This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What Happened To Integrity?

The air around Stephane Dion is becoming cloudier and fouler. All that hot air. The clean, precise, reliable academic whose integrity shone as a beacon of light through all the shameful detritus of the previous Liberal governments' mandates is beginning to look a trifle frayed at the edges. But that's kind of a normal situation in the political arena. Except it wasn't supposed to be that way. Mr. Dion was making a clean sweep, bringing in the potential for new election material with a new direction, new orientation, new resolve.

Resolve in politics, alas, always seems to collapse in the face of political expedience. When you're a party struggling to unseat your adversary, the country limps along behind. It becomes rather more convenient to fall back on what you know best. In the case of the Liberals, it's prevaricate, promise, plump speeches and produce nothing of any consequence. The promises are iterated, reiterated, and poof! evaporate into lassitude, uncertitude, pressure from corporate interests.

Here's an opportunity to produce some meaningful dialogue to end up with legislation that has some promise to bring both short- and long-range results. The NDP is successfully pressuring a one-time reluctant, currently environmentally-born-again Conservative prime minister to re-think his strategy of denial into actually producing something worthwhile to battle environmental degredation. Climate change is upon us, have declared one and all.

The Liberal party and its new leader continually talk up a storm of condemnation, even in the face of a new reality that has the prime minister agreeable to conferring with opposition leaders in the hopes that environmental issues can finally be advanced by this country in a meaningful way. Instead of joining the discussions for the good of the country Mr. Dion sees fit to buy time for the Liberals, hoping to forestall proceedings.

That's pretty crass by any standards, even the low standards we've come to expect from politicians in general, the Liberal party in particular. At one time, when he was campaigning for leadership of his party Mr. Dion left the indelible impression that he cared about the state of the environment. He issued statements that left the listener thinking he and his party would apprehend partisan quibbling and act on the business of fighting climate change.

A parliamentary sub-committee is set to begin studying the Conservatives' Clean Air Act. This is the very piece of legislation that Stephen Harper was agreeable to having Jack Layton and his NDP environment critic study and initiate suggestions for improvement leading to a mutually-satisfactory effort. Yet it comes to light now that the Liberals' strategy will be to withhold support, delay action until the presentation of the March budget.

That's the Conservative budget to be brought down in March which Mr. Dion, ignorant of what it will hold, has proposed to defeat, and bring down the government. This is the guy who considers himself a champion of the environment, one whose allegiance to the well-being of the country he so loves is of ultimate importance. Guess other issues are just a little more important; like the ascendency of a Liberal government.

"While we're trying to work with the other parties to get something done, the Liberals have shown clearly today that they're doing what they're best at, which is talk, delay and dither when it comes to the environment," NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen stated. Michael Ignatieff, another intellectual star of great integrity stated "Nothing good can result from this marriage of convenience"; obviously an NDP-Conservative co-operative effort meant to advance Canada's environment dilemma isn't good news for the Liberals.

Whatever happened to integrity?


Friends, Businessmen, Politicians, Lend Me Your Ears

Well, that's a bit of a surprise. A welcome surprise; don't run across those too often. The Fraser Institute, that not-yet venerable but yet highly respected institute variously described as a Conservative tool and a haven for corporate issues isn't at all what the public had long suspected it to be? Hey, I'm just asking. Matter of fact, so should we all. They claim to be neutral, non-partisan, interested only in the well-being of the country. Our country, Canada.

And to that end they sweep into their ample (right-wing; we always equated that with conservatism, but just goes to show how wrong assumptions can be) boardroom-bosom the recent likes of Ralph Klein, Mike Harris, Preston Manning (conservative: who, me?) and Brian Tobin (Brian, what're you doing in there - you teeny-weeny conservative - lending an edge of respectability to the assembled righteous-of-corporate issues?)

So all right, they did some brain-storming (liberal types think that takes a whole lot of conservative-intelligence) and came up with a bright idea. Mind, it's an idea that has brought woe to other administrations in the recent past, most notably that of President Clinton's and more latterly, Prime Minister Tony Blair's. Did the Fraser Institute planning gurus think hauling in big-money corporate representatives for paid access to elite politicians wouldn't be noticed by naive Canadians?

Right-o! Business leaders with an itch to advance the cause of the unobstructed free market were invited to buy into a "unique excursion" to Ottawa. Registration, covering food and accommodation relatively modest at $1K, but look here, The Fraser Institute is a registered charitable enterprise (who knew - and whyfor?) and that registration is exclusive of a $10K "donation" toward said institute. The better to represent you with, my dear corporate luminaries.

The unique experience referred to was not a trip to Ottawa per se, a familiar-enough site for most, but the vaunted opportunity to meet with the political elite of this little town. Many were invited to attend, representing the star performers of the New Government of Canada's cabinet, the Governor of the Bank of Canada David Dodge, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and a handful of public policy leaders.

Up there where the air is rarified, The Fraser institute was all set and ready to go. They still are, touting the opportunities being presented to "a select group of 30 or so business leaders" as a splendid opportunity to make their issues heard and known, to have the ear of those whose actions impact so immediately and sometimes-inconveniently on the bottom line - irresistible.

Except. Except that the panel that The Fraser Institute counted on presenting will be somewhat leaner than anticipated. Now let's see, where to start...the prime minister has withdrawn his august presence. And given the tight rein he keeps on his ministers, it's highly unlikely that the invited such as the finance minister, the trade minister, the foreign affairs minister, the health minister and the intergovernmental affairs minister (all right, she might) will attend.

Oh, that's all right. It still leaves opposition leaders. Stephane Dion, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton have not yet pulled out, but they may be reconsidering their agreement to appear. They'll look pretty silly if they do attend, given the fact that Stephen Harper has declined. Conservative-bent or not, what an embarrassment for the governing party to be touted as being highly accessible through this medium.

And all it takes is money!


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bad Stuff

That Israel has been accused, on uncontestable evidence, of using cluster bombs in areas which have no direct military advantage, and which represent geographies used by farmers and sheep-herders is really fairly awful, difficult to comprehend. Difficult, but not impossible. Still, hard to square.

One doesn't really want to believe that a state which upholds the principles of humane behaviour, fairness and trustworthiness without equivocation would feel itself forced against its better nature to succumb to the use of these devices. Meant to maim, meant to dismember, meant to exact the utmost in misery upon its human targets; meant to kill.

The world saw a Canadian-led initiative a number of years ago to effect an international ban on the use of landmines. Another deadly munitions device commonly used during warfare to physically disarm the enemy, but which, when failing to explode upon initial impact, presented a dire and ever-present danger post-combat to civilian populations. Responsible for thousands of limb amputations among unsuspecting children and adults wherever these lethal weapons lay undisturbed.

The gradual dismantling of landmines and the however-reluctant international agreement to ban their use has resulted in safer living conditions for ordinary people living in troubled times in their countries of birth. The munitions-descendent of the landmine, the cluster bombs, are used in a similar way for a similar purpose. And like their predecessor, cluster bombs have a high percentile-failure in detonation on initial impact; they remain where they fall, awaiting innocent victims.

The IDF drew up maps to indicate where such drops were made, their numbers and other necessary details - to ensure that they themselves would know where it would be safe to tread. Or, at some future date, presumably to assist in removing these deadly devices - or, handing the information over to those who would remove them. It isn't, though, just the fact that cluster bombs are being used in situations of war to try to deflect an enemy. It's where they're used, it's the overwhelming numbers expressing overkill; a handy enough phrase in these circumstances.

Israel claims, and she has history on her side - that these bomblets containing shrapnel bits whose explosive effect results in an extraordinary amount of damage to soft human tissues, muscles, limbs - were meant to target Hezbollah's Islamist militia which had long used the south of Lebanon to launch cross-border raids into Israel (in direct contravention of UN resolutions) - and only after other, more conventional methods of warfare failed. The 2006 IDF defensive incursion into Lebanon for the purpose of removing Hezbollah from the border resulted in these left-behind lethal weapons.

Civilians, Israel steadfastly claims, were never the targets. "We have taken the concerns raised by the Americans (who originally supplied Israel with cluster bombs, before Israel began producing her own) extremely seriously..." stated Mark Regev, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We are also having our own internal investigation into this matter." As well they should.

The UN official in charge of bomb disposal in the south indicated that the region had suffered the "worst...cluster bomb contamination I have ever seen". On top of all her other headaches, Israel can ill afford a reputation of unconcern for the lives of civilians of countries other than her own. There are more than enough other states within the geography who demonstrate such unconcern and go well beyond that to genuine displays of true ill-will leading to state-homicidal tendencies.

The issue is that Israel, the sole representative-country in the region practising the democratic ideal of enlightened and responsible governance has her own reputation to uphold. Which doesn't include the wanton use of destructive materiel. Such use will always rear its ugly condemnatory head to lessen respect for the integrity of Israel.

A meaningful change of tactics is due. Caesar's wife must always be seen to be above suspicion.


Can't Have It Both Ways...Or Can You?

Oops, 'Canada's New Government' has decided to pre-empt the usual partisan election adverts and has launched a number of 'attack ads' against the Liberal party's new leader, Stephane Dion. Stephen Harper and his gang are being accused of rushing things; after all, there's been no move yet to unseat the Conservative government has there? So what's the hurry, why the worry? Can it be that the Conservatives feel the Liberals are on a roll and present a ready and present danger?

Well, in a roundabout way the Conservatives have been placed on notice by none other than Mr. Dion who just last week gave a media interview during which he assured he isn't agitating for an election yet, but he is prepared to vote against the Conservative government's new budget as soon as it's brought down even though he doesn't quite know exactly what's in it. Excuse me? if that isn't pre-planned agitation for an election what exactly is it?

Well, the House has resumed for its winter sitting and generally all of our elected representatives are behaving like junior high social misfits. The boisterous catcalls and speech interruptions, sly interventions and accusations don't exactly reflect civility in the broad interests of governing the country to the benefit of its long-suffering citizens. So the scene is set: antagonistic rhetoric blooming afoul of the best of intentions which we are assured represents the mind-sets of all our Members of Parliament.

With the resumption of House activities and the re-emergence of aggrieved accusations and denials comes the front-and-centre truth that this is a minority government, hoping for a majority. The Liberals claim to have regrouped and revised themselves, re-orienting toward trustworthiness, leaving the tawdry past behind as a dim memory. Not so long past, alas; not so dim the memory. Yet they're busy claiming the high ground as defenders of the public purse, public daycare, medicare and defense policies, and most of all - the environment.

Climate has become the really hot topic of the day. Just slightly edging out our mission in Afghanistan, accusations of sole-sourced military acquisitions, ignoring the equality rights of Canadian women, the parlous state of health services in the country and the duplicity of the Conservatives in upsetting income trust promises. All important issues to Canadians at various levels, all of which were either initiated, faltered, ignored or under attack under the previous Liberal administration.

So we have attack ads being aired, with the Conservatives taking the initiative after the assurance by the Liberals that their days in governance are numbered. Could be a month or two from now, a bit later, but it's inevitable; a new election will be called upon the dissolution of the current minority government. These advertisements demonstrate the fragile position of the Liberals, highlighted by their very own on-camera performances during the leadership race. Isn't that on? Why not? Criticism out of the horse's mouth.

Why cry foul when the Liberals have their own unabashedly-questionable record of attack ads such at those commercials they aired warning the electorate that Stephen Harper and his cohorts meant to post the army in Canadian cities; a slight misinterpretation of his thought-provoking idea of building a military-emergency presence close to cities. When the gaffe-prone Stockwell Day challenged the Liberals the meanness of the personal attack ads launched against his suitability - as an antedeluvian religio-nut - to govern hit new lows.

And dear me, a full seven months before a provincial general election the Ontario Liberals have just unveiled a series of TV ads aimed at a specific audience of ethnic groups. This, in the wake of their unsuccessful attack ads launched during a byelection when, in attacking the suitability of the ultimately-successful NDP candidate, they revealed that Cheri DeNovo, a United Church minister, was once a drug-smuggling street kid.

Urp, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.


Monday, January 29, 2007

The Deady Endemic Disease of the MidEast

Interesting how some societies evolve. And some don't. Fascinating that some societies appear to reach their pinnacle in social development, cultural attainment, scientific advances and become a beacon of enlightenment in their time, and then slowly, irrevocably fade into a mere shade of what they were.

Instead of growing on their accomplishments and developing them yet further they recede into the darkness that went before. As though having achieved the stature denied so many others they determined that their achievements weren't worth preserving and lapsed into decline.

It's profoundly sad, puzzling, that a geography and its people with a historical record of high achievement in the arts, poetry, architecture, music, could succumb to the allure of another portion of their tradition; that of military conquest and inter-tribal warfare. From scientific, philosophical and medical achievement to the mind-numbing beggarment of deadly hostilities both inward- and outward-directed.

The ritual of grievance and blame, hate and revenge begins to capture the essence of the culture. Is this destined to bespeak the unalterable future of the Middle East? A sadly bedraggled mentality of anguished strife? The feckless embrace of continual agitation, disaffection, militarism. The greedy expansion of territory at the expense of the neighbour not of one's tradition and tribe?

A people in bondage of servitude to a savage tribal past and the modern misinterpretation of Koranic precepts and admonitions leading to a way of life. An inability to recognize their true oppressors and not continually fall prey to the self-serving motley crew of royals, ayatollahs, mullahs, imams, and political misfits posing as just and trustworthy rulers makes for paltry returns on one's life-investment.

A people exemplifying an appalling culture of violence, a refusal to take responsibility, happy enough to accuse outsiders for their own shortcomings. Truth and justice sacrificed on the alter of illogical hatred obscuring reality. Conscienceless, self-absorbed despots whose last concern is the well-being of the people they misrule are determined to maintain order that benefits their personal longevity and offer nothing in exchange to those subservient to them.

When is the Arab community going to access their potential for independent thought and self-actualization to become part of a mature and functioning society? To welcome the advent of the age of Muslim enlightenment? Where is the momentum to come from, the willingness to reason, to acknowledge failings and strive for better opportunities, better relations, better social conditions, a better society at large?

When will the Arab street decline the invitation to blame and hate others? When will they demand of their rulers equality, justice and opportunity? When will they realize they have been willing dupes long enough and exert the authority of reasonableness?


Imagine That Now...

Here's old workhorse, cash-cow Ontario being chided by none oher than Quebec's intergovernmental affairs minister, Benoit Pelletier. Whyfor? Well, for emulating the Province of Quebec in a sense. You know how it is with Quebec and Quebecers, never quite satisfied, never receive adequate homage from the rest of us, never in sufficient receipt of transfer payments and jealously guarding its image as a have-not province to ensure it continues receiving equalization payments.

To be fair, none of the provinces are happy with the current state of transfer payments, a position the federal government knows and understands and has agreed to do something about. And which Ontario has been energetically front and foremost in pushing for. There are some irregularities still to be ironed out where provinces which have lately come into their own energy bonanzas insist that these new revenue sources be neutralized so as not to impact on their equalization pay-outs but that's another story.

The feds agree with the provinces; they need more funds for vital infrastructure and they're not averse to some kind of agreement where they'll cut back taxes and the provicnes can take up the slack to that same amount. The taxpayer won't be affected but the provinces' bottom line will be. The "fiscal imbalance" may be solved by a new device called "tax-point transfers"; a reduction for example in the GST may permit the provinces to raise their own sales taxes, a nice little balanced transfer with no noticeable taxpayer impact.

Quebec is in complete accord with the rest of the provinces, particularly Ontario's agitating for an increased transfer of social programme and infrastructure funding, because this will be an even-handed solution to a problem currently, in its under-funding detrimental to all. This is the kind of complaint to the federal government that has Mr. Pelletier's approval; he terms it a "legitimate" grievance.

It's that other, ugly little complaint coming from Ontario that has Quebec huffing and puffing and declaring that Ontario has a "duty to Canada". Equalization payments, shifting tax-derived monies from "have" provinces to "have-not" provinces through a complex formula meant to ensure that all provinces are able to privide public social programmes of at least equal quality to their citizens is a Canadian touchstone of social progress. It's enshrined in the Constitution.

So Benoit Pelletier claims that the Ontario government has a need to understand the economic benefits that Ontario, recognized as the country's financial engine, gains from "achieving political stability" in the country. What's that? Political stability? Can we construe that as a subtle form of blackmail? In satisfying Quebec's omniverous appetite for ever more financial support from the rest of Canada (for the most part, the Province of Ontario, the only province these payments have always been exacted from) we can be guaranteed that Quebec will cease and desist in its endless dissatisfied agitating for one nanosecond...?

Sounds like a pretty raw deal for Ontarians and a bloody fine one for Quebecers. Sounds like the status quo - only more so. Given the indisputable fact that Quebecers pay substantially less for hydro, for university tuition, for childcare services under Quebec's very "progressive" social programmes than al other provinces, and on the backs of Ontario taxpayers I'd have to opine, as one of those Ontario taxpayers who has to pay a monthly "tax" for health services that Quebecers do not, and unlike Quebecers there is no free dental service here in Ontario either, this beggaring of the Ontario taxpayer for the benefit of Quebecers goes beyond reasonable expectations.

"The fact is (Ontario's government) have a responsibility in regards to their other partners and that responsibility is, I would say, mainly represented by the principle of equalization" says Mr. Pelletier. Who handily and casually overlooks that the imperative of the provincial government of Ontario is its responsibility to its own tax-payers, not primarily and foremost to those of the Province of Quebec.

This is an utterly absurd and illogical premise - whose lopsidedness in enriching a so-called have-not province beyond the personal expectations of the tax-payers of the 'have' province - is a breach of fairness and trust.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

About Time!

Haven't we been saying it for ages? Haven't we? Has anyone been listening? Hardly. But the reality is Quebec is a mess of contradictions. They keep threatening to leave confederation. They want to live alongside the rest of Canada autonomously, as their own sovereign state. They are insane.

They already enjoy more autonomy, have provincial representation on the international scene, administer their own immigration programmes, are catered to and bowed low to by the rest of Canada. We, the Canadian taxpayer are even lunatic enough in this free country of ours to lavish tax dollars on the Quebec-based political party in our parliament whose sole purpose is to haul Quebec out of Canada.

Our government, in its great and good wisdom deems it politically wise to do so. So Quebec reaps all the benefits of being part of confederation, while it goes on its interminable whine-bender driving the rest of the country crazy. They feel they are unappreciated by the rest of us. We keep turning ourselves inside out trying to persuade them that we love them, we really do. Canada just wouldn't be Canada without its whingeing French-Canadian component.

So we cater to their every whim. And never, above a whisper, comment on the politics of Quebec and how inimical it is to the comfort and citizenship of the Anglais living in the province. There's the infamous bill 101 that makes teaching in English dreadfully inconvenient or putting up English signs a crime against the French language. Attempts to circumvent the Quebec Language Law will not be tolerated! In that respect Quebec is something of a whining despot.

Otherwise, the province is a model of tolerance (unless you speak English) and forward-looking social-minded probity. No premiums paid by individuals or corporations for health- and dental-care. Their child-care system is the envy of the rest of Canada (or the bane, take your pick). Where once this province was the bailiwick of the Catholic Church which actually governed lifestyle for its population, French-Canadians swiftly adapted to a secular style more suited to its social temperament.

Quebec traded in its Catholic mentor for a union-dominated one. It's the strength of Quebec trade unions that contest the provincial government's attempts to modernize the province and bring it into line with good governing practises to profit the population as a whole. The Quebec Liberal-led government was all set to bring in reforms, then quickly capitulated in the face of union opposition with its powerful lobbying tactics.

And then there's the little matter of equalization payments. Quebec steadfastly asserts it would be better off in all indices going it alone. Yet it hungrily complains that it never receives enough in transfer payments and equalization from the federal government to meet its needs. It's the 'wealthy' provinces like Ontario and Alberta whose taxes pony up to Quebec equalization payments enabling Quebec's population to have free dental and medicare and $7-a-day childcare, the envy of us all.

Yet the wealthy provinces exact a health tax through monthly premiums for their population and forget dental care if you don't have your own private insurance plan. And childcare? You're on your own chum, not enough province-assisted childcare spaces to go around and even at those the daily fees are considerably greater than those based in Quebec.

University fees at Quebec institutions are a fraction of what they are elsewhere in Canada. We subsidize the socially-healthy lifestyles of Quebecers. We envy their vaunted social programmes, so unlike our own costlier ones. We're the people who live in the wealthy provinces, after all. Minus the wealthy social programmes, damn!

Now here comes a newly-produced film by a husband-and-wife team from Quebec, entitled "Revolution tranquille" ("quiet revolution") pointing out all of that and more, dirty little secrets that French-Canadians and the government of Quebec deny, deny, deny. The film points out that Premier Jean Charest won election on a platform of "re-engineering" of the state, a position abandoned when Quebec's powerful unions engineered union protests.

Even past premier Lucien Bouchard has become critical of Quebec's inability to see itself, for even bleeding other provinces of badly-needed financial resources, Quebec is facing bankruptcy in pursuing its generous social programmes without stint. A manifesto Lucien Bouchard's group published proposed raising university tuition fees to invest in education and increasing Hydro-Quebec rates to combat the debt. He was labled a turn-coat.

Yet a recently-released poll of Quebecers found 57% of responders agreed that Quebec's social programmes "should be as generous as possible, even at the risk of indebting future generations". This certainly accords with my own casual impression of French-Canadians as feeling personally entitled, and as a group unwilling to be responsible citizens by making personal donations to charitable groups that give the real measure of a society's maturity in looking after the most vulnerable among us.

The revealing new film points out that in 2003, among the 60 American states and Canadian provinces, Quebec ranked 54th in per capita GDP, an index of living standards. Quebec is the poorest industrialized region in North America, its per-capita debt surpassed only by that of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The documentary demonstrates that Quebec spends money it doesn't have on its universal daycare, low university tuition fees, and low electricity rates.

Simply put, Quebec has handily passed on those costs to others - either by borrowing money that future generations will face, or through equalization payments the federal government uses to redistribute wealth from rich provinces to poorer ones, as professor of economics at Universite de Montreal, Claude Montmarquette, points out.

"It's billions of dollars a year, money that allows Quebec to have social programmes that often the provinces that pay cannot afford to have," Mr. Montmarquette said of the equalization payments. Pursuing this unrealistic lifestyle, Quebec appears to be a hairsbreadth away from impending crisis.

I say give them their independence.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Good On You, Mr. Prime Minister - And Thank You

So then, it's done, it's been dealt with, it's finished, and we can move on. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done the honourable thing, he has admitted that agencies of the Government of Canada behaved in a manner completely inimical to the well-being of one of its citizens, that a true miscarriage of justice was visited upon an innocent man and we are all, as a result, aggrieved that a year of his life became a lesson in abject horror.

Maher Arar and his wife Monia Mazigh and their two children have now received a heartfelt apology from the prime minister on behalf of those errant agencies, the government itself, and the poplation of the country. An unfortunate set of circumstances conspired to have this man targeted as an agent of Islamist forces within Canada. The truly nasty thing about this event is that our federal policing agencies had knowledge that would have exonerated this man, but chose to cling to their initial belief that he was guilty.

And passed that information - slight though it was in 'proof'; heavy on gut reaction of a number of inadequately trained RCMP and CSIS agents - along to their counterparts in the United States, in the wake of the disaster surrounding 9/11. With the information at hand that Maher Arar belonged on a list of suspected al-Qaeda-linked agents, he became a hapless target. When he was passing through the U.S. en route to Canada he was detained, questioned, incarcerated and finally deported not back to Canada, but to Syria, the country of his birth.

This was Mr. Arar's own error, his decision to cling to his Syrian citizenship, along with that of his adopted country of Canada. Without his dual citizenship Mr. Arar would never have been "rendered" to Syria. This is in hindsight; it's questionable whether such an outlandish scenario might ever have registered with Mr. Arar as a possibility, and which would forever alter his life. On the other hand, with all the fall-out of the dreadful events of 9/11 and the subsequent universal suspicion falling on young males of Arab descent, a sense of self-preservation might have clicked in.

Given the dreadful events of that fateful day in September 2001, it's hardly surprising that a heightened sense of impending doom lingered heavily over the U.S. and by extension but to a much lesser degree, its neighbour. That Canada's spy agency and our federal police force would agree to share any information gathered to attempt to identify radical jihadists eager to visit more such terror on the infidels is understandable. That all these agencies would be so casually lax with peoples' lives is not.

It was good to hear Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assurances of true regret for the horrible events that transformed Mr. Arar's life from the ordinariness of a family life and a budding career to the stark reality of being in the hands of a MidEast regime for whom incarceration and ongoing torture of individuals suspected of criminal activities is the norm. That Canada's ambassador to Syria at the time happened to be impossibly ignorant of this well-known fact is beyond belief.

It was a different kind of experience to hear Maher Arar's voice sound so altered from what we've become tediously familiar with; a soul-wizened, mind-embattled basket case whose constant bleatings tended to wear on one's sympathy. The relief in his voice that he has been completely exonerated, his pride in self restored, his victory over adversity accomplished is a tonic in itself. He will forever experience and re-experience the nightmare of his humiliating and completely helpless victimization. Victimhood will be a permanent fixture in his new life. But he may now be ready to move on.

Nothing can restore him to what he was, a confident and happy young man with a comfortable future before him. He will always be haunted by his experience, he will always wonder why this horror was visited upon him. He will never be able to completely trust again. He will always be looking over his shoulder, waiting for another disaster to befall him. And he's not the only one. He knows others who have experienced similar life-wrenching interludes in their lives. He knows how insecure and lonely and vulnerable and desperate life can be.

As for us, we've done what we could. The apologies, the cash settlement, they assuage our feelings of inadequacy. Bad things happen, and they happen to so many people, more than we can imagine. This is just one single instance brought to our attention because it touches on the fact that this was a man who lived in a free and democratic country and all its systems meant to protect this population simply turned against him.

In this particular instance, case closed. We hope.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Irritating Futility of Partisan Politics

Sure, call me naive, but I happen to think that federal politicians, once voted into office to represent their closer community and their country at large should understand they have an obligation to those people whom they represent and to the well-being of the country itself. That is, a loyalty above and beyond the political spectrum of right, left and centre. True, they can address the needs of the country and how those needs may best be achieved through the lense of their orientation, but they should also be capable of discerning social advantage achieved, irrespective of party loyalty - and cleave to that.

But parliamentarians, being simply another station in life for human beings who aspire to a certain level of control and public recognition, are as fallible as the race they represent. We'd like to believe they are honest and their loyalty to the country transcends that given to any single political party, but that isn't the case, and more's the pity. But they can improve the record of partisanship and should make more of an effort to do so. Take the Liberal party of Canada, for example, and if you're with me, you might do the country a big favour and take them on a long trip of introspection.

Canadians are a forgiving lot with an unfortunately short memory and politicians, knowing this, know also that given enough time all the reeking detritus of the last unsuccessful opportunity to govern responsibly will fade. But great balls of fire! ... sufficient time for the bad taste still lingering in Canadian voters' memories hasn't elapsed, and here we are, back at square one. Square one representing the seemingly heartfelt assurances of a chastened Liberal party that its intention is to re-invent itself, to become a better party, one that can be trusted to act in the best interests of the country, not merely mouth the appropriate mantras.

After all the mea culpas, the self-acknowledged failures and contretemps, a leadership convention was held with each candidate promising to bring their party out of their well-deserved political wilderness. They would shine the light of truth and reconciliation on their lapses in judgement and vow never to return to that sad and sorry state of misgovernment by underhanded ploys, outright lies and transparently pathetic cover-ups. A new leader was anointed who represented conviction and honesty, although he was also tainted by default as an elite of the discredited old party, now presumably put to rest.

What does Stephane Dion engage in now? Fostering truth and trust, claiming to love his country and promising a Great White Way should he and his party be brought back into power. On the road to accomplishing this he goes out of his way to criticize forward-looking initiatives brought to reality by the new Conservative government which now understands it has a responsibility to bring in hefty new legislation in support of battling environmental degradation. Oh, Stephane Dion sneers, they're only doing what the Liberals launched after initially sweeping the prospects aside. Yes, Mr. Dion, during your tenure in the Environment Ministry you mouthed promises to meet Canada's obligations under the Kyoto Agreement on Climate Change, but did absolutely nothing. This new government, having started out on the wrong foot, is actually beginning to accomplish something.

After the Liberals cut back Armed Forces funding and allowed it to languish for lack of support year after year, despite offering NATO and the United States the assistance of Canadian troops in war zones it was pointed out to them by the exasperated Canadian military that they hadn't up-to-date equipment and their recruitment levels were at an all-time low - and as a result the Liberals finally acknowledged there was a wee bit of a problem there. With the acknowledgement came a commitment finally to increase recruitment, to provide badly-needed funds for the acquisition of ships and planes and helicopters. Which never did quite get beyond the planning stages. And which the new Conservative government has now taken up as a first order of business and brought to a reality.

Something more for Stephane Dion and his supporters to sneer at, kind of forgetting on the way that their promises always sounded good but in the end amounted to procrastination and nothing more was accomplished other than to hold out a slim hope which was dashed as the Liberals bickered among themselves about implementation and timing. Now we've got Stephane Dion musing about the too-harsh punishment meted out by the previous Liberal government to its various lieutenants implicated in the sponsorship scandal. No fewer than ten Liberals were banned for life by former Prime Minister Martin as a result of their direct implication and singling-out by the Gomery Report.

Given the outraged and disaffected mood of the country at the time, this represented the Liberals' frantic efforts at cleansing itself of a scandal that had tarnished its image beyond redemption; at least for the near future. Marc-Yvan Cote, a top eastern Quebec organizer himself confessed to the Gomery Commission that he personally handed out envelopes of dirty money - a total of $120,000 in $100 bills - to 12 Liberal candidates in the 1997 election campaign. But Mr. Dion informed Le Soleil he had no personal objections to allowing Mr. Cote back into the party.

The honest and trustworthy individual has suddenly been transformed into a mealy-mouthed blunderer. So much for being an experienced politician, with a vision of Canada, a dedication to advancing the country's aspirations for the future, a brilliant academic-turned-politician. The period of atonement for past sins didn't last very long. Now Liberals feel free to glibly get on with business as usual, sniping, cat-calling, challenging, clinging to the belief that as the "natural governing party" of Canada all will be forgotten, all will be forgiven.

Let's hope not.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Despair In Somalia

Like so many other countries of the world - Poland and Afghanistan, India and Ukraine - that have been vanquished and ruled by other countries over centuries, who sought to take onto themselves the geography and wealth of the country, Somalia has been unable to find itself in the confusion left in the wake of Imperialism. After gaining independence 40 years ago the country was ruled by a socialist dictator, later to be replaced by clan warlords whose competing claims resulted in civil war. The West stepped in, ineffectively and briefly and nothing was resolved. Canadian troops emerged from that scene besmirched by the criminally racist actions of a handful of soldiers who tortured and murdered a young Somali, Shidane Arone.

These latter-day internal conflicts led some of its citizens to flee the carnage of civil war for safety abroad. Canada was one of those countries that welcomed Somalian refugees. Now many of these people who found refuge in Canada and found a peaceful life for themselves, sought an academic education there, raising their children there, have returned to their ravaged country. While grateful to Canada for giving them refuge, they could not ignore the plight of their homeland.

With their experience and education they hope to bring their country out of its most recent chaos and into a position where the country can begin to retrench to rebuild both its smashed civil infrastructure and its tired and weary peoples' trust in safety and the rule of law. Fully 18 Somali members of parliament, of this new parliament, post Islamic Courts Union, hold Canadian citizenship. All countries of the world have an interest in the well being of other countries, no matter where they are on the globe; Canada has an especial interest given the investiture of citizenship to many in this country's emerging government.

The new government in Mogadishu would do well to remember that Somalians were grateful to the Islamic Courts Union, whom they and the western world regard as Islamists for they brought peace and stability to a country in civil chaos, ruled by self-interested warlords. The Islamic Courts Union made a concerned and concerted effort to restore security in that war-ravaged country while instituting a hard version of Shariah law. The population were understandably conflicted, desperately needing the security of their presence, but gradually chafing at the Islamic constraints imposed upon them where shaving, dancing and music were banned and women kept strictly separate from men.

Unfortunately (for them), the Islamic Courts Union had aggressive intentions toward its neighbours, where their loudly advertised intent was to bring their version of Islam across reluctant and defensive borders, thus effectively sealing their fate when Ethiopian troops effectively aided Somali government troops in ousting them with the active encouragement of the United States, more than a little unwilling to see Somalia fall to fanatical Islamists in tandem with al-Qaeda.

Like Afghanistan, Somalia will likely prove difficult to completely pacify and govern centrally and effectively in the sense of bringing full order and stability to a country well endowed with the potential of forever fighting off the onslaught of Islamist insurgents. A U.S.- and EU-sponsored move with the help of African Union peacekeepers to arrange a workable reconciliation among the factions within Somalia can spell the success or failure of recent events and intentions.

The country has no viable industry or governmental infrastructure. Somalia has scant sources of income besides foreign aid and funds forwarded by Somalians living abroad. Unemployment stands at 50% and almost that number live in extreme poverty. Somalians make do in any way they can, with casual markets of fish and fruit and street vendors seting up where they can to sell whatever is available.

Gunfire is still heard day and night and arms are still openly available. Insurgents present a huge problem with night-time fighting and explosions disturbing the new-found peace. The presidential residence was recently targeted by Islamist artillery fire. Foreign aid workers have still not yet returned. Whole neighbourhoods are still thought of as Islamist strongholds. Islamist youth retain their weapons and fully intend to restore the Islamic Courts Union to power.

How the more democratically-minded reformists educated in the West will deal with the fall-out of years of Islamist indoctrination in the population at large and Somali youth in particular, taught and willing to die for their version of Islam is another story.


Disappointed? Colossal Understatement

As though Israel hasn't been rocked with enough political scandals. As though trust in its elite politicians isn't at a low enough ebb. As though the country isn't in a sufficiently vulnerable state of self-doubt. As though its people haven't suffered quite enough disappointment in the personal behaviours and sadly-wanting public decisions conferred upon them by their elected representatives. As though a country which stood so high in its self-esteem and confidence for the future hasn't been offered more than enough opportunities of late for humiliation.

What on earth can these men be thinking? Yes of course, that they're above the laws normally pertaining to civil behaviour expected of others. Ah, but this transcends the merely civil and blunders heavily into the criminal. President Moshe Katsav, what did your mother forget to teach you? Mr. Katsav, there is no smoke without fire. What have these women who have betrayed you as a sexual predator, a rapist, to gain by their unravelling of your true character? Your actions have unveiled you as a hypocritical monster.

What might have persuaded you to believe you could assume the prestigious office of President of the State of Israel without the truth coming to light so that your despicable actions have sullied that office, perhaps forever? Abuse of the power related to your public station in life, threats launched against those whom you feared would shout out to the world that you represent the most crass, horrendous type of misogynist. Men who respect women do not prey on them.

If convicted on all six indictments brought against you, Mr. President, you could face 20 years in prison. From my perspective, just desserts.


Right On, Canada

As a proud Canadian I'm prouder yet that my current government is distinguishing itself from its predecessors by standing tall in the international community and leaving no doubt where it stands on the moral issue of support of the State of Israel. As a Canadian of Jewish extraction, I don't and will not hesitate to criticize Israel when some of its actions appear to lack a sound basis in respecting human rights of all of its citizens, although the country cannot be charged with the kinds of human rights abuses so commonly practised elsewhere within the region.

Canada's current Conservative-led government's Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay, while in Israel asserted his government's position unequivocally: "Canada intends to stand 'shoulder-to-shoulder' with Israel against security threats the Jewish state faces from Iran and others" he affirmed to an audience of Israel's political, military and intellectual elite. "Canada is deeply concerned with the direction that Iran is taking. The regime in Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons."

Exactly so. However, such words will not make for reality, for in actual fact North Korea has been diligently working alongside Iran, encouraging President Ahmadinejad and his Islamist cohorts to continue defying international censure and United Nations sanctions, much as they have themselves done. Iranian representatives were present when North Korea unleashed its first successful nuclear test, and North Koreans are actively assisting Iran in preparing for its own first test, which, by all accounts, will materialize sooner than later.

As a Canadian I feel pretty bloody good about my government finally taking a stand that leaves no question about its moral position in this matter and its firm support for Israel against frighteningly determined adversaries to its existence. That Mr. MacKay, speaking for my government has uttered firm words of both warning and support, urging the international community "to think creatively about what it can do to prevent military action" against Iran may, however, be whistling in the dark.

One wonders how a well-educated society with a brilliant past in the arts, architecture, science and medicine could possibly support, let alone elect, a man whose hold on his own sanity appears questionable. A president whose belief in the divine intervention of a holy figure who conspires with him personally to destroy another country. And whether or not the final confrontation could conceivably spell the destruction of his own country in a nuclear tit-for-tat is of no discernible concern to him, given his fanatical belief in the end of times; the satisfaction that he will have sacrificed his own country honourably, for the destruction of the interloper on Muslim territory.

Little wonder that Iran's Arab neighbours are feeling fidgity about its new nuclear status. Although they have consistently agitated within the United Nations for condemnation of Israel's unacknowledged nuclear armaments, they exhibited no such extreme nervousness as they do now. Knowing full well that Israel, despite its scientific expertise and its ownership of nuclear technology would be highly unlikely to unleash this final hell-fire. Knowing full well that an unhinged Islamist like Ahmadinejad would have no compunction in doing so, they now feel they have little option but to acquire nuclear technology of their own.

They may not feel dreadfully nervous on Israel's behalf, but they most certainly now have a whiff of the unease which affects Israel's governors and military knowing full well that a staggeringly hubristic theocracy like Iran - whose ayatollahs have gone on record as pronouncing that Allah will permit the use of nuclear weaponry against their "enemies" - will consign them to a similar fate, as there is no love lost between the majority Sunni countries and Iran's Shi'ites who deplore and detest the wrong-headedness of Sunni sectarianism.

So, dear Canada, keep right on at it. Keep telling the world where Canada stands; "If it means standing up against terrorism, then that is criticism that Canada is prepared to accept".


Right On, Canada

As a proud Canadian I'm prouder yet that my current government is distinguishing itself from its predecessors by standing tall in the international community and leaving no doubt where it stands on the moral issue of support of the State of Israel. As a Canadian of Jewish extraction, I don't and will not hesitate to criticize Israel when some of its actions appear to lack a sound basis in respecting human rights of all of its citizens, although the country cannot be charged with the kinds of human rights abuses so commonly practised elsewhere within the region.

Canada's current Conservative-led government's Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay, while in Israel asserted his government's position unequivocally: "Canada intends to stand 'shoulder-to-shoulder' with Israel against security threats the Jewish state faces from Iran and others" he affirmed to an audience of Israel's political, military and intellectual elite. "Canada is deeply concerned with the direction that Iran is taking. The regime in Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons."

Exactly so. However, such words will not make for reality, for in actual fact North Korea has been diligently working alongside Iran, encouraging President Ahmadinejad and his Islamist cohorts to continue defying international censure and United Nations sanctions, much as they have themselves done. Iranian representatives were present when North Korea unleashed its first successful nuclear test, and North Koreans are actively assisting Iran in preparing for its own first test, which, by all accounts, will materialize sooner than later.

As a Canadian I feel pretty bloody good about my government finally taking a stand that leaves no question about its moral position in this matter and its firm support for Israel against frighteningly determined adversaries to its existence. That Mr. MacKay, speaking for my government has uttered firm words of both warning and support, urging the international community "to think creatively about what it can do to prevent military action" against Iran may, however, be whistling in the dark.

One wonders how a well-educated society with a brilliant past in the arts, architecture, science and medicine could possibly support, let alone elect, a man whose hold on his own sanity appears questionable. A president whose belief in the divine intervention of a holy figure who conspires with him personally to destroy another country. And whether or not the final confrontation could conceivably spell the destruction of his own country in a nuclear tit-for-tat is of no discernible concern to him, given his fanatical belief in the end of times; the satisfaction that he will have sacrificed his own country honourably, for the destruction of the interloper on Muslim territory.

Little wonder that Iran's Arab neighbours are feeling fidgity about its new nuclear status. Although they have consistently agitated within the United Nations for condemnation of Israel's unacknowledged nuclear armaments, they exhibited no such extreme nervousness as they do now. Knowing full well that Israel, despite its scientific expertise and its ownership of nuclear technology would be highly unlikely to unleash this final hell-fire. Knowing full well that an unhinged Islamist like Ahmadinejad would have no compunction in doing so, they now feel they have little option but to acquire nuclear technology of their own.

They may not feel dreadfully nervous on Israel's behalf, but they most certainly now have a whiff of the unease which affects Israel's governors and military knowing full well that a staggeringly hubristic theocracy like Iran - whose ayatollahs have gone on record as pronouncing that Allah will permit the use of nuclear weaponry against their "enemies" - will consign them to a similar fate, as there is no love lost between the majority Sunni countries and Iran's Shi'ites who deplore and detest the wrong-headedness of Sunni sectarianism.

So, dear Canada, keep right on at it. Keep telling the world where Canada stands; "If it means standing up against terrorism, then that is criticism that Canada is prepared to accept".


Tuesday, January 23, 2007


What is it exactly that ails the French political elite? They seem incapable of governing their own country wisely, yet see no contradiction in tartly observing what they consider to be errors on the part of other governing entities and offering uphelpfully unsolicited critiques. When it isn't the United States that the French love to target, criticize, disdain and generally tetch over, it will be some other hapless country. Like, for example, Israel, that embattled country forever facing intractible enemies who seek to deny her existence, yet France recommends sweet restraint.

That great French patriot Charles de Gaulle whose claim to fame during WWII was his defiance of Nazi Germany from exile in Great Britain, raised the ire of Canada when he proclaimed during a state visit as President of France "Vive le Quebec libre", thus enormously assisting the fervid separatists in their ongoing battle with the rest of Canada. Canadians like to feel they are one great country, undivisible. With pride they look upon the history and the currency of both founding nations, French and English. And view with true dismay the battles brought to the fore by dedicated and determined separatists who agitate ceaselessly for sovereignty.

We experience these nation-shattering eruptions time and again as the separatists gain strength, then wane once more as public opinion, even within the Province of Quebec, assails their tireless efforts with denial. Do we really need another highly-placed French politician to intervene once more? What can this woman be thinking? Better yet, perhaps we don't really want to know. Segolene Royal has not distinguished herself as yet in international affairs other than in ways that can only be harmful to her presidential aspirations and perhaps France will be the better for that.

Official Canada has never chosen to air public statements critical of the manner in which the government of France and its institutions treat its immigrant population. In its apparent lack of useful social/cultural/economic integration attempts, leaving vast tracts of Paris, for example, a no-man's-land of squalid ghettos where the city's police fear to tread; where they are, indeed, physically assaulted daily - where countless roadside vehicles are torched and areas trashed as the ignored, unemployed, undereducated, undisciplined and disappointed youth of the inner-city ghettos erupt in violence at their plight.

Yet France's environment minister had the gall to attack Canada's new Conservative government over its Kyoto stance, coyly suggesting that Canadians will soon have the opportunity to oust the government. We do not need this kind of undiplomatic and offensive interference, and we take grave exception to it. We also take umbrage with Segolene Royal's most recent contratemps expressing solidarity with Quebec's sovereignty movement during a meeting with Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair (himself not immune to erratic and self-damaging behaviour).

That a candidate for the French presidency would allow herself to be so indiscreet and, dare we say, uninformed as to declare publicly that she favours "the sovereignty and liberty" of Quebec is appalling. But she did please someone; Mr. Boisclair. Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared himself to be unamused at this blundering into other countries' affairs; understating: "Experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country."

And. he added, pointedly, "We look forward to marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Canada at Quebec City with the next president of France". (Unspoken the anticipation that this will not necessarily be Ms. Royal.) "We expect in turn that the next president will display an understanding of our shared history, and the respect for Canada and Canadians that such an important partnership requires."

French voters might wish to mull over the intemperant and insolently rash manifestation of a politician so richly self-assured that she insults a friendly country with impunity - is this likely presidential material?


Monday, January 22, 2007

Nice Work, Madam Chancellor

Chancellor Angela Merkel is performing exceedingly well on behalf of her country. She minces no words when it comes to disagreements with other heads of state, and clearly feels sufficiently confident in her abilities and her country's status to forcefully deliver her messages. President Vladimir Putin, no one's pushover at any time, has been treated to a well-deserved scolding with Ms. Merkel labelling his officious decision-making in throwing around his country's energy-weight as being mighty irritating to Europe.

As rotating chair of the European Commission, Ms. Merkel will no doubt have more than sufficient opportunities to throw her own weight around. She has earned the respect of her peers and the confidence of her countrymen by her steady steering forward of the German ship of state. No iron lady is she, but she has a firm grip on her country's needs and Germany's place within the European Union, and the world at large.

She has continued Germany's uneasy dance with the United States, assuring President G.W. Bush that Germany has no interest whatever in participating in the U.S.'s ongoing travails in Iraq; walks a fine line between assuring Palestinians that her country is troubled by their tortuously tenuous status, and her firm resolve to continue Germany's support of the State of Israel. She has brought forward a resolution to be adopted throughout the European Union that holocaust denial be designated a universally-recognized crime.

In so firmly chastising President Putin in her role as EU Chair, Chancellor Merkel amply demonstrates her ability to represent the European body in a diplomatic yet unmistakably direct manner to address a real worry; the nervousness of the EU over President Putin's mind games and little power plays with Russia's former satellites. He's enjoying his little cat-and-mouse games with Ukraine and Poland, watching them squirm unhappily as he threatens to leave them without the energy resources he controls.

They're annoyed and resentful, and have no interest whatever in embracing Russia and Mr. Putin in a show of solidarity to the memory of the U.S.S.R, a past glory of empire that Mr. Putin would dearly love to re-visit and bestow upon Mother Russia once again the territories that have been traditionally and by force, hers. As new members (Poland, Ukraine hopeful) of the EU, however, they now have their protector in Chancellor Merkel: "We have exchanged views on the fact that there have been irritations in the beginning of the year and that communication in the future has to be improved, in order to avoid these irritations," Ms. Merkel announced, post-talks with the Russian president.

Russia, of course, claimed that Belarus was at fault and Moscow was merely reacting in cutting off oil supplies to Europe because of a conflict over prices with her neighbour. A move characterized by Ms. Merkel as "destroying trust" between Russia and the EU. It can have a rather trust-destroying effect, to suddenly have energy cut off in the midst of the winter season, to be sure.

A mildly chastened Mr. Putin hastened to assure his interlocutor that the EU "should have no doubts about Russia's reliability, as Russia has a high interest in global energy security."
To which end Moscow is constructing a pipeline to Russia's Pacific coast for a gas route linking Russia directly with Germany, thus reducing "our dependence on transit states"; Belarus and Ukraine (and just incidentally, poor Poland). Russia is, of course, using its gas reserves as a political weapon to keep its neighbours in line and remind them just who is the power here.

There are other issues being brought to the fore where still-powerful Russia seems eager to cause additional headaches globally and to the EU in particular. To wit: Russia's recent ground-to-air missiles transferred to Iran, and at a critical time when the international community and the United Nations are attempting to halt Tehran's determined efforts to develop their very own nuclear armaments.

Chancellor Merkel is turning out to be an astute and determined political chess master. It will be interesting to watch her moves in counteraction against President Putin's stealth show of power politics.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Altered Consciousness

Well, that's nice and I like it. Most Canadians, I daresay, would. Our nice New Government of Canada has decided it wasn't really and truly serious when it left the unfortunate impression that it wasn't all that really and truly serious about the stance it appeared to take on the environment. Our fault. We didn't realize, that's all, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his cabinet and government do in actual fact understand that the world is undergoing a manifest alternation in climate of such dimensions as to threaten our very survival. They knew it all along; they were just testing us. We failed the test. We hadn't faith.

So now they've come right out and said they were really teasing us. They fully appreciate the matter at hand, that we as a responsible country with a responsively responsible government acknowledge the utter futility of ignoring the obvious; the world is in a crisis of climate change. And we are partially responsible. There are certain things we can do; determine to become less reliant on some forms of energy; stop ourselves from abusing our use of energy, and search out alternate sources and forms of energy less likely to continue fouling our atmosphere.

The Liberal government, not teasing us in the cute way of the Conservatives, admitted outright at the starting gate that things were seriously awry with the environment and they would help us do something about it. Except, they never did. Fooled ya! they said in their own sweet way. Our new government, though, has a hunger to stick around and they've seen the light. "It's going to take hard, sustained effort, and that's what we're doing," said Mr. Harper after announcing a 1.5B funding initiative for alternate energy technology.

The incentives, he assures us, will boost the production of renewable energy by 4,000 megawatts a year. Hey, that's a lot, sounds good, we're waiting. "In terms of greenhouse gas reductions, that's the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road. That is real, practical, achievable action on climate change. We expect to add enough clean renewable electricity to power about one million homes." Yes! Sounds great, and we'll take it; wrap it up for quick delivery, please.

ecoENERGY for Renewable Power will invest $1.48B to boost Canada's supply of wind, biomass, small hydro and ocean energy sources, according to the first of the plan's components. The second is ecoENERGY for Renewable Heat and $45M is set aside in industry support "to increase the adoption of clean, renewable thermal technologies for water and space heating in buildings such as solar air and hot water heating - also funding projects for heating homes with solar technology.

There are similarities to the 2005 Liberal budget's $920M commitment over 15 years for wind power, but the Conservatives point out their plan places increased emphasis on other energy generation forms such as solar and tidal power technology. Nice to hear that the Canadian Wind Energy Association, representative of more than 280 companies is pleased with this program. Even the Forest Products Association of Canada claims the initiative will help it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the implementation of new technologies.

Everybody's happy! When does implementation begin, when will we see action, when will we recognize we're actually, really and truly doing something?


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hoisted On An Embarrassing Petard

Puzzling it most certainly is. That somehow politicians of the socialist stripe seem always - while championing the struggle of the proletariat - to have come themselves from a life of privilege. These well-brought-up and cosseted, well-educated creatures of a privileged society appear to be fascinated by the state of society's underdog. Is it a sense of oblivious righteousness, a sense of guilt, a sense of paternalism, what is it exactly that compels some individuals from comfortable and comforting backgrounds to champion the have-nots?

And doesn't it strike an odd chord that these individuals choose to do just that, incite on behalf of those with few choices in their underprivileged lives, while personally continuing to lean on their privileges? In sympathy with the poor and the destitute, the homeless, the uneducated, the unwaged, the working poor, the dross of society, do they divulge their personal wealth and dissolve their holdings in support of the poor? No, they rage against the unfairness of society and urge others to support and uphold the rights of the disadvantaged.

Think about it: a young boy is chauffeur-driven to school on a daily basis. His socialist-politician father insists not for his son's education is a private school; rather he is enrolled in a public school, along with all the other children from mixed economic and social backgrounds. The boy learns well how to take the best from the universal system; observes his classmates, their deprived backgrounds ensuring that their learning curve remains arrested behind his own. In his turn he takes up the banner from his retiring politican father and rousters for equality in society.

Is this, on the face of it, a good thing for society, or is it a bold statement for the effectiveness and usefulness of hypocrisy in action? When unfortunate situations arise which shine the light of reality on such situations the embarrassment resulting from such revelations is brief and the results inconclusive; no harm done. An opaque veil is pulled tighter over the background and the socialist-oriented politician takes up his/her socially sanctioned cudgel once more.

France, in any event, is a socialist-leaning country to begin with. Equality, Liberty, Fraternity; is that not so? Isn't that what the French Revolution gifted to the world at a critical time in history? But damn, it never fails to sting when one realizes that too much of what is presented as reality is but a sham, a useful facade. Segolene Royal, revealed as a Champagne socialist. She is not wealthy at all, she sniffs, merely well off. Well, lucky her.

But why portray yourself otherwise? And given the fact that she and her husband, Francois Hollande, the Socialist party's chairman are so "well off" that they have set up a real estate company for the purpose of managing their properties, I would venture to say that they are, in fact, wealthy. The purpose of their formal property management company is to enable them to reduce he amount they must pay in wealth tax. A tax imposed upon those whose holdings are deemed to be rather more than "well off."

In her defence, Ms. Royal repeats an old canard so often handy to those in her circumstances, that their backgrounds exempt them from the responsibility of honesty. "I started my life with nothing, so this is the fruit of my labour after 30 years of professional life. I am well off and I think it is normal to pay the wealth tax." Most normal people do begin life with very little, but the fruit of their labours after a life of unremitting toil does not often result in wealth. She continues to label herself "well off" and feels it normal to pay the wealth tax, but the record indicates otherwise.

She refers to being one of eight children of a thrifty army officer, with a "hard childhood". Her husband who has stated that he "hates the rich" believes they should be taxed heavily, but both she and he took deliberate personal steps to enrich themselves further by withholding taxes, by attempting to forestall the payment of full wealth taxes. Isn't it odd how personal circumstances deem one to be different, more ennobled, more entitled because one campaigns for the underdog, than those who merely take their wealth for granted and carry on?

"I have learned about honesty and truth" she avers, but she does not apologize for her greedy attempts to forestall paying the state taxes due as a result of her wealth. Instead, she accuses her political adversaries of smear tactics. Were there no reason to point a finger of hypocritical guilt at her, such tactics would not reasonably be successful, nor even attempted.

Politician, heal thyself.


France's Acknowledgement

It's always good to know that others seem to care. That you're not really, as it often appears, alone in the world. That your suffering, the bloody carnage that is your history is acknowledged, that it brings shame to others, that they recognize their deficiency in abandoning your people at a time of critical need, that they realize that others met the challenge of humanity in crisis.

Here is France, formally honouring those among their war-time population who honoured their own humanity by aiding and assisting Jews among them - also citizens of France - to escape death. Death because they belonged to a group whose presence on this earth somehow always seemed to encourage a visceral dislike from others. Death because a fascist regime identified Europe's Jewish population as a scourge, a parasitical entity unworthy of life. Therefore destined to mass annihilation.

This is the same France where traditionally anti-Semitism has found fertile ground to display itself. Where its highly-respected latter-day philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre took his countrymen to task over the Dreyfus affair, where during the French Revolution French Jews stood shoulder to shoulder with their compatriots, proud to be welcomed as equals under the flag of fraternity and equality. This was their country, this was their place, this was their time.

This is also current-day France which refuses to admit the growing incidents of anti-Semitism among the population at large, and of through the auspices of their burgeoning Arab-French population in particular. This is the France of today which berates the State of Israel for its intransigently-obsessive need to protect its citizens from the ongoing assaults from its Islamist neighbours determined to complete what fascist Germany began.

And so it is that there is a slight tinge of acridity in the acceptance of latter-day recognition of the place in the annals of the righteous among gentiles where Jacques Chirac, president of France unveiled a plaque to commemorate the more than 2,600 French citizens who took their courage in hand and offered refuge to Jews. All the more so as these staunch heroes revealed their humanity at a time when Vichy France collaborated with its Nazi occupiers.

So vulnerable is the level of esteem in which Jews are held internatonally, that even France with its spotty record of support for the acknowledged equality of Jews within society, can boast the largest number of the "Righteous Among the Nations" recognized and nominated by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel. For with their brave assistance, fully 75% of France's Jews survived World War 2, thanks to these "ordinary" people.

In contrast, roughly 75% of Dutch Jews and as many as 90% of Polish Jews perished during the Holocaust. Poland (that bastion of unforgivingly-growing anti-Semites) and the Netherlands still have reason to celebrate the presence among their populations of social-humanists by character, for they too can boast the presence in their population of life-affirming agents of escape from death for those Jews fortunate enough to have received help for survival.

Contrasting sharply with the bulk of those European populations' civilians who remained silent, and those who found personal salvation in collaborating with the Nazi occupiers, believing no doubt that God would have it so.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Unions and their Righteous Leftlean

It is passing strange that unions, once devised as a united strategem to support workers in a worker-adverse business environment have evolved as self-proclaimed champions of the underdog. It does, in a way, fit, that vision of assisting those who are the weakest, the most vulnerable, the unacknowledged, the overlooked - since that is precisely what unions were set up to do, but in a working environment. They've simply extended their mandate, improbable as the fit may be, to include a geographical/political/social/cultural outlook.

And certainly there are instances when the might of a collective like a union can be useful when it registers its concern at the plight of people who cannot by matters beyond their control, enable themselves to improve their inadequate circumstances. Unions can be mighty useful tools, they can exert moral pressure by the sheer strength of their numbers, they can use the collective funds they amass for investment in areas where the beneficiaries are those whom they seek to assist.

Leadership, needless to say, is everything in this context. With a clear vision, an objectively keen appreciation of circumstances of unfairness and a determination to liberate others from particular miseries visited upon them, a union's collective can accomplish what other groups cannot. When a personal agenda overtakes objectivity and the ability to see matters in the round of intelligent introspection, however, things can go badly awry. Then the group begins championing a skewed, one-sided and unfair vision with an unsavoury agenda.

There will always be social and political situations where one side of an argument will be supported by some as genuinely legitimate, and rejected by others as being simplistically shallow. Here was a motion put forward by two members of a local union of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation which would have the union pass a formal and critical condemnation of the State of Israel over its perceived mistreatment of the Palestinians. As though that was the story in and of itself; that the leadership of a State saw fit to treat a population outside its borders with contempt leading to brutal maltreatment.

This same motion might have been extended by its movers to include teaching a one-sided curriculum in a public school system structured by its self-interested and biased leaders to inform young people in one country of the brutal apartheid regime of another country. That this kind of incendiary and egregiously ill-informed point of view could even be entertained as a possible outcome through a free vote of this union is beyond understanding.

Two teachers with a private agenda targeting a country far from their own, presuming to know all the vital details involved in a decades-old, intractible social and political problem between two disparate cultures, traditions, religions and societies each claiming ownership of a geographical placement. Wiser heads and fairness, in the end, prevailed, but left behind a decidedly bad taste, a frightening spectre of personal manipulation of an institution whose mandate is to teach young people about their place in the world around us.

Had these two teachers been successful the result would unquestionably have been a separating in our society, a distrust and abhorrence of its Jewish population. Both Canadian students and its Jewish population deserve better than to be made pawns in this socially-divisive and obviously corrupted manner.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More of the Same?

U.S. federal investigators have formally charged the brother-in-law of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whose UN administration launched the $64B aid scheme for Iraq, with corruption. The oil-for-food programme was a UN-based aid effort to alleviate the suffering of Iraqis as the UN imposed economy-crippling sanctions against Iraq as a result of Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to accept the presence of weapons inspectors.

And it was Kofi Annan, at the start of his own tenure at the helm of the UN, who hand-picked Benon Sevan to run the programme. Mr. Sevan was a highly-esteemed and trusted colleague, for among other matters, he had worked for the agency for 40 years. He stands accused of bribery and conspiracy to help Saddam Hussein evade UN Sanctions, along with Mr. Boutros-Ghali's brother-in-law.

And then, of course, there was the instance of Kofi Annan's son also involved in kick-back schemes for personal gain, while he was in the employ of another company that did business with the United Nations. Of course the net has to spread a lot wider, to include American and British businessmen, all of whom profited greatly through this corrupted scheme meant to aid ordinary Iraqis through the dire economic straits they were living in.

There have always been cronies of those in power being able to live high off the hog through the ins-and-outs of the United Nations. Nepotism, favouritism, self-entitlement, jaundiced politics and a total lack of accountability run rampant throughout this cumbersomely weighty organization. Criticism has always been levelled at the organization while at the same time it was being credited as the only, the last and best opportunity for world peace through critical negotiation between country-delegates.

Each succeeding UN secretary-general has acknowledged pro forma that the agency has a problem that needs to be addressed and that they fully intended to come to grips with the problem to ensure that the world body operates more effectively, efficiently and bias-free. Now here we have a new secretary-general, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, and he is sweeping the corridors of power clean of his predecessor's hand-picked representatives.

In the business of installing his own selections in choice positions within the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon's strategy of identifying the most capable individuals, interviewing and making final selections has some puzzled onlookers. At the casual manner in which he has gone about the process. Somewhat like picking a name out of a hat. He explained that he was "secretely interviewing/scrutinizing potential candidates without their knowlege, during his own campaign for the position of secretary-general.

"To tell you frankly during the campaign, I was interviewed by [very senior people]," he said. "They might not have known I was also interviewing them." Certainly if they had suspected any such thing their later having been chosen by him to fill top positions under his administration might well be viewed as collusion. That doesn't, however, appear to be the case. Mr. Ban has simply instituted a puzzlingly bizarre method-without-a-method of selection. Let's call it casually opportune.

He has also been keen on handing out sterling advice to business and public dignitaries, along with UN diplomats; part of a speech at a high-profile meeting lately, that they should consider taking the subway in favour of chauffeur-driven cars. Then he stepped into his Mercedes to be driven the 8 blocks to his official luxury apartment in Manhattan. During his speech, his chauffeur had parked his limousine beneath a "no standing" sign, obstructing traffic.

We can see large changes ahead at that august body.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Re-Thinking Controversial

There is that in me that spontaneously reacts favourably to social liberalism as opposed to controversial conservatism. Most people make a concentrated effort to attempt fairness, a collaboration between their social-activist outlook and their cleaving to the tried and true, the status quo, the safer, middle ground. Inclusiveness and pluralism, when they can be achieved to the detriment of no one and the social equilibrium of all is the end game.

And that assumes that everyone is desirous of obtaining the same end, of being united in becoming equal partners in the furtherance of a healthy and prosperous, lawful and forward-looking geographic state. That is, when everyone in geographic proximity sharing the lawful protection of an entity-state, its hopes and aspirations for its people, puts aside differences and agree to act in concert, in a societally acceptable, albeit culturally diverse manner.

MK Avigdor Lieberman, right-of-centre in Israeli politics, has an agenda which places the protection of the State of Israel and of its citizens high on the list of priorities. Yes, that's an identical concern of any legislator in any country of the world. Territorial integrity and population security is universal. Fully 20% of Israel's population is represented by Arab-Israelis, and they have Knesset representation, electing their own MKs.

That sounds good on the face of it, for one-fifth of any country's population should be represented in their parliament in a participatory democracy. The trouble here is that Arab-Israelis are torn two ways; by their cultural ties to the larger Arab world, by their political allegiance to the State of Israel. It is their political allegiance that is in question when Arab-Israeli MKs, during a critical time in the country's existence meet with and support the clearly-defined enemies of the state they represent, at a time of war.

Some Arab-Israeli MKS appear to incite against Israel, rather than support the state. While it's true that they represent the interests of those who elected them - Israel's Arab population, and as such they have a right and a duty to bring forward matters of equality under the law, matters of legal fairness which must be addressed - as Members of the Knesset of Israel they should hold firm allegiance to the country as well.

Mr. Lieberman believes that any MK who behaves in a manner consistent with harming the State of Israel, who votes against Israeli interests, should be stripped of citizenship. It's a harsh remedy, but this is a harsh political climate for a country surrounded by enemy states. Can Israel afford to be so high-minded and so wedded to complete egalitarianism among its people that it leaves itself open to a future of harbouring citizens who wish it ill?

Citizenship, according to Mr. Lieberman's proposals, should require an aspirant to sign an oath of loyalty to the Israeli flag and the national anthem. It is, after all, no less than other countries require of their citizenship-aspirants. Would-be citizens should also be prepared to take responsibilities upon themselves, obligations inherent in that status such as military service or the equivalent.

Those refusing to sign a declaration of loyalty might be permitted to live in Israel as permanent residents, without the right to vote. He points out that anywhere in the world where a country exists with two distinct cultures, religions, languages, there results friction and often conflicting ideas about loyalty to the state and its well being. This situation exists universally, and we see it repeated even in Canada.

As a bi-national country Israel is increasingly facing problems which surface as a result of two disparate cultures which don't seem to want to become familiar enough for comfort with one another. Increasingly tensions are arising as dissatisfaction is expressed by Arab-Israelis with their status within the country and as they identify with their brethren ouside the country.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trying to find common ground, attempting to come together to discuss their differences, to make compromises, to find solutions to the intractable problems which each face. With a view to eventually (and sooner rather than later) living side by side as independent states, with Palestinians finally securing what they so long for, an autonomous Palestinian state.

Or, as Mr. Lieberman puts it: "How can you talk about a two-state solution that creates one-and-a-half states for one people and one half-state for the other?" His point, a moot one, being that with 20% of the population of Israel currently being Arab, and growing inexorably given their high birth rate Israel faces a demographic threat for the future. His theory is "If Palestinians have the right to a Palestinian state, then the Jewish people have a right to a Jewish state."

While some label this insight as racist, some, like myself, are coming around to thinking it is realistic, given the tensions and pressures presently in existence in the area. Mr. Lieberman suggests that Israel's demographic be altered to reflect its purpose, a geographic refuge for the Jewish people. he suggests that densely populated Arab-Israeli towns geographically contiguous to the future Palestinian state be exchanged for densely populated Jewish settlement blocks in the West Bank.

Again, racist? No, a practical solution to an untenable situation which currently satisfies no one.


Monday, January 15, 2007

The Black Messiah of Latter-Day Fame

No, that's not really meant to be cute. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was a messiah for his people, leading them out of misery and into the holy land of equality. All that suffering that went before, when his people were wrenched out of their native lands and placed into oceanic coffins to carry whatever balance of them managed to survive the living ordeal to another geography where they would eke out their natural lives as slaves was finally addressed.

Addressed in a manner that no one else had managed to achieve, unequivocally, with the triumph of justice and reason behind that voice of lyrically-blessed oratory. His conviction of righteousness in the just cause of release of his people from the bondage of racial inequality brought to his cause other citizens who, although not themselves black, were outraged at their society's treatment of their black population.

American Blacks had their champions long before the advent of Dr. King's mission, but none had the impact that he had on his peoples' current history. His voice vibrating with the passion of his mission, with the conviction of his fight for justice, he invoked fairness in the American way of life and brought courage to the hearts of the unprivileged, the societally degraded, the downtrodden coloured population of his time and place.

When I lived in Atlanta, visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the King Centre, I felt a glow, a comfort in knowing that injustice was addressed. There was a frightening arduous and difficult but victorious campaign, and the law of the land was altered to reflect the fact that equality and justice had to be reflected within the entire population of that country. I've never been a hero-worshipper and never will be, but this man's battle for his people was an outstanding example of how selfless dedication can challenge the most intractable injustice and win.

He sought not to divide society, but to consolidate public opinion behind a just and timely cause. After his death there were others who rose to national prominence, but their mission hardly reflected the honesty of his. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was too fond of public adulation and attention directed toward him personally, something that Dr. King never wanted, never sought; it was his sacred mission that was uppermost in his thoughts and that directed his actions, not the reflected glory upon his personhood.

As for the Reverend Al Sharpton, Dr. King would hardly give him the time of day, recognizing him for the charlatan that he is, a manipulator of people, an unabashed celebrity-seeker, a disturbing bigot of the first water of his own accord. Sharpton represents a travesty of a mission, the dark counterpart of Dr. King's passion for justice. Dr. King never searched within the faulted society upon whom he could hang a necktie of guilt, he only sought justice.

His depth of commitment to his people, his compelling, transfixing oratory on behalf of the total alleviation of his peoples' intolerable plight was his cause. Not the self-aggrandizement that we see on the part of those who have stepped forward into the light to identify perceived oppressors and produce a show of thundering condemnation, deliberately distancing black and white, re-creating the ghetto.

The appearance upon this earth of genuine messiahs is exceedingly rare. They are justly celebrated for the enlightenment they bring to the vast numbers of ordinary people unable on their own to identify right from wrong.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Young Adults? Responsible?

Well, not exactly, not all the time, not all of them. Going away from home on a semi-permanent basis is liberating for many young people, particularly those of the male and female persuasion; all others simply don't count for anything. Swallow hard on that one. All right, they're out from under their parents' thumb, their parents' observation, their parents' dictums and strictures, and admonitions. They've got free reign, to be themselves, by themselves, or with others, similarly inclined.

In short, they become, on occasion obnoxious in the extreme. Granted, not the larger groups who tend to be fairly serious about their studies, their virtues and values, their hopes and plans for their futures, their determination to make their way, to make their parents proud. They're not the problem, they never are. These are the good kids, the young people who have their heads screwed on straight, who have embraced their parents' values and aspirations.

It's all those others. Isn't it always? It's the young people for whom freedom doesn't mean freedom to behave well and be a credit to themselves and their families. Freedom means all restraints have been removed and it's party time at the zoo. I could never quite understand why alcohol consumption was equated with having a good time. Yes, I know, drinking relaxes, removes inhibitions, makes for a jolly night out. What about relaxing and just having a rollicking good time with like-minded friends and acquaintances?

Well, I never had the privilege of attending university. But our children certainly have, and they too never saw the utility of drinking, let alone drinking to excess, let alone wreaking social mayhem in the process. Yet here we are in a well-educated, fairly intelligent and free society burdened with young people who leave home to attend an institute of higher learning and what's high really up high on their agenda is carousing.

It's become a thrill to burden other people with their ill behaviour, to instill fear in others through a ritual termed hazing. Sometimes this hazing can become downright dangerous, but it is always intended to humiliate at the very least and one can only wonder why it is that young adults can find satisfaction in humiliating others. Are there that many born sociopaths among us?

McGill University has had to institute an anti-hazing policy, including a list of banned behaviour ranging from wearing embarrassing clothing to paddling, whipping, beating or kicking. This is fun? This is entertainment? This is what people seek to amuse themselves with? The simulation of sexual acts, mocking or degrading others is considered to be a varsity sport by many, it would appear. Are these among the future leaders of society? What kind of society might that be?

Apologists explain this type of behaviour as simply youthful exuberance. Right. Any semi-adult who considers anti-social manners and mannerisism, exhibitionist and crude behaviour to be perfectly all right will rarely mature to become a reasoning and reasonable adult; they remain in a state of arrested adolescence. These people can and often do go on to become adult bullies and some manage to flourish in business, but as decent human beings they remain deficient.

Sexual harrassment during orientation week, or at any time during the course of university studies is abhorrent and can never be excused as youthful excess to be outgrown. At Queen's University signs were hung from dorm windows mocking the "no means no" campaign, reading instead "no means yes", and "no means kick her in the teeth". This is hateful and deliberately stupid behaviour, reflective of a mind that will never mature.

Anyone aware that his or her actions results in discomfort for another person and continues that objectionable behaviour regardless, deserves to be tossed out of the university environment until they understand due respect for others.


() Follow @rheytah Tweet