Monday, May 21, 2018

America has lost its moral compass

The United States has always presented itself as a beacon of hope, a place where immigrants could make a new and better life for themselves.  It has always thought of itself as a vibrant democracy.  Sadly, however, a terrible malaise has spread across the "land of the free and the home of the brave."  With the rise of the far right, aided and abetted by U.S. president Donald Trump, the Republican Party, the National Rifle Association (NRA), Fox News and billionaires such as the Koch brothers, a great nation has lost its moral compass.

What is happening to the United States of America? 

There is something wrong with a country when mass school shootings have become the norm, when they routinely occur.  On the morning of May 18, 2018, I woke up to the news of yet another school shooting, this time at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.

"No other developed nation comes close to the rate of US gun violence. Americans own an estimated 265m guns, more than one gun for every adult.

Data from the Gun Violence Archive reveals there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter – nine out of every 10 days on average"
- The Guardian

What is happening to the United States of America? 

There is something wrong with a country when its president condones torture. The U.S. Senate has conformed Gina Haspel as the first female head of the C.I.A.  The trouble is that Haspel was in charge of a C.I.A. black site in Thailand in 2002 where detainees were subjected to interrogation tactics that critics have described as torture.  She also drafted the cable that was sent to destroy several .interrogation tapes in 2005.  Isn't it wonderful that woman who has been linked to waterboarding and the cover-up of torture?

Isn't it great that Donald Trump, the President of the United States has endorsed waterboarding, He told the BBC that it "absolutely works" and that he wants wants to "fight fire with fire."  The Merriam-Webster dictionary has defined waterboarding as "an interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee's mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of "drowning" - in other words, a method of torture.  Let's not mince words.  Let's call it what it is.


What is happening to the United States of America? 

There is something wrong with a country whose president has called the media "the enemy of the people."  Sadly, too many Americans agree with his assessment. The United States is a country that has always cherished freedom of the press and freedom of speech, as enshrined in the First Amendment to its Constitution. In Trump's America, many people strongly defend the Second Amendment and the so-called right to bear arms.  Why don't as many voices speak up in support
of the media and the First Amendment?

The United States' ranking dropped from 43 to 45 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) 2018 World Press Freedom Index, continuing its downward trend since Donald Trump assumed office..


What is happening to the United States of America? 

There is something wrong with a country when its right-wing evangelicals support a president whose polices and actions violate the basic tenets of Christianity. Yet, right-wing evangelical Christians form a large part of Trump's base.  Although well-versed in Scripture, these evangelicals, including Vice President Mike Pence, support a man whose words and values are contrary to the words and values of Jesus, who taught humility, charity and brotherly love as set out in the Sermon on the Mount and in parables such as The Good Samaritan.  Trump preaches.the polar opposite.  He denigrates immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, the poor and marginalized.


What is happening to the United States of America?  

There is something wrong with a country when so many people believe outright lies and are unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood.  Americans have been brought up on the legend of George Washington, the country's first president.  At an early age, children are told the story about how Washington admitted to chopping down a cherry tree because he could not tell a lie.  That's how much truth has always mattered to Americans.  It is said of the first American president that he could not tell a lie.  Meanwhile, the current president cannot tell the truth.  Fact checkers such as journalist Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star's correspondent in Washington, have relentlessly uncovered Trump's exaggerations, inaccuracies and outright lies.


What is happening to the United States of America?

There is something wrong with a country when many citizens, including a large number of females, cast their vote for a man who bragged on tape about groping women.  There was no misunderstanding Donald Trump's words.  His words were captured on videotape. His vulgar bragging was revealed prior to the 2016 election.  Yet, he still won the presidency due to the result of the electoral college vote.


What is happening to the United States of America?

There is something wrong with a country when the president's budget allows tax breaks for billionaires and crumbs for lower income Americans.  The amount of poverty in the United States is staggering.  The gap between the haves and have-nots is growing wider every day.  Here are the cold, hard facts, based on statistics provided b the United States Census Bureau:

Current estimates on poverty in the U.S. The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau's 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty according to the official measure. According to supplemental poverty measure, the poverty rate was 14.0 percent.

There are more people living in poverty in the United Sates (over 43 million) than the entire population of my country, Canada (slightly less than 37 million, according to the latest estimate from Statistics Canada).  There are more Americans living in poverty than the entire population of the state of California (over 39.5 million, according to the latest estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau.

So, what does the Trump administration do?  It passes a budget that hits poor Americans the hardest, cutting out food stamps, formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  It claims that it will make up the difference with a box of canned goods, a change that Office Manager and Budget director Mick Mulvaney describes as a "Blue Apron-type program."  However, according to The Washington Post, critics have charged the Trump administration of "drawing an unfair comparison between the food stamp program, which delivers an average of $1.37 per meal to American's poorest, and a high-end meal kit that runs $10 per serving."

The Trump administration has also implemented sweeping cuts to popular safety net programs such as federal housing subsidies and Medicaid.


What is happening to the United States of America?

There is something wrong with a country that is so out of step with the rest of the world.  The United States has pulled out of the Paris accord on climate change.  It is completely out of sync with the rest of the world on climate change.  French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Trump to allow the United States to rejoin the Paris accord, but he stubbornly refuses.  He prefers to remove environmental protections and he regards climate change as a hoax.

Instead of trying to improve the Iran nuclear deal, as Macron and other leaders have urged him to do, the U.S. president has reneged on the agreement.  It is an imperfect deal, but it has worked and could be improved.  Donald Trump will not listen to reason and he continues to isolate the United States from the rest of the world and its leaders, including allies such Macron, Angela Merkel of Germany and Canada's Justin Trudeau.

The world desperately needs the United States to get back on track, to find its moral compass.  That probably won't happen unless the Democrats take back at least one of the Houses of Congress in November.  Too many Republicans put part ahead of country.  For shame!

- Joanne

Friday, May 18, 2018

Open Letter to John Tory, Mayor of Toronto #2

 


This is the second of a series of open letters to Mayor John Tory regarding the serious issues facing the city of Toronto. until this fall's municipal election.  The election will be held on Monday, October 22, 2018.


Dear Mayor Tory,

In my fist letter to you, I expressed my concern that no high-profile candidate is poised to oppose your re-election to the office of Mayor of Toronto.  I stated that it would not be beneficial for both you and the City of Toronto if you had an easy ride to re-election.  I then listed the three most serious issues facing the city:

1. Homelessness, poverty and addiction
2. The environment, health and cleanliness
3. Transportation

In this second letter to you, I will elaborate on other issues and improvements that are needed.  Let's begin with the task of making Toronto greener and more beautiful.  Let's build a city that is pedestrian friendly.  Urban activist Jane Jacob firmly believed that cities are first and foremost for people.  In "Downtown is for People," her classic 1958 article for Fortune magazine, she wrote, "There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings that we must fit our plans."

* Toronto could use more green spaces, more public squares and more outdoor seating.  One of the attractions of European cities is the abundance of large public squares.  Think of the beautiful piazzas in Italy or Trafalgar Square in London.  All we have is Yonge-Dundas Square, which leaves much to be desired.  Surely it can be improved and beautified.  It is much to stark and tawdry.  It needs more greenery, more seating and some attractive art.  Nobody expect to see statues by Michelangelo or fountains by Bernini in Yonge-Dundas Square, but the place can still be enhanced.  Let's start by giving it a better name.  "Yonge-Dundas" just doesn't have a good ring to it.  It doesn't sound classy.

* Mr. Mayor, I also think that our city needs more public washrooms, especially in subway stations.  The majority of TTC subway stations do not have them.

* For too long, developers have been aloud to run rampant and unchecked in this city.  I want to weep when I see how our view of Lake Ontario has been blocked by numerous highrise condominiums.  It's a pity!

It's also a shame that the venerable Humber Theatre, a historic landmark in Bloor West Village is going to be replaced by (what else?) a condo development.  Toronto is losing another majestic old movie theatres.  Soon there will only be sterile, cookiecutter Cineplexes.

* Toronto should have a planetarium for stargazers and astronomy lovers.  It is regrettable that the McLaughlin Planetarium was forced to close in 1995, due to budget cuts imposed by the newly elected provincial government of Mike Harris.

* Toronto's public libraries are precious.  Their social and educational value should not be underestimated.  They should always be properly funded and appreciated.


- Joanne


If you would like to read my fist letter to John Tory, click on the link below.



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Photos of Cherry Blossoms in High Park, Toronto



On Saturday, May 12, I visited a very busy High Park here in Toronto.  It was filled with people of all ages and backgrounds.  They were just enjoying the cherry blossoms and snapping photos.  In the past few years, this has become quite a popular event in Toronto.  Here some more photos.






























- Joanne

Monday, May 14, 2018

Spring of discontent for Toronto sports fans

For Toronto sports fans, this has been the spring of our discontent.  Everything looked so promising for the Maple Leafs and the Raptors as their 2018 seasons drew to a close.  The city was flushed with excitement and a sense of anticipation.  Even if the Leafs and Raptors failed to win their respective league championships, we had hopes that they would go deep into the playoffs.  Our optimism was not just fuelled by wishful thinking.  There was solid evidence that both teams were poised for some degree of playoff success.  After all, the Raptors won 59 games this year and finished first in the Eastern Conference of the NBA.  They set franchise records for most wins in a season.  As for the Leafs, they also had a fruitful season, finishing third in the NHL's Atlantic Division with 49 wins and 26 losses. They are loaded with young talent such as Auston Mattthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

So what went so horribly wrong?  Well, both teams failed to step up in the playoffs.  Their best players did not come through when it really counted.  They didn't pull together.  They weren't hungry enough.  There's no way to candy coat it.  In their first two games against the Boston Bruins, the Leafs looked overmatched and unprepared.  Boston played with confidence and poise. The Leafs, on the hand, didn't resemble the same team that won 49 games during the regular season.  Where were Auston Matthews and William Nylanders?  A team's top players are supposed to shine in the playoffs.   Boston's big line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak completely dominated the Blue and White.  In addition, Leaf goaltender Frederik Aandersen was far from outstanding.  Freddie was not so steady.  The red-headed Dane has certainly played better, but it was not all his fault.  The Leafs' defence was not exactly stellar and Jake Gardiner. had a painful Game 7.  Gardiner he took the loss hard, declaring that he "didn't show up" and that he "let a lot of people down."

Jake Gardiner
The Maple Leafs lacked leadership and discipline in their series against the Bruins.  They didn't have their eyes on the prize.  Otherwise, Nazem Kadri would have been able to control himself instead of incurring a needless three-game suspension.  Kadri's suspension cost the Leafs dearly.  The Boston series clearly exposed Toronto's weaknesses, especially their defensive flaws.  The Leafs just weren't ready.  At least they gained some playoff experience - the hard way.  Looking ahead to next season, they have chosen a 32-year-old whiz kid named Kyle Dubas as their new General Manager.  They should also has a team captain in plac by then.  We will see what happens.

As for the Toronto Raptors, I honestly expected much more from them than from the Leafs.  They played so impressively during the regular season and it seemed as if their time had finally come.  The first playoff round ended well for the Raps.  They defeated the Washington Wizards in six games.  However, for the third season in a row, they were spooked by the Cleveland Cavaliers and King LeBron James.  James completely unnerved the Raptors.  They didn't know how to deal with him..  He psyched them out.  He toyed with them.  He humiliated them.  It was difficult for Toronto fans to watch.

What happened to DeMar DeRozan?  Although healthy, he was benched for the final 14 minutes of the Raptors' 105-103 defeat in Game 3 against Cleveland.  DeRozan is an all-star.  He's no LeBron, but he's the Raptors' best player.  Something is terribly wrong when your best player is so ineffective that he isn't utilized in the closing minutes of a crucial playoff game.

Coach Dwane Casey paid the price for the Raptors' poor performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs.  He was fired soon after, despite the 59 wins and receiving the Coach of the Year Award from the NBA Coaches Association.  As sports fans know, it often happens that way.  The players can't all be fired, so the coach becomes the fall guy.  I'm not saying that Casey doesn't bear any responsibility for the Cleveland debacle.  No one player or coach should shoulder all the blame.  That fiasco was a team effort and Casey deserved better.

Dwane Casey
So, it's the middle of May and the Toronto Maple Leafs have gone another year without winning the Stanley Cup.  That's 51 years and counting.  The Las Vegas Golden Knights, in their first year of contention, are still alive in the playoffs.  If they defeat the Winnipeg Jets, they will earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.  It's hard to believe that Vegas has gotten so far in their initial season.  I admit that I am biased and that I would prefer Winnipeg to win.  However, I don't want to underestimate the Knights.  They have certainly exceeded expectations.  Yet, even if they weren't playing Winnipeg, I couldn't bring myself to cheer for them to win Lord Stanley's Jug.  It doesn't feel right.  It doesn't feel as if this new franchise has paid its dues yet.  The Golden Knights' success is  rather galling to Leaf fans who have waited patiently for so many years and to all the NHL teams who have never won the Cup.  Still, if they manage to win it, they will be the legitimate victors.


- Joanne