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.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Doha Round Of International Fuming Interests

Of all places for two countries, former allies, to air their social-political disentanglement; at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Turkey, the Muslim country with which Israel enjoys the closest confidence, has taken great moral umbrage at Israel's recent retaliatory invasion of Gaza, attempting to oust Hamas militants, or at least destroy their arsenal of rockets before they're all lobbed into Israel.

Turkey, just a relatively short while ago, voted in an Islamist government. Despite which, sound political relations were maintained, something of great importance to Israel, which desperately seeks to improve its relations with Islamic countries. However, in seeking to defend oneself against the incessant onslaught of fanatic jihadists, the reality of offending Muslim sensibilities is always a distinct problem.

Besides which, any government of any Muslim country which becomes too intolerably comfortable with Israel risks punishment from the ordinary citizen on the streets of their towns, cities and backwaters. This is a slow and tender process, one whose slender possibilities and brutal backlashes must be carefully weighed. It's one thing entirely for governments to meet and greet; another for the population weaned on hatred and suspicion to accept unquestioningly.

Israel goes out of its way to ameliorate bad feelings that result from its need to defend itself. Curiously enough, in Israel's blandishments to Turkey, the offer was made to provide the country with unmanned drones; one particular type of which has so recently been used, within Gaza, to the misfortune of Hamas terrorists.

And when Shimon Perez got into a slinging match of accusations and counter-accusations at the conference, to the dismay of the general assembly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was infuriated, claiming his response time was half of that allotted Israel, and as such insulting to the point where he withdrew, fuming he would never return.

The business community in Turkey is not so certain that this is the language nor the journey they themselves wish to take, regardless of the position of their prime minister. And when Mr. Erdogan stormed out of the Davos conference, effectively putting on ice President Shimon Peres's overture toward reconciliation, he was playing a one-man band.

But in perfect pitch with Arab League head Amr Moussa and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon both of whom took great pains to express their disfavour of Israel's Cast Lead operation. In their debate, Shimon Peres, perhaps looking for greater understanding from Mr. Erdogan, suggested that under similar circumstances Turkey would have reacted exactly the same way.

"Do you understand the meaning of a situation where hundreds of rockets are falling a day on women and children who cannot sleep quietly, who need to sleep in shelters? ...You don't understand, and I am not prepared for lies." That kind of direct offensive obviously took Mr. Erdogan by surprise, but the offensive managed to impress the general audience, which applauded Mr. Peres's passion.

The brevity of time Mr. Erdogan was granted in his response irked him, all the more so when he was silenced by a moderator, having been enabled to eke out a mild condemnation of Israel's actions corresponding to "very wrong" and "not humanitarian" rather more diplomatic than earlier statements made slamming Israel's
“perpetrating inhuman actions which would bring it to self-destruction".

"Allah will sooner or later punish those who transgress the rights of innocents,” he thundered, calling upon Israel's expulsion from the United Nations. He also took formal steps in Turkey to establish a one-minute silence to be observed in schools, in commemoration of the deaths of Palestinian children who died in the Israeli bombings of Gaza, to further bring home his point.

When Mr. Erdogan was cut off by the moderator he said, as he left, "Thank you very much. I don't think I will come back to Davos." Predictably enough, on his return to Turkey, Mr. Erdogan was overwhelmed by thousands of exultantly pleased supporters. At the airport demonstrators bore Turkish and PLO flags, shouting slogans in support of Gazans and their stout defender of the defenceless, Prime Minister Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan clarified his anger; it was directed against the government of Israel, not its people. "The death of civilians cannot be seen as a simple work accident", he fumed. Israel's ambassador to Ankara has his work cut out for him. Istanbul's anger is understandable, and it will cool when the light of distance and reason returns. The two countries share strategic interests and a long-standing relationship of some considerable value.

And Turkey is, in all conscience, trying to do its part in helping to establish a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Prime Minister Erdogan's first point of entry to establishing that potential, however, should be to convey to Hamas the necessity of laying down its hatred and burning desire to violently remove Israel from the Middle East, along with its almost-equal wish to eradicate Fatah.

It will be interesting to see if his passion and humanity can be mustered to the cause of achieving first, unity, then an attempt to usher in a durable peace. In the process he can avail himself of the considerable efforts exerted by Egypt toward the process, along with the desires of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and now that of the new president of the United States.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Uh, Oh, Not Again...!

In putting together the details and assigning the new principals in the new U.S. administration, the ruling Democrats and their new President Barack Obama, are fully focused on the hugely troubling and waning fortunes of what is ordinarily considered to be the most wealthy nation on the planet. Yes, it's a temporary and most unfortunate downturn in the economy, but one that requires attention at the highest level.

Also uppermost on the minds of Americans is their vulnerability to attack from viciously hostile forces, most particularly since it was brought home to them through 9/11 that disaster could be delivered directly to their doorstep and even inside the nation's living room. Paranoia ran rampant and on high alert for years since 2001; since subsided to a degree, but only to a degree. No further attacks have taken place, but Americans have been warned to take nothing for granted.

Another, new head of homeland security has been appointed, to round out the new administration's focus. And through Janet Napolitano agencies and offices that are designed to report to her as the new chief have been put on further alert. To carefully and closely identify current vulnerabilities to assist in the overall strengthening of the strategy for improved border security.

Border security. That means, the coast guard, the Transportation Security Administration, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Fearful of further attacks lest their guard be permitted to lapse, border security is to be increased even more strenuously than has previously been accomplished. There are two countries bordering the U.S.; to the south, Mexico, to the north, Canada.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, all three countries have signed on to international trade agreements that have, over the years, inextricably interwound import and export between the three countries. A further stricturing of border access can have am immense, dragging impact on trade between all countries. Since 9/11 border access has already tightened notably.

For some really peculiar reason - Americans believe, led by their media and by many of their legislators who really should know better - that what they perceive as Canada's 'porous' border admits would-be terrorists into America, and they have identified Canada and the Canada-U.S. border as a weak link in the American defence against terrorist incursion.

Facts speak otherwise, however. The al-Qaeda conspiracy to attack the financial hub of U.S. enterprise, along with the seat of government, and in the process murder thousands of Americans using their own aircraft and their own flying public as deadly missiles had no need to surreptitiously enter the United States through Canada.

They were able to enter the U.S. directly, on temporary visas. Those dedicated to the long-planned and handily-executed task had no problems entering the country directly, nor were many questions asked when they attended flight schools within the country. Despite that the CIA had prior knowledge of them, and that appropriate communication was not undertaken between that department and the FBI.

Mohammed Atta, who conspired, and succeeded in leading a tiny crew to overtake and fly an American Airlines plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center to achieve his design of martyrdom; Ziad Jarrah who piloted the United Airlines flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, and all the others of their eleven co-conspirators who managed between them to traumatize America and send their people into oblivion, did so quite directly.

Because they could; because there was a lack of attention to oversight and intelligence, and most certainly not because of an undefended border between Canada and the United States which permitted them entry. And even though it became well enough known that none of the 9/11 jihadists had entered through Canada, even Hillary Clinton was known to repeat that canard.

In the interests of 'taking responsibility' the U.S. still looks for scapegoats, and it finds a primary one most handily, casting an ever-jaundiced security eye across the border.

The frighteningly faltering U.S. economy - which has impacted so deleteriously internationally through the so-heralded mechanism of global finance - will not be enabled to recover too speedily with the Canada-U.S. border tightening even more, as is being planned. The simple fact is there are over a million jobs in the U.S. directly related to trade with Canada.

In total, Canada exported $20.433 billion worth of goods to the U.S. while $17.349 billion worth of goods were imported in the last year, according to data derived from the U.S. Census Foreign Trade Statistics Program. Impeding the free access to trade will not help the U.S. recovery. Not only will it directly damage the interrelated production of goods used on both sides of the border, it will result in job losses on both sides as well.

And the new "Buy American" clause revealed in the U.S. stimulus bill fashioned by the Democrats and reviled by the Republicans will go a long way to offending and harming trade relations not only between Canada and the U.S. but the United States and its European trading partners. This was done before, and it lead to a severe deepening of the Great Depression.

For a new administration in the United States claiming to be committed to forging stronger and more amiable ties with its neighbours and European partners in politics, and in global trade and finance, the Obama administration is off to a sorry start.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stewing, Together

You can please some of the folks some of the time, but never all of them, all of the time. It's hard to define who is the most obnoxious, however, of the Conservative government's critics; Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party, or Danny Williams, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. Of course there's always the redoubtable leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Gilles Duceppe, but let's confine ourselves to those who purport to support, defend and value Canada.

Jack Layton has surely tried the patience of all Canadians, with his ideology-driven strictures against reasonable accommodation. His benighted accusation of overlooking the needs of the working poor and society's vulnerable while the government is struggling to bring the country back into financial health is ill placed at an ill time in history.

The budget, in fact, has addressed all those issues and more; from social housing, to employment insurance, assistance for seniors and taxpayers, and job re-training. Mr. Layton's avowed determination, along with his taciturn sidekick, Gilles Duceppe, to contest the Conservative government budget sight unseen, labels him a failure as a leader. We expected no better from Mr. Duceppe.

As for Danny Williams, despite that he magnanimously declared ever so recently that his personal campaign to undo Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a thing of the past, and that he was adult enough to behave like an elected official, he has reverted to invective-spouting form. Newfoundland and Labrador has joined the ranks of the 'have' provinces, and as such no longer qualifies for equalization payment.

Which burns Mr. Williams to a writhing crisp of fury. His newly-rich province still receives one and a half billion over the next three years, another $2-billion as a "signing bonus" and remains the second resource-wealthiest province in the country. Alberta and Saskatchewan aren't tearing their hair out in grief over equalization.

Mr. Williams characterizes the prime minister as "vindictive" and "nasty", blaming him for cutting Newfoundland out of the money it no longer has any reason to collect, because of the premier's "anybody but Conservative" campaign during the last federal election. Which successfully left Newfoundland and Labrador without a single representative in the governing caucus.

How's that for bile choking you to death? And then blaming the host for forcing you to eat more than you could swallow?

Well, did I forget Jean Charest? He's squirming with annoyance that under the new funding formula Quebec will 'lose' roughly $770-million over two years in equalization, the balance now credited to suddenly-have-not Ontario, pleasing Ontario's premier no end. Mr. Charest is suffering from amnesia; under the Conservative government his province has seen equalization rise by a whopping 74%.

There's no game like politics, and no entertainment quite like venting spleen.

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The Limiting Incidentals

It has become chic for the beautiful people, the wealthy and the privileged to hie themselves off for holidaying and partying to exotic parts of the world, like the Arabian Peninsula. Dubai, for example, like many others of the oil-rich sheikdoms, has built wondrous playgrounds around soft sand, sparkling seas and warming sun to entice moneyed visitors to their palatial hotels and comfortable services.

It's the place to be, to enjoy life's special moments, to see and be seen, to flaunt one's sophistication and lifestyle, and to indulge fantasies of beauty and pristine environments. Yes, those pristine environments. There were that, once. In the process of planning, designing, funding and building these monumentally gorgeous hotels placed on prestigious and fabled shorelines, something has gone awry.

The wealthy entrepreneurs who have been further monetarily advantaged by their ownership of these grand getaways have indulged in the pedestrian carelessness of most such businesses, in their philistine treatment of those countless people engaged to provide the vital and comforting services to their wealthy clientele.

The tales of exploitation and woe of service people brought into the sheikdoms are well enough known. These are not people indigenous to the area, but rather those who have been encouraged to travel to the Gulf States as servants to the wealthy and the privileged. Poor people from other places in Asia, and particularly from the Philippines.

As it has been with truckers working there, originally from southeast Asia, performing work that no one born in Dubai would descend so low as to humiliate themselves with such vulgar work as hauling sewage. The truckers, engaged to carry human waste are charged with emptying their tanks to a sewage treatment plant which is a long drive into the desert.

The long drive is complicated by long queues, so the truckers decide instead to empty their tanks into storm drains, emptying into the ocean. Those drains are meant to carry run-off from the rainy season. Certainly not the offal of human waste, nor the effluent from industrial areas. Yet this is exactly what has occurred.

The truckers say they are paid by the truckload. "We are paid so poorly, we have no other choice", said one driver, but to illegally dump the contents of the city's septic tanks and waste from cement, paint and furniture factories. The result of which has been an unpalatable and richly grim reek pervading the shoreline, presenting a real health hazard.

"It's a cesspool. Our tests show too many E. coli to count. It's like swimming in a toilet" claims the manager of the Offshore Sailing Club, which has undertaken to post warnings, and been forced to cancel sailing regattas. The pristine waters have turned a muddy brown colour, with an unbearable stench for emphasis.

City authorities are scrambling to undo the public relations debacle that has resulted. They promise to build another sewage pit to assuage the problem, and claim that their clean-up efforts to date have resulted in safe-standard water samples. That independent tests commissioned by private interests contradict.

Life for the rich, the famous, the celebrities and the idlers in the international community is becoming more tediously difficult all the time.

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Our Raucous House?

Canadians are tut-tutting the state of shrilly verbal partisanship in their Parliament. We bemoan the fact that verbal shafts and virtual insults are bandied back and forth in the House of Commons, between the Conservative government Members of Parliament and the opposition members of the House. How undignified, how unworthy, how juvenile and absurd. High School students in the visitors' gallery are appalled.

And then there is South Korea's National Assembly, the country's seat of government. Where members of the Grand National Party had very recently taken steps to physically barricade themselves for a vote without the nuisance of any interference from the opposition. An opposition that was determined to storm the committee room.

Things got a little out of hand. Hoping to delay a vote they didn't agree with, opposition legislators and their aides struggled their way past security guards to hammer through the closed committee room door where the ruling party was assembled for their vote, exclusive of the opposition presence. A peculiar version of democratic action, to be sure.

The opposition, having none of it, shattered glass windows, and discovered they were still blocked from entry, by a discomfitting and unmovable mountain of furniture shoved up against the entranceway. The defenders of their right to vote unmolested by the inconvenient presence of the opposition, attacked through the shattered door with fire extinguishers.

Actually, someone from among the opposition legislators had had the presence of mind to bring along not only hammers which others had brought along, but a chainsaw. The better to penetrate through the stubborn door, allowing entry to the furious locked-outs. Lawsuits over resulting assaults are pending.

On another occasion, the opposition found themselves facing 200 armed security officers storming the human blockade they had formed as minority politicians insisting on entry into the rotunda of the assembly building. In the melee dozens of outraged parliamentarians were injured and then hospitalized.

In Taiwan, legislators' battles in their hallowed halls of governance have been marked by wrestling, throwing of shoes, pulling of ties, and tossing of microphones, lunch boxes and books. At one point a politician decided instead of eating crow, to chew up and swallow the draft of newly-introduced legislation he took a disliking to.

The umbrage and partisan catcalls and insults flung about in Canada's sober House of Commons during Question Period are indeed a matter of public concern. As was the recent attempt by the three opposition parties to sideline the democratic process as it is practised in Canada, by attempting to usurp the authority of the duly elected government.

Politics are like that everywhere I guess; the passions of the day drive otherwise sane people to distraction, to temporarily lose sight of the reason they've been elected - to best serve the interests of their constituents, of the population of the country, not to hoist their rigid political ideologies upon the populace.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper exercised a bit of juvenile partisanship that came back to slap him in the face. Sometimes even the most experienced, intelligent and fundamentally decent people need to have their egos brought back to reality. It's hoped he's learned his lesson, and will exercise mature restraint in future.

As for the South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, he is blushing "with shame" at the absurd antics of his colleagues. "It was as if the hammer that smashed down the conference room door also pounded the democracy of Korea, as well as my head and heart" he said.

Doubtless. One must, perforce, have some compassion for these sober-minded yet childishly fallible people whom we elect to represent our best interests. Sigh.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Repeat After Me

"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

Loftily eloquent, confident words of determination issued during the inaugural address of President Barack Obama. Of course, he also offered an open mind and open hand to those who nominally present as antagonists, but who may find it within themselves to be amenable to reason. Not so much, obviously, the fanatical jihadists who have successfully targeted a previously unwary America, but that great expanse of others uncertain where they fit in the general scheme of suspicion and blame.

This a resolute man of great integrity, a man of forceful imagination and intelligent design. So recently invested into the great and cumbersome burdens of his office, yet so willing to immediately take up the duties of that office. Expanding on the manner in which his soaring rhetoric, unqualified as it was, as lacking in details as it was, enthused and liberated the minds and expectations of the American electorate.

He has begun his agenda with a flourish, and initiated his international diplomacy straight off. Assigning difficult duties to those in whom he has invested trust to further his vision and his ideas and his political and social values. Encouraging his people to have trust and remain patiently optimistic. Visiting, in early February, his closest geographic neighbour. And appearing on Al Arabiya television for an acquainting interview.

He aspired, he said, to convince both Americans and Muslims around the world that they have mutual interests. "My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives", he informed Al Arabiya's Washington bureau chief, Hisham Melhem.

Conversely, complementarily, "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name." He plans to extend his international travel itinerary to include an as-yet-unnamed Muslim country to further make his point.

He has a certain familiarity with Islam, in the first person. It was the faith of his father, and remains the faith of his distant relatives, still living in Kenya where his father was born. And during his childhood years, Barack Hussein Obama, the child of two vastly different worlds, lived in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world.

President Obama addressed the situation in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians, stressing his belief in the mission that his newly-appointed emissary has been tasked with; emphatically searching for viable solutions to bridge the pernicious gap between the two solitudes. "What I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating...".

And then he boldly asserted that he rejects the belief that Israeli settlements and other construction in the West Bank impedes the potential of moving the file toward a peace settlement forward, toward a two-state solution. As for Iran, while acknowledging that the Islamic Republic had "acted in ways that [were] not conducive to peace and prosperity" he is prepared to speak with them, too.

Now then, could a more generously spirited and clear offering to engage in civil discourse with a view to finding solutions to the seemingly insoluble antagonisms between the values and mores of two vastly different empires be more emphasized and appear more promising?

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Highlighting The Budget

* $12-billion to be spent over two years on infrastructure projects.
* Employment insurance benefits to be extended by five weeks.
* $1-billion for social housing the next two years; for seniors, disabled and reserves.
* 190,000 jobs to be created.
* Personal taxation exemptions increased.

And more, much, much more. A little something in there for everyone, from businesses to municipalities, home renovations to an increase in child tax benefits. This far-reaching budget, crafted to incorporate suggestions and recommendations from financial experts and opposition political parties, resulting from consultations as Conservative Members of Parliament fanned out across the country for public intake, attempts to satisfy as many of the country's needs at this critical time as possible.

It represents a sincere attempt on the part of the Conservative-led government of Stephen Harper to offer assistance to forestry, mining, fishing, scientific research, job retraining, culture, recreation, and municipal infrastructure. It presents less as a conservatively prudent undertaking, than a liberal attempt at a scatter gun approach to crisis management. As such, it was hardly likely that Michael Ignatieff could find any reason to reject the budget.

Although he has grandiosely put the government, and more particularly, his nemesis Stephen Harper, on notice. The Conservatives, through the good and kindly graces of the Liberal Party of Canada, may consider themselves to be in a probationary period of tentative trust. To be revoked, in fact, at any future time that the Liberals - and most particularly, their intrepidly forceful leader finds suitable.

The government has been generously given this grace period, but they must report back in several months' time to their Liberal superiors - oops, cautious supporters.

As for the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois; well, the public was already placed on notice that irrespective of what appeared in the budget, it would not be graced with the support of those two parties. Ideologues of the left have made it abundantly clear in their stated ire; it is their party, and their agenda that comes first, it is emphatically not the furtherance of the country that motivates them.

Any forward-looking momentum to encourage optimism in the country and bring opportunity and trust back where it belongs to help recovery that appears in the budget is damned with praise so faint it evaporates into condemnation. The Finance Minister simply has not gone far enough, wide enough, deep enough, to incur sufficient expenditures to satisfy Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe.

The spending stimulus, landing Canada back into deficit territory, and boosting our national debt; the bane of any conservative economist's mindset, is too tentative, too modest, too lacking in merit. Aren't we fortunate they're not in the driver's seat? Ah, there lies the crux of their ire.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Critical Courtesy

In an exhibition of sweet civility and courtesy the Bush administration went out of its way to be helpfully useful to the incoming Obama administration. Staff at the White House were instructed to extend themselves on behalf of the incoming Democrats. Laura and George W. Bush extended personal warmth and welcome to Michelle and Barack Obama in introducing them to their new quarters.

The transference of authority and the grace of courtesy extended were comforting and bespoke of great civility. A kindness nicely reciprocated when, after the solemn, joyful and auspicious inauguration of the 44th president of the United States of America, the new president and his new vice-president and their spouses went out of their way to extend the courtesy of farewell to the departing Bushes.

All the more notable because the day was fraught with tensions of the nation's business requiring attention, while at the same time, the nation celebrated its great good fortune in anticipation of a brand new future offering hope and security. America's neighbours look on in the hope that some of that good feeling may come their way, too.

As a result of the growing apprehension of risks to both countries from terrorism, and the illegal importation of banned substances and questionable products, it would be wise for the two countries' leaders to appoint high-placed officials to launch or re-launch a special partnership reflective of the comfort of relationship of two close and trusting neighbours.

Trusting? Well, perhaps not so much, of late. Passport and entry regulations, border delays, mandatory cargo data requirements and newly instituted border inspection-provision costs have burdened both individuals and businesses alike in both nations. Tourism from the U.S. to Canada has withered, as authorities in the U.S. point to Canada as the potential link from which terror suspects may invade their border.

That suspicion is injurious on many levels, not the least of which is our shared past history, where Canada has demonstrated time and again, her liking for and support of American values, while clinging to her own. And then there's the extremely vital subject of cross-border trade. Roughly 75% of Canadian exports make their way across the border to the U.S.

Employing hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and the reverse is also true; millions of American jobs are dependent on the long-standing free and open trade agreements between the countries. Canada exists as the largest foreign market for the U.S.; taking in roughly one-fifth of all U.S. exports, exceeding those going to the combined EU-China market.

The two countries also collaborate on intra-industry projects. The North American automobile industry is intertwined between the two countries, benefiting both greatly. We've thrived economically, on our mutual dependence. And then, security issues raised the misery of shuttering the borders to delays and passports and additional entry regulations.

We can do a whole lot better than what currently prevails. Common courtesy, one country to the other demands it, as close neighbours. Trust and civility can and should be restored. Homeland Security has proven to be the bane of our co-existence. Time to look for alternate, viable options.

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Trust This Man?

How perfectly inconvenient, how incredibly awkward. Best to simply set it aside. People will forget. Certainly he has been forgiven by the administration. An unfortunate lapse, nothing more. Strange how it is that when candidates for high office are subjected to close scrutiny something awkward is invariably revealed.

Casting the dim light of lack of prudent behaviour on their otherwise-sterling reputations.

A senior Treasury official with inside knowledge of everything financial succumbing to the kind of absent-minded forgetfulness that had him "completely unintentionally" make an error in his tax assessment, by withholding taxes due on U.S. payroll taxes.

While, no less, he was employed at the International Monetary Fund. That old adage of the physician's inability to heal himself, never more poignant.

But of course this is an unfortunate instance of a high-powered, highly-remunerated elite professional taking the opportunity to avail his bottom line by overlooking the need to submit required taxes to the very Treasury he had a hand in administering.

How inconvenient can things get, after all? A mere $34,000 thought to be worth that heartache?

What heartache? All is forgiven, forgotten; never happened. He's reimbursed the Internal Revenue Service. And now he will undertake his mission to which he has been sworn through the oath of office administered at the Treasury Department, to supervise the Internal Revenue Service.

Wonder if he is skilled at picking locks, too?

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We've Been Stimulated

Ah, the budget, there it is in all its spendthrift glory. No complaints, not really. Who could logically criticize funding vitally important items that this country requires to ensure it remains of sound mind and stout body? A hearty sum of $7-billion allocated for our crumbling bridges, potholed highways, worn out public buildings. Good, very good.

Another $2-billion for low-income housing. The better to resurrect our honour and our pride as a country that provides for all its citizens. Job re-training has taken another $1.5-billion of the nation's treasury and it's a necessary down payment on the future of our workers, our productivity, our gross national product, our ability to fend for ourselves.

Communities within this great country so adversely affected by the downturn in fortunes of our natural resources in forestry and mining, along with our agricultural sectors - feeding this great hungry nation, providing staples to be shipped abroad to feed the world's hungry - another $1-billion. Doesn't seem all that much for such a broad and vital purpose.

Guess the finance minister thought so too, because in his great wisdom he allocated another $550 for agriculture, and hurray for him and for us, as well. Canada's farmers and agricultural conglomerates get down to basics. What does it avail a country if it cannot provide the gustatory wherewithal through which its people can thrive?

Tourism, let us not forget tourism, enticing the world to witness first hand the geographic spread and depth of this great country, second in size world-wide to none but one. From our tidal basins, to our ocean seascapes, our great tracts of undisturbed forest to our frozen North, our endless Prairies and Rocky Mountain heights; come and visit - $300-million for tourism projects.

Poor old Ontario - so long the engine of prosperity for the country, and still in its enfeebled state due to manufacturing closures, responsible for 40% of this country's wealth - it too gets a nod. From pride in place to penance of penury. The federal government, in its budget, recognizes the province's bitter travails, and gives it $250-million for regional economic development.

A nod at that old adage that man does not live by bread alone. We require sensory and aesthetic stimulation, to remind us of who and what we are as a people. Our culture, our artistic endeavours in the literary, music and plastic arts require constant nourishing lest they shrivel and vanish through the misery of neglect; to the cultural sector, $160-million!

And more, oh so much more, no need ignored, no sector passed by. A lot of sweet, a little bit of sour; municipalities and provincial governments will be enticed, nay, expected, to pony up their share. So the taxpaying middle class who will see some relief in the federal budget will on the other hand see that relief absorbed by higher municipal taxes; easy come, easy go.

The NDP and the Bloc foam and fulminate, agitating for projects left behind, but then nothing would quite satiate their need to tax and spend, and their support is at best minimal, overall. Fully 57% of Canadians applaud this budget. Michael Ignatieff, take heed.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Speech From The Throne

There it is, Michaelle Jean, Canada's Governor-General has delivered the most brief of all possible speeches, an incidental introduction, a frontispiece to the Conservative budget to be unveiled tomorrow afternoon. The speech has been parsed by pundits just as the budget will be, and no one has yet mentioned its last line, a reference to the Almighty.
"Honourable members of the Senate, members of the House of Commons: As you unite in common effort and in common cause, may Divine Providence be your guide and inspiration."

This is as it should be, reflecting Canada's Christian-majority heritage, despite the official separation of Church and State. Yet, it will not be Divine Providence that will guide and inspire the Leader of the Opposition and the surly leader of the NDP, but a partisanship and bitterness as deep and sharp as that they attribute to the current prime minister, Stephen Harper.

This is decidedly not as it should be. If indeed Canada is facing a dire economic slump as the pundits, the financial community, the news media and the parliamentary opposition claims, then would it not make eminently good sense, should Canadians not expect, that all our political parties put aside their selfish partisan jibes and thrusts and work together to pull a practical and purposeful plan to action?

Obviously, not to be. Maturity keeps eluding our feisty parliamentarians with such short memories they handily forget what the electorate put them into office for. The surly insistence of the leader of the NDP that his party has no intention of voting for the Budget, sight unseen; regardless of what it contains speaks volumes of his anxious ambition set in further bitter abeyance.

He speaks the royal "we"; that "we" have lost trust in the Conservatives. As though Canadians have invested in him the authority to speak for all of us. He must learn to restrain himself, to speak only for his own ambition, sad-sack Jack Layton. Fact is a recent poll appears to establish that 44% of Canadians feel Stephen Harper is their first choice to lead Canada out of its recession.

And while Jack Layton speaks so censoriously of Stephen Harper's "my way or the highway", as he so eloquently puts it, it is Mr. Layton's refusal to contemplate or consider the line items in the upcoming Budget already released for public awareness that marks him as the intransigent one, refusing to support a financial paper that promises to give weight to all those areas of need he espouses himself.

As for the saviour of the Liberal Party of Canada, his sneeringly facile barbs at the trustworthiness and humanity of the prime minister is less an issue of cerebral acuity for one celebrated as an intellectual, than spuriously feeble bites reminiscent of partisan spite, a condition which he has so lavishly attributed to Stephen Harper. He holds no monopoly on wishing to govern well and wisely, and acceding to the needs of the vulnerable within this society.

Mr. Ignatieff's excessively coy treatment of his responsibility with respect to the Budget is rather pitifully transparent. As a break from tradition - matching, one supposes, that of the Harper government audaciously revealing tidbits from the Budget - Mr. Ignatieff insists on the need to closely parse that document before committing to its support. A thinly veiled manipulation of the process to create an aura of suspense and control.

That he will not rush into rashly supporting the document is understandable, given the lesson of previous Liberal leader Stephane Dion's railing against government initiatives while supporting them when put to the test. His humiliations will not be visited upon Mr. Ignatieff. He's in control. In reality, political caution bespeaks the better part of valour expressed.

And caution influences action. Sit tight, await opportunity. And that time is not just yet. Not while the sitting government faces a perceived economic emergency that may not be ameliorated on the near horizon. Let them stew, while the Liberals continue to re-build their base, treasury and support, then step in to rescue the country when it's on the cusp of recovery.

All the while excoriating the Conservatives for leaving an unprincipled mess for generations to come to contend with. Oh, and of course, it has been the Liberal prodding that the government act swiftly, decisively, and generously impacting the bottom line to produce a whopping deficit that will enable them later to scorn the action that government took.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ignatieff indulges in the theatrics of labelling the prime minister untrustworthy, changing tactics, abandoning earlier stances to accept other, alternate ones reflective of a changed global fiscal environment. The classic example of the pot calling the kettle black; Ignatieff has changed his positions on so many issues, it ill behooves him to mock Stephen Harper.

But this is only the prelude. Wait for tomorrow. Ah, the suspense of it all.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Speak Up, Can't Hear You....

World Vision in Africa has been forced to suspend their emergency feeding program for thousands of malnourished children in Democratic Republic of Congo, close to its border with Uganda. "People have suffered enough" said one of its representatives. "The real fear now is that, once the fighting starts, there will be retaliation against the local population."

Well, in fact, in Congo the fighting never seems to stop. There are so many factions with their brutal militias exploiting the country. One faction comprised of Hutu tribespeople, out to exact revenge against their Tsutsi rivals, and the Tutsi faction, fighting in their self defence against the Hutu militias. People are tortured, murdered, women raped, and children, if not slaughtered, taken for slaves.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, Hutu rebels who fled Rwanda in 1994 after the Tutsi-led government finally gained control, in the wake of the horrendous slaughter of Tutsis (and moderate Hutus) in what the world has labelled a genocide, operate in the Eastern DRC, preying on the Tutsi population there.

The National Congress for the Defence of the People, representing Congolese ethnic Tutsis, supported by the Rwandan government, and fighting to defeat the FDLR is also present and active in Congo. The dreaded Lord's Resistance Army under the insanely vicious Joseph Kony fighting to establish a theocratic state based on the Old Testament's 10 Commandments, along with tribal tradition is the bane of the region.

And then there are the local Congolese militias, the Mai Mai - collaborating with the FDLR in inciting hatred against the Congolese Tutsi communities - whose end purpose is to destroy the Tutsi population. Attempting to do battle with all of these militias is the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose soldiers have proven incapable of mounting a defence, and members of whom have embarked on their own violent rampages against the population.

The United Nations has installed 17,000 peacekeepers - the largest such installation worldwide - in the region, to try to protect the population. Despite their presence, the militias have managed to murder thousands, forcing over a million people to leave their homes in the last several years. The government of Congo, having now invited thousands of Rwandan troops to cross the border to assist it in rousting the rebels is preparing for large-scale battle.

Aid workers on the ground await the fighting, knowing they will be tasked with trying to assist hundreds of thousands more people, and anticipating aid delivery disruptions to the million people who already depend on them. A month earlier Kinshasa had invited Ugandan troops to join a military task force against the LRA. They succeeded in scattering the Lords Resistance Army into groups who went on to pillage, murder, rape and kidnap children, kept in thrall as child soldiers.

The Lords Resistance Army has since gone on to murder countless others, beating villagers to death with clubs or hacking them with machetes. A Roman Catholic church packed with people was put to the torch. In another village all the boys and men were beaten to death, the women and girls raped before their skulls were crushed. The elusively evil Joseph Kony of the LRA is being sought, desperately.

While all this vile destruction of human lives is ongoing, the international community seems more than a little disinterested. Where is the clamour from among the global public to protest the violence, the misery, and the atrocities? Like the situation in Darfur, Sudan insisting it has the right to do as it will with its citizens, and Robert Mugabe happy to have his Zimbabweans die of cholera and starvation, the world is mute.

Why the double standard, where outraged protesters march against the State of Israel's purported illegal conduct in their military invasion of Gaza to stop Hamas from its continued predations on Israel? What's that? Louder please, I'm having trouble picking up your signal.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009


Neighbours, generally on good terms, with an invisible fence between their properties. They have had their differences of opinion, but generally make a mature effort to restrain their less neighbourly attitudes from forcing a distance between them unwarranted by mutual need and recognition. One, suffering a grievous injury, went so far as to blame his neighbour for having been too accommodating to the entity that injured it, but without true cause.

The result of which that invisible, extremely porous fence through which each had in the past flowed from one property to the other to visit and exchange pleasantries, has since been electrified with suspicion. And each neighbour, still yet accustomed to visiting with gifts and offerings in hand, has had to cool their heels before crossing the fence, while agents of one neighbour or the other, poked about at the gifts and offerings to determine their innocence and bless entry.

Fables often flow from reality. Canadian-American relations ebb and flow, from comfortable to prickly. The free flow of trade, goods and services, let alone that of curiosity and tourism has been impeded of late between the two countries. It's a fairly one-sided affair, with Americans having convinced themselves that Canada's perceived less stringent immigration procedures pose a risk to the United States, permitting the entry of those with malignant purposes.

It's understandable to a degree, as is the constant bickering over trade matters, with one side striving to discount any advantage the other might seek to mount, favouring a trade balance that the other considers unfair. If human siblings, on a micro-scale quibble constantly, little wonder that nations indulge also, on a macro-scale of inter-related relationships between two equally-endowed countries. The more populous, more prosperous of which will always have the advantage.

And now that another president has been installed in the United States, Canada is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to impress itself as a reliable and likeable neighbour. President Obama has done Canada the great favour of receiving him, in his first foreign trip in a series of such visits abroad for the purpose of introducing himself, his administration and his agenda to international partners in trade, development and an orderly world.

This will mark Canada's opportunity to make a fresh start with a new administration in Washington. Much is expected of Canada's prime minister, to himself make a good impression on the new president. They will speak primarily of trade, climate change, the global economy and their shared military policing challenges in Afghanistan. And they will speak of Canada's vast energy resources, at the service of American energy needs.

The two countries have much, though not too too too much in common. While Americans think of Canada as a pale reflection of their own society with like values and priorities reflective of their own culture and traditions, Canadians remains adamant that, while admiring much of what the United States has produced in science and entertainment and what its overall human values stand for, there is a wide separation between some values and some priorities.

What there can be no argument about, however, is that we are sufficiently alike to understand one another far better than we do; that our mutual interests bind us together in trade and commerce on a shared continent; that our contiguous border and close geographic proximity mitigate against hostility, and urge toward friendship.


With The Stroke of a Pen

In 1973 the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion, permitting that country the status of the least restrictive abortion laws in the world. A majority of Americans, some 54%, support a woman's right to control the issue of her body, under certain circumstances. A minor position, backing a total ban on abortion, is strenuously upheld by 17% of the population. And a committed 28% of Americans believe abortion should be available to women under any circumstances.

That's an overwhelming vote of confidence in women's need and ability to distinguish for themselves the manner in which they wish to conduct their lives. To have control over their destiny to a certain extent; certainly when it comes to motherhood. When all else fails, and the best laid plans go awry, with the occurrence of an unwanted pregnancy, most women, wherever they live in the world, prefer to order their lives as they wish to, not how some within society wish them to.

Under a series of Republican administrations, most notably beginning with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, women's choices were decisively narrowed by an edict of state, extending to other countries of the world whose women are far less able to take alternative routes to achieve their goals. The United States funds family planning assistance programs overseas to the extent of roughly $400-million annually.

However, President Reagan's administration in 1984 instituted a ban on funding for groups that also provided abortion services or counselling abroad. No U.S. government funding would be extended for family planing services to clinics or groups offering counselling or services that would abort a pregnancy, and that policy extended to funding from non-U.S. government sources.

The result was a shameful reduction in health care for women living in some of the poorest countries of the world. This policy was remediated by the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton, allowing the free flow of funding for family planning, inclusive of counselling for abortion, reclaiming for women the right to make those choices for themselves, within the international community.

And it was a policy that George W. Bush swept into the dustbin, reinstating the earlier Republican ban on family planning funding that was linked to pregnancy-cessation services. The pendulum has once again swung back to the Democratic position of supporting women's right to choose. "With a stroke of a pen, President Obama has lifted the stranglehold on women's health across the globe", enthused the U.S. president of Planned Parenthood.

Women who were deprived of contraception and allied health services in undeveloped countries who were forced to resort to the painful and fearsome exigencies of back-alley abortions all too often resulting in the agony of botched operations and death, have once again been rescued. Countries like Ethiopia and Lesotho are once again free to offer comprehensive and integrated health-care services to women suffering from AIDS/HIV.

It is tellingly significant that the one issue for which the late unlamented presidency of George W. Bush has received plaudits, the massive funding of AIDS/HIV remediation throughout Africa, had its own very conservative hiccough to unalloyed success. In that a qualifier existed for access to funding; that along with the work associated with AIDS/HIV assistance, those receiving aid be counselled toward sex abstinence.

Predictably, the anti-abortion agitators like the American Life League are furious. "We've got a president who is rabidly in favour of abortion even though he says he's not. I think it's a horrible tactic to take toward Third World countries if the best we can do for them is provide organizations with the money needed to perform abortions on their children. It's an outrage", fumed the American Life League's president. So who is rabid?

Republican lawmakers mourn the reassertion of a woman's right to choose by characterizing the decision as "a divisive action". They are not acting divisively, however. Another claims to be "saddened by this decision and the lives that will be lost because of it". Mourning the loss of children born to mothers unable to adequately care for another child, yet not the loss of life occasioned by women desperately undergoing unsterile, underground operations that will end their lives.

Perception is the eye of perspective, truth and reality mangled by politics and passion.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mercy Killing?

Is it to be considered as merciful to allow a brain-dead woman's body to be kept quick? Her condition knows no salvation. Her body is being medically, scientifically, halted from corrupting, but it is a hollow shell, and has been for the past 17 years. An agony to her family, who wish nothing better for their beloved child than to bury the past, to no longer have to face the anguish of her artificial presence, a rebuke to their ability to end their suffering and the charade of her fictitious existence.

Eluana Englaro lost her life for all practical purposes, in a car accident that occurred seventeen years ago when she was a vibrant 20-year-old. She has been in a coma ever since. She, like all such victims of tragedy whose consciousness and soul evaporates into nothingness never to resurface, bears no physical resemblance to the blooming young woman she once was. Her father has been attempting for the past ten years, to have life support withdrawn, to allow her the final dignity of burial.

In predominantly Roman Catholic Italy some regions of the country had offered to step in and allow her to expire when Milan, capital of Lombardy, the second largest city close to where Ms. Englaro remains hospitalized refused to permit hospitals under its jurisdiction to comply with her family's request. However, even they have been forced to withdraw their offers of assistance, under pressure from Italy's minister of health.

Maurizio Sacconi, the health minister, warned subsidized state hospitals that they would face "unimaginable consequences" were they to suspend life support for this poor woman. More to the point, the Catholic Church is fierce in its resistance toward any form of euthanasia, and has pointedly warned against halting the artificial feeding of the now-37-old woman. The Archbishop of Turin, Severino Poletto, said that to do so would clearly represent an act of euthanasia.

Clearly, it is not to be seen as an act of compassion.

Now the governor of Piedmont is prepared to disregard the objections of government officials to assist the family of Eluana in their search to end this travesty of prolonged death in the guise of protecting the sanctity of human life. As a consequence, the daily newspaper of the Italian Catholic Church has accused the court which ruled in the family's favour to have her life support system removed, of "necrophilia".

The Church will most certainly disallow a religious funeral for the young woman, further exacerbating her family's pain and sorrow.

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Geert Wilders, "Fitna"

In a recent art exhibition initiated by the current Czech Republic presidency of the European Union, Holland was depicted as a country drowning in the enveloping seas, with the only visible sign of habitation, the tops of mosques. Holland, like much of Europe, has been inundated by emigrants leaving Arab and Muslim countries. These new citizens of Europe have kept their customs, traditions and religion intact. They have not exactly found Paradise in their new countries, since they have suffered more than their share of discrimination.

On the other hand, their inability or unwillingness to assimilate into the larger society, partially due to their singularity and their wish to preserve their identities, and partly because there have been no workable state-sponsored efforts to bring them into the community at large, to offer them equal opportunities in education and in the workforce, they remain isolated, resentful, averse to many of the values and social mores of the indigenous population.

That apartness has bred gigantic problems, such as the outflow of violence from the banlieues of France, such as terrorist attacks in Britain and Spain, such as assassination attempts - and successes - of parliamentarians in European countries alarmed at the presence of what appears to be a growing population of immigrants whose fecundity has overtaken that of the shrinking indigenous population, and whose insistence on sharia law having equal value to the laws of the land lead to general fear and condemnation.

The Dutch far-right parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, whose pronouncements of Islam as being comparable as a religion to the ideology of Nazism has earned him no friends among Dutch Muslims who abhor and deplore what they view as unforgivable and unfair hate-mongering. Now a Dutch court has ordered prosecutors to place him on trial for inciting hatred. "The contested views of Wilders constitute a criminal offence", claimed the Amsterdam appeals court.

Mr. Wilders's 17-minute film, "Fitna" caused outrage, condemnation and riots in the Muslim world, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized it as "offensively anti-Islamic". Months earlier, the prosecutor's office had equivocated; while "Fitna", they said, was offensive to Muslims, the film, in their opinion, did not warrant action as a punishable offence. Mr. Wilders's remarks were made openly, in the context of public debate.

But there's a chill in most free-speech-celebrating democratic societies, particularly of late, where the hallowed, basic right of freedom of speech is clashing head on with those within society who argue that some areas of expression and apprehensions should be prohibited on the basis that their public airing compromises public safety and security, and leads directly to malicious discrimination of the described group. Freedom of expression is permitted, claims the prosecution "provided that it is proportionate".

There goes that word again. "Proportionate", like the verities of basic human values that some insist must be viewed through the lens of cultural differentiation, is a debatable value. Mr. Wilders's statements and his film are now to be viewed, under Dutch law, as being tantamount to hate speech. He is charged with creating and inciting to hate and grief among a segment of the population. For his part, Mr. Wilders claims the judgement marked "a black day" and constituted "an attack on the freedom of expression".

His country and its citizens, opposed to the "Islamization" of the Netherlands will, effectively be on trial with him. "Who will stand up for our culture if I am silenced?", he asks, poignantly. The issue is polarizing, pulling people of a left-leaning bent to deny he speaks for them, while those in the middle, on the right, worry about the friable nature and character of their traditions, their country, becoming irreversibly altered.

Mr. Wilders's film reflects some selections from among the 114 chapters of the Koran, along with newspaper clippings of video depictions of Muslim acts of hatred and violence. These are not difficult to come by; one need only recall the reaction of the Muslim world to those infamously impish Danish cartoons. Indeed, a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, carrying a bomb on his head is included, certain to inflame the incendiary wrath of Muslims.

The 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, the Madrid train bombings, inclusive of lurid shots of victims; young Muslim girls mouthing the "Jews are apes and pigs" trope beloved of fanatical Islamists, because this is what Allah teaches in the Koran; an interview with Theo van Gogh's assassin, where he avers he would repeat the grisly murder if the opportunity were given him again. These incidents are not figments of anyone's imagination. Though they do represent, we would hope, a minority of Muslim-approved thought and action.

The riots that ensue whenever information is spread that Allah or The Prophet have been blasphemed in the West are undeniable occurrences. The fact that in the West nothing is sacrosanct, and everything can be discussed in a free and open society simply does not reflect the Muslim reality. The hypocrisy that Islam must never, under any circumstances, despite any provocations, be criticized, neither its tenets nor its signal and holy symbols, while Muslims can and do feel free to slander other religions and cultures, is also an unfortunate fact.

As leader of the Dutch Freedom party, with nine seats in parliament, it is unfortunate beyond mere words in the order of disastrous, that matters have descended to this low order. The VVD liberal opposition party announced that it was "alarming" that a politician could be prosecuted for his statements (representing his views). While the Labour party, part of the governing coalition, eagerly awaits a definitive ruling.

When it is brought down, regardless of what the ruling may state, no one will be satisfied, and no one, no side in this volatile and divisive issue, will feel vindicated nor complacent; nothing will have been resolved. While much may have been lost.

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News of the World, January 2009

"Europe is getting pounded by a tidal wave of bad economic news that has prompted warnings of a frightening rise in civil unrest. Top politicians in Europe are so rattled by the prospect of growing protests that they have arranged an emergency leaders' summit in March to deal with growing tensions. Earlier this week, riot police were needed to rescue Iceland's Prime Minister Geir Haarde, when his limousine was pelted by eggs and drink cans hurled by protesters. Thousands of protesters have participated in sometimes-violent street demonstrations in Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Greece in recent weeks."

"Pope Benedict XVI is understood to be preparing to cancel the excommunication of four traditionalist Catholic bishops, including one who believes that the Holocaust never happened and that the Nazi gas chambers were a myth. The Pope has already signed the decree lifting the excommunication of the four bishops of the ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius X, according to well-sourced reports in the Italian media. One of the bishops, Richard Williamson, a British former Anglican Old Wykehamist and Cambridge graduate, said in a Swedish television interview this week: 'There were no gas chambers.'"

"A Chinese court has handed down two death sentences in the melamine tainted milk scandal that killed at least six children and made 300,000 more ill, last summer, but judges spared top executives of Sanlu, the company that produced and sold the poisonous baby formula. Zhang Yujun, who had made and sold more than 600 tonnes of "protein powder" laced with melamine and Gent Jinping were sentenced to death for producing melamine, a chemical used in plastic, mixing it with milk powder and selling it to Sanlu. They will likely be executed quickly, as is the custom in China."

"Israel will allow journalists free access to the war-battered Gaza Strip, a statement from the defence ministry said. The Erez crossing will be open all days except Saturday. Israel had barred journalists from Gaza during its 22-day war on the Hamas rulers of the enclave."

"Four Palestinians were injured when two tunnels used by smugglers collapsed on the border between Egypt and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security official said. Israel charges that Hamas gets weapons through tunnels that run under the Rafah border. Scores of tunnels used by Palestinians and Egyptians to smuggle contraband into the territory, have collapsed in recent months, killing more than 40 people."

"The trial of Joseph Fritzl, accused of holding his daughter captive as a sex slave over 24 years, during which she bore seven of his children, will begin on March 16, an Austrian court said. The trial will last about a week, but no date has yet been set for the verdict. The beginning of proceedings will be open to the public and media but later access will depend on further developments.

"An Irish woman who forced a teenage son to have sex with her four times over a six-year period and abused and starved five other children in a rat-infested bungalow was jailed for seven years yesterday. 'I can safely say that I was the worst mother in the world and I'd turn back the clock if I could, but I can't', the 40-year-old woman was quoted as saying. She was given seven years and concurrent sentences of six years on counts of carnal knowledge, incest and wilful neglect."

"A paratrooper in a remote mountainous area of India's troubled northeast went on a shooting rampage, killing six of his own unit after an altercation, security officials said. The incident took place in Manipur state's Ukhrul district, about 90 kilometres from the capital, Imphal, where the country's oldest paramilitary force, the Assam Rifles, is deployed for anti-insurgency operations. Security forces launched a massive search operation in the mountains after he escaped with automatic weapons and ammunition."

"Nearly 100 civilians have been killed in artillery exchanges between Sri Lanka's military and Tamil Tigers, a top government official working in the area controlled by the rebels said. Sri Lanka's military has boxed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam into an area of less than 400 square kilometres after the most successful campaign so far in the 25-year war and is aiming to deliver a final blow to the last rebel stronghold, the port of Mullaitivu."

"The cholera death toll in Zimbabwe has soared to 2,755, with 48,623 people suspected of being infected, according to new world Health Organization statistics. The numbers show a sharp rise in fatalities and new infections from statistics published earlier. The UN's humanitarian co-ordination office said in Geneva that preventive measures were not working and that a growing number of deaths were occurring beyond the reach of health workers in rural areas."

"United Nations peacekeepers in Congo demanded yesterday to be given a role in joint military operations by Congolese and Rwandan armies against Hutu rebels, saying they feared for civilians otherwise. The UN force in Congo has been largely excluded from the operation, in which more than 3,500 Rwandan soldiers crossed into Congo to advance on rebel strongholds in North Kivu province. Fears for civilians are high because the Hutu rebel group has turned on them in the past. The UN's 17,000-strong force has worked with Congo's army, but co-operation soured recently due to accusations of abuse by Congolese forces. Human rights groups have accused the army of rape and pillage, notably in defeats by Congolese Tutsi rebels last year."

"The European human rights court yesterday ordered Russia to pay $300,000 to the families of five Chechens whose relatives say they were abducted by Russian soldiers and a sixth who was found dead. The court unanimously ruled that Russia violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the victims' right to life, the right to an effective investigation and the right to effective remedy."

"Making his first extensive comments on the Middle East crisis, President Barack Obama yesterday outlined actions that Israel and Hamas must take to ensure a 'durable ceasefire' in the region. "Hamas must end its rocket fire, (and) Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza", Mr. Obama said. Mr. Obama said that the U.S. "will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror." For Hamas to be a "genuine party to peace", Mr. Obama said the group must "recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements."


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Getting To Work

The man isn't losing any time. One might think he would be exhausted, mentally, physically, but obviously not. He remains serene of countenance, with an assured determination to begin constructing the new reality of his administration. The re-administration of the oath of office, a blip on the duties of the day. Speaking to the four Mid-East leaders to assure them he's prepared to make his mark there.

Freezing White House salaries to demonstrate to the public that their pain is being shared. Beginning the first phase of implementing U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq. He's already reached beyond mere symbolism into the hard core of his office. The installing of new rules governing lobbying. He's out there, front and centre, and his audience is gape-mouthed and hopeful.

His silver tongue will perforce be required to practise the transparency of which he speaks. Surrendering the coveralls of vagueness to the precise language of details. He has promised an open and transparent government, in stark contrast to the administration he succeeds. Not many doubt his promise to waft a fresh air of frank openness, for he has promised he will have nothing to hide.

It may seem a trifle incongruous that a man who has come to office with the promise of a clean sweep, a new and open government, one which eschews the practises and performance of the previous Republican-led administration, has chosen to welcome into his inner Cabinet men and women who have been closely aligned with the discredited policies of the Bush administration.

But, among other items of primary significance, President Barak Obama, while he was yet Senator Obama, indicated that he valued inclusiveness, that he would make it a personal mark of his administration to go beyond partisanship, that he would select from among his country's brightest and most promising, for the greater good of the country.

We're staying tuned. To assess the value of his appointments to his administration's avowed intent. To reach conclusions with respect to his ability to somehow wrest his country away from financial ruin, back into its position of world economic leadership. To bring international respect back from the depths to which it has plunged through pride and unilateralism.

There is little doubt in the public mind that he will manage, somehow, over a respectable period of time, to achieve much that he has promised. The extent of his success, and the results obtaining from it are yet a long way into the future. But the thing of it is, the country has fallen so low that it has nowhere to go but up. And with the goodwill extended toward this man, and the eager willingness of his fellow lawmakers, much can be accomplished.

Time will elapse, the tides will swell and ebb, and the world awaits Barak Obama's trials, errors and successes.

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Canada's Economic Stimulous

Canada's Minister of Finance is set to bring down a new budget for the country. A most important document this will be, given the potentially straitened economic circumstances hovering over Canada, mostly through the impact on our trade with other countries, most notably the United States, no longer in quite the same position as it was formerly, to import Canada's goods and services.

Commodities, particularly energy, yes, of course. Canada is the world's seventh-largest oil producer, possesses the second-largest proven reserves. We rank third in natural gas production, first in the production of hydroelectricity, and first in uranium. Pity that all those commodities are now facing a relatively low-dollar trade advantage, but that is cyclical, and will rebound.

Our financial institutions are in fine shape, our employment statistics still show us at close to full strength, despite the dwindling jobs in our vital logging, fishing, and manufacturing sectors. There are even some financial analysts so bold as to aver that Canada will manage to avoid the depths of a recession, that we're already in recovery mode.

Still a deficit is forecast for the coming years, largely imposed by frantic soothsayers called financial experts stampeding government into emergency measures to extend credit here, there and everywhere, and discharge government obligation to uphold the economy. Extending funding for infrastructure renewal is excellent. For failing corporations whose own lack of acumen in business basics, not so much.

We may still have a surplus of $6-billion for the last fiscal year before we go into deficit overdrive. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has promised tax relief, and that may come through in the form of permanent tax cuts. The Conservatives, as a minority governing body, have managed to retire $37-billion in debt since 2006.

Which stands in danger of being wiped out in one fell swoop if the decision is made to extend excessively-generous government initiatives not really required to boost the economy at all. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments managed to retire about $105-billion over an 11-year period. The federal debt is about $457-billion, representing the lowest in the G7.

We're in good shape. No need to panic. No need, other than for political manoeuvring for Liberal leader George Ignatieff to promise that if Prime Minister Harper isn't sufficiently attuned to Mr. Ignatieff's idea of what Canada needs at this juncture, in the budget, he's on notice that the budget will be rejected. Consultations have taken place; they will be taken into account.

Rest easy. True, we don't need an election. But nor do we need a Liberal leader who feels it incumbent on himself to pronounce that he has the option of leading a coalition government, bringing down the current government. He isn't keen on an election, would prefer to bypass the democratic process, and still avail himself.

He's becoming altogether too comfortable foregoing the democratic process; it worked very well indeed for him, in the last instance, when he ascended to the leadership without the annoying process of a democratic vote. Canadians don't appreciate his pompous statement that "The choice is up to Mr. Harper. It's up to him to make the right decision, and up to me to decide if he made it."

Matter of fact, it is up to the electorate. Back to basics. This is a democracy. Have a need to govern? Undergo the democratic electoral process. Assess the budget reasonably, stop throwing inconsiderable weight around. Grow up.

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Prom Night In Mississippi

Finally, America has reached social maturity. A politician has been elected to head the great United States of America, recognized for his genetically-endowed abilities, his steady hand and head, his soaring oratorical skills in communicating his vision of a new America, enthusing, alerting, mesmerizing and infatuating the voting population to his promise of a new day dawning.

That his antecedents reflected a racial divide that bitterly coloured society, politics and human rights for three centuries before Barak Obama's ascension to the presidency of the United States became an incidental to the value of the man's perceived attributes. The tide of enthusiasm over his serene presence, his assumed integrity, his glowing optimism, carried the day.

A leader unlike so many others of late, one whose word was to be believed, one whose careful identification of the miseries that plagued his country and his vow to turn the fortunes of America back to its fundamentals of justice, liberty and fairness for all, was believed. Sufficiently so to elevate him in the esteem of his countrymen, and of the watching world.

Now that he is installed and faces the unenviable, monstrously difficult tasks of converting fear, suspicion and failure to trust, hope and success, intrinsic political failures back to basics, pulling his country out of its recession, rescuing its crumbling financial systems, forestalling further job losses, and bringing self-respect back to the country, hope simmers, holding its fragile breath.

Racial equality, by the bye, achieved in the process. Ancient animosities, mistrust, evaporated. A new world of acceptance visualized and brought forward to elevate the discourse, bring people to the recognition of equality of opportunity for all, and the celebration of diversity strengthening the social compact. Pluralism surrendered to the celebrity of unity.

Except, perhaps, in the Mississippi Delta. In Charleston, Tallahatchie County where people adhere to what they know best, where the population honours traditions and customs and advertise the town with a complacent motto: "A Good Place to Live". Why, the famous actor Morgan Freeman lived there, it's where he grew up. And a little bit of him is still there, invested in its future.

Race relations in the U.S. South are nothing like what they were. Integration and understanding and appreciation of the other has made great strides. Mississippi boasts the highest per-capita percentage of black elected officials, police and fire chiefs. In recognition of their capabilities, their professionalism, their trustworthiness. Their place in the greater society.

Which is, without doubt, as it should be. Yet, in Charleston, Mississippi, population 2,100, the good folks who live there are comfortable with two separate senior proms, one for black students, another for whites only. Morgan Freeman has twice offered to pay for a single, integrated prom. His interference was not appreciated. "Tradition is one thing; idiocy is another" he informed the school board.

A Canadian filmmaker, Paul Saltzman, who had first visited the Delta in 1965, as a civil rights worker, recently returned, and persuaded Mr. Freeman to proffer his offer again. Accepted, this time. Mr. Saltzman, and his wife - and co-producer of a film about "Prom Night in Mississippi" - Patricia Aquino, documented the resulting integrated prom. Most of the high school students were in favour of it.

Their parents decidedly were not. While the young people fully agreed that segregation and racism are idiotic, their parents cling to the comfort of those traditions. Lest their daughters be impregnated by black boys. Miscegenation; how utterly dreadful.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Intolerant and Intolerable Complexities

The Democratic Republic of Congo has joined with Rwanda, permitting thousands of Rwandan troops to enter Congo in the hunt for Rwandan Hutu rebels. Rwanda would still like to bring some of the Hutu leaders of the Tutsi massacre in Rwanda to justice. Apart from the fact that the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda are preying on, raping and murdering Tutsi Congolese.

This is an about-face for the government of Congo, to make common cause with Rwanda, since a previous invasion of their country gave rise to a tide of bloodshed and civil war. A cataclysmic upheaval that resulted in the deaths of over five million people, through the fighting, through disease and starvation. But Congo is desperate to bring stability to the country, to eradicate the Hutu militias.

Now, in eastern Congo over a million people are refugees, forced from their homes in the last two years. Battles between the army, militia allies and Rwandan and Congolese rebels forced refugees to flee for their lives. The Congolese army hasn't been any too kind to them either; tasked with defending them, engaging instead in their own rape and murder sprees.

The United Nations has a peacekeeping force in Congo, known as MONUC. MONUC claims that the Congolese army blocks the UN's patrols, prevents humanitarian agencies from entering rebel territory and that the new fighting would cause additional civilian deaths and dire deprivations in the overcrowded and vulnerable refugee camps.

The Tutsi rebel leader, General Laurent Nkunda, allied with the Rwandan government, claims he is effectively battling to rid Congo of the Hutu-led rebels who attack Tutsis in Congo, killing, raping and spreading anti-Tutsi propaganda among the Hutu Congolese.

But eastern Congolese dread and hate the Rwandans, accusing them of looting the territory's mineral riches. Rwanda, in fact, would dearly love to take over that rich bit of geography to endow itself with the natural resources, to wrest them from the weak Congolese government.

The government of Congo is taking a risk, permitting Rwanda's army to enter the country for a combined military effort to hunt down the Hutu rebels and put an end to the dreadful strife in the country, setting Hutu against Tutsi and vice versa.

The Rwandan genocide is history, but history strives, through the intractable tribal enmities unwilling to fade into anguished memory, to repeat itself.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Medical Assistance

The people of Gaza have suffered enormously, particularly over the last year and more under the Hamas regime. Before the ascent of Hamas as the de facto government in the Gaza Strip, the population had suffered another kind of dysfunctionality, one of chaotic anarchy, where the incidence of lawlessness and criminality was endemic. Those who aspired to lead a decent normal life were unable to, fearful of a lack of personal security.

With the advent of Hamas as the governing entity, order was restored, but at a cost. Hamas enacted a rigid theocratic rule, one which all Gazans had to be complicit with, for to protest was to bring attention, and abuse and occasionally worse. Gazans now had to suffer under an embargo imposed upon their territory by the Israelis and the outside world, unwilling to recognize the legality of Hamas's takeover of Gaza.

A violent takeover, usurping Fatah in a vicious sectarian war of attrition. Hamas living up to its reputation as a ruthless terror group recognized as such by most of the world community. Posing as a government of legitimate right through the auspices of a fair and democratic election, yet belying that status by their repeated insistence on their right to destroy the State of Israel.

The embargo, agreed upon by the international community, in concert with the State of Israel, realized a scarcity of consumer goods and the opportunity to travel and to obtain work outside Gaza, leading to a restricted lifestyle of bare existence for too many. Added to that was the need for a strict adherence to any and all of Hamas' edicts for the people living in the Strip.

The international community criticized Israel for its closure of the border crossings, a self-defence move to ensure that Hamas was not materially and militarily empowered through access to funding and goods and weaponry by its takeover of Gaza. In the process there erupted shortages of fuel, fresh food, and medicines. Israel dutifully continued to supply Gaza with its energy needs.

It opened and regulated the importation of needed domestic goods for the population, while retaining the right to close those borders when intelligence informed them of impending terror strikes. It has been ethically troubling for sympathetic Israelis to view the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza and there are many groups who attempt to alleviate the stress of the population there.

A new border medical clinic was set up by the Israeli Magen David Adom and the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and Israel's Health Ministry to minister to sick and wounded Gazans. The facility was placed on the northern border of the Strip in the anticipation that it would be well utilized by Gazans. However, scant few Gazans have attempted to avail themselves of treatment at this free clinic.

The medical staffers are clearly disappointed "I spent the whole day there and not one person came to us for help", said one doctor. "The people there are scared, scared of us and scared of Hamas. The clinic is an amazing thing but I can't blame them for not wanting to come to us. It is just very frustrating." Seven Palestinian children with cancer had come to the clinic for treatment, and were released.

Its presence at the Eretz crossing represents a humanitarian effort by Israel to assist the civilian population, in the wake of its 22-day offensive in Gaza. Government officials at the official inauguration of the clinic announced that the clinic was meant to accept all patients, while more serious cases would see referral to Israeli hospitals.

A mandatory border security check is the first step to admission, after which patients would be taken immediately into the clinic for treatment. Four ambulances have been stationed at the clinic, along with a mobile intensive care unit. It was anticipated that 50 patients a day might be tended to, representing those wounded in the military action, or ill Palestinians.

The facility is well staffed with specialists in various areas, inclusive of general practitioners, paediatricians, gynaecologist/obstetricians, trauma experts, surgeons, orthopedists, ophthalmologists, and other medical specialists. There to serve the needs of Palestinians, in an good-will, expiatory gesture of humanity toward neighbours.

More representative of the tradition and heritage of Jewish culture than waging wars of necessity.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Fear and Anxiety

"Will it protect the most vulnerable? Will it save jobs? And most important of all, will it create the jobs of tomorrow?" Fair questions, Mr. Ignatieff; we most certainly hope the new budget will attempt to do all of that and more. Seven days to go. Another week before the Liberal Party of Canada can exercise its option to support the Conservative-led government, or to deny its support.

The New Democratic Party is less equivocal about its intent. It will most certainly seek to deny Prime Minister Stephen Harper an extended prime ministership. Jack Layton has wasted no time in stating that his party will choose to vote against the budget, sight unseen. Whatever the government includes in the budget, inclusive of the NDP suggestions, Mr. Layton will choose to force a coalition. Again.

The NDP's budget proposals to the enquiring Conservatives are good ones. An additional $400 credit for the child tax, an increase of the Canada Pension Plan payments, and much-needed Employment-Insurance reform. All of these initiatives would be welcome, in helping Canadians, particularly in these economic doldrums. So why threaten to vote against the budget if it contains these elements?

For his part, Michael Ignatieff, newly installed, sans democratic vote, as the new leader of the Liberals, claims his party remains "the party of hope for all Canadians". In his wildest dreams. They've had their party and it turned out to be fairly disappointing, distinguished by social policy failures and government corruption.

What his party and the NDP have been busy doing in the last while, is trying to instill a climate of fear and insecurity in the Canadian population. Helped to a great extent by the news media who just revel in pronouncing on dire economic conditions and forecasts, even if those predictions are anything but universal.

Thanks, but no thanks. There's a long road to travel before the Liberals can be viewed again as holding any kind of reliable promise for Canadians as the governing party. Blaming the Conservative government at this juncture following the collapse of the international money markets, for spending too freely and exposing Canada's vulnerable to a deficit thereby is a tad self-serving.

It is current world conditions, led by a defaulting sub-prime debacle in the United States, that has imposed stringent economic conditions upon Canada, which is still in comparatively good financial shape, not Conservative mismanagement. We all want programs invested by government funds reflective of the need for more social housing and a quick commencement on public infrastructure leading to security and jobs.

The current government has done well with its governing mandate as a minority government up until now. There need be no haste to remove them from office, and the general public is not sympathetic to that aspiration on the part of the Liberals and the NDP. They got slapped down once, and it shouldn't be necessary to have that repeated.

It looks tediously as though that's about to happen again. Pity.

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Free-Market Boon

Here comes the inauguration of the forty-fourth president of the United States of America. A modern saviour from all the ills of a modern society that has over-extended itself financially, and over-stepped the boundaries of international diplomacy.

Much is expected of this charismatic figure who looms so large in promise now in America. He appears not to be the least bit phased by the hopes that have been invested by so many in his potential to lead his country out of its desert of misery.

And more power to him. And may success be his. And may the United States of America realize itself once again as a light unto other nations.

And may democracy re-bloom and re-assert itself in fair distribution of wherewithal to all within its bosom. That is the essence of a just and fair society, one that Barak Obama has pledged himself to struggle to attain on behalf of his country.

A country struggling mightily to raise itself from the depths of a deep financial depression. All the signs of accomplishment are there; the country is ready to rise again, like the fabled Phoenix, and it most certainly will.

It has the will and it has the wherewithal, and its greatest natural resource, its enterprising and determined population will prevail in a great collective effort.

Meanwhile...free enterprise flourishes in the District of Columbia, more so than elsewhere within the Union. Hawkers are out in full force, selling memorabilia on the occasion of this momentous occasion. Momentous indeed, given the history of the country.

A milestone like none other before it. There is much self-congratulation, much hope and expectations are high.

The tantalizing vision of a nation of communities coming together in a common purpose, to celebrate its history and heritage, its successes in so many disparate areas of endeavour, not the least of which can be summarized in the number of Nobel prizes won by American genius.

However, in the short term there is the inauguration, and the accompanying celebrations.

And the free market exploding with vendors of all manner of goods dedicated to the occasion, with the visage of the new leader of the free world smiling and promising that they can, indeed.

Mind, there has arisen a bit of infantilization, where comic books celebrating the installation of a civil rights leader's dream has materialized only to be threatened by evil malefactors with Spider Man rising to the rescue.

Speaking to the child in all of us, influencing the adult that's cheering on the advent of another age.

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The Arab World

There is no room in the Arab world to admit of the feasibility of a neighbour whose antecedents are not Arab nor Muslim sharing a mutual geography. Not even a neighbour whose heritage is as ancient as their own, and whose religion is one out of which sprang their own, in no small portion. But then, this is human nature; no matter how many disagreements exist between family members who may view one another with repugnance and anger, any outsider is greeted as an unwelcome interloper, as family members join in a common front.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora whose own country has been rent asunder by the bitterness of civil war through sectarian violence, and whose country then became a satellite of neighbours - their autonomy and singularity as a nation burdened by the schemes of Syria to spread its tentacles, social, cultural, economic, into Lebanon - manages to overlook those outrages against peace and sovereignty for the greater purpose of denouncing Israel's status in the Middle East.

Osama bin Laden has issued a call to the Arab world and the world of Islam to come to the defence of the Palestinians, to finally rid the world of a colossal nuisance that the aspirers of the Third Reich attempted and did not succeed in achieving. Those Arab governments which saw the practical aspects of finally accepting Israel in their midst, however tentatively, have no vested interest in responding to the call of al-Qaeda; that same force that would wrest power from them.

But the call resonates in the Arab street, because Israel, the Zionist Entity, and its Jewish population, are the classic and universal scapegoats, not only within the world at large, but within the world of fanatical Islam in particular. Arab leaders must keep a cautious ear to the ground, to be attuned to the rumblings of the Arab street. The Arab street which has been fed a steady diet through the auspices of their governments, demonizing and blaming Jews and Israel, to detract them from the misery of their life conditions.

"Gaza is the focus of our hearts", claims the interior minister of Kuwait. The very country which another Arab dictator felt should fall to his regime's aspirations to inherit its vast fossil fuel wealth. Conflicts with Israel, currently points out Fouad Siniora, have "rendered millions homeless and disrupted the Arab world for six decades...wasted a substantial amount of resources". Israel is held responsible for ten wars over six decades. Lebanon chose to confine their Palestinians to foetid, squalid camps out of which rose Hezbollah, another curse imposed upon Lebanon.

Who launched those wars? Which countries deprived their Jewish citizens of statehood and personal belongings, thrusting them stateless and penniless to fend for themselves, and look for a haven in Israel? But the conflicts and the financial crisis the collective Arab states had imposed upon them were an "external" imposition, from the world that chose to entitle Israel at the expense of a stateless Palestinian population.

Stateless because the two occupying Arab powers, Egypt and Jordan, had no intention of granting sovereignty to Palestinians. Stateless later as refugees because the Arab governments of one country after another, felt it expeditious to grant refugee status, but not citizenship, to Palestinian refugees who fled the Territories, largely at the behest of the invading Arab armies certain of the imminent defeat of Israel.

"Israel is violating international conventions" stated the interior minister of Kuwait. "All we are concerned with are the suffering people in Gaza. We maintain the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and uphold anything that will help them create their own state. We hope the Arab stand will be clear with regards to this issue. We have endured more than 60 years of suffering."

And why might that be? Because, perhaps, of the intransigence first of the Arab geographic community and then, when saner government heads prevailed, the naturally-occurring advent of a guerrilla movement to aspire to what the Arab world assured the Palestinians they should avail themselves of. A partitioned territory unjustly declared with half-ownership of Jews, the other of Palestinians. Rejected in perpetuity.

Neither the Arab community of nations nor those of Palestinian descent claiming to have the best interests of Palestinians at heart, and who formed various nascent governments-in-waiting ever succumbed to the determination to do the right thing for their people and bring them to a place of advantage and statehood. Instead, they sated their appetite for grievance and conflict, and siphoned off UN funds for their personal bank accounts rather than invest in working civic infrastructure.

Birthing conflict in perpetuity.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Proportionality of Response

It is always preferable that reasonable beings interact reasonably. But what happens when reason absents itself and is overtaken by passion? Reason is the use of the cerebral function to recognize a dilemma and weigh its possibilities and to analyze various responses leading to a solution. Emotions have little to do with reason; they are representative of primal, visceral reactions, sans intelligent introspection.

There are many who profess that reason dictates that we turn the other cheek. Those who do so too often end up with two bruised cheeks and no settlement to show for it. Other than, perhaps, the satisfaction that a masochist enjoys in self-abnegation toward a brutal aggressor, and then we're talking about a pathological psychosis of victimhood. Most individuals react to brutal aggression by meting out their own form of self-protective aggression.

If someone is assaulted time and again, and finally decides they will no longer submit to such unlooked-for attention, their fury may be seen to be disproportional to those on the receiving end of such a response to attacks. Bullies usually shrink back in fear for their safety at the response which their aggression may have elicited from those sufficiently backed into a corner to actively assert their human rights.

Restraint is best served on light occasions, when thuggish adversaries' actions can be temporarily overlooked in polite society. When a country's, or a nation's very existence is threatened, it has an imperative to itself to struggle to survive at any cost. Humans have been imprinted by nature to conduct that struggle for survival, as have all living entities.

There are wars of annihilation, such as those conducted by the Rwandan Hutus against the Tutsi, the government of Somalia against Darfurians, Nazi Germany's sidebar war against Jews, and there are what are considered to be 'just' wars, where countries must meet the challenge of an oncoming army of conquest, or where countries intervene to halt atrocities against others.

It can be seen as 'just' for a country to engage in battle against another one whose purpose in attacking it is to gain sovereignty over it. Or to destroy the country and its people, much as North Korea now mutters is its intention over South Korea. Or the Gulf States looking on with great apprehension at the intentions of Islamist nuclear-aspiring Iran.

No less can be said for a country like Israel which has, over the entire course of its 60-year existence faced the reality of one wave of Arab or Islamist attack on it, after another. Rising each time with its own equally-determined defense to its right of existence. Israel aspires to continue existing as a sovereign state offering haven to Jews.

It intends to do so despite the most ambitiously bitter attempts of Islamist guerrilla militias who have developed a modus operandi that has them concealing themselves in the midst of crowded civilian populations, inviting violent military response to their violent militant assaults against Israel's existence. The world looks on with concern at the never-ending stale-mate.

Its concern is that Israel battles too hard for its right to exist. That it must spare innocent lives in the prosecution of its defence is always uppermost in the minds of the Israeli government, its people and its military. A sentiment not shared by those whose assaults against a civilian population represents their game-plan.

Nor do the Hamas and Hezbollah militants and their leaders concern themselves overmuch over their planned sacrifice of civilian lives representing those they claim to protect.

Every target that the Israel Defence Forces hit has first undergone an evaluation process, in an effort to distinguish it as a military base from a civilian structure; other than those structures deliberately selected representing a Hamas leader's dwelling, who has authorized deadly strikes against Israeli targets.

In a war situation there is never any way of guaranteeing that civilians will be spared the anguish of their homes being destroyed, loved ones being killed. With a strict separation of civilians and armed militias it might be possible; with the deliberate intermingling of the Hamas and Hezbollah fighters with the civilian populations, it is patently impossible.

Moreover, any war situation creates its unintended victims, as casualties of friendly fire. If a military, despite its professional training to the highest degree of accuracy and professionalism, is capable of occasionally misinterpreting its signals and striking its own, or friendly forces, how then could it not on occasion strike civilians as well?

In the final analysis, there is one single and incontrovertible value that wins wars; overwhelming force. And that single issue in and of itself happens to represent the single most impressive element of respect and deterrent in a medieval tribal, warring culture and tradition represented by much of the Middle East.

Simply put, those who celebrate hatred, bloodshed and death, respect and fear only physical force that meets their own with equal or overwhelmingly superior effect. In the final analysis the situation of attack calls for defence. In the face of an implacable enemy intent on your destruction, one who sees no value in diplomacy, violence is met with violence because no other response works.

No professional military army deliberately seeks out civilians in an attempt to target them specifically. It is those who are armed and actively engaged in war whom they seek out for it is they who do battle. To deliberately target civilians is universally recognized and condemned as a war crime. No self-respecting army would condemn itself by conducting a war against civilians.

On the other hand, for an army to embed itself within a civilian population, to use it as a human shield, deliberately exposing civilians to assault, that too is a war crime. If the defending army withholds its attacks for fear of assaulting civilians in their search for the embedded militias, they defeat themselves, and effectively reward the techniques used by the attackers, handing them victory.

The choice then becomes, logically, does the army spare the vulnerable and innocent civilians whom their government forces hide among? And in the process leave the assaulters of their own civilians free to attack again and again? Or does the army grit its teeth, cautiously attempt to spare as many civilian lives as possible, and still pursue the attackers, rendering them impotent to attack again?

For a government, a population and a military dedicated to their self-defence, the answer becomes obvious, despite lamentation revolving around being forced to make that choice; an evil and malevolent one imposed upon them and leaving them little practical option but to act as they do.

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