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.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Stand By Their Man

Well, aren't we left open-mouthed. Flabbergasted, flummoxed, confused and unbelieving. Better close those mouths; don't know what might fly in there. What did we expect, after all? Doesn't our highly respected world body of diplomacy do the very same thing? Offer platitudes, state the obvious, but stand back from accusations, not wishing to 'shame' those whose actions shame themselves?

Isn't it an accepted policy of the United Nations not to hold human-rights-abusing nation members up to public scrutiny and the potential of finger-pointing blame-and-shame?

So why would we anticipate that the union of Southern African leaders would do otherwise? The West, it is true, condemns the actions of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. For that matter, so too does Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. And we all know what that earned him, a good sound beating that threatened his life, a treat he shared with many others of his supporters, all who decry the actions of Mugabe.

Actions resulting in the confiscation of white-owned farms handed over to Mugabe's cronies. Thousands of farm workers left unemployed in the process. Once-productive land allowed to lie fallow, unproductive. Zimbabwe's past reputation as an African breadbasket of plenty evaporated, as did its exports. And the vast countryside, due to a double-whammy of drought and lack of foresight, starving.

Robert Mugabe, whose idea of solving the critical issue of endemic poverty and starvation is to plow under urban shanty towns and force their inhabitants to flee to the countryside to starve there, out of sight, out of mind. Problem solved. Robert Mugabe, whose arrest and imprisonment of any dissenting opinions, beating and torturing dissidents has become a worry and a shame in the eyes of Zimbabwe's neighbours.

This leadership convention was to have made the effort to approach and reproach, and it did neither. The clear and unequivocal condemnation by Zimbabwe's Southern African neighbours anticipated by the West simply failed to materialize. The scandal and arrest and beating of Morgan Tsvangirai notwithstanding - even having taken Mr. Tsvangirai and his supporters into another custodial arrangement prior to the meeting, to stifle dissent.

Instead, the statement that was issued read in the most innocuous way; "The extraordinary summit reaffirms its solidarity with the government and the people of Zimbabwe" was what it declaimed. Mind, the host of the summit, Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete did call upon South African President Thabo Mbeki to spearhead efforts to 'promote dialogue' between the rival political parties in Zimbabwe.

On the quiet, and in their abashed defence, Tanzanian officials let it be known that they were privately more critical of Mr. Mugabe. "The...leaders expressed deep concern to President Mugabe about the situation in his country" said an anonymous official. "They told him it's unacceptable and warned that it might spiral out of control. Therefore they pressed him to accept dialogue with the MDC."

The leaders of the summit, he explained, had agreed to Mr. Mugabe's demands to a public statement that might be seen to be favourable to his leadership. "Zimbabwe was quite uncomfortable with a harsh communique, so it had to be adapted", the official said.

So indeed, yes, it had.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sovereignty by Any Other Name

Sovereignty on the back burner? Says who? After all, Quebec has voted, and while she has declared the Parti Quebecois and with it the Bloc superficial to her needs at the present time she has convincingly brought aboard the sovereign-party-in-waiting, which delicately claims for its mandate "autonomy", not sovereignty. Autonomy: self-governing, self-regulating. It's just that the historical union linking Quebec with Canada has been so lavishly helpful, so the federation, weakened though it has been, can be acceptable a while longer.

Mario Dumont - the almost-giant-killer of the Quebec Liberal party, he who laid low the one-time-surging Parti Quebecois - leader of the Action democratique du Quebec, won the hearts of Quebecers in Monday's vote. Jean Charest is still hanging in there bravely, still has his agenda, but are they really all that far apart, he and Dumont? After all, from a one-time federalist Charest has proven himself to be as adept at bleeding Ottawa as his predecessors. And Dumont will do him one better, given the opportunity.

Just a quick look - then look away again quicker, because it's awfully painful - at the platform of the Action democratique is enough to make anyone outside of Quebec blanch. The policy lays out a nationalist agenda calling for Quebec to adopt a constitution of its very own, create its own citizenship and, when needful, disregard those federal laws judged to be infringing upon Quebec's jurisdiction as an autonomous power within the federation.

Well, talk about having it all: cake, icing and whipped cream to order. "Our first fidelity, our passion and our loyalty are toward Quebec", the platform informs. "The development of Quebec as a distinct nation flows naturally from an increase in our autonomy." Oh, right. The name of the province should be altered to reflect its true state: "Autonomist State of Quebec". You bet.

The document outlines rejecting "submission to Canada", affirming and re-affirming Quebec's "sovereign rights". Standards set by the federal government to be reflected across the board within the federation on health care delivery, for example, are to be considered an unacceptable intrusion into the affairs of Quebec. If federal environmental laws come head-to-head with Quebec's infrastructure plans for hydroelectric dams, damn the federal government and full steam ahead.

But now that he has achieved position through this historic vote, Mr. Dumont is quick to point out lest it has escaped anyone's attention that he should not be labelled a federalist, although that is how many did see him. Monday's results, he points out, demonstrate that Quebecers have accepted the concept of autonomy. He plans to deliver.

"All the positions that we will take, all the proposals we will make, will be based on the philosophy that we want Quebec to gain more autonomy." More autonomy? The province already far exceeds jurisdictional independence granted any other part of the federation. With the additional acknowledgement of their historical and social and cultural distinctness.

Quebec and much of the demographic of the province will be placated and satisfied with nothing less than utter and complete autonomy, while agreeing to remain a loose portion of the federation. Which condition will allow them complete independence in every possible governing, political, cultural and social sphere. While guaranteeing them continual hand-outs from the federal government through such dandy little schemes as "equalization payments".

How sweet it is.


Trade Options

Ever since Tiannamen Square, the world has had its conscience awakened. Of course prior to that we had knowledge of Communist China's revolution that resulted in the deaths of millions of Chinese during the convulsive period of Chairman Mao Tsetung, where people were considered expendable to the ideals of the greater cause of communism; the intellectuals, the professionals in the population were sacrificed to the greater good of the great ideology.

Anyone who questioned the authority and the direction of the giant country under its repressive communist regime was denounced and life was forfeit. Children were indoctrinated into the close-minded ideology of the regime and then tasked with specific instructions to report abuses within society where people might complain, criticize or express disdain of the system. Parents, siblings, teachers and friends were identified as enemies of the state, and imprisoned, tortured and murdered.

There are still ongoing issues of human rights abuses within that giant country of 1.2 billion people. China has produced a turn-about in its progress toward becoming an economically-viable 21st century country, embracing its version of capitalism, and has produced excellent social programmes to benefit its people, but it still has a brutal mindset which it trots out from time to time, just to let everyone know who controls things there.

From its aggressively-hegemonic relations with Taiwan to its determined hold on Tibet its agenda remains fiercely locked in imperialism. Its hounding of minority groups that it feels threatens its security through the gradual undermining of its secular authority is legendary and only now improving somewhat with its legitimization of a Christian minority presence. But its persecution of the Falon Gong, its imprisonment of practitioners, and its suspect harvesting of human body parts presents a horror story of human rights abuses.

And while we admire China for its past culture, traditions and achievements, along with the intellectual advances in science and medicine and the arts and humanities of the past, we have our doubts about the present. China's vast population display on average a truly superior intelligence and creative abilities; our admiration has been well earned. But it is the current governing group's recalcitrance to observe moral and ethical boundaries that remain troublesome.

Right now, China is Canada's second largest trading partner, behind the United States. It's mostly a one-way trade though, since a relatively paltry $7.66 billion worth of goods were exported, while $34.47 billion were imported into Canada last year. China gets our raw materials; we receive China's finished goods. In the last few decades when Canada's former governments were pressed on the issue of doing business with a repressive regime, they always hemmed and hawed about how much better it was to maintain trade contact for the eventuality of opening the potential for human-rights dialogue.

Now the Government of Canada is taking a new tack, a more responsible one. China now operates on the thesis put forward by Canada's previous governments, doing business with a murderous regime like that of Khartoum, buying their energy resources, investing in the country's infrastructure, while demurring when it is urged to use its good auspices to decry Sudan's genocidal war against its black population. But the question of human rights is writ larger for Canadians doing business in China now; our government has placed the issue upfront.

Canada's trade relations with China have become strained most notably with several incidents which China felt unhappy about as Canadian initiatives. That of conferring honourary Canadian citizenship by Canada on Tibet's exiled Dalai Lama. And Canada's public utterances through its prime minister relating to China's ventures in industrial espionage. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has proclaimed loud and clear that this country has no intention of selling out "important Canadian values" in the interests of sustaining trade.

Observers have realized a clear shift in Canada's foreign policy toward China from the unfortunately supine and self-interested stance of former governments to the current issue of Canada's democracy-and-human-rights determinations.
Well, good on us.


Those Savagely Heartless Canadians

Here we go again. Sealing time rearing its head along with those of all those harp seals curiously innocent about the presence in their midst of those cruel hunters intent on clubbing them to death. Thanks to a public pressure campaign of condemnation Canada no longer permits the seal hunt to include those cute bug-eyed baby white-coat seals. It is now only the mature harp seals of which there are an estimated six million off the east coast of Canada, that are hunted.

It's a miserably cruel thing, the hunt. We would know that because of the work of activists in filming the process and screening the results world-wide to ensure that soft-hearted people everywhere were properly scandalized and demanded cessation of that inhuman practise. Mind, not too many people are all that interested in visiting the slaughter-houses in their own communities, since they're convinced there are no such institutions and that beef, pork, lamb and chicken appear magically in supermarkets, neatly saran-wrapped.

"They've said publicly that we are barbarians and we massacre seals," said Jean-Claude Lapierre, head of the seal hunters' association on the Magdalen Islands. "Our reputation has been sullied across the planet." That's the early hunt, but most of the action takes place off the coast of Newfoundland where traditional fishing communities were utterly devastated by the collapse of cod stocks in the 1990s.

The seal hunt is one of the few traditional harvesting activities of the sea now sustaining these remote coastal towns. "It's a form of pride...we go hunting to earn our bread, to find money to feed our families," explained Mr. Lapierre. Hunters earned roughly $26 million Cdn last year from pelts alone. And there is a growing market for seal products such as oil high in omega 3 fatty acids.

For Canadian sealers this way of life is critical to their survival. Hunters in the Magdalen Islands earn as little as $10,000 a year, half of which is derived from one week of the seal hunt. For sealers' families who rely on social assistance payments to help them eke out their existence the hunt helps maintain some personal dignity, pride in a traditional way of life that enables them to fend for themselves.

Yet the Humane Society of the United States revels in the public furore they're able to drum up, counting on the help of some high-profile celebrities to aid and assist them in their dedication to the goal of killing off this commercial hunt, this legitimate harvesting of products of the sea. The European Union's Parliament is also weighing in on the issue of commercial sealing in Canada.

People have a tendency to view veneers, to let themselves be manipulated, to forget to delve a little deeper into the meaning of things. They've conveniently lost their memory about where their own foods come from; the harvesting of farm animals to produce the meat they put on their dinner tables. They overlook the tendency of most societies to value seasonal hunts, unnecessary for human survival, where wild animals are hunted and slaughtered in an ages-old custom once necessary, no longer so.

Commercial abattoirs are one thing, much as we prefer not to think about their existence. Society accepts the fact of their presence for the perceived greater good of the fulfilment of human needs and appetites. Yet in Germany alone 1.2 million deer and over a half-million wild boars are taken as game over the course of a year.

The world is suffering a hallucinatory attack of hypocrisy in attacking a well-managed, humane and sustainable seal harvest in Canada.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Easy Money

Wonder if there's any such thing. Easy money, that is. After all, you earn your daily keep by the sweat of your brow, as that old chestnut would have it. We work to enable us to live by the standards that our geography can afford us. It's not easy, but it's what we do. Some of us grudgingly, others among us willingly enough, but all of us with the realization that it's somehow never enough.

Of course there are other means available to the otherwise-enterprising among us, by somehow breaking the laws that protect us all, by resorting to illegal and generally unacceptable means of assembling funds sufficient unto the day. Among other methods there is always gambling. Easy money, found money, won-the-lottery money, hit-the-jackpot money.

Government, recognizing ill-gotten gains and the addiction travails of a good portion of any population, ruled gambling, gaming in all its forms illegal, forbidden, against the law. And then they got smart; just like the imposition of prohibition, realizing they were fighting a losing game, so to speak. People will resort to all manner of underhanded manoeuvring to enable themselves to hold out hope that they will somehow be blessed with success.

Everyone hankers after that legendary address: Easy Street. Each of us faces the daily or weekly or monthly insecurities that come with facing up to our responsibilities to pay all those bills that accumulate and fester and demand to be paid - or we face divestiture of all of our investments. And it's a dreadfully humbling and soil-destroying expedient to have to rely on the grumbling graces of government social agencies to feed one's family.

If you can't beat them you join them. Government allows itself to proffer a gambling alternative of its own, granting itself legitimacy it disallows private agencies - extension of this allowance granted to charitable enterprises which effectively gets government off the hook for handing out tax-funded grants - thus further encouraging the habit, giving it a thin veneer of respectability. The funds generated by lotteries, after all, go to charity.

Funny how we always think of government thinking up ways to fatten their tax-purse, and any means at all will do, thank you very much. Government as charity. Of course, they have our best interests in mind, don't they? All that extra revenue beyond and above taxation resources goes into the pot that produces our social infrastructure, the nourishment of a responsible society's fabric of well-being. Right.

Oh dear, there's an elephant trampling the rose bushes. A television investigative journalist had the temerity to interview a disgruntled lottery player, certain he had won a substantial sum, only to have it claimed by - well of all people, the very person from whom he bought the winning ticket. How utterly peculiar. Ontario's ombudsman, Andre Marin, then entered the picture and his office did its own investigation following the OlG's own white-wash.

What did he find? Well, surprise, surprise: Ontario retail store owners and their families illegally claimed roughly one-hundred million in lottery winnings between 1999 and 2006. Tens of millions of reported fraudulent claims were blithely ignored by the public lottery corporation, evidently. The provincial ombudsman is now accusing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation of being fixated on profits to the detriment of the integrity of the system.

How's that? A government agency, serving the government fixated on profits? Hard to believe. The ombudsman claims that in a period of three months' investigation they isolated five distinct instances of retailers outright lying, claiming winning tickets as their own. Chalk it all down to human greed; what else? The retailers might say in their defence, who wouldn't, when it's so easy and there are no consequences other than to enjoy their illegal winnings?

After all, government still gets its money, scads of it. It's only the poor unfortunate ticket purchaser, daydreaming through spending a million dollars, and how it would monumentally improve his life and that of his family, and maybe even a little left over to charity... who eventually discovers it's just a crock. Will this stop him from buying tickets again? Not likely; he'll just be a little bit more canny about it.

As for the retailers, the ombudsman points out: "They lied about being retailers, they lied about where they got the tickets. That represents about $15-million paid to internal fraudsters. It's likely that over the course of the years, there's tens of millions of dollars paid to internal fraudsters." Well, yes, since their investigation revealed fraud of five specific instances. The real estimate balloons well beyond that measly point.

There have been 247 major lottery wins - ranging between $50,000 and $12.5 million - by lottery retailers, their employees and their families, as well as OlG employees, according to the report. Pretty damning, right? Retailers have been winning prizes at spectacular times the rate of the poor sod who goes into their establishment in the hopes he has an outside chance at hitting the big time.

Well, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation is busy mending the breach in protocol, er, the crooked activities. Despite the ombudsman's accusations that when investigations were first initiated they were just friendly little drop-ins, reminders that retailers should really exercise more - vigilance in what they're about. Now the report has been made public, however, they're really hoisting up their jeans - they've 'fired' the OlG's chief executive, Duncan Brown.

Lest Mr. Brown feel too burdened and upset by his change in circumstances, he went off into the horizon with a severance package to the tune of $720,000. That's balm for a sting of rejection.


Monday, March 26, 2007

The Slow and Steady Progress Toward A Slow and Steady Progress Toward Peace

Ehud Olmert is adamant. He will not meet with Mahmoud Abbas, whom he says gave him his word that he would not make a deal with Hamas until and unless his partner in the Palestinian Authority declared recognition of Israel. The Fatah leader also pledged that a unity deal with Hamas would result in the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. What is the point, what could be the purpose of sitting down and talking with someone you cannot trust? he points out.

Besides which Fatah and Hamas, despite their signed Mecca accord, still cannot control their factions which are still intent on dominating one the other. And Mahmoud Abbas has been as ineffective as ever at stopping the attacks on Israel; the Kassam rockets, the would-be bombers. Who to dialogue with, after all? Still, there has been a real flurry of activity in the region, led by Norway's delegate to the PA, happy enough to speak with Hamas.

The European Union may be next in line. And there is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on his Middle East tour, taking time out from ducking rockets in Iraq to meet with both Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas, back and forth. Inspecting the wall and the Palestinian villages, determining to exhort Mr. Olmert to release the tax millions collected by Israel on behalf of the PA. It's his job, after all, and this man plans heroically to live up to the demands of his job.

Oh yes, there's Condoleeza Rice too, back and forth from Jordan to the Palestinian territories, to Israel. If she can wheedle Israel into meeting with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the PA, to give some serious thought to the Arab League plan to normalize relations with Israel that might be a start. It might help if the Saudis started by understanding that the right-of-return is a non-starter, but that's another story, although the most vital one.

Complicated, oh dear, yes. But when has the Middle East not been complicated? Infuriatingly complex, utterly senseless, madly insane with its unsolvable issues, its internecine hatreds, its plans and successions. Hey, look at the historical record; it was ever thus. Go back - way back - back further still, pre- and post-biblical era, it was like this, no kidding.

The tribal mentalities persist. The old hatreds bred through perceived insults to dignity and honour prevail. Revenge assumes the first order of the day. Peace is always - just around the corner tantalizing, taunting, elusive.

Try a little harder.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

The European Union's Half-Century of Success

The vision that produced the idea of a construct that would result in a union of formerly-warring neighbours within Europe resulted in a coalition of six member-states determined not to repeat the mistakes that had formerly plagued them through territorial competition and aggrievement. Europe had been convulsed within a relatively short time-frame in two dreadful wars. The original six countries, formerly deadly protagonists, took the high road of co-operation in forming a self-interested union.

Peace was the original goal, brought forward by a technique of sharing, aiding and abetting. The result has been a half-century of stability and economic growth shared by all. The European Union now has 27 members, up substantially from its original core group; the last members coming from, of all places, countries formerly within the purview of the U.S.S.R., another type of union, based on a failed ideology and coersion.

Now the European Union is comprised of a variety of nations, some of them former dictatorships, all now embracing social democracy and a genteel form of capitalism. It's a powerful union in both the political and economic sense, rivalling in some ways that of the union of states comprising the United States of America. The EU shares a common currency, and a fluidity of the marketplace as well as open borders for acquisition and for their combined work force.

The EU takes pride in itself, in its great accomplishments in providing for all its member states an atmosphere of peace and security, freedom and solidarity. Sometimes its the solidarity aspect of it that seems to rankle some of the disparate populations within the union. As a unity with political heft within the world community, though, the EU has taken it upon itself to assert responsibility for assistance toward other parts of the world, in combatting the scourge of AIDS, regional conflicts elsewhere; social and economic assistance to underdeveloped countries, and environmental degradation.

They've managed all this while accepting the fact of diverse cultures, traditions and languages, making efforts to build common institutions to serve all, with common, unifying policies. They've made great strides, in other words, in civilizing their part of the world beyond what it could aspire to singly, in the creation of the supranational unity. The EU has succeeded in taming its geography, in unifying its disparate nation-groups to reflect a common, co-operative culture of unity. Economic progress is the single greatest unifying force in the EU, along with technological advancement.

Its bureaucracy has become top-heavy and perhaps a little burdensome to some of its members, insisting on a level of social and economic conformity that many might feel constrains their cultural or traditional underpinnings. Countries within the union still don't feel completely at ease with one another, still feel competitive, still inveigle against one another, but that is human nature writ large. The EU is a success story still evolving. It will be interesting to see what exactly this noble experiment in social-fabric-and-country integration and co-operation will ultimately result in.

Congratulations in order, all around.


To the Manor Born

Even though Conrad Black was born wealthy - to the manner born indeed - this is a man who invented himself. Wealth is relative, and although he inherited wealth from his family he lost little time as an enthusiastic entrepreneur in increasing his initial wealth substantially. Inherited wealth is a very nice gift, but not nearly as potent as, for example, power. On the other hand power has a way of complementing great wealth. Both of which Lord Black assumed for himself as he assiduously went about making the world very aware of his presence.

Again, the combination of wealth and power can be extremely satisfying, setting oneself into the superior realm well above the common fray. People who achieve are so often dissatisfied with their achievements; there is never quite enough of enough. And then there's another elusive element, one to which very few are born but yet in some countries can still aspire to in a manner of speaking. It's rather certain that Conrad Black felt himself to have been cheated by the matter of his birth. He should have been born to royalty.

His inspiration for a life well lived; recognition of his accomplishments as a canny businessman, an intellectual historian, a man of letters and social graces - a royal acknowledgement bestowing upon this immodest man the least title to which he felt himself to be so deserving. Lord Black had no reason to exhibit a modesty that ill became him in any event, for he is of the opinion he has nothing whatever to be modest about. He's right. His forceful personality, his accomplishments in acquiring all the accoutrements of high living filthy lucre could attain to bespeak the result of his very own clever devices.

It was so very clever of Conrad Black to fashion himself aeons back as the Genghis Khan of Canadian corporate raiders, recognizing and targeting well-known companies in financial distress, leveraging their buy-outs, gutting their assets for profit and discarding the hollow shells, leaving countless unemployed in the wake of his early successes. And always moving in the right circles, the hoi-poloi of social and business elites, making a name for himself as a clever manipulator, a man on the make. Whose penchant for piquantly dismissing the peons around him became legendary.

He re-made himself again, launching a career for himself as a newspaper magnate, acquiring one newspaper after another, and here, it would appear, his true interests lay. As a newspaper proprietor, one who honoured the printed word he became dedicated to making news accessible to a vast array of readers with an eye to quality performance and reportage. He wasn't averse to making his opinions known to readers through the very medium of his own papers, stooping so low as to scatter the beneficence of his brilliant analytical mind for the benefit of those same low-brows he generally dismissed out of hand.

No denying it, he has a fine intelligence, conveys his opinions through a well-rounded thought process and doesn't at all mind that other, obviously lesser beings, can admire these positives in his make-up. But isn't it ever so true that pride goeth before a fall? And isn't it so sad, but true that Lord Black engineered his own downfall for the simple reason of his overweening vanity, his dissatisfied ego, his all-encompassing sense of his entitlement to whatever it was his grasping mind and hand fell upon?

The man quite honestly doesn't believe he did anything incorrect; that the small-minded and inadequate peasants of the world are out to get him simply because they envy his exalted position. All things accrue to those who are deserving of them, and Conrad Black deeply believes he earned everything that he claimed. Irrespective of the fact that he was dealing dishonestly with what most businesspeople would recognize was not theirs to reward themselves with. The most puzzling element here is not that he believed shareholders' money was his to do with as he would, but that he behaved in such a picayune manner.

With his vast wealth why choose to cheat, even if he didn't consider it to be cheating? Why not write his own cheques from his own bank accounts to pay for all those luxury goods and services and travel expenses? Now he's being called to account for his stupid indiscretions, for his faulty decisions to misuse finds not his own. His is not a thick head, but his exquisite ability to reason still leads him down the garden path to rationalizing his exclusive ownership of others' money.

Well, he always enjoyed attention. But the kind of attention larded with admiration and envy, not the kind of attention his behaviour has merited him. That particular breed of individuals whose work is comprised of haunting scenes of indiscretion, disaster, criminal activity, those very people whom his business acumen granted nice payroll amenities have turned against him with a vengeance. There's just something in human nature that celebrates a front-row view of the mighty being toppled from their heights. Schadenfreude.

Ah, but these are not the creme de la creme of reporters, these are the dregs, the flotsam, the, well Barbara Amiel Black named them reporter-sluts. Herself a news person of some note, more than capable of discerning fact from fiction, of turning an elegant phrase or two into a well-received opinion piece, she is now suffering the gross indignity of her intelligence, poise, and status being subjected to the parsing of her wardrobe for the delectation of avid Black-watchers.

Everything becomes relative, if somewhat irrelevant.


Saturday, March 24, 2007


Never look a gift horse in the mouth, right? After all, here is a billionaire, Japanese real estate magnate Genshiro Kawamoto who has generously determined that he would take it upon himself to ease life for a few fortunate families. Mr. Kawamoto is one of the wealthiest men in Japan. He owns dozens of office buildings in Tokyo and he buys and sells real estate in Hawaii and California.

In the past he has been described as a heartless businessman; in expanding and enriching his business he has trampled on the perceived rights of those who rent properties from him, giving them scant notice to find alternate places of residence in his haste to sell off previously rented properties while the market was in a heated selling mode.

That was then; this is now. Native Hawaiians, it would appear, much like aboriginal peoples everywhere, are among the most disadvantaged economically in their society, being over-represented among the state's homeless and working poor. Now, Mr. Kawamoto has seen fit to exercise the prerogative of the rich; he is willing to give away some of his hard-earned money to the deserving poor.

Mr. Kawamoto selected eight low-income families from among three thousand who made application last fall once he announced his plan to open eight of his 22 properties in Kahala to needy Hawaiian families. In making his selection, Mr. Kawamoto deliberately picked working, single mothers. Who could fault such a generous impulse?

Well, I most certainly can, will, and do. For one thing, these are mansions, not mere houses. For another the keys to these mansions will be handed over to these fortunate few for up to 10 years. Each family so gifted will be responsible to pay their own utility bills. He further gave each family a $1-thousand donation to cover moving-in fees. My initial admiration for Mr. Kawamoto has somewhat dimmed.

The mansions have been described as white, columned houses, with circular driveways, stone staircases, deep porcelain bathtubs. Each of these mansion-sized houses is worth roughly five million dollars. Yet these five million dollar mansions represent the more modest homes in the neighbourhood, most of which stand on prime acreage with ornate iron gates, long driveways and sculpted gardens.

Why would low income families need mansion-sized homes to house their families? Why would low income families undertake to pay the outsized utility bills normally associated with the living maintenance of mansions? Why is it such a wonderful thing to offer low income families ten years of rent-free living in mansions, then revoke the offer and leave them to their own sad future devices?

He is offering an unlikely and temporary reprieve, not a solution. The funds involved would be far better invested in planning a larger-scale venture that would benefit far more families were he to build low-cost housing in a more modest neighbourhood, then hand over the ownership in perpetuity to candidates of his choosing. That would represent a far greater living bonus to families of low income than a temporary feel-good solution.

Mr. Kawamoto is quoted as having said that giving away mansions shows more dedication to helping the state's homeless than just handing out wads of cash. Asked whether he was concerned about losing money, he laughed and responded "This is pocket money for me." That being the case he should put his money where his mouth is and re-design his philanthropic plans to reflect true altruistic philanthropy.

Sell the bloody mansions. With the profits build reasonably modest homes adequate to the needs of low income families who will then be able to afford to maintain them. It would represent a very realistic approach, and a true measure of the man's spirit of generosity.


Friday, March 23, 2007

War Victims

Research seems to indicate that increasingly civilians are targeted in war zones, succumbing in ever-larger numbers the more civilized we become. Isn't that a conundrum? The more technologically advanced armies become, the less frequently do they actually face one another in combat. The theatre of war has become a long-range tussle of armaments designed to rout and extinguish. There are fewer opportunities for the protagonists to actually face one another as they did during the battle of Thermopylae, for example, or the Battle of the Roses, or the Battle of the Rhone.

Civilian populations are increasingly at risk for many reasons, not the least of which can be an unspoken motivation for revenge, a determination to visit on the enemy population those conditions which the enemy is exposing one's own population to in a deliberate effort to instill fear and horror among the populace, to undermine support for their country's war effort, to demoralize leaders and subordinate the drive to victory to one of containment.

In engaging in warfare, one country against another for reasons of hegemony, of conquest, of imperialist ambition, political, religious, "humanitarian", we sublimate our humanity in the fever of its prosecution.

There will always be controversy over acts of supreme brutality like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both cities targeted to deliver a deadly message. Is it possible that there was any apprehension about delivering such huge numbers of people to such a horrible death? Once the initial message was sent was it still seen as providential another should be sent to nail home the unmistakable threat of more to come? Not likely. Was it the blood-lust of revenge?

Canada is facing a firestorm of protest over the new National War Museum's exhibits relating to the Second World War. While demonstrating the brutalities of war in the artefacts being displayed there are a number of messages. They are conflicted messages; on the one hand the pride a nation takes in the sacrifices its sons and daughters took on in their readiness to defend the homeland. On the other hand, the harm that is done in the name of the nation at war.

Museums have an obligation, like historians, to render observable and understandable historical undertakings through the lens of the unaffected observer, as close to impersonal as possible; demonstrating, if and where possible a well-rounded, non-judgemental picture. Museums collect, preserve, display and educate through interpretive juxtaposition. In the case of Canada's War Museum, it is the military history of Canada that is on display, and the exhibition enables us to think in the round, presumably.

Until and unless we take offence that the Museum seeks to place another interpretation on events that does not accord with our vision of ourselves as being 'right' and the one-time adversary 'wrong'. It's actually simpler than that; the exhibition seeks to remind us that right or wrong aside, there are profound impacts on humanity that can never be retrieved from the historical context; losses that go beyond the rationally explicable and owe their tragedy to the worst impulses humankind can muster.

So there are questions about the actions of the Bomber Command units whose pilots flew courageous missions across the Atlantic to strafe and bomb cities in Germany, much like the Nazis flew across the Atlantic to bomb London and parts of England. Except that the Allied powers thought themselves to be humane, while the Axis powers gave no thought to the welfare of humanity in their pursuit of victory. It makes us squirm to have to realize that there is a lot of slippage in there.

Wonderfully historic cities like Dresden were carpet-bombed, and citizens' lives completely destroyed in their thousands upon thousands. When countries go to war against one another because their leaders so decree it should be, no one interviews the citizens to enquire whether they may be prepared to offer themselves up as the ultimate sacrifices to the powerful and the greedy.

We err, we are human.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Pain of the Gain

How grating on the nerves it is to know that the Bloc Quebecois is thrilled with the results of Jim Flaherty's new budget. Not for Canada, but only for Quebec. Gilles Duceppe made little secret of the reason for his support, in contrast to the opposition from Jack Layton and Stephane Dion. It isn't perfect, he said, Quebec deserves an even larger helping of the fiscal pie, but: "We can't let $3-billion get away. We'll take the money."

Sure you will, Mr. Duceppe. Just as the Canadian taxpayer hefts the bill to permit the Bloc Quebecois to represent the 'best interests of Quebec' in the Parliament of Canada. A party whose sole purpose is to oversee and hasten the separation of Quebec from Canada. Where fervently preaching secession at one time would be viewed as a grave offence against the well-being of a federated country, now we are so exquisitely civilized that we pay all expenses to enable a determined separatist party to represent the goal of sovereign-nationalism.

Talk of bending over backwards to effectively stab yourself in the back... But the Conservatives now enjoy a good deal of popularity in Quebec, thanks in large part to the Canadian taxpayers' generosity as evidenced by our fiscal generosity. On the other hand, they're following in a grand tradition long the hallmark of the Liberals. Mario Dumont has great praise for Mr. Harper as a wonderful statesman; Andre Boisclair whose party is hard-wired to that of the Bloc in separatist-idealism also praised the budget.

The Parti Quebecois and the Bloc celebrate the Canadian taxpayers' generosity to their province, while at the same time labouring mightily to persuade the population of their province to separate from Canada. To become true masters in their own house. If they are so convinced that French-Canadians must become citizens of their very own autonomous state one wonders why they are so dependent upon the financial avails of confederation.

And once cut off from all further funding by the rest of Canada how will the nascent state fund and administer itself? Mr. Duceppe's statement that "a sovereigntist government will know how to use that money to realize its program and ensure that Quebec is better positioned to become an independent country" might be seen in some countries as tantamount to hypocritical blood-sucking, but not in Canada.

Quebec is so obviously wedded to its financial dependency upon the rest of Canada, yet so obliviously determined to have its own way as an independent state one cannot but help come away with the impression that this conflicted view of self is the product of a people who have been too long coddled and cossetted. Through this new money granted to the province Premier Jean Charest is able to promise substantially reduced income taxes, helping his re-election in tandem with the federal Conservative agenda.

There's something fundamentally wrong with a population unwilling to agree to letting a portion of its population exercise the kind of free will that we are ourselves agreeing they can have under our federation, when we're actually funding their ability to exercise it. In response, we fund them royally to enable the separatists to make their case for a final break with the country time and again. Yet we continue to pull out all the stops to persuade Quebec that we love it despite its lack of reciprocation.

We're allowing ourselves through this never-ending push-and-pull to be manoeuvred into the state of fear engendered by the very real threat of separation. To stave off that threat no concessions to Quebec's incessant demands are enough. Each time the government of Canada submits to yet another demand for autonomy within the union, Quebec rests on its laurels in temporary satisfaction.

Before launching the inevitable next step. The question here is, when will the rest of Canada become so utterly fed up with the never-ending complaints and demands that we will be prepared to stand back and say, "go!"? Haven't we funded Quebec's disaffected irritation with its presence within the federation for a long enough period? Haven't attempts been made time and again to convince francophones how valuable their presence is to the rest of Canada?

Do we really enjoy all that much the constant pressures and challenges that come with having to deal with the juvenile-inspired demands of a population that really doesn't know exactly what it wants?


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tempest in a Lard Pot

What's this? Journal de Montreal pointing an accusatory finger of 'pandering' to Muslims on the part of the Quebecois maple syrup industry? Pandering - really, isn't that quite dreadful! The purity of Quebecois culture, its culinary traditions on the verge of collapse because a few maple syrup shack operators appreciate the interest in those very traditions on the part of some members of the Muslim population residing in the province.

Whoa! Let me get this straight; not all that long ago one little town decided to take matters into their own hands, despite no Muslims as yet being resident within their confines by issuing a set of guidelines aimed directly at Muslims to inform them of Quebecois cultural expectations. Newcomers, immigrants to Canada, are expected to integrate nicely, thank you very much, to appreciate what Canada has to offer. Else why come here?

Fact is immigrants come to Canada and have emigrated here for as long as the history books recount, to take advantage of the opportunities provided in this vast new landscape. Recent immigrants don't quite resemble, in cultural traditions, religion and world outlook exactly what early immigrants brought with them, but in Canada's early days we took our immigrants grudgingly if they didn't come from the Anglo-Saxon end of the British Empire.

Canada is a little more mature now, a little more self-assured, quite a lot more enamoured of multi-ethnicity as an enriching factor in our social make-up. How can members of a minority community be faulted for wanting to partake in all the quaint cultural traditions of the country they have joined? Sugaring-off and all the little rituals that devolve from it constitute fun at the close of winter, the opportunity to welcome spring. Everyone should experience it if it appeals to them.

What on earth can possibly be wrong with omitting ham from the stock in pea soup to enable Muslims to eat that culinary treat? It's simple courtesy. Baked beans made without lard sounds pretty appealing to me; in fact it's how I prepare that very nice dish myself and it hasn't proved to be detrimental to the taste at all. This is a business, after all, and smart business owners accommodate themselves to the needs and tastes of their clientele.

Yet here are the huffy owners of maple syrup shacks located in Quebec who consider compromise to be an unthinkable assault on their cultural sensibilities. Well get over it. Pig fat fried until its crisp? Ugh, and more ugh. It's unpalatable-sounding, unattractive to a fault, and unhealthy to boot. That's the kind of tradition that could use some revising. "We serve a traditional menu and it's a tradition that goes back centuries," said Ginette Poissant, owner of the Cabane a sucre Dinelle in St. Remi. "If people come here, they should follow the tradition."

Thanks for warning us, and no thanks. Ms. Poissant claims her erabliere is not in the business of altering its menu to serve different tastes. She claims to having had a telephone call from a Muslim group requesting chicken fingers during their visit. No, they couldn't be accommodated. Her intransigent lack of business sense, her insensitivity to the cultural/religious mores of others says more about her than it does of those who sought to experience some semblance of another cultural tradition.

Then these good people can go elsewhere, for not all maple sugar shack operators in Quebec are as obdurately righteous about tradition as is Ms. Poissant (did the 'power' in her name go to her head?). Jac Choquet, in business for almost half a century, at Domaine Choquet and Chalet du boise Varennois in Varennes, doesn't mind a few minor changes to his menu for groups who call ahead to his farm. He doesn't consider that he is bending backward to accommodate strangers; he sees it as 'simple good business'. And just incidentally he's sensitively aware that there are other cultures' needs to be observed.

"If you want to be respected, you have to show respect" he says.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Canada's Latest Prosperity Budget

There we have it, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty brought down the latest budget and it's a very nice one at that, offering a bon-bon-box of modest goodies all around. From free Medic-Alert bracelets to seriously ill children to meal write-offs for trucker; from investments in post-secondary education to enhanced health-care measures; from kindly-but-modest funds for aboriginal housing, to a nice little boost for farmers, this budget tried its darndest to recognize all those outspread hands.

In its own way it is an admirable bit of fiscal balancing; paying down the debt, encouragement of environmental priorities, mollifying the provinces through boosted equalization payments, the provision of funding for science and technology, additional monies for the working poor, and a national water strategy aimed at improving the quality of our fresh-water systems. Yet not everyone can be satisfied, ever, with anything.

Still, working families with children get a break. Business considers the budget more on he positive than the negative side. Canada's manufacturers and exporters see the budget as good news. There's a crackdown on companies who abuse tax havens. The government is meeting its commitment to debt reduction. Funds have been set aside to increase workforce skills and economic infrastructure. Even national defence and foreign aid get a bit of a boost.

You just can't please all the people all of the time. Give this government five stars for trying. Sneak in another star for the pretty good showing this budget produces; everyone deserves a treat in this chugging economy. Best of all, for the ruling Conservatives, they think they're singing all the way to the next election. Look, here's Premier Jean Charest chortling that he's got the Quebec election in his lap. What's good for him translates to great for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Why am I such a niggler? I think it's a good budget, and I applaud all those nice little initiatives. Don Martin points out in his column what a charge his French-speaking colleagues got out of the budget's title: "Aspire". Which, he pointed out, in French means to 'suck out', and wasn't Quebec doing a fine job of that up to now anyway? Here's Quebec with less than one-quarter of the Canadian population gifted anew with 30 cents of every new dollar toddled off to the provinces.

Almost half of the combined 'extras' in this year's equalization and social-transfer funds - 2.2 billion - is earmarked for Quebec, which already receives $2 billion more in federal funds annually that it contributes. Why is it not surprising that alone of the opposition leaders the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe announced he would support the budget, while Stephane Dion and Jack Layton slammed it and refused to support it; one for no good reason, the other for plenty if you're a NDPer and you're looking for reasons.

Mr. Duceppe claimed his party still has "work to do" to solve the "fiscal imbalance", since he obdurately continues that weary old Quebec whine-line that Quebec is undervalued and underfunded. He's made it abundantly clear his party isn't finished pushing for more money for Quebec, insisting the "fiscal imbalance" hasn't been settled at all, as claimed by a triumphant Flaherty, who claims to have delivered "a historic plan" with his budget, and so he may have, but that still won't satisfy all the provinces.

Least of all Quebec, still getting the lion's share, still groaning about the unfairness to Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois supported this budget because "it was good for Quebec", but alas, still not quite good enough.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Progress in Afghanistan

NATO is committed to its war of attrition against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but it's been tough slogging. Tough to mount a concerted international effort to assist a government that seems to be so incapable of fully representing the best interests of its country, of its people. An inept government council replete with representatives whose past misdeeds in the country place it alongside the enemy all are attempting to incapacitate makes for a fairly one-sided effort.

The key purpose of NATO forces in Afghanistan is to oust the fanatical Islamists to enable the government in Afghanistan to produce a viable state with full security for its residents, with access to justice and accountability, an improvement of economic conditions and social services and the production of reliable infrastructure. Schools have been built enabling children to be educated; health facilities have been built to ensure the population has recourse to that resource.

There has been progress in economic areas, and rights for women, but the government is still rife with corruption, the justice and police system is unreliable, there remains a lack of basic services and the people of Afghanistan are beginning to lose confidence in their new reality. The Taliban have met with much success in portraying themselves as the friends of farmers in Afghanistan, encouraging their poppy growth and sales, while the NATO allies have lost the opportunity to do the same, finding legitimate markets for the sale of medical opium products.

Soldiers being trained to serve their country don't find satisfaction and commitment in being professionally trained troops, and the encouragement to fight for the Karzai government is restrained by their paltry paycheques. NATO itself is struggling to maintain its needed presence in support of the Karzai government, some of its member-countries subscribing to the mission with adequate troop support, but many more paying mere lip service with inadequate support or none at all.

Afghanistan stands on the brink of success or failure. It will take more than the goodwill and efforts offered the country by the UN and NATO to bring it success.

Time for official Afghanistan to care enough about its future to pull its weight alongside its supporters.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rebuild or Relocate?

Another one of those tragic situations that simply will not go away. Kashechewan is just that. It is a misery of a place, a place called home by 1,500 Cree whose lives could hardly be more nasty, wanting in 20th century human amenities, with scant hope for the future of their young. The reserve has been neglected, the needs of its people overlooked, and it is largely poor administration on the part of its band council and chief.

Desires versus practicality. Last fall an enquiry was conducted on behalf of the federal government by federal advisor Alan Pope. After extensive discussions with people living on the reserve, in the wake of a number of truly disquieting events requiring airlifting part of the population out of the reserve for months as a result of health and safety concerns relating to an uncertain potable water supply, it appeared that the majority would welcome a wholesale move south.

Mr. Pope and his staff claim to have "knocked on literally every door in Kashechewan" to obtain a fair and honest opinion of each resident with respect to the future disposition of the reserve. Its placement alongside the flood-prone Albany River left it vulnerable to regular flooding events, the housing on the reserve needs to be refurbished, the water supply has become tainted on occasion.

There are problems with drug and alcohol addiction, school attendance, and regular suicide episodes among the young people of the reserve. The reserve has been poorly administered, with a lack of accountability. When solutions have been recommended by government agencies to specific problems such as lack of a fire station, the one provided was rejected out of hand as not being sufficiently suitable.

Now the new Kashechewan chief has presented a new report to Indian Affairs, one that indicates a complete turn-around to the original Pope report where residents opted for a move to Timmins or Smooth Rock Falls. It would now appear that the reserve majority would prefer to remain on their traditional land - with a move to higher ground on James Bay.

Jonathan Solomon the new Kashechewan chief, unable to explain the shift in opinion, offered his view that those who backed a reserve within traditional boundaries wished to remain because of their attachment to the land. "It's mostly to do with their connection to the land, their way of life, their culture", he explained. Which, taken at face value, bespeaks the emotional attachment of a people to their past, their traditions.

But times have changed, offering new opportunities. Moving further up to an isolated forest area will not solve the existential problems the residents have been facing. New housing would improve their living conditions over the present squalid situation, but they still require the know-how and assistance to produce potable water, they will be no further ahead with respect to education and employment opportunities, their abuse of drugs and alcohol will not be solved, nor will the despair of their children.

Moreover, while they will retain their connection to the land, their way of life is now an artificial one, since it is not self-sustaining as it once was, and their culture has been undermined with substance abuse, child neglect, and no mode of useful employment. At a conservative estimate of a half-billion dollars to effect the move upriver and infrastructure-enabling, the solution will only be a short-term one, until everyone becomes bored with their isolation and lack of opportunity once again.

The Canadian public, like the government, wants to solve the intractable problems facing our First Nations people. We don't enjoy the thought of any Canadians living in hopelessly substandard conditions. The suffering of our native Canadians is an affront to the dignity of the nation, a constant reminder to all Canadians that much has still to be done. But spending a quarter-million dollars for each representative of the reserve to fund the move is not the way to go.

People are easily persuaded that one solution may work better for them than another, particularly when their emotions, and the pull of the past are evoked. There must come a time, however, when all people make the determination that it is past time that they too become a part of the answer, not just the problem itself. Kashechewan's residents must become responsible for their own well being by taking into consideration their obligations to themselves.

They need to carefully consider all alternatives, not be content with placidly deciding that the federal government turn over a huge sum of money to transfer them to another, hopefully-preferential location which promises them no real future. They cannot be self-reliant there, they can only begin to once again stagnate into a pool of misery of their own making.

It's time to grow up and become fully functional as an integral part of Canadian society, with pride in their determination to produce a life for their children.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blemished Apprehensions

There's something fundamentally wrong with a society quick to pounce on any perceived slurs directed against its values, presence, imperatives, language and demands upon the larger society of which it is an integral part, yet which exercises no sensitivity toward the needs of others to be treated with the dignity to which they are deserving.

Here is Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair referring to people of Asian origin in a manner which is so clearly insulting as to take one's breath away. Despite which, he insists that there is nothing at all wrong with his use of language deleterious to the image of another group of people. An expression as nasty as "slant-eyes" to describe Asians is considered by this man to be perfectly reasonable.

It is an expression, he maintains, very often used in the French language to describe Asians. The very commonality of its use gains it respectability, as far as Mr. Boisclair is concerned. And the truly troubling aspect of his argument is that he appears to have the support of other Quebecers.

In a mind-boggling lack of sensibility Quebec Premier Jean Charest defends the expression, indicating it needn't be faulted. Action democratique leader Mario Dumont also indicated he feels Mr. Boisclair's use of such language is not insulting. What on earth is the matter with these people?

This nasty expression is used by Mr. Boisclair in the most casual of manner, addressing individuals of Asian origin as "slant-eyes". Not Chinese, not Japanese, not Korean, or others of like origin, but people whose distinguishing feature is that their eyes are shaped differently.

I am insulted for Asians, I am utterly disgusted, I am aghast that any purportedly intelligent individual could resort to such derogatory racial epithets in the guise of common language and consider it perfectly all right. Not only does Mr. Boisler consider the use of such descriptives as normal and acceptable, but when approached by an individual of Asian origin who took exception to the use, he was summarily dismissed.

During a number of campaign speeches where Mr. Boisclair casually insulted Asian physical appearance by his crudely inappropriate language, reporters covering the events took up the issue, the result being public attention was focused on it. Amazingly, none of those to whom the speech was addressed appeared to find fault with the language.

Giving full credence to Mr. Boisclair's assertion that the insulting descriptive is in common everyday use in the province. The executive director of the Montreal-based Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, Fo Niemi, himself of Asian origin, called the party to complain about the insult-laden language.

For his troubles he was informed by Mr. Boisclair's communications director that "it is people like you who see racism in this", denying that the descriptive was "racially offensive". Adding insult to injury is a fine way to explain one's lack of sensitivity toward others. Those very people whose appearance is described in such a manifestly slanderous manner are informed they are reacting inappropriately, not the reverse.

But, as Mr. Boisclair angrily asserts, he has been using the expression for years and in his mind he has said nothing wrong. He is not about to start playing games of semantics, he adds. "I regularly, frequently use this expression and have absolutely no intention of apologizing", Mr. Boisclair informed a news conference.

More than adequately demonstrating the mettle of the man, illustrative of those who take instant offence when they feel their dignity has somehow been called into question by the lack of proper respect evinced by others toward them, yet who seem functionally incapable of comprehending when their own manner toward others goes beyond offensive.

Fittingly, points out Colleen Hua, council president of the Chinese Canadian National Council, this is Action Week Against Racism in Quebec.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Electorate Manipulation?

As though it's something new. Haven't politicians always gone out of their way to manipulate public opinion to their advantage? It comes with the territory. We sometimes wonder at the calibre of the people who stand up to represent us as elected representatives. It must take a special kind of person who will decide to offer up their life to politics. That person can be highly intelligent or a bit of dim bulb, yet capable of learning the ropes and setting themselves forward as our political elite.

We've had people of high intelligence and even higher moral standards whose words can be believed, but when they've told us things that they felt we should be adult enough to hear we've rejected them. In favour of promises never meant to be kept, seductively offered to us by less wise but certainly more foxy candidates who soon learn to spout what they know people would prefer to hear. One hardly knows what is more true, that people will believe whatever they want to believe, or that politicians are not be trusted.

What is amazing, though, is that the most trivial manoeuvres can be undertaken to blight peoples' opinions against rival candidates, and people tend to accept that. One politician can accuse another of not having the best interest of the country and the electorate at heart, and the other can turn around and repeat the charge, and that kind of schoolyard bullying is found to be acceptable in the political arena. Or the dredging up of old, and sometimes completely irrelevant 'facts' or 'behaviours' and bringing them to the deleterious light of day.

And then there are the silly little deceits and practises that serve more to illuminate the mind-set of the practitioner than even he would recognize. Like, sad to say, resorting to childish tactics such as changing the colours of official government web sites, or official stationery or publications to reflect a colour normally related to one political party or the other, rather than accepting that the government is not a party, not meant to be partisan, it is an elected entity of public trust.

Which brings to mind the idiocy of an incoming political party as the new government of the day using clumsy nomenclature to re-brand government, so that the Government of Canada can become "Canada's New Government". Silly beyond belief. These little mind games are relevant to children perhaps or to dim-minded antagonists, but should never represent the concerns of intelligent adults.

The government platform should be out front and centre and everything should flow from that. That the government views its duty to reflect the needs of the country and its population, to enact and uphold legislation which mirrors our collective requirements as a pluralistic society, as an ever-emerging cohesive society with distinctly communal needs. To nudge the country toward a sustainable economic future, without disabling our environment.

Playing to the crowd by enunciating support for popular and respected values and traditions is not required by government; that support should be well understood and reflected in the method of governance. Neither should controlling access to information and news about government, its decisions and initiatives, become an issue in an information-free society. Ministers of the Crown, appointed by the prime minister of the day should be able to freely address issues of the day relevant to their ministries through the news media.

The advent of 'political communications directors' working within the offices of cabinet ministers create another layer of obfuscation, where only the information that is considered to be harmless to discuss, air or view is made available for public inspection; hardly transparent and honest communication.

On the other hand, there's nothing new under the sun. All politicians want to be elected, want to assume a position of power and prestige and to that end personalities are cautiously leashed and public declarations kept to the acceptable minimum lathered in innocuous statement. Little wonder politicians are held in such low esteem.

Yet if we know as much as we claim we should and would like to, we unerringly select the shallow rather than the deep, the facade rather than the substance. We're not much of an improvement over politicians, come to think of it.


Go, Already! Or Not

It's a fascinating lesson in human nature. But then so much about human nature is fascinating, we are so complex, so multi-faceted, so insecure, so proud, so demanding and yet humble, so intelligent and yet clumsily incapable. If we're truly fashioned in the image of God then what does it say about that great spirit on high?

Well, for starters, it might tell us why we feel abandoned at our times of greatest need. Either the all-knowing, all-powerful is as inanely doubtful as we are, or he holds back, in the hope that we will learn from our experiences. Certainly we're offering him ample opportunity to learn from our experiences.

So here's Fidel Castro, still the fiery revolutionary, still determined to lead his country into the promised land. He eschewed god in the belief that he was following a greater purpose, that which would lead to full equality, equal opportunity, with each giving what he/she could to the betterment of the aggregate. His revolutionary spirit is undimmed but he's shuffling off this mortal coil.

A noble enough vision, but one not too closely aligned to what human beings would respond to by their very natures. We are not by nature altruistic. Nature, or god, has fashioned us to be far more concerned for ourselves as individuals - to succeed as living organisms by advancing our own personal agendas and with it our personal genetic code. Communism as an ideal may be quite wonderful but as a living practise it doesn't engage or challenge the human endeavour, simply because it cannot promise individual gain.

Fulgencio Batista was a dictatorial thug who dominated the island of Cuba and allowed it to become a barroom and bedroom for the United States, while its citizens suffered and somehow persevered against all odds. Fidel Castro and his partners in revolution envisioned a different kind of opportunity for the country and its people and when he came to power all those Cubans with wealth and education fled rather than live in an environment of sharing which would leave them for the short term as destitute as the ordinary Cuban on the street.

Now wealthy, privileged, highly educated, brightly entrepreneurial Cubans live a short distance from Cuba, but within the confines of a democratic capitalistic country which they adore for the opportunities it has afforded them and their families. And they loathe the Cuba they left behind, the Cuba of Fidel Castro, holding a celebratory death-watch in eager anticipation of his departure from the soil of their beloved country.

Their dream was to return to Cuba, reclaim their land, their property, their wealth and future. That dream has become muted. They fiercely appreciate their lives in the United States, while still loving their memory of the country they felt forced to flee. Castro is the devil incarnate and his minions little better. All of them responsible for ruining the future of a country they love. They don't think much of some great experiments in human nature and capability that took place over the decades under Castro's watch.

Not the least of which was well-trained medical professionals who fanned out over the country to do their work where it was needed, untrammeled by a capitalistic urge to assemble personal wealth. And when their numbers exceeded their utility they were loaned out to do their fine healing work elsewhere in Latin America. The spirit of the Cuban people living under the duress partly caused by an implacable U.S. trade embargo seemed undimmed and they somehow managed to get by.

But in fact what difference is there between a Communist or a Fascist-style dictatorship? Extreme left, or extreme right, they both exact the maximum sacrifice from those people whom fate has given them control over. Cubans are given strict and direct orders to maintain a way of life that has offered them few creature comforts and little reason to celebrate a future for their children. They aspire as do all other people but their circumstances dampen hope and creates bitterness.

It's time, past time for Fidel Castro to make his final speech. Cubans are tired, they're fed up, they're ready to move on. And the exiles? They know a good thing when they're living it, and will likely opt to remain where they are in the golden land of opportunity for those willing to work to achieve success; material success.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Any Comparisons?

I can remember back in dim history, some decades ago, the furore over the animosity between Greek and Turkish Cypriots with murder and mayhem and promise of a total upending of joint residency on that island being in question. Solved eventually with the creation of a wall separating the two inchoate enmities. With a solid pacifying presence of United Nations peackeepers intent on keeping the two apart.

And thus has it been ever since. But just last week a small portion of that concrete divider fell under the roar of bulldozers, ostensibly enabling the curious from either side to cross over to the other. A shopping district in the middle of Cyprus suddenly unbarricaded. Reconciliation? The opportunity for the opposites to once again become acquainted with the potential for living together in peace? So close, yet so far.

The Greek Cypriot government evidently took it upon itself to experiment with this question by partial demolition of the decades-old barrier. To see what manner of response might ensue from the Turkish Cypriot government on the issue of reuniting Cyprus. The wall was soon replaced by screens, with armed soldiers back to guarding the area. Still, the residents remain optimistic.

Will Turkey respond, or will it not? After all, this very issue of recalcitrance toward reuniting is one that the European Union has put on the table for Turkey's acceptance. To dismantle the wall, to encourage both peoples to become re-acquainted and drop their animosity-filled resentment toward one another would be a huge step forward in civility. The Greek Cypriot government now awaits the Turkish Cypriot armed forces withdrawal and if that proceeds, the Greeks will do likewise.

This was a unilateral act by the Cypriot Greeks, they did not confer with the Turks, nor did they give them warning it was to occur. Reminiscent of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Reflective of the deadly animosity between Palestinians and Israelis. Each societal conflict has been well aged in history. Each has both territorial disagreements, cultural and religious differences at play.

The Palestinians now face the imposition of a detested wall separating them from the Israeli presence. A necessity in the view of Israel whose citizens were being blown up by jihadist terrorists for whom the wall has proved to be an effective deterrent. An unnecessary punishment in the view of Palestinians, chafing under the dreadful affront to their dignity and the inconveniencing of their daily lives.

Middle ground is what it takes. Perhaps rather more difficult at this time for the Israelis and the Palestinians since so much raw hatred and bitter bloodshed has too recently occurred. But perhaps this is what the future holds there, too. And sanity will eventually prevail.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Oh Dear, Loose Tongues in the Liberal Fold

Here's an unexpected downer for the Liberal party as it is currently comprised under its new leader, and an unanticipated boost for the current Conservative government in Canada. Who might have thought that lips hitherto sealed in party solidarity might be unleashed so damningly? The New Government of Canada must be wildly partying into the wee hours of the Ottawa night.

It's not that we didn't know. Our memories are not that faulty. We're recalling events of the fairly recent past, after all. Previous governments which promised much and produced little. Previous governments that hailed themselves as saviours to the nation and the planet and turned out to be heretics and deniers, self-serving platitude-artists and fraudulent disappointments.

No less a Liberal back room elite than Eddie Goldenberg publicly confessing that the Chretien administration of which he was such a high-profile member was woefully unprepared, uncommitted and unrepentant. "I am not sure that Canadian public opinion was immediately ready for some of the concrete implementation measures that governments would have to take to address the issue of climate change", confessed this Liberal stalwart.

"Nor was the government itself even ready at the time with what had to be done." As though the electorate could not see this happening before its very eyes. As though we who were interested in the subject couldn't see the frustration too obvious to ignore that someone of the calibre of David Anderson - one-time Minister of the Environment, a truly committed Liberal - faced with his party's disinterest and unwillingness to unleash necessary funds.

The short-term targets, promised so grandiously by Jean Chretien as prime minister during the Kyoto round in climate change were recognized as too ambitious, requiring too much of a budget extension to meet. This the ruling Liberal elites knew, but that did not stop them from exulting in their grand ambitions for the country, accepting the accolades which accrued to them for responsible environmental management.

By decree, verbally, and on paper, and with sincere collaboration with other Kyoto-signatory nations, but never in implementation or planning or practical determination to forge on with a needed programme to meet our obligations. Which describes exactly how the Liberals have always worked. And if we don't believe another former environment minister in that same government, then who can we believe?

At the time of the signing of the Kyoto Agreement on Climate Change Christine Stewart was the environment minister for the Chretien government. She has now gone public to criticize the former finance minister of that same government, later the succeeding Liberal prime minister, Paul Martin, for refusing to release funds necessary to begin Kyoto-promised initiatives to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

What's more she has implicated the intergovernmental affairs minister of the day, now Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, as having expressed no interest whatever in the environmental cause. This man is clearly, despite his protestations to the contrary, a born-again environmentalist, a title he lavishes scornfully upon the current prime minister, Stephen Harper.

As for David Anderson, an ardent environmentalist, a Liberal who displayed the courage of his convictions, despite party disinterest and even enmity, he goes out of his way to support his colleague, stating "Christine Stewart did not get the support she needed and deserved". Mr. Anderson "can't recall" Mr. Dion having taken a stand for or against Kyoto to the cabinet of the day. He did opine, however, that placing Mr. Dion in the environment portfolio in the Paul Martin-led Liberal government signalled that Canada would not pursue an aggressive environmental agenda.

So the same Stephane Dion who boasts of his past record \on the environment within a government which cared deeply for the portfolio and which now points a disgusted finger of accusation at the current government for its "wasted year" on fighting climate change is a fraud who also has the gall to say "I might just be the most influential Leader of the Opposition in a generation".

This is the man whose intention it is to make the battle over the environment the foremost issue to be placed before the electorate in a forthcoming general election. Who are we to doubt the practical experience and opinion of members of his own party who know him as he really is?


Friday, March 09, 2007

Uh, Oh! Egypt is Displeased

So is the United Nations, actually. That august body could be less pleased with Canada's labeling of minorities, visible minorities to be exact, in naming them just that: 'visible minorities' to distinguish them from other people whose physical characteristics do not betray them as being 'other' or 'different' or outside the normal stream of what are generally termed to be people of Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Canada uses these differentiating nomenclatures for a singular purpose. To ensure that people who are visibly different in appearance are not overlooked in opportunities for education or jobs, or that their obviously-different physical appearance does not place them at any kind of disadvantage within the larger society - to ensure that they are fully protected under the law.

How else to name the obvious physical characteristics which stand out so readily, differentiating those blessed with various skin colourations, or mode of dress, or other distinguishing features from the great white horde who, though their origins of birth may not accord with those of Anglo-Saxon heritage still are included within the greater society through lack of distinguishing features?

Now here is Egypt of all countries inferring that Canada is behaving in a racist manner. As though. Egypt has a lot of catching up to do before it reaches the stage of civil liberation and equality of opportunity that Canada offers to its citizens. Egypt, where dissent can be a prison sentence, and outright criticism of the government and more particularly, the ruling elite can land one in a dank dark prison for a languishing-long time.

A little public furore has arisen over a Muslim referee in a Quebec-league soccer tournament ruling that a 11-year-old girl must remove her Islamic headscarf as a safety precaution. A precaution which the international soccer federation itself has promulgated. The little girl refused to remove her hijab, and her team in solidarity with her, removed themselves entirely from the tournament. This was their choice.

But the matter has given rise to criticism against the Quebec soccer league, its referees and the international body which has supported its decision. A kind of perverted logic prevails here; when an individual takes it upon himself to flaunt rules which are respected by all others then that individual is removed from the opportunity to participate - simple as that. The majority accepting such rulings as needful and just does not abdicate responsibility to placate an obdurate minority.

Who really cares if a child wears a head covering while playing a game? Well, jewellery and other coverings such as caps are not permitted. But, the argument goes, this is not jewellery it is an affirmation of faith, as integral to the adherent's needs as a limb, reflecting the depth of faith commitment the individual feels.

Well, Egypt, that bastion of human rights has decreed "The question of wearing the headscarf should remain a part of individual freedoms, so long as it does not harm security, public order or the values of a society". Canada's deputy ambassador was called on the carpet in Cairo to explain at which time it was conveyed to those good authorities that the matter involved a referee's call, it did not represent Canada's official position on anything.

Egypt's emissary to Canada, Mahmoud El-Saeed instructs us that "Egypt just wanted to express their position because, honestly, if you look at things from a world perspective, it is as if Muslim or Islam (sic) are under attack and under siege around the world".

To which I sigh, give us a break.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

More News of the Day

The news is always there. Try to avoid it if you will, and many do, but it's there, lurking, just waiting its opportunity to pounce and grab you. And if the news we hear, read and see doesn't grab something deep within you, make you shake your head and wonder at the nature of humanity, then you likely reside deep in some dark hole of blissful ignorance. Which, on the face of it, mightn't be such a bad idea.

Well, there's news and there's news. There are always news reports of dire occurrences, utterly bleak instances illustrating the worst in human nature. And then there are the quirky, sometimes-humorous, sometimes inexplicable, sometimes wry stories that grab our attention for entirely other reasons. Much easier to digest, by far, though.
  • Italy - Italian paraglider Antonio Montagno was recovering in hospital yesterday, after crashing in high winds into a mountain forest and hanging upside down in a tree for three days. Mr. Montagno, 47, crashed last Thursday after launching himself from a height of 820 metres on Monte Mignaio near Florence. After an intensive search, he was found on Sunday dangling at the top of a giant beech tree, with his right leg trapped in the tangled ropes of his glider.
  • South Korea - The country's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said yesterday it hoped to publish a "Robot Ethics Charter" for manufacturers and users, which will also cover ethical standards to be programmed into robots. This includes a sort of Hippocratic oath for androids: they are not allowed to harm humans, or allow them to be harmed; they have to obey orders; and they have to protect themselves if that does not conflict with the first two instructions. "The move anticipates the day when robots, particularly intelligent service robots, could become a part of daily life", the ministry said. Isaac Asimov's Robot Code: 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
  • China - Only about half of China's 1.3 billion people can speak the national language, Mandarin, despite it being the official medium of education, the Xinhua news agency reported yesterday. China has been promoting Mandarin for decades to ensure national cohesion in a country where there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dialects.
  • South Africa - Elderly worshippers at a church in South Africa beat up their priest after he told them to hand over part of the increase in their pension announced in a recent budget. Reverend Piet Mnisi said in his sermon on Sunday that congregation members should give him the 50-rand ($7.95) increase announced by Trevor Manuel, the Finance Minister, claiming it was "a blessing from God". He also warned that their relatives would die if he did not start receiving the money, starting next month. Dozens then turned on the pastor, attacking him with rods and even a bible. "It was strange to see people who pray every day behaving in such a way", said an eyewitness. Rev.Mnisi jumped out of a church window and locked himself in his house.
  • United States - After children and adolescents receive an organ transplant in the U.S., more than 90% do well at the one-year mark. After that the rate of loss of the grafted organ increases. Transplant failure rate is linked to the inability to pay for immune suppressant drugs, required for the remainder of the patient's life.
  • Thailand - A bird species not seen since one was caught in India 140 years ago is alive and living in Thailand. The large-billed reed warbler was found by chance by ornithologist Philip Round as he was tagging birds near Bangkok. "One of the birds I caught that morning struck me as very odd, something about it didn't quite add up", he said. "Then, it dawned on me - I was probably holding a large-billed reed warbler. I was dumbstruck, it felt as if I was holding a living dodo". A priority now is to find out where the bird's main population lives.
  • Canada - Canadians spend the most time online as compared to other industrialized nations, a survey showed. The report by market research firm comScore Networks found that in terms of the amount of time spent online, Canada led the list, with the average user spending 39.6 hours on the Web. This was followed by Israel, South Korea, the U.S. and the U.K. The number of Internet users worldwide increased 10% over the past year amid a surge in India, China and Russia. The report concludes 747 million people aged 15 and up used the Internet worldwide in January 2007, a 10% increase from January 2006.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Canada, Safe Haven

Don't we Canadians just pride ourselves silly over our generous nature, our good-heartedness, our ability to absorb the world's downtrodden and homeless, our acceptance of a pluralist society... We just adore admiring ourselves. Quiet, kind Canada.

Proud of our tradition of multiculturalism, of our peace-making tradition. A beacon of righteous self-admiration.

But look here, we've gone a little loopy in the process of proving to ourselves just how tolerant we are. We will accept into this country individuals with pasts so shady and shadowy as to be virtually opaque. Despite which we eventually become aware of just how despicable their activities in their former countries (and sometimes ours as well) have been.

And then we just cannot find it within ourselves to deport them. For in so doing we might be involved in placing these people with murder, mayhem, fraud and swindling schemes to their credit afoul of the law in their countries of birth. How boastfully superior can one become with this shotgun acceptance of moral necessity? Without shooting ourselves full-face at close range.

Canada anguishes over returning a vicious unrepentant gangster, declared "a danger to the people of Canada" for his record of assaults and threats on police and prison guards back to where he belongs because of the potential 'danger' he may face. The man is a clear public menace and has been since his arrival in Canada at age 14.

Hussein Jilaow has a record of more than 30 criminal events for assaults, robberies, fights, threats in an uninterrupted history of criminal behaviour.

The government has to find a way to deport this man, having given him legal protection under our court system. How is that for lenient? Our laws protect this criminal from deportation because of a fear he will face reprisal for his criminal activities in Canada, if he is returned to Mogadishu.

Other sterling examples of other countries' fugitives becoming our problem, awaiting deportation through our extradition-treaty with other countries, but which are delayed because of this country's fears they may face too-harsh punishment are also illuminating:
  • Michael Karas, fighting extradition in Vancouver; wanted in Thailand for a 1996 murder.
  • Gloria Chingkoe, of Richmond, B.C. accused with her husband of defrauding the Philippines government of $75 million.
  • Rakesh Saxena of Vancouver, a financier Thailand has been trying to have extradited for 10 years for embezzling $88 million from the Bangkok Bank of Commerce.
  • Rodolfo Pacificador, free in Toronto, still wanted in the Philippines for his role in the assassination of provincial governor Evelio Javier in 1986.
  • Subhash Agrawal of Ottawa, wanted in India as a suspect in the 2003 murder of his sister.
  • Harnek Singh Grewal, who leads a powerful Sikh sect, wanted for inciting a deadly riot.
  • Malkiat Kaur Sidhu and Surjit Singh Badesha of Maple Ridge, B.C., wanted for the contract killing of Sidhu's daughter.
  • Lai Changxing, an accused smuggling mastermind, fighting to stay in Canada for almost a decade; accused in China of a $100 million embezzlement scheme.
Before 1999, countries making extradition requests had to meet stringent evidentiary requirements including sworn affidavits from persons affected or connected by the crime, resulting in long delays. Bu since June 1999, a new Extradition Act took effect, meant to 'fast-track' the process to "prevent fugitives from considering Canada as a safe haven".

Unfortunately, a handful of Supreme Court rulings derailed the 'rubber stamp' approach. The court ruled that judges had a duty to protect the 'Charter rights of fugitives' by questioning foreign evidence.

This enables lawyers to line their pockets happily raising all kinds of objections, challenging how evidence has been gathered, criticizing governments, courts, prisons and punishments of requesting states.

Let's hear it for the lawyers. Try not to cry.


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