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, April 30, 2012

Enabling Hostilities

The world armaments industries have always done a booming business.  Countries that face difficulties in affording basic necessities for their populations always seem to be able to find the wherewithal to purchase arms and ammunition, planes and armoured vehicles.  And those countries whose arms industries help raise their GDP have no hesitation in extending credit to those whom they wish to encourage to continue buying their war machines.

It is always the countries whose backgrounds are those of threatening their neighbours who seem to be most fully invested in arms purchases, in stockpiling weaponry, in training their military, and feeding and supporting their military machine while exploiting the resources of their countries to afford their weapons of choice.  In the process having no difficulty in making the choice to ignore the needs of the civilian population.

North Korea presents as the most extreme of these instances, given the state of hunger in that country as people perish through lack of food and medical treatment while the ruling elite and their immense military machine are assured of rations and luxuries denied the common man.  The deterrent effect of being known to be in possession of the latest technology in ballistic missiles, in flirting with nuclear warhead production instills fear in the neighbours of Iran.

The arms-producing and -exporting countries of the world don't seem to be the least bit troubled by doing business with tyrants whose treatment of their vulnerable population is recognized as abusive, even though selling advanced technological machines of war may imperil countries in the near distance.  Libya and its terrorist-supporting, international-meddling leader Moammar Gadhafi a case in point, welcomed in England, France, Italy, the United States for lucrative trade deals that could be gained.

The invasion of Iraq by the United States and the "coalition of the willing', unseated a murderous dictator infamous for his penchant for unsettling the balance of power in his region.  His removal as a firm-handed tyrant who kept the vicious antipathy of sectarian and tribal and ethnic adversity under control unleashed a deadly bloodbath between the opposing Iraqi Sunnis and Shias, complicated by the incursion of foreign terror groups.

Just as occurred in Rwanda, with one tribal element encouraged by a colonial power to maintain control over another, eventually leading to a deadly confrontation and the mass annihilation of tribal members, in Iraq the minority ruling Sunnis were overtaken by the majority Shia.  The coalition government of Shia, Sunni and Kurds presented a working facade as long as the Americans guided the new administration.

With the withdrawal of the Americans the veneer of co-operation collapsed as the Shia-prominent "democratic" government lost no time in estranging their Sunni counterparts, charging them with crimes punishable by death.  But Iraq is now 'democratic', a duly elected government as it were, and whatever it does it can insist that it is playing by Western rules, Arab-style.

And the United States, never willing to miss an opportunity to extend its hegemony, particularly taking the advantage away from Russia or China, is now selling F-16 fighter jets to Iraq, anxious to re-build its air force to the state it represented under Saddam Hussein when it had one of the larges air forces in the Middle East, their airplanes supplied by the Soviets.

Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has increased his order of U.S. supplied fighter jets.  "Iraq intends to have equipment which is more developed than neighbouring countries have", according to the deputy head of Iraq's parliament's security and defence committee.  A situation which reflects Iran's drive to nuclear possession of warheads designed to stir fear in the hearts of its neighbours.

The president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, has articulated the unease of Iraq's neighbours, in their deep concern over the receipt of those jet airplanes.  "I feel Kurdistan's future is in severe danger because of (Maliki)", said Mr. Barzani.  "F-16 (jets) should not reach the hands of this man."

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 A Lethal Industry Closing

It's good news, and it's about time.  The link between exposure to asbestos - any kind of asbestos - and lung cancer is clear enough.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer, with ties to the World Health Organization has reached the conclusion after a review of all available scientific research that asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos mined in Quebec "is carcinogenic in all its forms".

That's the bad news, actually.  The good news is that the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute has issued notice in the Canada Gazette of its impending closure.  The Chrysotile Institute has worked hard to give asbestos a good name, insisting that, if used properly, it is perfectly safe.  Not entirely true.  But also moot, since the countries where asbestos is used are developing countries of the world which are not invested in worker safety.

The Chrysotile Institute has been instrumental in convincing these countries that their use of asbestos - particularly chrysotile asbestos, has no deleterious fall-out on worker health when it is handled in a safe and controlled manner.  Influencing the continued use within the international community of the very harmful substance.  It has long been known that asbestos construction material was linked to lung diseases.

Mined mostly in Quebec at Thetford Mines and Asbestos in the past, those mines are out of production.  For the first time in 130 years Quebec has not been mining asbestos.  But the province's industry department has made an offer to Balcorp Ltd. of Montreal of a loan guarantee to aid it in financing the reopening of the Jeffery Mine in Asbestos.

Now that the Chrysotile Institute is closing up its public relations shop, however, a signal has been sent to the international community that the industry in Canada is on the verge of collapse.  "It will be noticed all around the world because the Chrysotile Institute has been the key leader in pushing the interests in the asbestos industry around the world", according to Kathleen Ruff, senior human rights advisor to the Rideau Institute.

The World Health Organization estimates that over 100,000 people die from asbestos-related illnesses, inclusive of cancer every year.  That the institute is closing after almost thirty years of promoting the use of asbestos really is good news.  Its dissolution will help make the world a safer place for workers. 

In developed countries like Canada the dread effects of asbestos are well known, and its use is illegal.  Yet Canada has been complicit in endangering the health and the lives of people in countries where the emerging economies mean that their governments are unwilling to lose an inexpensive and useful construction fibre long used for its insulating and fire-retardant capabilities.

Finally, once the Province of Quebec gets the message and decides that there is little value in maintaining several hundred jobs in the industry in exchange for continuing to endanger the health of workers whose countries have no institutionalized worker safety guidelines, we can all breathe a little easier, with less on our conscience.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Will Sought The Way

"My wife, mother and children are still in their evil hands."
 Blind from birth, unschooled until he reached maturity, Chen Guangcheng has demonstrated the courage of supreme conviction in openly criticizing his government.  Knowing full well that his government does not brook criticisms lightly.  The forced abortions and sterilizations that took place in his native province of Shandong, although not a huge secret of the Communist government striving to control population growth, does represent an institutionalized abuse of human rights.

From imprisonment for trying the patience of the government, to house arrest, the self-trained lawyer refused to be intimidated, although he did learn to stifle his stridency and muffle it in a caution that would throw off the guards that policed his home and victimized his family through shared physical punishment.  Who would expect a blind man to make good an escape that would be difficult to achieve for someone who was sighted?

He went alone because his wife was not in very good shape, recovering from the latest beating administered by their guards.  "He injured his leg when he landed and it took him 20 hours to make his way around eight roadblocks.  He told me he fell over at least 200 times, before he got picked up on Monday and driven to Beijing."

It was Sunday when Mr. Chen made his escape, climbing over the wall around his house in pitch darkness both external and internal, eluding the notice of the guards.  He spent three nights in Beijing, driven there by a friend, before the rest of his planned journey took place; driving to the U.S. Embassy for safe haven on Friday.  His brother and nephew were later arrested as well as his friend, He Peirong, who drove him to the embassy.

His stay there is meant to be temporary.  He has no intention of leaving China.  He plans to continue mounting his opposition to the government, and has called upon Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to punish those who were responsible for the physical abuse he and his wife, and his mother were subjected to while he was under house arrest.

"Their actions are so cruel it has greatly harmed the image of the Communist Party", he said, as he asked Mr. Wen to consider the injustice of the "despicable crimes" committed against his family.  Mr. Chen is safe for the time being.  The huge embarrassment this event has caused to Beijing still coming to terms with the Bo Xilai revelations, fixing the public eye on rampant corruption, may impel Mr. Wen to act.

As discomfited Beijing feels over this occurrence, the United States does, as well.  They have no wish to add to Beijing's travails, nor do they wish to become embroiled to the extent where their embassy and diplomatic relations will receive the brunt of distempered anger from Beijing.  It would most certainly place in peril upcoming high-level talks scheduled between U.S. and Chinese officials on economic and political linkage.

Both risk losing credibility and usefulness to one another in the short term, should they choose to act in a manner that will end up saving face for one while adding to the embarrassment of the other.  It's one of those unfortunate webs that result from ill-chosen and -pursued ventures that redound in unanticipated yet perfectly foreseeable ways.

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People rationalize, forgiving themselves for making choices that alter their lives and the lives of their children in dreadful ways.  How sensible does it seem for a young family to make the wrenching decision to uproot themselves from their status as landed immigrants in a wealthy country where they are able to live a comfortable, middle-class life in a major city, to opt to return to the country of birth, as refugees, living a life of primitive hardship?

Yet, this is exactly what the family of Nahlah Ayed did, as she relates in her recently-released memoir: A Thousand Farewells: A reporter's Journey from Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring.  Ms. Ayed relates the story of her parents deciding to uproot their family from their life in Winnipeg, to a refugee slum in Jordan.  Because, as she surmises, they, like many others in their position, felt assailed by guilt that they had forsaken their heritage.

They sold everything they owned in Canada but for clothing and a few of the children's favourite toys.  There was Nahlah, at nine years of age, and her younger brother, being carried in their parents' arms, exhausted from their trip, arriving at the refugee camp, at the home of an uncle where Uncle Hussein "was firmly in charge and determined the affairs of everyone within it."

Within the rambling shambles of a dwelling within a courtyard were her grandparents, her uncle's family, her aunt, and themselves.  "We were offered a small room off the main hoshe, or courtyard, where we staked out a corner for ourselves among the bags of rice, dried lentils and beans that my uncle sold in the market.  The camp was officially known as Amman New Camp", or Al-Wihdat.

It was administered by UNRWA, built in 1955 in southeast Amman for five thousand Palestinian refugees.  By the time Nahlah and her family arrived the population had swelled considerably, with added makeshift homes as new generations came into being. 
"The unpaved alleys were simply seas of wahl, with suction so strong it was easy to lose a shoe.  Garbage was everywhere: paper and plastic bags, wrappers of all kinds, discarded clothing, tattered notebooks, a lone shoe.  The edge of the camp opened onto a small field where residents who had them took their goats and cattle to feed."
"Dad repeatedly pointed out that this "repatriation" was for our sake, but even as a child I found that assertion illogical.  I could vaguely understand that it was for my own good when my mother forced a spoonful of cough medicine into my mouth.  But no matter which way I turned it in my head, I could not fathom how bringing us to a rate-infested refugee camp was for our own good.  I concluded within days of our arrival that we kids must have done something so terribly wrong that Al-Wihdat was the only suitable punishment.

"Other Arabs - and certainly other refugees would have given anything to have the safe and secure home we had in Canada.  Yet Mom and Dad were giving it all up for the sake of a history lesson.  One relative was brave enough to point out how far we'd fallen - but there were nods of approval from most of the others, who believed my parents had done "the right thing" for their children.

"By returning to Jordan, we could appreciate our culture, meet our relatives, and learn our native language.  Most important, we could learn about our roots.

"Recent immigrants to North America - among the many Arabs and Muslims - are often driven to reclaim their heritage in just the same way.  Parents worry that by raising children in an adopted country they may have single-handedly undone generations of tradition, religion, and family history.  No immigrant, no matter how open-minded wants to be that person."
 She writes of those who opt to remain abroad, yet are fixated in attempting to control "damage".  As soon as their children spent time with other people's children, coming under the influence of "foreign" teachers, coaches, music instructors and mentors, they would pull back.  This is where the strict orders to children to remain separate and apart comes in.  To wear headscarves that identifies young girls as Muslims.  To restrain children from visiting the homes of non-Muslims.  To impose values and instructions averse to the prevailing North American values.  To, in many instances, alienate children born in Canada, from their other Canadian peers.  Confusing some, angering them to the point where they feel vulnerable and detached from mainstream society.  And prepared, in some instances, to undertake activities inimical to Canadian values and society.

She writes of her father, "who immigrated to Germany long before his family was forced to leave Nueimah during the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbours..."  And this is where her familial/tribal/religious/heritage bias creeps inevitably into the narrative.  No hint that Israel was defending itself from its Arab neighbours who had decided to mount yet another combined military attempt to dislodge the Jewish State from the geography.

The reader is left with the indelible, deliberate impression that Israel was the aggressor and the Arabs were 'neighbours' in the fullest sense of the word; vulnerable and preyed upon by another.

But the book is instructive in many ways.  The newly-introduced (to the Ahed children) ritual of standing before Mecca, bowing and prostrating to Allah.  "In that house, we also began to acclimatize to the prevailing mood of brooding, lament, and disappointment.  Everyone was so serious.  Melancholy.  Out-loud laughter was frowned upon, even rude.  And if you happened to lapse and laugh hard, you'd better pray for god to deliver you from the evil that it could bring."

They did, eventually escape the misery of living in her uncle's house, along with the hostility expressed toward the young Nahlah by a few of her cousins who derided her genteel, Canadian-bred ways and her distaste for the dank, dirty shared toilet which she feared to enter with its scuttling cockroaches.  Eventually her father found a small house they could rent.  "It also had its very own hole-in-the-ground toilet with its own native cockroaches - for our exclusive use."

And the conclusion: "Learning about our culture somehow meant being punted back into the Dark Ages.  We had no furniture save for a large playpen to which our little blond-haired blue-eyed brother was often confined.  During the day we sat on the thin mattresses that at the time were so ubiquitous in Palestinian households; these were set upon straw carpets that did little to protect our feet from the cold concrete floors.  At night, the mattresses doubled as our beds.

"Where was our dining table?  Our living room set?  Most important, why didn't we have real beds like we did back home?  There were no answers."

Oh yes, there were: she and her brothers were inundated with tradition, with the culture they had left and then returned to.  Including the culture of clinging to refugee status, of blaming and hating Israel, of pining for the past, which in fact they lived within.

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Punishment: Death

Capital punishment, though many countries of the world are now eschewing that final, irreversible punishment for crimes against society, still takes thousands of lives each year, in countries for which criminal punishment is felt to merit death rather than cluttering up state prisons with penalties of life imprisonment. 

In some countries, like Canada, for example, which abolished capital punishment in 1976, a life-sentence for first-degree murder of police officers or prison guards will net the accused 25 years.

Those countries of the world practising capital punishment are headed by China, the most populous country in the world, where, over the last four years, thousands were executed; in excess of six thousand prisoners in 2007 alone were executed for their crimes.  Crimes punishable by the death penalty there include tax fraud, drug offences, corruption and property theft.

In order of numbers executed by the state through capital punishment, the countries are listed as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, United States, Pakistan, Yemen, North Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Afghanistan, Japan, Syria, Sudan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Egypt, Indonesia.  After which the remaining countries' annual executions are in the single digits.

In Iran, capital punishment is merited for convictions of murder, rape, adultery, pedophilia, sodomy, drug traffickers, armed robbery, kidnapping, terrorism and treason.  About 360 prisoners met their end in 2011, most for drug trafficking.  Under the above-stated categories, political prisoners accused of acting against the interests of the state are executed, as are homosexuals.

In Saudi Arabia, offences range from murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery, to qualify for the death penalty.  Executions can be effected by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, as well as by crucifixion.  Between 2007 and 2010, 345 executions were carried out by public beheading.  In 2011, the last reported execution for sorcery took place.

Iraq executed 34 people in 2012 on one day alone.  The death penalty will be imposed for 48 crimes which include damage to public property as an example of non-fatal crimes.  In 2011, 313 people were sentenced to death, over half convicted of murder.  Others were charged as drug traffickers, kidnappers for ransom and rape, and three were executed for blasphemy charges.

In the United States capital punishment is related only to homicide crimes including aggravated murder, felony murder and contract killing.  Execution method varies, with the most common technique being lethal injection.  A 2011 Gallup poll indicated that 61% of Americans favoured capital punishment, with 35% opposing it.

In Yemen the death penalty is applied for offences including murder, drug trafficking, rape, sexual offences and speech or action offensive to Islam.  Adultery is punishable by death by stoning.  Death sentences are often passed after court proceedings falling short of international standards for justice at fair trial.

Iran executes a greater number of people than any other single country, including China, on a per capita basis.

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Hope For The Changed Man

The victim impact statement presented by Montana state attorneys emphasizes that Running Rabbit and Mad Man "were loved by countless family members and friends", and their absence has ensured that those who loved them "have suffered the pain and agony of their deaths for over a quarter of a century, a pain that never ends."

You might think that being incarcerated for three decades awaiting the final commission of one's sentence for murder in an American state that practices capital punishment, might represent a fitting enough sentence for murder.  The very fact that someone has lived for a considerable time with a death sentence hanging over their head might be seen as ample punishment for murder.

On the other hand, two young Montana men, Blackfoot Indian cousins Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, and Harvey Mad Man, 23, made a fatal error in judging themselves to be safe in their own geography, in their vehicle, offering a drive to two men who were hitch-hiking.  Perhaps it was not in their nature to be suspicious of two strangers whom they'd never before seen in the area. 

That generosity of spirit cost them their lives, when one of the hitch-hikers, a 24-year-old Albertan, Ronald Smith, murdered them in cold blood.  When apprehended, Smith admitted to having committed the murders.  And he asked for the death penalty which was handed down at his trial.  But he later changed his mind and began appealing for clemency. 

He characterized his crime as having been carried out through drug- and alcohol-fuelled "foolishness".  If it is merely foolish to take the lives of other human beings, then he was abominably, horribly foolish.  And now that he is close to having the sentence carried out, his clemency appeal launched by his human rights lawyer cites the "tremendous growth and rehabilitation" and the "exemplary behaviour" he has demonstrated.

Not to mention "the remorse and repentance" he has exhibited.  "He's a changed man", claim his lawyers.  He would be, of course, fully committed now to saving his life from the final punishment that completes his sentence.  Nothing quite fixes the mind like focusing on imminent death.  And nothing could more stringently impel someone to feel huge regret for having committed such a crime, given the punishment.

"We have no desire to open the debate on capital punishment here in Canada - and likewise, we have no desire to participate in the debate on capital punishment in the United States.  The reality of this particular case is that were we to intervene, it would very quickly become a question of whether we are prepared to repatriate a double-murderer to Canada.  In light of this government's strong initiatives on tackling violent crime, I think that would send the wrong signal to the Canadian population", commented Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

A Federal Court ruling, however, took the matter out of the hands of Cabinet.  Leading to a letter addressed to Montana officials seeking clemency for the condemned murderer, signed off by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.  The letter stressing the Government of Canada "does not sympathize with violent crime", but it must, under the circumstances, seek clemency for Smith "on humanitarian grounds".

Ironically, Mr. Smith held out hope that he might sidestep the death penalty when a bill to abolish the death penalty in Montana, passed by the State Senate.  That hope was dashed when the bill was defeated ten to 8 by a committee of the state's House of Representatives, in March of 2009.  And in October 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Mr. Smith's death sentence appeal.

He can now base his hopes on the Montana parole board, when a three-member panel will make a recommendation to Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Historical Unknown

 As hard economic times hit more European countries their governments are increasingly confronted by hard-right opposition groups who have found new popularity levels among the indigenous populations concerned about new austerity measures being imposed upon them by international banks insistent that in exchange for monetary support to avoid bankruptcy social programs be sacrificed.

In Greece and In France the rise in popular support of far-right parties has been noted as a worrying trend.
Hungary, once a part of the powerful, imperial Austro-Hungarian empire, has long since been reduced in territory, with a remaining population of just over ten million people.  During the Second World War, and the German occupation, the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party and Hungarian police deported 440,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who ended up in a Soviet prison after the war and was never heard from again, managed to save the lives of a large number of Hungarian Jews, providing them with Swedish passports on his personal initiative.  One of the leaders of the Hungarian Aid and Rescue Committee, Rudolf Kasztner negotiated with SS officers to permit some Jews to escape in exchange for money, gold and diamonds.

And while other diplomats went out of their way to provide humanitarian relief for Hungarian Jews through the provision of false papers and safe houses in the capital Budapest, hundreds of ordinary Hungarians were executed by the Arrow Cross Party for sheltering Hungarian Jews.  There is a different kind of war now, one of economic hardships and adversity, with many Hungarians feeling that membership in the European Union has availed them little despite their expectations that membership would aid them.

While EU membership following the breakdown of the Soviet Union did not bring prosperity to Hungary, the current straitened financial circumstances throughout the European Union member-countries has turned the country's dependence on the West to new questions about what else Western-oriented membership has imposed on Hungary.  The tolerance of the presence of Jews, gays and Roma has provoked anger, reawakening the traditional Hungarian clasp of scapegoats during hard times.

Hungary's far-right political party, Jobbik, with its resurgent, quite overt anti-Semitism, and hostility to other minorities is making many Hungarians uneasy.  Above the authoritarian nationalist tenor in the country, a new strain of bigotry has surfaced.  Tough economic times never failed to fan the flames of racism and discrimination.  Jobbik has introduced a bill referring to homosexuality as a perversion, banning its 'promotion'.

The party has 46 seats in the 386 seats of the Hungarian Parliament, so although it has a certain amount of influence as a party with the third-largest seat numbers, at this juncture it can only submit bills that it intends to use to encourage the rise of bigotry to satisfy its ideological priorities.  For the time being its influence with the governing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban remains limited.  But that may not be forever.

Jobbik encourages closer relations with Iran.  One of its members of Parliament, Marton Gyongyosi, described Iran as "an extremely peaceful country".  The same Jobbik MP, while being careful to insist he doesn't question the existence of the Holocaust, claims it not to have been "exceptional and above all sufferings" and genocides.  And that the only reason it is held to be so horrifyingly exceptional is because Jews keep it front and centre.

The Jobbik party has its own magazine, where it derides the "Deviant West", as opposed to the acceptability of the traditional values of the "Normal East".  The party made an effort to bring a halt to Budapest's gay pride parade, labelling it a degenerate event tolerated in other EU countries, but an assault on Hungarian sensibilities.

That same issue of the Jobbik magazine made mention of the Jewish blood libel; historical accounts of Jews purportedly using the blood of Christian children in rites, or to prepare matzo with: "Whether this is true or not", however, the story went on, is unknown.

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First To Blink

Jean Charest's Liberal government was unequivocal; it would not turn back from raising Quebec tuition fees - the lowest fees of any province in Canada - to a level that would see Quebec university students paying 17% of the cost of their education by 2017.  The students could protest all they wanted, the resolve of the government was unshakeable.  This same government also pleaded with the student unions to be reasonable.

But the more militant of the unions, like CLASSE, felt it was not their job to inform their members that civil disobedience and violent protests were unacceptable, and they smugly thus informed the government that what it was attempting to impose in a tuition rise was unfair, and the rioting students had been 'provoked' by the government.  As such, they were simply exercising their democratic right by expressing themselves.

The strikes or student protests have gone on for eleven weeks.  And as they drag on the students have become increasingly destructive, vandalizing public property and harassing municipal governments and the public.  The protesting students have invoked their right to protest, and in the process they have deliberately interfered with the rights of other students who don't support the protests, and do wish to continue their education.

Setting fires, destroying public property, hurling rocks at police are not the actions of civil and educated youth.  They are activities normally associated with the dull, uneducated oafs any society is usually rife with, who see opportunities to run amok whenever situations such as this arise, to mingle among those with an authentic grievance during protests such as those that occurred during the G-8 summit in 2010 or the IMF or World Bank meetings anywhere.

For its part, the government invited students to be reasonable about the situation.  To exercise some restraint and intelligence; obviously far too much to expect of elite youth of a privileged society who feel that no excess of manipulative violence is too much to express their disgust at having to be responsible.  In meeting with several of the student unions, the government offered to extend the period of tuition increase by two years.

Instead of spreading the proposed increase over a five-year period, it could be done over an additional two years.  The unions walked out on the meeting, to begin with, because the government disinvited the most militant of the unions because of their members' violent "boycott".  They were not, in any event, impressed with the government offer to add $39-million in bursaries.

The promise that student loan repayment would be proportionate to a graduate's income also cut no ice with the unions.  The students and their unions consider themselves to be oppressed.  That the government has unfairly burdened them with a financial cost they refuse to accept.  And while Quebec's famously militant unions may be fully in support of the student protests, it would appear the general public is not.

Results of the latest poll undertaken by the Association for Canadian Studies and the Montreal Gazette appears to suggest significant inroads have not been made to convince Quebecers outside the student age demographic that planned tuition hikes will result in lower university enrolment and reduced access to higher education.

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The new anti-Semitism

Op-ed: Anti-Israel campaign identifies Jews as immoral, Jewish state as historical fraud
Moshe Dann
Published: 04.22.12, 20:26 / Israel Opinion

It's Jew-hating time, again. No cross-burnings or bomb-wearing psychos screaming for Allah. It's sophisticated, draped by UN and EU glitz, banal reports about Israeli atrocities, and Palestinian liberation. It's so holy, so morally pompous, and fashionable.

Criticizing Israel doesn't lack for issues: "apartheid," "war crimes," "stealing Palestinian land," "oppressing Palestinians," "the occupation," etc.
Fighting Back

Confront the bashers of Israel / David Ha'ivri

Op-ed: Israel is not the cause of anti-Western sentiments; at best, it is a convenient excuse
Full story

NGOs funded by European governments, the UN, and most Arab and Muslim organizations and countries, condemn Israel as a pariah state, unworthy of existence. In this pogrom of conscience they wear no hoods. Their masks are self-righteousness.

The mechanism for vilification and de-legitimization, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaigns, is coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, an umbrella organization for dozens of Palestinian organizations, located in Ramallah and supported by the Palestinian Authority. A global movement, it is behind the spread of anti-Israel actions by churches, unions and student groups.

The mantra chants are easy: "End the Occupation," "Justice for the Palestinians," "Peace Now." No need to think about complicated issues; just blame Israel. And Hate. Hate.

Anti-Israel campaigns overlap anti-Jewish sentiments. This explains why hate-Israel campaigns garner support from atheists, anarchists and even some Christians, why young people wrap themselves in checkered scarves, like Arafat, and come to Israel in order to fight alongside Arabs, some placing themselves in danger, and why EU countries with hard-hit economies spend hundreds of millions of Euros every year supporting anti-Israel organizations.

Backed by Islamists, especially Muslim Brotherhood-supported student organizations, hating Israel has become the campus rage. Meanwhile, university administrators have been obsessively neutral and Jewish organizations, excessively polite.

In addition, Israel has produced its own uber-critics – columnists who condemn Israel as "racist," editors who recommend "raping" Israel, academics, literary figures, and artists who support BDS against Jews living in Judea and Samaria.

Hence, in order to understand de-legitimization, we need to distinguish between those who seek Israel's destruction, in one form or another, and those with legitimate, honest criticism. As one of the pillars of democracy is freedom of speech, drawing the line between what is acceptable, and what is not, is often difficult. Self-criticism is essential; without it there cannot be growth. But self-criticism without limit, unbalanced and exaggerated, is self-destructive.

Challenging Israel's identity as a nominally Jewish state might be acceptable if all states with official religions were rejected. Singling out Israel, therefore, is not only bigoted; it is a form of de-legitimization, a softer denial of Israel's right to exist.

State-sponsored immorality 

The soft deniers protest their link with hard-line de-legitimizers, arguing that they support Israel, but are critical of its "racist policies," its "illegal occupation of Arab lands," its "colonialism." But the connection between criticism and full-blown hatred deepens when biased news stories and distorted rhetoric about Israeli "atrocities" and "war crimes" become self-defined truths, distortions of reality.

Decrying "the occupation as a moral disaster" for Israel therefore identifies Jews as immoral, a state-sponsored immorality, a legal and historical fraud that sharpens the sword of de-legitimization, justifies BDS campaigns, and anti-Jewish violence.

When the Gaza Strip is portrayed as "a vast prison," for example, then attacking the warders is heroic, overthrowing the system that produced that prison is justified, and Hamas missiles become “self-defense.”

If a Jewish, democratic state is inherently discriminatory, indeed "racist," those who oppose it can be honored as "freedom fighters." If Israel "steals Arab lands," then those who struggle to regain what is rightfully theirs are reasonable. If Israeli settlements are "illegal," it is a crime that should be punished. This ugly portrait of Israel is intentional, one that has no descriptive shades, no positive images, or perspective. It is one-dimensional evil.

The power of propaganda is that it lacks critical thinking, the essence of brainwashing. Delegitimizing Israel, therefore, needs to be reconsidered not only as an informational problem, but as a philosophical issue.

For the first time in history, Christian and Muslim Jew-hatred, liberals, anarchists, fascists and communists, dictators and presidents have merged into a formidable coalition against Israel, an international, multi-faceted onslaught to bring Israel to its knees.

One of the mechanisms used to delegitimize Israel is promoting Palestinianism and Palestinian statehood. Paradoxically, a "two-state" plan, instead of reducing resistance to Israel, increases it. This is because the prospect of Palestinian statehood and full sovereignty raises expectations that it will replace Israel, not accept her.

This explains why Palestinian leaders "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." It's not due to a miscalculation. It's exactly what they intend. It also explains why they can't and won't recognize Israel's right to exist, refuse to negotiate the refugee issue, and reject any compromise on Jerusalem. The problem is not territorial, but existential.

Posing simple questions reveals the dilemma: What kind of Israel is fully and wholeheartedly acceptable? Is the Nakba (catastrophe – Israel’s establishment in 1948) over? Will Arab/Islamic terrorism, violence and incitement cease with the establishment of another Palestinian state? What will bring an end to this conflict?

If the response is, “End Israel’s existence,” you know what you are fighting for.

The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Ample Guilt/Blame To Share

Syria insists it is "terrorist" bomb-makers who were responsible for a huge explosion that killed sixteen people in Hama.  The disintegration, not too slow, and certainly persistent, of the UN-brokered ceasefire continues apace.  With Kofi Annan deploring the fact that the regime of President al-Assad has not honoured its promise to withdraw troops and tanks from city centres.

But then, why should they, since the enemy has certainly not been laying down its arms, according to Syria's Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud who accused the rebel militias of violations of the ceasefire.  Damascus, therefore, was "reserving the right to respond to any violation or attack". 

While the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights was unclear who was responsible for the latest explosion, they verified the death toll of 16.  Contrasting hugely with the Local Co-ordination Committees who claim over 50 people to have been killed by what it insists was a military rocket.

That does sound far more likely since Hama has been a centre of protest against President Bashar al-Assad from the outset.  How likely is it, after all, that the 'terrorists' would target their own, even for the grisly end of pointing a finger of accusation at the regime, and in the process sacrificing their own. 

Unless, of course, 'their own' are not their own because the attack resulted from a conspiracy on the part of foreign 'terrorist' forces for whom Hama civilians are very expendable.

France, the leading Western hawk in Syria as it was in Libya, insists that tougher action is called for.  It will invoke a "Chapter 7" Security Council resolution which could permit the Security Council to authorize active intervention should Damascus continue to defy the Annan prescription for a ceasefire.

As far as Russia and China are concerned, that won't happen any time soon thanks to their veto.  They've no wish to see a Libya intervention echoed in Syria.  For that matter, most NATO members feel similar reluctance to become involved.  Russia is intent on maintaining its presence as a staunch supporter in the Middle East, and its ties to the Assad government is its ticket to that end.

In fact, both China and Russia have been happy enough to accept the Syrian-based accusations of 'terrorists' being entirely responsible for any and all attacks against both themselves and the rebels.  For they are guilty of nothing whatever, other than their logical assertions that they are defending the fatherland, just as (some) Syrians expect them to do on their behalf.

And Russia, exploiting its position as a calm interlocutor, trusted by Syria though reviled by the opposition, is not loath to demonstrate its even-handed neutrality in quasi-support of the UN cease-fire: "We call upon the Syrian side to carry out in full its obligations", expounded Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

"Nonetheless ... there is another side in Syria, opposition groups, which have in essence shifted to tactics of terror on a regional scale."  And therein lies the very acceptable truth of the matter.  Take it or leave it.  Or simply accept that both sides are adept at, and happy to visit 'terror' on one another.

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Dying For Lack of Medical Care

Bugando Medical Centre
A medical team from Israel’s Save a Child’s Heart, an international humanitarian non-governmental organisation, has successfully performed the first-ever paediatric open heart surgery on the youngest patient in Tanzania.

"She had a hole in her heart.  We had to stop her heart, go in and close this hole and then start the heart functioning again.  In places like Canada, you can do this operation any day. You don't let patients with the condition become six months old or even a year, without the operation.  But in Tanzania, this little girl was four years old and she could have died while being on a waiting list."

But that little girl is now healthy, and in school.  She is the child of farmers, living in a mud hut without running water or electricity.  And she had undergone what was historic surgery in Tanzania when a team of 13 doctors from Save a Child's Heart travelled to Tanzania from Israel to operate a cardiac clinic at the Bugando Medical Center in the city of Mwanza.

The Bugando Medical Center is an 850-bed hospital serving 15 million people, as best they can.  Lacking sufficient trained medical staff, pharmaceuticals, advanced technology.  Dr. Godwin Godfrey, son of a surgeon, born in a small town beneath Mount Kilimanjaro is a second-generation medical practitioner, intimately familiar with the heart-breaking difficulties of practising his profession in a developing country.

After he received his medical degree at Makerere University in Uganda he returned to Tanzania for his internship, choosing to do so at the Bugando Medical Centre.  "Most of our doctors are actually located in Dar es Salaam, the capital.  That is the biggest city and all the government offices are there.  But with me being interested in surgery, I thought if I went to work in one of the big hospitals I wouldn't get the hands-on experience that I wanted."

He did get that hands-on-experience in Mwanza, possibly more than he had anticipated, let alone wanted.  A lack of surgeons and specialists meant he was busy with pediatric cases, orthopedic, ophthalmology and neurosurgery, quite the introduction. He shifted to cardiac surgery, but there was little equipment, much less expertise.  He looked into possibly training in cardiac surgery close to home, discovering the only places in Africa were in South Africa, Egypt, Morocco or Tunisia.

But there, he was informed they had no interest in training foreign doctors.  A visiting German doctor representing a Christian charity recommended that he apply to study in Israel under a humanitarian project sponsored by the Save A Child's Heart group.  At the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon, Israel outside of Tel Aviv, cardiac surgeons have treated over 2,800 children with congenital heart diseases, and adolescents suffering from heart-valve diseases.

As Dr. Godfrey discovered, patients come in to Israel from international destinations to undergo roughly 225 emergency operations annually.  Some 43% of the cases flown in come from Africa, 47% from Arab states, including the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Iraq.  Dr. Godfrey was offered a full five-year scholarship by Save A Child's Heart to study pediatric cardiac surgery.  And the organization helped him to train a complete surgery team to work in Tanzania with him.

"Heart surgery is teamwork," said Dr. Godfrey as he toured Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto.  "It's not just the work of a surgeon.  You need a cardiologist, an anesthesiologist, an intensive care unit internist, people to operate the heart pumps and ventilators."  On his graduation next summer from the Wolfson Medical Centre he will represent the first and only pediatric heart surgeon in Tanzania to serve a country of 43-million people.

"A child on the waiting list with a serious heart condition may wait maybe three or four years and die of complications like heart failure.  Sometimes it can be very depressing being a doctor in a poor country like Tanzania.  Too many times you see children dying in front of your eyes.  You know that you are supposed to do something, like give them medicine, but you don't have it."

In Israel at the inception of his training at the Wolfson Medical Centre the situation was completely different.  "I always used to see a lot of death.  In our department in Tanzania (Bugando Medical Centre, Mwanza) you could have five or seven children die every day.  When I got to Israel to train I realized we weren't seeing any children die - even in a month."

"This was really an eye-opener.  Whatever we were doing; it was wrong.  It opened my eyes.  There is so much that we don't know.  There is so much equipment that we don't have.  There is so much medication that we don't have."  Tanzania's Ministry of Health has a waiting list of nearly 500,000 patients desperately requiring heart surgery.

"A child on the waiting list with a serious heart condition may wait maybe three or four years and die of complications like heart failure."

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Despicable Holocaust Misconduct

The searingly horrible and well-executed plan to exterminate an entire ethnic group represents an inextinguishable blot of shame on the conscience of the world.  Germany has made an attempt to recognize the magnitude and horror of its Nazi past and its embrace of a Final Solution to the presence of Jews in Europe.  Part of its dedication to restoring human faith in its history and culture is to try to understand the lethal level of its embrace of anti-Semitism at such a profoundly destructive level.

In recognition that - whatever it says or does, the memory and the knowledge of its drive to destroy the lives of European Jews, methodically and deliberately, engineering mechanical devices of human obliteration, delivering to suffering human beings the most inhumane living conditions on their way to extermination; starving, torturing them with medical experimentation and casually-delivered death while operating slave camps - the country has attempted to institute a frail band-aid of financial restitution.

Holocaust survivors were invited to submit applications that would give evidence that they had suffered and survived.  Enabling them to qualify for restitution through the international Holocaust survivors' fund established by Germany.  It appears now that there has surfaced the existence of a number of people who found it personally advantageous to represent themselves falsely as Holocaust survivors for the purpose of enriching themselves by acquiring legitimacy of survival claims.

Twenty people have been identified as being involved in this disgustingly pernicious scheme to acquire funding from the German government that was intended solely as compensation of sorts for Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution during the fascist regime of Adolf Hitler.  One is a Toronto woman formerly from Russia, among 30 people accused of criminal intent in portraying themselves as victims when they were not. 

The Holocaust survivors' fund has been defrauded of $57-million.  A crime revealed by the FBI.  And a trial date has been set in New York City for the 20 people who have been directly implicated.  It is not yet known whether the U.S. had requested the extradition from Canada of Luba Kramrish, to also stand trial, as an instigator and central figure who encouraged others without conscience to apply for compensation. 

This fraud took place over a ten-year period, with Ms. Kramrish recruiting people to become involved in the scheme.  "If ever there was a cause that  you would hope and expect would be immune from base greed and criminal fraud, it would be the Claims Conference, which every day assists thousands of poor and elderly survivors of the Nazi genocide", said Manhattan Attorney Preet Bharara.

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany administers a few funds providing reparation to Holocaust victims.  And within the Russian-speaking community Ms. Kramrish became identified with obtaining funding for victims of the Holocuast - whether or not they were really entitled; someone who suffered during that era of Nazi-occupied Europe, according to U.S. authorities.

"These defendants had a hand in fabricating, filing or processing nearly five thousand fraudulent claims on behalf of non-qualifying applicants", according to Janice Fedarcyk, FBI assistant director-in-charge.  Documents filed in a U.S. court claim that Ms. Kramrish contacted a friend in New York who happened to be a caseworker at the Claims Conference, in 1999.

The enquiry related to Ms. Kramrish's own mother, who had applied for funding from one of the funds, still awaiting resolution.  The persecution history provided by Ms. Kramrish's mother could not be verified, so her friend falsified information to enable the application's approval.  After which the friend with influence in the process, lent herself to further false applications initiated by Ms. Kramrish, for a kick-back in the proceeds.

Those whose claims succeeded and were accepted resulting in their receiving a continuous pension in reparation, wrote cheques or gave cash to Ms. Kramrish.  Ms. Kramrish's lawyer has declined to release any details of the case: "In light of the U.S. indictment, Ms. Kramrish will not be saying anything at this time", he stated.

There are a remaining elderly half-million survivors of the Holocaust world-wide.  An estimated 16,800 elderly Jewish survivors live in Canada.

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The Call Display Read "DND"

The Military Police Complaints Commission holding hearings into the suicide death in 2008 of Cpl. Stuart Langridge who hanged himself at CFB Edmonton, and the subsequent official behaviour of the Canadian military has revealed some quite unfortunate decisions on the part of the military authorities. 

Cpl. Langridge's bereaved parents hold the military responsible in large part for their son's death, claiming that his symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome were not taken seriously, and he was left to fend for himself, in frail psychological condition which led directly to his having committed suicide.  The military psychologists who examined Cpl. Langridge don't agree that he suffered from PTSD, but they do agree that he was severely depressed.

And they have testified that they did what they could for him.  Cpl. Langridge had served the Canadian military in Bosnia and later he was deployed in Afghanistan.  It was on his return from Bosnia that he seemed to have undergone a change in personality, exacerbated, it would appear, when he was deployed to Afghanistan. 

There he served for seven months in 2004 performing reconnaissance patrols in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Which experience, claims his mother, Sheila Fynes, led to his change from an easy-going, sport-loving fellow to a depressed recluse, on his return.  "The incredible poverty bothered him" his mother explained.  "He said he didn't want to go back but he said little else about it."

And it appears to be around then that he became addicted to drugs and to alcohol.  Neither of which addictive agents, his mother testified, had been part of his life before his experiences in Afghanistan.  His addictions were causing problems in his relationship with his girlfriend with whom he lived.  He had spent time in an addiction-counselling program in the military and then was returned to his unit.

Where his superiors testified they attempted to engage him in work that would distract him from his condition of depression.  And they became aware that he was breaking his pledge to distance himself from drugs and alcohol and placed him on a watch.  This was a man who, according to his mother, loved life in the military.

He spent his teen years in cadets; at 17 he became a reservist, and at 20 he sought a career in the military.  "He was a successful soldier", his mother testified.  "He was deployed to Bosnia.  He was excited doing what they all train to do.  He rarely spoke in detail about his time in Bosnia but when he got back, he wasn't sleeping well.  In August 2004 he was deployed to Afghanistan."

From the testimony, however, he was not a successful soldier.  While he happily imbibed his training, when it was put to the test and reality impinged, he discovered that what he imagined military life to be was somewhat more complicated, and disturbing to his equilibrium.  Excited doing what 'they all train to do' initially, perhaps, but training is methodical and mechanical, hypothetical; practising the training in a combat situation alters perspective.

He was disturbed by what he experienced and he sought to expunge his memory of experiences he preferred to forget, but could not.  He sought release from his depression with the use of drugs, and that too failed him.  If someone is intent on committing suicide, someone who feels life no longer offers anything of value, they invariably will succeed in what they set out to accomplish, extinguishing life.

The military erred in withholding personal information from his parents that they should have been in possession of; his change of will, for example, his suicide note to his parents.  That should never have happened, and it is disgraceful that it did.  But the claim that the military apparatus did not care enough about one of their own to do their utmost to help him in his distress seems unwarranted.

There is enough grief and regret to go around without adding blame to the mixture.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hopeful For The Future

Mohamed Harkat is ecstatic, he is smiling, he is overjoyed and overwhelmed, and he is 'hopeful for the future'.  Arrested in 2002 on a security certificate, held in prison and alternately house arrest since then on suspicion of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda, the federal government wishes to deport him to his native Algeria.

Mr. Harkat prefers to remain in Canada. Deportation to Algeria, he claims, would be the death of him.  On return, he insists, he would be tortured or killed.  By the Algerian government, of course, who must have it in for him.  On what grounds he has never quite clarified.  But one assumes that if Canada has security information compelling enough to regard this man as a possible threat to the country, Algeria has similar information.

Whether Algeria would then regard Mr. Harkat as a threat to his home and native land is another matter altogether, never quite publicly examined.  It seems enough for anyone coming to Canada from a Muslim-dominated country to infer that should they be returned to their country of birth through extradition procedures they would suffer dreadfully.  Calling upon Canada's humanitarian values to protect them.

And protect them we do, since the country's system of justice with its various avenues of appeal guarantee that no one is deported without exhausting all such avenues of appeal.  Which can take years and even more years to conclude.  As is the case with Mr. Harkat; he has been battling the federal government's decision to deport him for a decade, and shows no sign of surrendering his insistence that he be allowed to remain in Canada.

"It's not over, but at least one day I'm going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It gives me another day to breathe on this earth.  It's just a matter of time to clear my name and declare I'm innocent."

Evidently Mr. Harkat's right to a fair hearing was inexcusably compromised by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.  It habitually and routinely destroyed recordings of taped conversations, and did so with those relating to Mr. Harkat's case.  The then-internal policy, since altered, was to analyze and then prepare written summaries of such recordings.

Those classified summaries led Federal Court Judge Simon Noel to his conclusion that Harkat was an al-Qaeda agent.  Mr. Harkat's lawyers were permitted only a limited summary on which to base their defence.  "The summaries are the remnants of the destroyed originals.  They are the problem, not the solution", according to Justice Gilles Letourneau.

The case must now be reconsidered absent the summarized conversations that had implicated Mr. Harkat in relationships with a key al-Qaeda figure, Ahmed Said Khadr, among others.  Mr. Harkat arrived in Canada from Pakistan where he had lived for five years after leaving Algeria.  In Pakistan he operated a guest house for a Saudi-born terrorist, maintaining links to an Islamic extremist group in Egypt.

This information is now to be seen, evidently, closer to the realm of informed speculation than reliable evidence, in the absence of the summary which has been stripped of its relevance, thanks to the Court of Appeal decision.  And it is highly likely that an entirely new trial will be embarked upon. 

Mr. Harkat's lawyers will now be able to benefit on his behalf hugely in the absence of the summary as evidence, along with two sources in the case whose evidence is seen to have been tainted as possibly false. 

"I'm hopeful for the future.  I would like to have children like anybody else, and live a normal life", enthused Mr. Harkat.

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Can't a Fellow Muse?

Sure, in the privacy of the shower, if you're a former aspirant to the prime ministership of a country whose future you're speculating about.  All the more so when you're also an academic and former leader of a once-leading political party.  To offer to an interviewer one's innermost apprehensions about a very sober situation does not reflect a sound reckoning.

Introspection is always useful, but sometimes it should be mute.

Not that Michael Ignatieff was wrong in his contentions.  Increasingly, Quebec has less in common with the rest of Canada and not an awful lot to discuss that is of common interest; its focus is unerringly internal.  All of the provinces are focused on their well-being, both as stand-alones and as part of the confederation of provinces and territories that make up the nation that Canada represents.

Quebec alone has conferred upon itself separate nation status.  Separate, exceptional and above and beyond mere status as a province among others. None, as it happens, are equal to it.  Its heritage, language, culture and values set it apart, and apart is how it means to remain.  It may be indebted to the rest of Canada for its standard of living, but it is loathe to express indebtedness; rather it expresses a good deal of entitlement.

Transfer payments that Quebec receives annually in billions of dollars taken from Canada's wealthier provinces, enabling the province to provide for its people special social programs unavailable elsewhere in Canada are seen internally as nothing less than their due.  They are, in fact, the unreliable glue that keeps Quebec within confederation.  A powerful incentive to remain.

Not powerful enough for the separatists, the 'nationalists' chafing at the bit to mount yet another referendum. 

Mchael Ignatieff was straight up and quite correct when he stated that Canada and Quebec are already "almost" separate countries.  In a never-ending effort to persuade Quebec just how valuable their contribution to the union of provinces and territories is for the preservation of the Canada that we know and love, Quebec has been steadily and gradually endowed with all manner of courtesies in self governance.

As the federal government bestowed upon the province the singular advantage of representing itself internationally, and maintaining a relationship that bears more resemblance to an informal agreement between nations than that of a central government and one of its geographical appendages, the distance accelerated.  Quebec insisted on its autonomy in a wide variety of areas, including immigration.

And the federal government graciously acceded.  Independence does indeed, as Mr. Ignatieff commented so publicly, so recklessly, loom on the horizon; perhaps sooner than later.  And the separatists regard Mr. Ignatieff now far more fondly then they ever did when they might have been instrumental in voting him into office.

They needn't fret a lost opportunity, however.  There always remain other options; Justin Trudeau for one, should he ever become leader of the Liberal Party might aggravate on behalf of a separate Quebec on the pretense that the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is intent on dismantling all that Canadians hold dear - and of course Thomas Mulcair, should the NDP ever ascend to first place and agree to agree with Quebec separatists.

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A Haven In Canada

In what was then eastern Poland and is now Belarus on March 22, 1943 the village of Khatyn experienced a catastrophe when villagers were set to be burned alive as they were gathered together for that very purpose, in a barn.  This area was under German control, and local police did not hesitate to fit right into the Nazi extermination machine.  One of those was a man by the name of Vladimir Katriuk. 

Recently released archival materials gathered by the Soviets were examined and the information they revealed was included in a recently published academic paper based in part on those declassified Soviet documents.  The paper appears in the latest edition of Holocaust and Genocide Studies.  Its contents led Jewish organizations to approach the Government of Canada for the purpose of reopening an examination into the presence in Canada of Vladimir Katriuk.

This man arrived in Canada in 1951, without declaring his background, and has lived in Canada ever since.  Historian Per Anders Rudling, a postdoctoral fellow at Lund University, Sweden, is the author of the paper which, based on the Soviet testimony in those documents released in 2008, identifies Mr. Katriuk as a Nazi collaborator, and a mass murderer.

He is charged with having opened fire on civilians as people were herded into the barn to be immolated.  The paper relates that Mr. Katriuk "reportedly lay behind the stationary machine gun, firing rounds at anyone attempting to escape the flames".  And while the author mentions that Soviet archival material should be "carefully and critically" viewed, he also said additional sources point to Mr. Katriuk's massacre involvement, where the entire inhabitants of the village were annihilated.

Traditional Jewish life continued in Pinsk (Western Belarus) until WWII. (1924 photo)
After the German/USSR pact of WWII was abrogated and Russia, which had taken Belarus from Poland, withdrew, the area fell under German occupation in 1941.  A racist regime was imposed with hundreds of thousands deported for slave labour, and additional hundreds of thousands of civilians being killed.  Local police took part in many of these human-rights-abusing crimes.  And almost the entire Jewish populations of Belarus were wiped out.
"Katriuk's participation in the Khatyn massacre is confirmed by multiple testimonies, and in some detail", explained Mr. Rudling who has joint U.S./Swedish citizenship, and who took his PhD at the University of Alberta.  "The testimonies are consistent in identifying Katriuk as a machine gunner at Khatyn, and indeed in other atrocities.  Together, the material produces a compelling evidence that Katriuk was indeed an active participant in the massacre."

When approached with these revelations Mr. Katriuk responded that he was unaware of the paper and its findings.  In 1999, the Federal Court of Canada had ruled that Mr. Katriuk had deliberately concealed his past as a Nazi collaborator when he entered Canada, fully aware that this was the only way he could be permitted entry.  There was no evidence otherwise available at that time that he had been involved in atrocities.

Jewish groups like B'nai Brith Canada and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have now approached Ottawa requesting the federal Cabinet to mount a review of its 2007 decision not to revoke Mr. Katriuk's citizenship.  "These records clearly document that Vladimir Katriuk was a commander of a platoon in the battalion which perpetrated the massacre and that he personally opened fire with a machine gun on defenceless villagers. There is no justification for continuing to give him a haven in Canada."

Mr. Katriuk had testified at a much earlier date that he hadn't voluntarily joined under the command of German officers, despite that he was in charge of a unit identified as Battalion 118 which was under Nazi command.  He insisted he had protected villagers and livestock from partisans, while not participating in German operations.  The partisans, lest we overlook that fact, were locals engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Nazi occupation.

He became part of the Waffen-SS before finally defecting and fighting against the Germans.  Under an assumed name he shipped out to Quebec in 1951, where he later assumed his legitimate name and was granted citizenship in 1958.  He was under scrutiny, however, and the government took him to court in 1995 through a war crimes investigation, arguing that he had intentionally concealed his involvement with the Nazi regime.

A lot of time has passed.  Those who are dead can never be revived, but they must be remembered.  Mr. Katriuk is a very old man.  He is 90 years of age, living in Montreal. 
"Yes, they are old and feeble, but we ought not think of them as they are today but remember them as they were when carrying out their horrendous work - young, strong brutish thugs.  They lived to a ripe old age while denying their victims their right to life."  Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress

Justice, however late, can, should and must be done.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Testimony to Virulent Lunacy

He shudders and abhors the very idea that he can be considered unhinged.  But how else can someone be thought of who goes out of his way, deliberately and with malice aforethought to rid himself of normal human inhibitions against taking the lives of innocent beings.  Who submits himself to deadening hour after hour of repetitive motions designed to remove from his consciousness the fixed idea that murder is an unforgivable transgression.

And who carefully plans to acquire weapons, learn and practise how to use them expertly, lays out a scenario where he views himself as a warrior for justice for his community, his country, his culture and heritage and sets out to slaughter young people whom he perceives as representing an ideology prepared to surrender that culture, heritage and country to an foreign force preparing to submerge it into an alien culture and heritage.

His "gruesome" actions, according to Anders Behring Breivik, during his testimony in Oslo, were completely necessary.  Nothing less would alert and awaken his countrymen to the dire threat they were submitting to, in committing national suicide.  His protest against the inundation of Muslims emigrating in great numbers from their source countries to Europe, sounds the death knell of Europe; the mournful bells of regret ring in his brain.

Turning his mind to a solution.  He was a modern Knight Templar, jousting for the spirit and the soul of Europe.  First, his own country, Norway.  His was an act of courage, of desperate courage, seeking to rescue his country before it was too late.  If to do so he would become the servant of the Angel of Death, so be it.  He had as example, the martyrdom-fanaticism of Islamist jihadists.  If they could do it, so could he.

His cause was noble, theirs ignoble.

He used a fake police uniform to initially give confidence of his harmless, protective presence to his victims, before turning his weapons on them, in a horrible display of vengeance against those whom he blamed for his country's approaching demise.  His uniformed presence encouraged those whom he targeted to reveal themselves, before being cold-bloodedly shot.

And the real police, they were nowhere to be found, though desperate calls were being conveyed to alert authorities to the catastrophe that was occurring.  Breivik himself called police with the intention of surrendering, but there was no response.  He left a message.  "I said 'call me back when you got the right person'", he testified.

For Norway, the tragedy of one sole madman whose careful planning was able to visit upon its society an unforgettable misery.  For the authorities and the security establishment, a day of shameful regret at their lack of perception and reaction.

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Forget The Corruption

"I am not saying that corruption is not important.  This is perhaps the most sinister enemy from within Afghanistan's democracy and Afghanistan's state building process.  What I'm saying is it's more effective for us to be able to do it.Jaweed Ludin, Afghanistan's Deputy Foreign Minister

What, in fact, he is saying, is nothing new.  President Karzai has long been critical of the fact that international aid to Afghanistan has not gone directly to him and his council.  The fact that corruption is endemic, traditional and a way of life in Afghanistan should not be an impediment, as far as he is concerned, to entrusting the billions of humanitarian aid funding that streams into the country.

Instead of funding foreign entities, international humanitarian aid groups, who then filter the funding in consultation with the government, Hamid Karzai feels far more could be accomplished, more effectively, given directly to him to allocate.  How this makes sense to anyone but himself is questionable, but international donors aren't buying it, and never have.

Kabul, Jawed Ludin insists, will get around to making an anti-corruption effort.  After all, the people of Afghanistan loathe their current government for many reasons, one of which is the established level of corruption.  Other reasons are the perceived and actual ineptness of government at providing services and security to its people, outside of Kabul.

Possibly Mr. Karzai feels he would garner greater public respect if he were in charge of foreign-funded money transfers.  Possibly, he's right.  Possibly it won't happen, because the international community feels enough of its funding goes to graft and corruption and will continue to do its utmost to limit it as much as is feasibly possible.

But Mr. Ludin (formerly Ambassador to Canada) is critical of foreign investors; their focus on graft in his country has been "unhelpful".  At the very same time as international spending has managed to inflate the cost of the decade-long war and reconstruction.  Inevitably, graft and corruption in a corruption-prone society has its reflection in the relations between contractors in that society and contractees of the foreign community.

Afghans themselves chafe against official corruption and the bribes extracted from them for every conceivable interaction and transaction conducted within the country.  Afghanistan's rank as one of the most corrupt countries in the world is not for nothing.  The country is so aid-reliant it would simply collapse into complete dysfunction from its current semi-dysfunctional state if foreign investment in aid were to be removed.

Hamid Karzai's half-brother, along with members of his parliament were involved when the country's Kabul Bank was hollowed out, its liquidity vanished after senior executives had 'lost' $300-million in failed real estate investments.  Still, insists Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin, control of spending should become more "indigenized".

As far as he, the main architect of Afghan foreign policy is concerned, the United States government - from whom President Karzai expects $2-billion annually, for a total of $4.2-billion from the entire international community in annual support - should consider its financial commitment as an investment in the future; the "big bargain".

That bargain is inextricably wound up in the premise that Afghanistan would remain a democratic, strategic U.S. ally in that impossibly turbulent part of the world.  Much as the United States depends upon Pakistan as its focal ally in its 'war on terror', by funding its military and secret service to the tune of $2-billion annually.  With all the intrigue and back-stabbing inherent in that association.

"My advice", he says serenely, "is that they should just leave the rest to Afghans themselves to sort out."

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Ottawa's Hate Crimes Stats

A newly-released Statistics Canada report based on police-reported criminal incidents determined to have been motivated by hate toward an identifiable group indicates a decrease; the incidence nation-wide now stands at 4.1 in 100,000.  An 18% decrease from 2008 to 2010.  A holdout from the national decrease appears to be Ottawa, where the rate has remained static at 14 per 100,000.  Quite the differential.  What's wrong with Ottawa?

The head of the city's Diversity and Race Relations Section of the Ottawa Police feels a likely explanation to be the existence of its own hate crime unit.  Which engages with community members, schools and others to teach them how hate crimes may be identified.  "Some of that training obviously resulted in higher reports", said Staff Sgt. John Medeiros.

On the other hand, Ottawa is not unique in having special hate crimes units.  Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton have their own hate-crimes units.  And their rates of reported hate crime are consistently fewer than half of Ottawa's.  Moreover, according to the StatsCan report, all of the top eight cities for hate crimes in Canada are in southern Ontario.

One academic, Professor Barbara Perry, an expert in hate-crimes at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa feels that rapid cultural diversification may lead to a small minority of people committing violence.  "Those sorts of cultural clashes are a key reason for the violence", she states.  And law professor and human rights expert Errol Mendes at University of Ottawa agrees.

"Ottawa is rapidly becoming a multicultural city.  It's the nature of a changing society.  Both these experts feel that local police forces and community groups in Ottawa help to create an atmosphere where more hate crimes are reported.  The traditional group against which hate crimes are committed are Jews.  And it is no secret that there has been an increase in the incidence of anti-Semitism and violent acts against Jewish institutions.

The annual "Israeli Apartheid Week" held in universities not only criticizes and slanders Israel, but focuses on those who support Israel.  Jewish students at universities where the annual event is held report being harassed and ostracized, blamed and faulted for their support of a state that those who support the Palestinian cause claim oppresses them.

Anti-Semitism is so endemic and so deeply engrained among some segments of the population that a parliamentary committee was struck in the House of Commons to investigate its prevalence and advise the federal government how to proceed with taking steps to combat it.  A year ago the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism released its final report.

Because that particular discriminatory scourge was present, pervasive and seen to be increasing, it was felt a parliamentary committee might be able to identify measures to respond to the issue.  The report urged the federal government and law enforcement agencies to define anti-Semitism as a perception of Jews expressed as hatred in physical or rhetorical measures directed at individuals, their property, or the Jewish community and their religious institutions.  Recognizing that it can take the form of targeting Israel as a collective representing Judaism.

But the StatsCan report just issued appeared to focus on two other community groups; Muslim Canadians and the gay/transgendered community.  Which is an odd polarity of focus since gays within Islamic countries are hounded and persecuted, yet in Canada itself the gay community is supportive of "Palestinian rights".

The prejudices brought to Canada by immigrants whose culture and religion urges them to find fault with others in a pluralist society might simply redound on them.

The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations is adamant: "We encourage Canadian Muslims to report hate crimes.  A hate crime doesn't just target the individual or the community.  It has a ripple effect in terms of how that community is perceived and how they perceive themselves", according to Ihsaan Gardee, its executive director.

And Pink Triangle Services, an Ottawa charitable group supportive of the city's queer population provides services related to hate crimes.  Crisis counselling, discussion groups and educational training are all helpful educational programs offered to that community, yet it is claimed victims of hate-related incidents among the gay community hesitate to report them.

There are attempts in Ottawa to encourage inter-faith relationships and discussions.  The gay community lives openly and comfortably, with its own press and downtown neighbourhood where in general society they are accepted and treated in equable measures to any other group within society.  The reports of hate crimes are difficult to digest by most mainstream Canadians, no less Ottawans.

Unless the crimes reported really do revolve around the commission of violence linked to the perceptions of differences between people, it can be all too easy to attribute uncivil behaviour committed by louts to incidents of persecution.

And then there is the attitude among Muslims that they are being persecuted, when they cannot fathom why it is that most Canadians and the Government of Canada are loathe to welcome back with open arms someone like Omar Khadr.  Where opinions such as this: "He was born in Canada and he is a Canadian citizen.  Where else should he go?  No matter what he has been accused of, we should treat him like any other Canadian citizen, irrespective of his beliefs and the colour of his skin", indicating that the co-religionist who expressed that opinion has a rather confused relationship with justice and persecution.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Working With Shawn Atleo

"We are not opposed to development, but we must be involved at the outset.  First Nation rights and responsibilities demand that we are full partners in discussions about exploration, ownership, participation in production, and long-term sustainability of our environment, our communities and our futures."  National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

There was Shawn Atleo, brimming with righteous confidence, addressing the Canadian Club of Toronto.  Again.  Reading them the riot act.  Literally.  For riots is what they can anticipate should they forget for one moment that First Nations peoples were, ahem, here first - back in the day.  But that day, to them, is everpresent and as current as today.

Canada, Mr. Atleo said, faces "an aboriginal tsunami", which can be averted only if and when the "newcomers" (that's everyone outside the First Nations communities) acknowledge their undying debt to the firsters, which are the aboriginal peoples of Canada.  Cooperation with First Nations is the primary step to ensuring a happy collaboration between industry and warrior tribes.

"Currently, First Nations are often the last to know about major resource development.  This relegates our communities to few options, usually resulting in confrontation.  So we end up with protests and legal battles that frustrate opportunities for everyone and deepen tensions today and into the future", he explained eloquently.

(The Taliban in Afghanistan collect 'protection' money from Afghan farmers whom they force to grow poppy crops for their opium derivatives.  Just a little diversion, a stray thought.)

Economic partnerships is what Mr. Atleo stresses.  This constitutes what he terms a 'cornerstone of true reconciliation.  "We can do things the hard way or the harder way."  The population growth rate among aboriginal people is a whopping 25%, while the general population stands at a miserable 6%.  Get the picture?

"Almost every resource development activity currently operating or planned is occurring within 200 kilometres of a First Nations' community and right in the middle of our traditional territories", said Chief Atleo.  "Canada's economic fundamentals require greater economic participation of our quickly growing population."

Lands claimed as traditional territory give First Nations the right to claim partnership with any kind of development or resource extraction.  And it imposes upon industry and the greater public within Canada an unavoidable obligation to honour the need to share and share alike with Canada's First Peoples. 

In fact, there is no territory in the country that hasn't a prior claim on it.

This is a historical moment in time.  The historically dispossessed dictating to the colonialist descendants just how the reality of the situation is to be assessed.

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The Pundits Have It

Normally, featured commentators exercise a little restraint rather than prognosticating definitely without a shred of doubt expressed as a possibility that matters may not turn out as anticipated.  But polls are polls and people tend to place a whole lot of trust in them.  Despite which, one might imagine that seasoned journalists, those who are confident in their experience and their ability to forecast events through careful scrutiny of associated details, might hesitate before they leap.

Andrew Coyne leaped with gusto into his bold assertion, seemingly more than adequately backed up by polls and interpretations indulged upon by his journalistic peers, that Alberta was about to toss its reliance on their long-reigning Progressive Conservatives to welcome with open arms a new off-shoot breakaway party veering to the right of the Tories. 
"Unless something astonishing happens, the Wildrose Party will form the next government of Alberta.  All that remained at time of writing, assuming the polls were not completely off, was to discover whether it would be a minority or majority.
"Wait a minute: unless something astonishing happens?  That Wildrose should even be in contention, let alone poised to govern, is surely one of the most astonishing somethings in living memory.  Never mind that it has never governed or has only ever elected one member of the legislature.  The party did not even exist until about four years ago."

Ah, well, something astonishing did happen, and it wasn't at all as Andrew Coyne expressed confidently it to be.  The polls were, quite simply, block-headed-wrong.  And the relaxed, natural, and bold Danielle Smith's leadership abilities, let alone her platform perplexed and concerned enough Albertans to have them plunk their ballots for the tried-and-true, albeit tired and corrupt PC party.

Alison Redford is now not merely a caretaker premier, she is the duly elected premier of the Province of Alberta.  Alberta voters have returned a majority Progressive Conservative Party to power, in the hopes that the scandals and the anger they expressed through their public vacillation about the recent events sullying the reputation and trust of the PCs, will act as a warning.

It's back to the drawing board for Danielle Smith, where she will have a few years to hone her message and hope that future Wildrose Party candidates speak with a trifle more caution rather than alienate their potential votes.  Her casual dismissal of opinions that offended the public may have made her seem to some like the antithesis of an autocrat, but to others weak-willed and uncaring.

The mismanagement and petty scandals that have plagued the Tories will serve as a sobering reminder to Alison Redford that she has plenty of work to do to reinstate her party's reputation.  Their sense of entitlement may be boosted by yet another majority win, but if she has the sense that is attributed to her and that shines through from time to time, she will work with her caucus to reestablish their values.

As for Mr. Coyne and his so-positive spin on the election outcome, there too is a lesson in humility.

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Muslims Face Discrimination: Amnesty

Focusing on Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland, Amnesty International deplores the state of affairs whereby their immigrant Muslim populations appear to have been targeted.  The group has urged European governments to 'do more' to challenge negative stereotypes and prejudices against Islam.

Do they then feel that European governments should defend the gradual diminishment of their culture and heritage to aid their Muslim immigrant populations to feel more comfortable in a social environment that will have been altered to more closely reflect that of majority Muslim countries?  Don't most host countries feel loathe to surrender their national identities as a sacrifice in welcoming those from other cultures?

Does it not seem more sensible for the indigenous culture and heritage and values to prevail, with the welcomed immigrant population adapting to the prevailing social priorities in an effort to fit into the existing social compact?  And since it is an observable fact that once enough Muslims have entered a country they feel entitled to seek to impose their religious values on those around them through a move toward imposition of Sharia law, it can hardly be surprising that backlash results.

In particular the Amnesty report criticized countries that have taken steps to remove the more visible symbols of Islam's presence in their countries, through the bans on face-covering veils or the use of religious symbols in schools.  "Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes", according to Amnesty's expert on discrimination.

"Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the head scarf.  Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam.  EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims", asserts Marco Perolini.

Assimilation would certainly go a long away to solving those stated problems.  The wearing of the head scarf is rarely the problem; hiding facial features with the use of a face veil is.  Although this is classed as a religious symbol, it is not; it is a purely cultural one.  On entering a new majority culture that dismisses the segregation of women in favour of gender equality, the onus should be on the newly-introduced to a country to adapt to new cultural values.

Host countries generally go out of the way to welcome newcomers.  There is a reciprocal responsibility on the part of emigrants to another country to demonstrate their respect for and willingness to adopt new values reflective of those of the welcoming country.  When separate enclaves result, and the new demographic spurns the values and priorities of the host, this is when polarization takes place.

All the more so, when the immigrant community insists on its entitlement to remain separate yet expectant that it will derive all the benefits that accrue through new residency and citizenship without making an effort to appreciate these new social benefits through adaptation to social/cultural features dominant within the new society.

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