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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Crucible of Terror

And that would be, why Pakistan. That very country which, after the sad and sorry departure of the dejected, defeated Russian army post-occupation, encouraged the Taliban to mount its fanatical Islamist governance upon shattered Afghanistan. The ardently dedicated mujaheddin who gathered to battle Russian forces to liberate Muslim Afghanistan from the foreign assault in turn were equipped and encouraged by the United States. Many of those mujaheddin, under the sponsorship of one of their own, morphed into al-Qaeda.

Not surprising that al-Qaeda and the Taliban found much in common, since they had much in common. Saudi Arabia being the initial commonality, since Osama bin Laden is a Saudi from an aristocratic wealthy family there, though he despises the House of Saud. And it was and remains Saudi funding that established and encouraged Wahhabist-style madrases to churn out fundamentalist Islamists eager to join a global jihad. A succession of Pakistan's governments encouraged these fanatics, directing them alternately, to India, Indian Kashmir and Afghanistan.

With that kind of encouragement, and ties to Pakistan's military and secret police, little wonder that insurgencies in the country itself, and the birth of Pakistan's own Taliban ensued. Wracked by violence that claimed the life by assassination of Benazir Bhutto whose father was proudly responsible for funding the research that resulted in the country's ownership of nuclear arms, and who herself gave shelter and encouragement to the fanatics, she was herself killed by them, after finally denouncing their agenda.

Now here is her husband, newly-installed as president of Pakistan, now however, generally viewed by the population as ineffective and wholly unsuited to the post he was voted into, as a great surprise to himself, let alone those who voted for him. Mr. Tenpercent, aka Asif Ali Zardari, has left the indelible impression among the citizens of his country that corruption, always present, is running rampant under his stewardship of patronage unbound.

Worse, however, is the crumbling, and dangerous state of security in the country where suicide bombings have become a daily occurrence. Even the country's president will not appear in public for genuine and very real risk of assassination. His is a presidency in name only. When he was in India, and commiserating with his Indian counterpart over the attacks on Mumbai, he pledged his military's and secret service's assistance to India in unveiling the details behind the Mumbai massacre.

Returning home to Pakistan he was speedily jerked back to political realities, and on cue from his military and secret service adamantly denied that Pakistan had anything to do with the Mumbai attacks. Emphasizing, in the face of all manner of evidence uncovered by the Indian police, that there was no solid proof of Pakistani involvement. And the ancient enemies, so close to accommodating one another's needs in reaching a peaceful settlement, are now back to the basics of assembling troops across one another's borders.

The economy of the country is crumbling as quickly as its security. Investors are departing; even wealthy Pakistanis are not interested in keeping their money at home, or investing it in projects that would benefit the country. Tourism has collapsed, international travellers not recognizing the entrancing fascination of touring a country where their safety cannot be guaranteed if they're kidnapped for a king's ransom.

Waziristan, Bajaur, Swat and Baluchistan are becoming increasingly impossible to handle, with insurgents ready to prepare for a bloody civil war, and jihadis infiltrating throughout the country, not only in the North-West Frontier Province but in the country's largest cities. Even Islamabad is not immune from terrorist incursions to blow up mosques or hotels, or attempt the assassination of government figures or military leaders.

Pakistan's economy is near collapse. The billions of dollars in aid received from the United States in exchange for Pakistan's assistance in the fight against terror - a risible plot at the very minimum to ingratiate the country into the good graces of a wealthy nation by an impoverished one - hasn't been enough to restore economic equilibrium. Cap in hand, overtures for billions in loans from China and the Arab Gulf States have been turned down.

The International Monetary Fund came to the rescue, not precisely Pakistan's first choice, but there it is, beggars cannot be choosers. The long-overdue and existentially-compelled battle against insurgents has been costly, in an already over-extended economy. Food and energy prices have been rising sharply, and the population is growing restive and angry, the groundwork for future violent riots rising.

All bets are off whether in the coming months Pakistan's new president will be assassinated by cleverly determined Islamists or removed by virtue of yet another military coup.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Circling The Wagons

From trade expansion and the universality of credit markets, to sudden reservations. Clearly, global financial trust and interaction is being subdued and singled out as a failed instrument of international economic advancement. Trust betrayed by the world's largest and leading economy to adequately govern itself, preventing all-too-human greed from corrupting and destroying the process. Markets, it was held, would govern themselves adequately, out of self-interest.

What market, after all, would seek to destroy itself? Well in theory, none. But when the cat's busy elsewhere, or just too fat and lazy to check in on the mice, out they come to play havoc with household goods and everything goes haywire. The intricate, interwoven and inexplicable process by which worthless paper was bundled in with more liquid assets to widely distribute the good and the questionable, cannot have been done in good faith or bad. It was done in deliberate ignorance.

It was accepted because even the acknowledged experts couldn't unravel all the ins-and-outs, couldn't make sense of all those hidden details. So everyone just shrugged and got on with it. Things would straighten themselves out. And so they did, if a monumental financial collapse can be identified as such. It's part of the process of the market eventually righting itself. Meanwhile, there's a whole lot of economic pain and little gain to be seen in the near future.

Out come the national protectionist ventures to try to halt the deterioration at hitherto open financial borders. Trade, import and export have dwindled to a squeaking pipe of painful contraction. Manufacturing is stuttering and businesses are declaring bankruptcy, laying off workers, the result of which is consumerism at a standstill. A deadly cycle, re-visited. It's a mean world, suddenly, and people, desperate for work and assurances, are demanding answers and rioting.

Normally fiscally conservative governments are suddenly eager to loosen treasury funds to encourage their skittish markets and shore up public infrastructure initiatives to try to put people back to work. The media is aiding considerably by publishing hysterical prognostications of even worse to come, panicking consumers into holding on tight to their pocketbooks, and mercantile consumerism is stagnating, closing down retailers and demoralizing everyone.

The International Monetary Fund is throwing cautionary advice to the winds, and calling on the world economy to pledge two percent of world GDP to "prevent global depression". "If we are not able to do that, then social unrest may happen in many countries, including advanced economies. We are facing an unprecedented decline in output. All around the planet, people have reacted with feelings going from surprise to anger, and from anger to fear", warns Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

OPEC is trying to adjust output to plummeting prices per barrel of oil which has lost its former princely return of $140 to oil-producing countries, to a painful current price of $40; absolutely unheard of. It desperately wants to stabilize oil prices. It instituted its deepest-ever supply cut in the hopes it would stem the oil-price slide. Their production cut has had no effect.

Russia, for her part, has decided not to cut back on oil and gas production. Its newly-realized lower revenues have come as a painfully unexpected surprise to a country that was so recently revelling in its new-found wealth. Moscow is getting ugly again with Ukraine, threatening to cut gas supplies and worrying Europe no end with the prospect of gas shortages reminiscent of 2006.

Russia has imposed import tariffs on cars, farm machinery and poultry. In support of domestic producers. India and Vietnam have done likewise. Even the United States, which should know better, and which is the identified source of the anguished loss of economic stability, is beginning to pull its borders tighter, slapping on new duties. It's beginning to look as though the U.S. will resort to tariffs, despite free trade deals, having the potential to result in a spiral of retaliation from its trade partners.

China's export strategy has hit a brick wall; exports in free-fall, with toy, textile, footwear and furniture plants closing by the day and 40-million Chinese workers losing employment, leading to a feared "mass scale social turmoil". In a desperate move for advantage in the plunging world marketplace, China has embarked on a strategy of devaluation to ensure its products remain attractive for export, earning the wrath of other countries.

Suddenly, the openness and co-operation between countries signing on to free trade deals and encouraging emerging markets to grow with the help of patronizingly generous IMF loans, has descended into a free-for-all of national advantage in a desperate attempt to shore up critical losses.

Nothing like an economic decline, much less a financial disaster, to persuade countries to withdraw, turtle-like, into their little protective shells.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Ghandian Forbearance

Jews reached a singular place in the minds of a world looking in on the horror visited upon them through Nazi Germany's attempt at total annihilation, when the world, in its inimitable way, absorbed the enormity of the holocaust, and felt limitless compassion for the Wandering Jew. European Jews, no longer wanderers, settled throughout Europe, considering themselves legitimate and comfortable citizens of any country they resided in for centuries. Much like German Jews, who considered themselves cultured and enlightened, and German first, Jews second.

Hitler handily disposed of that little affectionate conceit, revealing to the Jewish diaspora how expendable they were, how foreign, how exotic, how different, and how insignificant their lives. That newly-found responsibility toward and even low-grade affection - or at the very least tolerance - for Jews slowly dissipated after WWII. In concert with the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel, and its ongoing, often-desperate attempts to defend itself from the equally-determined assaults of its neighbours to unseat it from the geography.

Now, with Israel no longer battling in self-defence against the Arab and Muslim countries of the Middle East - with the notable exceptions of Iran and Syria - instead, defending itself from the violent depredations foisted on its people by Islamist militias, concern for Jewish well-being from within the international community has reached its low ebb of tolerance. Israel, goes the phrase, has a right to defend itself and its people - BUT.

That equivocation speaks volumes about the larger esteem in which Jews, as a whole, are held globally. It was ever thus. The Arab population of the original area of Palestine is now, in public opinion - dispersed among other Arab countries and internationally and held within the Palestinian Territories - seen as undeserving victims of Jewish entitlement to land granted to the State of Israel at a time of international emotional upheaval and guilt.

This is a situation not lost on Arab Palestinians. They have embraced a culture of grievance, complaint and resentment, exerting their own quotient of guilt upon the countries of the United Nations to support them economically as refugees in perpetuity. Adamantly refusing to accept the reality of proportional geographical entitlement, and using their portion to establish a viable state to advance the interests of the Palestinians, autonomous for the first time in history.

This avenue of achieving normalcy and becoming a united people, capable of fending for themselves, using their vast energies and potential to become a proud nation of achievers was rejected. Thanks in no small part, initially, to their use as a pawn of universal Muslim resentment against the incursion of a 'foreign' religion in the land of Islam. That the ancient heritage of Israel and Jewry preceded that of Islam, and that the historical record supported this was immaterial.

Ongoing provocations by proxy militias comprised of piously violent jihadists posing as messengers of Allah whose sole purpose in life was to attain divine martyrdom on behalf of Islam, has kept Israel busy defending its existence. No amount of placatory offerings have been seen to suffice to encourage Muslim countries to accept the legitimate presence of Israel in the Middle East. No appeals to reason and co-operation to achieve a peaceful settlement to allow the two solitudes to go their separate ways have reached success.

Goad a country too far by continual attacks, and any country, however reluctant, has to recognize its existential duty to itself and to its people to respond in kind. After having reached a modicum of success in reaching a peace agreement with Egypt and with Jordan, and reaching out to Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf States, and now Syria, for a reasonable level of mutual accommodation, Israel had no option but to respond to continual rocket attacks against its people from Gazan terrorists.

Hamas obviously feels itself to be invincible; its verbose rhetoric of defiance and promise of the ultimate destruction of Israel, encouraged by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, had its effect. A placebo of power unequalled by the conventional military of the state next door. The useful myth that Hamas encourages the Palestinians to believe, that its purpose is to defend their best interests, gives them the support of the people, even while Hamas is singly responsible for the dire plight of that same people.

Any population can be successfully manipulated; even though Josef Stalin tyrannized and brutalized the Russian population with purges, deportations and labour camps that resulted in the deaths of over 20 million Russians, popular opinion now in Russia has elevated him to the position of being named among the greatest Russians ever to have existed. Much like the reverence bestowed upon Yasser Arafat, the accomplished political terrorist who could have achieved everything for the Palestinians and chose instead to undermine their best interests.

Now that the Israel Defence Forces have launched their air strikes on Gaza, attempting to strike at all of the Hamas offensive positions, rocket launching sites, system of tunnels whereby weapons have been smuggled into the territory, Israel is once again perceived by the international community as a brutal aggressor. It is the Hamas leadership which planned and placed munitions depots and rocket launchers within heavily civilian-populated areas, with the distinct knowledge that should Israel strike, it would be impossible for it not to harm civilians.

This represents their transparent, but ultimately successful ploy to evoke sympathy from the international community at the plight of the Palestinians, and pointing out the courage of violent Islamists at facing off against a powerful enemy. Measures certain to create a greater outcry internationally and within the Muslim world, and increasing the prestige of Hamas in the process. The Palestinian population, caught between the offenders and the defenders, ally themselves naturally with those of their own culture and traditions, preparing themselves to support those who purport to support their interests.

And, remote from the reality of the situation, world leaders express their dismay and condemnation of Israel, and its 'disproportionate' response to unendurable provocation. Everyone is 'deeply concerned'. Everyone demands an immediate cessation of hostilities. And Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is more than a little comfortable with the idea of obliterating Israel from the map of the Middle East, claims "Whoever is killed in this legitimate defence is considered a martyr".

Oh, right, the first portion of that statement from the spiritually enlightened lips of Islam's holy warrior was: "All Palestinian combatants and all the Islamic world's pious people are obliged to defend the defenceless women, children and people in Gaza in any way possible." Perniciously serene at the prospect of encouraging further and endless conflict in the name of Islam.

Whereas the other messages from world leaders distinguish themselves by their ambiguity, their biased 'neutrality', their malicious obloquy, their pathetic irony. As, for example, China's foreign ministry spokesman: "China expresses serious concern about the escalation of the tense situation in Gaza, denounces actions that cause injuries and deaths to ordinary people, opposes the use of military force in resolving disputes, appeals to related parties to exercise maximum restraint and to settle differences through dialogue."

Most certainly the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama would approve of the statesmanship of that declaration. Or, as the Turkish foreign minister has stated in his great good wisdom: "It will be more difficult to carry out Israel-Palestine peace talks healthily in 2009 under these circumstances. (Israel) might aim to weaken Hamas with the operation in Gaza. We do not share this view. Many people, some groups in the Muslim world, who see this tragedy in Gaza will feel more sympathy for Hamas because they are the victims now."


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Well Then, Think Before Committing

There was once a time when couples, eager to have a family, and finding themselves unable to, for medical reasons, adopted babies, infants and young children whom society sought to place through state-regulated adoption agencies. In this newer world order where women defend their right to control the issue of their own bodies, and women have increasingly sought termination of pregnancies, there are far fewer babies to adopt, particularly in the developed world.

There are other avenues of adoption; from afar, from developing countries where a surfeit of young children whose parents are financially incapable of raising them, or whose parents have succumbed to disease and death can be available. But then, there will always be women - and men - who passionately want to have children of their own, offspring who share their genetic inheritance. It's a striking emotional compulsion, a deep desire for many.

And for those people, in vitro fertilization has been the discovery that has enabled many to realize their dream of parenthood. In their anxiety and determination to try all and every scientific method available to produce children of their own, men and women weigh into the process of embryo-collection through in vitro fertilization. These viable embryos are stored, frozen in tanks filled with nitrogen, awaiting that time when their owners will undergo implantation in fertility clinics.

Some of these procedures will be successful, many will not. All of the wishful participants, however, are the possessors of frozen embryos retained in storage, awaiting use. For those people who finally give up on the impotent attempt to produce a child, and for those people who realize success in the final production of a child, or multiple children through a single birth, or children through multiple birth events, the 'left-over', unused embryos pose a dilemma.

Moral dilemmas come and go throughout life, and as rational beings we deal with them. But for many individuals who cannot conceive in an ordinarily functional manner, and whose personal standards lead them to abhor the decision to abort a fetus under normal circumstances, their having to reach a decision about the final disposition of unused, and therefore unwanted embryos presents a real problem. One unanticipated in the initial stages of the process of fertilization.

There's the possibility of offering additional embryos to other infertile couples, or allowing them to be used for research. Discard them? That's an agonizing choice of great indecision to a great many people who visualize the embryos as their potential offspring. Offspring they have decided, for one reason or another, to be redundant to their needs. It's estimated that there are roughly a half-million frozen embryos awaiting decision in the United States.

Canada's number is likely about 50,000. Worldwide numbers might represent the potential to populate an entire country. What to do with them? Well, they're simply tissues, a genetic tangle of material with the potential to materialize, as living, breathing, thinking, emotional human beings. There are some researchers, obstetricians, gynecologists and bioethicists who are unequivocal about the situation.

"A fertilized egg is human matter and therefore I don't feel it can be discarded if it is alive, if it is dividing. I don't have a problem with the technique of freezing embryos, except for the fact that it means there's a good potential that the frozen embryos are not going to be needed", said one doctor of a fertility clinic in Pennsylvania. It's his practise to select a specific number of embryos to be developed, leading to no 'leftover' embryos, ergo no dilemma.

Makes good sense. On the other hand, in the matter of frozen embryos, which have been kept in a state of suspended animation for years, disposal is a simple matter of immersing them in water. Moral dilemma aside, there's the matter of costs, with clinics charging anywhere from $300 to $600 annually for storage - on top of the $6,800 and $15,00 cost of each in vitro fertilization treatment cycle.

Funding better used in other ways for most people, and emotions better settled in a rational and practical manner.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Defensive Response

What is it exactly that the world cannot get its mind around when it comes to Israel defending its soil, the lives of its citizens? Against a collective pathology of poisonous hatred, a psychosis of viral grievance, blame and intent to shed Jewish blood. Hamas saw no further utility in prolonging a hudna with Israel, and unilaterally declared it null and void. Immediately commencing to send dozens of rockets across the border from Gaza into Israel.

Reinstating a barrage of fear and terror that had formerly beset the Israelis within range. Although the rocket fire had not entirely ceased, it represent a six-month lull in volatile hostile action. The towns like Sderot which have had to live under a constant barrage of rockets, destroying buildings, harming residents, traumatizing children, resulting in a total collapse of communities' existence, can no longer be held under siege by an intransigent group of moral felons.

Hamas's actions, its belligerent rhetoric and outright refusal to accept anything less than Israel's demise identifies it as a recalcitrant partner for a future independent state of Palestine, living side by side with a neighbour in peace. It must be destroyed, for it will never be willing to accommodate itself to the presence of Israel. For all the bravado of its leaders, they're outright cowards. At the first sign of force to meet the violence it metes out, they disappear into safety.

Leaving the helpless population, and Hamas's militia foot soldiers, to face the wrath of a country no longer willing to contain its response, to abide with patience in the hope that the insanity will cease. The fearless spiritual leader, hiving himself off in Syria in a secret hiding place, unwilling to be seen in public, spits the venom of pure bile at the very thought of the existence of Israel. His stalwart Gaza-located first lieutenant swiftly seeks shelter at the first sign of Israel's defensive actions.

Hamas knows full well what it does in placing its various installations in Gaza; the vulnerability of the population is of no concern to them, other than for their value in being able to claim that, in striking back at Hamas, the Israel Defence Force is heartlessly attacking helpless civilians. Israel agonizes over the difficulties facing it in combating a viciously determined enemy while at the same time trying to avoid civilian casualties.

There is the very real possibility of a two-front conflict resulting from this assault, with Hezbollah reaching out from Lebanon to launch its own rocket attacks against northern Israel. Its leader, terrorist chief Hassan Nasrallah has issued a promise to that effect, claiming it will visit upon Israel what Gaza is now experiencing. Israel may very well be faced with attacks from that source; a week ago Katyusha rockets, fully armed, were discovered pointing toward Israel from Lebanon.

Hamas appeals to the world to condemn the defensive actions of Israel, terming the IDF action analogous to genocide, an 'ugly massacre', promising retaliation of the kind common before the erection of the wall, when suicide attacks within the heart of the country atrociously, horribly, illustrated how committed Palestinian terrorists are to consigning the country and its citizens to utter destruction.

A new Palestinian peoples' uprising against Israel is being cultivated, as Hamas and Hezbollah encourage the Palestinians to rise against their oppressor. "We will not leave our land, we will not raise white flags and we will not kneel except before God", according to Ismail Haniyeh. This god whom the Islamists faithfully pay obeisance to is not one commonly envisaged by most faithful, but is portrayed instead as a vengeful, blood-lusting, martyr-demanding spiritual demon.

As Hamas and Hezbollah and lesser militias have interpreted Islam for their singular purpose, so have they modelled themselves, after a demented version of a slaughtering deity of overpoweringly relentless hatred. The Islamist jihadists busy themselves propitiating a god of unambiguously deadly conflict. They have themselves reverted to a primal surge of incandescent animus against other people.

They reverence violence, and have no compassion for the people whom they claim to represent. Treating the civilian population as dispensable fodder in their violence-inspired defence of a vicious-spirited god whose purpose and meaning they have fashioned to suit their end-game of war without end. Israel's unilateral withdrawal of its settlers from Gaza - much as its withdrawal from Lebanon - taught it a grave lesson.

Nothing will appease the unappeasable. Peace will not develop from a goodwill withdrawal to entice those whose activities were controlled by force of arms to seek a more reasonable alternative for all concerned. The militantly devoted militias are interested in one thing only; to disrupt and ultimately disable the infrastructure of the Israeli state, to utterly destroy the potential for peace between the two solitudes, and to completely pulverize Jewish life

For the meantime, the defensive assault by the IDF, one promised by Israel's government should Hamas not cease its offensive assaults has been partially successful in its mission; to uproot and destroy personnel and infrastructure of the Islamists. Through the process, and given the crowded conditions of the land, and the placement within the population of Hamas posts, there have been civilian deaths and casualties.

The poverty and misery of the Palestinian Gazans is completely inexcusable, and utterly avoidable. Their plight has resulted from the intransigence of ruling Hamas, confident in their righteousness, and unconcerned at the burden they have placed on ordinary people in Gaza. The responsibility for the damage done to civilian infrastructure, the dire conditions in which people live there, and the harm now being done to the populace is directly attributable to Hamas's actions.

Along with the destruction of Hamas's security headquarters and training camps and weapons depots, there have been civilian casualties. It would be impossible to mount a defensive incursion and assault without incurring casualties, and Hamas, in its violent belligerence, its vile agenda, knows this very well. It simply does not care, has proven in the past, just as it does now, that it is prepared to do what it wishes, regardless of civilian safety.

The anguish of Palestinians with their insecurity, their misery, their unfulfilled needs, is solvable. The will of their leaders to move toward a solution acceptable to both the Palestinians and the Israelis is simply absent. The world's heart bleeds at the prospect of increased Israeli measures to protect the citizens of Israel, but what solution does the world have to offer?

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Taken On Trust

As humans we are capable of so much, and yet so little. Most people instinctively trust other people, particularly those who share a common background, culture and tradition. But then there are always within any society, a significant number of individuals who trust no one; these are society's sociopaths and among their number psychopaths whose often random and destructive paths wreak havoc in any community. How to adequately and sufficiently judge peoples' characters?

No one has yet written a simple manual whereby people can pick up hints to identify character traits that would mark the personality of a psychopath, someone who has, by their inability to care about the welfare of others, placed themselves at an emotional remove from the rest of society. The social compact of beneficence toward others completely eludes these pathological, emotionally vacant people. They care for nothing but their own perceived comforts and needs, absent a conscience.

The agony that these social misfits can cause to society on a small or a grand scale, can be devastating in impact, yet no one is immune to becoming a victim, simply because we are collectively innocent, as opposed to the utterly blank depravity of those without conscience. There are several Greenpans in the United States, one whose first name is Alan, and who headed the Federal Reserve, now seen as culpably responsible through lack of foresight for the global meltdown.

The other is a developmental psychologist named Stephen Greenspan who wrote "Annals of Gullibility: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid It", writing knowledgeably about peoples' propensity to trust and in the process, get dreadfully stung. To his chagrin, despite his academic and professional credentials, he failed to follow his own advice, and has become yet another victim of a notably notorious sociopath, Bernard Madoff. Through a kind of social mentoring, a social 'trust' called word-of-mouth assurance.

The collapse of the U.S. - and global - financial market, and the additional spectacular loss of $50-billion of investment funds entrusted to the tender care of a morally sterile money manager, reflect one and the same circumstances. People in places of trust who made little to no effort to ensure that their machinations of financial instruments would have no victims - let alone on the grand scale seen today. They played the game their way, relying on opaqueness to mask their unsupportable gains, through peoples' trust in them.

In the greater scheme of things, one could ask, what is the more formidably unfortunate fate; to lose one's financial stability, or one's life and that of loved ones through the misadventure of trusting too freely and unquestioningly. A book-end to the global financial collapse and the following Madoff revelations, both intertwined in levels of manipulative malfeasance, each on its own, and then in combination wreaking world wide crises of financial insecurity, there is another example of human psychosis.

Just one of many that occur, when enraged men or women, but most often men, undertake to wreak personal revenge on the world around them, by targeting and eliminating the lives of those who somehow moved close to them and were singed as a a result. The result of which, in the short term, those burnt by close association, disassociated themselves, earning the violently bitter enmity of a psychopath whose further actions would spell extermination of those who spurned him.

It starts out innocently enough, with a friend of a friend introducing an acquaintance to a potential date. People are always trying to accommodate and to accomplish a ritual of matching unattached males to available females; another human instinct informed by human compassion. In this particular instance, a match, as often happens, ensued, and a single mother of three enjoyed a two-year courtship with a man she had been introduced to, and they lived cordially together for an entire two years of less than bliss.

Many personal traits are slowly revealed when living in close physical and psychological proximity to another person. Pertinent bits of data that, had they been known previously, might have prevented a woman from committing to a relationship. Her husband, she discovered, had once long ago had an affair with another woman, which produced a physically disabled child. As men often do, her husband moved on, did not commit to supporting the child or its mother, let alone binding emotionally with either.

Yet he unflinchingly used the child he had left behind as an income-tax dependent. When his wife discovered this unsavoury, truly unpalatable dimension to her husband, she realized the calibre of the person she had exposed and twinned her future to, and in the process her children, as well. A bitter separation ensued with a divorce to settle. The husband lost his job at Northrop Grumman Corp. where he had laid unsupportable claim to a master's degree from University of Southern California on his profile with the company.

This was the man who, on Christmas Eve, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit and fitted out with three handguns and a canister of flammable liquid, visited the home of his former wife's parents where a party was taking place. The eight-year-old child who answered the doorbell was shot directly in the face with a semi-automatic. Other revellers were shot, the flammable liquid distributed and the house set aflame. Among the nine people killed was the 17-year-old son of the friend who had introduced the murderer to his wife, Sylvia.

The killer, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, drove to his brother's house where he committed suicide. His plan had gone slightly awry; he had meant to leave for a flight to Canada directly following his murder spree, with $17,000 in cash, but suffering unanticipated burns from the fire, took his life instead. Not before booby-trapping his rental care with a home-made bomb. Exhibiting a hatred so intense that he planned to kill as many people as possible, including anyone who might happen to retrieve the car.

This is just a discrete example of the kind of dread misery people in all their innocence can visit upon themselves in the act of surrendering to the very human impulse of trusting and caring for others. Although these are discordant notes in human society, hardly representative of most peoples' actions and emotional disorders, their very grimness and the toll they take on the human psyche spreads in a pool of emotional disorder far wider than their immediate victims.

Solution? There is none. Hope? There is an entire universe of more emotionally fulfilling, life-accommodating stories that ensure we recall ourselves to the memory of those who gave us life through a long continuum of human devotion one to the other. The aberrations that so direly affect society are just that; aberrations. Normative associations express the best of humanity's potential.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Fallout From The Fallout

As though the global economic meltdown wasn't enough of a worrying mess, sending financial markets into a tailspin, manufacturers into insolvency, and consumers into a panic, with governments equally rattled, trying to spend their country out of financial doom. Rising unemployment, home losses, retail sales plummeting, and consumers unable to obtain bank loans - we're facing a tight situation for the near future, in the hopes that this sacrifice of quality of life will see its worst through the coming year, delivering us into normalcy by 2010.

And then a high-roller, a much esteemed and inordinately trusted investment house sees its principle informing his family that he has managed, single-handedly, to embezzle $50-billion dollars out of the world economy, leaving the financial community reeling, and the people and businesses and institutions he impacted in a nightmare of disbelief. Those investors in his interest-high-return scheme who withdrew some or part of their funds within the last six years, for whatever reason, might have breathed an initial sigh of relief at their escape from beggary.

But the lawyers, sharpening their wits and their pencils in an all-out series of ground-breaking lawsuits will do their utmost to ensure that those funds, inclusive of original investment and interest, be returned to the pot for what might be considered to be a fair distribution - of, actually, not a hell of a lot, considering the size of the original pot, now melted. And in a notoriously litigious society, lawyers must surely be salivating, sitting on the edge of their seats with excitement over the new potential for fat fees in prosecuting money managers who bought into Madoff Investments on behalf of their clients.

One such fund investor who heavily funnelled his clients' fortunes into the sure-fire high-interest return guaranteed by Bernard Madoff's reliably sterling company, was J. Ezra Merkin, through his two investment companies, Gabriel Capital LP fund and Ariel Fund Ltd. At this very moment, his many, and storied clients, are none too amused that the Angels of the Old Testament, Gabriel and Ariel, whose names truly were taken in vain, have proven to be devilishly unlike the remunerative angels they thought Mr. Merkin and Mr. Madoff represented.

Talk about slovenly professional conduct; all those smart money managers who took funding from their fabulously wealthy and trusting clients to re-invest with Madoff Investments without an inkling of an idea how it might be even remotely possible that - with universal low interest rates - Madoff Investments was able to grandly guarantee a return on investment of 10%, goes unanswered. As pithy a question as could be imagined, but logical explanations are not to be found, other than that they speak to the greed of people not really wanting to know how and why, just eager to collect.

The largest private university in the United States, New York University, has been stung by Madoff's scheming, along with fabulously wealthy men and women, celebrities, philanthropic societies, and more bedevilled unfortunates being unveiled day by day. Yeshiva University, also ponzied, did not really have to politely ask both Mr. Merkin, chairman of GMAC LLC and the now-disgraced Bernard Madoff to resign from its board of directors. One does wonder, however, how both men, particularly Mr. Madoff, resigns himself to his growing reputation as the most disreputable, detested investment guru in history?

And one wonders, does he give a thought to the ruined lives of frantic people trying to figure out how to forge ahead for their now-bleak futures? Granted, those with stacks of money, invested a portion of it with him, and will have plenty to live on, while ruing the day they ever heard of him. But there are others with vastly more modest wealth now left bereft. And the blackened reputation of otherwise respected money managers like Theirry Magon de la Villehuchet who did business with Madoff International was enough to bring him to suicide.

Does Mr. Madoff have a conscience? Wouldn't anyone be fascinated to hear the words of uplift and encouragement emanating from the lips of his loyal wife, his two sons whose reputations and future in the industry - let alone the society and the world they live in - he has destroyed?

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pushed To The Brink

The prime minister of Israel has appealed to the ordinary citizens of Gaza, Palestinians whose lives and fortunes have been represented for the past year and more by the Islamist terror group Hamas, to reject their rule, to refuse to be represented by them, and above all, to rebel against the onslaught on Jewish territory of Kassam rockets which disrupt and terrorize other civilians, across their border.

The appeal is unlikely to result in the merest wisp of a reaction. Even if Palestinians might not agree with the actions of the Hamas leaders, they know full well that to express any kind of misgivings is to open themselves to accusations of treachery, of consorting with the enemy. The penalties are swift and final. There might well have been a time, years ago, when Gazans could have halted the empowerment of Hamas, but that time is now long past.

As things stand now, they are in the position of being represented by a terror militia which claims that it has the full support of the broad spectrum of the population whose best interests they purport to represent. Not by responsible civil actions, in agreeing to represent the best interests of the population by demanding their rights through civil discourse and mutually agreed-upon actions to be undertaken by both sides, to legitimize separate and autonomously-governed nations, however.

Hamas's game is to spread hatred, create grievances, to attack and to taunt for the purpose of inciting attacks on the civilian population in Gaza. To enable it to express their indignation at the human rights abuses imposed upon Palestinians by the oppressive nature of their brutal overseers. It's an endless cycle of hatred, anger, attack and response, accomplishing nothing worthwhile for either side.

Like Hezbollah, which, during its inconclusive war with Israel, resorted to launching attacks against the IDF from behind a barrier of civilian enclaves, to entice the IDF to respond in the midst of civilians, enabling the terrorist group to claim that Israel's forces deliberately targeted innocent people, Hamas too engages in erecting a human barricade of defenceless civilians to further their agenda.

A militant group of fanatical haters, who target Israel as an interloper whose presence will not be tolerated, demanding the return of the geography to Palestinian and Islamic rule, will not be moved by reason. There is no reasonable accommodation possible between a government and a quasi-government of a people taught from the cradle to fear and distrust and hate Jews, as representative of the oppressors of Muslims.

An organized group of terror practitioners who profit by teaching children, through scholastic publications, academic primary education, television programs, that Jews are evil with their singular brutal intent against Palestinians, has no interest in promoting an atmosphere of potential reconciliation between peoples.

A determined group like Hamas who sees nothing wrong and everything right with exposing vulnerable children to the appeal of surrendering their lives to Allah through willing sacrifice as a blessed Shaheed, has no need of bargaining for peace. It bargains instead for a hudna, a brief period of respite where it can re-arm to fight another, propitious day.

There is no appeasement of such intransigent brutality that will not recognize the humanity existing in other people, other cultures, other religions. They live to express violence and hatred, and can only be vanquished through the kind of language they themselves express, through the response of an armed force whose purpose is to protect the citizens of a country reluctantly at war.

They leave no other alternative.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yet Another African Success Story

Yesterday news was released of the death, after a lengthy illness, of the president of Guinea, Lansana Conte. A man who had come to power through a military coup, and who had ruled the country like an iron-fisted despot for 24 years. Guinea, with nine million people, is considered to be one of the poorest nations on Earth. Despite that the country has been bestowed by its geography with eminently saleable commodities such as bauxite, iron, gold and diamond reserves.

So, where does the profit from the sale of those both pedestrian and precious metals and minerals go? In true African tradition, it lines the very deep pockets of the ruling and military elite. The people suffer, as populations are wont to do, ruled by their self-entitled and -availing tyrants. Like Mr. Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Mr. Conte considered himself to be a "man of the people". The people also thought of him in these terms. Until of late when they have become restive.

When colonial powers finally release their one-time conquests from their interfering and resource-voracious grasp, a universal sigh of relief exhales from the minds of forward-thinking people everywhere. That yet another country has been liberated from the grasping occupation of a foreign power. Generally, while under the influence of that foreign power, fundamental institutions of governance to advance the social and political fortunes of the country have been instituted to mirror those of the controlling foreign power.

The liberated countries then seek to emulate in large portion the ruling governmental fundamentals they have been exposed to and taught to trust in. While often expressing those same democratic principles in their own inimitable manner, as, basically, rigid autocracies with a thin veneer of civilizing democracy. It takes people whose traditions have been steeped in tribal culture, a while longer to distinguish between authentic democracy and quasi-democracy, if ever.

And now, with the departure of the country's president to a world far beyond that of his recently living presence, Guinea stands on the cusp of another kind of social revolution; a bit of a departure from the orderly reliance on democratic transfer of power from one elected entity to another. The current prime minister is facing a revolt from much of the country's military, a coup that he denies has captured control of major areas.

The UN condemns the situation, demanding a return to the honouring of the country's constitution and an orderly transition. The United States and France also, urge the coup leaders to rescind their intentions and give the country an opportunity to adjust itself to a new reality. The 26 military officers and six civilians that comprise the "national council for democracy and development" determined to wrest power are, however, intent on unseating the government.

They claim to have suspended the constitution, and in the process have suspended the legitimacy of all government institutions. They have not threatened, nor used force to attain their ends. For that, at least, the people of the country must feel some relief and gratitude. And, if they're successful in overthrowing the current government, perhaps they'll prove to be more mindful of the needs of those whom they represent than had been the dear departed and his governing coterie.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Vicar of God

Pope Benedict XVI is relentless in his war against homosexuality. As though it represents a villainously-planned and deliberately sinister assault against the Church. The good pope paints homosexuality as a ruinous road toward human extinction. An offence against humanity that must be rigidly battled. He doesn't, he declares, have anything much against homosexuals. No, it's their sexuality that bothers him. Why must they practise their version of sex?

It does, after all, go against the grain. God gave life to man and then He created woman to complement man. Odd that God hadn't bethought himself to create woman first, and on second thought, bring man to life. In the order that the birth of the genders were said to have been created, one might imagine some confusion; after all, isn't it the gender that actually gives birth to humankind to be slightly elevated in regard to the enabler?

Regardless, Pope Benedict forgives homosexuals their truly unfortunate choice of gender identification, a confused and lamentable one, a curse on humanity. Let them but cease and desist and all would be well. Somehow, it doesn't appear to have occurred to him that when men brought into holy orders and swearing to a life of celibacy in celebration and awe of their God, then surreptitiously prey on parishioners, women and children, something is fundamentally wrong.

If men serving a higher purpose in giving over their lives to God, are incapable of stifling their primitive animal urges, why should ordinary men whose orientation is toward other men offer to sacrifice their sexuality to a sterile existence, merely to please this vicar of God? But he is adamant; as things stand, blurring the distinction between the genders is offensive to God.

Sex between a male and a female of the species has the distinct purpose of producing new life, new generations. Thus are we formed and designed and engendered. To do otherwise is to present an offence to the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict equates transsexuality and homosexuality with the eventual destruction of humankind, a disease that afflicts the world. It may be a slight aberration of nature, but a danger against the longevity of humankind?

Animal behaviourists have pointed out their observations that gender confusion exists in animals other than humans. How peculiar is that? Not particularly, it would appear. Perhaps it's possible that all animals have the capacity of bi-sexuality. Any old port in a storm. Or the need for close physical contact to produce not merely physical pleasure, but a serene assurance of having, belonging, being.

While it's undeniable that nature has constructed humankind in and for deliberately dissimilar forms and purposes, endowing us with attributes reflective of gender, differentiating between male and female for the purpose of reproduction, there always have been and always will be, some confusions within nature.

It's not mere role playing, but biological identity and destiny; occasionally the hard-wiring gets unplugged. Live with it. Love others as you would have them respect you.

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It's A Dumb Deal

Most assuredly it's that, and it's also, now a done deal. For the United States, the auto industry has been tossed a life-line for the short order of the near future, with a number of provisos it must live up to. For Canada, our share of the Big Three automakers' future positioning and job-production was announced jointly by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Canada would assume a 20% burden of offering tax dollars from the country's treasury to lift General Motors of Canada and Chrysler Canada out of the dumps their inferior product production has leveraged them into. There are certain expectations incumbent on the automakers for the rare privilege of a Conservative-led government agreeing to loosen tax dollars to ensure they remain here, employing Canadians.

The gratefulness of the automakers is persuasive to a degree, but does not assuage the deep suspicion that most Canadians greet the bail-out with. For it's fairly universal, the expectation that, despite the hand-up, despite the sincere promises to tighten expenditures and begin to produce reliable vehicles that people can rely on, the companies will ultimately fail to pull themselves out of insolvency.

The result? Chapter 11 in the U.S., bankruptcy declarations in Canada. The nomenclature may vary, the results are alarmingly similar. The funding that came with a pay-back offer worthy of an honest loan, will disappear into thin air, and the taxpayer will be left, bemused, holding the bag. This is definitely not seen to be in the best interests of the country as a whole.

Nice for those whose jobs depend on it, but it's a stop-gap measure at best. Besides which, we're talking about an industry whose unions have been able to wrest concessions worthy of the elites of the business world, not of factory workers. The remuneration of autoworkers is at least twice that of most workers, far more than that of service workers. And we're increasingly a service-oriented workforce.

So how does it make sense that someone earning $20, $30, or $40 an hour should assume the responsibility of saving factory jobs earning $70 an hour? Particularly when those workers earning in the rage of $20 to $40 an hour are increasingly losing their own jobs? No one is lining up representing government coffers to give them a lift out of their unemployment misery.

Entitle one industry to expect government largess, and then prepare to explain to any number of other worthy industries like mining, forestry, fishing, technology, that it is only the auto industry that qualifies for this kind of assistance, not they. What kind of sense does that make? Little wonder that the majority of Canadians across the country reject the necessity to bail out the auto industry.

It benefits, for one thing, the Province of Ontario. Which handily explains why Canadians living elsewhere are rather less than enthusiastic about the bail-out. Yet even in Ontario, it's only a slight majority that will agree to the perceived necessity of helping the automakers get through the next few months to redirect themselves toward salvation through restructuring.

What's taken them so long? They've been producing built-in obsolescence for generations. It's only the irrationality of sloppy-minded fealty to a "North American-built" product that has kept them going for far longer than they deserve. When the reality was that their engineering and product-quality was clearly inferior to that of imports from Japan.

Adding insult to injury has been the daily full-page advertising undertaken by General Motors to boost their bleary image in the reading public's esteem by boasting of the mechanical and design prowess of their inferior vehicles. Now the die is cast, the deed is done, and we can sit back and watch while they become truly undone.

Can't blame the government entirely; the media and the automakers have been trumpeting disaster, promising the unthinkable; the loss of a half-million auto-making-related jobs in the country. The pressure is on, people have been panicking in an already-frantic financial environment; whether or not it expresses reality, it expresses a general perception of need.

And then there's another reality, the Canadian Auto Workers' Ken Lewenza's warning that his members are not prepared to agree to any wage or benefit sacrifices. Their $70-an-hour wages rather eclipse those of Honda and Toyota workers set at $45 an hour. And while the union is refusing to relent on wages, they'll be expected to give something back.

Other perquisites, like paying workers' legal bills at house buying; scholarship funds and charitable causes. And the Special Paid Absence days workers receive over and above sick leave and paid vacation days. The rich employee costs of Canadian autoworkers with the Big Three don't help to move the companies toward future viability.

Much as the union protests and denies and struggles, reality is that the Canadian taxpayer represented by hundreds of thousands whose own jobs have been forfeit by the downed economy aren't the only ones who will have to make sacrifices.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Equal Opportunity Betrayal

Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, a highly esteemed, trusted and prestigious investment firm had a multitude of trusting clients. Not only individual and family clients of social distinction and great wealth, but charitable institutions whose philanthropic work went a long way to increasing the quality of life for many.

And then there are the financial institutions who took their clients' funds and invested them with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. What explanations do these financial wizards, these experts in money management now advance to their questioning clients reeling under the discovery that their wealth is exponentially diminished?

The colossal losses that resulted from Mr. Madoff's puzzling and reckless scheme represents a mind-boggling disruption of peoples' lives and expectations, and the loss to society of organizations whose purpose has been to enrich peoples' lives through their charitable work.

At a time when the world's economy has been in free-fall, to have a financial catastrophe of this magnitude erupt is simply unimaginable in its scope and destructive fall-out.

On the other hand, one can only wonder at the immense failings of financial overseers. And investment experts. And academics who proclaim their knowledge of global financial institutions and best practises in the world of global finance. Has no one the capability of engaging their professional and academic experience to detect these high-grade and slow-simmering malfeasances?

And the investors themselves and their advisers, complacent that their investments invariably produced puzzlingly large returns on an annual basis, irrespective of the general economy's performance. Mightn't that alert anyone with a modicum of common sense that something was fundamentally awry? Seems not; as long as those nice hefty returns kept rolling in, Mr. Madoff was considered a genius and no one wanted to ask questions, delve into the mechanics, and possibly upset the apple cart.

The goose that lays golden eggs doesn't take kindly to being lifted from its nest so the curious can satisfy their desire to understand just how it is possible for a bird to divest itself steadily of a precious metal, a gold standard recognized and valued the world over. It hisses when anyone comes too near and in the process makes it sufficiently nervous to halt production.

Overnight, billionaires rendered penniless; at the very least, reduced to the meagre status of a millionaire. Charities so dependent on the goodwill of supporters, satisfied that their charity of choice knows how to handle their generous donations, and then suddenly, all to naught. The funding collapsed, nothing left, the charity incapable of producing the social goods that charities are tasked with. And in these financially thin times where will further donations come from?

Peoples' cherished ideals of responsibility to the community, trust in those who present as bursting with integrity and purpose, summarily dismissed, dashed in the reality of human avarice and cunning schemes to deprive others of their wherewithal.

But in the final analysis, a question: Why? Why would any man who has earned a coveted place of respect in his society, world-wide acclaim for his creative money management, descend to such a low place?

And finally, will public trust in financial institutions ever fully recover? Will we be wiser for the experience? Doubt it.

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The Cherished Abducted

Parents cherish their children, do they not? Not, perhaps. It's entirely likely they cherish, for example, tradition, their expectations, family honour, and religious precepts. Forced marriages as a result of parents' inability to imagine without a distinct sense of horror and personal tragedy, a child's choice that runs counter to parental, customary and religiously obligatory expectations, render some women, and girls, victims of their families' intentions for them to conform.

In Bangladesh, as occurs elsewhere in the Muslim world, women and girls are expected to marry the man of their parents' choice. Bearing in mind, needless to say, that the parents, in the goodness of their hearts, have the very best interests of their female offspring at heart. Which is precisely why they prefer, hugely, monumentally, on pain of distraction and death, to have their girls marry a Muslim man. It is so ordained and so shall it be.

Even if that man happens to be inordinately unappealing to their daughters, even if he is aged and decrepit. For customs and traditions and religious imperatives are not to be denied. All are sacred. A girl's desires and hopes for her own future are distinguishing characteristics to be sure, but hardly aspirational fodder to be sustained in a society whose customs are not to be denied, lest family honour be irremediably tarnished.

Britain has undertaken to arm itself legally with the means by which its courts can successfully thwart the intentions of such parental obligations to their offspring. There have been, latterly, a number of young girls who have been spirited out of Britain by their parents for the purpose of marrying them off to parental-approved men of suitable heritage. Once a reality, presumably, the girls will submit to their fate and become, as their parents and their society wills them to; submissive wives. Tradition demands no less.

And here's the case of a 32-year-old Bangladeshi woman, one with a mind of her own, and a very distinguished one at that, having acquired a medical degree. She studied in England and was undergoing an internship there when she received an emergency call from her parents to return home to Bangladesh as her beloved and loving mother was ill. Dr. Humayra Abedin did as any devoted daughter would; she returned and the ruse commenced to play out according to the fate her parents designed for her.

When she arrived at her family's home in August, she was physically bundled by a group of very determined parental helpers into a room and locked in there. She was not permitted to leave the house, and was supervised by guards, up to five at a time. Little did they imagine she had her own, modern SOS resources, sending text messages to friends in Britain, to appeal for their help in rescuing her from an unwanted fate.

When her tactic for rescue was discovered she was informed she was expected at the local police station for a passport inspection. Her captors instead installed her in an ambulance, where, her head covered, she was gagged and taken to a clinic, the Hi Tech Modern Psychiatric Hospital. Nice; in socially backward, religiously strictured Bangladesh, there exists a "hi tech, modern" psychiatric hospital. Talk about doublespeak.

There she was kept, in a drugged condition until November, injected with what she surmised were mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic drugs which she was helpless to struggle against. Her parents helpfully informed her that she had been dismissed from her position in Britain and would be barred from re-entry to the country. Shortly afterward she was taken to another house, and from there to Khuina for her wedding.

She was married, according to custom and tradition - under medication to ensure compliance - to a very respectable and educated man, a good Muslim, and just incidentally, another medical practitioner, Dr. Khondokar Mohammad Abdul Jalal. Dr. Abedin, it would appear, had astonished, offended and distressed her parents greatly by informing them that she had a relationship back in England, with a practising Hindu Oh, heaven forfend!

British justice to the rescue! Under the Forced Marriage Protection Act, in effect in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as of last month, British nationals, along with those resident in Britain are protected from forced marriages being imposed upon them. Bearing in mind that, despite Dr. Abedin's more mature age of 32, young Muslim girls are often forced into such arranged marriages, a situation seen by the authorities in Britain as unlawful and harmful coersion.

When an injunction was issued by a British justice against Mohammad Joynal Abedin, and Begum Sofia Kamal, the young woman's parents, as well as against an uncle, and the man whom she was forced to marry, a Bangladeshi court saw fit to obey the British High Court order. Dr. Abedin has made it abundantly clear she is relieved to have been removed from her ordeal, but she has no wish to have her parents punished.

She has taken steps to have her lawyers see that her marriage is annulled. She also feel it it within her rights to instruct her lawyers to take "whatever steps they think appropriate" against the clinic that held her by force, against her wishes, complicit with her parents' desires. "If they can do that to a trained doctor, God knows what they could do to a 19-year-old", said one of her lawyers.

As for Dr. Abedin, now back in Britain, her life re-commences.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Riots And Closures

Actually, it's the other way around. Factory closures are causing increasing riots. People like to be employed. They require the opportunity to earn a living wage. Without which they cannot feed themselves or their families. And while the world at large is experiencing huge difficulties in the aftermath of the initial warnings of a financial collapse which has veered them unerringly into recession and depression status, the largest, most populous country in the world finds itself in troubling times.

Amazing, how speedily events turn. From a scant six months earlier when China presented as the fastest-growing economy in the world, with a vast factory output and an immense trade world wide, suddenly everything has come to a shuddering halt. Just like that; from a plethora of export opportunities with more, far more to come, to penurious collapse. Gone the fervently-anxious importation into countries all over the world of inexpensive Chinese products and foodstuffs.

As countries' economies have contracted, imported products have suddenly become redundant to their more immediate functioning needs. More compelling needs elementary to surmounting the growing crisis of their faltering financial situation. A world that so recently clamoured for Chinese-produced merchandise suddenly finds itself quite able to get along without them, thank you very much.

Now China, that vast emporium of clever entrepreneurs and migrant workers whose industry was successful in closing down countless factories and producers in countries throughout Europe and North America, struggles with the evaporation of its nascent economic kingdom. Half of the country's exporters of toys have collapsed. Fully 670,000 small companies have now closed, and with those closures roughly 6.7 million jobs have vanished, for starters.

Consumer confidence has tumbled within the country as people face the doubly-disturbing spectres of tight times and lost jobs. Construction projects are in hibernation, car sales stalled, and property prices have collapsed. The country's stock markets have lost over half their value. Mass layoffs as increasing numbers of factories close, have sent the economy into a further tailspin.

The World Bank is predicting that China's growth is on track to slow below the 8% required to ensure that jobs are produced for the 24-million people annually entering its work force. What is emerging now from this gloomy snapshot of a halted economy is the increasing number of violent strikes and protests. A country the size of China's cannot contend with social instability on such a vast scale.

In northwestern China, a government plan to redevelop a city centre and in the process throw thousands out of their homes, creating further job losses, has incurred the violent wrath of those involved, with rampaging citizens burning cars, attacking government buildings and battling police with rocks and iron bars.

For its part, a worried Beijing has brought forward a $586-billion stimulous plan of infrastructure renewal and spending for housing. The country's central bank has slashed interest rates, and the government has introduced subsidies to entice people to begin spending their way out of a recession. However, since 38% of the country's economy is dependent on exports, it promises to a long journey.

China's dependence on the financial health of the rest of the world, so latterly desirous of obtaining cheap Chinese merchandise, ensures that it will be incapable of controlling its own financial destiny until such time as its world-wide customers find themselves once again in good health. Given the curious inability of financial experts to postulate a reason for the ongoing crisis, let alone a prognosis for recovery, that may be some time to come.

Meanwhile, China will find itself increasingly facing an internal revolt as its people become more militant and provoke the government to act decisively in the interests of putting down violent protests and impotent strikes. The result of which will not be pretty, encouraging the government to discard its present velvet-gloved responses, resorting to the more familiar totalitarian-style control the world so abhors.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Legends of our Times

The world's latest example of a living legend exerts the prowess of his intellectual decision-making in the choices and installations he selects to surround himself with cerebral, practical and experienced individuals, outstanding in their public endeavours, now being elevated to positions of collective political influence and power. President-elect Obama has been steadily drawing people to him, to assist him in the executive administration of the world's single most powerful, and wealthiest country.

He has dedicated himself to fulfilling the promise he held out to the American electorate; that he would undertake to produce for them, a fairer, more empathetic and just society. He would accomplish this new world order - for no one has any doubts that whatever social, political or economic journey the United States embarks upon will impact the rest of the world's fortunes - by advancing an new structure, a new imperative upon that republican democracy.

The critical function of his appointments bespeaks the eventual success of his aspirations on behalf of his fellow Americans. The choices he makes and the directions he takes are of prime importance to the world outside, looking in. And there's an odd, niggling little doubt in the process. Surely, democracy is celebrated for taking its guidance from the people, the population that elects its final, considered choice to represent their interests.

Yet it is a commonplace occurrence for the incoming executive body to be personally selected from among a coterie of individuals, outstanding in their fields of endeavour, be it industrial, academic or professional, or just simply as good and trusted friends of the incoming president, rather than be represented through the electoral process. That seems quite at odds with the precepts and values of a democracy.

President-elect Barak Obama has made his selections through the ranks of elected officials in both the Democratic and Republican parties, but he has also carefully elevated to high public office people in industry, academia, other levels of government, and his own political supporters. That doesn't seem consonant with democracy; rather presenting as an admixture of democratic action wedded to autocratic embellishment of opportunities.

When George W. Bush selected his close cabinet colleagues, he reached into private industry for his Secretary of Defence and his vice-President. As history tells us, upon the assumption of the identification of an "axis of evil" the president turned truth upside down in his determination to invade Iraq. The consequences of that war has materially benefited the bottom-line coffers of armaments and reconstruction and private militia groups his high-ranked officials represented.

Dwight D. Eisenhower knew well of what he spoke when he warned Americans to "beware the military-industrial complex". Enlarged to include compliant government, as a trifecta of questionable purpose resulting in a failed enterprise but an economic windfall for the usual suspects.

There are cultivated categories of public celebratory renown that the public at large renders obeisance toward as superior beings existing in the sea of mediocre talent and aspirations surrounding them. The cult of celebrity, wealth, power; that triad of aspirational achievement standing as the pinnacle of perfection in society. And when one has celebrity and wealth, then there is just the power to be aspired toward. In the case of America's traditional political aristocracy, the convention thrives.

Here is the daughter, now past the half-century mark, invoking the cherished memory of her father, John F. Kennedy, he of "Camelot" fame never quite realized. She has achieved her position in her society through her descent. She has busied herself with the usual do-gooding imperative of the idle rich, in cultural philanthropy. An obligatory social noblesse oblige. Power and public duty adds another dimension entirely to one's lifetime resume and personal legacy.

She wishes now to be acclaimed and elevated to a now-vacant position in the Senate to represent the State of New York; a nice little temporary occupational plum, despite her utter lack of personal political experience. The political dynasties of the Kennedy and Bush families do so very much resemble the banana-republic antics of self-entitlement seen so often in underdeveloped, democratically-challenged countries of the world.

One can only ask, with a modicum of sincerity, how different Caroline Kennedy's resolve to sit in the Senate, as an untried and inexperienced political leader, is from the now infamous debate swirling around Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's attempts to "barter" to the highest bidder, former Senator Barak Obama's Senate seat. In Caroline Kennedy's case old favours are being called in; in that of the Illinois governor's, filthy lucre.

Is there really that much difference? A question of the medium of exchange. The results being similar. What a truly peculiar set of situations and complex undertakings under the guise of a participatory democracy.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

What?!! Really!!

Here is Argentine ambassador Jorge Arguello, presenting a gay rights declaration to the UN General Assembly, signed by a third of the world's UN member-countries. "We urge states to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention."

This appeal was constructed in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which outlines in Article One that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." Every member country of the United Nations has signed on to that Universal Declaration, effectively acquiescing to the values and the rights elucidated in that signal document.

Yet it's the usual travesty of reality coming bang-up against purported assent that takes place regularly within the hallowed sanctuary of the United Nations. Where, although all member countries claim to distinguish themselves by the recognition of their human rights obligations, many regularly practise the most vicious human-rights violations within their countries through government practise.

Despite which, seldom does the body utter a single world of condemnation against well-known human rights states-violators. Even when such an egregious and startling statement as the intent of one member country to destroy the physical presence of another in its entirety is voiced in the General Assembly, calm and the pretense of dignity, allied with the facade of diplomacy prevail.

So that, while 66 countries gathered their diplomatic and ethical-moral resources to sign on to the gay rights declaration, they represent but a portion of the 192 member countries, some of which practise a strange type of human rights protection against their populations through which homosexuality may be punished by a death sentence. Representing as a true inconvenience in the chamber of human rights protection.

However, the stand to decriminalize homosexuality is rejected by some surprising, and some unsurprising national entities. Overwhelmingly, it is rejected by the Vatican. How's that? The religious body responsible for the spiritual and moral well-being of well over a billion people throughout the world, condemns unequivocally people whose sexual orientation is not approved by them. It will not support decriminalization.

Yet in the Arab world of Islamic dictates against the disgusting scourge of homosexuality, where the Koran recommends dire punishments to correct or expunge the malefactor, there was not an overwhelming rejection; rather the position was said to have been rejected by several Arab countries.

Now there's progress for you.

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Questions Abound

There is the presumed legitimacy of the invasion of Afghanistan; routing the Taliban for their support of al-Qaeda, refusing to relinquish their leader - Osama bin Laden, who admitted to creating the plot to gift the United States with 9-11 - on polite request. The United Nations and indeed the world at large, outraged at the murderous audacity of the catastrophe of the destruction of so many lives in the World Trade Towers, was willing to lend a hand to disrupt the activities and future intent of the al-Qaeda terrorists.

But Iraq? Where was the connection between the two? None, nothing to connect Sunni Baathist Iraq with al-Qaeda; their interests did not diverge, their agendas were wildly dissimilar, they had no truck with one another. But the invasion of Iraq did occur, the murderously tyrannical Saddam Hussein removed, and a storm of sectarian hatred and violence unleashed on an already-dispirited population. That sectarian antipathy that the presence of Saddam Hussein kept leashed through fear of his own brand of retaliation against order of his regime.

The sad reality is that not only is the incidence of violent suicide attacks continuing within the country, but during the course of the occupation foreign jihadists from other Arab and Islamic countries steadily infiltrated Iraq's borders to fight alongside - or against - their embattled Islamic brethren against the infidel. And in the Muslim world in general resentment and brutish fury built up against the blasphemous invasion of Muslim geography by Western troops.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted, when announcing his country's spring pull-out from the country that their departure gave sense to satisfaction gained from the assurance that they would be leaving Iraq "a better place" than it was when they had arrived. Certainly he made no mention of British forces' presence in Iraq having the effect of diminishing safety and peace in his own country. As a result of young Muslim men becoming furiously offended at Britain's role in occupying a Muslim country.

To the extent that young Muslims, born and raised in Britain, in their rage were vulnerable to the blandishments of clerical recruiters to Islamic jihad, and went abroad with the resolve to kill their own countrymen. And many others decided to just sit things out at home, and take revenge by bombing London's subway system and public bus transit. And others who planned to blow up night clubs and busy shopping malls. And clerics thundering death to Britain from their pulpits in British mosques.

And, lastly, young Iraqi men, medical professionals, taking their education in Britain, practising in Britain, conspiring to wreak wholesale death in that country to avenge their countrymen, hundreds of thousands of whom died during the past six years of invasion, occupation and battle against bitter dissidents and terror groups. However, the foreign invaders and occupiers, the last of which are now preparing to evacuate the country leaving it to its own divided recourse to justice and honour, feel complacent that they have done their job well.

Introducing democracy to a culture and a tradition that has never known it, and that will inevitably practise it in a manner quite adverse to its original introduction. And, like the resurgent hydra-headed Taliban, spreading itself throughout areas of Afghanistan thought previously cleansed of them, the Baath party is attempting to resurrect itself, to plan a possible coup, to restore itself to primacy in governing the country. What a surprise, just imagine, the dragon refuses to die.

If it becomes successful eventually, will another strong man emerge to further victimize the country? Will, on the other hand, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council exert its authority eventually, and permit Iran to consume the sovereignty of Iraq? Or will the current government be re-elected, by the people, for the people, and become capable of instituting some measure of accommodation between the various sects, and advance peace?

Ask me a question and I'll tell you no lies.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reaping Intervention Rewards

Six years the "Coalition of the Willing" have been stationed in Iraq, a country far removed in geographic distance, politics, religion, traditions and customs from those of most countries who had agreed to help the United States remove Saddam Hussein from his totalitarian aeryie. Well over one hundred thousand foreign troops helping to invade and occupy a country riven with sectarian hatred, controlled by the iron grip of its murderous dictator.

Well, the world is full of vicious dictators whose impact on their populations is despotic and soul-destroying. Benevolence is not a virtue that most totalitarian governments extend to their long-suffering populations. And these countries, whose values and human rights are trampled into the dust of history by a succession of ruthless self-empowering tyrants somehow muddle along from one social disaster to another, the world looking on, pityingly, while the UN issues its useless appeals and sanctions.

For reasons known best to himself, and perhaps involving his father's unfinished business with an irredentist Baghdad, in a demonstration that he's a more unflinching champion of the underdog and America's oil investments than his father in rescuing Kuwait from Saddam's clutches, George W. Bush would not be dissuaded from his intention to turn his vast armed resources on that country. And to cajoling others to join his adventure, giving it the legitimacy that the UN's denial revoked.

Now, a new Iraq, still beset with violence, still faced with simmering sectarian resentments, is ushering out on a note of self-confidence, its former occupiers. Suicide missions continue in the country, relatively abated in occurrence. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced a departure date of May 31, when 4,100 British troops will leave for home. Relief, and smiling faces all around. It only cost the British the lives of 178 of its military.

No word as to the wounded, those adjusting to life bereft of some critical limbs. Those whose mental state will never again be quite what it formerly was. Those whose marriages and families have been shattered, reflecting the state of their own now-fragile personalities. Pity also, those lives lost to the peculiar phenomenon of "friendly fire". They're soon to be on the move though, those troops, going home.

Their sojourn in Iraq was the cause of much internal anguish in the country; so many in the population rejected the theory that there was a need to deploy there, in Iraq. And that military operation from the British perspective, cost its treasury almost $13-billion, funds that might have gone a very long way in other areas, invested in Britain itself. International obligations, don't you see...

However, there's much satisfaction in a job well done. And Mr. Brown said as much, stating that British forces, in leaving that embattled country would be leaving Iraq "a better place". Tell that to the families of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who perished throughout those occupation years, whose lives were rent asunder through the impact of lawlessness, societal breakdown, indiscriminate and gruesome murder.

"It is important to remember we have been engaged in the most difficult and challenging of work: the task of overthrowing a dictatorship, the work of building a democracy for the future and defending it against terrorism. And of course the work of giving people an economic stake in the future of Iraq. We leave Iraq a better place as a result of it."

So much is perspective, isn't it? How one interprets events and outcomes? That overthrown dictatorship, bloody as it was, was a construct of the people for the people. Any population that has been as deeply impacted through the loss of human rights as that of Iraq, has the option of gathering internal strength from one another in a collective repudiation of the status quo.

This is, after all, a geography where two neighbours felt justified in going to war against one another, sending their young men, and then finally their youth, to certain death on a battlefield sodden with the useless spilling of their blood. Both Iraq and Iran lost countless of their populations - always expendable during times of traditional Middle East tribal wars of attrition - settling disagreements in their pathologically customary manner.

It is a silly conceit for any Western influences to believe that they have succeeded in altering the conscious beliefs and values of a civilization, a religious and political order so far removed from their own, that it reflects their own values, entirely deserting those of the occupied country. Yet Mr. Brown is complacent in his belief that British presence achieved mission objectives they had set for themselves.

Their presence had the primary purpose of unseating a dictator whose dental fixtures left him incapable of biting as large a portion of the geography as he threatened. In an ongoing demonstration of typical Arab bravado, posing no real threat at all, in the final, embarrassing analysis. The secondary purpose; training Iraqi security forces, political progress in economic re-building and a return to normal civil aviation at Basra, simply represented an issue of patching up what they had rent asunder.

Now, the new parliament of Iraq, a democratic, Sunni-Shia alliance of fragile co-operation, has the satisfaction of bargaining with an upper hand in dismissing the presence of foreign troops representing countries as disparate as Australia, Romania, Estonia, Singapore and El Salvador.

The world is an exceedingly strange place.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Grim Tidings

The Canadian public is being forewarned to anticipate additional sacrifices related to our armed services presence in Afghanistan. Canada has signed on to a mission that corresponds to offering other countries of the world, those specifically suffering through assaults on the dignity and human rights of their people, the opportunity to develop themselves as responsible havens for their populations.

In the process, putting on the line the lives of our own armed services personnel, in battling the resurgent advances of fundamentalist Islamists whose blighted ideology had formerly beggared Afghanistan.

Through the years of Canadian commitment to Afghanistan,there has been slow and steady progress in assisting the country to realize a quality of life, still elusive, but much improved from what had earlier pertained. Afghanistan now stands as the largest recipient of foreign aid from Canada.

Canadian expertise has been exercised to help the country formulate improved methods of governance, of medical care, of policing, of educating its people. We are not alone in that enterprise, simply one country of many dedicated to alleviating the country's embattled plight.

The sad and miserable sacrifice of one hundred and three Canadian armed services personnel, and that of a diplomat has sobered the country considerably. It's a steep price to pay for the ennobling task of taking the rights and needs of a geographically far-flung country so seriously that we prepared ourselves mentally for such sacrifices.

But the reality of so many deaths, and countless set-backs in the advance of the agenda of pushing back the Taliban takes its inevitable course of regret and questioning.

And now, while the mourning families of the latest three Canadian deaths in that country bury their loved ones, we're told by the commander of the Canadian mission that we should expect a "higher level of violence" in the near future. "There will be more violence, just as there was more violence this year compared to last year because we have twice the number of combat troops here this year as we had last year.

He cautioned against succumbing to that sinking feeling that greater troop casualties will necessarily result. But we know that as determined as the combined forces of foreign troops dedicated to the rescue of Afghanistan from the corrupt influence of fanatic Islamists are, the Taliban are equally determined to re-take that which was theirs.

On that same road, in the same area where Canada, in the space of two weeks, lost six of our soldiers in two events of IED explosions, the Taliban are continuing to place these deadly bombs with the direct intent of killing as many "foreign invaders" as they can. Sometimes those placing the IEDs are apprehended, occasionally targeted and killed, and sometimes their gambit for greater kills of the foreign troops succeed.

The undeniably corrupt government of Hamid Karzai insists on the continuing presence of international troops representing the UN and NATO. In our common dedication to hauling Afghanistan out of the medieval age it has festered in, and aiding it to accomplish the success of offering its people opportunities to advance themselves, offering them good government, security and safety, we've agreed.

Afghans living in the capital may echo their government's welcome and reliance on the foreign community of aid workers, diplomats and armed forces, but those far greater numbers living in far flung communities and rural areas have a more reserved opinion of the presence of foreigners on their sovereign soil. There is great distrust; the Taliban, after all, are Afghans.

Ordinary Afghans don't mind expressing a deep-seated skepticism of the presence of international forces; not taking kindly to the reality of what they feel is foreign occupation. Afghanistan and its population has always been wildly averse to the presence of foreign troops and little wonder, since much of its history reflects constant conquest and occupation.

Afghanistan, its people and their destiny cannot, in the final analysis, be separated from the direction and the realities of the entire region they're a critical part of. A geography that includes neighbours with disparate intentions and agendas. A region that includes Iran and Pakistan, both countries having an interest in controlling Afghanistan for their own purposes; both rabidly Islamist.

One cannot help but wonder, since both Iran and Pakistan are integrally involved in encouraging, aiding and arming insurgents battling the forces of the detested West, whether there will, in the final analysis, be the realization of success in instilling democratic and secular values and imperatives within the country analogous with those of the West.

Another country, India, itself embattled through its bitterly ongoing relations with Pakistan, has made helpful inroads in Afghanistan, eager and willing to assist another slowly emerging democracy. Who knows, after all?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

His Due

Little wonder there's a deep simmering resentment and hatred for the presence of the very man whose decision-making is responsible for the loss of tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Who, furthermore, through a breach of good judgement as head of state of the most formidably powerful nation on the planet, initiated an occupation of a foreign land, unleashing a torrent of unappeasable sectarian hatred causing further loss of innocent lives.

Would he then not understand the generous level of distrust and hatred his presence would evoke in the population? Did he think the gravitas of his position as President of the United States - albeit outgoing on a clanking note - would dictate that respect be demonstrated, despite social provocation at his presence? Well, it isn't easy being a power-figure, one who despite good intentions routinely made decisions that brought havoc to the world.

True, he was himself provoked, and it was incumbent upon him to respond, decisively and with the full strength of his country's determination to apprehend the activities of global death-dealers. Trouble was, he was injudicious enough not to understand where to begin and when to stop. He recognized the validity of his vision of spreading the good of democracy to a region incapable of owning it.

Above all, he resorted to obeying his inner urge to control, expressing an arrogant need to impose a solution that proved inadequate to the situation at hand. In the process unleashing a monster that all the king's horses and all the king's men could no longer manage. Making him, unmistakably, responsible for the untimely and gruesome deaths of countless people, his own, and others.

Still, there he was, on the podium alongside his Iraqi political counterpart, a figure to be respected for the position he represented. Which did not faze or stop a young reporter, Muntader al-Zeidi from passionately and rudely assaulting a guest in his country by flinging his shoes violently at the head of the head of the United States.

President Bush nimbly and with great awareness inclined his targeted head toward the horizontal; what presence of mind! Twice averting being slammed by the uber-insulting soles of the reporter's shoes. Which footwear should have been confiscated, and the reporter sent hobbling back to his Al-Baghdadia television station. Instead, while President Bush chuckled good-naturedly, Mr. al-Zeidi was bundled off by security guards into prison.

And while the government of Iraq expresses its outrage at the unmitigated insult to that great statesman (and unrealized stand-up comic), President Bush, supporters of the grave insult all across the Middle East chant for the young man's release, nominating him for an award of bravery.

Thanks be to God.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Reminder of Parental Responsibilities

How very civilized. A story out of South Korea that judiciously places responsibility where it belongs. Indicating in no uncertain terms that parents are responsible for the outcomes of their parenting skills. That it is incumbent upon parents to instill in their children a sense of civic duty, respect for other people, and a meaningful realization of exercising free choice in distinguishing between right and wrong.

Failure to accomplish those very basic responsibilities in transferring social knowledge and skills in an ethical and moral grounding to their young should indeed hold the parents responsible for the outcomes of their lack of zeal in imparting life's critical measures of social balance. And it's time long overdue that courts take the initiative to designate that responsibility or lack of it as reason to hold parents guilty of social malfeasance as much as the perpetrator of the crime.

When an 18-year-old youth has been inspired to a brutal and violent act of rape against a seven year old girl from his neighbourhood because he decided to duplicate in real life an atrocious event that he viewed in a pornographic movie, one can only question the lack of attention he has received through parental instruction to his understanding of acceptable behaviour and the support of his moral underpinnings.

The court in South Korea has seen fit to order the parents of the teen who is said to suffer from ADHD, to pay a fine of $75,000 for their neglect in this critical area of his upbringing. The court in Seoul declared that this was a just decision, since it felt the parents should have been aware of their son's preoccupations and activities and taken steps to ensure nothing of a violently aggressive, socially-repulsive nature would occur.

"The parents could have prevented the crime with appropriate education but failed to show enough attention to their child", was the opinion of the court, in explaining their ruling. "They neglected their duty to raise their child so that he can properly adjust to society."

This judicial rebuke, and the fact that their neglected son has been sentenced to ten years in prison for rape, will most surely haunt the well-being of these parents. It should also serve as a reminder to all parents that their obligations to their offspring and to society at large are serious matters, not to be given short shrift.

And about time. This decision is needful of far-flung reach in other countries.

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Union Heft

What a conundrum for any country, much less one obliged to the automotive industry for a significant proportion of its manufacturing and export and employment stability. The Big Three automakers of the United States, with its branch manufactories in Canada, has, in the past, been responsible, particularly in Ontario, for presenting as a signal industry employing a large labour pool, one that produced saleable products and enhanced the bottom line of both the province and the country.

This has also been an industry that hasn't kept apace with foreign standards of quality production, one that was wedded to its own unassailable sub-standards, inclusive of poor engineering and built-in obsolescence. Its well-earned reputation for shoddy workmanship, sub-prime engineering and product unreliability is what, largely, has placed it in the squeezed position it finds itself today. Foreign auto makers from Japan and Korea whose reliable and quality products informed automotive owners that they'd made the right choice, out-performed the Big Three in their home market.

Little difference it makes now that in the last several years domestic automakers have seen the light and instituted a higher degree of quality control, had their engineers and designers produce more reliable products of an improved calibre than previously; their degraded reputation lives on. They've been an important and stabilizing factor, for all their faults, in the industrial heartland of the country for many decades. Bringing along with them a thriving automotive parts industry.

Now all of it set to collapse with the near collapse of the industry itself. Turning tens of thousands of industry employees out of their secure, nicely padded- and-remunerated positions as factory workers. They're bidding for more time to get a grip on the problems they themselves have engineered, now more than ever critical to their survival in the face of a global financial turndown complemented by a slowdown in purchasing power, with fewer potential buyers on the near horizon.

They're overstocked in inventory and cannot move their vehicles in a market that's suddenly shut down as people hunker in for an unpleasantly long and painful economic recovery, unwilling to commit funds they aren't certain they can sustain in hefty car payments. People whose own questionable employment stability haunts their every waking hour. And the automakers have gone, cap in hand, to the U.S. and Canadian governments, appealing to them to open their treasuries to keep them afloat.

A little while longer, until they're no longer fiscally tenable, and final closures occur, anyway? Until they declare bankruptcy, and slowly, painfully, at least two of the three may be capable of restructuring and rising again like the fabled Phoenix? Humiliated in the marketplace, but somewhat wiser in the design and production of product lines that people will commit to? More leery of signing rich union contracts that in the final analysis have helped lead to their demise?

The Canadian public, like its counterpart in the United States, the home country of the Big Three, is anything but enthralled at the prospect of their hard-earned tax funding going to the support of the automakers. After all, if we respond to their need, then why not Nortel, why not the forestry industry, and any number of other struggling industries actually based and home-grown in the country, giving employment to more hundreds of thousands of Canadians?

It isn't as though the government of Canada hasn't, in the past, been generous in offering tax breaks, incentives and loans to the automakers. But the governments of both the country and the province have reluctantly come to the conclusion that they've scant other options, and in concert with a reluctant U.S. Congress, must offer some support. Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty are struggling with a $2.8-billion loan to complement that of the U.S.'s commitment to the longevity of the automakers.

And while the American Autoworkers Union has agreed to some concessions as a sacrifice to the greater good of saving American jobs, Ken Lewenza of the Canadian Autoworkers Union is adamant that no concessions should be looked for by his members. The pure gold of their contract of rich hourly wages and benefits far outweighing those of any other industry standards are precisely responsible for much of the financial quandary the Big Three now find themselves struggling with.

Active employees in the industry are outnumbered by retirees, basking in the surety of their privileged retirement incomes, through the extreme generosity of their pensions, alongside other benefits. Autoworkers in Canada number roughly 27,000, while retirees number 40,000. What industry could logically support such an imbalance of wealth-deriving against wealth-depriving economies?

It seems it's quite all right for the taxpaying public to make the sacrifice of lending out financing in a last-ditch effort to stabilize a faltering trio of employers who may just, despite the loans, still default and leave the taxpayers holding worthless pay-back promises. Quite another entirely for unionized employees, most of whom earn salaries lavish by comparison to most other Canadians, to sacrifice something meaningful.

Moreover, Mr. Lewenza has the unmitigated gall to castigate the two governments for their bail-out offer; not enough, in his estimation. The amount should at least be doubled, in his view. Union heft equates with union theft of taxpayer funding.

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