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.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Parallels Aplenty

It's a sad and unfortunate truth universally that humankind exploits itself. Which is to say a more developed group of peoples will undertake to remove ownership, by means fair or foul, of the geography's original inhabitants. Historically this meant that the original settlers of the land were absorbed into the greater community and differences, over time dissolved.

In our modern era we see native peoples from Australia, New Zealand, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, Japan, India, North America, given low-status social designations, and treated with casual disdain by those whose purpose as conquerors it was to usurp them from their traditional lands.

These processes and procedures of human disruption and land distribution were not necessarily always undertaken with malicious intent, but it helped considerably to assuage the conscience of those doing the ousting to somehow believe that those they were displacing were somehow less human than they were, less deserving, less needful of what they had.

Assimilation and integration weren't necessarily the first options of managing disparity between the 'first nations' or indigenous peoples and those who came after. Separation, keeping the natives at a remove lest they sully the social fabric of the newcomers was the order of the day.

Now the situation of social stratification has its results, in endemic poverty, crime, substance abuse, suicide. Histories, antecedents, geography, politics may differ from place to place, with some countries making a far greater effort to ease the plight of those who were unsettled than others, but generally the disadvantaged remained just that.

These native communities, where ever they were, were truly dystopian. The people nurtured an aura of hopeless impotence brought upon them by strangers, foreigners to their land who usurped their rightful position as first-comers. Plagued by psychic defeatism, wedded to dysfunctional atrophy of purpose and hypertrophy of the spirit.

They succumb through inertia to an inability to do anything useful for themselves. Preferring to survive on guilty hand-outs by the governments which represent those who took their land. They survive bitterly on the memory of long-gone days made sweet in their remembrance of what once was.

Their culture becomes one of intemperance, nihilism, complete defeatism. They pose an existential danger to themselves through their neglect of their children and their children's futures. In few of these societies does their aggrieved anger and resentment pose a true danger to the society at large against whom they rail.

In this facet of their attitudinal defiance of destiny do the Palestinians differ from so many other displaced communities. They refuse to save themselves. They remain intent on destroying the presence of those whom they see as occupiers, and in the process will destroy themselves.

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Political Prodding, Or Racism?

They would have it as good-natured (or, given this is politics, bad-natured) prodding, gentle jabs. Not racism, not at all. Don't even mention that dirty word. All right, not racism, just plain old-fashioned anti-Semitism, with a nod at Nazi Germany for verification.

Mario Dumont of Action Democratique du Quebec has been attending events put on by the Jewish community within Quebec. To try to garner votes, needless to say. To demonstrate what a fine fellow he is. Which he very well may be indeed. To ensure this particular ethnic voting bloc as some would have it, know that he is approachable.

Politics as usual. Don't they all engage in this type of thing? Identify a potential voting bloc and then make themselves available, open to questions, willing to let themselves identify with whatever they perceive it is glues that particular community together. As if.

The belief that most identifiable ethnic groups are monolithic is, perhaps in and of itself tinged with racism. That aside, this is a time-honoured political gambit, and no doubt the targeted group feels flattered that it is being courted by none other than the head of any political party.

But a controversy has erupted. Jews have such thin skins, after all. Some in the community feel insulted, umbraged, even fearful of possible consequences of being picked out in such a manner, in three of Quebec's leading newspapers.

Jocularity at the expense of the political candidate it may pose itself to be, but these barbed and historically validated caricatures of Jews is nothing to laugh about.

On the editorial page of La Presse the Action Democratique leader portrayed widely smirking, earlocks hanging down under a large black fur hat, saying "next week I'll be courted by nude cyclists". Jews are such a zany lot, after all.

How the image of Hasidic Jews is representative of the broader Jewish community in the mind of this cartoonist hasn't quite been explained. Bit aren't they quaint? And just a tad - you know, not quite Canadian.

No harm meant.

In le Devoir, a cartoon of Mr. Dumont sporting a tee-shirt emblazoned with a seal of approval directing the reader to understand that he has been "certified kosher". Oh dear, ha-ha. Can't take a joke? What's the matter with you.

No harm meant.

Not to be outdone, and they most certainly were not, La Tribune out of Sherbrooke cartooned Mr. Dumont with dollar signs where his pupils should be, glad-handing a brace of Jewish business types themselves appearing with large noses, curly hairlocks and kippas. "Welcome my friend$", appears on the caption bubble.

Surely, you're not offended! No harm meant...!

We can do business together. At least the Action Democratique can. Pssst, what does that say about them, about their politics...?

You planning to vote for them? Jew lovers; think you can trust them to do what's right for Quebec?

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Unforgiving Dilemma

Here is post-war Germany, contrite, horror-stricken at their past insults to humanity, anxious to shed all vestiges of its Nazi past. Culture-bound, proud of its position in the world in the humanities, its gifts to the world in the arts, music, philosophy, literature and science.

So proud that they considered themselves elevated to the status of super-achievers, exceptionalism gone beyond the anticipated. Humility totally expunged; in its place a sense of overweening ego, hubris of a type known only to the ancient gods of Rome and Greece who took it upon themselves to observe and exploit and manipulate lesser beings living below Mount Olympus.

So did the Germans determine that as uber-menschen, it was their divine duty to conquer the unworthy world and rule it with an iron fist, modelling it after their own vision of ruler-and-ruled. And in the process, removing such unworthy distractions as those whose 'racial origins', physical and mental state ruled them inadmissible for prolonged life in their thousand-year conquest-and-rule.

Their determination led to a world upheaval of monumental proportions and the sacrifice of millions of innocents.

All of which has led saner minds and tremulous memories to frantically distance themselves from their hideous midnight past. So it is with mixed feelings that they regard their military. Their soldiery, their marines and their Luftwaffe who were, after all, comprised of ordinary Germans conscripted to do their duty to their motherland.

Not for them to reason why; theirs only to do or die. Do they did. Die they did.

But among them the sanity of universal morals and values yet pertained and some among them took steps to protest, to dissent, to disturb and to disrupt. For which many paid for their lives as traitors.

Others sought to bring the nightmare of the National Socialist Party of Germany to an end by forming cabals to destroy their leader. And failed. Their courage to be celebrated later, after the fact, as national heroes.

Yet here's a conundrum facing Germany at this very time. What to do with those who promoted insurrection in the ranks of ordinary German military functionaries. Those who followed their conscience and refused to serve in an army that saw fit to destroy the lives of civilians because they were Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, malformed or mentally retarded, or German resisters.

Thirty thousand German soldiers were sentenced to death during the war for crimes ranging from desertion to espionage. Of those, 16,000 were hanged, shot, garroted or guillotined by the regime that was desperate to crush any hint of insurrection.

Under a 2002 law the vast majority of these condemned resisters were pardoned. Yet a small portion of them were not pardoned and the German parliament is in the process of debating a rehabilitative bill.

These 70-some traitors were described within four categories of crime whose nature, apparently, appears too sensitive to be easily resolved. Charged with taking information to the enemy, information which was directly used against German troops. But these traitors were resisting the Nazi regime, as were deserters.

The conundrum lies in the posthumous pardoning of deserters, and by so doing indicating that those who stayed at their post in defence of Germany and its aspirations, ipso facto 'did the wrong thing'. Bringing offence to the many thousands of surviving veterans.

Yet who could possibly argue with the contention of Prof. Ludwig Baumann, 86, who founded the Association of Victims of Nazi Military Justice, in 1990. He was sentenced to death after fleeing what he termed "a criminal, genocidal war", in France in 1942. His sentence was commuted to 12 years in jail.

"Had there been more of such war 'traitors'" he said recently, "the Second World War would have been over faster, and thousands of lives would have been spared".

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Entitlements To Refugee Status

In Canada, that means a reasonable fear for one's life and safety in one's country of origin. Or that they flee a horrendous situation like civil strife, an internal war. And then there's the recently-revealed case of a young Chinese woman who came to Canada to study and who, while in Canada, made application for refugee status. Her name is Yu Mei Zhang, and in 2005, she arrived on a student visa. While in Toronto she continued to worship at the Chinese Gospel Church.

She's only 22 years old. In her native Fujian province she had been introduced, she said, to Christianity by a friend, and she felt drawn to the religion. In China Christianity is permitted to be practised in government-sanctioned churches, and these are considered to be 'legal' venues. For the government, it's a way to keep tabs. Many Chinese Christians, however, worship in illegal underground "house churches" which change locations often to foil government oversight.

Her mother informed her over the telephone that a representative of the government's Public Security Bureau had visited her, and she warned her daughter that she is being accused of engaging in illegal religious activities. Her mother urged her daughter to remain in Canada for her own protection, given the circumstances. A hard thing, one would think, for any mother to do, to encourage a long geographic separation from her child.

The refugee board that examined her claim for refugee status claimed to be unconvinced. They doubted her status as a Christian, and that she would be in danger if she returned to China. They claimed she was unable to respond to their queries satisfactorily in a manner to assure them that her story had merit. She had been unable to make the connection between the Last Supper when Christ sat to dinner with his disciples, and the Jewish holiday of Passover.

She had been unable to satisfy their demand to know the Protestant denomination of her church. She had been able to respond accurately and with conviction with respect to baptism, sacraments and the Bible, and did know there was a connection between the Last Supper and Passover, but was unaware of the details; what significance Passover had. And why would she?

The theological connection between the two would stump most practising Christians in Canada any day. It's likely only of fairly recent vintage that most Christians would even be aware that Jesus Christ was a Jew of his time, let alone that they'd know what Passover signifies to Jews. Their personal rigorous application of specific knowledge appears like a deliberate attempt to forestall her attempt to seek refugee status.

Which says a whole lot more about the construct and make-up of the refugee board than it does about the legitimacy of Ms. Zhang's claim.

Good to know that a federal judge, in response to an application to the Federal Court of Canada, has said the board drew erroneous conclusions about her credibility based on her responses to those specific questions. And questioned why they sought to overreach their mandate in an attempt to find inconsistencies in her claim.

He should now go a little further and enquire of the board members where they parked their brains.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Our consciences simply will not let us rest. Well, given the situation in Darfur, nor should we rest. Don't we have an obligation as individuals, nations, representative world bodies to abhor and protest the situation in Darfur?

And once we protest and express our abhorrence for a government of a country like Sudan to authorize and take a hand in brutalizing, murdering, raping and making refugees of millions of its citizens, should be be satisfied with our rapt attention to the matter?

Or should we be using every means at our disposal to rectify the situation, insist meaningfully that it be mediated and halted, that restitution take place. For this we have the world body that represents all nations, the United Nations.

Which is why so many other nations, mostly those of the West, gather in despair and unbelief, that the world body is so hesitant to do that which it is mandated to perform; to serve and to protect.

Our hands are tied. We do nothing. Oh yes, we wring our hands, metaphorically, hoping for a cessation to the nightmare of death and destruction. Don't we always?

It'll be different this time; the world has acknowledged, as has the United Nations, that we have a collective duty to intervene, to halt the massacre of people, even if it means invading a sovereign country's territory. Or we agree to that in theory, in paper.

But in practise? Not on your life. It's too, well, unsettling.

So instead we call for international conferences to discuss ad infinitum, the Darfur crisis. We hear motherhood statements that decry the "genocide", but we cannot term it thus; rather it must be named a "humanitarian crisis" lest the Khartoum government be offended. In the precincts of the United Nations this is verboten; one does not embarrass a member-state.

The world cannot "continue to sit by" while thousands more are killed and millions displaced, intones the U.S. Secretary of State. And all nod sagely.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Angst of the Anglican Church in Canada

There, the synod has concluded. It has taken its vote.
"Should the church allow priests to bless same-sex partnerships?
Laity: For, 78; against, 59
Clergy: For, 63; against, 53
Bishops: For, 19; against 21
Close, but as the wag says, no cigar. Politics in love and war and churchly decisions being what they are. Human relations, and fears and suspicions being what they are. The laity and the clergy voted for blessing of same-sex partnerships; the bishops, where the buck stops, those who take the heat, hadn't the heart to unbalance their near futures.

For most, their collective hearts were in the right place; inclusiveness and loving kindness to be proffered to their brethren. For a majority of the delegates had earlier approved a motion declaring same-sex blessings as compatible with the church's "core doctrine". If that isn't validation that the majority is accepting and ready, then what is?

If the vote result isn't a sad indication that caution ruled the day, that what else can it be construed as? Ironically, the very day of the vote was the very day that the largest Gay Pride parade raucously took place in downtown Toronto, that gay town. And don't imagine that there weren't Anglican clerics in full vestment there to render loving support, my daughter-in-law among them.

Confusing, is it not? Newly-elected leader of the Anglican Church in Canada, Bishop Fred Hiltz clearly feels that way. "On the one hand we said it is a matter of doctrine, on the other hand the church is not prepared to proceed immediately with the blessing of these same-sex unions. It gives one pause, to think how it is we actually make decisions", he declared.

The comfort of conformity has been shattered, the smug confidence of traditional views of the church unsettled by this near miss, and many long-time Anglicans are wondering on the one hand what has gone wrong with the moral vision of their church. Communalism is all very well and good, but the scriptures, they lament, do not support same-gender relations.

While those who would and will accept the ordination of gays and the blessing of same-sex unions, who unquestioningly respond to the inclusiveness of warmly embracing the formerly societally rejected are now themselves dejected. But unbowed. They will prevail. Eventually. The Bishop of New Westminster in British Columbia declares it will be business as usual; priests under his supervision will bless same-sex unions.

Those accommodating clergy elsewhere within Canada who have been surreptitiously blessing and marrying gay and lesbian couples may continue to do so, without the anticipated legitimization of these ceremonies. The status quo, the uneasy but determined movement to inclusiveness will continue to live on. The bitter dissent of the umbraged righteous, quoting unforgiving scriptural rejection will fester.

The threat of the comfortable pew being overtaken still conspires to encourage a break even within the two North American 'provinces', Canada and the United States - where the Episcopal Church faces the very same opposition from those unwilling to give up strictured social mores, to see their church values upended.

"We are a divided house", bemoaned one delegate. "We don't agree how to interpret tradition and scripture and what the Holy Spirit is saying to us as a Church. Therefore, we need to wait."

Deliver us from insecurity, from doubt, from apprehension. Restore compassion and kindness. Be a light unto the world.

Question: Why would monumental non-conformists be so consumed with conforming to another kind of norm? Aren't human beings just the most confoundedly incoherent beasts imaginable?

Why not do as you wish, as long as you harm no one. Why expect a way of life considered by others to be offensive to be validated by them? Why shout your demands from the rooftops? Who does it really interest, whom does it concern? Be yourself, and be glad. Avoid those whose values affront yours.

Confrontation is the bane of human existence.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

On the Horns of a Dilemma

Little did Western missionaries envision the future when they entered the Dark Continent and brought the salvation of Jesus Christ to the savages. Nothing held back their own savage determination to expunge any vestiges of a godless culture, a pagan way of life that knew not God.

The people of Africa, as elsewhere in the world found themselves accepting of the mysterious powers of a new god brought to them from afar, spurring them to abandon their belief and trust in their old gods through the ardent determination of the white man.

Now the God of the West is enshrined world wide, a gift from Great Britain, France, Italy and Spain, Russia and Poland to the world which had worshipped at false shrines. How ironic it is that the convulsions of a world-altering ideology brought Eastern Europe and Asia to its knees in adoration of a manifesto that left the worship of God in the dust. How like life it is that the ideology itself now lies in the dust of history, while God is once more embraced.

And now it is the tail telling the horns in which direction it need face. The world wide communion of Catholicism and Protestantism has its great vigour in those once pagan countries which were brought to Christ. And their tight embrace of literalism and their fanatic belief in the strictures of the structure of scripture are not to be played with.

While the place of religion in the daily lives of Europeans and the West in general has declined, it has become ever more important and more rigid where it was exported.

The church's anguish in having to recognize changing times in a rapidly changing world eager to embrace or merely to accept as acceptable that which formerly was maligned and spurned is playing to great acclaim in the theatres of the absurd. Religious fundamentalism is triumphing, reasonable acceptance of the kindness of the divine purpose is in steep decline.

Where Europe and North American wishes to accept the ordination of women, the Catholic church remains obdurate in denial. Priests and nuns must continue to marry into the church, leaving the possibility of marriage, of gender partnerships as nature intended, unfulfilled. Natural desires fester, become diseased and wreak their havoc on deranged hormones.

Where the Anglican church searches its collective soul over an egalitarianism welcoming same-sex marriage and gay ordination, insisting that this all brings them closer to the sanctity of God's purpose and the divine messages of His dearly beloved son, it struggles to accommodate and keep within the family the scornful but yet so plentiful members in Latin America, in Africa who will see no dilution of His great message.

To accept the more casual morals, the societal mores of Western thought and practise is to welcome an irremediably permanent schism between East and West, North and South.

What would Jesus do?

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Racing Arms

And here we thought the end of the Cold War had solved so many of our seemingly intractable problems. We thought the U.S. and Russia no longer would face off across the impossible distance of suspicion and lack of co-operation. The fall of the Berlin Wall, glasnost in Russia and the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. was beyond our wildest hopes for the future. And then the future arrived.

And here it is. We're back almost to where we started. They're at it again, those big, bad boys. And since boys will be boys they just will not contemplate growing up, become a little more mature, take responsibility seriously. No, they like to jab at one another, compare arsenals, issue taunts, have their little road-racing, weapons-raging disputes. It's wearying, but more than that, it's dispiriting.

Right about now, we've got the United States the only super-super power, and throwing her weight around. There's the good of it and the bad of it. Great powers should be seen to exist so that all who look upon her potential know what she represents and forbear to challenge her pre-eminence. Great power don't really have a need to swagger and challenge. Let it be.

But since the great power does interfere and challenge and co-opt and set the pace, and lead the race, there is hell to pay. Its once-partner in world dominance and attitude has had enough of being looked down upon, being shunted aside, being belittled and mistrusted. Offer those insults and opportunities to anyone, and they take up the challenge, earning the mistrust.

Recidivism is an unfortunate trait, practised by individuals as well as by governments. The tyranny of familiarity can become a comfortable refuge for those accustomed to it, when it was accompanied by a practise of state subsidy and a culture of paternalism. People can become accustomed to a truncation of their rights, their freedoms, they can become convinced that accepting less than they deserve will still serve them well.

So the question is who has helped to create this new monster? George Dubya's safety measures in installing military hardware on soil once a part of the great U.S.S.R. is anything but diplomatic, but it does reflect the one-upsmanship so beloved of schoolyard bullies. And Vladimir Putin's ruffled outrage is also reflective of the kid who believes in himself, yet subliminally suffers pangs of doubt because the popular clique disallows his affiliation.

The U.S. adds to its missile defence deployments; Russia upgrades its offensive missile arsenal. Same old, same old. The U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty. Russians appear prepared to withdraw from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Scary stuff.

Should we feel reassured that the House of Representatives moved to block George W. Bush from developing a new generation of atomic warheads? Both sides of the House appear to feel, somewhat intelligently, rationally, deliberately, that the current administration has not developed a responsible post-Cold War nuclear strategy.

Were we not, after all, talking not so long ago, about eliminating all those nuclear warheads? Instead, the disease has spread with roguishly-fearsome states such as North Korea and Iran determined to join the nuclear club.

Can't we all just be friends?

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Ring of Familiarity

Aboriginal peoples the world over have been hard done by. We have ample example in Canada of the unequal struggles of our aboriginal populations' sad state; from the time when their land was wrested from them and they were given empty promises in exchange, to the current time when their land claims remain unsettled, and they live unstable lives of dysfunctional misery in their tribal ghettos.

Now a report has emerged in Australia, titled "Little Children Are Sacred", authored by a former director of public prosecutions and an Aboriginal health worker. The report sets out the conditions in which Aboriginal Australians live and the descriptions have a sordid familiarity to Canadians. It speaks of material poverty and social breakdown.

But it also delineates other conditions, most specifically and horrifically widespread child abuse and incest, the incidence of which was reflected in every Aboriginal community the authors visited in Australia's Northern Territory.

"Breakdown of families, alcoholism, drug-taking, pornography, unemployment, overcrowding, lack of discipline, children not going to school - everywhere we went, they were the running themes," Pat Anderson, one of the authors said. "Alcohol is totally destroying our communities and families. Something needs to be done to curb this river of grog [booze]."

The report responds to its own findings by recommending anti-alcohol and drug programmes, additional education resources, a special commissioner assigned to look after the problems of Aboriginal youth.

All rejected by none other than an Aboriginal activist and head of a public policy think-tank.
"You can't just educate people that a 12-year-old is not a prospective sexual partner", said Noel Pearson. His point being that the focus should be on behaviour and moral commitment. Which is a moot point, for aren't we all potentially equally endowed with a sense of morality?

Aboriginal Mr. Pearson isn't fearful of espousing tough love. His proposal is downright radical compared to the soft-touch earlier proposal. Welfare payments should be cut off to any families whose children don't regularly attend school, who are proven guilty of child abuse, who commit drug or alcohol offences, or who violent tenancy agreements for public housing.

Cut off from easy access to their addiction to welfare, the choice is there; reform or go without. And the children removed to safer hands for delinquent parents make delinquent children and the spiral of dysfunction becomes unstoppable.

Furthermore, Mr. Pearson's proposal, named "From Hand Out to Hand Up" demands an end to social separation of Aboriginals, to bring them into the mainstream economy, with the opportunity of private home ownership and entrepreneurship in the offing. "Indigenous disadvantage stems from dispossession and the historical denial of rights", wrote Mr. Pearson.

"But poverty is also behavioural. Disengagement from the economy, passivity and dysfunction are not only symptoms of oppression, they are also unnecessary behaviours that can and must be changed at the same time as we fight for our rights."

Are you listening, Phil Fontaine?

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Unfinished Business, U.S.A.

Whoops, there they go again. Two for the price of one. Not a bad deal at all, as I see it. But then, I don't get to vote, I'm not an American. There was the good of it, and there was the questionable aspect of that two-for-one deal, but no one can deny that Bill Clinton was an astonishingly popular president despite his unfortunate lack of accomplishment in his tenure.

The man soiled his reputation so dreadfully by his obvious inability to control his libido, it's hard not to feel just a modicum of contempt for opportunities so carelessly relinquished to his ego. Yet the man has presence, he has such presence, has he not? He means well, that's undeniable. He has a good heart, that counts for much. He has a prodigious capability for leaving people smitten with his presence.

Intelligence is not lacking in this man. Unfortunately, the only boldness of vision he truly embraced was that of satisfying his craving for extramarital sex. Sad, quite. Even I, as a neighbour, a Canadian, was impressed by this man's presence. And that of his wife. Her determination to bring a universal health care system to her country impressed me most of all. Her failure depressed me horribly.

I can still remember when we lived in the U.S. for a while, the attitude expressed to me by a woman of my acquaintance, a hard-working single woman with a family and an inadequate salary, who absolutely cringed at the prospect of the United States bringing forward a universal health care system. None of that for her, she declared; too much like socialism, and it would affect her bottom line, her taxes.

Now the redoubtable Carl Bernstein celebrates the potential yet again for two-in-one. Elect Hillary and you get Bill as a freebie. His advice to his wife would be invaluable. It would be with her, after all, that the buck stops. But his experience, his knowledge, his contacts, his brilliance in policy and political tactics would guide her along the way to bringing the United States to another place and another time.

His judgement would keep her on track. Oh, that's a good one.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Take That, Bonehead

And he most certainly did. Bono took his high-earning U2 band's taxable earnings and placed them for safety in a low-taxation shelter - right out of his native Ireland. No trouble at all, mate. No problem whatever expressing criticism of the developed world in its miserly response to foreign aid.

Needless to say, he expects Ireland to pony up too, giving aid to the under-developed world at large - and most particularly, seeing to Africa's endless needs. Which is to say, portions of tax money paid by others living within his country of origin; his own exempt due, to sharp self-interest.

Good grief, even Canada, whom Bono and Bob Geldolf slagged most handsomely at the latest G8 meeting for being laggards in not living up to their foreign-aid obligations, assists Ireland, granting that country foreign aid and, one supposes, enabling Ireland - sans Bono's taxes - to make good on its foreign aid promises.

Ha, Canada is kinder to Ireland than Ireland's high-earning celebrities who love to fault high-income countries for forsaking their pledges.

Ireland getting foreign aid from Canada? That's a bit of a brain twister. Seems the Canadian tax-paying public is also rather bone-headed. Ireland, it would seem, now rates as the fourth wealthiest economy in the world. And we're contributing to them under the "International Fund for Ireland", assisting Ireland in job creation and reconciliation projects in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland - with a higher per-capita GDP than that of Canada. Argh! The pain of it.

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs lists Ireland with a higher GDP per capita than the United States; under the U.S. the United Kingdom, followed by Canada. Ireland's economy is on boom-cycle, taxes are lower than in Canada; it rates an "A" for economic performance. The Ireland of old with its chronically high rate of unemployment and emigration outflow is no more.

Canada is such an overwhelmingly generous country (besides being rather daft). On its foreign aid list is Venezuela which, to score political points ships cheap heating oil to underprivileged Americans, yet is happy to accept $3 million in humanitarian assistance from Canada.

China received $57 million in that same 2004-05 year; despite its 10% annual economic growth, its space program and nuclear weapons arsenal, and despite its own self-interested investment in oil-rich African countries.

Canada hands out Canadians' tax money to countries as diverse and questionably needful as Brazil, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Poland.

Canadians like the idea of our giving a hand up to countries in need of it, but we also envision ourselves as kindly benefactors to countries that really do need that hand up. What we're currently engaged in, handing out humanitarian aid to the countries in question is antiquated, obsolete and obscene.

Here's hoping that Bill 293, a private member's bill introduced by MP John McKay, which establishes intelligent criteria for resource allocation to international development agencies based on poverty reduction and transparency passes the Senate, having gone the first round through the House of Commons.

One bonehead to another...

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Monday, June 18, 2007

United in Disunity

Well, it's done, although no one can hazard a guess that this represents a permanent geographic and political schism. On balance, it's just possible that the separation between Hamas and Fatah will present a needed opportunity for Israel and the Palestinians to finally arrive at a workable agreement for peace and security resulting in two separate neighbour-states.

That's all well and good for the West Bank and the disposition of its population's ambitions to statehood.

But it leaves Gaza the festering sore it has always been, and more so, governed by Islamist Hamas, defiantly aggressive and determined to continue its war of attrition with Israel. Until death does it in. Or it accepts the feasibility of compromise. Gazans with their tradition of tribal and clan enmities, its closer adherence to Islam, and eschewing of Western influence, may find itself accepting of Hamas rule, but it will gain nothing in economic advancement under a continued embargo of foreign aid.

What's festering now will become outright gangrenous and may require amputation. Alone, embattled, shunned and poverty-stricken. An unlikely prescription for fulfilment or future advancement as a society, as a culture, as an economic and political entity. But they will be secure in their faith in Allah.

Relations between West Bank and Gaza Palestinians appear to be like the country cousin and the urbane city dweller, the educated and the uneducated, the practical and the incapacitated. Secular Palestinians likely feel little companionability with their more religious counterparts. But surely even they must feel some compassion for the plight of Gaza Palestinians, bereft of hope for the future.

Beyond the sterility of a fundamentalist Hamas Islamist governance. One which will continue to deny the settling effects of accommodation with a neighbour, itself resulting in international disinterest in providing needed funding, condemning Gazans to a continuation of their lives of deprivation. But then material goods aren't everything, one supposes.

The choice, sad though it may be, may become slight resources for future fulfilment and social progress, along with economic stability. Do they have a choice? Do they deliberately choose to disempower women and eschew opportunities for a good education for their young in favour of total obedience to Allah? Is this what Allah, indeed, demands of them?

"Security of the citizen is the priority on the basis of the sovereignty of the law", intones Salam Fayyed, economist-cum-prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Israel says it can do business with the new Fatah-led government of the PA. As does the United States, the European Union, and Canada. Among others.

Ban Ki Moon would be happiest if everyone behaved and got along with everyone else. Disunity is, however, the order of the day.

Two enclaves, two adversaries, one 'occupier' willing to take on the simple mantle of neighbour-state.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Slave Labour in China?

Well yes, the Chinese are shocked. As would we be, were we to discover that people have been abducted, taken from their families, sequestered in remote places and forced to labour under inhumane circumstances until they die from hunger, deprivation or become mentally unhinged. Revelations of thousands of slaves working in thousands of brick-making kilns in Henan and Shanxi provinces in central China have transfixed the Chinese with disbelief and horror.

Hundreds of desperate parents of missing children took the step of collectively posting information on the Internet pleading for official attention to their fears for their children's lives. This led to a number of investigations which had the result of unveiling the horrendous situation. Children as young as 8 years of age worked in brick kilns for as much as 16 hours a day. They were fed only enough to keep them alive. Guarded by dogs and by hired thugs.

These children lived alongside adults also taken into slavery, in squalid conditions, never allowed to wash, becoming encrusted with filth. The places where they were kept padlocked and windows barred to prevent escape. The children and the adults bore festering wounds from burns they suffered from the work they were forced to perform. Many were beaten to death by their guards. 7,500 kilns were raided.

Previously, worried parents had resorted to sit-down protests outside government and police offices, when their initial, and long-standing reports had been studiously ignored. Their repeated complaints about their missing children to government offices in the two provinces went unanswered.

Growing prosperity in the country and an accompanying building boom saw the brick kilns unable to keep up with demand, with a shortage of labourers in the last few years. Owners of the brickworks claim their workers were volunteers.

We have a tendency, we humans, to serve our communities very poorly. The widespread nature of this human calamity and the lack of political interest in the plight of the affected people speaks volumes about us as compassionate people. It's not just China, it's almost anywhere in the world, including the West, where people are abducted and forced into lives of slavery.

In the West it's more likely to be young people, forced into lives of sex slavery. It happens under the very watchful eyes of our authorities, our protective agencies, and we'd really rather not know about it, because it's just too painful to contemplate. What the solution to this tendency not to know, not to worry can be is a vexing one.

Children run away from abusive homes, they live on the streets, they become vulnerable to abuse. You've got to ask whether this is the best society can offer to its children.

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Coup, Anyone?

Hamas launched its military coup with great success, if its aim was to take possession of the Gaza Strip and oust Fatah from that lawless no-man's land. Which has left it with exactly what? Oh yes, the complaint that Fatah has retaliated by dismissing the unity government and Mahmoud Abbas appointing a replacement prime minister, one with experience and credibility and best of all no ideological/religious adherence.

Hamas has the risible temerity (yes, the word is chutzpa) to complain of a political coup staged by Fatah. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander - and vice versa. The new emergency government can only promise good for the future of the Palestinian Authority. And by extension for the Palestinians living in the West Bank. As for those Palestinians living in Gaza, long accustomed to a miserable way of life, the presence of Hamas can only promise more of the same.

Masked gunmen, terrorists roam the streets of Gaza City. Triumphantly declaring that God's will has been done. When they're not actively hunting down any remaining vestiges of Fatah support, they're shooting their Kalashnikovs in celebratory fireworks displays of jihad. And driving around looking for municipal Fatah-held offices and homes to loot. The promise of a theistic totalitarianism looms large.

Now that the unity of two severely oppositional factions has been severed by fiercely violent means, a conciliatory overture by Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh is brought forward claiming that Hamas is once again willing to let bygones go, and work together in unity and full co-operation on behalf of Palestinians. Weasel words for the credulous.

People are attending prayers in their local mosques in great numbers. The calm after the storm. Hamas has cooled down slightly, ready to release those Fatah members they are currently still holding, claiming they no longer consider them to be guilty of treason. Still, Hamas spokespeople speak of the territory having been cleansed "of secularism and heresy". Woe betide any Gazans who give them reason to think otherwise through lack of sufficient care.

Israel watches and waits. Gaza has become a festering swamp.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Enablers

If evil is being done, and bystanders choose to turn their faces in the pretense that nothing untoward is occurring, and choose also to support those whose machinations have the effect of subjugating, humiliating and violating those dependent upon their good offices, they're in good standing as enablers - and beyond. If good people allow bad people to pursue their agendas without protest and indeed with the encouragement of supporting the ends if not the means, it demonstrates the banality of evil.

It is the citizenry, the hard-pressed populations of countries whose dictators, rulers and conscienceless politicians manipulate and oppress them whose condition should move influential people from other countries to support. Yet we see otherwise; we see Western political leaders, left-wing social-rights movements, the popular press, academic circles proffer their support to the leaders of Middle Eastern and African countries, while professing to care about their downtrodden populations, managing in the process to lay blame for their condition elsewhere.

People who live in oppressive, human-rights-abusing regimes where state militias and police agencies engage in intimidation, beatings and murder don't tend to protest openly at their condition too often. When they do, their numbers swiftly decline through attrition. And those who feel similarly and would wish to also raise their voices in protest are effectively silenced in fear for their lives and those of their loved ones.

The regimes in Iran, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Egypt, in Libya, in Saudi Arabia, in Sudan, in Zimbabwe and in the Palestine Territories are as good examples as any. The United Nations knows very well which regimes value human rights and practise a balanced form of governance; these are not among them. And there are others who additionally traffic in human slavery, all members in good standing of the United Nations.

Member states see little practicality, it would seem, in pointing fingers lest they visit embarrassment or humiliation upon the heads of other member states. This goes by the name of civil behaviour, as in to each his own. Even when the human condition in one or another of these countries becomes so degraded, elements of the population become so endangered at the hands of their leaders that it becomes impossible to ignore their plight, the response is a hesitant request to ease up.

The United Nations and its member countries, those within North America, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Russia, whose own aspirations are to continue prospering while lending the obligatory helping hand to others are traditionally loath to 'interfere' in the affairs of other member countries. The result is that dictators are handled with the kid gloves of diplomacy in the fond hope that they will somehow be persuaded to become more conscientious leaders through some strange osmosis of emulation and conscience.

And look at the Arab countries where support in the West for Islamist rule becomes politically correct among social liberals who can find it in their hearts to forgive the kind of abuses that has the state encouraging suicide bombing as a way to reach paradise earlier than normally anticipated, who encourage restless unemployed youth into radical mindsets to participate in bloodily futile battles to the death; theirs and their perceived enemies'.

In Great Britain trade unions, academic unions and journalist unions see fit to boycott a legitimate liberal-democratic state on the basis of its 'occupation' of territory whose inhabitants lay continual siege to that democracy. In the interests of aiding the underdog, regardless that these actions spur on jihadists to greater destabilizing efforts. Not that England has a monopoly on this kind of sanctimonious behaviour; it's been seen in Canada as well as other countries.

And then there are the beleaguered populations of the dictatorships themselves who privately, quietly, chafe under their status of state and religion chattels, fed up with the endemic corruption, ineptitude, lack off opportunities and civil resources and who yet understand they can express their helpless frustration nowhere lest they be apprehended and held to account.

They have no rights, their society is bankrupt, they have no dreams of the future. Their leaders own the state media, they place strictures upon public dissent and public gatherings become illegal; the practise of religions other than that sanctioned by the state is also illegal, often to the point of death. Dissidents in such regimes face the possibility of arrest, incarceration, torture and death, be they men or women.

There are the evil doers and those who are by their unwillingness to protest, entirely complicit.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Delusionally Grand

What a wonderful quote from someone's keenly cute observation of Lord and Lady Black: "They are millionaires who aspire to live like billionaires". Or some such pithy summing up. Clever, wouldn't you agree? Wish I could come up with zingers like that. Makes me wonder what percentage of their vast fortune they couldn't squander quickly enough with all those multi-million-dollar homes and parties and trips they offered to charitable enterprises. Other than their very own, that is.

The thing of it is, in so many ways Conrad Black is a bemusedly admirable personality. Highly intelligent, almost academic in a way. Well read, and more than capable of expressing ideas and opinions in a cogent and convincing manner. A lover of the English language; who could find fault with that? Well, sometimes it seems a trifle obnoxious when someone studiously and deliberately uses language in such a stilted manner as to exclude the recognition of riff-raff.

Lord Black, formerly media mogul of note (not that he wouldn't prefer to be referred to as a media baron, given his predilection for titles) had the highest respect for news gathering and distribution. From all I could ascertain he appeared, unlike so many others involved in media dissemination, to have a hands-off policy with his newspapers. While his holdings were definitely conservative in nature, he wasn't averse to having liberal-minded reporters on staff to balance the picture.

Nor did he have a tendency to dictate to his editors. They wrote what they saw fit to write, unalloyed news reportage and editorial deliverances often enough in direct opposition to what Lord Black himself believed. His recourse was a delight, actually. He would write his rebuttal, send it along to the offending editor, and it would be published so the reading public could avail itself of his opinion, not necessarily that of the newspaper.

Give credit where it's due to a good mind, a keen intelligence, someone imbued with a proclivity to write sound prose, assemble a good argument, distill data from various sources to present a coherent study. He is an excellent writer. Like his conclusions, his perspective or not. His historical biographical publications place him in a heady sphere of excellent authors. He hasn't been averse to putting himself out there on the advertising/sales circuit, like any other author, to flog the results of his enterprise.

So he's a scholar of sorts, a meticulous researcher (quite aside from the fact that he's in the position to hire scads of research assistants; but they don't do the writing, he does), distilling facts to provide eminently readable products. He enjoys history, he admires personages of power, prestige and authority who illuminated our past and moved civil society through the tempest of their times.

Ain't he grand?

Pity there's so much of the other side; his insatiable need for personal power, prestige, wealth, admiration, recognition, celebrity, influence and political power. Achievements there were many. Satisfactions too, one assumes. But nothing, it would appear, was ever quite enough. Aspirations to the highest social order and public recognition, nothing less. Ah, and a peerage.

The man adored hob-nobbing with crusty old wealth. He loved the trappings of power. He was inspired by the world of letters. He had no time for fools, but they might be accommodated if they were sufficiently in awe of his presence. His wealth enabled him to live grandly, but because he lived somewhat too grandly, he was always stretched for cash flow. The Blacks existed expansively and expensively. Above all, he truly believed that whatever he did was right, and he was entitled to everything and anything.

For he is such an exceptional personage in and of himself. Those unpleasant stories about his business dealings? Trifles. So besotted with himself he truly appears to believe he can do no wrong. He could be seen to be modestly self-effacing, despite - or perhaps because of - his overweening ego. A charming man. Leading a charmed life. Until he pushed and shoved a bit too much and overstepped himself.

When I was a child there was one of those old obscure little stories written for children, one with a moral which likely originally was written during the Middle Ages in Germany. Nothing like Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White and Rose Red, or even Bluebeard. No, this was about a man who was offered three wishes. He wished for wealth and it was granted him. He wished to become an emperor, and his wish was granted.

But then, he went a little too far. He insisted for this third wish that he be granted the position of Pope. The genie was scandalized and struck that intellectual misfit dead on the spot. And I, a little Jewish girl, was left confused and wondering what exactly was it about a "Pope" that was so outrageously denied and why couldn't the poor man be satisfied with being, after all, an emperor?

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Gently Admonished

Well who, after all, voted them in?

Summer is upon us, and them and just about everyone I can think of, other than say, Australia. But in Iran, just as in North America and Europe, summer is on the horizon, if not yet already here in spirit. And the zeitgeist of strictures in Islamic apparel have been re-awakened in a most timely manner by the onset of that hot and hazy time of year, when people around the world shed clothing in favour of absorbing whatever stray breezes are present to offset the sun's rays.

Iranians are being reminded in the most avuncular of ways, their obligations under Sharia Law. Carefree university students and careless women alike are being arrested and jailed, along with union leaders and women's rights groups. They're being branded as national threats. Wear garments not in favour by the Ayatollahs and you bring down the righteous wrath of Allah through the intermediary attention of the religious paramilitary.

No one can be exempt from extraordinary scrutiny. Let barbers ply their trade in emulation of men's hairstyles with a Western flair and they get flung into jail. Roadblocks have been installed in key places all over the country as the militia is on the prowl. Civil society activists, intellectuals and academics may no longer maintain contacts with the outside world, through any means. Little wonder I personally no longer receive emails from a certain young man living in Tehran.

The moral offensive is in full swing. Even a former reformist president of the country has come under strict censure, an ultra-conservative newspaper accusing him of gross immorality for shaking hands with a few women while on a visit to Italy. He is guilty of propagating corruption in society, gravely intoned the newspaper. Repression? Not at all, common decency in Iran predicates strict separation of the genders.

Young women are arrested for wearing make-up, tight dresses or immodest headscarves. "Immodest headscarves"; who even imagined such a travesty? Young men detained under duress for sporting tight tee-shirts or clothing embellished with western brand names. A detestable habit, no doubt about it. Thus far, a modest 150,000 unfortunates have been caught in the morality net.

Handily serving as a 'warning' to any and all that would flout and flaunt.

Balaclava-wearing militiamen are televised nightly, enforcing a little script of humiliation upon offenders who must parade publicly with what is described as "toilet watering cans" hung from heir necks "as a warning to others". Social dissidents of all stripes, along with budding feminists are harassed, arrested and imprisoned; charged with "compromising national security".

Paranoia and distrust of the population are nothing new to this administration, nor those which preceded it. They have an onerous duty, however, one they will perform to the utmost of their ability; to carefully and without malice mould the population to the shape and civil form that best represents the interests of the country as it prepares to welcome the arrival of the 12th Prophet.

And then won't all hell break loose?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Zombie Seeds?

This gives new meaning to the vegetative state of biological life without function. Bodily function, mechanically assisted, cerebral function absent. And, it appears, it's not only badly damaged humans who can attain to that state, but vegetables, agrarian crops themselves. Now who is giving whom a bad name?

For people we have crusaders for human rights, railing against the exploitation and abuse of defenceless humans by their exploiters. For farm crops we have environmentalists alarmed over all the latest developments in genetically modified foods. Now we appear to have a new generation of modifications; those designed to be sterile until such time as a particular chemical is applied to spring them into life.

Not bad enough that Monsanto and cronies let loose on an unsuspecting and too-trusting world their Terminator seeds. And managed to successfully sue farmers whom they claim were using their seeds in an unqualified manner; qualification being linked to paying up front. For expensive seeds that were resistant to pests, but incapable of reproducing. Farmers could no longer purchase seeds with the option of planning the following year's crop on seeds they could glean from their mature crops.

Now plants are in the design stage to allow their genetic modification to enable them to produce drugs like antibiotics and insulin. And industrial chemicals. Isn't that a nightmare scenario? Escapees entering the food chain? There's big money to be made from designing special crops for biofuel technology. And the seed companies plan on total control of seed supply.

The thing of it is, with seeds whose genes are manipulated to be sterile, farmers are a captured market - they've got to go back to the industrial producers each and every year to purchase very expensive seeds. We end up with a dangerous monoculture. Without diversity, crops with similar genetics are far more vulnerable to new types of predatory insects and viruses that can swiftly cause great havoc in production.

And if the trait to sterility itself spread to other, normal, traditional, non-modified crops, what then? Cross pollination would have done its work as nature intended it to. Nature not having counted on mankind's scientific interference in the work she has performed so admirably without our stumbling attempts to do her one better.

If crops such as those designed to produce pharmaceuticals, as far fetched as that seems, contaminate food crops there's another source for a nightmare scenario. Innovation is such an intriguing concept.

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Politically There Are Dissents and There are Pure Tantrums

Canadians have been treated to a truly illuminating yet unfortunate display of politicians failing to apprehend reality of late, thanks to the juvenile behaviours of Premiers Danny Williams of Newfoundland, Rodney MacDonald of Nova Scotia and Lorne Calvert of Saskatchewan. In throwing their monumental fits of outraged displeasure at the perfidy of the federal government they portray themselves as spoiled adolescents whose grand schemes of unearned largess have been foiled.

They bely the maturity of their years and the trust and sobriety of their public office by embarking on a mission of blame and shame, to blackmail the government and soil the Canadian taxpayers' best interest. This no-class act wore thin very quickly, but on they go, spouting recrimination and disappointed promises. We should hang our heads in shame, for Canada has not sufficiently supported the economic needs of the Atlantic- and have-not provinces over these past weary years of hauling them up by our bootstraps.

Their childish manipulative scenarios of pained lack of support from the supposedly 'have' provinces whose per capita resources now quite match their own, won't gain them the capitulation to their cause they feel so deserving of. Little wonder Stephen Harper, our esteemed prime minister, is reacting as he has been. He has the right to expect he would be dealing with responsibly mature adults. Only to discover they're squalling, squawking brats.

Using manufactured outrage and the hysteria of unreasonably unanticipated disappointment to manipulate public opinion in their provinces, and frightening their federally-elected Conservative members of Parliament into dithering indecision over whether to support their government - versus fear of what awaits them at the ballot box, thanks to inflamed voter outrage and revenge.

The Atlantic Accord, glad-handedly granted by former Prime Minister Paul Martin was a huge mistake, a blatant attempt to buy loyalty at the expense of fair dealing, assuring these provinces that their new "have" status, thanks to happy exploitation of their natural resources, would not imperil their traditional "have-not" status, traditionally balanced by equalizing transfer payments.

Danny, Rodney and Lorne in Canderland. Nothing like feeling entitled, emboldened by past successes at milking taxpayers elsewhere to comfort your own and pad your future re-election chances. Nothing quite like demanding the biggest slice of the pie, simply because you've so long enjoyed a kindly paternalistic atmosphere of supposed provincial even-handedness.

The budget has passed. The myth that if you scream long enough, shrilly enough, hard enough, you'll trump reason, has passed into history. Well, would that it did. The truth is, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are only behaving in a manner that they see has been inordinately successful, time after time, in Quebec's sad case. Who can blame them for trying, poor political toddlers?

Seems it's every province for itself. As leader of the opposition, one expounds and promises freely, in a manner quite at odds with what obtains when the actual position of power has been attained. Then, one leaves la-la-land and lives in reality. While Stephen Harper is not exactly blameless in this situation, having left the distinct impression that he would "respect" the unreasonable demands of these provinces while in opposition, it's obvious enough that that's the time to make mischief.

The fact is, there is no Atlantic Accord that has been violated. The Accord, such as it was, was in itself a violation of equality in this great confederation. Spank them all and send them off to bed without dinner.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gimmee That Old Time Religion

All right, not religion, make that ideology. Religion of another kind. A conviction of invincibility, superiority, exceptionalism, triumphalism. Discriminating values. That odiously charismatic Austrian butcher who named his party the National-Socialist Party. Whose idea of socialism could that conceivably have been? An utter corruption of language and perception. But then, when one is dealing with hatred everything tends to become devalued, corrupted.

Now here in Canada we have another National-Socialist Party, one modelled on that of Nazi Germany's. Isn't that quaint? We have such an enduring wish to contemplate the past, to relinquish the present, to absorb well-learned lessons and give it another go. Not necessarily 'we', as in you and me, but rest assured enough 'we's' to make this a puzzlingly worrisome social problem. One that simply refuses to be put to rest, to decently die a well-deserved death.

What, one wonders, was/is Terry Tremaine's mother, father like? Did/do they share his adoration of Adolf Hitler and all the devastation that his world-shattering ethos and affectations and alliances and activities visited upon humankind? Entirely possible. Just wondering. This man enjoyed posting Internet delicacies such as the endearing opinion that "Jews are a parasitic race; Blacks are intellectually inferior to whites; Hitler was a lot nice to the Jews than they deserved".

Now there's a respected old saying that sounds something like - everyone is entitled to their opinion, right? And one supposes that this man felt he had something to offer the world at large - and most particularly that element that subscribes to his perniciously dangerous way of thinking, that the 'white race' is superior in every respect and deserving of social domination in society at large.

Recently the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal ruled: "Having looked at these messages in context, I have no doubt that they are likely to expose persons of the Jewish faith, Blacks and other non-white minorities to hatred and contempt." This man was ordered to desist in his posting of discriminatory messages and fined $4,000. He also, incidentally, was dismissed as a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan.

This sad case of an insecure human being who requires the denigration of others to enable him to feel superior, has formed his party for the purpose of transforming Canada into a "nation of white citizens sovereign in its own living space", according to its propaganda. And doesn't he have his supporters! Many of whom are offering financial support to assist him in the purchase of a computer to replace the one the authorities confiscated.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Trade and Investment, Russian Style

President Vladimir Putin asserts that institutions created by the West, particularly the World Trade Organization were, in his esteemed opinion, "archaic, undemocratic and inflexible". Well, he may be right. He may be correct in identifying that particular organization as being in true need of a fix. At the same time, doesn't it seem odd to hear President Putin complain of an institution, or even a country, or a combination of both as in this instance, as being "archaic, undemocratic and inflexible"?

This is the man, after all, who has dragged his country back into its earlier position of undemocratic, strong-man rule; that's fairly archaic, one would think. And inflexible as well. Mind, this is a country and a leader waging its own war against Islamic terrorism, but who sees nothing amiss in offering friendly support to Islamic terrorists whose aim to destroy and destabilize is elsewhere, in other countries. That's a fairly archaic world view.

This is the man who has wrested control of vast energy sources from oligarch control, a condition which resulted from the de-nationalization after perestroika and the fall of the Soviet Union, under his predecessor, the sober President Yeltsin, his one-time mentor, mentor also to a billionaire head of Russia's gas distributor, suddenly incarcerated, and his one-time empire re-nationalized.

This is the man who has put fear into the hearts of stalwart and determined Russian news gatherers, many of whom have, unfortunately, met their deaths after reporting on domestic affairs in a manner that might implicate their president in undemocratic ventures, activities abusive of human rights and downright criminal activities. Peculiar coincidences, to be sure.

This is the man who has bullied and blackmailed his one-time partners in the great union of Soviet Socialist Republics who have now achieved independence and allied themselves with the interests of the West, and democratic rule. The budding democracy that Russia was experimenting with has been given quite a set-back under Vladimir Putin, strongman extraordinaire.

Yet Mr. Putin is correct in stating that the emergence of developing economies "demands the creation of a new architecture of international economic relations based on trust and mutually beneficial integration". It sounds good, and it is quite true, in fact, that this is just what the new world order requires. "Structures that were made taking account of a small number of active members look archaic, undemocratic and inflexible...This is clearly visible in the example of the WTO".

(On the other hand, look at a true world body, exemplifying the integration and active co-operation of most of the world's countries, the United Nations. This is a democratic institute par excellence. Yet while it manages to achieve a good deal in attempting to ensure the world is a better place, it fails miserably, in the most needful of situations, incapable of garnering sufficient clout to impose its values where they are most needed.)

Russia's growing economic clout enables it to expound in this manner, and to grab the attention of would-be investors. Even international investors who have been burned badly in the quite recent past. Russia has a habit of suddenly kicking out international investors, and handily divesting them of their infrastructure, right to remain and to do business in the country, and their investment in same.

Royal Dutch Shell was forced to give over control of one of the world's biggest energy projects at a price that Russia arbitrarily set, under pressure from the Kremlin. Yet its chief executive is reported to have 'thanked' Mr. Putin for helping the company to reach a settlement. Despite the worries about human rights erosion in Russia, and its heavy-handed badgering of its neighbours, the past insecurity of investments in the country, investors are lining up.

Official Russia is fed up with being ignored. The lack of respect accorded Russia traditionally infuriates its administration. That it has been kept out of international groups of accommodation like the WTO has been a source of frustration and anger. It hasn't helped that Russia has watched helplessly on the sidelines as its former allies have joined the European Union and NATO, and Russia has been shunted aside.

As a newly-booming economic powerhouse Russia has attained a new measure of self confidence being expressed through Vladimir Putin. He's right and he's wrong. He's right to criticize the WTO structure, and to insist that a restructuring should be on the horizon more in keeping with an obligation to a newly-emerging world GDP. He's wrong in the direction he's hauling Russia into, away from democratization, toward more authoritarian rule.

The U.S. isn't of much help here, with its insistence on thumbing its nose at Russian sensibilities. For the sake of world peace, for the purpose of working together in the larger interests of the world at large, the powerful countries of the world must be more accommodating to one another, less confrontational.

Good thing, we hope, that both the Russian and the U.S. administrations will be turning over soon. Not soon enough, perhaps.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Good On You, Stephen Harper

Yep, you're doing all right. No, I don't agree with everything you do and say, but I'm awfully surprised and even gratified in a sense that I do like much of what you do and say. Acting on behalf of this great country of Canada. You've turned out not to be the unmitigated disaster that so many in this country felt you would be. You're a decent, highly intelligent, responsible and mentschlich politician. You've turned out to be an antidote to those you've replaced as Prime Minister of Canada. So, thank you, Stephen Harper.

Oh yes, thanks a whole lot for giving a cool shoulder to that oafish man who calls himself "Bono". I think of him, using the oddly vernacular Bonehead. It fits him well. The man's arrogance is beyond belief, but perhaps not everyone feels that way. As far as sincerity and obligation go, you've got it all over people who boast celebrity and little else, having left their personal conscience high up on an out-of-reach shelf somewhere.

I'd like Canada to responsibly increase aid to developing countries. It's our obligation as a wealthy country. On the other hand, I'd like assurances that the funds we hand over to help less fortunate countries and their deserving populations don't end up pocketed by corrupt administrations. The roughly $25 billion the G8 nations are targeting by 2010 for Africa is a whole lot of money, and represents assistance that is needed on many fronts, but based on past performance what guarantees do we have it'll be used well?

I'm glad you've decided, after examining the situation from every angle without hysteria and with the concern that it merits, that you and your administration will act responsibly on behalf of this country to ensure that Canada reaches its greenhouse gas emission targets, even if those targets represent a newer, better understood and determined pact than the Kyoto Accord.

Your refusal on behalf of this country to align yourself with the official stance of the U.S. administration on climate change and pollution control is reassuring to Canadians. As, no doubt, you knew it would be. Your chastisement of the American position as a neighbour and partner in trade was well put and well deserved. We breathe the same air, and we'd like it to be as uncontaminated as possible. As well as a level playing field for trade accommodation.

Good on you for supporting the G8 summit target of halving global emissions by mid-century. You're (we're) in good company there, alongside France, Britain, Italy, Russia, Germany and Japan. Good on you for reminding China that it too must take the issue of climate change seriously enough to sign on, despite its reluctance as an "emerging economy". And for reminding that country of its obligations in many other ways.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. More of the same?


Master of Sanctimony

Really, aren't politicians something? They'll go to any lengths to assure the great voting public that they share their concerns, and not only their concerns but their adulation of public figures. Not public figures representing those elected to public office. No, not that kind, the kind of public figures that become such as a result of notoriety of some kind. Wait, there's another word for what I mean: celebrities.

Yes, if the public is ga-ga about popular cultural icons, enraptured by the public-private lives of singers, actors, dancers, and even just publicity hounds who by their inherited wealth make public and often lurid displays of themselves to capture the imagination of an adoring public, then the politicians too have to sit up and take notice. After all, celebrities of one genre or another are going out of their way to demonstrate that they may not be elected at the ballot box but popular acclaim has elected - nay, elevated - them to a status enabling them to pontificate and pronounce knowingly on many topics of great purport.

So we've got chanteuses and actresses and actors (oops, I guess that should be just actors, strike the former) in the adoring public eye who adopt unfortunate orphans from disadvantaged backgrounds and foreign countries, and others who inveigh upon the public to give charitable donations toward the upkeep of primary schools, health clinics or orphanages that they've established and eponymously-named for the betterment of mankind's offspring.

And others, like British rockers with high-profile professional reputations as great crowd pleasers who have developed a conscience which enables them to store their great earnings safely away from government's taxation-sticky mechanisms, while taking any and every high-profile opportunity to harangue the elected politicians of countries to hand over tax-payer enriched finances to developing countries.

As a Canadian, it pleases me no end to note that our current prime minister, unlike his predecessor, had the common sense to turn down the opportunity to have a little private tete-a-tete with the likes of Bono, during the G8 summit just concluded in Germany. And for his temerity in stating it just isn't his schtick to hobnob with celebrities rather than with his political peers when discussing matters of world moment, earned Canada Bono's opprobrium.

Good on you, Stephen Harper.

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