An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau on Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban

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Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

In the wake of Sunday’s horrendous terrorist attack on Quebec’s Muslim community, I am writing to ask that you forcefully condemn not just the shooting itself, but the rising tide of Islamophobia that appears to have prompted it.

On January 27, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending America’s refugee program. It is not enough that you meekly defend the ability of Canadian dual citizens to cross the border. You must join with other members of the international community in denouncing Trump’s racist policy in the strongest terms possible.

Furthermore, Canada must put its money where its mouth is by significantly increasing its intake of refugees over and above the current target for 2017, prioritizing those who have been left stranded by Trump’s Muslim ban. We must also rescind our “Safe Third Country Agreement” with the United States.

Finally, in the event that the Trump administration continues to escalate its policies of bigotry and exclusion in the months and years to come, Canada must be willing to seriously consider measures such as expelling the American ambassador or withdrawing from practices of military cooperation. I realize this is not something to take lightly — the United States being our closest neighbour and ally — but some values must take precedence over friendship and loyalty, such as the fundamental equality of all human beings regardless of race, religion, or nationality.

A light touch is not what is currently needed. (Much less a “pivot.”) The desperate circumstances unleashed by Trump’s hateful actions require that Canada’s government be more steadfast than ever in declaring the universality of human rights.

Thank you for considering my thoughts.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

Vancouver, BC

cc: Harjit Sajjan, MP for Vancouver South

The Travesty of the Electoral College

File:Trump speaking in Manchester, New Hampshire.jpg

Of the myriad outrages that define last week’s United States presidential election — namely, the elevation of scandal over policy, of demagoguery over competence, of unabashed sexism and racism and conspiratorial paranoia over reasoned debate — perhaps the most egregious is the fact that the winner of the popular vote will not be the one occupying the Oval Office.

Votes are still being counted. As of this writing, however, Hillary Clinton appears set to win approximately two million votes more than President-elect Donald Trump, which gives lie to the all-too-common characterization of Trump supporters as a “silent majority” — a blatant numerical (not to mention auditory) falsehood if ever there was one.

The culprit responsible for this anti-democratic upset is an arcane body known as the Electoral College, which owing to Clinton’s landslide victories in California and New York and her razor-thin losses in Rust Belt swing states, cooked the books in favour of Trump. Historically speaking, Republicans do not have anything like a permanent Electoral College advantage, but given the still painful memory of Bush v. Gore in 2000, as well as other splits between the electoral and popular votes that benefited the GOP in 1876 and 1888, don’t expect the party of Trump to see the light and embrace reform anytime soon.

The rules for changing the Constitution are practically insurmountable. To formally abolish the Electoral College, proponents would need the support of two-thirds of the members of each house of Congress plus three-quarters of the states. Only slightly less improbable is the workaround known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would have signatory states pledge their electors to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote.

The compact has so far been signed by ten states and the District of Columbia, which together represent 61 per cent of the 270 electoral votes needed for it to come into effect. The only problem is that all the states to have officially signed on are blue ones. The agreement will never reach the requisite 270 without swing states, which are understandably reluctant to give up their disproportionate power, or red states, which must be blisteringly aware, even after this month’s election, of the Republican Party’s growing popularity problem.

From 1992 onwards, there have been seven presidential elections. A Republican candidate has won the popular vote only once in those 24 years. As the GOP continues to alienate women, people of colour, Millennials, and those with higher educations, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Electoral College represents their only shot at victory. Far from negating this trend, last week’s results further corroborate it.

So get used to hearing Republican operatives sing the praises of a system that distorts election results and subverts the will of the people. Get used to hearing them profess their solidarity with smaller, more rural states — currently over-represented in the Electoral College — against the large urban centres that threaten to overpower them come election time. As if people aren’t just people no matter where they live. As if voters should not all be counted equally.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country, which according to one recent survey wants to eliminate this 18th century anomaly by a margin of 55 per cent to 27 per cent, will go on echoing the luminary who famously described the Electoral College as “a disaster for a democracy.”

That luminary? Donald J. Trump.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

An Open Letter to Barack Obama and John Kerry

Dear President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry:

As a concerned Canadian, I am writing to urge you to reject TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline for purposes of transporting dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries in the United States.

I assure you that not all Canadians are quite as eager to export climate-busting bitumen as our federal government seems to be. Many of us recognize that the high energy demands required to exploit this unconventional resource give it a dangerously large carbon footprint. For this reason, we consistently oppose similar projects, such as proposed pipelines to the Canadian West Coast by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

According to estimates of greenhouse gas trajectories needed to avert runaway climate change, global emissions need to be peaking right about now (if not earlier). That means that we as a planet need to start drastically decreasing our use of coal, oil, and natural gas. At a bare minimum, we must not engage in further expansion of existing fossil fuel infrastructure — especially when it involves something so exceptionally dirty as tar sands bitumen.

Many Americans seem to recognize this too. Barely a week ago, tens of thousands gathered in Washington for the country’s largest ever climate rally. Earlier this year, the Sierra Club agreed for the first time in its 120-year history to adopt the use of civil disobedience. Any jobs that may or may not temporarily be gained from the proliferation of pipelines are more than outweighed by the jeopardization of the climate system upon which agriculture, forestry, and our very ways of life depend.

So please reject TransCanada’s application once and for all. To do so would benefit both of our countries, as well as the world at large.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Mass Shootings by the Numbers

Guns

Over three-quarters of the firearms used to carry out mass shootings in the United States since 1982 were obtained legally. How on Earth can there not be a national discussion on gun control?

And to those gun advocates who say that tragedy ought not to be politicized, that we need to wait a respectful amount of time before debating such contentious issues as gun control (but who don’t object when such violence is attributed to the absence of God from public schools), I will point out that there have so far been sixteen mass shootings in the United States since the start of 2012, resulting in a combined death toll of eighty-eight.

There is literally not enough space between shootings to be respectful.

Finally, yesterday, on the same day as the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, a similar attack took place at a primary school in Henan province, China. Thankfully, although twenty-two children and one adult were injured, nobody died.

Instead of a gun, the attacker carried a knife.

’Nuff said.

Emerging Consensus on Gay Marriage

Marriage Equality USA

Assuming that the world survives this coming December 21, the United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on two cases in June which could result in the nation-wide legalization of gay marriage.

I cannot forecast with certainty how the court will decide, but supposing for a moment that it rules in favour of marriage equality, the short-term results are easy to predict: conservative commentators across the country will complain of judicial activism, despite having in many cases urged precisely such an overreach one short year before when Obamacare hung in the balance. Right on cue, public support for same-sex marriage rights — steadily on the rise for years — will drop by approximately ten points.

But despite this frothy chorus of apocalyptic whining (maybe that’s what the Mayans were referring to!), the homophobic naysayers will not succeed in preventing a single same-sex couple from exchanging vows. The US Constitution is the law of the land, and the Supreme Court has final say over its interpretation. Gay marriage, assuming a favourable ruling, will be here to stay.

A more interesting topic for consideration, however, is how American attitudes to marriage equality will evolve over the long-term. Will the coming Supreme Court decision be more Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade? The former ruling from the 1950s, which desegregated public schools and marked a major victory for the civil rights movement, was incredibly controversial at the time, but is now almost unanimously recalled as a just and necessary decision. Roe v. Wade, by contrast, the 1970s ruling that legalized abortion across the country, has done nothing to settle the debate over a woman’s right to choose. So is gay marriage more like desegregation or abortion?

I believe it is more like desegregation. Marriage equality can very easily be framed as a civil rights issue, since after all it is about guaranteeing equal rights for a persecuted minority. On the subject of abortion, however, the applicability of equality is muddied by the fact that some people demand rights for women while others demand them for fetuses. Although I personally count myself in the former category, and believe that any depiction of the pro-life community as a modern-day civil rights movement for the unborn rests on a fundamental confusion, I can at least understand how such a confusion could come about and how much work it will take to clear it up. Gay marriage is far more clear-cut, and I see something approaching a consensus emerging over time.

But might it actually be something else that determines the public’s attitudes on social issues? Might it instead be the powerful influence of religious conservatives? If so, gay marriage could be doomed to share the stage with abortion as a highly symbolic subject of perpetual debate whose status is never secured.

Fortunately, I do not think this is likely. Take a look at Canada. We have had same-sex marriage for nearly a decade now and unrestricted abortion rights for a quarter century. While the latter is not nearly as much of a hot issue here as in the United States (perhaps owing to the reduced influence of evangelical Christianity), occasional attempts to chip away at a woman’s right to choose still make their way into Parliament. But marriage equality has not been up for serious contention in years, and that appears to be just how the public likes it.

This does not mean that homophobia has completely disappeared from Canada any more than racism disappeared from America within a decade of Brown v. Board of Education. But after a little time passed and the Canadian public saw that the institution of heterosexual marriage was not under threat after all (at least not from homosexuals), gay marriage quickly lost its status as boogeyman to be exploited by reactionary politicians.

If the United States Supreme Court comes to a similarly enlightened conclusion a few months down the road, I think the American public will look back on the present day ten years from now and wonder what all the fuss was about.

On the Latest School Shooting: Symptoms, Disease, and Gun Control

GunWith every problem, there are the symptoms and there is the disease.

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in the United States today — this one leaving twenty-seven dead at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school — the disease, clearly, is the culture of violence that pervades the country, and I do not blame anyone for wanting to tackle this disease directly. But when the symptoms manifest themselves in the form of twenty dead children, a call to manage the symptoms through gun control is more than just understandable; it is urgently necessary.

Without doubt, these frequent shootings represent an evil deeper than the mere existence of guns. The country must undergo some major soul searching. But firearms enable the destruction of life with an efficiency that is unconscionable and all-too-effortless. While it may be true that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” we must always remember to end this cliche with the common revision that, far too often, “people with guns kill people.” Any object or tool or implement with such undeniable risks — regardless of its occasional usefulness — needs to be subject to strict public oversight and regulation.

I do not know if today’s massacre in particular could have been averted through gun control, but surely at least some of the mass shootings that riddle the country are preventable. Their unyielding prevalence, in addition to being tragic, is becoming ridiculous. There is no more appropriate time than now, after today’s horrific events, to start a serious national conversation about gun control in America.

My thoughts go out to the victims and their families.

Obama, Romney, and the Electoral College

2008 Electoral College

2008 Electoral College

With opinion polls ahead of next week’s election showing the two candidates for President approximately tied but giving Barack Obama a slight edge in the Electoral College, there now exists the real possibility that the latter could be reelected despite losing the popular vote. In other words, we could have a reversal of 2000.

Now perhaps this occurrence is less likely than it appears to be, but in some ways, it could be an ideal outcome. First, Mitt Romney would not be President, so yay! Second, the sight of an Obama win despite his second-place finish in popular support might be just the infuriating kick in the crotch Republicans need to align themselves with efforts to get rid of the Electoral College. And with Democrats still fuming over George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in 2000, this kind of reform might actually have a chance.

The Electoral College is the archaic institution that — despite all the symbolic hoopla of a one-person-one-vote national election — is solely responsible for selecting the President of the United States. Its members are chosen by state governments on the basis of state-by-state results of the national vote. In other words, whichever Presidential candidate wins in a state gets all of that state’s Electoral votes (except in Maine and Nebraska where Electoral votes are distributed by Congressional district).

The problem with this method of indirectly electing a President is threefold. First, there is the aforementioned chance that the popular vote winner might lose the election, an anti-democratic travesty that has already occurred in 1876, 1888, and — most famously — 2000. Second, states with small populations are overrepresented in the Electoral College (be afraid, dear Republicans, this sounds suspiciously like redistribution!) — with one Electoral vote being worth 478,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania, but only 139,000 in Wyoming. And third, it is thanks to the Electoral College that Americans must put up with the absurd spectacle of virtually all the campaigning in a supposedly national election occurring exclusively in ten to fifteen “swing states.” Taken individually, the majority of American voters who live in “safe states” — red or blue — have virtually no impact on who wins the Presidency.

So what can be done? Even with considerable bipartisan support, there is little chance of a Constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College. Such a reform would require two-thirds support in both houses of Congress, plus the approval of three-quarters of the states — an almost prohibitive level of consensus. Thankfully, there exists an alternative in the form of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

According to this voluntary agreement, state governments pledge to distribute all their Electoral votes to whichever Presidential candidate wins the national popular vote, regardless of in-state results. Once the agreement comes into effect with states representing more than fifty percent of Electoral votes signing on, it would, in effect, allow the Electoral College to be bypassed without having to bother with a Constitutional amendment. And with eight states and the District of Columbia already having agreed, advocates of this plan are nearly halfway to their target.

So now it is only a matter of finding the other half. If Mitt Romney wins the popular vote next week while Barack Obama wins the Electoral College, it is conceivable that more than a few red states might climb aboard the popular vote bandwagon, and the United States could be one giant step closer to this strange idea that in a democracy, you vote for your leader directly.