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, March 31, 2008

Contentious or Vicious Slander?

Sad to see David Ahenakew's name back in the news again. It would be far better for everyone in Canada if he would just fade away into the obscurity which his poisonous views deserve. Yet, because he is a native elder, a man who undeniably exerted himself to perform good work on behalf of his people, it's understandable that he maintains a special place in the hearts of those whom he represented well.

And understandable that his name is anathema to those whom his vitriolic spleen characterized as vermin, deserving of slaughter. If good deeds performed on behalf of those to whom one is inextricably linked by ethnicity, culture and tradition are placed on the scale opposite detestable declarations of support for the annihilation of an entire people on the basis of vile calumny are weighed, where would the protector/offender be placed?

Certainly not on the side of the angels. David Ahenakew - whose startlingly verbose, malicious and hateful slanders against Jews were unveiled to a shocked national audience earned him universal censure that culminated in his removal as a senator with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations five years ago - has now been reinstated as a Federation senator.

"I think he paid his dues", according to Chief Irvin Starblanket of the Starblanket Cree Nation. "He apologized. He won in the courts. And besides, he did more good for us as Indian people than he did wrongs." Thus said one of the 43 chiefs who voted to reinstate the 74-year-old Mr. Ahenakew to his previous place of honour within the native community.

Opposed to the motion for reinstatement were a lonely three chiefs, among them chief Marcel Head of Shoal Lake Cree Nation. "He hasn't changed at all", charged Chief Head. "I'm quite worried and concerned. To accept him now, who knows what he'll do or what he'll say in the future". The three dissenters, those who voted against Mr. Ahenakew's reinstatement very well know the character of the man who brought shame to them through his blatant and vicious anti-Semitic declarations.

The hateful incident that launched an awareness of the deep-seated antipathy by this man toward those of other ethnic backgrounds took place in December of 2002, at a meeting of that same FSIN group. In attendance was a reporter from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, who sat up and took notice when, in addressing the congregation, this man spoke of "goddam immigrants" in Canada. Post-speech the reporter asked for clarification.

Whereupon Mr. Ahenakew spontaneously offered his opinion about war-mongering Israel and the United States. Reminiscing about his experiences after WWII when he was stationed in Germany and exchanged opinions and information with those with whom he found common cause. The Jews, his ideological compatriots in Germany told him, created that war and were busy working on the next in line, WWIII.

All this was obvious to Mr. Ahenakew, as he explained to the incredulous reporter fulsomely, aware that he was being recorded for publication: "The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. ... That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe. That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world."

When the reporter prodded, asking how Mr. Ahenakew could explain the occurrence of the Holocaust, the response was: "How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate". How does anyone respond to such bitterly hateful accusations? With disbelief. How is it possible that an individual whose own people had suffered so grievously would be so quick to assign such judgement on others?

More to the point, how is it possible for a representative of a people whose sad history was one of exploitation and dehumanization, be so prepared to hate and Satanize other victimized people, others whose history of hostile brutalization and eventual genocidal catastrophe classified them as a ethno-society that suffered the most tragic fate in modern times.

After publication of these views, aboriginal leaders, along with Jewish groups and Canada's politicians at every level condemned the comments and the man who uttered them. Perry Bellegarde, then-president of FSIN, and Matthew Coon Come, then-national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, were quick off the mark to reject the man and his views. Mr. Ahenakew was clearly caught off guard by the response, and apologized.

These were not really his views, he explained, he had been "...caught up in the heat of the moment ... attempting to spark debate and what has been happening to our First Nations people." While later, at his trial he recanted, blaming his incautious remarks on his medical condition, on having imbibed wine. As a defence, it was rejected by the Court, possibly because he testified that he continued to believe Jews caused WWII.

He went on to further distinguish himself by similarly inflammatory and fallacious beliefs; that Jews control the media, "then there's got to be something done about that". Perhaps Jews should feel less embattled than they do, by this man's vehemence in unveiling them for what he claims they really are, for other ethnic groups and Blacks are also held in perilously low esteem by this respected elder of the Saskatchewan Indian community.

When he was convicted in a Saskatchewan court in 2005, of wilfully promoting hatred against Jews, and fined, his membership in the Order of Canada was revoked. In 2006 his conviction was overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench on the grounds that the trial judge failed to take into consideration that the remarks took place in an atmosphere of angry confrontation.

A new trial was ordered. Mr. Ahenakew's new trial will commence in the fall. He has besmirched the good reputation of the people whom he claims to defend, and his past activities on their behalf, while bringing honour to his name as a First Nations elder, balances poorly against his vicious slander against those of another historical tribe.

In reinstating the honourary position of this man in the Federation of Saskatchewan Saskatchewan Indian Nations, those who voted in his favour have done no honour to themselves, to their federation, to their collective need to distinguish themselves as seekers after justice for all people, not just Canadian Indians. And that's a pity.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Truth Is Provocative

There's nothing quite like violent threats to encourage an otherwise-determined activist to back off from further provoking an adversary who has proved in the past that he is not averse to murder to assuage his hurt feelings. In this instance the hurt feelings belong to the collectively aggrieved of Islam, and the activist an Internet site that undertook to air a very controversial short film critical of Islam.

Liveleak.com chose practical self-defence against unstable valour in the interests of prolonging the lives of their employees. "Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, Liveleak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers."

And that, one might say, is the first victim, standing down from its position in the face of bleak infinity. "This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well-being of our staff above all else." Well, yes. But there are other venues. Anyone wishing to access the film won't have any troubles doing so. Even the online news site, Arutz Sheva has posted it.

In fact, although initially there were many sites that refused to post the film, millions of people have already accessed it for full viewing. Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, whose production it is, has deliberately filmed this indictment of Islam, to inform the public and to provoke debate. He is obviously no friend of Islam, nor prepared to excuse any of the vile excesses of its fanatical worshippers.

He will, he avers, take no responsibility for any potential violence that might conceivably arise out of its viewing. Making allusion to the convulsive violence that shocked the world after the publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad. "We stood for what we believe in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high", said a spokesperson for Liveleak.com.

Predictably, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the movie. The proposal by the Islamic countries representative of the council was opposed by Europe and by Canada, also members of the council. The resolution was successfully passed by a vote of 21 to 10. In Pakistan crowds of protesters have flocked to the streets for weeks. The movie was condemned by Iran and Indonesia, unsurprisingly.

Grisly and graphic footage of Muslim terrorism world-wide, which included shots of disfigured corpses, beheading, destroyed buildings are featured in Fitna. As the scenes proceed, they are fittingly complemented with Koranic verses that appear relevant to the unfolding dramas: "Prepare for them whatever force and cavalry ye are able of gathering to strike terror, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies".

And strike terror into the enemies' hearts they do, since this particular passage accompanies very familiar footage of an airplane hitting the World Trade Center. Then, imams calling for the annihilation of all infidels. With one cleric hysterically railing against Jews, unsheathing a word and frenziedly calling for murder "By Allah, we shall cut off the Jew's head! Allah is great! Allah is great! Jihad for the sake of Allah!", while the audience cheers.

As a studied public relations event this does not reflect kindly on Islam. Little wonder it would constitute a horrible affront to ordinary, moderate Muslims. Yet they do bear a certain responsibility, since it is their sacred religion, their Prophet, their Koran which have been suborned, placed front and centre for the purpose of instilling vitriolic hatred against others. This does not reflect the tenets of a religion of peace.

None of the footage is invented. All of it reflects reality. That in and of itself should be enough to waken the slumbering sense of outrage, fitness and justice in any reasonable individual. Unspeakable carnage done in the name of Islam. Identification of a purported enemy, and then hurtling deliberately toward a trajectory of violent annihilation of all vestiges of 'corrupt' Western government institutions, and populations.

And just incidentally, in the process, creating doleful victims of other sincerely worshipful Muslims whose belief in Islam has not led them to the conclusion that other religions are worthless, that other people who live not as they do, but as a reflection of their own culture and social values have no right to live. Worse; victimizing alongside the infidels those very same Muslims whose embrace of Islam is viewed as insufficiently Islamist.

As would be expected Muslim nations have condemned the film, and that's understandable. They don't necessarily feel they should be linked to the fanatical and bloodthirsty violence of jihadists. In which case they should be rather more involved in condemning those jihadists themselves, and doing their utmost to defeat their predatory atrocities.

Fatwahs have been ordered, an al-Qaeda affiliated website calls for Mr. Wilders' death, exhorting also increased attacks on Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan. "The correct sharia response is to cut off his head and let him follow his predecessor, van Gogh, to hell" according to the site.

Bangladesh warns of grave consequences, and Iran characterizes the film's content as heinous, blasphemous and anti-Islamic, which it most certainly is. As for the world's most populous Islamic country, Indonesia, the verdict is damning, an: "insult to Islam, hidden under the cover of freedom of expression".

Saudi Arabia's embassy in The Hague spoke of the film as being provocative, error-prone, with incorrect allegations that could lead to hate toward Muslims. Yes, doubtful, no, yes. But none of this need be surprising.

The truth also is that Muslims themselves by their lack of concerted and collective denial of the Islamists to speak on their behalf have earned no plaudits for themselves.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Bravo, Gordon McGregor

He's sending quite a powerful message, is Gordon McGregor, head of the Quebec First Nations Chiefs of Police Association. "Drugs are not acceptable in our communities, clear and simple. It comes down to us. If we don't stop this, who will?" Exactly so.

Pursuing the courage of his convictions, this man and others like him, are playing a needed but personally dangerous role in attempting to cleanse their societies of aberrant and anti-social elements. Three Mohawk reserves near Montreal were raided by more than 300 officers, in 15 disparate raids, this week.

Netting them twenty-nine arrests and the dismantling of a drug pipeline operating in Ontario and the United States. What they unveiled was barrels of marijuana worth an estimated $1-million, along with cash totalling $2-million. That's big business, highly illicit and explosive in its coverage.

The raid also uncovered four machine guns, three grenade launchers and other weapons. Obviously, those engaged in these activities also meant business. For the time being, at any event, their multi-million-dollar business is in abeyance in the reserves of Kahnawake, Kanesatake and Akwesasne.

Spoils of illicit trade aplenty: luxury vehicles such as high-end SUVs and sport cars. Nice, but nowhere near as worrisome as the AK-47 and M-16 machine guns. An expression of thuggish authority, as the drugs were smuggled in the summer by boat and trucks, turning over to skidoos in the winter.

Dwayne Zacharie, chief of the Peace Keepers in Kahnawake claimed to some degree of nervousness. "We still have to live with the fallout from this. I want to make sure the community is safe for my family and everyone else's family." Resentment from family members of those arrested will make for some unease among community members.

Those arrested face charges of gangsterism, drug exportation, illegal weapons possession, drug possession, drug trafficking, conspiracy to traffic drugs, conspiracy to export drugs and drug manufacturing. That's a whole whack of serious offences.

The thing of it is, the law of the land is meant to protect everyone, to ensure that no one is immune from prosecution for illegal and community-harmful activities.

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And These Are The Moderates

When Canadian security and intelligence agencies become aware of a cadre of young men involved in decidedly illegal activities they maintain a careful watch, assembling information and evidence before determining the time is right to intervene, to arrest the activities of those people, and in the process avert a disaster-in-the-making. Home-grown terrorists. Who might have imagined that Canada would become the breeding ground for terrorists?

It happens, we're told, more than we might imagine. Foreign elements enter the country on a visitor visa, or are given permanent resident status because they are clerics, and they mingle with the community with which they are most comfortable. Those who have emigrated from countries where the worship and practise of Islam is the majority, and often the only way of life. And at this time in history Islam sees itself troubled by the suspicion of the West.

Not surprising, given the current situation where fanatical Islamists have sworn themselves to avenging whatever slights and insults - predatory colonial practises consonant with free market capitalism most particularly included - upon Islamic ideals. The kind of burning idealism that binds its practitioners to their religion through minute control of every aspect of their lives. But the fervour that goes well beyond religious practise and edges into the bleak realm of religious violence.

And while there is nothing whatever amiss in the practise of any religion, as long as it does not impinge upon the human rights of others, events have somehow escaped rationality and crept into vicious terror strikes against all vestiges of the perceived oppressor's standards and representations, expressed by violent attacks against institutions and populations of the infidel West. Which West reciprocates, as human beings are wont to do, by relating Islam with violence, given the impressive evidence on view.

Canadians have the quaint idea that people migrating to that country from abroad will shed all the troublesome elements of contrary cultural attributes, traditional grievances, ethnic strife, in embracing and taking full advantage of the new freedoms of which they are invited to avail themselves, as new Canadians. Living in a multicultural society with its guarantees of egalitarianism and freedom of expression.

Instead, from some disaffected ethnic and religious groups comes turmoil and disaffection expressed for the presence of others within society whose values, culture and traditions are not seen to be agreeable to them. The mischief to society being done by groups such as The Canadian Islamic Congress and the Canadian Arab Federation is not readily countenanced as adding to the value of Canadian citizenship.

In launching their viciously anti-Israel agenda by sponsoring an essay contest for students, with a cash award offered to the successful essay winner, these groups are teaching scorn and hatred for others within society. The purpose of the essay writing contest is to extract from willing contestants written opinion attesting to "the ethnic cleansing of Palestine". If this loaded topic isn't heavily weighted to produce racial tension and hatred, then what is?

If Canadians of Arab descent feel comfortable in pursuing their overseas agenda within Canada, to paint a wide-screen picture of Israel and Zionism and Jews in general as genocidal opportunists, then the lesson of Canadian citizenship has been irretrievably lost. These groups speak of themselves as moderate Muslims, yet they busily foment hatred against others.

They do this by presenting a skewed frame of historical fiction as fact, by encouraging their youth to accept the imbalance of interpretation of the historical record of cause and effect. And by making claims of invention as truth, to be swallowed whole by their youth. From libel to violent action is but another leap of faith.

Canada cannot afford to be rent asunder by yet other bitter dissenters, refusing to become a part of the Canadian identity, picking and making careful selection of those benefits and attributes of Canadian-ness that suits their purpose, while practising the same kind of tribal vengeance and blame in Canada that was current in the countries from which they emanated.

These initiatives present as a handy launching pad for any who wish to take up the battle with the identified foe further. It suits the purposes of jihadists and their hangers-on. It does no justice to those who claim their Islam is a religion of peace.

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Him Again?

This is a Canadian. A young man who grew up in Canada, attended Canadian schools, yet was indoctrinated into terrorism. How does this happen? Well, infiltration into Canadian society by people with an underhanded mission, a very dark and dangerous mission. Presumably, such things don't happen with a young person's parents in complete ignorance of what their son is about. Presumably, the parents were well aware of what was happening.

It was not through the course of an ordinary school day in an ordinary Canadian high school that this young man and others like him, including his brother, encountered the shadowy figures intent on recruiting fresh blood toward the mission to wreak fear, havoc and murder in the name of holy jihad. These stealthy, yet assured approaches took place at Muslim social gatherings, at mosques, with enablers singling out those youth whom they felt presented as most vulnerable to their message.

A message of quite a distinct character. To harbour, as a Canadian youth whose religious tenets were handily re-interpreted by ideological fanatics to accept duty as a sacrificial warrior for Islam. To uphold the values and the honour of Islamism, as distinct from Islam. To join company in training camps abroad in Afghanistan where al-Qaeda recruits learn all the basics of jihad, from fomenting distrust and violence to executing strangers.

So there sits an unhappy Mohammed Jabarah, a still-youthful 26 years of age, convicted of terrorism in an American court and imprisoned there to serve a life sentence for planning to bomb U.S. and Israeli embassies in South-east Asia. The plan collapsed, saving the lives of the target victims. Mohammed Jabarah fled to Oman, but was arrested, and brought to North America by Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers, then turned over to the U.S. Justice Department.

Mr. Jabarah has seen fit to file a lawsuit against U.S. Justice and prison officials. They are to blame for his depression, as well as other health complaints he is claiming to be suffering from. He, at least, is alive, to complain. Had his mission been successful, the many lives the plotted bombings would have taken, the families affected, would have been legion, and no official entity for them to complain to.

The cause of his ill health, poor man? The malevolence of federal officials who have undertaken to torture him by withholding letters from his family. Which deviously troubling circumstance caused a "sense of disconnection between my family", thus triggering his medical troubles. Summary execution would have forestalled such a tragedy.

Of this is the sum of his complaint, the cause of his purported symptoms of respiratory difficulties, chest pain, shortness of breath, insomnia, anxiety and depression, there is a cure. He might not like it entirely, but he would be cured. The question could be put to him - to put him out of his unendurable misery.

Capital punishment is still practised in the United States. Although Canada does not approve. Nor do I. Ask me if I approve of a youth growing up in lovely St.Catharines ,Ontario, attending and graduating from a Canadian high school, and choosing to devote himself to the cause of terror.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Well, There's Always The Republican Option

And given the candidate, perhaps it doesn't auger so ill at all for the United States. The calibre of the man is self-evident in his presentation, his record, his obvious love of country, his dedication to the theatre of politics. No one seems to have too much to criticize him for - other than the hard right-wing element.

He's not overtly religious and that gains him no credit with the evangelicals. He doesn't engage in bashing any elements of society, and that too puts him at a disadvantage with the religious right. He has that personable attribute, a sense of humour, including the capacity to laugh at himself.

And he is refreshingly humble in a very un-American way. "Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed", he delivered in a foreign policy address.

An unabashed admission that the United States has too long considered itself a law unto the international community, requiring no permission from any other administration other than its own to act in ways that have proved inimical, on occasion, to the world at large.

Perhaps this can be attributed to the wisdom and the leavening that comes with age. Now there's a criticism that has been levelled against his candidacy, that he's too long in the tooth for a president. Ah, but with age comes experience and a greater understanding for the human condition. Patience, compassion, and a willingness to listen.

No, age does not in and of itself confer wisdom; there is that old adage: "we grow too soon old and too late smart". But, not necessarily. It is an individual thing, and John McCain is some alert and capable individual.

Mr. McCain describes himself as a "realistic idealist". Now there's a contradiction. But as a concept, it's quite a good one, and I, for one, am willing to accept, even to laud it. I most certainly do agree with his declaration that "we cannot wish the world to be a better place than it is".

The fact is, people of good will must strive to do their utmost to help the world hobble along to achieving a state of being better than it is.

"I detest war. It might be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description", said he. Bravo, he knows of what he speaks. And he speaks truly, and he speaks well.

"Leadership in today's world means accepting and fulfilling our responsibilities as a great nation. One of those responsibilities is to be a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies."

It's undeniable that whoever takes over the helm of guiding the United States into the future has a grave responsibility, not only to that country, but to take into account that decisions made by the United States impact heavily upon the rest of the world.

Over to you, John McCain. Or not.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In The Fullness of Time

It's said that all will be revealed in the fullness of time. Right now, there is a steadily emerging picture of a young man, an African-American who is challenging as a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, whose background is continually being scrutinized and questioned.

Much of what has been revealed seems scurrilous in nature, designed to utterly discredit him as a patriotic American. His detractors paint a picture of a scheming, under-handed man whose agenda, should he succeed in being elevated to the presidency, will do great harm to the country.

But he presents as a forthright, decent man whose integrity cannot be questioned, whose dedication to his country of birth should be obvious by his many impassioned declarations. Whose reasonable assertions about his qualifications as an American of conscience and consensus-building, anxious to repair ancient rifts between white and black America has earned him great plaudits from a large number of supporters whose soaring numbers have frightened his nearest competitor.

His elevated discourse of hope and promise for the future has endeared him to the young and the educated, women and men alike.
Barack Obama has captured the imagination and the hopes of Americans. It would appear, from the sheer numbers of those who support his candidacy, that he has assumed a decided lead. Leaving his opponent in the race, the redoubtable Hillary Clinton, in his wake, but determined to battle on regardless.

People are mesmerized by this assuming man. By his auspicious presence. He presents as a vision for the future. Standing proud and straight, an emerging political colossus, with one foot firmly planted in the white world of his mother, the other in that of his black father, he has integrated himself into the black community and partaken of its traditional bitter cup of oppression. His is a healing mission.

Except, how to adequately explain his provisional lapses from moderation in submitting his person to the near and dear proximity of a cleric who vehemently preaches hate? His explanation that he listened only to the message of brotherly love inherent in the words of Christ, not the political messages emanating from that same mouth, of a "beloved uncle" has been accepted, but it rankles as too slight.

Prejudice, discriminatory declarations of suspicion and hate should be rejected by all thoughtfully well-intentioned people, no matter the locale or the audience. Barack Obama has done this, in public, before specific audiences, to claim their trust - just as he has upbraided the racism of others of his followers, publicly, to berate their lack of trust. Who is this man? Is he the sum of the parts he assembles about him, those whose speech is hateful?

Is he the man whom so much of America pines for, to help solve innumerable problems within the community at large? Is there any merit at all to the claims of individuals such as Ali Abunimah, who has written extensively on his years-long acquaintanceship with Senator Obama, and the Senator's appearance at Palestinian-affiliated events which routinely discredit Israel? That is his right, after all, to select positions.

But this is not how he has presented himself as a candidate for the highest office of the land. He has posed himself as a supporter of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State, free from neighbourly violence, espousing the need of a peace agreement, upholding Israel's responses to terror. He can, needless to say, hold both opinions; be in support of both positions. That is his right, after all. But clarity is required.

The vile rantings of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, while in a sense to be understood in the light of African Americans' tragic history, has no currency in the present day; they are inflammatory, where Senator Obama's intent is to join black and white in harmony, not in battle. Senator Obama should rightly have removed himself from that particular church, and sought out instead membership in one that is inclusive of both colours. In support of his even-handed approach.

Instead, he has chosen, in the interests of gaining popularity ("street creds") among blacks, to occasionally frequent the church of another, Reverend James Meeks, whose speciality is the hate-baiting of homosexuals. Who speaks with utter derision of "the Hollywood Jews" responsible for the production of
Brokeback Mountain. Again, who is this man and what, precisely, does he represent?

We are none of us one-dimensional, we all have our complex personality and character traits.
We all attempt to portray ourselves in the best possible light. And it is an especial trait of politicians to be aware of what will not go down well with a broad audience, and the manner in which they should groom themselves for broad popular appeal. Wouldn't it be just wonderful if Barack Obama really were the outstanding human being he appears, at first blush, to be?

And then, might it be possible for us to enquire of him how it is that such a well-balanced psyche as his, could tolerate the hate-filled spume of bigots, so close to his inner sanctorum.

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A Tale of Two Economies

So near, yet so far. The United States and Canada, dividing the top half of North America; friendly neighbours, sharing trade and social traits, language and tourism. Both are possessed of amazingly diverse geographies, each endowed with plentiful natural resources. And each enjoys an enviable, many would claim, wasteful style of life.

We have clean air, potable water, ample food, outstanding shelter, great medical and educational facilities, powerful economies, and nice international reputations.

Our political systems are dissimilar to a good degree. Our justice system and varied civil infrastructures like enough in their similarities. Canada is the vast country with a relatively sparse population, while the United States enjoys roughlyanalogous space, but with a hugely greater population.

Our conventions, traditions and values are recognized as being similar but dissimilar. And, it has been famously said, when the U.S. sneezes, Canada gets a cold.

The employment rate has always been more robust in the U.S. than in Canada, but we're seeing a bit of a reversal. The quality of life in both countries reflect one another, with the U.S. given a slight edge in voluptuous excess. And here we are, in 2008, with the long-anticipated recessionary blues hitting the U.S. economy; that free-market economy that went a little too far in extending sub-prime rates for real estate, and is now suffering the fall-out.

It's not alone in its agony; the risk of offering unreasonable debt to those whose credit ratings and earnings would never qualify them for acquiring properties under normal circumstances, was recognized, to a degree; the money markets realizing the safety valve inherent in distributing the risk, diluting it by combining with conventional bonds in the global market; everyone happy to haul in the rewards in good times, unwilling to heed the doomsayers.

So here's Canada now seeing its economy still in boom cycle, thanks to consumer confidence. The rise in Canadian retail sales exceeded expectations, in stark contrast to ongoing, worrying weakness in the U.S. system. And this, despite the fall-out from the too-healthy Canadian dollar, resulting in a downturn in Canadian exports to its biggest trading partner, the United States.

The increase in spending in Canada is based broadly across the spectrum of consumer spending; homes and vehicles included; big-ticket and pedestrian spending, both. And that, in the face of gradually rising price increases; still the volume of sales is rocketing ahead. Whereas, in the United States, consumer confidence has plunged to a five-year low. Inflation, job losses, the real estate market collapse; less spending, more worry.

Of course Canada isn't immune to succumbing to a reflection of the economic situation in the U.S. We still might begin that sad and sorry plummet, even if short-lived, before recovery. But for the time being, new jobs are still being opened up in Canada; employment rates are robust, opposed to American anxieties over eroding job prospects, and a fairly bleak, short-range future.

Thanks to the collapse of the sub-prime-rate mortgage market starting that downward spiral, investors are nervous across all debt markets. Asset mark-downs makes no one exuberant about the future. Value slips away, leaving empty hands, nervous tics. It's said that about $200-billion world wide (we're a global economy, remember) has evaporated.

Although the true figure may be even higher; an estimated credit loss of $460-billion closer to the mark, according to disclosure of figures from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. It's not just residential mortgage losses, but commercial as well, hitting the skids. Credit-card loans, auto loans, commercial and industrial lending, the pain is widespread.

Wow, isn't Canada fortunate. Really fortunate. For the time being, in any event.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Beneficence of Aid

How's this for cynical opportunism? A newly-released report by the Agency Co-Ordinating Body for Afghan Relief, a collective entity representing no fewer than 94 international aid agencies has revealed tragic levels of inefficiency and wastefulness troubling and undermining the international aid effort in Afghanistan, along with that of the Afghan government itself.

Why be surprised, one supposes. It's long been known that elements within the government of Afghanistan are irremediably corrupt, from the "elected" parliamentarians, many of whom were once brutal tribal War Lords guilty of violent human rights abuses and deriving income from the poppy trade, to the bureaucracies operating within the purview of government, where graft is a way of life.

And it's also a fact of life - of war and death, in fact - that nature abhors a vacuum; enablers and foreign contractors hurry into any such situation as a country destabilized by war, ostensibly to do their part in the civic reconstruction through their own altruistic instincts, and just making a little profit on the side. That little profit has ballooned exponentially, as expected - by the contractors.

There's always a lot of profit to be made in war, and in the aftermath of war. And enterprising entrepreneurs are certain to present themselves to take advantage of any and all opportunities. Under the guise of helpfulness and universal public duty. They offer the ways and means, the glue that binds, the helpmate between civilian need and military duty.

So it is that Matt Waldman of Oxfam, author of the report, has revealed that $6-billion representing roughly 40% of international aid pledged to reconstruction has been filtered through to private infrastructure contractors, and security contractors and others of their ilk. As for the Afghan officials also involved, there are no records to be had demonstrating how $5.3-billion of aid was spent.

The United States, Britain, Japan, Germany and Canada have been singled out as nations which have made good on their pledges, while other wealthy western nations have been accused of handing over scant little of their pledged financial contributions. The most miserly among them identified as France and Spain. Perhaps theirs is the most practical solution, understanding beforehand the contretemps that would result in such waste.

And even though the United States is the single most generous donor to Afghanistan's reconstruction, it represents one of its largest shortfalls, having delivered only half of its $10.4-billion commitment in a 7-year period. Britain claims that a full 80% of its donation commitment went directly to the Afghan government in recognition of its need to self-manage.

Ominously, the report goes on to warn that "Increasing insecurity and criminality is jeopardizing progress in Afghanistan. With low government revenues, international assistance constitutes around 90% of all public expenditure in the country. Thus how it is spent has an enormous impact on the lives of almost all Afghans and will determine the success of reconstruction and development."

That's really bad news. While foreign troops are stationed in the country in a dedicated, co-operative effort at removing the Taliban from any potential of renewing its stronghold in the country, if no real and tenable improvements are made in reconstruction and economic stability, there can be no forward momentum.

Trust from ordinary Afghan citizens will evaporate, their expectations will falter, their allegiance will be swayed. A prominent Afghan member of parliament claims the report is too kind to the international effort, that the situation is much worse than identified. "In every dollar, only 11 cents is going to Afghans. The rest is returning to the West."

President Hamid Karzai is already in a precarious position of distrust among his people. They appreciate the work done on their behalf by the NGOs, but it is a relatively paltry effort, despite their dedication and hard work, benefiting too few to make the impact necessary to ensure forward momentum. The international effort gets a failing grade.

The government of Afghanistan fares no better. What are we all doing there? What, exactly, is the point? Well, yes, in urban centers life has improved immeasurably for women and girls. Girls can now anticipate receiving an education and opportunities for the advancement of women are opening up. Health clinics have been opened, and people can seek medical treatment. There is an emerging economic hope for the future.

In rural areas, in tribal and mountainous areas tradition is immovable. The ancient culture is psychically and irremediably engrained. Change may come, but it will not be in this lifetime. Is that any reason not to continue the struggle to allow these disadvantaged people to secure themselves more reasonably in their harsh environment? This is for them to decide.

Who knows?

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Pharmaceutical companies and their salesmen know all the successful tricks of the trade. Bombard physicians with free samples of their products, load them down with all manner of self-serving pamphlets extolling the virtues of their drugs, promising to fix whatever ails patients, and the doctors never need think about alternatives; just so quick and easy to resort to whatever is at hand - courtesy of the pharmaceutical giants.

"Free" lunches with sales representatives, free tickets to pricey entertainment, free trips for the family, all there for the grasping. From time to time ethical considerations tickle the consciences of one or another of those tasked with physician oversight, and gentle admonishing of excesses may be circulated through the medium of medical association ethics boards, but in this fast-paced and high-energy world, that's life.

Now, an editorial in the most recent edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal points out - inconveniently for those heedlessly partaking of these conventional offerings - that lectures, seminars and other ongoing "educational activities" that doctors are obliged to take are largely paid for - gasp! - by those very same drug companies with an obvious vested interest in their product promotion.

Who might ever have imagined that busy family practitioners could be so readily enticed to surrender their professional morals to the enticements of pharmaceuticals holding out those comfortable grab-bags? This isn't overt corruption, this is the status quo, nice little entitlements as a gesture of good will from the manufacturers to the prescriptors.

"This is big business. Of the $2.6 billion spent in the United States on accredited continuing medical education activities in 2006, $2.45-billion (60%) came from pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers", wrote editor-in-chief Dr. Paul Hebert. "Some would argue that physicians are getting a good deal on their continuing professional education, so what is the problem?"

Problem is, on the evidence, self-interested subsidization of medical education stresses and embellishes the positive side of the equation, while handily overlooking any possible negatives involved, such as product side effects, decidedly adverse in nature. "It is time to stop the "free lunch" approach and place our continuing medical education system firmly in the hands of unbiased and qualified people, not corporations whose main concern is the bottom line" thunders Dr. Hebert.

Hear, hear. Just as pharmaceutical companies sponsor university research in various aspects of health care and disease management, favouring skewed outcomes that shine a broad light of approval on their products, as opposed to research discoveries that smudge the potential of future sales, in the process utterly discrediting universities, research faculty and the neutral process of investigation for the public good.

The stress of the pharmaceuticals in persuading prescribing physicians to lean heavily in favour of drugs, rather than giving full and holistic treatment procedures a trifle more depth of consideration, impacts deleteriously on the patient, and ultimately, on the professional efficacy of the prescribing doctor. Effectively eroding the relationship of trust between patient and doctor.

While fattening the bottom line for the product producer. What's in it for a pharmaceutical company to invest a certain percentage of profit in ongoing research to result in really beneficial drugs, after all? When they can simply rest on their laurels, producing the same drugs with slight variations which are purported to alleviate symptoms, but which in fact emulate the placebo effect?

The tried-and-true money-making products just skirting the edge of usefulness, producing side-effects, both manageable and serious, will continue in production. There's gold in that practise. Unlike investment in the production of truly useful medications which might hold the potential of "cure" - for to produce those drugs would be tantamount to cutting off a plentiful source of reliable income.

Dr. Hebert is concerned for his profession, for the population treated by his professional peers. It is the protection of both that concerns him; on the one hand the mandate and purpose of the profession, on the other the ongoing health management of patients. The focus on drug management over other workable therapies is the problem.

The paid-for access to doctors' prescription pads is the crux of the problem. Case in point: Canada's largest public drug manufacturer, Biovail, offering doctors $1000 for writing 15 prescriptions for Cardizen LA, a new drug treatment, and then completing a report on each patient for use in a study of the drug's effectiveness.

Little wonder this unprincipled corporation is facing U.S. and Ontario regulatory civil charges, facing up to millions of dollars in fines and settlement costs.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Converso, Conversus

A brave man, no doubt about it. Although his courage had already been proven, as a Muslim giving loud challenge to Islamic precepts which celebrated jihad and sought to attain conquest, historically and in the modern world. Imagine, a high-profile European-domiciled Muslim choosing to be baptized into the Christian faith as a Roman Catholic. And this is exactly what has occurred, as the Pope brought Egyptian-born Magdi Allam into the fold in St. Peter's Basilica at Easter 2008.

He shall henceforth be called Magi Cristiano Allam, lest there be doubt of his conviction and his new allegiance. As Magi Allam, Muslim, and deputy director of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he made no secret of his feelings about Islam: "...the root of evil is innate in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual". Those are words of the most extreme condemnation, claiming outright that the Koran teaches violence and hatred, exhorting its people to holy jihad.

No doubt puzzling in the extreme to Italy's moderate Muslim community who would prefer that blame and denunciation be far more delicately select - aimed distinctly at the fundamentalist Islamists whose restively murderous activities throughout the world in the past decade have put us all on notice and made us all extremely nervous. But they, the moderates, have not spoken in unison to denounce violent Islam, the terror of jihad unleashed on the world.

However, Mr. Allam, now Christianized, has been unequivocal in his condemnation of fundamental Islam's terrorist trajectory, its dedication to world-wide domination. He is no stranger to fatwahs, and complies with the need to surround himself with bodyguards. His very public and Muslim-offensive conversion will, he agrees, bring upon him "another death sentence for apostasy"; the abandonment of the faith into which he was born.

There's an ancient historical antecedent to his very modern story of rejection and conversion. In the medieval church the term was "converso" (conversus) and this was not an endearing term but one of great opprobrium. Muslims, and Jews, who sought conversion - usually as a way in which to integrate themselves and to protect themselves from violent discrimination - were held in contempt by their former religious compatriots. They were at that time, as now, in danger and laws were promulgated by the state to protect them.

Much as what happens now. Some things just never change. In some Muslim societies apostasy is rewarded by death. Mr. Allam has courted death many times over. In bringing scorn upon Islam, and in his vociferous and reasoned support for the State of Israel. He is reported to have said, pre-conversion, that he asked himself why someone who worked so diligently on behalf of "moderate Islam" was "condemned to death in the name of Islam and on the basis of a Koranic legitimization".

He demonstrates the courage of his conviction. His conviction so obviously being that Islam, in his opinion, is impervious to change, to rational discourse among its leading scholars and clerics in an effort to bring it into the modern world, to better reflect changing realities. Islam was born of a tribal warring mentality and prevailing regional-historical custom, and it remains mired in that condition. As such, he has decided he wants no further part of it.

The fatwahs sworn against him imperil his life, but he persists. Somewhat like the case of Salmon Rushdie whom Britain was pressed to protect when Iran's Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei ordered a fatwah upon him. He lived in stealth and fear for his life for years, an underground existence as a famous-infamous author of great repute-disrepute. And in the end, although he was accused of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad, he brought himself to Islam.

Raised as an Muslim, but as a secular humanist outside religion, he wrote The Satanic Verses, to describe, he claims, the conflicts between the material and the spiritual worlds, as a mirror of the inner conflict he himself experienced. That 'inner conflict' has been resolved, he has made his peace with Islam, and as a newly-minted Muslim, hopes a reconciliation will take place, effectively removing the threat that still hangs over him.

Salmon Rushdie did what all Muslims are expected by Allah to do: submit. In submission to Allah one realizes salvation. He hopes his submission will be his salvation - from threat of death, long before he is prepared to greet death. The newly-baptized Magdi Christian Allam has abjured submission to a religious dictate he abhors with the full understanding that he has been primed for a penalty of death, with greater urgency than before.

His disquisitions against the violent irrationality of Islam and the multiculturalism embrace of the West have earned him high-grade antipathy from Islamists, determined to erase the insult he presents to the world of Islam and beyond. The publication of his book Viva Israele was an interestingly provocative response to the death sentence issued against him by Hamas in 2003. The Roman Catholic Church exults in the glory of its conversions to the greater glory of God.

Islam sees this as yet another Christian provocation, the Pope in league with a dangerously outspoken Muslim critic of Islam. But the world of Islam doesn't have to look too hard or too long for criticisms against the West, or infidels, or Christianity, or Jews, or Israel, or the Pope. Osama bin Laden was recently pleased to complain of the Pope's insults to Islam, offering his own threats.

There is reason to hope, however. From within the Muslim community in Italy its leaders' response was that Allam "is a grown man, free to make his personal choice", calling for "everyone to live his religion peacefully and with respect for other faiths". Islam is not entirely immune to the prospect of change, as Muslims migrate to countries other than Islamic countries.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Olympic Star, Shining Bright

The two ancient Greek city-states - Athens and Sparta - were always rivals, went to great lengths to challenge one another, and went to war against one another as well. Their ideologies differed but they met yearly at Olympia, near Athens, in a challenge of sport, each with their champions in the arena of human physical achievement, pushing the body perfect, the physiognomy of grace and beauty, able to accomplish outstanding feats of physical performance and endurance.

The ancient Olympics dated from 776 B.C.; competing nations were as critical then of one another's values and social mores, political values and international prominence as they are now, in the modern world, where the modern Olympics represent an international sport event meant to highlight the heights to which human endeavour can achieve in sport performance.

Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympics Committee, emphases that the Olympics transcend politics. The sites are conferred on various countries on the basis of the venues they can provide in accommodating the various sport performance activities, and the funds they are prepared to commit to ensuring those accommodation reflects Olympics standards, world standards.

The very purpose of the International Olympics, to bring together at one site the outstanding athletes of each country in a competitive process designed to eliminate the runners-up and illuminate the performances of the elite, is a world-recognized event of great international significance. And, just incidentally, a premier opportunity for the host country to shine a spotlight on its own singular accomplishments in a world of interrelated economies yet political estrangement.

The Olympics also represents a huge business enterprise, where business interests in host countries reap great economic windfalls. And for those fortunate gold-medal winners who bring lustre to the reputations of the countries they represent, a personal opportunity to win opportunities to enrich themselves through the solicitations of sport equipment manufacturers to have the creme de la creme of the sport world endorse their products to a sport-gullible world.

The selection of Beijing as the site for the 2008 Summer Olympics has always been fraught with controversy. Not only because of China's singularly awful human rights record, but because of the country's environmental backwardness, its dreadful atmospheric pollution, inimical to the health of its population and no less so to visitors to the Olympic performances, much less that of the competing sport figures.

China pledged to clean up its environmental mess, to take firm steps to ensure that the degraded atmosphere in Beijing would see a huge improvement before the Games proceeded. That's now seen as a highly unlikely accomplishment. But in China's haste to ensure that all the infrastructure is in place well before the Summer Games, building of appropriate Games sites in the capital has been frenzied, non-stop and deplorable.

Deplorable in the quality of the work experience offered to the great hordes of desperately poor Chinese who flocked to building sites in Beijing from the countryside, eager to earn badly needed funds. But the salaries paid these people whose positions have turned into semi-indentured slave labour under dangerous working conditions, with inadequate food and shelter, and no medical assistance when accidents occur, have turned another ugly spotlight on China's failed promises.

Here's China, the world's pre-eminent Communist country, slipping heartily into the embrace of a capitalist economic engine, emerging as the fastest-growing economy in the world, absorbing much of the world's manufacturing through its industrious, ill-paid huge workforce, hoping to show the visiting world of Olympic fans how greatly she has prospered, how much her people have advanced, since the recent past.

The world is to overlook the arbitrary arrest of Falun Gong practitioners, their incarceration, torture, mysterious deaths. The quietly steadfast persecution of Chinese Christians, Buddhists and Muslims who must not demonstrate their devoutness overtly, who must pray in designated buildings, too must be overlooked. The hounding and imprisonment of news people, the strict monitoring and closures of news media is another unfortunate myth.

But the coming together of the international community in a highly respected ritual of sport performance at the highest level of Olympian prowess does in a sense transcend politics. It's an opportunity for people to meet face to face, individual to individual, to be able to absorb the reality that we are not different from one another. For the Chinese, it may also present as an opportunity to see themselves as they're seen from the world outside.

And then we're set to start the whole thing all over again. For Moscow, like Beijing, a capital and a governing body representative of a country in transition with a troubled past and an unclear future within the international community, is now beginning to prepare for the 2014 Winter Games. Beijing has its Tibet and its Taiwan, Moscow has its Chechnya, and its uneasy relationship with its former satellites.

The news media in Russia is carefully monitored; human-rights activists, former apparatchiks who turn against the state, news reporters who uncover uncomfortable and compromising truths face dire persecution, imprisonment - sometimes mysterious and unattributable early deaths. And then there are also awkward unmentionables like the country's predilection for taking authoritative measures against the helpless.

Thousands of Russians living in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, site of the 2014 Olympics who, when they first became aware that Sochi had won the Olympic bid were overjoyed about the potential job creation and investment for their area, now face an uncertain future. It is now abundantly clear to these residents of Sochi that fortunes will be made, but not by them. It will be the politically well-connected who will realize profit.

Ordinary people, people like them, who have lived on the land for generations are simply out of luck. Among them also families of refugees who had escaped war in a neighbouring republic and who have lived in Sochi for fifteen years will be evicted. With nowhere to go. The land owners themselves will face the outcome of a recently passed bill, called the "Olympic law", passed by Russia's lower house of parliament.

Meant to speed up the confiscation of property, the land-owners will be offered plots elsewhere, in remote and run-down areas in the mountains, not suitable for farming. The compensation they will be offered in a take-it-or-live-it proposition represents values far below market value of the appropriated property that has been in their families for generations.

Critics within Russia, in appraisal of the situation, warn of a rise in corruption. One of the authorized officials for the Winter Olympics in Sochi promised a local businessman protection from land confiscation in exchange for a $400,000 extortion. "We are being offered a far-away plot in the mountains and compensation that is 15 times lower than our land's market value", moaned one landowner.

Most unfortunate, is it not? This is how the Olympic Games manifest themselves as a world-class event highlighting the best, the brightest, the most accomplished and skilled athletes the world has on offer. Their performances reflect brightly on their countries of origin, the countries that have supported their endeavours, have championed their excellence. Excellence in human endeavour of the highest order of physical prowess and attainment.

Hand in hand with the human excess of exploiting the vulnerable. As we exalt ourselves, we also shame ourselves.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Truly Unfortunate

Why there is so much backlash against the potential for a female president of the United States is puzzling. American women, after all, are not socially repressed. They are collectively strong individuals who heralded a new horizon for female accomplishment when they stridently introduced female empowerment through their insistence on the equality of the genders. Women's liberation spread fast and it encouraged women to become themselves, not the shadows of their male half of the population.

So why so much resentment among the male electorate at the possibility of a female president? And why the reluctant hesitation on the part of the female electorate at the potential of bringing one of their own to the helm of government? The traditional male candidates and successful few that have attained to the White House haven't, after all, done such an outstanding job of heading the United States through peaceful co-existence with their international neighbours, through troublesome internal problems. Why not give women the opportunity to demonstrate their competence?

Perhaps it's because on this particular occasion, there's an embarrassment of riches represented by two very strong candidates straining at the end of a long competitive process to demonstrate that they and they alone represent the ultimately successful choice. Partisanship has overtaken good fellowship, but that's to be expected in the heat of the race to succeed. Good intentions and civility have slipped up here and there. Fervent supporters of one or the other have intervened to cast a shadowy glance of suspicion on the other.

The fact still remains that the Democratic Party hit gold this time around, and the enthusiasm of their supporters in narrowing their selection to two prime and outstanding candidates is ample evidence of that. The two candidates represent ground-breaking 'firsts' in the candidacy of either party in an American presidency race. First credible female candidate, first presentably neutral black candidate - in the sense that he isn't offering as a black candidate, but as a representative American candidate, foot in both worlds.

And there's little doubt that Senator Barack Obama is an honourable man of good intentions and spotless personal integrity, just incidentally lacking requisite experience. There is the little matter of his unfortunate lapse in judgement in associating himself with unsavoury individuals, but he has acquitted himself well enough in his own defence. And straddling both sides of the great black-white divide he does promise enticingly as a healing element in American society.

Yet it will take more than one strong candidate oozing good will and a promise of hope for the future to convulsively alter a traditionally discriminatory society. The society as a whole - not merely the liberal-minded, the guilt-laden, the young and the bold, but a majority of Americans - black and white - who must devote themselves to the task of healing the wounds of the past.

In the final analysis it might take someone of the calibre of a dedicated woman with experience, political stamina, and sheer determination to represent all of the people of America to begin the healing process. While at the same time demonstrate to doubters that she has the qualifications - as much as any man - to lead that great country in a direction its entire community will lend itself to.

After which time, Senator Obama, still a young man, could, if he would, offer himself once again with his great talents, to the public weal.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Enough, Already!

That face has sullied our small screens enough, that whinging aggrieved voice has scratched our sensibilities more than sufficiently. Why, one wonders, would some individual who has deliberately tracked out her mode of living in an alien culture in another country, come wailing for release from a situation she has engineered and expect that the prime minister of one country, and the president of another, take time from their busy agendas to discuss hers.

What exactly is it that makes some people feel so entitled to consideration they have no business securing and searching out? That their histrionics and manipulative psycho-social manoeuvring and pushing of official buttons will draw the attention of a compassionate public to persuade a prime minister and a president of two countries to indulge their fantasies of personal importance is quite simply amazing.

And here is Stephane Dion adding his shrill voice of condemnation against Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of this now-famous Brenda Martin; another clown heard from in this sad and sorry travesty of international relations and the making of mountains from molehills. This woman, seasoned, mature, all her wits about her, who deigned to live for a decade in a country under illegal circumstances, demands her due.

Of both countries; one as her right as a Canadian citizen to conduct herself unbecoming a visitor in a strange country, demanding protection in Mexico for a crime she is accused of; two her right as an accused person in Mexico to be set free because she is Canadian. That she herself, through her vexatious machinations, is responsible for the legal position she is held in, is handily overlooked, swept aside in the mass hysteria of misplaced compassion.

We've been down this road before, when, famously, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, pleaded with his then-counterpart, Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, to release a suspected jihadist from incarceration, enabling Canada's most bizarrely infamous Islamist terrorist to go on to greater glory within al-Qaeda, and leaving Canada with the headache of his jihad-pledged sons, the youngest now an international cause celebre as an unjustly-held child soldier.

Ms. Martin inveighs against the government of Canada and its ministers for not launching a strong appeal - or a military invasion - against the Mexican judicial system, denouncing the prime minister and his cabinet for not sufficiently strenuously working on her release. There is nothing occurring in the world and within Canada that should detract from the immediate necessity to come to her aid; first things first, after all.

Hers and her supporters' carefully engineered public unveiling of the injustices inherent in the Mexican justice system - most particularly as it applies to her case, as an innocent taken advantage of - is an example of cleverly drawing the public attention to a monstrously unfair advantage taken of a poor Canadian by an evil and alien society.

Given all the prior bad press Mexico has received with respect to questionable accidents befalling Canadian tourists this woman has lucked right in. There is a real problem there, in the incidence of casual violence impacting on legitimate Canadian tourists. But where there's the smoke of suspicion, as in the case of Ms. Martin, there isn't always necessarily the fire of righteous rescue.

She made her choices, suitable to her at the time. She can live with the consequences. Her threats to commit suicide in Mexico rather than face jail time in Canada, should she be extradited under a mutual international agreement, tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Costly National Whims

In 2003 the then-U.S. deputy defence secretary claimed that several hundred thousand American troops were a hundred thousand too many to defeat Saddam Hussein's army which could not possibly fend off superior U.S. armaments and its professionally trained military. Nor would it cost the country all that much; $60-billion - $95-billion, tops.

This wasn't arrogance exactly, just a kind of American aplomb, typical self-assurance, a placid and innate recognition of the country's value.

In fact, it wouldn't be all that costly to Americans. With all of Iraq's oil riches, once "liberated' from the clutches of an avaricious dictator, the country's oil output could be leveraged to pay itself for its own liberation. "To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong", he said, with full assurance of the reality of the future.

That was five years ago. American troop presence on the ground has since been stepped up, and there are 160,000 troops there now, and the liberation of Iraq which somehow turned into a war is bleeding the U.S. economy at the rate of $12-billion each month. Rather a nasty expense for a straining economy.

The Pentagon's figures for the direct cost of military operations in that five-year period stands at $600-billion, while other analysts figure it's more likely to ring in at $1.7-trillion to $4-trillion. Who can count that high? The current recession-heading U.S. economy could use an extra trillion here and there as a shot in its economic arm.

Interest payments alone on the war bill amount to an estimated $615-billion, while an additional $600-billion accounts for disability and health benefits for Iraq war veterans. They're the lucky ones; almost four thousand American servicemen have died in service to their country, in Iraq.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the total cost of Iraq's post-war reconstruction in the neighbourhood of between $50-billion and $100-billion. The CBO has costed the war through to 2017 - looking at the longer range costs, although Senator John McCain speaks in terms of a far longer stay - at $1-trillion, plus $705-billion representing international payments.

Oh, right that's in U.S. dollars, please note. Devalued, somewhat, with other nations' currencies cutting loose. One whole hell of a lot of money dedicated to a casual unseating of an unfriendly dictator.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bravo, Angela Merkel

It does take tremendous courage to appear before a gathering of individuals representing an entire population whom those you represent have been guilty of visiting the most horrendous fate possible upon. That a country whose civility, whose proud literature, philosophy and celebration of academic achievement and scientific innovation could slip to the depths of inhumane depravity in its pathological need to destroy an entire people, is a situation entirely without defence.

For a representative of that egregiously erring, murderously-intent country to appear before a collection of the victim population's modern legislators represents an exercise in devoutly sincere and humble regret. Taking upon oneself the responsibility for the atrocities committed by one's forbears is no easy task. Committing oneself through the position of authority held in the country at fault, to do everything in their power to make amends is no easy promise to make.

"The Shoah fills us Germans with shame", she said, addressing the Israeli parliament. "I bow to the victims. I bow to all those who helped the survivors" she continued. Those who risked their lives in a malevolent society intent on genocide, those whom Israel now calls "righteous Gentiles" and who have an honoured place in the memory of worldwide Jewry. Which, in its totality only yet reflects slightly more in number than those six million who perished in the Holocaust.

"To speak to you in this honourable assembly is a great honour for me", she declared. In the audience were the aged remnants in Israel of European Jews who were survivors, death camp inmates whom fortune had denied the Angel of Death. Those to whom the very language of their tormentors must have been anathema. Yet Chancellor Merkel, recognizing this fact, said "I thank you all that I am allowed to speak to you in my mother tongue today", continuing her address in German.

"Congratulations in the State of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations", she said, in sombre recognition of the fact that the Holocaust, the dread and deadly persecution of European Jews by Nazi Germany was directly implicated in the result of the founding of the State of Israel; an independent country located in an ancient land of the Jews, offering refuge from an hostile world.

"Shalom", she said. And let it be so.

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Political, Moral Courage

It's quite impressive that Senator Barack Obama chose to address the simmering, always underlying issue of race relations in the United States. Confronting head-on the unspoken but always-present skeleton in the nation's closet. And doing so with firm conviction, with unwavering honesty, expressing his position from both sides of the conflict. Indicating his ability to see things in the round, from the perspective of each "side".

It was quite the performance, and it deserves applause. Who could argue with his challenge that "...We have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as a spectacle . . . or as fodder for the nightly news. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time'." This is bold collective ownership of a stridently uncomforting problem facing America.

This was his direct response to the criticism of the United States by his long-time spiritual adviser, tainting, by association, Senator Obama's political candidacy. With compelling, elevating rhetoric he faced the problem square on. Appealing to his supporters not to desert him on the basis of his long-time alliance with a black religious leader succumbing to traditional aggrievement against white intolerance.

Everyone wants to be a part of the vision of inclusion, equality, brotherhood. If a man of the cloth can be obsessed about religion, yet so pathologically committed to denouncing the race that victimized his own, has he really absorbed the lessons of Christ? If his apprehension of history's wrongs remain written in stone, can his comprehension of the first order of Christ be so admirable? This is an expression, an understandable one, of one-dimensional politics.

It's a fine line Senator Obama wove between his admiration for his long-time preacher's sermons in Christ, and his dismissal of that same man's politics and social underpinnings. When he appealed to his supporters to understand the polarity between his Christian commitment and his old friend, as opposed to his political-social conscience, his language soared.

Describing Reverend Wright as a black pastor of the old school whose racially divisive remarks made for "a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic", he hit a nerve of compassionate understanding. For the truth quite simply is, white racism was endemic within U.S. society; only now gradually, over the decades, emerging from the sinister depths of white souls.

Make that black souls as well, for there too existed - and still exists - a rampant racist view of one's fellow countrymen. This works both ways. But the black grievance had its genesis in the history of real - and sometimes still present - racial disharmony expressed in inhumane treatment of people based on the colour of their skin. It's been neatly turned about, as a self-supporting response.

As for the circumstances that bred both the white and the black racism, it is slowly fading into the distant past. Resentment about that past cannot be quickly stamped out, only gradually ameliorated. "The anger is real. It is powerful. And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races", said Mr. Obama.


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It Behooves Us

Canada is a vibrant, wealthy country blessed with great natural resources and a multifarious population capable and skilled in every facet of human endeavour. The country embraces its international obligations, just as it governs itself in accord to its peoples' needs and the country's future. Of course no governing body is perfect, and Canada's most certainly is not, although we have far less cause for complaint than we have had at times in the past.

Still, there are troubling political decisions being made which undercut the country's needs. Some which impact the environment, others which have grave impacts on our ability to sustain ourselves, yet others that leave us too dependent on other countries, when we own the ability to look after our singular needs. One such troubling area is our national space strategy.

Seriously compromised now, despite our many successes, by our leading industrial space innovator, Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates, of Richmond, British Columbia, expressing a willingness to sell its business - and what's immeasurably more serious - taxpayer-funded and highly successful spacecraft which Canada has been dependent on as our geographic eye in the sky.

The American company, Alliant Techsystems of Minnesota, has made a buy-out offer that has been approved by MDA's shareholders. But to sell off this vital piece of Canada's space strategy would be an error of monumental proportions. The Radarsat-2 satellite providing images for the forest and mining industries along with watching over Canada's Arctic waters is a must for Canada.

Were Alliant Techsystems to take ownership of MDA, it will contract out the satellites to the U.S. military, thus effectively cutting out any future Canadian usage. The just-installed Canadian Dextre robot in the space shuttle Endeavour, another MDA production, would follow that sale. Canada's space technology future would be effectively gutted.

Canada has a firm requirement for its own space strategy, for Canadian-made inventions to remain within Canada, to ensure ongoing future economic growth for the country, and to ensure protection of our resources and geography. We have funded, through taxpayer dollars some of these innovations, and we need to cement government involvement through further support.

But with the proviso that this sale not be permitted to be concluded. MDA is the most senior of the space firms owned and operated within Canada, the only one capable of producing a major project. Our worldwide reputation for excellence in space innovation has given us a specialist niche position, and that position should be guarded jealously for the good of the country.

We need to maintain our own, extremely viable and effective industry. Indeed, most developed countries do have their own national space industries, largely supported by their governments as well as private industry. There is no excuse for Canada even casually thinking of disposing of MDA.

As a sovereign country we must have the ways and means to determine our own course of action in space.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Diplomatic Overtures

Oops, Canada is up in arms over the treatment of a Canadian national who was living in Mexico and whose activities while there have implicated her in illegal money-laundering and criminal conspiracy activities.

Mind, the rather unwholesome experiences of many Canadians seeking the brief fulfilment of sun-surf-and-recreation abroad have also of late exposed Canadians to the very real dangers of travelling in countries they have scant knowledge of, beyond the veneer and allure of "hot" - as in sun and sand - holiday destinations.

But this was another story entirely. This mature single woman had decided for reasons entirely her own, that her life would be enhanced by the experience of living elsewhere than in Canada. An entirely reasonable conclusion, one shared by many other Canadians who for one reason or another go abroad to seek fun, fame or fortune. Some discover what it is they seek, others find their search elusively disappointing.

In the case of Brenda Martin, a 51-year-old woman who enterprisingly found herself a position as a cook in the household of another Canadian, a wealthy Montreal entrepreneur, things appeared to get out of hand and go awry, not at all as planned. Her chef's position expired when she was fired from her job, but oddly enough paid a year's salary of $26,000. She took ten thousand of that sum and invested it in a questionable Internet scheme of her former employer.

And it was precisely that move that has placed her in her present predicament. Laws of governance and right and wrong are fairly universal, although the system of justice and the court system certainly differs from one national jurisdiction to another. She found herself imprisoned awaiting trial on charges of which she claims innocence. But she has languished in an Mexican prison for two years, awaiting trial.

A most uncompromisingly discomfiting position for anyone to find themselves in.

There are Canadians imprisoned in countries around the world on charges of all types, including those for drug trafficking. While they're in the countries where they've been apprehended and charged with illegal acts, they're subject to the laws of those countries. The Government of Canada, through its Department of Foreign Affairs, is tasked to a degree to looking after the interests of Canadian citizens, but their influence is understandably limited.

Through clever public relations and attention-getting manoeuvring, aided by the Canadian news media which have written fairly extensively about this case, the public has become extremely aware of Ms. Martin's unfortunate plight. She has herself become so overwrought at the injustice she claims to be facing in the criminal justice system of Mexico that she has become morbidly occupied with her imprisonment and prison authorities have acted accordingly, placing her in comfortable surroundings on a suicide watch.

Her supporters in Canada have succeeded in drawing the attention of government principals through deft use of the news media. We've seen a gaunt and miserably plaintive woman wail "How much longer does this have to go on? They are just playing with my life. I can't do this any more. How do they expect me to keep going on like this? They have got to get the Prime Minister to call their president and get me out of here. They are killing me."

Well, we can't let this happen to a Canadian citizen, can we? A Canadian citizen who made some very deliberate decisions about the quality of her life and the direction she wished it to take. A mature woman who could not conceivably be totally ignorant of the state of some of the activities she willingly participated in. You can't make a quick killing without repercussions when you decide to take the quick and easy way to achieve that end.

If it's too easy to be true, then it's true that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. And what ensues is much ado about no little thing.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Humankind's Mysterious Ways

Out of the ashes of millions of Jews incinerated in death camps, grew a Phoenix of a country.

Israel established as a legitimate modern state, on the very historical geography that gave birth to its singular people as a cultural, ethnic, religious entity five thousand years earlier. That the people of such ancient lineage could manage somehow to forge its way through millennia of misfortune, retaining an intact vision of its destiny as a nation is in itself a miracle.

That the fledgling country managed, post-1948, to defend itself against a collective and determined onslaught of neighbours intent on dislodging it from its perch in the Middle East is yet another miracle. But then, we're hard-wired, as a species among other animal species to endure by virtue of our genetic inheritance, and our primary need to survive.

And survive the Jews did do. But not without horrendous sacrifice; giving up six million souls that another six million might pursue their destiny. Along with the primary dedication of all living organisms to survive, there is that other instinct, of territorial imperative. Without one, the other cannot be achieved.

For the world's Jews to survive as an intact and whole entity, there must be some place of refuge for them, a country of their own, a country whose singularly noble purpose is to offer the refuge of home, security. Those who see their home there, migrate there. Those who live elsewhere as Jews, tuck the homeland away in the security of their inner beings.

Now Israel is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary as a modern nation. And the leading representative of the very country whose balefully deadly intent was the extinguishment of all world Jewry has revealed itself as a friend and ally. The country whose careful fashioning of an elaborate death machine to destroy the Jewish nation, that country whose almost-success resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel, now sends its federal cabinet to Israel to convene in Jerusalem.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will address a plenary session of the Knesset on the morrow. The Israeli parliament, accustomed to conducting its business in Hebrew, the language of Israel, will lend itself to the language of Goethe, and one wonders how many Ashkenazic Jews will be present in the chamber, to understand the German language, without interpretation?

Who might have imagined, in 1939, 1940, 1945, that the day would dawn when official Germany and official Israel would join hands in comradeship, a partnership of countries with common interests; a common regard for human rights, an steadily emerging trade partnership, would ensue from the ghastly presence of the death camps?

Yet here they are, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, firmly clasping hands in amity and mutual concern.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bringing Out The Vote

They seem to be locked in a death-grip battle of wills, descending to character assassination, but deftly, subtly, with nuance. The hand-wringing in the Democratic Party throughout this process of candidate selection in the United States, is growing ever more pronounced, as the veneer of civility and courtesy wears thin.

A foreign policy adviser from an ivory tower prominence for Barack Obama declares Hillary Clinton to be positively hateful, a veritable "monster" and she resigns her advisory position.
Hillary Clinton's chief strategist muses that Barack Obama cannot possibly win the U.S. presidential election, squaring up against Republican John McCain.

He hasn't the experience, the knowledge, the interest, the gravitas, the support. There they are, a groundbreaking woman candidate, a new-millennia-candidate black man, with an exotic background and heritage - opposing one another as their party's candidate for an historical run at the White House, sliding from comradely civility to outright hostility. She bespeaks establishment, he echoes a break from the familiar, the tried and the failed.

Senator Clinton's opportunity seems to be slipping inexorably away by the come-from-behind candidacy of an opponent whose message of "hope" and "change" has mesmerized his audiences and catapulted him into surprising prominence for a junior aspirant to the highest position in the land.

Her detractors are exulting in her desperate appeals for support, in her team's last-resort succumbing to colourful tactics verging on questionably tasteful. The race for the White House has become transformed into "race" for the White House. And then there's the uncomfortable intrusion not only of race, but also of race coloured by experience.

Questions were already being raised in many quarters, for a handful of reasons, about Senator Obama's attachment to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose own colourful, combative and questionable pronouncements on America and American blacks versus whites make him a controversial figure, at the very least. The Reverend Wright's association with personages such as Louis Farrakhan increases the apprehension of controversy.

Senator Obama takes his Christianity seriously, believing that there is a religious obligation to do the right thing; to help those who cannot help themselves; to abstain from waging war; to live moral lives. Yet his very conservative religious base cannot help but passing judgement such as speaking of the scourge of AIDS as indicative of a moral crisis.

He does not support his pastor's condemnation of America-the-oppressor-of-blacks, he does not present as a black opportunist ready, eager and willing to overturn his country's social fabric, but pledges to mend that torn fabric. The mendacious Louis Farrakhan may have endorsed his candidacy, as have so many others from among the black community who once withheld it, but Senator Obama could well live without that particular endorsement.

The country's Jewish population, influential within the Democratic Party, is uncomfortable with the vision of an Obama-Farrakhan tie, but truth appears to lie elsewhere. He recognizes and celebrates the staunch activities in support of black rights by committed Jewish civil rights activists which the black population appears to have handily forgotten, and he challenges the black community to repair that split.
Senator Obama has spoken directly to blacks for their latent anti-Semitism.

Some of Obama's closest advisers, like his pastor, aren't advocates for Israel, supporting the Palestinian cause openly. But he is busy courting the Jewish vote with full knowledge that Clinton has a sizeable edge in that voting demographic. He affirms support for Israel's right to defend itself, and understands the need to stop Iran from threatening the Jewish state.

He has unequivocally rejected the controversial anti-American spoutings of his pastor, despite describing Reverend Wright previously as having had a major influence on his moral and social conscience. Still, the Reverend Wright's outspoken criticisms of some aspects of U.S. foreign policy has resonance: "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye", he said. Give honesty its due.

It is the gospel of Jesus, preached outstandingly, it would appear, by this selfsame man of god, that Senator Obama is devoted to as a Christian. Yet, the reality of politics in America is that because of his background, raised as a secular intellectual, despite his larger family's Muslim heritage on his father's side, guarantees suspicion will remain focused on this man.

Traditional, conservative Christians will find it exceedingly difficult to view him as a viable candidate expressing their views, their opinions, their values. Not surprising, since he will not and can not. Not because he isn't every bit as much Christian as they are, but because his brand of Christianity appears to be of a more forgiving, accepting, charitable variety.

And that, precisely, is what is helping him to energize peoples' imaginations and hopes for the future. That's what is helping him to bring out the vote.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Price To Pay

Canada is not a particularly litigious society. We don't, generally, at the drop of a hat, or an insult, resort to the law to solve problems. We tend to face them head on, and to deal with them civilly. When all else fails, then it's time to resort to drawing on the defence of the courts.

Slander, accusations of malfeasance based on a slender thread of intuition or deliberate manipulation of known facts; besmirching a person's reputation beyond redemption, are all extremely serious undertakings. They are indeed reason to resort to the law in support of one's good name.

It's never been done before, that a sitting prime minister of the country would be so verbally and foully assaulted, and so take umbrage that he would launch a law suit against his defamers.

But in the case of the deceased Chuck Cadman's assertion, relayed through hearsay, that attempts were made by Conservative interlocutors to buy his loyalty, the leader of the official opposition in the House of Commons and his Liberal colleagues have continued to press the charge that Stephen Harper is outright lying.

That's a serious accusation anywhere it happens; to accuse anyone of uttering deliberate falsehoods. In the sanctity of the House of Commons many slights to reputations have been hurled across the floor from time to time, and because there is an immunity to prosecution in the House, they're shrugged off, as unfortunate byproducts of the heat of debate.

But such denunciations and accusations made in the public arena, and through the auspices of an Internet official political party web site are another matter entirely.

The Liberal Party of Canada, its leader, Stephane Dion, and its principal members of Parliament have all unleashed accusations of uttering deliberate falsehoods against the prime minister; despite his denials and explanations to the contrary. They have steadfastly refused to retract their statements, given the opportunity to re-phrase them in more diplomatic language - expressing doubts about the prime minister's perspective of a historical event.

Asked, time and again, to refrain, asked repeatedly to remove the accusations from the party's official web site on pain of legal action, defiant and shrill repeating of the charges were forthcoming instead. Well, now, the die has been cast. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has launched a $2.5-million libel suit against the Liberal Party citing their oft-repeated claims that he was aware of an attempt by Conservative spokespeople to bribe the late Mr. Cadman.

Astoundingly, although his widow continues to assert that her husband had been offered an incentive to vote with the Conservatives at a critical time in Parliamentary proceedings, she has also offered her conviction that the prime minister had no knowledge of the affair.

It's entirely conceivable that it is the phrasing "a million-dollar insurance policy" is itself the primary misleading item here, as it may simply be a paraphrase of a more palatable "replacement of financial considerations he might lose due to an election".

Regardless of the details, however, it should be obvious that reckless and deliberate attempts for political considerations to destroy an individual's reputation for integrity and honesty bears a price in our society.

The law suit being brought against the Liberals cites their conduct as "reckless and indifferent to the truth"; maliciously repeating false, heinous, excessive, extreme, and totally unreasonable allegations based on deliberate misunderstanding of events past.

Play the tune, pay the piper.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

National Security - International Terror

Here's an item that's truly improbable in its broad concept of what constitutes a violation of a citizen's rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms within Canada. It truly boggles the mind. Its convoluted and amazingly benighted reasoning leaves one gasping in disbelief.

That a convicted felon - someone who has been charged, judged and convicted of terrorism in a country to which Canada has a strong historical connection; incarcerated there, then returned to Canada to take up citizenship here again, has a "right" to be issued with a Canadian passport.

That Canada would, in any event, harbour a known terrorist, a man whose purpose it is to spread terror through bloody violence against a close associate-country of Canada's, and give him the sustenance and comfort of refuge is reprehensible in the extreme. That person's citizenship should be revoked.

As a native of Algeria who obtained Canadian citizenship in 1993, and who chose the path of violence and terror, he is clearly not suited to life within a democratic society. If for no other reason than that he has rejected, through his violent associations and activities the very democratic freedoms that have sustained him as a Canadian citizen.

Fateh Kamel, a known terrorist, sentenced to prison in 2001 by a French court for terror-related crimes does not present as a model Canadian citizen. In fact, an internal report from the Department of Foreign Affairs describes him as "the leader of an international network whose purpose was to plot terrorist attacks and procure arms and passports for terrorists throughout the world".

Fateh Kamel, 47, of Algerian extraction, brought his alienated hatred of the West and western values to Canada, and used his residency here as a springboard for enabling terrorist groups abroad to infiltrate societies they meant to destroy with the assistance of Canadian passports, and armaments helpfully supplied by him. He was trained in one of Afghanistan's terror training camps, and while living in Montreal busied himself with the theft of money, credit cards and passports in support of jihad.

After his sojourn in France within the penal system there, he returned to Montreal and in June of 2005 applied for a Canadian passport, planning to travel to Thailand on business. Two senior Foreign Affairs officials recommended in a memorandum to their minister that the application be denied. On the basis that terrorism "is recognized as a serious threat to national security"; noting also that the French court had aligned the man with Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, along with Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamist terror group active in Thailand.

France has a lifelong ban from its territory for Fateh Kamel in recognition of his part in plotting terror bombings. To issue a Canadian passport to the man would enable him to travel to any country in the European Union and from there give him unimpeded access to France. To permit an individual of his pedigree to carry a Canadian passport would be tantamount to admitting that Canada recognizes the "rights" of terrorists, and would, by extension, make worthless the passports carried by all Canadians.

Yet a Federal Court judge, Justice Simon Noel, ruled that the federal government, in refusing to issue a passport to this degenerate and vile human being, violated his Charter rights. Effectively striking down a section of the Canadian Passport Order introduced in 2004, empowering the Minister of Foreign Affairs to refuse or revoke a passport under certain circumstances. This is utter lunacy, madness of the first order.

What, exactly, are our priorities and our obligations under our laws? To sustain order and good governance, to protect the country and its citizens, to co-operate with our allies. But our federal court justices uphold the rights of criminal malefactors, violent jihadists whose single-minded purpose is to destroy our freedoms, while at the same time enjoying them.

O Canada!

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