creative Commons]

By Tom Regan

One of the best things about public school in the United States is that religion is left “at the school house gate,” to borrow a phrase from a famous Supreme Court ruling on a different issue.

It’s not quite the same in Canada. There is no “separation of church and state” in Canadian law. Religious schools, in particular publicly supported Catholic schools, have operated in Canada since the country’s founding in 1867. For instance, the province of Ontario supports a Catholic school system. I know because I once attended Corpus Christi school in Ottawa. Right across the street was Mutchmor school, the ”Protestant” school, but basically it was for everyone who wasn’t Catholic. They would call us “Corpus Crispies” and we would chant back they were “Mutch Less.” Such is the nature of how religion brings us together.

There is also public financial support in some form across the country for other religious schools, including Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh.

Canada public schools, however, are like those in the US and openly practicing religion during the school day is frowned upon. At least that what courts in Canada have been saying since the mid-1980s, when the courts ruled that schools cannot conduct religious exercises that favor one denomination. Even voluntary exercises were found to be unconstitutional, as “opting out” can create a stigma for the student who opts out.

It is constitutional to wear expressions of your faith in a public school: a yarmulke if you’re Jewish, a hijab if you’re Muslim, a cross if you’re Catholic. And that is as it should be.

But what about putting aside a space for a group of students so that they can pray during the school day? That’s the question after a school in Brampton, Ontario put aside space for Muslims students to pray on Fridays. This is not the first time this has arisen as a potential issue – in 2012 a public school in Toronto allowed a Muslim Imam to come and talk to students at lunchtime on Fridays.

Both situations are a mistake. If schools are prohibited from holding opt-out religious exercises, then opt-in is also a problem, potentially for the very same reason.

To quote Ed Morgan, a University of Toronto constitutional law expert, who was interviewed about the 2012 conflict, “I think this looks like a school practicing religion. The school may be conveying a message that they endorse religion and that’s what the school is not allowed to do.”

And that’s the way it must be, regardless of the religion. While the Canadian approach to religion in public schools is certainly more open than in the US, this is a road the country does not want to go down. What happens when every religious denomination starts to ask for “accommodation”? Many schools currently refuse to allow parents to pull their children from a class every time something they find questionable is taught – which is as it should be. It’s going to be a lot harder to argue in favor of this rule if you’re giving students from any religion a room to pray in during public school times.

There are numerous publicly supported religious options for school in Canada, where open expressions of religion are welcome. Or before or after school, fine. But the minute the public school day starts, then it’s time for religion to leave.

It’s a particularly hard time for Canadians Muslims. The recent murder of six Muslims in Quebec City and the very public race-baiting tactics of Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch have exacerbated fears in the community. But this is a question that not only affects Muslims, but all Canadians. And if Canada is going to make sure that there is a level-playing field for all people of faith in public schools, then open practices of faith are going to have to be left at that school house gate.

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