This and that for your Sunday reading.
- David Suzuki discusses
the merits of a four-day work week in improving both working and living conditions:
It’s absurd that so many people still work eight hours a day, five days a week — or more — with only a few weeks’ vacation a year, often needing two incomes to support a household. Our economic system was developed when resources seemed plentiful if not inexhaustible, and physical infrastructure was lacking. We need an overhaul to meet today’s conditions rather than those that existed decades ago when we were unaware of many of the potential negative consequences of our actions.
Research points to many advantages of reforms such as reduced work hours and universal basic income. In Gothenburg, Sweden, workers at a care home for the elderly were put on a six-hour workday as part of a two-year controlled study. Although hiring 15 new employees to cover the workload drove costs up by about 22 per cent, spending was reduced in areas like covering sick leave, which dropped by 10 per cent. Workers reported health improvements at rates 50 per cent higher than workers at institutions with regular working hours. Patient care also improved. Women with children benefited substantially.
A better work-life balance also brings many individual and societal advantages. Family life is strengthened, people have more time for creative or educational pursuits, and happier, rested employees are more productive. As more people share in available jobs, social service costs go down and more people are able to contribute to economic prosperity.
A lot needs to be done to reform our economic systems and to address critical issues like pollution and climate change. Reducing work hours is one way to make substantial gains.- C.J. Polychroniou interviews
Ha-Joon Chang about the myths of neoliberalism, including the belief that it's either inevitable or desirable to continue imposing burdens on workers to benefit the wealthy.
- Thomas Frank highlights
how Donald Trump was able to harness the understandable frustrations of workers - due in no small part to the impression that other politicians weren't willing to pursue meaningful change of any sort. And Andrew Sullivan discusses
the disastrous results for the U.S. of allowing a reality-averse megalomaniac to take power, while Andrew Coyne comments
on the need for collective action internationally to stand up to Trump.
- Warren Bell examines
the undemocratic implications of Justin Trudeau's broken promise of a more fair electoral system.
- And finally, Simon Enoch tears into
Brad Wall's obsession with privatizing SaskTel by pointing out how a selloff would be disastrous for Saskatchewan's residents as citizens, consumers and workers alike.
In reading Penny Collenette's column, Trump has wakened the sleeping giant of law
, this morning, I learned that that particular giant as a watchdog on extreme political authority in a democracy, is now fully awake and alert.
One of the expressions of that alertness is found in the fact that
Columbia Law Human Rights Organizations have launched an online tool called the Trump Human Rights Tracker, which records and summarizes the human rights affected or violated by each of the president’s orders. It is already chilling reading.Although in its early days, the site
already has seven entries, all of which link to the executive orders the Trump/Bannon presidency has enacted, as well as the analyses of various human rights' groups and the United Nations. Reading the latter is a particularly constructive exercise.
Consider, for example, the executive order Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States
. While Trump publicly insists that the removal of illegal aliens will be limited to 'criminals', the actual language of the order says something quite different; this excerpt illustrates some of those it applies to:
(a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
(b) Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;
(c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
(d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency; It is c
that have therefore allowed heartbreaking scenes like this to occur:
In essence, anyone who has gained access to the U.S. illegally is now more vulnerable than ever under Trump's executive order, even someone like the above who poses no threat to security and has children who are, in fact, American citizens. While some will exult in such measures, those willing to look at the human dimensions and tragedy involved will not.
I have bookmarked the Human Rights Tracker, and intend to visit it regularly for further study and analysis. I hope you will too.
Some people are calling Donald Trump another Andrew Jackson -- the rough hewn American president who brought the democracy of the common man to the United States. But Henry Giroux is not fooled
. For Giroux, Trump is -- in plain terms -- a fascist.The evidence is overwhelming. It's apparent in:
Trump's blatant contempt for the truth, his willingness to embrace a blend of taunts and threats in his inaugural address, and his eagerness to enact a surge of regressive executive orders, the ghost of fascism reasserts itself with a familiar blend of fear and revenge. Unleashing promises he had made to his angry, die-hard ultranationalist and white supremacist supporters, Trump targeted a range of groups whom he believes have no place in American society. These include Muslims, Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrants, whom he has targeted with a number of harsh discriminatory policies. The underlying cruelty, ignorance and punishing, if not criminogenic, intent behind such policies was made all the clearer when Trump suggested that he intended to roll back a wide range of environmental protections. He asserted his willingness to resume the practice of state-sponsored torture and deny funding to those cities willing to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
It's been awhile since the world has faced an unabashedly fascist leader. And memories have faded. Some foolishly insist that Trump should be "given a chance" to implement his program. They wait for him to be normalized:Lesley Stahl's "60 Minutes" interview with Trump
portrayed him less as a demagogue than as a transformed politician who was "subdued and serious." In addition, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported approvingly upon the transition, as if proposed White House counselor Steve Bannon and proposed attorney general Jeff Sessions, two men with racism in their pasts, were ordinary appointments. High-profile celebrity, Oprah Winfrey, stated without irony, in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight
" that "I just saw President-elect Trump with President Obama in the White House, and it gave me hope." This is quite a stretch given Trump's history of racist practices, his racist remarks about Blacks, Muslims and Mexican immigrants during the primary and the presidential campaigns, and his appointment of a number of cabinet members who embrace a white nationalist ideology. The New York Times's opinion writer, Nicholas Kristof, sabotaged his self-proclaimed liberal belief system
by noting, in what appears to be acute lapse of judgment, that Americans should "Grit [their] teeth and give Trump a chance." Bill Gates made clear his own and often hidden reactionary worldview
when speaking on CNBC's "Squawk Box." The Microsoft cofounder slipped into a fog of self-delusion by stating that Trump had the potential to emulate JFK by establishing an upbeat and desirable mode of "leadership through innovation."
This week, as Trump's deportation squads rounded up hundreds of "illegal immigrants" -- some of whom have been in the country for over thirty years -- it's become obvious that there is nothing normal about Donald Trump. He is a clear and present danger.
Americans must hang together against Trump. Or, as Benjamin Franklin warned them, they will hang separately. Those who see Trump as Jackson have the wrong Andrew. Like Lincoln's vice president -- Andrew Johnson -- he should be impeached.
Assorted content for your weekend reading.
- Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson comment
on the moral and practical harm done by continued inequality:
Inequality matters because, as a robust and growing body of evidence shows, the populations of societies with bigger income differences tend to have poorer physical and mental health, more illicit drug use, and more obesity. More unequal societies are marked by more violence, weaker community life, and less trust. Inequality also damages children’s wellbeing, reducing educational attainment and social mobility.
You might think that evidence of harm, alongside the growing concerns of world leaders, academics, business, civil society, and government would be enough to turn this problem around. But from our perspective as social epidemiologists working on inequalities, the record on tackling health inequalities does not inspire optimism. Decades of research has led to a consensus among public health academics and professionals that we need to tackle the structural determinants of health if we want to reduce health inequalities; yet this has not happened and health inequalities have not diminished. In many cities in the UK and US, for example, we continue to see life expectancy gaps of five to 10 years, and occasionally 15 to 20 years, between the richest and poorest areas.
The long term failure, even of ostensibly progressive governments, to tackle these glaring injustices is perhaps one of the reasons why public opinion has swung so strongly away from the established political parties. And the public’s sense of being left behind will only be exacerbated by the negative health effects of austerity, which are starting to emerge in our health statistics....During the last generation, economic growth ceased to improve health, happiness, and the quality of life in rich countries. Now, more than ever, we need an inspiring vision of a future capable of creating more equal societies that increase sustainable wellbeing for all of us and for the planet. - On that front, Andrew MacLeod examines
how British Columbia's disability income assistance is nowhere near enough to allow people to live with security and dignity. And Lynne Fernandez and Simon Enoch write
that Brad Wall and Brian Pallister seem determined to inflict austerity measures which will make matters even worse for people already facing an uphill battle to get by in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
- David Cay Johnston highlights
how Donald Trump's economic policy looks to instead reflect nothing more than allowing the corporate sector to shamelessly fleece the public without repercussions. And Sean McElwee, Jesse Rhodes, and Brian Schaffner discuss
how big money distorts the U.S.' political system.
- Finally, Jesse Winter reports
on today's protests against Justin Trudeau's broken promise of electoral reform, while PressProgress weighs in
on the unprecedented 100,000 signatories to Nathan Cullen's petition demanding the Libs live up to their commitments. John Ivison notes
that Trudeau's tone-deafness is making him a punchline for progressive Canadians, while Greg Squires examines
the bridges he's burned among core voting groups. But Karl Nerenberg argues
that the greatest danger arising out of the preservation of first-past-the-post is to Canadian democracy, not merely to the Libs' political fortunes.
We had an awesome day of sightseeing today; I have much to report.
We had planned to ask our hosts if they could connect us with a guide for Cairo sightseeing for Sunday. The plan was to do the Egyptian Museum today and sightsee with a guide tomorrow. While we were having breakfast, Abdul, our guide extraordinaire, appeared. Yes, he does urban tours, and yes, he’s free, let’s go today. He quoted us an extremely reasonable price, and asked us not to tell the Pyramids View guys. Fine with us. The one who does the work should reap the reward.
On the way into town, Abdul told us about modern Egypt’s political history -- views on Nasser, Sadat, Mubaruk, and Morsi. He told us how the election of Morsi was 100% democratic, the first real election in the history of Egypt, and how people loved Morsi for cleaning up police and army corruption -- and how those benefiting from that corruption made sure his presidency could not last. This came complete with a fake revolution in which incarcerated felons and friends of the police were paid to stage a fake coup in Tahrir Square.
We were soon driving on narrow, winding streets, where we parked in someone’s dirt yard and walked a few back streets to our first site.
This is what we saw.
First, Coptic Cairo. I learned that the word Coptic originally meant Egyptian, so a Coptic Christian was merely an Egyptian person who practised Christianity. Now the word has evolved to mean Egyptian Christian.
Hanging Church. This 9th or maybe 7th Century church was built on top of a Roman fort (hence its name, hanging on top of the Roman pillars). There are some beautiful mosaics when you first enter, in a style something like folk art. There’s also beautiful inlaid woodwork, and a bunch of creepy paintings and icons. It’s very cool to see the Roman remains, built by Hadrian, of England-Scotland wall fame.
Church of St Sergius and Bacchus (Abu Serga). From the Hanging Church, we walked down, down, down, to walkways below the city streets, past a long display of books in both Arabic and English. The walk ended at a church known as Abu Serga. This was filled with intricate wood inlay and brick, very quiet and understated. The ceilings of both churches are made of wood beams, created to recall an upside-down boat. Coptic legend says that old Cairo was the landing place of Noah’s Ark. Also, since Egypt figures prominently into the story of the Holy Family fleeing King Herod, there are maps charting that journey, overlaid on the map of the modern Middle East.
Synagogue Ben-Ezra. In this same section of town, we visited the oldest of the 10 synagogues in Cairo. I have chosen to keep my Jewish identity private on this trip, so I listened with great interest. Abdul said this is a “Jewish temple”, that “Muslims worship in a mosque, Christians in a church, and Jews in a synagogue, and those are just different words for the same thing, a holy place of worship”. He described the various parts of the synagogue and what they signify. He used different expressions than I would have, but everything he said was correct.
The security officer wished us Shalom and asked where we were from. He said, “Canada good. Canada good”, nodding and smiling.
I said to Allan, “You know how sometimes I say, ‘My father would have loved this,’ such as an African-American becoming President, or my strike? This is the opposite. My father would be rolling in his grave right now if he knew I was pretending not to be Jewish.” Allan said, “That’s reason enough to do it.” Tee hee. I feel that declaring oneself as Jewish here is fraught with meaning that I don’t want attached to me. What am I going to say, “I’m Jewish but I’m also an atheist and I support Palestinian freedom?”
After seeing the synagogue, I asked Abdul about religious freedom in Egypt. He said Egyptians can be either Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. They must declare themselves one of those three religions. They cannot be a nonbeliever and they cannot openly introduce any other religions into the country. They can intermarry, but then must choose one religion from then on.
Garbage City. On our way to the next site, we drove through something called Garbage City. I had envisioned a vast landfill dump with people and dogs scavenging. But no. We drove through a rabbit-warren of extremely narrow streets, which was a veritable factory of recycling. In huge garages, people were sorting and packaging trash. One was all paper and cardboard. Others were all plastic bottles, another all strips of plastic, another car parts. Abdul said organic waste is sold for agriculture, plastic is sold and shipped to China for their factories -- with plenty of money changing hands in the middle. There was garbage everywhere in various stages of reclamation, from piles to bails to large compressed bricks.
Naturally no one was wearing gloves, face masks, or protective clothing of any kind. Many children were barefoot. But there were convenience stores, tiny cafes (imagine eating there?!), clothing stores -- and smartly dressed women with well-dressed children. The whole thing was fascinating and very strange. And we kept the windows closed.
Cave Church. The Cave Church was one of the most beautiful houses of worship I’ve ever seen. Biblical scenes and verses are carved into a sheer wall of limestone, all created by one artist named Mariusz. You walk down a ramp that is tunneled into the rock -- very wide, a gradual slope, not scary -- which leads you to the level of the altar. An amphitheatre of benches rises behind you, with more New Testament scenes and scriptures carved into the rock. It had the same effect on me as the great cathedrals of Europe: I felt small and awed. (Despite my hardcore atheism, I am extremely susceptible to spiritual feelings.)
From the Cave Church, we began the Islamic Cairo portion of our tour.
Citadel Saledin and Mosque of Mohammed Ali. The Citadel is a massive fortress commanding the highest land of Cairo. There’s a lot of history attached from the first Islam invasion through modern Egypt. There are sweeping views of the city, including the tops of the Pyramids in the far distance. The first mosque we visited is on the same site as the Citadel. We were given (for a small tip) coverings for our shoes and I brought a scarf with me for my head. (Many female tourists did the same, but not all.) This mosque has a huge shining white dome and four smaller domes. Abdul pointed out the difference between the various minarets on the skyline, the pencil-shaped ones from the Ottoman period, and the “jar top” style from the Mamluks. (This made me realize that my own art history courses completely skipped Islamic art!)
I love the geometric designs of the mosques, and the way text is used as art. Muslims believe (as do Jews) that there be “no graven image”, the mosques were a welcome change from the images in the churches, which I often find gruesome.
In the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hussan, the security guard would not let us re-use our shoe coverings, demanding that we remove our shoes instead. Abdul got into it with him for a bit, then said it was best to let it ride. We took off our shoes and hid them in a corner of the mosque. Abdul said the shoe-check guy pockets the fees, and we would foil him.
This mosque was also full of beautiful inlaid wood, text designs, and soaring open space. A madrassa is the Muslim version of a yeshiva, a place where students live and study their religion. Have you ever noticed how Judaism and Islam are practically the same religion? Montheistic, dietary restrictions (including special butchering of meat and no pork), a lunar calendar, fasting, separation of men and women, head coverings, no hierarchy of special privilege (i.e., imams and rabbis are regular people, teachers, not representatives of god), no images... probably more that I can’t think of right now.
Mosque of Ibn Tulun. This is a huge, old Islamic monument, said to be the first building to use the arch that would later be called the Gothic arch -- 200 years before Europeans used it in churches. This mosque has a beautiful minaret with a spiral staircase. Allan tried to climb it for the view, but when the staircase changed to the outside, he returned. I was conserving my bad knees.
We were very much aware of how difficult or impossible it would have been to see these places on our own. The day was relaxing and enjoyable, as a vacation should be, instead of frustrating and unproductive. We wanted to take Abdul out for lunch, but he said he wanted to save his appetite for the big family dinner this evening. We told him how fortunate we were to meet him, and he said we were helping his family, and that it was very mutually beneficial. This made us feel better. Our money goes so far here that we worry we are not paying him enough.
Abdul is arranging a friend of his to drive us the whole time we’re in Luxor. It will be considerably cheaper than the hotel price, yet put much more money in the driver’s pocket. He explained the economics to us, and it made great sense -- a week of guaranteed work at double his normal earnings, and still less than what we would pay the hotel. Plus it will be someone who Abdul recommends.
After the last mosque, on our way back to Giza, we stopped at Felafila, a local take-out chain. We ordered shawarma, hawawshi, falafel sandwiches, and fries. We brought it all back to the hotel to eat on the roof, but not before Abdul stopped to buy us more desserts. Today it was rice pudding, which I have never liked before, but I devoured this. It’s a good thing rice pudding doesn’t taste like that in Canada. I also thought, these Felafila people should come to Mississauga, they would be instant millionaires.
After eating our desserts with Abdul, he made some suggestions about our visit to the Egyptian Museum tomorrow. He also said that he had overheard us talking about getting ourselves and our luggage from the hotel to the Giza train station. He decided that hotel to museum, then museum to hotel to station would be too much back-and-forth for us, and instead he would pick up our bags and meet us at the station. We thought this was too much, but he insisted.
Then we paid him for today; it was quite a bit more than the agreed-upon price. Some time later, he appeared on the roof again. “Guys, this is a lot of money.” We said we felt very lucky, that he had increased our enjoyment of our trip so many times over. He then insisted that tomorrow’s drive with our luggage to the station would be a gift from him. He was quite insistent. I told Allan (privately), it’s good to be generous, but we also have to respect Abdul’s wishes. Maybe he feels he didn’t earn that much money, and it feels more “even”, more appropriate, for him this way. Perhaps an overly large tip feels like charity. On our end, we feel like we’re ripping everyone off, because 100 LEs, a large sum, is only $7.00!
The people who run the Pyramids View Inn are the friendliest, most helpful staff imaginable. Every time you turn around they are offering you water, tea, or coffee, and often appear with a plate full of some delicious sticky desert. It’s a low-budget hotel, but perfectly clean and comfortable. I would much rather spend my money on a sightseeing guide than a fancier hotel room. I like nice hotels for, say, a weekend in Montreal.
-- With our lunch in Memphis, we ordered fresh mango juice. It was so thick, you practically needed a spoon to eat it.
-- Everyone smokes here. In restaurants, in ticket offices, in banks. When you order a coffee or tea, they bring your drink and an ashtray.
-- We asked Abdul how much a street kabob should cost. It turns out that our four skewers for 62 LEs was a good price. Also, they are normally sold by the kilo, so each stick was probably a quarter-kilo. I had never met a dishonest street food vendor, and I’m glad I can still say that.
-- More street food: men set up an oven and cook sweet potatoes. They sell cut-up chunks in little cardboard dishes.
Justin Trudeau has been consulting with other world leaders before he takes his trip to Washington on Monday. Presumably, when he deals with Trump, he doesn't want to deal with him alone. That's a good idea. But, Andrew Coyne writes
, it's not a new idea:
For forty-odd years after World War II, the policy of the free world towards the Soviet Union was one of containment: a strategy of collective resistance, rather than (on the one hand) appeasement or (on the other) open conflict. We now face the sad reality that, for the next four years at least, some version of containment will have to be our policy towards the United States.
It is one of history's great ironies that a policy once championed by the United States will be used against it. But there are good reasons for adopting a policy of containment:
To be sure, the prime minister has the particular task of dealing with a leader who, to speak precisely, presents with a variety of known personality disorders; who knows less about foreign policy, or any policy, than the average doorman or taxi driver; who has no visible moral compass, is unconstrained by any norm of personal, political or presidential conduct, and seems determined to avenge any slight to his monstrous vanity.
To defend our interests, as much as our values, we will have to start setting boundaries early — picking our battles, yes, but firmly and patiently asserting our rights. And if we are to do so effectively, we will need to do so in concert with other countries. The widely varying reaction to the travel ban, with some world leaders, like Germany’s Angela Merkel, speaking out clearly against it, while others, like our own, couched their response in cleverly ambiguous tweets, must not be repeated. Neither was it sensible for Canada, in its first flustered response to Trump’s demands to renegotiate NAFTA, to appear so eager to abandon Mexico to its fate.
We're going to have to stand behind Mexico and our other allies. Trump's strategy is classically authoritarian: Divide and conquer. Watching things fall apart suits his purposes just fine. Trudeau -- and the rest of us -- can't allow that to happen.
Image: Slide Share