The Syrian Refugee Response

I posted this on Facebook, but it’s long enough that it probably deserves to be here too.


As someone who is actively trying to sponsor Syrian refugees to come to Canada, I have to comment on some of the really discouraging rhetoric I am hearing.

You have your extremes – Republican governors refusing any refugees and those who confuse the persecuted with the persecutors. But you also have your mostly level-headed individuals who are worried about security – that somehow a terrorist will slip through the system posing as a refugee. In both cases I think there is too much fear and not enough compassion.

The security fears are understandable, but I do not think they are grounded in much reality. What reason do we have to believe that any Syrian refugees are faking it? What hell-bent member of ISIS would sit in a refugee camp for years upon years so that they could eventually come to Canada and kill a few people? It’s not realistic. The sad fact of the matter is that the ocean separating Canada and the Middle East does more to protect us than any level of screening ever could. Most of those wishing to do harm to the West are going to do it in Europe (as sad as that is to admit).

And speaking of screening, it’s not as though refugees just get to come to Canada willy nilly. From what I understand, there are three levels of screening: one from the UNHCR, one from the Canadian government, and one from the RCMP. This is a lot of security screening, and it helps to explain why our sponsorship here in Ottawa still doesn’t have a family. The system is overworked with so many refugees to process.

Now, does Trudeau’s plan to speed up the process compromise this level of security screening? I don’t think so. If you add more resources and personnel, then it can all be done quicker.

Really though, my main point I want to express to everyone is this:


They want that. They want there to be a divide between Islam and the West. If that divide grows and we reject Muslims and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries, that bolsters ISIS’s worldview that there is a war between Islam and the West. It helps them recruit Muslims because Muslims will increasingly believe that there is indeed a war between Islam and the West and that the Islamic State offers sanctuary. ISIS believes they are setting up an Islamic utopia. The more uncomfortable Muslims feel in the West, the more easily ISIS can recruit.

The biggest middle finger we can give ISIS is to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms.

Yes, do proper screening. Yes, combat ISIS in other ways. But do not become a closed society. Do not stop doing what has made the West great – offering freedom and sanctuary to those that the rest of the world has rejected.

Tracing my family back far enough, we came to Canada because of religious persecution. That is what has helped to make this country great, and there is no good reason to stop now. Canada rejected Jewish refugees in the 1930s, sending them back to Europe to their deaths. How does that look in hindsight?

Let Canada be a beacon to the world. To all those places persecuting minorities and to all those places closing their borders, look at Canada. We can do the right thing.



Racism And Internet Comments

Yesterday I read this article on the Toronto Sun. Now, the story is pretty infuriating in and of itself. It’s about a 15-year old Chinese tourist that defaced an Egyptian relic.

But in addition to the story, what also struck me was the comments section. Now, I don’t usually read the Sun, so maybe this is commonplace. Heck, it’s the Internet. I’m pretty sure this is standard operating procedure. But still, I was shocked by some of these blatantly racist comments, many of which were the top-rated comments of the story.

Picture 1 Picture 8 Picture 4 Picture 3 Picture 9 Picture 5 Picture 6 Picture 7Anonymity breeds courage. It’s just too bad that the Internet is full of the all the wrong kinds of courage. Commenting on news stories was supposed to be a great experiment in true democracy, but I think we can admit that the experiment has been somewhat of a failure. Internet anonymity is the last refuge of backward ideologies, forcing the rational to collectively facepalm at the state of today’s human progress.

Israel and Forced Birth Control

An article this week from The Independent says that Israel has reportedly admitted to administering birth control to Ethiopian Jews without their consent.

Uh, what? Seriously?

I think it’s a bit early to fully confirm the validity of this story. But if it turns out to be true, this is truly sickening and is an eery reminder of the eugenics that European Jews were once subject to. For any country (let alone one dedicated to the protection of the Jewish people) to systematically reduce the birth rate of an ethnicity is shocking in today’s day and age.

The report states that approximately 100,000 Ethiopian Jews have come to Israel since 1980, but that their “Jewishness” is questioned by some rabbis. Birth rates in this community have fallen dramatically, and apparently it is because these women were forced or coerced into take the Depo-Provera drug.

I bring this all up simply because it is not getting enough media attention. I am in full support of the Israeli state, but it, like every other country, should not go without critique. And if this story turns out to be completely accurate, there is more to critique about Israel than I originally thought.

When CSR’s Not the Answer

Originally published July 31, 2012 in The Mark.

In the 1970s, the social responsibility of business amounted to little more than – as Milton Friedman famously asserted – increasing profits. Today, corporations are expected to do more, and governments and businesses alike are increasingly embracing corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR can take many forms, but it is essentially a self-regulatory measure in which businesses give back to the community and adhere to some ethical standard.

In some cases, CSR has been remarkably successful in respecting workers, the environment, and economic growth. Adidas, for instance, is significantly cutting its water use by switching to “Better Cotton,” and has partnered with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to make low-cost shoes for the poor.

In other instances, however, CSR has failed to benefit society as a whole, acting instead as mere lip service in a regulatory vacuum.

CSR should not be seen as a panacea for global development. It can have success, but it can also be irrelevant, and even harmful, for communities. Understanding the limitations of CSR is critical if corporations are to actually contribute positively to society, and not just to their shareholders.

The ideal of the corporate-consumer relationship is that it gives ultimate power to consumers, who choose – based partly on CSR initiatives – the companies that get their financial support and tacit approval. Nike, for instance, relies extensively on its brand name, which is why consumers have been somewhat successful in altering its corporate behaviour. Nike has improved (though it certainly hasn’t eliminated) its use of child labour and sweatshops in the face of mounting consumer criticism. The company also has a strong environmental record, due in part to consumer pressure.

One reason this does not always work is that many companies simply do not rely on their brand name and consumer behaviour. Nike is a globally recognized brand, which contributes to its significant profits. Other companies, however, including ones involved in the mining industry, are unknown by the average consumer, and thus do not rely on their brand power to make a profit. One example is Canadian company Goldcorp, whose mining practices in Latin America have been said to contribute to the degradation of local environments, economies, and human rights. While people protest the company’s actions regularly in Latin America, Goldcorp’s profits are not negatively impacted by those demonstrations. In western countries – where Goldcorp’s gold is sold – consumers are unable to link the products they buy with the mining company that extracted the resources, even if they happen to be aware of Goldcorp’s atrocious business practices. It is next to impossible to know where Goldcorp’s resources end up, since Goldcorp and other mining companies are not selling watches and rings in the local department store. Goldcorp can get away with not fulfilling its stated CSR objectives, or with having harmful CSR objectives, because negative associations with the Goldcorp name do not affect the company’s profits.

A related problem is that consumers never have all the information about a corporation. No matter how much research a person may do before buying a phone, a sweatshirt, or ground beef, there is always more to the product’s story than is found on the company’s website, internet message boards, and in local media. This is compounded by the fact that the unregulated regions where human-rights and environmental abuses are more likely to occur are also the regions that the media is either unwilling or unable to report from. It is relatively straightforward to learn about American Eagle’s business practices in Canada, but to know if its CSR initiatives in Cambodia are of net benefit to the local population is nearly impossible for any consumer.

A second reason CSR is not always effective is that a lot of companies are focused only on the immediate future. For companies with short-term objectives – like some mining companies – environmental sustainability and the ethical treatment of workers are not priorities. Companies thinking many years into the future, on the other hand, recognize that their profit ultimately depends on their treating the environment and their workers with respect and dignity. Shell, though not a perfect company, is typically regarded as a leader in sustainable development policies. It understands that long-term profit is dependent on social well-being, so it has adopted a fairly successful CSR model.

A third explanation for CSR’s limited success is that there is only so much one company can do. Honda’s CSR agenda might include impressive environmental initiatives, but as long as consumers continue to demand internal-combustion automobiles, other companies will continue to produce them. While CSR can help, a single company’s practices can rarely alter the demands of the market.

CSR certainly has its place, and can be effective at times, but it must be understood that there are contexts in which it will fail. Mining companies, in particular, are unfortunately subject to three conditions that make them impervious to CSR: they do not rely on their brand; they’re often focused on the short-term; and, while their business is inherently damaging to the environment, it is in great demand. In Africa and Latin America, where mining companies are doing most of their extraction, there is a distinct lack of government regulation, as power has either been coerced from legitimate governments or given away cheaply by corrupt ones. CSR, though idolized as a replacement for government regulation, will simply not work in these situations. In such contexts, other solutions must be sought if communities and the environment are to be treated with dignity.

Lowest Common Denominator

The point of the media is to inform the public and hold accountable various actors, such as governments and businesses. When functioning properly, the media acts as a crucial element of democratic countries. When compromised, the media undermines democracy and accountability, serving only specialized interests.

When the media is criticized today, it is generally shallow and partisan; either the media is too liberal or too conservative. I do not believe the media’s main problem is its place on the political spectrum. Yes, certain media outlets can act too partisan. But in general, I believe calling the media liberal or conservative is a clever political ploy. Saying the CBC is left-wing eventually forces the CBC to move to the right which, in turn, moves all political talk right of where it used to be. And calling the mainstream media “liberal” is a genius tactic by conservatives to explain away any political wrongdoing by conservatives and any political rightdoing by liberals. If it is reported on the news that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen, this is attributed simply to “liberal bias” and not Obama’s policies. Similarly, if Sarah Palin calls Africa a country, media reports of this are explained away by shouts of “liberal bias.”

These are simply political ploys and do not get at the real problem with mainstream media. The media’s main problem today, particularly in the U.S. is its laziness and sensationalism. This stems naturally from our economic system that demands profit. Private media outlets need to attract advertisements, so they need to attract viewership. It is not profitable, therefore, to research a story in-depth and report on important global issues. Instead, the media focuses on trivial matters and stories that would be better suited for MTV or TMZ.

Recently, over about four days, I decided to take screenshots of some of CNN’s featured stories. This is a very unscientific way of proving my point, but I think it it’s effective nonetheless. CNN has moved from a valuable news organization to one that drives viewership by appealing to populist and unimportant “stories.”

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I’m not sure if they do it just because of their popularity or because there’s an actual corporate interest involved, but I’ve noticed that CNN loves to promote Facebook and Apple. Sure, thousands of people are dying in Syria protesting a brutal regime. But this turtle was really old.

The feel-good story of the year.

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Well, at least it will make me feel better about myself. I don’t even want to know. Alright, fine, I watched this one.

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Even if they did fight, I’m not sure how this would qualify as news.

Just a regular New Yorker. Nothing to see here.


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So do I, but you don’t see CNN making a story about that.

I know CNN is trying to attract viewership, but who exactly would click on something like this? In other news, the sky is still blue and water is still wet.
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Self-explanatory. I honestly have no idea what this means, but I’m sure it’s terrible. Isn’t it where you go and worship Tom Cruise?
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Okay, this isn’t as bad. But still. This fails to be relevant in any possible way. I know that feeling. I hope that dog has good insurance.
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Quality journalism. First of all, don’t say “gotta.” Second of all, what the hell?

No. I refuse.