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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Increasing Smoke-Free Venues

I can still vividly recall, as a young girl, hating the odour of cigarettes in our home, my father an incessant smoker, even rolling his own with the help of a small device. That stench infiltrated everywhere. My father's fingers and his teeth were coloured streak-orange from tobacco. His clothes reeked from the smell, and so did much of the house.

When I had my first job working in an office, another older woman worked at a desk alongside my own, and she was an dependent smoker, one after the other. She was a good-natured, friendly woman, who should have noticed my aversion to the thick smoke that enveloped me at times, wafting over from her cigarettes, so I would take to waving it away, but she didn't seem to.

And when I was older, and in the hospital to have my babies delivered on one occasion I shared a room with a woman who smoked, even though she too had just had a baby, and her visitors smoked as well. I choked on the bitter, nasty odours that were prevalent. And I would also see doctors on their rounds casually smoking as well.

How things have changed. Only ten years ago I recall having words with another supermarket shopper whose cigarette had smoldered dangling in his mouth while he was leaning over the meat counter, leaving bits of residue all over a number of meat packages. I remonstrated with him, reminding him that a notice at the doors warned of a no-smoking policy.

He reciprocated by telling me to mind my own business, which of course was precisely what I was doing, since health and hygiene is everyone's business. But there was no enforcement back then. Food stores often had those signs prominently displayed and many people simply ignored them. That was then, and now Ottawa and many other cities reflect provincial regulations against indoor smoking.

Now, in federal government buildings, smokers hang around the outside perimeter in all kinds of weather, dragging and puffing on their cigarettes. No one need now ever return home from work with their clothing having to be changed and washed to remove the odours of the day's cigarette smokers. And people can finally be assured that they are not being exposed to the morbidity of second-hand smoke.

It killed my father; I've achieved an age he never realized because he had cancer of the throat thanks to his cigarette habit. And now new regulations are being proposed by Ottawa public health officials to ensure that city parks, outdoor patios, beaches and other areas close to the exterior of city facilities, like arenas and even City Hall, will be free of smoke.

The existing smoke-free by-laws are to be extended to exclude smokers even from outdoor venues. Offenders, should they ignore the new by-law, if it does become law, will face a $305 fine for violating a new, extended prohibition. With the prohibition on smoking in certain designated areas there will be a partnering of assistance to help people with smoking cessation techniques.

This is something that the public wants to see addressed; the extension of non-smoking areas. And it would appear that it's not only non-smokers, concerned about public health, but smokers themselves, 50% of whom agree that this new direction has their support.

Where once smokers protested that their rights were being infringed upon, unwilling to admit that their habit constituted a threat to other peoples' rights and health, that appears to have changed. And society is far better off for it.

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Trapped In Hell

"Tell the world we are trapped and living in hell. We need to be saved."
The world hears. The world has been watching. And those who express those sentiments are well known to wish the international community to haul itself under the auspices of the United Nations to move beyond sanctions to direct action. There is, after all, the precedent set by NATO, under a UN mandate, becoming actively involved in the Libyan conflict of protesters overturning the Gadhafi regime.

Like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moammar Gadhafi too insisted that Islamists, terrorists, al-Qaeda, and foreign interests were all involved in unsettling the order of his country, and that his people loved and respected him and wished him to continue ruling as a gentle tyrant. He is now dead, ghoulishly murdered at the hands of Libyans. Whose tribal instinct led them to dispatch a rival tribe's dictator over them, and who now mete out torture to those who inflicted it upon them.

A recent poll of Syrians by a neutral agency was surprised to learn that approximately 55% of Syrians would prefer the current al-Assad regime to continue. That is the express wish of the percentage that supports their president. Validating what Bashar al-Assad continues to claim, like Gadhafi before him, that he is beloved and trusted by his people. Admittedly not all his people, certainly not those who have formed the ranks of the protest movement.

The Alawite Shia regime is supremely confident that God is on their side. The Sunni majority know equally well that God supports them, not their oppressors, for God is just and mighty and His will be done. The protesters are being provided with weapons by outside sources through Turkey. And the regime's military forces, equipped with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and anti-aircraft guns have moved in to re-take the suburbs of Damascus and Homs, Hama and other cities from the rebels.

The thousands of Sunni military personnel who have defected have been trained well, as once being part of al-Assad's troops, albeit no longer loyal to his vision of the country. They have successfully mounted attacks against his loyal troops, adding to the chaos and the carnage that will invariably, inevitably lead to all-out and prolonged civil war. While the Arab League condemns their member-country and its leader.

And while the Arab League is resolute in its denunciation of Bashar al-Assad, its resoluteness does not extend to sending in their own armed forces to subdue and remove the regime, giving pause to the slaughter and enabling the regime opponents to take its place. They've no stomach for hand-to-hand combat in crowded city centres, or bombing closely confined populated areas.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have officially recognized the Syrian National Council as the country's new, official representative. The League must surely be capable of moving in to defuse the situation; they haven't the gut for it.

Instead, they have appealed to the United Nations Security Council to rule and to intervene, knowing full well that China and Russia, both of whom have full veto powers, will rule active intervention for regime change out. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are willing enough to provide the funding for arms purchases on behalf of Syria's rebels, but they are loathe to enter the fray with their own militaries, preferring NATO to re-enact its Libyan involvement.

This is, of course, the same Arab League and its component members who have in the not-so-distant past, bitterly chastised the West for interference in Arab and Muslim affairs, for invading threatening Arab countries and disabling their dictators, bringing opportunities to countries that have languished in medieval mind-sets, to enter the 21st Century. Such 'opportunities' are viewed askance at threatening their own status as benevolent dictators.

And here, now, in Syria, the regime's military officers are amazed at the level of the attacks that have succeeded in wounding and killing their men, filling up hospitals and morgues. "I was surprised to find myself fighting in Damascus. We never expected a situation like this. The terrorists were well trained, well armed and in uniform."

The 'terrorists', of course, once part of their own military. The foreign fighters the regime insists have infiltrated Syria, much as Syria was a conduit for foreign fighters and al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists filtering into Iraq during the American occupation, are local men and teenage boys, with widespread support from the local population. Fighting alongside the regime-defected troops.

Bashar al-Assad may very well be battling 'terrorists' and 'foreign elements' and 'Islamists', but they are his own, home-born and -bred. Should his regime fall, it may be likely that Islamists will gain, much as they have elsewhere, where the local population has determined it is their turn to unseat their very own tyrant.

And then it would be of prime interest to see whether the ties with Iran, with Hezbollah, with Hamas, will continue to prosper, threatening the region and by extension the world, with the potential of yet another kind of Islamism, completely dedicated to jihad, nuclear if need be.

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Financial Control Above All Else!

Attawapiskat again in the news. Seems Chief Theresa Spence has become addicted to the limelight. As addicted to being in the news and noticed as she is to the belief residing deep and righteously within her very marrow that it is her divine right as one of the many leaders within the First Nations to receive unlimited funding from various government and allied sources to do with as she will.

Although she and her band council for the Attawapiskat reserve were nominally elected to oversee the fortunes and the fundamental civic-social needs of the people of the reserve to ensure it operates in good order and that everyone's needs are met, her obvious failure is a testament to her lack of capacity and integrity. Yet she claims that it is her right, on behalf of the people she represents, to continue misrepresenting their interests.

She continues to express grave umbrage at the nerve of the federal authorities to appoint a third-party manager, whose work has resulted in the beginning of improvements for the people whose safety and security has been ignored. She chafes at being expected to pay his fee out of funding allocated to the band for this and other purposes, yet the money that somehow trickled through the band council's hands, unaccounted for, and inadequately usefully deployed is no one's business.

She certainly has her supporters who feel aggrieved right alongside her, that Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan is guilty of having made decisions that are inimical, not at all helpful to the fortunes of the reserve. "Legally and morally", claims one of her supporters, Grand Chief Stan Louttit, the third-party manager appointment was "wrong".

As for Chief Spence, she characterizes the imposition of a responsible professional to aid her reserve out of its desperate situation of inadequate housing and hygienic facilities, heating sources and potable water, to the traumatizing experience of the residential school system, where the federal government allied with Church agencies historically removed aboriginal children from their families to school them in the white man's ways, removing them from their culture.

That will certainly resonate with a wide circle of aboriginals for whom this remains a sore point in their history. And it will impinge on the consciousness of the wider Canadian public who were instructed in the fine points of First Nations children suffering at those residential schools where some have declared their experience was useful and worthwhile, while others declare it to have been sheer oppressive torture.

For his part, Minister Duncan stands firm in the face of the verbal onslaught from the First Nations representatives like Chief Spence, pointing out that under the direction of the third-party manager, events are moving forward to correct the unstable and inadequate and downright health-harmful neglect that pertained under the direction of Chief Spence and her council.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Cultural Tradition?

Hindu India and the countries of the Muslim world share a culture of male entitlement to female domination. The culture itself and the manifestations of institutionalized, culturized misogny are manifest and deeply engrained, from widows in India being burned alongside their husbands on funeral pyres, arranged marriages of girls to older men, abortion of female foetuses and killing of female infants, flinging of acid on women, and all manner of viciousness by the groom's family to express dissatisfaction with the bride's dowry.

In Muslim countries, the practise of honour killings, accepted by some governments as a legitimate way of dealing with wayward women who bring disgrace to their families and their tribes by not sufficiently adhering to the values of modest demeanour, conduct and dress, predates Islam. Yet the ancient practises of control of women in male-dominating countries where the patriarchy has been entrenched firmly over the millennia has been absorbed by Islam as well.

In Islam as well, young girls are given in marriage at a very young age, and often to elderly men. The girls and their mothers have no say in the matter of their marriage dispersal. Rural girls are commonly not given an education simply because they are female, intended to spend their lives cloistered, with garments completely shielding them from public view, bearing children, serving men, becoming expendable when they are barren.

A man, his family and his tribe's honour is integrally bound by female purity. Females of the family, be they wife or sister, mother or cousin, must be beyond reproach in their modest conduct. There must be no hint of impropriety; women must be segregated from men; there are no innocent encounters devoid of sexual intent. Should a woman be raped this represents an assault on the honour of her menfolk and her fate is sealed with death, to restore that honour.

Should a woman be accused, whether with malign intent to smear an innocent woman, or having committed the sin of being with a man not of her family, she is consigned to death. A rumour is sufficient to seal her fate. And because such consequences of conduct and assumed guilt are accepted as normal in backward societies that deny equality and justice for women, there are few in those societies who commit to overturning those customs.

"In our culture, everybody knows but nobody says. I get cases that say the cause of death is a firearm injury. I know inside what really happened, but what can I do? I sign the certificate and say 'Bye-bye; that's it." This, from a medical doctor who sees an infinite number of family honour killings. He is the chief coroner of East Jerusalem, affirming he rarely sees a case in which honour killing is given as the official cause of death.

Throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Jordan, and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa, tribal shame and honour are linked to female 'purity'. Violence against women is endemic. And as emigration from those countries becomes increasingly common, countries in Europe and North America which accept them as immigrants see a rising tide of honour killing.

Those who practise this peculiar form of restoration of 'honour' by murdering women and girls, bridle at criticism from those who are aghast at such atrocities as parents conspiring to murder their girl children to restore family pride and honour. They insist that what they do is their own affair, and not anyone else's business.

They learn, through the justice system, that it is society's business, that to conduct themselves in such a manner has a grave penalty, that the receiving society will not accept that this is their 'culture, their religion', that demands such gruesomely horrible remedies.

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Dearly Committed

The New Democratic Party, having brought Quebec - at least temporarily - aboard their ship, is now in the process of selecting nominees to contest for the leadership, the post bare after the untimely death of former leader Jack Layton. And a dilemma confronts the issue. The NDP succeeded to Official Opposition status, thanks to the collapse of the Liberal Party and the majority success of the Conservatives.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the May general election; Quebec voters suddenly found themselves oddly enraptured by the NDP, and they dismissed the Bloc Quebecois, overlooked the Conservatives and hardly noticed their usual federal-provincial Liberal bias. The question now is how to nurture that francophone popularity that sprang them into parliamentary prominence?

Particularly in light of the fact that all too soon Quebecers appear to have experienced a sense of ennui over the NDP, and the party appears to have lost the sheen of its election-time popularity. How to restore that interest among jaded Quebec voters?

The best way to continue encouraging Quebec to vote overwhelmingly for the NDP on the national scene might seem to be to bring aboard a Quebec-based candidate. Enter Thomas Mulcair. Committed to the future of the party; for after having tiptoed through the provincial Liberal Party, and prominence in the National Assembly, he cast his lot with the NDP.

He cast his political lot with the NDP, seeing no particular need to cast his money in their direction as well, evidently. "I understand that all New Democrat Members of Parliament are required to contribute $1000 annually to the Federal Office of the New Democratic Party", reads a clause in an NDP party agreement that all members are obliged to sign.

The NDP recommends and anticipates that all its Members of Parliament will spare $1,100 out of their $155,000 annual salary. To further the interests of the party. And to encourage the party's supporters in the wide public to do likewise. How would it look after all, if the primary lawmakers elected to office in the name of the NDP expect others to furnish the party's wherewithal and not they?

Yet Thomas Mulcair appears not to have respected his party's ruling on that issue. All others may comply, but not he.

He explained that, although according to Elections Canada he made no contributions whatever to the party in the past three years, he did benefit his riding association with three donations over three years, totalling $1,266, and in addition magnanimously paid for his own parking, coffee, dry-cleaning, travel expenses, etc., during his own election campaigns in 2007 and 2008.

Mr. Mulcair happens also to hold Canadian/French citizenship. In a recent dispute with France over its unlawful activities within Canada with actively trolling French citizens living in Canada for votes in the upcoming French general election, French authorities sought Mr. Mulcair's support and assistance in an attempt to sway Canadian authorities to France's cause.

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Elementary: Social Justice in Action

It has a nice ring to it; "social justice". Who could contest it? Canada's various school boards across the country demonstrating how given Canadian society is to bringing children of elementary school age and high school teens the opportunity to be exposed through their primary academic setting to social justice.

Seen through the prism of the liberal-left, but then that's to be expected; those who espouse a conservative vision are not held to embrace social justice.

To those involved in enhancing the school experience by adding the so-timely subject of social justice to students' experience, gently guiding them to recognize political correctness in all its forms and subterfuges, along with genuine instances of social justice, leavened with short-cuts that find details expendable in the interests of getting to the core subject with few distractions, parents are failing in that duty.

Malleable minds who trust what they hear and witness in the school setting bring home their tales of recognizable justice as opposed to malign social forces to be exposed and rejected. And that is when, for example, parents of Jewish children discover how upset their children are to discover that Jews, and Israel, are racist, Israel an apartheid country.

The experience of a 17-year-old Israeli youth who migrated with his mother to Toronto, a case in point. When he was enrolled in the academically free-wheeling Student School in Toronto he returned home after the first day in a bit of shock, to inform his mother of the "Apartheid State" posters in the school halls.

His mother now teaches at the Harvard Divinity School, but in recounting her son's experience in Toronto, she is understandably critical. Describing the first all-school assembly as showing the controversial Occupation 101, which portrays Israel as South Africa's Apartheid-era equivalent.

When she protested to the school administrator, he defended the school policy permitting students to give vent to their ideological adherence. Amazingly, her son lasted two months there, before finally making the decision to switch his studies to another school.

Social justice education cuts a wide swath in the country. School administrators feel justified in advancing the agenda within their school curricula of "progressive" social justice affirmation and exposure. As far as the B.C. Department of Education is concerned, social justice "extends beyond the protection of rights", aiming for a "just and equitable society".

One school in Toronto gave Grade 1 students day-planners sophisticated enough to highlight an "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People", along with "International Day of Zero-Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting". A superintendent on that school board claimed the focus was to "promote conversation between our students".

In Quebec an elementary school took the profoundly disturbing step of excluding a six-year-old student from a teddy-bear contest. His sin was to have brought a plastic bag along in his lunch box, holding his sandwich, instead of a washable, re-usable container. According to British sociologist Frank Furedi: "That's an illegitimate use of the school's authority".

Look at the world's arbiter and defender of human rights and dignity, the United Nations; even it hesitates to "name and shame" member-countries who default on the human rights scale, preferring subtle nudges encouraging them to do better, while allowing at the same time, the world's worst human-rights violators to take their proud place on human rights fora.

Ms. Adelman, the Israeli-born parent of that Israeli 17-year-old who attended Toronto's Student School for two months, expressed her feelings about the "diversity" honoured at the school: "I was upset that the principal didn't see that [the portrayal] of the Arab-Israeli conflict] needs to be more balanced, and he and the school had clearly taken a side on the issue."

In fact, the school board did take steps to investigate the principal's academic theories, and he is no longer listed on the school's website as part of the school's staff.

No one would argue that the education system should be taking a totally neutral stand on all of the environmental, political and social issues of our times. And individual teachers are infused with their own ideological bents. The issue calls for a little more sensitivity, inclusiveness and intelligent discretion.

In rural schools in Ontario it isn't unknown that a science teacher will inform her high school class that although she is a firm believer in the Darwinian 'ascent of man', to spare the sensibilities of many of her religious-background students, she will avoid teaching scientific evolution, and sidestep the issues involved in creationism or "intelligent design".

Now that's a zinger on the opposite direction.

And there is also the issue surrounding the Education Act in Ontario which states explicitly that it is a teacher's duty to instill in children a respect for "the principles of Judeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues."

Rather Victorian, is it not? Yet here's the 21st Century building and improving on the 19th Century dictates to social awareness, acceptance and justice. Neither credible nor creditable.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Can They Appeal Murder Most Foul?

Of course they already have appealed. The Shafia trial of father, mother and oldest son on charges of first-degree murder of three daughters/sisters and wife/aunt is over. The jury was not out very long before returning with their verdict, after having been painstakingly instructed in the minutiae of the law by Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger, in Kingston, Ontario today.

Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Mohammad Yahya and Hamed Mohammad Shafia were found guilty as charged of first-degree murder. The evidence against them was overwhelming. Mohammad Shafia contended that his Afghan culture was misunderstood in Canada; what they say when they curse is not what it seems like; wishing one's daughters dead, as whore-spawns of the devil merely represents a casually-flung endearment.

And, as Tooba Mohammad testified tearfully, time and again, she is a mother, nothing more, nothing less. And mothers do not murder their children. Not even when they create dreadful havoc in the family by irremediably staining the family's honour through their odious behaviour, flaunting themselves shamelessly for all to see and gossip about the Shafia family.

The evidence amassed against the Shafias was simply overwhelming. Their defence, on the other hand, was underwhelming. Forensics identified shattered car parts from a vehicle that they vehemently insisted was not at the scene of the tragedy, but which matched the shattered portion of the family vehicle that went into the water at the Kingston Mills locks, when one vehicle nudged the other into the locks.

To have it appear, as the parents claimed, that a disobedient daughter took a family vehicle for a joyride with her two sisters and her 'aunt' in tow. Their original story was that they had no idea where the missing four family members were, until evidence put them at the scene, and then it was purportedly the brother Hamed, who had noted his sisters in the wee hours of the morning leaving and following them.

Following them, he claimed in an interview, too closely, and ending up inadvertently 'nudging' the back of their vehicle with the one he was driving. Stepping out of the vehicle to view the damage, and hearing simultaneously, a splash as the other vehicle entered the water, while he frantically called out his sisters' names, attempting to toss a life-saving rope into the water for them. Finally, shrugging fatalistically and leaving the scene. An accident. Unfortunate, but an accident.

As it happened, a young Afghan engineering student at Queen's University offered to act as their official interpreter from English to Farsi, while on the side he was engaged by Mr. Shafia to 'investigate' the crime, and uncover evidence that would prove their innocence, since the police were doing such a dreadful job of it by accusing them of murder in the guise of something they'd never ever heard of before: "honour killing".

Moosa Hadi, the amateur sleuth, inveigled his way into receiving a complete copy of the hard drive containing "Crown disclosure"; all the evidence that had been amassed throughout the investigation, including video-taped interviews, wiretapping conversations, witness statements and a forensic report. All of which he scrutinized and shared with the three accused to whom he had both authorized and unauthorized entry to their cells.

Moosa Hadi, clever young man, claiming he was convinced of the Shafias' innocence of the charges brought against them - for he could see they were good people, unjustly charged - together with the trumped-up evidence, created his own interpretation of what had occurred. And he patiently and exactingly spent hours in Hamed's jail cell coaching him on the scenario as he envisioned it, that led to the four women's deaths.

They died, according to Moosa Hadi, not because some truly evil skulduggery had taken place where they were first drowned or incapacitated, then placed in the family vehicle, and nudged by the other family car into the canal, where they 'drowned', but by misadventure. An eight-year-old boy who lives nearby the canal happened to have witnessed the event, seeing both vehicles, hearing the "splash" of vehicle entry into the canal.

Moosa Hadi's scenario took all the available evidence into account and gave a logical explanation for the trajectory of events, as far as he was concerned. And, as he claimed when he insisted the trio would eventually be acquitted and his assurance of their innocence validated, "it was not because of predictive power, rather it was because of my truthful, responsible, careful, extensive and lawful investigation."

This interfering little menace of a charlatan should be brought to justice himself, for tampering with evidence, and unduly influencing the guilty to pleading for a story that the evidence made hash of, prolonging the trial unnecessarily and trifling with justice through his concocted, egotistical, fanciful version of events.

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Our Brothers' Keepers

It represents a deep-seated, deeply-rooted impulse. Almost universal in nature. That is, a wish to be helpful to others. A sense of personal responsibility to those whom we do not know. The knowledge that others suffer and we may help them motivates us to act. Or to spur our governments to act, on our behalf. Those who are fortunate offering aid to those who are not.

Some characterize this is assuaging our guilty consciences. That we feel guilt at being well off while others may not be, is simply another way of expressing our humanity. Irrespective of the goad, our wish to ensure that others may be given a helping hand is indeed carried out by western, democratic governments who see it in the best interests of all concerned to be involved.

There are the cynics who scoff and say that the growing ranks of the poor, the disenfranchised, those whose human rights are violated and who suffer the most basic deprivations of food, clean air and water and health, that we take for granted as becoming us, will one day rise in their wrath and invade us with their disease, truncated life-span, swollen bellies and truculent demands.

That we make overtures of help to them to ensure that they remain where they are. That in sending to those countries with their forever-emerging economies and their intractable lack of social amenities for their populations, we maintain the status quo in ensuring that their dictatorial governments remain in power, handsomely rewarded through siphoning off aid meant for the people.

Over $2-trillion in treasury representing transfers from wealthy, advanced countries of the world to the disastrously poor ones has been spent, attempting to to help the backward advance. Most of the aid-dependent countries have become just that; dependent on aid, incapable of proceeding on their own to find their niche, develop industries, employ their people, enjoy the fruits of wealth.

Developing countries with natural resources see foreign corporations extract their minerals, pay their governmental entities for the privilege and nothing trickling down to benefit the population. When poor countries become dependent on tourism to attract foreign dollars, home-grown entrepreneurs and government agents profit, the poor remain servile.

Despite - or even because of, in many instances - foreign aid, poor countries are stagnating economically. Negative growth rates, further plunges into mass poverty, and increasing violence results. And why is that, why is it that investing in the future on behalf of the poor by transferring wealth from rich countries to poor does not result in advantage to the indigent?

Humanitarian aid has many faces, thousands of them, with noble names and inspiring aspirations. All those aid entities which comprise one of the world's largest enterprising corporate businesses en masse, clamour for the wealthy countries to increase the amounts of aid money they transfer.

All those humanitarian institutions with their compelling aid agendas, employing hundreds of thousands of idealistic, dedicated aid workers who feel empowered by their causes and by their sources of income to strive for greater excesses in aid programs and contributions to achieve their goals. The World Bank, the IMF, UN agencies, national government aid groups, NGOs and various charities employ a half-billion people.

That is a gigantic industry. Busy doing their thing, delivering funding to employ locals employed by them, to ferry food, medical assistance, pharmaceuticals, potable water, building supplies, dig wells, encourage local agri-business, setting up schools, encouraging women to become enterprising free agents. Why does poverty persist and initiatives lag?

The solution, some claim, is to fully empower local authorities, make them responsible, put the money where the need is directly, stimulate the locals to do everything required to proceed toward the future for themselves. Canada has tried all of that, encouraging the building and administration of local civil infrastructure; security, courts, schools, health clinics.

Our international development assistance program has grown over the years; from $3.756-billion in 2005 to $5.131-billion in 2010. What will it take to stimulate local governments in under-developed areas of the world to establish their own accountability, deliver necessary services, make sustainable economic policy initiatives, create employment?

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Canada's Baby-Boom-Bust

We thought the baby-boom generation would have it all. Prosperity, education, good jobs, plentiful recreation, functioning families, excellent housing, national health care, satisfied lives. Lives of plenty, for food is plentiful available and inexpensive in Canada and always has been in comparison to other countries of the world.

Great new employment opportunities opened up for Canadians after the last of the two Great Wars. Canadians, celebrating the end of world hostilities and the future that was Canada's, had a notable cohort of babies, the boomer generation.

They were exposed to advantages their parents never had, from eating wholesomely to a myriad of recreational opportunities, and advanced education at the post-secondary level. Universal health care removed the anxiety of costly medical procedures and ongoing health problems. The world was their oyster. So what happened?

We now learn that among baby-boomers, those over 45 years of age represent the highest-debt-burden portion of the population. What's more these are the modest-income earners, those whose hopes didn't match reality, who had low-income jobs and lived relatively modestly compared to their peers with well-compensated employment and assured, employer-sponsored defined-benefit pension plans.

Cheap lending rates, low rates of interest encouraged a whole lot of people of modest means to extend their way of life, their ownership of desirable objects, to travel and to plan for even more advantages to be paid for at some time in the future. And that future is fast approaching. Even as people near retirement age they are hampered by a high rate of debt.

There's an astounding number of Canadians in their 50s and onward who are less fortunate than we were led to believe by the sunny prognostications of a future Canada. People who are now unemployed and who when they were employed lived on every cent of their earnings. Where once, in the distant past, people struggled to put away something in a bank account for the future, many did not.

No savings, and a growing debt-load from borrowing at low interest rates. Paying on credit cards which have a high interest rate. Under-employed, those who are gainfully employed but vulnerable to job-loss. For many bankruptcy always seems like an escape from looming crisis. but after that, what exactly?

Most people haven't invested in RRSPs, and they haven't any secure bank accounts where a little bit was incrementally stuffed away for those so-called rainy days - or the elderly future. Of the population preparing for retirement, 58% are not financially stable; 68% without a financial plan to become financially viable in retirement.

One study released by a Rogers Group Financial study found that 40% of people three to seven years from retirement were in debt and would be in debt in retirement.

"It's a worrisome trend. I don't think the average Canadian understands. Interest rates will not stay low forever and you can't continue to finance a higher standard of living by increasing your debt. It will catch up to you", explained Vancouver adviser Clay Gillespie.

For those people with heavy debt loads, it's obvious that one solution would be to keep working, forget about wanting to retire at 60, 65 years of age. And think about Stephen Harper's musing about a new initiative his government is prepared to take on Old Age Security - deferred until age 67.

Canada hasn't the highest debt-to-income ratio by any means. Denmark comes first, then the Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Sweden, and then comes Canada. With the U.S., U.K., Portugal, Spain, Finland, Austria, Germany, France and Italy after us.

Amazing, isn't it, that three of the four PIGS countries in economic decline are in that picture; one above, two below.

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Listen To The Man

Give that man a cigar. It's simple enough, as far as Elijah Harper is concerned. And given his experience, his background and where his heart lies, he deserves to be heeded and his recommendations taken seriously. He can be right and he can be wrong, but so far over a hugely expansive period of time, no other considered actions have given proof that they could succeed.

What we have seen, in contrast, is the aboriginal peoples of Canada having been disadvantaged by history and the introduction of white settlers to the land they once inherited from their forefathers, generation after generation. In a way it's a pity that it isn't possible to imagine how Canada and its native peoples would have progressed - or not, socially, technologically, politically, religiously, economically in their own right - without the interference of what was then a foreign element.

Since much has happened in the past three hundred years and Canada's First Nations did not have the opportunity to develop themselves, either in accord or discord with one another, we will never really know. To many it makes perfectly good sense for total integration. If we could only manage somehow to extinguish the past with its countless acts of ill will, the prejudices and discrimination, the alienation and distance between the cultures.

But we cannot, so we have to work with what we have. And what we have is not very attractive. We have polarities. A people so offended by the self-assuming superiority of a foreign element to their land, white men who took it upon themselves to claim for themselves in perpetuity the lands that the native populations depended upon for their livelihoods; fishing, hunting, agrarian enterprises, and leaving them with discrete tracts of land.

Where formerly they roamed free as they wished in the abundant space of the geography, they were, under duress and the force of superior arms, forced to settle for what they were offered. And they, determined to honour their ancestors and pledged to their traditional way of life, convinced themselves that by so doing they would persevere and prosper with the avuncular government forwarding tribute by way of supporting subsidies.

First Nations would not be obligated by taxes, nor private ownership as long as they lived in their traditional way, since these were not traditional functions; private land ownership and the paying of taxes on income. What income? It would be their right to hunt and to fish where they would, with no interference, where others would be hampered by requiring special licenses to do so at specific times of the calendar.

Hooked. The Indian Act, says Elijah Harper, infantalizes aboriginals. Echoing the words of Grand Chief Shawn Atleo. It is past time to recognize and to agree that the federal Act is unworkable and has brought no benefit to First Nations. A third order of government, beyond federal, beyond provincial, is required throughout Canada to allow aboriginals control of their own lives, and their destinies.

Render to First Nations that which is due them. Settle all land treaties. First Nations are entitled to the benefits that accrue from natural resources on First Nations land. Allow them to look after their own financial affairs, from federal transfer funding and from managing their own resources. The individual nations within First Nations would act much as provincial governments do.

And they will be accountable to those to whom they are accountable. Accountable for the success they may lead their people toward. And accountable for the failures. When band councils do not have the best interests of those whom they are responsible for uppermost in mind, and concern themselves instead with their own perceived entitlements, an neutral, just arbiter must rule on the matter. In a democratic manner.

If a tribe is beset with social misadventure; abandoned children, addicted adults and children, malfunctioning civil structures, inadequate housing, absent employment, health problems, it is the tribe council that should be held accountable. People must be taught to be responsible for themselves. Private property and property rights should be established. Health care and education should be a priority.

But they already know all of that. Let them take the reins.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Detaining Democracy

In the category of biting the hand that feeds it, you can add, besides sometimes-wayward dogs, Pakistan which hungrily consumes for its military, billions awarded it by the United States treasury, and Egypt, whose military has also benefited hugely from American generosity. Both of these countries' governments are currently in grave difficulty. Pakistan considers itself a great democracy with a free judiciary, and is infiltrated heavily by Islamists with their very Islamist agenda.

And Egypt, struggling to celebrate the anniversary of a perceived success that burst onto the scene with their version of the Arab Spring, sees the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces deeply ensconced as a replacement for Hosni Mubarak, juggling a future that Egyptian voters have promised to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Al Nour parties, standing on the sidelines, eager to take their place as revolutionary leaders in the new Egypt.

The presence of Washington-backed non-governmental organizations like Freedom House and the International Republican Institute, irritates the ruling Generals no end. For they chafe under the obvious interference of 'foreign' groups such as these NGOs funded by the United States, whose function in Egypt is to encourage the growth of demand for free democratic reforms. The National Democratic Institute also has a presence, for it too, like its sister-organization, agitates.

And while Hosni Mubarak, while never promising to loosen the reigns of tyrannical power, sternly tamping down the powerful aspirations of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, still offered a welcome accommodation for these American NGOs, knowing his people and his country better than they did. The ruling military council, however, sees a use for the presence of these NGOs, other than as irritants, claiming their interference in Egypt's affairs unsettles the country.

The NGOs doubtless wish they could claim the same, that their message of liberty and democracy is making inroads in the consciousness of ordinary Egyptians. But ordinary Egyptians have lived too long in poverty and hopes for a future that will be more enabling than the past. Their aspirations reach no higher for the time being than a need for abundant food and fuel at affordable prices, subsidized by the government.

And it has been not the government necessarily that has responded to their fundamental needs, but the wily outreach of the Muslim Brotherhood which, while espousing and teaching their especial brand of Islam, accompanied it with educational, health and funding support of Egyptians in need. The easiest way to the heart of a people, who respond with gratitude to those who offer help when needed.

The ruling military hardly knows now where to turn. They have been simply coasting along on the familiar, ruling as the former President Mubarak did, with a firm hand and an authentic sense of fulfilling the needs of a country he loved and felt obliged and entitled to rule. His former military chief, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi is continuing his reign, without his presence. They have no particular wish to defer total authority to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The various members of the Egyptian Youth movements have crowded Tahrir Square again, reluctant to leave it, since the last time they trustingly did, all that they demanded of the military rulers was promised, but everything swiftly returned to the status quo, and more. And while they understand that when the civilian government eventually does take the reigns of government with the military hovering helpfully in the background, their dream of equality will be starkly diminished; they know too that their brief moment in the sun has been relinquished to the Islamists.

The revolution was accomplished by their activism and their idealism and their having sparked Egyptians to flood Tahrir Square, but it now belongs to others. Who quietly and confidently stepped into the opportunity they provided. Their own time may come, but it is not yet. They will be frustrated for a long time to come. And the military regime will continue to blame the U.S. NGO presence for the youth dissatisfaction, and hamper them, confiscate their property, confine them.

And confidently continue to take American funding for the ongoing support of the military.

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