This section is a continuation of the “Getting Involved” section. It lists some of the most controversial topics happening in the United States and worldwide. Make it your business to get involved! Be forewarned that these topics will bring out an emotional response within you. Some may make you angry and some may not interest you. Even though you may not want to deal with them, you may be forced to, as they can affect your standard of living as well as your security. Ignore what is happening around you, and you may not like the future that will confront both you and your country! Topics for 2016 include:
- The Refugee Crisis
- Free Trade versus Fair Trade
- Multiculturalism: Cultural Enrichment or Cultural Extinction?
1) The Refugee Crisis: an epidemic worldwide, but especially for Europe
Question: “Should your country withdraw from the International Convention on Refugees (known as the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol)?, and make up its own rules regarding who can claim refugee status and what their entitlements would be (taking into account what your country can afford)?”
Background: In 1951 and 1967, the United Nations (UN) passed the International Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, which forced all member states worldwide to accept anyone who appeared at their borders and claimed refugee status. This Convention was originally meant to deal with the millions of refugees displaced by World War II (which ended in 1945).
Issue: What may have worked at the end of World War Two is not working in 2016, as this Convention is being overwhelming abused, particularly by organized crime (i.e. people smugglers). A flood of refugees, particularly into the European Union, have pushed host countries to the brink financially, socially, and politically. Part of the problem stems from the definition of who can be a refugee: the definition is far too broad, basically allowing anyone to claim refugee status.
According to critics of the refugee program such as Victor Orban (Prime Minister of Hungary) and Robert Fico (Prime Minister of Slovakia), instead of this Convention being used for “political” refugees, which is what the Convention was originally designed for, it is now being used primarily by “economic” refugees (people who are predominately poor, illiterate, unskilled, and are merely seeking a higher standard of living). The primary concern of these refugees is to have a better life, which will be theirs if they can gain access to a country which has a generous welfare system that hopefully has no benefit time limits attached to it. In theory, member states under the Convention do not have to accept “economic” refugees, but in practice trying to discern who is or isn’t a genuine refugee has been next to impossible. With such refugees come the following concerns that are now being hotly debated:
- Escalating Financial Costs: Governments are being forced under international law to provide housing, food, medical and dental benefit coverage, and a regular income to huge numbers of refugees, which many governments can’t afford. The strain on resources is pushing some countries to the brink of financial ruin. In order to pay for these extraordinary costs, governments will have to force their taxpayers to pay higher taxes: in essence, those who work will have to work harder and receive less pay in order to support those who don’t work (i.e. the refugees and unemployed). This is the situation throughout the European Union, particularly in countries such as Germany and France. Germany alone registered 1.1 million refugees in 2015.
- Escalating Social Costs: Many countries already have to deal with the huge number of unemployed in their own countries, trying to find them meaningful work and a regular source of income. For example, the rate of unemployment in Spain is officially 25% of the workforce (the “official” rate is usually much lower than the “real” rate of unemployment), and amongst young people, it is now officially 48%. For countries such as Spain, it will be next to impossible to find refugees employment (in either the short or long term), especially when the majority of refugees can’t speak the language of their host country. To compound this situation, since Spain is part of the European Union, it is still expected to take in on an ongoing basis its fair share of refugees and provide them with social and financial assistance, which includes finding them employment.
- The Domestic Homeless Are Neglected: In a bizarre twist, it would appear that refugees (the foreign homeless) are entitled to a host country’s generous welfare benefits, yet the domestic homeless are not. For example, the Canadian federal government in September 2015 refused a request from the city of Vancouver to provide $100 million in funding in order to build permanent mental health treatment facilities and housing for the city of Vancouver’s homeless. The reason given for the refusal was lack of funds. (Vancouver is Canada’s third largest city, and the number of homeless in Vancouver for 2014 was estimated at approximately 2,800 by The Homeless Hub research library.) Yet, miraculously three months later, in November 2015, the federal government seemed to have no shortage of funds when it proudly announced that it would spend $640 million on bringing 25,000 refugees into Canada, providing them with long-term housing, food, and medical and dental benefits. The same situation exists in the United States where critics have pointed out that the federal government provides assistance (e.g. housing, medical treatment, and financial assistance) to refugees, but ignores the huge number of Americans that are homeless, many of which are war veterans. These veterans have been unable to obtain proper medical treatment (for physical and psychological damage that they incurred while on military duty) and have been reduced to living in temporary shelters, or on the street, or under bridges and eating out of garbage cans or at soup kitchens, if one is available.
- Terrorism and Security Concerns: News reports have stated that many of the refugees entering the European Union have purposely gotten rid of their identification and in so doing are preventing the authorities from checking out their backgrounds (e.g. for previous criminal or terrorism activities). Governments have no way of knowing whether a refugee is legitimate or not. Terrorist groups such as ISIS have publicly boasted that they have been able to take advantage of this situation, and pass many of their fellow terrorists into unsuspecting countries, particularly to countries such as France, which has seen a steady increase in terrorism against its citizens (with no end in sight).
- Religious Intolerance: Most of the refugees that have entered the European Union are devout Moslems. Traditionally the majority of Europe’s countries have been Christian. These two groups of peoples have been mistrustful of each other for hundreds of years, dating back to the Crusades. Many news reports from Europe have cited Moslems as publicly stating that they view non-Moslems (e.g. Christians, atheists, and agnostics) as “infidels” (unbelievers). Christians in turn have stated that they view Moslems as “medieval”. Throwing these two groups of people together has predictably generated much anger and hostility.
- Encountering Old Enemies: News reports have mentioned that the Moslem refugees in the European Union are now encountering bitter “old” enemies: Arab, Moslem refugees who have settled in cities like Paris, France, are now fighting with rival ethnic groups, in particular the Jews. The Marais District, which has been Paris’ Jewish quarter for hundreds of years, is now being transformed into a “mini war zone” as Arab fights Jew. The Arabs despise the Jews and want them to leave (and vice versa). Obviously, the violence and religious intolerance, which is so embedded throughout the Middle East, has now been transplanted into the European Union.
- Sharia Law versus State Law: All of the Moslem refugees are obliged to follow sharia law, which is the law of Islam. It regulates their entire life, down to the finest detail (e.g. how you are supposed to dress in public). Westerners would be quite shocked, however, to know some of the rules and regulations that the refugees are expected to follow; according to one website, two such examples are: a) A man can beat his wife for insubordination and b) A non-Moslem who leads a Moslem away from Islam should be put to death. News reports recently mentioned that so many Moslem refugees have settled in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, that they are now demanding that sharia law should override Danish (state) law in the areas of the city where the refugees reside.
- Too Many Refugees: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are currently nearly 21.3 million refugees worldwide. The number of potential “economic” refugees is difficult to estimate, but it is more than likely huge, as in 2015 the UN estimated the number of international migrants (people living in a country which is not where they were born) at 244 million. This is a crisis with the potential to destabilize many countries worldwide, as many refugees want to relocate to either Europe or North America (primarily to the United States).
2) Fair Trade versus Free Trade
Question: “Should your country implement a fair trade policy (which is favored by unions and consumers) and abandon its current Free Trade policy which is so heavily favored by businesses throughout the world?”
Background: The United Nations oversees trade amongst nations by means of the World Trade Organization (the WTO), which is the successor to GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). For the past few decades a Free Trade policy has been the cornerstone of the UN’s efforts regarding trade between countries. With this policy, the world’s citizens have been told that if Free Trade were allowed to continue, then their living standards would increase dramatically.
Issue: In theory, the idea of Free Trade sounds wonderful: a country can produce a product for an extremely low price and then sell it to whoever wants to buy it. To ensure that this can take place, no country is supposed to impose any tariffs or taxes upon imported goods. However, every country is not equal when it comes to how businesses are allowed to operate. For example, in countries like China there are no labor unions so the cost of labor is cheap and since the government is communist, there are no enforceable laws pertaining to protecting the environment. Businesses are free to do whatever they please with no consequences, which gives them an unfair advantage in the market place.
Since it is cheaper to operate a business in China, most American, Canadian, and European manufacturing businesses have closed down their domestic operations and relocated them to China. For example, an American company can get a Chinese company to make it a product for $1.00 U.S. as opposed to an American company that would make it for $2.50 U.S. Even though the product can be made much cheaper in countries like China, don’t expect any of these cost savings to be passed onto consumers, as the American company will still sell the product in the United States (or elsewhere) for its full retail value (e.g. $10). The profit margin is huge for businesses, which would explain why so many companies have rushed to set up their operations in countries like China. Unfortunately, given the current worsening imbalance in trade, it would appear that instead of improving the living standards of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, Free Trade has done the opposite.
Fair Trade, on the other hand, would take into account the economic plight of foreign workers (i.e. ensure that they are paid a decent wage) as well as any other unfair practices that a foreign business operates under. It would allow a government to impose tariffs and taxes to compensate for such an unfair advantage.
Note: The devastating impact of Free Trade upon the United States was brought forward by Hillary Clinton (the recent democratic candidate for president) back in 2008 when she was running against Barack Obama (to be the democratic candidate for president). She described the crippling impact that Free Trade has had upon entire towns throughout the United States, as factory after factory has been closed down, and re-opened overseas (especially in China). Unfortunately, for Hillary Clinton, this same sentiment was more strongly and effectively voiced by Donald Trump (the newly elected republican president). It would appear that Free Trade is no longer viewed as being beneficial to everyone, especially to countries such as the United States. Many Americans, in particular its workers, are demanding that the USA adopt an “America First” trade policy (which is more akin to Fair Trade than Free Trade).
3) Multiculturalism: Cultural Enrichment or Cultural Extinction?
Question: “Should your country do what it can to preserve its unique identity and values or abandon them for multiculturalism?”
Background: The term “multiculturalism” is used primarily to describe a country’s immigration policy in which a host country has deliberately decided to allow the immigration of peoples who have different nationalities and cultures. Coupled with that immigrant’s legal right to enter the country is the unofficial expectation of how that immigrant is expected or not expected to integrate into the host country. For example, both Americans and Canadians would view their societies as multicultural, yet the expectation of a new immigrant to the USA is very different than that of one to Canada. Americans view their society as a “melting pot”, whereas Canadians view their society as a “mosaic”. Many high-profile politicians worldwide have spoken in favor of promoting multiculturalism: the belief that a country is better off having many different nationalities (cultures) within it rather than one unique culture. Such a doctrine may sound wonderful in theory, but it can bring with it a host of problems, many of which we are witnessing firsthand in the European Union, as the topic of uncontrolled immigration has generated a lot of anxiety and discussion.
Issue: Depending upon the expectations placed upon new immigrants as well as the number of immigrants involved, a country’s policy of multiculturalism can be viewed as either a failure or success. Those who oppose multiculturalism stress the argument that it can destroy a country’s culture, traditions, and values, leaving that country with no unique identity. On the other hand, those who support multiculturalism argue that bringing more nationalities and cultures into the country will enrich that country and make it stronger. The key issue hinges around whether or not the immigrants being allowed into a country are expected to assimilate or not. If the immigrants are expected to assimilate, but are unable or refuse to assimilate, then that country will have a huge potential social and economic problem on its hands. Some points of view on this issue are as follows:
- Multiculturalism seems to work best in countries that were founded by huge numbers of people from different nationalities and cultures who moved into that country at relatively the same time, which prevented a culture based on one particular nationality from ever being formed. Instead, a new culture was built around this “melting pot” of different nationalities. The most famous example of this is the United States (historically referred to as the New World). When an immigrant comes to the United States, he or she becomes an American. That immigrant is expected to abandon his or her previous ways of doing things, and quickly adopt to the American way of living. Many would argue that this approach to multiculturalism has worked well for everyone concerned, and that the vast majority of new immigrants are proud to become “American”.
- Some countries, however, have opposed the American version of multiculturalism and decided to promote the policy of letting immigrants retain their own cultural identity. Canada is one such country. For example, an Italian male immigrant who comes to Canada would be Italian-Canadian, not Canadian. He can retain his own language (Italian), nationality (passport), religion (Catholic), food, and way of life. The obvious drawback to this type of policy is that the immigrant is not required to rapidly assimilate into the general populace. While Canadians accept this, most Americans would ask themselves: “Why didn’t the Italian immigrant just stay in Italy? Why come to the New World (North America) looking for a change in your life, and then decide to retain the status quo (i.e. live life as he would in Italy)? It doesn’t make sense!” Canada’s “mosaic” vision of multiculturalism can easily create a society with numerous ghettos of different ethnic groups who feel more at home with others of their own nationality than they do with the Canadian population at large. Obviously the chances of these immigrants being fully integrated into Canadian society is very low. Many critics have even stated that such immigrants can live in Canada for years without learning either English or French (Canada’s two official languages), which hurts their chances of finding employment and setting up a new life.
- Multiculturalism does not seem to work well in a country that has a strong, unique culture, particularly if it is based on nationality. If the new immigrants have no interest in integrating with the existing society, then the country’s population will become fragmented and create a lot of resentment and friction. Multiculturalism assumes that the new groups of immigrants will respect the current values and traditions of their new home country, and adopt to it. This is not always the case, as evidenced by what is happening in Germany (which has let in huge numbers of refugees many of which are Moslem). Germany has traditionally been a Christian country with its own unique culture and way of life. There are now seemingly endless news reports of clashes involving young Moslem men and German women. The young Moslem men are horrified at how the German women dress and act in public (and want them to obey sharia law); and these men have expressed their views quite violently.
- If a country’s unique culture, traditions, and way of life is destroyed by multiculturalism (i.e. the number of new immigrants is huge, and these new immigrants are not expected nor want to integrate with the society at large), what is going to be the ties that bind that country’s people together? This is the major point being discussed worldwide, particularly in countries such as the United Kingdom. Many British citizens have openly stated that they are proud to be British and want to retain their own traditions and way of life, and have no interest in seeing it destroyed by letting in huge number of immigrants who don’t want to integrate into British society and want everyone else to accommodate them. Perhaps such Brits are expressing the advice given in 387 A.D. by St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, to St. Augustine (a newcomer): “When in Rome, do as the Romans!” Many, especially those who oppose multiculturalism, would argue that even after 1,600 years, his advice is still applicable!