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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Skewed Condemnation

Britain's blood sport so beloved of royalty and the British aristocracy; coursing the hounds to harry and pursue foxes and hares, deer and pheasants had a celebrated tradition. Although originally farmers began the hunt to eradicate animals considered pests to agriculture, it was taken up by the aristocracy and became a signal event of great social importance. A public outcry against the blood sport of fox hunting led to a ban in the mid-1990s.

But fox hunting continues, with fox-hunting clubs established in the U.S., France, Ireland, Russia and other countries. It is considered to be an honourable sport. In fact, in most countries of the world hunting season, for deer, for bear, for moose and coyote is much anticipated, regulated and exuberantly undertaken by modern-day hunters. Boars were located in countries which had no indigenous boar populations, to establish boar-hunting.

The hunt of game animals was considered an exciting sport even where animals were considered to be endangered, like the snow leopard in the Himalayas, or mountain sheep and goats of various types, some of them hunted close to extinction. Where is the world-wide condemnation of these activities? People living in Europe and in North America, for example, have no need to hunt for table food.

Countries like France which proudly boast the celebrity of stars like Bridgette Bardot who launched a personal campaign against the white-coat seal hunt in Canada's North, seeing success in having baby seals no longer hunted, never found it necessary to apologize for their gourmet-torture of geese in producing foie gras. And to the present day the Ortolan Bunting, a rare and tiny songbird the size of a thumb, remains hunted despite official protective status.

The French government simply looks the other way, while connoisseurs hunt and trap the tiny endangered bird which is prepared in wine, roasted and eaten whole. Yet the European Union, whose member-countries routinely hunt game animals, took it upon themselves to name, shame and blame, and mount a ban on seal products, representing the livelihood of Canada's northern hunters and Inuit.

Sad hypocrisy.

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The Cost of Health - Care

The United States has the distinction of having the world's most expensive health-care system. Not because the country has addressed its responsibility to its large population in the provision of dependable, affordable health care to all of its citizens, however. In a nation that appears to value the concept of free enterprise over that of the collective health of Americans, it is unfettered capitalism that represents a public good.

Whereas it appears on the record that it is not so much in the national interest to create and administer a universal health care system that whiffs of socialism. That vast American public is left to its own devices for the provision of health care.

For those with private wealth, this is no problem; they are able to obtain the finest health care that money can buy within a health-care system that is among the best of the world. For Members of Congress too, this does not represent a problem, since they enjoy gold-plated health coverage with no lifetime limits for major services for inpatient and outpatient hospital care, along with prescription drugs, diagnostic tests, preventive care and a host of other goodies.

For those people whom Medicare doesn't cover, the great middle-class, lower and upper, another story altogether reveals itself. If people have the great good fortune to enjoy steady jobs offering the perquisite of good, reliable health insurance ensuring wide coverage of the essentials, they can feel comfortable. But for part-time workers, the unemployed, the working poor, another story altogether. They can choose to beggar themselves by paying hefty monthly premiums and hope that the coverage they obtain will meet their needs.

Or they can opt to choose between middling-coverage with insurance plans that are said to be 'affordable' and which fail the test of decent coverage. Failing that, they can do nothing and fervently hope that their health will hold out. In both of these categories, people tend not to visit doctors frequently, tend to not use pharmaceuticals that may be prescribed for them, and live a life of crossed-fingers.

With the downturn in the economy an estimated 14,000 Americans daily have lost their work-based insurance coverage, facing for the first time in their working lives the conundrum of obtaining insurance they might be able to afford, as newly unemployed. For those facing catastrophic health issues this is not a pretty picture. Some, losing permanent employment, take out $500-a-month insurance which will not cover pre-existing conditions.

And the plan that this insurance represents turns out to be hopelessly inadequate when a diagnosis of cancer is given - which treatment, inclusive of surgery and chemotherapy turns out costing $200,000 - and the insurance covers little of that expense, leaving the family in the position of realizing they will spend the rest of their lives paying off their medical debt, and hoping against hope that no one else in the family will become terribly ill.

Insurance coverage coming close to adequate, yet not fulsomely beneficial, will cost the average family $1,000 monthly and beyond. Some of the 'affordable health choice plans' offered by well-known health insurance agencies, considered 'junk insurance' by those in the know, have immense gaps in coverage, yet they're sold to the gullible and the hopeful who discover that they may in the end cover $1,000 in hospital costs and $2,000 of out-patient services on an annual basis.

An egregious example appeared in Consumer Reports outlining an advertised "affordable solution to America's health-care crisis" with a plan which a consumer trusted and when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he discovered that his limited-benefit plan would not cover the required drugs and radiation treatment required for his treatment protocol. Even discrete State plans fail their residents, not covering inpatient hospital treatments, emergency room care or physical therapy, along with severely limited coverage for everything else.

When a researcher into the failings of the insurance industry submitted one company's policy list of benefits to a research professor at Georgetown University Health Policy Institute for her opinion and an explanation of the issue, the response was inconclusive. The expert was unable to figure out precisely how it was that the policy ended up covering so little. The policy list of benefits was missing specific billing codes to explain what treatments would be covered.

In Canada, where universal health care is guaranteed for every resident of the country, people regularly visit their health practitioners for medical check-ups without regard to the cost, because that cost is underwritten on their behalf by the universal health plan. When surgery is required it is undertaken at public cost. Each province has a prescription formulary outlining which pharmaceuticals will be covered. Functional health care is guaranteed to the populace.

There are waiting periods for some types of surgery, but by no means all. The system tends to be cumbersome at times in its administration, but there are very few people who find fault with the treatment they are given, and in fact, Canada has an outstanding record for health outcomes for its population. Yet Canada's system is held up as a cautionary tale of inadequacy by American opponents of this controversial issue, even while costs are far lower than those in the U.S., and everyone is covered.

The big question to be answered by Americans, is whose interests are being met in the current state of affairs with respect to their hit-and-miss - largely missing if you're out of the loop - system of health care insurance and the provision of health care.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's A Deal!

The Government of Britain solemnly declared it had no hand in releasing Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence agent convicted of conspiring to bomb Pan Am flight 103, and in its enterprising success, killing 270 innocent people. The Government of Britain is aghast at the early release of this convicted terrorist. The Government of Britain strenuously denies all rumours of complicity in Mr. al-Megrahi's release.

It is oh so tediously inconvenient when nosy reporters rummage about where they should not, looking for incriminating evidence of wrong-doing where there is obviously none to be had. Finding nothing, they then go about inventing slanderous accusations. And there is little doubt that the Government of Britain is outraged at this state of affairs.

This honest administration would no more press for the release of a mass murderer in exchange for trade and investment advantage than they would voluntarily give up governance. Politics is such a dirty business, is it not? Well, perhaps not politics, but the people who spy on government and politicians, always looking to find fault with honest, patriotic elected officials.

Who, after all, have nothing but the best interests of their country at heart. And the best interests of the country obviously lie in doing trade with a promising source, enriching both corporate interests and government coffers. Which, by the way, encourages voters to bring back the scoundrels - er, the deserving and most honourable members of parliament. Who do their best, their very best, lest that be forgotten.

Coincidentally to the vast celebration for the 40th anniversary of a military coup in Libya, seating Col. Moammar Gadhafi in position for the rest of his natural life, Britain benefits hugely, and isn't that a mystery? For starters, a brass band from Wales will be attending, and they don't see why they shouldn't; after all they'd agreed to perform well before the release of the Libya-honoured Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi.

And just incidentally the monumentally-sized tent and stage being built for the grand event has been undertaken by Atlantic Enterprise, a British special-events company. No fewer than 15 giant Antonov planes are flying in 7,250 tonnes of equipment. And, of course, (sshhh!), very lucrative British investments in Libyan oil and gas have been signed - isn't that coincidentally amazing?

Mind, it was Scotland's decision, and Scotland's only, that resulted in the release of Mr. al-Megrahi. Despite the unfortunately-leaked ministerial notes that appear to implicate UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw. Who emphatically denies, nonetheless, that he instructed Kenny MacAskill to conveniently release Mr. al-Megrahi, as an enabling mechanism for the signing off of an oil exploration contract for British Petroleum.

For as some scoundrel wrote: "I had previously accepted the importance of the al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement...The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the UK, I have agreed that in this instance the [PTA] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual". Oh. Dear. Me.

Of course there is always the rumour that Mr. al-Megrahi did a huge favour for Moammar Gadhafi. Surrendering himself to justice in the place of others, and forbearing to give mention of the source of the instructions to sacrifice 280 living souls to someone's plan to present Libya's serious interest in fomenting terrorism at the time. A situation certainly known to some within Great Britain, it would appear.

But a useful staging to assuage the anger of the United States over the loss of almost two hundred of its citizens, let alone Britain's own. The circumstances in which this man was held in prison at Greenock must surely have been unusual, since his prison lodgings were described as luxurious by the Glasgow Herald: "with his own sitting room, kitchen, Arabic TV, video, computer, bedroom, office and en suite toilet."

And it must have been reassuring to the convicted terrorist-in-lieu to know that his wife was moved into a five-bedroom house in Glasgow, which she shared with their five children, a gift by Gadhafi. And that all of the children attended schools and colleges in and around the Glasgow area, mysteriously entitled to a free education thanks to the Government of Britain, until 2005.

Wrongdoing? Perish the thought!

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Tampering With Nature

As a species humans have an unfortunate habit of forever altering their environment. In many ways this is a good thing. If, over the ages, human beings did not undertake the alteration of their landscapes to enable them to be sheltered, to grow food crops, to establish areas protected from the ravages of nature and the creatures we share the landscape with, we would never have ventured beyond our early beginnings as crude creatures of the forest.

The problem is we never quite understand the potential for unpleasant outcomes when we should hesitate before embarking on new ventures that often have a habit of creating a situation we would prefer not to deal with. We bury history and arable land, and make refugees of countless people when it is decided to construct huge dams. And those dams are often enough not quite in tune with the landscape to the extent that they are not immune to massive flooding.

We cut down forests for use as firewood as populations increase and have need of fuel, and the great swaths of forest eventually diminish with the end effect of soil degradation, and winds carrying off the top layers of rich soil, leaving desertified areas behind. Increasing the likelihood of ongoing erosion, leaving little bulwark between ocean and land, mountain slides and valleys. The world's deserts are on the increase, while its valuable forestlands are decreasing.

We introduce, through inadvertence, through ships' ballast, creatures of the sea and the forests to parts of the world other than those to which they are native, and these introduced species, be they fish, crustaceans, beetles or viruses, thrive because there are no natural predators to keep them in check as they wreak havoc, establishing themselves firmly and in the process devouring or otherwise destroying native species.

A recent, truly interesting discovery reveals that Central Asia was the locus for the ancestors of all the apple trees that are now grown throughout the world. Scientists at Oxford University, using DNA, have established that Kazakhstan, close to the border of China, once hosted a myriad of forests of fruit-bearing trees, the apple among them. (Gardeners have reason to be grateful to China, Turkey and other eastern zones for many of the exotic and now-common species of flowers we enjoy nursing in our gardens, the world over.)

But in the instance of the areas of Kazakhstan, and the original fruit-bearing trees in great tracts of forests in the Trans-Ili Alatau range, about 80% of the apple forests have disappeared. Not, certainly, of their own biological volition, surrendering to environmental change, but because of the interference of humankind. During the Soviet era, Kazakhs were ordered to settle and form collective farms. Formerly nomadic, their new static conditions created a state of famine.

The people began to strip woodlands for food and firewood. And Stalin targeted the Russian botanist Kikolai Vavilov - who had surveyed, identified and gathered fruit specimens in the forests - whose expertise would have identified the problems inherent in this situation, to be exterminated. Finally, when Nikita Khrushchev ruled the USSR, the land was cleared for collectivized, intensive farming.

A minuscule fraction of the original fruit-tree forests now remain. The government of Kazakhstan is currently in the process, with the assistance of the UN Development Program of establishing a conservation project in the Zailijskei Alatau mountains, of the Tian Shan range. Where holiday villas for the wealthy continue to encroach on the landscape.

In North America botanists and environmentalists cope with the depredations of the mountain pine beetle, ravaging the vast boreal forests of British Columbia and Alberta. In Canada and elsewhere, the Dutch Elm disease took its toll of the continent's grand old elm trees. The Spruce budworm, the Ash borer, were all introduced to North America as alien species, now decimating the landscape.

In Maryland (U.S.) a truly fearful predator, the Northern Snakehead, whose origin is China, has found its way into the state's waterways. With no natural enemies, it is poised to destroy native fish, and is highly adaptable to new surroundings, capable of surviving for up to 4 days out of water, travelling by wiggling over land to new ponds, swamps and streams. Should it become successful in its spread, it could inhabit waterways virtually anywhere in North America.

Zebra mussels, another invasive species from the far East, has presented as a problem in the Great Lakes system of North America. They're filer feeders, leaving fish and other aquatic organisms without food, taken by the voracious and highly reproductive mussels. No other aquatic life feeds on them, thanks to their hard shells, and they're responsible for the disappearance of zooplankton forming the diet of many native fish. When the mussels interact with gobies - yet another noxious exotic headache - the conditions to produce botulism occur.

When some bright soul in the South-Eastern United States thought it might be interesting to introduce a common vine grown in Japan to the American south-east, another catastrophic situation occurred, where the fast-growing kudzu grew luxuriantly over other botanical species, overwhelming trees and shrubs with their presence, and impeding photosynthesis for the native species. Eradication programs have proved to be spectacularly unsuccessful.

We little envision the harm we do when we insist on interrupting nature's balance, and then reap the harvest of disaster.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

For Self

And then there are others, mature adults riveted with their personal need to experience adventures that most people would never dream of submitting to. The allure of arduous tribulations for the thrill of seeing firsthand and living precariously on one's own capabilities is most certainly not for the faint of heart. But because these adventurous trips are undertaken by thoughtful individuals who value their experiences for what they bring to them in quality of life, they are not to be compared with the misadventure of permitting teen-age sailors to set sail on their own.

David Scott Cowper of England, at the age of 68, is a veteran of sea travel, and he seeks no recognition from the public, nor to achieve celebrity status for living his adventures to satisfy his own need. He has no hesitation in embarking on his sixth circumnavigation of the globe which will take him 56,000 kilometres to Greenland, through the Northwest Passage, the Bering Strait, then to Fiji, Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, then the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. Which represents quite the ambitious itinerary.

From there he will head north across the Pacific to negotiate the Northwest Passage from the eastern end, and return to the North Atlantic, involving a double transit of the Northwest Passage. Mr. Cowper is the first person to have sailed solo around the world in both directions. He sets out with the ship Polar Bound, a motorboat which he used on his fifth circumnavigation.

"She is the perfect tool for the job: self-righting and the strongest surface vessel of her size in the world. She can take 65 tons of ice pressure per square yard of hull and her bottom is shaped like that of a tablespoon so that she cannot be caught in the ice's grip. If she is squeezed, she pops up."

He is prepared to accept that he may be icebound for weeks, even months, in the Northwest Passage, at -40Centigrade. "You try to relax, read books, but you don't concentrate that much. You are always thinking to yourself: "Is the rudder going to be all right? With a pure motorboat, when things go wrong you are a dead duck, simple as that."

He is compelled, as a 68-year-old man, to live his live as one fifty years younger. This is his mature and considered choice. And more power to his boat.

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Sailing For Home

The young and the restless have always sought to put space between themselves and their parents, to absent themselves from the stultifying and ego-stunting care of parents anxious for the well-being of their offspring. Independence, freedom to do as they wish, represents the allure of setting off on their own. And then there is also the more unusual occurrences of young people venturing off on their own, with the prefix 'ad' for full measure. In some instances the 'ad' resulting from parents advocating that their children undertake extreme adventures.

This unusual approach surely represents adults living through the promise of their children. Parents grooming children to become what they themselves could not, or were not able to. Exposing children to exciting opportunities and encouraging them to acquire expertise to achieve celebrity. A status that would reflect luminously on the parents, proud of their child's achievement. The parents, like a succubus, living off the child. And the child anxious to please, secure and confident through the parents' encouragement.

Seventeen-year-old Mike Perham, the British youth whose father introduced him to sailing at the age of seven, became the youngest person to sail across the Atlantic Ocean in 2007 at the age of 14. He has just now ended his solo round-the-globe voyage of nine months, taking his yacht on the 38,700-km trip. Throughout his time at sea he contended with technical problems, necessitating that he make port in Portugal, Grand Canaries, Cape Town, Tasmania and Auckland for vessel repairs.

Obviously this is not an adventure for the impoverished youth seeking to assuage boredom. Nor for the adventure-averse, home-body. "The low points are when things go wrong unexpectedly and it is down to you to fix it, because that's not getting you nearer to home, that's only getting you further away", he explained in a BBC interview. His sail ripped from top to bottom, and he'd had to swim under his Open 50 yacht's hull to cut a jammed spinnaker sheet free.

He was imbued with a sense of inevitability; that he would be able to complete his trip, but he was assailed, he admitted, from time to time, with wondering why he was doing what he set out to do. If he questioned the purpose of his adventure to himself, this was surely because it made little practical sense, and even the sense of adventure palled and paled when he found himself on his own, impossibly responsible for his survival, at age 16.

He set out to sail around the world. He was groomed to do this by his doting parents. Who obviously held notoriety for themselves, celebrity for their son, in greater esteem than the worrying potential of his loss at sea. As for the young Briton, he set out to explore and adventure and to satisfy his parents' dream for themselves through his ordeal. He persisted and he dealt with adversity, and he informed himself that "you push on and you handle it".

Victory lay in his arriving home, safe and sound. From the moment he set out on his voyage that was his goal, to reach home.

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Ghoulishly Prudent

There are some things about which human beings are instinctively repulsed. Yet there are occasions on which human beings will tamp down their aversion, deep-seated though it may be, and through desperation and another instinct entirely - that of survival - they will force themselves to engage in an act so gruesome that people speak of it in hushed tones. Victims of air crashes or boating misadventures who find themselves isolated and desperate for food have been known to do the unspeakable: to eat the flesh of dead companions to keep themselves alive.

These people are seldom found at fault, and their desperate act of survival is seen as a forgivable and even necessary decision, horribly difficult as it is to overcome revulsion and to follow through on. And then there is something quite similar, but not quite. Harvesting organs from the bodies of those so latterly quick, to utilize them in another act of desperation relating to survival. In civilized - or perhaps better said civil - societies permission is sought from still-healthy individuals to allow their body parts to be used for others, in case of death.

It has long been held that there is a kind of institutionalized, covert activity of harvesting organs from executed prisoners, in China. This grisly activity has always been denied by China, as a jaundiced and slanderous assault on its moral state. Yet the rumours persisted, and were often backed up by first-person accounts from the Chinese medical community verifying the suspicions of human-rights activists. Finally, China has admitted that fully two-thirds of all body parts used in transplants there were extracted from prisoners whom the State had executed.

All the accusations that Western countries had levelled against China for its underground organ harvest, with organs taken from political enemies, from executed prisoners, from those accused of undermining the state, from Falon Gong adherents, and even from young army conscripts appear to have been a reflection of fact. China has now announced its intention to put a stop to its rampant organ trade, an obviously popular, money-making venture that can result in a sale of $90,000 for a single kidney.

China was bypassing its own rules and regulations which stated that only if condemned prisoners freely give their written consent, may their organs be harvested for transplantation. It was that slippery slope, which descended into a system of widespread abuse. Poverty-stricken families were induced to offer organs for 'donation' through financial incentives, through the Red Cross Society of China.

Few Chinese other than the desperately poor or those unable to protect themselves are willing to give up their organs, since culturally, it is considered taboo to be buried without an intact corpse. Black-marketers in organs had no fear about what they were doing. They saw nothing amiss about openly advertising on the Internet. China tried, in 2007, to ban organ donations from people who had no familial interests, but even doctors profit from the trade and this too was circumvented.

The brisk trade is a result of over a million people every year requiring a medical organ transplant, in a country where fewer than ten thousand are able to receive the transplanted organs they require to survive morbid system collapse. Live donations from strangers - paid for their organs - to needy patients has risen to represent 40% of transplants, in 2008. Sixteen hospitals licensed to carry out organ transplants have had their licenses revoked as punishment for failing to comply with new regulations on organ transplants.

On the one hand, there is a newly-extinguished life with still-viable organs. Organs that could benefit another human being desperately in need of body parts to replace their failing organs. That is one hurdle to be dealt with. Absent the cultural taboo, and given that the indigent, desperate for money on which to live are willing to sell their own living body parts, a horrible solution presents itself where the wealthy may save their health and their lives and the poor provide the means.

Truly a horrible dilemma requiring wisdom beyond desperation of need to solve.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rising Above Privilege

Senator Edward Kennedy, the last of the nine children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, has left the U.S. Senate for good. Born of a scoundrel of a father, who amassed a personal fortune through illicit but obviously forgivable enterprise, he inherited some of his father's attributes, leaving many of the lesser-quality ones behind. Joseph Kennedy, in his role as U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain during WWII found Nazi Germany admirable, and Jews rather less valuable.

The inheritors of Joseph and Rose Kennedy's genes fell notably short of their roots, for they appear to have been, on the record, indisputably humanitarian, concerned with social justice and dedicated themselves to the alleviation of the plight of the indigent, victims of racism, and those born with mental and physical handicaps. They genuinely stirred themselves in an effort to make their country a finer place for all its citizens.

While, at the same time, not neglecting other pursuits, of an entirely personal nature, some of which did them no credit. The Kennedy clan, with its aura of drama, glamour and patrician entitlement, fascinated Americans who clamour for their own brand of royalty. Americans have accepted celebrity in lieu of royalty, and appear satisfied with that choice. And the Kennedy family did indeed represent social and political celebrity.

Each of the children of Joseph Kennedy made their own choices, steered ambitiously by their father's aspirations for them. They managed to rise above privilege in their service to their country, but not above entitlements due them as America's first family. Their tawdry personal lives represented a special kind of failure, a melding of the aristocracy with Hollywood, a reality which only made them more popular in the public mind.

As for Edward Kennedy, his long years of service in the Senate pursuing an agenda of social justice serves as his epitaph. Other, unfortunate episodes of his life are best forgotten, but they refuse to go softly into that dark night with him. Much as his public service elevated him as a superior man of extraordinary talents, his private peccadillos leave an unsavoury reputation that he himself burnished; sometimes inadvertently, occasionally deliberately.

His hard drinking and womanizing drove his first wife to alcoholism and a severing of their relations in a sad collapse of a sad marriage. His sense of personal responsibility was placed front and centre when he demonstrated a colossal lack of same under a bridge in Chappaquiddick. That personal disaster coincided with the monumental event of an American astronaut setting foot on the surface of the moon, taking a fortuitous back seat to that celebrated adventure.

He allowed himself well into his three-score years to represent a behavioural template for his impressionable nephews in drunken carousing and womanizing. Bred to a certain contempt for a strait-laced inheritance. On the other hand, this fallible, charismatic man felt compelled to bring in legislation that would have the effect of more adequately humanizing the politics of his country. His colleagues held him in esteem for his ability to transcend partisanship and to garner bipartisan support as a proud patriot.

His balance sheet is only slightly tipped toward what-might-have-been.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Piously Observing Ramadan

Western observers are crowing about how successful the election in Afghanistan has been, relatively speaking. Of course, everything is relative when it comes to such matters, in such geographies, with such backgrounds innocent of a history of the democratic process. And the feared Taliban offensive during the election itself simply did not materialize, although it has been agreed that some unfortunates did lose inked fingers.

The threat of which had been sufficiently effective to ensure a very low voter turnout, particularly in the Kandahar region, stronghold of the Taliban, who know what they want and it most certainly is not a Western-backed government instead of a home-grown fundamentalist Islamist government. The mullahs and their jihadist champions slavering to bring back their interpretation of theocratic rule abhor the presence of foreign elements.

But then, what country wouldn't, after all, resent the occupation of their land by foreign troops? And consider: this is precisely what the people of Afghanistan, a proud warrior people, have suffered throughout their history. The current situation is little different, other than for the fact that there is at least an international effort to encourage and support a made-in-Afghanistan-government.

And what better time, come to think of it, for dedicated jihadists to demonstrate their contempt for foreigners than during Ramadan, when they can re-dedicate themselves to the pursuit of jihad? Targeting United Nations offices and international aid agencies, and various international-led agencies occupied with reconstruction.

Killing also Afghan civilians, but the murder of innocents never has seemed to disturb the mindset of jihadists. Rather, those deaths represent victories. The civilian population, particularly outside of Kabul, is thought to be complicit with the occupation of foreign elements, and they are deserving of death.

As for the strikes against foreign military; the more the bombs destroy coalition soldiers from the international community, the fewer there are to protect the population from the ever-growing resurgence force of the Taliban, after all. That does serve to assist in the accomplishment of their divine mission.

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African Agony

There will never, it seems, be an end to African need. So many of the countries of that sad continent remain mired in clan and tribal foment and distrust, hatred and vengeance to be acted out, one against the other.

Reconciliation does not appear a possibility between adversaries. In the spring election in Kenya President Mwai Kibaki refused to acknowledge the declared win of his closest rival for president, Raila Odinga, unleashing tribal brutality, displacing farmers and villagers who had become targets for the supporters of Mr. Kibaki. Mr. Kibaki remains president, Mr. Odinga has become prime minister. And they stumble along.

It was feared then that the opportunity to plant crops in a largely agrarian society, would be lost due to the post-election turmoil. And then, brutal fighting in Somalia, with the weak government forces attempting to foil the intent of their rival Islamists have sent desperate Somalians into Kenya, attempting to escape the horrors of war in their country, itself in a collapsed state of non-governance.

Now, famine stalks east Africa, with drought year-over-year resulting in poor to non-existent harvests, and an estimated ten million people - according to the Red Cross - facing hunger and starvation. The World Food Program's country director in Kenya warns that "People are already going hungry, malnutrition is preying on more and more young children, cattle are dying. We face a huge challenge."

Emergency funding of $230-million is sought to feed an estimated 1.2 million victims of the growing famine. This, in addition to the 2.6 million Kenyans already being fed by the WFP. Failing food production, a lack of government will and dedication to importing the staples people require to ensure human health.

While Africa desperately needs an infusion of corn, the West has been busy planting corn for bio-energy. Bio-energy starts, and should end with feeding people, not operating vehicles. But that is another story altogether, of course.

Africans are hoping that the seasonal rains will not disappoint. The UN's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit has also warned that half of Somalia's population is in dire need of humanitarian aid. The country's security situation has entirely collapsed, convulsed by a a power struggle that has no compassion for the people it sacrifices.

Africa: will it ever become possible for it to present as a civil, responsible, self-reliant and just human environment? The wealthy countries of the world feel the compulsion to respond to the need of the Continent to fend for itself, to feed its population, although African governments themselves rarely succumb to that compulsion. Government officials skim off for themselves funding meant to lift their people out of need.

One supposes that as long as the countries of Africa feel entitled to anticipate that other countries have a moral and ethical obligation to rescue them, time and again, year over year, they need be in no rush to become independently responsible for their own advance into a future of self-service. Human avarice trumps humanity yet again.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Letting Go!

There is that about overprotective parents, they take their obligations to their children seriously, very seriously indeed. They hover protectively over their children, anxious to shield them from danger. They worry lest, despite all their attempts to protect their children from the unforeseen, disaster may yet strike, for they cannot be everywhere at once, and they well understand that there will come a time when their children will strike out on their own.

Parents can hope that they have adequately instilled a sense of responsibility in their children, enabling them to enter the world of adulthood as fully functioning, knowledgeable and equipped adults. But this is a timed investment. Entering the world of adulthood is a natural event, following sequentially on a drawn-out period of maturation from child to youth to early adulthood.

As their children trusted them to expose them to learning situations, and to provide for them and to give them the emotional support they required when they needed it, the parents must learn to let go, to trust that their years of sacrifice and love and concern would result in a new and aspirational search for the meaning of life for their offspring.

That success and satisfaction and happiness would accrue to their children. Which is all that parents really want for their beloved children.

It is the parents' responsibility to prepare their children for the world outside the home. To socialize them and imbue them with a sense of self-worth, to encourage them to pursue interests that beckon, and to caution them when their pursuits are seen by their parents to be potentially inimical to their health and well-being. This is the natural order of things, from generation to generation.

So, what to make of a child who insists, at the age of thirteen, that she is prepared and determined to face a challenge that would daunt an adult, even one who was well instructed and intellectually mature and physically capable? Children often are seized with an impulse that propels them toward an objective that their parents doubt.

This is when parents take charge and impel the child through the medium of intelligent appraisal, and persuasive reason, to accept that further preparation is required, and most certainly chronological maturation before thinking of embarking on a pursuit so fraught with potential for life-altering or -ending danger.

Yet the parents of Laura Dekker, a Dutch girl who insists she is capable and intent on launching herself solo on a sailing trip around the world, agree with her and support her ambition. She wants to navigate her sailboat, Guppy, on a worldwide voyage, setting out on September 1st, when she will turn 14. Insisting that her parents acknowledge that it is her dream to set out on this voyage.

And it is her intention to 'break a record' for youth in this enterprise.

Evidently a 17-year-old boy has accomplished just such a journey, embarking on a 13-month voyage around the world. This young girl appears to harbour aspirations of besting his adventure and his youth, to acquire her own reputation as a 'first' on all counts. Celebrity appears to appeal to her. Anything he can do, she can do better. She aspires to commit to a two-year voyage on her own.

Her father insists the girl is an experienced sailor. "According to the government, all people must apparently be put in the same box. They seem not able to understand that everyone is different", he explained disdainful of the concerns of Dutch MPs and child protection officials, concerned about the welfare of a child her own father appears fairly relaxed about.
This is nothing if not an instance of mind-boggling lack of concern for the well being of a child.

The story reeks of parental neglect in failing to guide a vulnerable teen toward reasonable accommodation, to set aside for the time being, plans that have the potential of ending her ambitions at a very early age indeed.

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Don't Say!

Finally, the priest who had so ingratiated himself with the Vatican, the man with the personal relationship with the church establishment, sheltering for so long under its protective aegis as one of their own, has been dealt with as should have been done long ago. Instead of those in charge averting their attention, practising that old device of seeing, hearing and speaking no evil, and accepting that they were duty-bound as a moral obligation to their flock to divest a sexual predator of his priestly station, as a vital imperative.

Shielding him instead, as one of their own, immune to criticism, defended from the charges of outraged men who as children were abused by the man. Perhaps it was the fact that the long arm of the law reached out and meted out its own form of justice, taking that decision away from a Church that preferred to procrastinate and ignore the obloquy of shame that descended on it when one of their priestly Illuminati erred so egregiously.

That Monsignor Bernard Prince of Pembroke was finally dismissed from the priesthood by a decree from Pope Benedict does finally serve to close a certain chapter in an ignominious tale of betrayal. Better, as they say, late than never. The 73-year-old man has been divested of the stature of priest in the Roman Catholic Church through a decision made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Church evinced little interest in safeguarding the childhood and the faith and the trust and the hope of the thirteen boys whom Bernard Prince molested over a twenty-year period, but they did act to promote and safeguard Catholic faith and doctrine. Alas, rather late in the game. Still, Mr. Prince is no longer Msgr. Prince. Mr. Prince was well aware, back in May when he was informed of his changed status.

But chose not to share that intelligence with his former colleagues in the Pembroke diocese. Mr. Prince can be penitent now and to the end of his life, but another kind of penance is still being served, in his four-year penitentiary sentence. The Church, in attempting to salvage its reputation, has finally acted as it should have, long ago. Restoring trust is another matter altogether.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Keep It Quiet, Do

But they did not keep it quiet. Should that come as a surprise? Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown solicited a promise from Libya's Muammar Gaddafi that the unauspicious return of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing would not result in a tumultuously jubilant home-coming. To avoid embarrassment, don't you know.

To side-step recriminations, accusations. However, Colonel Gaddafi had other fish to fry, and fry them he did. Another resounding victory for the Arab way. The deliberate mass murder of 270 people in a terrorist act is shuffled aside as irrelevant history; an unfortunate event, but these things do happen.

Much as the Israeli release of the Lebanese Druze Samir Kuntar who murdered four Israelis, two of them infants resulted in disquieting jubilation. The Palestinian Authority lauded him as a patriot, in Lebanon he was feted joyfully on his release, and granted an award by Iran as a hero. His exploits worshipped by Palestinians.

So why expect Libya to act differently on the release of one of their own who helped plan and execute mass murder? On the orders of his own government?

That Colonel Gaddafi sent a jet and his son Seif al-Islam to escort Mr. al-Megrahi back to Libya was not a signal of what more was to come confers intellectual idiocy on the compassionate Scottish Minister of Justice Kenny MacAskill, along with the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

There is, it appears, nothing quite like Scottish compassion. Compassion in this particular instance, might move government to ensure that adequate medical treatment be given Mr. al-Megrahi while in a prison hospital to ease his way toward death from cancer. In the interests of a trade conspiracy however, other plans were set in motion.

Which is infinitely more merciful than the fate suffered by the passengers of Pan Am Flight 103, and the unfortunates who died on the ground. But, as Mr. MacAskill pointed out, Scotland's standard of decency is not to be confused with that of the murderer's and his government. We know that because it is asserted in such an undeniable manner.

Best to overlook the inconveniently contradictory statements made so casually yet triumphantly by both Muammar Gaddafi and son Seif al-Islam, both attesting to the Libyans' incessant canvassing on behalf of Mr. al-Megrahi's release. And oil and gas contracts conditional on that release.

There is as much honour among thieves as there is between governments, irrespective of their political stripe.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Afghanistan's Democratic Success

With the removal of the Taliban from control in Afghanistan after the collapse of civil society after withdrawal of the Russian military in the wake of their failed invasion, it was assumed that the "Coalition of the Willing" would be able to restore civil order and initiate a new governance introducing democratic rule in that perpetually-troubled country. In fact, once the Taliban was pushed, along with their al-Qaeda cohorts, into the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a good semblance of social, religious and political moderation returned to the country.

Several years later, an election process was held, and a Western-approved candidate for the presidency was elected. He was widely recognized as a political, religious moderate, a man whom all could trust to do the best for his country, as a patriot and a well-educated man. He was held to be incorruptible, and in a sense, this was true. But his incorruptibility did not extend to those whom he surrounded himself with; it was a personal ethic, in a country where corruption was always rife, an integral part of the economy and the social-cultural norm.

Worse, many of the budding politicians he brought into his ruling coalition were despised by ordinary Afghans, notorious as war lords with bloody pasts, with the responsibility on their hands of countless deaths of Afghans. The generosity of the international community in releasing funds to the new administration to aid in setting up civil infrastructure seeped into the hands of many of the parliamentarians and the elite civil servants. While the needs of the general population remained undiminished and unresponded to.

Still, schools were built, health centres were established, civil administration offices created, and volunteers from various countries came in to help train the judiciary, the civil authorities, the police, the military. And for a while there was a condition resembling peace and normalcy, with occasional skirmishes between foreign troops assembled there, and the Taliban. At the time of the first election, there was an atmosphere of hope and triumph. During this new election, the streets have been locked down, military personnel are everywhere.

There have been violent attacks by the Taliban, emboldened by their growing strength and the simple fact that they have successfully re-established their hold over a large and growing portion of the country. Even the capital, Kabul, where foreign troops and dignitaries are established, and where the country's military is in full strength, has not been immune to successful Taliban attacks, easily able to infiltrate, despite all the security measures set up to ensure they are unable to.

During the election, foreign agencies and donor institutions and embassies kept their personnel safely out of sight, and many foreigners simply left the country in anticipation of an upheaval of Taliban activity that would destabilize the country even more than has been done. There have been more than enough lives lost from among the international community dedicated to assisting the country. While that anticipation of a number of disastrous assaults did not in fact occur, this is a country teetering on the cusp of total collapse.

One which - despite the immense efforts of the international community in assembling their troops, their diplomats, their NGOs, humanitarian workers and volunteer professionals - the country has not been able to assert itself against the determined resurgence of the Taliban. Safety and security for the general population has degenerated. Afghans are threatened, civilians are killed, girls and women are victimized. Hamid Kazai, hoping to be declared, in the next few days, the re-elected campaign winner, has not helped.

Under his failed rule, the poppy trade has flourished, women's place in Afghan society has suffered a set-back under new (Shia) Sharia legislation, and graft and general corruption have moved forward. The election itself, given the threats issued by the Taliban against fearful voters, saw a small turnout in some key areas. There were rocket attacks and IED explosions across the country, further intimidating the already-intimidated, fearful of displaying inked fingers.

Afghans themselves have lost faith in the government that the Western-affiliated Hamid Karzai has given them. They have less security, fewer options, and less hope for the future. Social development and economic opportunities will continue to elude the country until and unless security of the civil authority and the country's people can be accomplished. Thus far, the situation has degraded, not advanced.

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Urban Terror

Parents send their children to school so that the young may absorb lessons in an academic setting suitable to their age and adaptability. Accredited teaching staff has the task of coping with children who learn at varying rates, reflecting their inherent ability to learn and their adaptive resourcefulness. Some of the children are disruptive in nature and must be mildly disciplined to ensure that classrooms remain areas of quiet conducive to stimulating education.

Children learn to become socialized through the process, as well as learning to do things together, and they all hope that their efforts will be recognized through marks reflective of their efforts. Some children require special encouragement to initiate that effort, while others are more self-motivated, eager to learn and aspiring to become more knowledgeable about the world around them.

Some children come from families that encourage the learning process, and parents who expose their children to discovery, to learning opportunities and experiences, while other children languish, left behind because their family settings are removed from education, disinterested in the process. The school experience, particularly in these more socially sensitive times, should be a levelling one for children, helping them to adapt to the educational opportunities available to them.

The variations in home situations and familial emphasis on education for the young is fairly reflective of society at large, particularly one comprised largely of an immigrant population with various cultural and ethnically-inspired backgrounds placing values differently, in reflection of various types of priorities. Eventually, the differences become smoothed out, and a greater acceptance of social and cultural values reflecting those of the prevailing culture are accepted, generation after generation.

Still, there's not much that would seem to account for a situation such as that occurring recently at Perth Avenue Public School in Toronto, where the school administration received alarmingly threatening notes from what purported to be disgruntled parental sources. And which were later revealed, through a thorough investigation by police, to be unhappy parents, angry over the manner in which they felt their child was being handled at the school. Parents anxious that their child succeed at school, interested in seeing their child's abilities recognized.

"We have placed a bomb in Perth Avenue Public School and anytime we will activate it if [certain staff members] still are working there", said one of the notes. "We will terminate them in any possible way. Students are not a concern to us." Angry parents, upset over the presumed mistreatment of their own child, to the extent that they avow that the safety and well-being of children of other parents is of no concern to them as a result of physical danger they are prepared to submit them to?

Three women were arrested, charged with multiple incidents of threatening death and intimidation in July of this year. Toronto police, during a press conference, revealed that what they called a minor incident relating to a child attending the school was the cause of the threats. One of the women involved claimed that she and her husband sought a report card review from the school administration which request had been refused. She felt, it would appear, that her child was being discriminated against.

Then a death threat was found on school grounds. Two successive threatening notes followed. An investigation concluded that it was the mother of the child who had requested a report card review, along with two other women who were involved in the coercive plot. The first note that had been posted by them read: "[Staff member], our group know where you live. Don't go to Perth Avenue Public school after January 14, 2009 or we will shoot you and [staff member] to death. We mean it."

All three women charged in the incident claim innocence. The threatening notes obviously came from some source. Obviously a strenuously aggrieved one, determined to see that those individuals whom they felt had short-changed this particular child would be eliminated from the school. And all evidence appears to conclude that it was the women named by the police. The case will go to trial, but it will languish for a year, before it can be heard, although an initial court date has been set for September.

It's inconceivable that people could be so oblivious to the dire substance of the threats they appear casually to have unleashed in an effort to display their anger, and to have staff members whom they feel have been unfair to a child, removed. Threatening someone's life, and by extension threatening to also harm children should their threats not be taken seriously is a criminal offence, an inexcusable breach of the universal social contract.

There is a price to pay for that type of urban terror. It would be extremely difficult to explain away the clearly defined violence and intent to harm, though no doubt lawyers will do their very best. Parents whose children attend that school have very reason to be alarmed and fearful. We, as a society, have every right to expect that this kind of dangerously anti-social behaviour will not persist.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Escaping Nightmares

Perilously deadly viruses and bacteria held in laboratory situations for the purpose of scientific study, to understand, in case of an outbreak within a population, how health authorities with the assistance of their biological-agent scientists may best deal with these deadly outbreaks, present a real problem.

How to ensure that laboratory protocol is sufficiently tight that those working within the precincts of the laboratories do not become infected, do not carry bacterium out of the laboratory with them by accident; in short ensuring that deadly plagues do not infect society at large.

Bio-security is paramount, right up there next to the kinds of lock-safe security required around nuclear facilities to ensure that the ingredients to spread horror, terror and death at the hands of terrorists does not occur. Because there is that potential.

And because terrorists care nothing for human life, and seek to instill terror where they may, regardless of the cost, to fulfill their obligations to their deadly agendas of fomenting fear and violence.

When the Soviet Union dissolved and Russia was faced with the very real problem of how to deal with their crumbling nuclear facilities, and the international community was highly concerned with the very real prospect of rogue scientists responding to lavish compensation offers for their services, or laboratory workers succumbing to the allure of selling fissionable material to the highest bidder, this represented a period of great suspense and concern.

It still does, but other countries of the world have helped Russia to fortify its defences against illegal and dangerous seepage of materials and instruments, fuel and intelligence to agents that would present as a threat to the world at large. Similarly, high-level bio-security laboratories in places like Kyrgyzstan, once part of the Soviet Union, and still hosting lethal pathogens developed for the prospect for prosecuting biological warfare during the Cold War, presents as a real and present danger in their lack of physical security.

These facilities house anthrax, plague, cholera, brucella and hemorrhagic fever agents. Across this central Asian nation there are occasional outbreaks of these deadly diseases. The laboratories function as a central storage and research facility to cope with outbreaks. The scientists working in such labs are knowledgeable and capable, and atrociously underpaid. Leaving them prime targets to advantage terrorists for those susceptible to bribes.

The G-8 nations have long funded programs to ameliorate the situation, by boosting incomes, by assisting in managing security deficits and helping to safeguard these potential weapons of mass destruction. Re-directing the possibilities inherent in a situation where deadly pathogens are insufficiently guarded against outbreaks, helping the country and its scientists utilize laboratories for peaceful purposes; public health and agricultural research.

The very fact that these deadly pathogens were housed in facilities whose fences have collapsed, where doors sport broken locks, and windows with no glass and no bars, surrounded by trees and foliage sheltering possible intruders from detection is enough to make anyone shudder. The scientists who work in those laboratories do so without proper protective equipment and suiting.

This represents yet another instance where wealthy industrialized countries are forced by circumstances that could infringe on their own safety and security, to extend themselves to assist less developed and wealthy countries to better manage the potentially explosive facilities they have been left with after the collapse of one of the world's former two superpowers.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Mystery? Or Pending Catastrophe?

It's the stuff of thrilling legend. Like ships mysteriously missing off certain notorious waterways or straits, or areas of the world's oceans that swirl ominously, picking up speed with the connivance of prevailing winds and finally swallowing ocean vessels whole, along with their hapless crews.

The life of ocean-going crews can be a tenuous, short-lived and rather exciting one.

But then, this is the modern world, and we know with a certainty where and how shipping occurs. There are rules and regulations and ships' manifests, and great corporations and countries' concerns, and insurance agencies, and everything must be accounted for.

Except that this is also a world of intrigues, and underhanded, coercive and illegal and furtive activities. Who, on the high seas, can take the measure of events as they unfold, when some may conspire to achieve sinister ownership of materials held to be contraband, strictly forbidden?

There's brisk business done daily in the importation and export of arms, conventional and not-so-conventional. Just as there is a brisk trade in illicit drugs, from the countries that produce them, to the voracious needs of the populations existing in the countries that consume them.

Needless to say, these represent a minute fraction of the legitimate shipping enterprises and their business and their constant forays over the World's oceans.

And Finland strenuously denies, in the case of the AWOL freighter registered in Malta, carrying a $1.3-million cargo of timber heading to Algeria, that despite rumours to the contrary, there were no nuclear materials secreted in the vessel for conveyance to some port of call. That must mean, ipso facto, that there were such materials present, no?

Was it a ruse, the reported boarding of masked men posing as anti-drug police in Swedish waters, a mere day after the ship left Finland's Pietarsaari port? For two weeks the whereabouts of the ship was unknown to the world at large which, alarmed at its lack of communication and apparent disappearance, mounted a search and rescue mission.

Finally located, its 15-man Russian crew have been taken into custody by their home country. For intensive questioning. It is, unquestionably, of some concern if some state actors seek to acquire materials the international community would prefer, with good reason, they not have in their possession.

It is of infinitely more grave concern should non-state actors find themselves serendipitously in possession of forbidden fissionable materials.

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Which the Most Loathsome?

The Islamic Republic of Iran, that rabidly theocratic state where Islam rules and human rights are forfeit by right of the Divine, has demonstrated that humane sensitivities among the Basiji militia, the Republic Guard have been little tempered by religion. Their brutal thuggishness and utter disregard for other human beings set them aside as paid-up members in the legion of history's legendary human monsters.

Hushed stories being leaked to the media from the inner confines of the secretive regime are no mere urban legends. Young men and women, incarcerated by a righteous clerical aristocracy of unchallenged political power angered at the protesters' arrogance in questioning the legality of the recently-past re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have none to protect them.

They are brutalized, forced to confess to misdeeds that had never entered their minds, to recant their association with foreign elements intent in discrediting the legitimacy of the Islamic regime, and then treated to the tender care of the torturers and rapists among them. This is capital punishment of outstanding proportions, meting out punishment proportionate to the purported sins committed against the state.

Their families are granted permission to retrieve their poor broken bodies, on condition that they say nothing, do nothing, insist on nothing to implicate the government, nor to hold its minions to account. Justice there is none. Pain and bewilderment exist in large dimensions.

And then there is Iran's neighbour, the newly-minted democratic Iraq. No longer under the firm control of its former dictator who governed in a vile and vicious manner without religion; still Islamic, but secularly governed. Under which administration minorities did suffer, and those who were restive under the control of the Baathist regime were held to account for their restiveness.

But there was freedom of another kind.

Now, with the Beast of Baghdad toasted in the ovens of hell, another Iraq has emerged, far from the Iraq that waged a bloodthirsty battle with Iran in which the youth of both countries served as fodder for tribal triumphs. Iraq has now re-established itself, it holds general elections, it poses as a state mindful of the legitimacy of its Sunni, Shia and Kurd populations, (albeit still restive, factionally hate-inspired).

Iraq and Iran are now brotherly, as befits two theistic States, majority Shi'ite ruled.

Another minority, once protected, now deathly vulnerable has been isolated and seen as ripe for the picking. The Mahdi army, that great Shiite beast of religious fervor has taken it upon itself to honour Islam by abducting Iraqi homosexuals and submitting them to the wrath of the righteous. Even the regular Iraqi army is complicit, identifying, abducting and delivering to their persecutors those Iraqis who are gay, but unhappily so.

An orgy of grotesque torture, unimaginable in its brutish inventiveness and the pain and torment it provokes, proceeds apace. The end result is an unfortunate number of untimely deaths. They too are the most vulnerable. So place your bets and take your pick; Iran or Iraq; which, in your esteemed opinion, stands foursquare and proud to receive the glittering medal of honouring Islam?

Both? Why, how generously perspicacious!

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Resurgent Anti-Semitism

The Obama Administration has absorbed and surrounded itself with competently-political Jewish insiders within the Democratic party, giving it a legitimization of the need required to demonstrate to America that there is nothing racist in the attitude of President Obama; he is a great emancipator. Willing to open shut doors, and make diplomatic overtures to regimes that oppress their own people while threatening the security of the international community.

It is toward Israel that the world increasingly has turned, to reform itself of its unacceptable tendencies to self-protection. A protection of state and population that has been found wildly wanting to the world at large. For the world sees that protection as predicated on the subjugation and oppression of another population, one that shares the territory within which Israel exists, and has done so since UN-declared partition in 1948. Israel must free itself of the need to dominate others.

Israel's new government is icily informed by America's new government that it must cease and desist from all initiatives, new and ongoing, to absorb land through settlements, outside the original green line of its inception as a nation. That the country is that of a nation is overlooked in the complaints that it is an apartheid state, even while a quarter of its citizens is non-Jewish with full citizenship. That it is often from within that 'other-national' citizenship that Israel finds itself embattled is also handily overlooked.

That the government and the independent judiciary agreed to permit illegal Arab squatters to be removed from Jewish-owned land that had been in Jewish hands for the last 80 years is a matter for indignant denunciation from the United States and Arab states. Yet belligerent anti-Israel Gulf State Arabs have been permitted to purchase privately-owned land within Israel, and there is no word of concern other than from Jews. Incipient destabilization only Israel worries about.

A decade and a half ago Jews were jubilant at the news that everywhere one looked, the incidence of anti-Semitism was in the decline. It was uncivil to make publicly known one's anti-Jewish feelings, and people generally kept those racist proclivities private. Much can happen in the space of several years; as emigration from Muslim countries increased and Europe and North America became increasingly populated with Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitism has resurfaced.

Now, because Muslim-generated propaganda against Jews and the State of Israel has been generally accepted, and even embraced by Western intelligentsia, unions, academic institutions and churches, (even the World Archaeological Congress; who must hold with the PA that the Jewish heritage-value Dead Sea Scrolls properly belong to the Palestinians) suddenly it is no longer socially ignorant to profess one's criticism of a state created by and for Jews whom the world has traditionally obsessed over, victimized and abandoned to fate.

A new obsession has emerged, one obsessing social and civil and church groups again, and while none of these groups would ever admit to harbouring the collective blight of expressive racism, and declare themselves emphatically non-anti-Semitic, they see nothing amiss in passionately slandering Israel. Sufficient unto the day is the subterfuge of a universal anti-Israel blight shielding avid practitioners from the charge of anti-Semitism.

Israel is held to a standard not demanded of any other country on the face of the Earth. Other countries may defend themselves, may declare themselves to be uni-religious, uni-ethnic, uni-social-heritage devoted, but not Israel. Not even when the country has absorbed well over a million people of other faiths than Judaism, other ethnic backgrounds and given them equality.

The Palestinian Authority under Fatah, formerly the PLO, is considered the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, languishing in its self-imposed refugee status for want of a peace agreement with Israel. Yet immediately following the Fatah General Conference the armed wing of Fatah attacked Jewish Israelis, riddling their vehicles with bullets, injuring the occupants.

Emboldened and stimulated, no doubt, by Fatah's re-endorsement of the Al Aksa Martyr's Brigade during the General Conference. Is it likely that any humanitarian or social justice group, any country's diplomat, any academic institution outside Israel, any trade union representatives will stand up and publicly admonish the Palestinian Authority for insisting "The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades are the jewel in Fatah's crown. We must strengthen their status ... maintain them in a state of alert."

Whereas puckish cartoons lampooning Islam and its Prophet on the basis of reality in today's world sees a delicately sensitive handling of the issue from the West in the wake of a ferocious and bloody backlash from outraged Muslims the world over, vicious fascist posters depicting Nazi-era caricatures of Jews are considered perfectly fine for academia's student mobs of Arabs and their sympathizers.

All are animated by the specificity of Jew-hatred. Israel-bashing has become an accepted device by which those whose sympathies are easily led and those whose deep-seated hatred for Jews can be construed as legitimate criticism of a Democratic state. Deeply satisfying as a device for those who finally feel free to express their detestation of all things Jewish.

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Pity The Church of Christianity

It has become, for so many, largely redundant to their needs. People look elsewhere, although where that might be is in itself a conundrum. They should be looking deep inside themselves, to forage among vestiges of memories redolent of self-discovery, of innate knowledge of right and wrong, and the embrace of rational judgement; of true and availing values.

This was once the precinct of the church upon whose reliability of purpose people leaned, but it has become somehow, effete, striking out to form people's sensitivities in a way that most now reject.

Christianity irrelevant to the world in which we now live? Perhaps, perhaps not.

It is not the Roman Catholic Church which has moved aside and piously welcomed Islam into the bosom of its reality. That church appears, albeit embattled, able to withstand the winds of change through its insistence on historical and heritage soundness.

Pathetic that human beings require the comfort that belief in a human construct of a higher order of intelligence gives them, but this is reality.

While the Christian Church - the Protestant portion of it - appears to have surrendered its purpose and history to the increasingly violently belligerent imperatives of the mosque, fanatical jihadists find comfort in its retreat, its willingness to make common cause, not with jihad of necessity, but of the necessity for jihad as expressed by the Muslim clerics who quietly support jihad.

They have, as a source for approach to the Divine, been misinterpreted, misunderstood, scorned and overlooked for far too long. This is their revenge.

And the progenitor of both the Christian and the Muslim faith is beset with murderous intent. Islamists identifying the original Mosaic faith of the Jews as errant, and the Jews themselves as impostors, cravenly unworthy to be seen as the inheritors of the original faith.

Nor are the infidels, those Crusaders who battled Islamic warriors and those who diminished the geographic holdings of proselytizing Islam any more acceptable as creatures of God. His will be done, and it is Allah, not any other manifestation of the Divine that will do.

God's creatures have lost their way, forgetting that God is the impulse to self-restraint in us all.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

U.S. Health-Care Hysteria

You can lead a horse to water, but he'll decide on his own whether or when he'll partake of it. Americans are an ornery bunch; self-reliant, independent, proud and insistent that their individualism reflects the values of the country as a whole. They're nice people, just like people anywhere. There's this myth that Americans pull together for the good of the entire country, but like all myths it tends to melt into the ether of fog when reality puts it to the test.

It's been known for civic aeons that the United States is a 'me-first', 'I'm all right, Jack' nation. Soft hearts talk about the need to pull people up by their shoestrings, help them get on, encourage aspirations toward economic success, but it's the rare few individuals who really mean it, and who will go to any lengths in their attempts to secure a better place for all the people who live in that great country. Exempt most Republicans who cling to the sanctity of free enterprise, in every endeavour.

Among them have been some of their outstanding politicians. Who have recognized that their country, that exemplifies opportunities and the relativity of equality of opportunities, that loves to express its vision in the phrase "anyone can aspire to become president of the United States" (anyone born in the U.S., a citizen of the U.S.) - from low economic and social status and anywhere above that - by the strength of their own talents and ambitions.

That beloved slogan was finally realized in a way that no one might have predicted. And now, after a number of failed successions of attempts to bring the United States into the world of sensibly-administered countries providing the elemental necessities of health care to its population, we can add the latest; President Barack Hussein Obama. Going all out, in a visionary, dedicated mission never quite seen before.

Emphatically devoted to the rescue of 46-million Americans for whom there is no reliable health coverage through health insurance. And battling not only the health insurance conglomerates, and the private hospitals and health-care clinics operating within the capitalist system as money-making emporiums, but also the fears instilled in the general public by the well-paid public relations for same, blackening the effort as 'socialist'.

Twenty years ago when I asked a colleague and friend with whom I worked in the United States whether she wouldn't want a universal health care system in her country, she was offended. There was no way she could envision that happening in her beloved country; equating such an idea with a lessening of the American ideal, foisting upon the country - and the indigent poor (a social classification her extended family represented) such a social abomination.

She wasn't prepared to discuss it, to explain her views, to respond to any arguments pointing out the inequity of the current situation, the dire straits that people found themselves in - becoming, from middle-class, suddenly poor when faced with the insurmountable costs of treating the sudden onset of serious illness or catastrophic accident-caused disabilities. Her mind was set; she would never, ever support creeping 'socialism'.

And the cost associated with implementing such a universal system! Horrendous! What can the Democrats in Congress and their president be thinking? Trade-offs like limits in charitable and mortgage-interest deductions (unheard of anywhere else), along with an income tax surcharge on the wealthy are unspeakably un-American. But it's quite American to leave a huge and growing proportion of the population subject to ill health and dwindling personal resources.

The very thought of preventive diagnostic testing is another anathema. Prevention is sensible, but aside from preventive testing for dire disease onset, there are other methodologies, most notably life-style changes. The human body requires care over its life-time. The kind of care that is associated with good, healthy food intake and physical exercise, and avoidance of using or ingesting harmful substances (to excess).

What! Walk instead of drive? Forego those fast-food eateries serving quasi-nutritional almost-food? Give up alcohol, tobacco, recreational ... um ... drugs? What's left to celebrate in life? Americans insist on their right to overload an already-inadequate health care system with their need for pharmaceuticals which drug companies formulate and advertise at a furious rate. The love affair with the car, with social consumption of alcohol and drugs is not easily set aside.

So this president, it has been revealed, has a sinister, hidden agenda. One that will target the elderly, so that when you're old enough, ill enough, medical treatment will be withheld. That's socialism for you. And that's exactly where he's headed, what he's all about - moving the United States toward state socialism. Russia is so pleased.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Gay Pride!

Sigh, there's just no end of vicious libels against Israel by those who consider themselves to be culturally sensitive. Culturally sensitive to the plight of the Palestinian population with whom Israel stands ready and eager to sign a peace treaty that will result in a two-state solution that should ensure a stable civil environment for both countries. Cultural sensitivity is denied the State of Israel which has historically battled for its right to exist in the Middle East, and which continues to do so to this day.

That gay rights groups in Toronto and Montreal - or certain members thereof - have taken the initiative to bring into the narrative of their rights within society, their presumption of brutalization of Palestinians by Israelis is a real eye-opener. Suppose it needn't be, given that if you're gay, you're also most likely to be quite socially liberal verging on tipping into the left-hand corner of political extremism. And let's face it, to the 'humanities left' there is no better symbol of oppression than Palestinian Arabs.

Be that as it may it is nothing short of amazing that a spokesperson for Q-team, which leads the contingent "against Israeli apartheid" claims "We're bringing a political issue to the table. I don't think that's hijacking (the agenda for gay rights)." This, from one Leila Pourtavas, an Iranian Canadian lesbian and member of the anti-oppression group that has forged warm links with gay rights activists in the Middle East.

Amazing, in that there are no gay rights whatever in the Middle East, apart from the legalization of gay rights in Israel, the very country that is being discriminated against. In many countries of the Middle East, the penalty for lesbian and homosexual activity is rather dramatic; death. Or, on the light side, imprisonment embellished by torture. Do they imagine in their wildest dreams that Fatah and Hamas embrace the very idea of gay rights?

Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria consider transgendered, gays and lesbians to be closer to the fungi that grow on vegetation making them unpalatable for human consumption, than citizens deserving of equality under the law. There is no law that protects gay rights anywhere in the Middle East - aside from Israel. In Israel there are large and recognized gay communities.

In Israel there are gay pride parades, and freedom of conscience to celebrate one's other-gendered status.

Members of the "clown army" pose for a picture with Israeli soldiers, during the annual Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem on June 25, 2009 in Israel.

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Lest We Re-Offend

Yale University Press, a distinguished publishing house out of a distinguished academic institution, has taken the option of presenting itself as dedicated to scholarship, yet quite as clearly dedicated to a kind of craven victimhood, fearful of being accused by Muslims of re-awakening still-seeping cultural-religious wounds.

A Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University has written an academic's perspective of the shocking response within the Muslim world to the publication of a number of cartoons published in Denmark by Jyllands-Posten, slyly and amusingly critical of the hypocrisy of Islam, and slighting the feelings of Muslims the world over by depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.

Jytte Klausen, informed by Yale University Press that their publication of her book would be free of any illustrations, inclusive of world-famous sketches already well known in the annals of caricature by artists such as Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dali - including even an Ottoman Turkish print - all rejected as too provocative - was understandably bemused and disturbed.

Pointing out rationally that all the excluded images are already in the public domain, all widely available, and that "Muslim friends, leaders and activists thought that the incident was misunderstood, so the cartoons needed to be reprinted so we could have a discussion about it", was to no avail.

Yale University, that great bastion of academic freedom and its press claimed the withdrawal of the images was given "unanimous" consent from among the authorities consulted. Bizarre and absurd actually, to publish a scholarly dissection and dissertation on the event revolving around the violent reaction from the Muslim world, and choosing to exclude the very cartoons that had been the subject of that reaction.

So much for perpetuating myths and shibboleths, and for drawing the curtain of intellectual discussion close, shutting out the light of reason and co-operation. But no, reprinting the cartoons was morally repugnant; avoidance of violent reaction paramount. The press's director spoke of the potential of "when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question."

So The Cartoons that Shook the World will take a critical and informed look at the events in question, but the very images that caused the reaction that 'shook the world' will be absent, even though any half-interested Internet cruiser can pick them up readily at any number of sites. A credentialed and respected Muslim religious scholar withdrew his supporting blurb of the book as a result of this decision.

Claiming that the book represents "a definitive account of the entire controversy, but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic". "The controversy has died out now. Anyone who wants to see them can see them. There were people who were annoyed, and what kind of publishing house doesn't publish something that annoys some people?"

Reza Aslan, the religious scholar, went on to say: "This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press. It's not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary", he said, condemning the august university and press.

An adversarial opinion was given by Ibrahim Gambari, former foreign minister of Nigeria: "You can count on violence if any illustration of the prophet is published. It will cause riots, I predict, from Indonesia to Nigeria." And this is what won the day.
Muhammad, shown with a veiled face and halo, at Mount Hira (16th century Ottoman illustration of the Siyer-i Nebi)

Reasonable discourse strictly prohibited.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dammit! Just Say No!

Nancy Reagan said it, and was proud to say it. She led a highly-publicized, very virtuous and utterly failed campaign against recreational drug use and addiction to said drugs. U.S. jails are strained beyond endurance. And when Canadian politicians mused on the possibility of legalizing soft drugs like marijuana, the U.S. drug czar huffed and puffed and waxed indignant and said Americans would want nothing to do with godless Canadians.

Human nature being what it is, people do not take kindly to being told what they may or may not do with themselves. Prohibition has been proven, time after weary time, to be a wasted effort. Now the dastardly drug known as alcohol is legal. And alcohol addiction is a dreadful misery. Causing physical disintegration, along with mental degradation. Or the other way around. Either way, the results of indulging to excess are suicidally costly.

And how about that other drug, tobacco, with its sinister nicotine addiction, which tobacco companies so long advertised as just the thing for virile, manly types wanting to impress. And of course they didn't stop there, since tobacco also was glamorous, and women were eager to be noticed, too. And then teens got introduced and hooked, as well, since it was cool to smoke. Or smoke up. Public relations, advertising too is addictive.

And we all know how marvellously well nicotine products embellish normal human body parts, from hearts and lungs, to gums and breath. We humans are just never satisfied, always on the look-out to enhance our living experiences. Come to think of it, couldn't we find a place on the prohibition list for fast-food and so-called convenience foods? They belong there, with their artery-clogging, obesity-prone properties.

Well, one does digress. Back to just say no. Here is poor old Mexico, nowhere near as well endowed with natural resources and wealth as its other two counterparts on the continent. And there's a huge market in the United States, slavering over the need to consume illegal narcotics. And because they're illegal, they're also expensive to acquire. Offering business opportunities that the free enterprise system simply cannot ignore.

That's capitalism for you; everyone wants in. Canada too is not free from having a population eager to indulge - in all the vices, inclusive of recreational drugs. Mind, Canada also produces a good grade of cannabis. For the home market and for hawking abroad. The drug wars taking place in Mexico, with the instability and corruption and huge violent incidents claiming thousands of lives owes much if not everything to prohibition.

And yet another product of the violence, insecurity and poverty, is the burgeoning rate of emigration, another illegal activity when it's done outside the law. And then too there is the increasing rate of refugees seeking safety for themselves and their families from the drug cartels who are able to murder civic officials, police chiefs and judges with impunity in their country of origin. Canada is saying "no" to would-be Mexican refugee claimants.

The United States is saying "no" and "enough already" to the masses of illegal entrants from Mexico, along with their underground economy (which garners the country no tax revenues). Then the United States, which really holds the key to solving this dreadful dilemma insists that the 'criminals' who are addicted to drugs and who clog up their justice system, and who make use of their stressed health-care system, have to say no too.

But they won't, because, well, because. Because it's a social thing, and it's an elite thing, and it's a thing of social degradation too, and it's fun and engaging, and misery-drowning, and, dammit, addictive.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Divinely Inspired

It is sectarian violence that drives the incessant levels of vicious attacks within Iraq. Such incendiary hatred expressed in service to a religion that its adherents claim is basically one of peace and goodness. Islam has bred divisions between the main branches of its devout; not a new disturbance between Shia and Sunni by any means, but one which dates back to the death of the Prophet Mohammed. Had he but named a successor...?

Perhaps no religion, not Islam nor any other, could surmount the bitter tribal animosities that pre-dated its introduction. In a part of the world where clan and tribal brutalities one against the other remains a part of the heritage, the tradition, the culture that reflects the harsh conditions that desert dwellers once lived in, vying with one another for ascendancy leading to territory, respect, wealth. The people have not advanced one iota humanely.

The strict demands of Islam, and the interpretations by generations upon generations of clerics who jealously guard their own power, have kept Muslims in a world of backward enslavement to tradition. Entering the modern world of technology, industrialization, communications; enlightened observance of social responsibilities on a wide scale leading to respect for human rights appears to have eluded the countries of the Middle East.

With American forces drawn back from Iraq's urban centres, confined to their barracks, and the Iraqi government proudly boasting that it has the resolve, the dedication and the power to advance the best interests of all Iraqis, the atrocities continue unabated. Numberless series of bomb attacks killing hundreds of people daily, wounding many more, has become the norm in that country.

Violence between Shia and Sunni, between the Arab and the Kurds, simply continues as though a thousand years and more hasn't separated the inception of an inclusively brotherly religion that seeks harmony between its disparate parts. Flatbed trucks fitted with bombs set up to simultaneously explode to destroy a village while the villagers were asleep. One uncivil, religion-inspired catastrophe after another.

Day labourers, market areas, police stations, mosques are all targeted. Roadside bombs are detonated, bombs placed in trucks, in buses, in mosques. How is it possible that jihadists, claiming to be inspired by passages in the Hadith encouraging violent jihad think nothing of slaughtering their co-religionists, of destroying their mosques? Tribal vengeance transcends the gentler, infinitely more human translations of sacred passages.

The recently-assassinated Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, a leader of a fanatical interpretation of Islam, had explained: "Only jihad can bring peace to the world". Lunacy incarnate. The peace of the dead.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And They're Very Sorry About It

When the first little news item appeared in the newspapers earlier in the week about a video clip appearing on YouTube, with three giggling males prodding one another to shoot ducklings out of the water, it sounded like the mindless antics of some hormone-charged, antediluvian juveniles too stupid to fathom that small birds and animals are nature's gift to the world, not random objects of prey for idiots.

Funny thing, that. It would appear that a whole lot of people had a gander at that video. Perhaps led to it by the brief story that appeared in the newspaper. But a whole lot of people, all over Canada, were outraged and utterly infuriated at the very thought that a group of teens with nothing better to do were out in a vehicle somewhere in the boondocks, picking off little ducks, shooting them and whooping it up in a frenzy of lunatic killing of area wildlife.

Environmentalists and wildlife authorities were none too pleased, as well. And a search was launched to try to find these errant kids with nothing better to do than laugh and shoot their firearms attempting to kill as many of these ducklings as they could. The thing of it is, they were fairly convinced they would find these malefactors. Reason? The video they posted of themselves was quite revealing.

People who knew them, viewing the video, could identify them. And, obviously, did just that. And holy Toledo, would you believe it, these were men, not kids at all. David Fraser, 30, his 23-year-old brother James Fraser, and their brother-in-law who, from the photo in the newspaper looks at least in his early 30s. A trio of hapless numskulls with nothing better to do than to shoot at ducklings.

They face four charges: careless use of a firearm; illegally hunting ducks and grebes out of season; allowing game flesh to be spoiled or wasted; illegally hunting migratory birds with a rifle. Oh, and one also faces a charge of firing from a vehicle. One was given a $6,000 fine while his two buddies were fined $5,000 each. One could venture the opinion that the public ignominy they face is a far greater challenge to their self-respect than the fines.

On the other hand, they may be completely devoid of self-respect in the first place, having embarked on such a witless venture to begin with. One has been quoted as saying that they "honestly didn't know it was a crime ... and we're very sorry about it". Leading one to the opinion that they still just don't get it.


Short Shrift

Come on! The fellow is simply a-dor-able. The jolliest of green giants, striding confidently across the world stage with dignity and bonhomie to spare. He loves everyone. How not to love him right back? Stiff upper lip now - now that we've taken it there anyway; whoops, that should be the chin. Save the lip, don't want to appear an ingrate on the world stage. This great communicator has just informed us that we're cry-babies.

Buy American policy, requiring that American suppliers make exclusive use of U.S.-produced materials in the economic-recovery projects being unleashed, and covered by the U.S. stimulus program, is no big deal. So said the President. Of the United States. Who should know, after all, having casually but with aforethought committed his country to a massive economic rescue plan to haul it out of the doldrums of financial collapse.

"It's important to keep it in perspective that, in fact, we have not seen some sweeping steps toward protectionism", said the Democratic President of the United States. For the Buy American policy attached to the $787-billion stimulus bill by a Democratic-dominated Congress and Senate - whose protectionist bent is well documented - applies only to the stimulus program. Oh. And here Canada has been concerned for no good reason.

That Canada's manufacturing sector, so closely aligned with that of the U.S. that it seems there is great difficulty in discerning where one has left off and the other begins, suddenly finds itself unable to pursue business as usual because of this clause remains bemused and shut out, is our problem, not theirs, it seems. The provincial premiers, so confident that their Prime Minister would be able to present a reasonable argument against Buy American, can take a deep breath.

They've been holding it in too long. This is, after all, a two-way street. The North-American Free Trade Agreement, it is held, applies only federally; the individual States may go their own way, and it is toward each of the States that the stimulus package is directed. Of course provincial and municipal projects in Canada which often go hand-in-glove with American providers of goods and services can respond.

And of course all concerned parties; the U.S. and Canada, are well aware that this is just the beginning. Additional legislation, emanating from belligerently protectionist states - not those particularly bordering Canadian provinces which are accustomed to amicably and rewardingly doing business with their neighbour - is currently working its way through Congress, with similar Buy American provisions.

President Obama knows very well the impact and the import of the situation between the two trading partners. "It was not something that I thought was necessary, but it was introduced at a time when we had a very severe economic situation, and it was important for us to act quickly and not get bogged down in debates around this particular provision". Yep.

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