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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Justice Done

The trial of Hasibullah Sadiqi, an Afghan-Canadian, is now concluded. He has been found guilty by a jury, after two days of deliberation, of first-degree murder. It would have been extremely difficult, one would hazard, for the jury to find otherwise. The young man, now convicted of planning and executing the murder of his younger sister and her fiance, another Afghan-Canadian, was obviously guilty as charged. The prosecution had no problems in presenting evidence to support the charge.

The defence, on the other hand, while not attempting to deny the undeniable, held fast to claiming that the murders were unplanned, and that the man was provoked into that final act of taking two innocent lives, in what was clearly an 'honour killing' to cleanse the family honour of the blot brought upon it by a daughter's unruly, indecent behaviour in choosing her own life-trajectory.

In the end, her choice, selecting for herself the man with whom she wished to share her life, and shutting her abusive father out of her life, claimed her life.

Khatera Sadiqi had no respect for her father, loathed him, wanted him to have no further part in her life. She fell in love with a young man with the same heritage and tradition as that which she came from. Her error was in not seeking her father's permission to choose. Her error lay in deciding for herself, as a mature woman, how she would comport herself, moving into the family home of the man she loved, before marriage. An unauthorized decision.

Khatera's mother made her own decision when her children were young, to remove herself from the direct influence of an abusive husband. She moved to Vancouver, eventually having her two daughters with her, escaping their abusive father. Her son elected to stay behind in Ottawa, to live with his father; this was his choice, as an obedient son. As an obedient son, incensed at the disrespectful behaviour of his sister toward their father, he telephoned his father directly after he had murdered his sister and her fiance.

In explanation of the fixed tradition of 'honour killing' it was explained by University of Toronto professor Shahrzad Mojab that losing honour could occur through a woman's behaviour and appearance betraying traditional notions of modesty, through refusal of arranged marriage, or through insisting on selecting a partner without the family's permission. The woman's 'misbehaviour' merited a cleansing of dishonour to restore a family's respect.

Although claiming love for the miscreant female, a father, a brother, an uncle lays claim to having meted out socially-mandated tribal justice through "the act of purifying through blood". In yet another instance of 'honour killing' brought to another country where all people are equally protected under the law, and women are entitled to justice and the assurance of equality entitlements, justice has been served.

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Arresting Terror

Britain assigned its Intelligence and Security Committee to the task of investigating whether the 7/7 bombings in the transportation system - that so devastated the country killing 52 people and injuring hundreds of others, the work of four dedicated suicide bombers - could have been apprehended. Several of the jihadists were under scrutiny by Britain's intelligence agencies. Those who plotted to successfully carry out the attack were also in communication with other British terrorists and by extension Canada's own now-judged-and-sentenced Momin Khawaja.

There have been other attempted suicide bombings since 7/7, several carried out by medical doctors who had arrived in Britain to study and to practise medicine, while in the country on visitors' visas. And another named Operation Crevice which had been successfully apprehended. The primal fear of other suicide attacks as successful as the 7/7 bombings kept MI5 on its toes, desperate to ensure that Britain would not be as vulnerable to attack as it was then, in July 2005.

The British forensic analysis appears to offer the insight that a) intelligence is not perfect and cannot connect every dot to prevent every attack; b) be careful what you wish for. Democracies don't aspire to become the equivalent of the STASI. Which might seem to be occurring if thousands of intelligence officers were sent off helter-skelter in every direction desperate to prevent terrorist attacks. There have been some embarrassments in commission, there.

Which brings us to Ottawa's Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian living in Canada whom the government would dearly like to deport back to his home country, on suspicion of his being linked to terrorists, as a 'sleeper agent'. CSIS, Canada's spy agency, has been accused by a Federal Court judge of withholding required evidence in this man's case. The agency's credibility has been placed in suspicion of skepticism.

This is another one of those security-certificate cases that has brought an admonishing finger of legal entitlements against Canada's CSIS. The RCMP has not been exempt from criticism in similar matters of attempting to protect the security of the country and its citizens and treading outside the bounds of what is deemed to be just behaviour to do so. Forgotten in the melee of criticism is the environment post-9/11 and the attacks in Spain, Indonesia and Britain, not to speak of the arrest of Canadians aspiring to jihad.

CSIS claims to have credible circumstantial and informant-evidence that Mohamed Harkat is just what they claim him to be. New allegations have been brought to the fore, that despite his denial of having any business dealings with Ahmed Said Khadr, he worked closely with him, in Canada and in Pakistan. That Mr. Harkat trained in Pakistan as a jihadist, that he ran a safe-house for terrorists in training, and that he effected their transit.

Considering the status of the world community in desperately attempting to combat terrorism, and the very real threats emanating from al-Qaeda toward Western targets, inclusive of Canada specifically, along with the emergence of young Canadian men of foreign heritage attracted to the prospect of jihad, there is real reason for concern. The alternative is to sit back, do nothing and hope for the best.

This is not what we tax our lawmakers to do on our behalf, and it does not reflect the trust that we place in those professionals who are trained to act to protect Canadian institutions and the Canadian population. There are times when it is preferable to err on the side of caution, and times when to do so is to invite disaster. Finding one's tenuous way between the two in the spirit of observing human rights is no easy matter.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Cause and Effect? Not Likely!

Mahmoud Abbas pulled out all the stops in his meeting with President Barack Obama, insisting that for peace talks to continue, to prevail toward a mutually beneficial outcome between the Palestinians and Israel, Jewish settlements in the West Bank must be apprehended. In the week previous, when President Obama met with Israel's Benyamin Netanyahu, that issue was made abundantly clear, and the Israeli president promised to eradicate all unauthorized settlements.

Why Palestinian Authority President Abbas feels he has the upper hand in the negotiations to enable him to set down pre-conditions before he will agree to resuming peace talks isn't entirely clear. After all, Israel is the settled state, the internationally and legally-approved national entity, while the Palestinians are bargaining to achieve a like position for themselves. And critical to the peace talks were some fairly elemental issues; first among them that the PA halt terror attacks against Israel.

This critical precondition has never been accomplished, simply because the PA does not see it in their interests to do so. They have, rather, encouraged ongoing attacks against Israel through implicit and devious means. Their 'map' of the region excludes Israel, their children are taught to hate Jews and discredit the existence of the Jewish state. These are critical issues that are never quite addressed by Western negotiating interests.

Instead the focus remains on Israel's 'intransigence' on refusing to dismantle West Bank settlements that resulted from a 1967 aggression against Israel by a determined Arab combined military attack. Israel's resulting victory against its aggressors left it with an expanded territory. Throughout the annals of human history in such events it is seldom that land acquired through such an onslaught of collective determination to extirpate a nation has been returned.

Yet Israel returned every centimeter of land it took from Egypt, when Anwar Sadat travelled to Jerusalem to address the Knesset and make peace with Israel thirty years ago. In those thirty years no other country but Jordan made a like treaty with Israel, and the country has lived with unbridled hostility since then. The Palestinians had ample opportunity time after time to make peace and begin to work toward a nascent state; they declined.

To argue now as Mahmoud Abbas has done that the entire unsettled state of the Middle East owes to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is arguably disingenuous. Conflicts in Afghanistan with the Taliban, and now in Pakistan, owe nothing to Israel's presence in the Middle East. The hostility between Shia and Sunni in all Arab countries, including Iran and Iraq is a deadly one, and has nothing whatever to do with Israel.

Islamists devoted to jihad direct their fury at their Muslim religious cohorts in vicious sectarian violence more frequently than they do toward the West, the hated and despised Israel and by extension the United States. This will not change one iota if Israel and the Palestinians by some miracle, found common ground for peaceful co-existence.

The stumbling block here is what it has always been; insurmountable hatred of the Arab majority for the Jewish minority. This is a matter that the Palestinians in particular and the Arab population in general, must itself come to grips with before any meaningful and useful change can take place.

Israel is not the problem; it is merely the symbol of symptoms beyond her control.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blind-Sided by the Global Economy

Canada still is performing in a far superior economic climate than other countries in the G-8, although we too have been hard hit by the global financial collapse. Job losses continue to mount, but they are not and likely will not be in the same stratosphere as what was experienced in the 1990s. The manufacturing jobs that have evaporated to other countries of the world where wages are incomparably lower will return in large part once energy prices begin to soar again.

Real estate in Canada has not experienced a collapse anywhere resembling what has occurred in the United States and other developed countries. Canada's banking industry is still coming up with quarterly gains. Loans are easier to acquire, the government has mounted a stimulus defence, and we are gradually turning around, back to economic health. The whopping debt that Canada has incurred represents a far smaller portion of GDP than that of the U.S.

Once recovery is underway and normalcy is attained as it will, before too much longer, government finances will be strengthened and it will be in a position to wipe out the deficit through a series of surpluses. The call for government to hang its head in shame, to fire its finance minister, for an election to take place so the challenging Liberals can take their rightful place at head of government is shameful.

Simply because that kind of hypocritical opportunism is of no benefit to the country. Simply because that kind of brittle, brash partisanship divides unnecessarily at a time when the country should be seeing solidarity among its parliamentarians in such a time of national stress. The Liberals demanded that the Conservatives take positive stimulus steps, and this is precisely what the Conservatives have done, albeit of their own volition.

A Liberal-led government would have reacted to the automotive crises, in tandem with the Liberal provincial government in exactly the same way that the Conservative-led government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done. Now, at this time of tight financial stress, the Leader of the Opposition has launched an employment insurance debate, handily overlooking that it was a Liberal government that put the current EI in place to begin with.

And hoping the public won't notice that the Conservatives are altering employment insurance to enhance benefits for those that qualify. So it's a tedious and tiresome nuisance to hear Michael Ignatieff righteously say: "I'm trying - God knows it's hard - to make the Parliament of Canada work because that's what Canadians want, but on three issues it is getting more and more difficult.

"The first issue is EI. Second point, the stimulus is not out the door ... and third, the public finances are in free fall and he can't tell us where the bottom is. On these three grounds, it's getting very difficult to work with the government." Actually, the Liberal Party has made no effort to work with the government, and clearly has no intention of doing so.

His first issue is being addressed in a responsible manner. On the second point, the Liberals made issue of the fact that they expected stimulus funding to be carefully monitored to ensure that everything would be above-board, and nothing wasted. The bureaucracy is attempting to do just that, and, alas, it takes diligence and time.

As for the third issue, it's fairly universal, internationally, that all the financial experts globally, neither before the collapse (to foresee the calamity-in-waiting), nor now, have been able to distinguish where the bottom is. Does Michael Ignatieff claim to have been blessed with the wisdom of divination denied all others?

We'd all be a whole lot better off, if he would busy himself learning how to be a responsible parliamentarian and get on with being a part of the government, usefully.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New World News, May 2009

Nearly 200 people have been killed by a cyclone that ripped through Bangladesh and eastern India, while millions remained marooned by floodwater or forced to live in shelters. The death toll in Bangladesh rose to more than 130 following recovery of dozens of bodies on Tuesday, according to reports, while Indian officials said at least 64 people had died. Cyclone Aila slammed into parts of coastal Bangladesh and eastern India on Monday, triggering flooding that forced people from their homes. "Millions of people have been affected by the cyclone", a disaster control official told Reuters in Dhaka. Officials in both countries said they feared the death tolls would rise.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani civilians trapped by an offensive against the Taliban in Swat face catastrophe, a rights group said on Tuesday. The offensive has sparked an exodus of 2.3 million people, according to provincial government figures, but about 200,000 people are believed to be still in the valley. Severe shortages of food, water and medicine are creating a major humanitarian crisis for the trapped civilians, the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said. "People trapped in the Swat conflict zone face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the Pakistani military immediately lifts a curfew that has been in place continuously for the last week", Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in a statement.
Mexican troops Tuesday rounded up ten mayors and a string of police chiefs suspected of links to drug gangs in a western state, one of the biggest single corruption sweeps in the government's drug war. Soldiers burst into police stations and town halls to arrest 27 officials in the State of Michoacan. The officials included a judge and a former police chief who is an aide to the state governor. The attorney general's office said all were suspected of links to drug smugglers. President Felipe Calderon has staked his presidency on crushing drug gangs whose turf wars have killed some 2,300 people so far this year.

Reeling from a report cataloguing decades of rapes and beatings of children by priests, the Roman Catholic order of Christian Brothers bowed to pressure yesterday and said it would review compensation paid to victims. Irish religious orders had refused to renegotiate the deal despite pressure from church leaders and politicians after last week's report into abuse at institutions the order ran from the 1930s to the 1990s. Their total contribution to a redress scheme for thousands of victims that is expected to top $1.5-billion was capped at $198-million under a 2002 agreement. Brian Cowen, the Irish Prime Minister, said he hoped other orders would follow the Christian Brothers' example.

As more than 50,000 opposition supporters rallied in Tbilisi yesterday in a bid to oust Georgia's leader, the authorities cancelled a major state holiday military parade for fear of clashes. the demonstrators packed the city's huge soccer stadium in a mass protest against Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian President. The rally marked the culmination of over a month of opposition protests in the ex-Soviet republic aimed at forcing his resignation. "We will fight for this country, Saakashvili cannot stay President," said Nino Burjanadze, the former parliamentary speaker. Opponents accuse Mr. Saakashvili of mishandling last August's conflict with Russia and becoming increasingly autocratic since he came to power after the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution. The Georgian leader claims Russia is financing the campaign against him.

Nedim Gursel, a Turkish-French author, went on trial yesterday, charged with insulting Islam in his book The Daughters of Allah. Court cases against writers and academics have hampered Turkey's bid to join the European Union, which has urged it to guarantee freedom of speech. Mr. Gursel's lawyer, Sehnaz Yuzer, said the charges - insulting the religion and endangering security through inciting hatred - were based on the book's characterization of the Prophet Muhammad and his family. But the writer, who faces up to three years in jail if found guilty, said the passages cited by authorities were not in the novel. "The book has been out for a year", he said. "It's reached 30,000 people - where is the hatred it has incited? Where is the anger?

United Nations
North Korea will "pay a price" if it fails to halt nuclear weapon and missile tests in violation of international law, the United States ambassador to the United Nations warned yesterday. On Monday the Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea for launching a nuclear test and test-firing three short-range missiles. In response yesterday, North Korea test-fired two more short-range missiles in the morning and then another one overnight into the Sea of Japan. North Korea said in a new statement carried by its official news agency
KCNA that it was clear Washington's "hostile policy" towards Pyongyang had not changed.


A Surprising Exercise in Stupidity

Who might have thought that Canada's Thomas S. Axworthy would be so utterly naive, so out of touch with reality that he would author such an absurd paean of praise to the sponsorship by Saudi King Abdullah Ibn Abdul Azia Al Saud of a dialogue taking place in Jeddah between Muslims and Christians to hasten and cement a kinder understanding one of the other. Has his mind somehow faltered into serenely unaware incapacity known as senility?

The gushing praise he spouts in his article titled "A surprising exercise in dialogue", published in Tuesday's National Post belies the reality of suppression of basic freedoms, including that of faith, in Saudi Arabia. As chair of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University one might have expected better of Mr. Axworthy. He cannot be totally ignorant of the fanatical fundamentalism of Wahhabism.

He must be aware, surely, that it has been the Saudis' funding of Wahhabist madrasses throughout the world, and most notably in Pakistan, that has been largely responsible for the inculcation of a Muslim awareness of the need for the faithful to indulge in jihad. Violent jihad, not the namby-pamby jihad of the mind, furthering one's adherence to the precepts of Islam. Teaching the impressionable that Islam requires that they surrender to the need to commit themselves to jihad and to martyrdom.

The kind of jihad that monstrously denounces all religions other than Islam, and even within Islam, naming as apostates those whose brand of Islam: Sunni, Shia, Ahmadis, Sufis and Ismailis are not be considered as true Muslims, but impostors, bland and undeserving of the title of Muslim faithful. Jihad is waged on those sects of Islam as surely as it is upon the infidels and the Jews, the Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

Mr. Axworthy waxes loquacious in praise of the InterAction Council of former world leaders (co-chaired, he reminds readers, by Canada's Jean Chretien - a self-availing egotist who would never bypass an opportunity to inveigle himself into any type of enterprise that would gain him entry to favours he can later parlay into economic opportunities) in responding to Saudi Arabia's invitation to develop interfaith dialogue.

"Fear of the other has typified the relations between Islam and Christianity", he writes, "as far back as the middle ages...". But he is not entirely correct. It is the need for dominance that inspired the original and ongoing struggles between Islam and Christianity that has enjoyed such a long and benighted tradition of conflict. Christianity has managed to modernize itself, reflecting the temper of the times. Islam never has.

Christianity has developed alongside society in general to reflect society's ever changing values and priorities. Islam has remained so rigidly unapproachable, so immune to interpreting its original precepts with a view to reflecting an altered global reality (enlightenment) that it has remained mired in rigidity, casting off all opportunities to rephrase and reinterpret its mandate to reflect the needs of the current day.

Hostile opposition to the inclusion within Muslim - particularly Arab - societies of others is so completely ingrained that religions other than Islam are forbidden in many Arab states. Most particularly is that in evidence in Saudi Arabia. If the Saudis are truly interested in furthering interfaith dialogue, how is it that they still will not recognize the legitimacy of other faiths' symbols, places of worship or adherents in their precincts?

Compliance with Islamic law is paramount - all else is commentary leading to derision, objection, abhorrence, finally violent jihad. That is the zeitgeist of these times. "We are great because of our religion", huffed King Abdullah in response to an admiring comment by a Chinese official speaking of his kingdom as a great nation because of its natural resources of fossil fuels.

"We all believe in one God", the King said in 2008 in Madrid, at an earlier such meeting. "We are meeting today to say that religion should be a means to iron out differences, and not to lead to disputes." But this is precisely what has occurred in the large Arab-Muslim offensive against the State of Israel having taken up position in the geography of the Middle East, a geography consecrated to Islam.

And although it sounds like music to one's ears to read Hans Kueng's pronouncement that there can be "No peace among nations without peace among the religions", therein lies the rub.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What Is A Poet?

What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
A Poet is someone who is startled out of his trance by his dreams. Irving Layton, The Whold Bloody Bird
Really there is no one more confident than a bad poet. Martial, Epigrams
So, is Ruth Padel a bad poet? Is she fit to survive as a poet? She has an illustrious ancestry, as the great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, the great-great-great granddaughter of the philosopher Erasmus Darwin. Has she brought shame upon herself and upon them, by association? Obviously her poetic oeuvre must have merit, otherwise she would not have been elected to the prestigious Oxford professorship as Britain's first female poet laureate.

She is most certainly culpable of exercising questionable judgement in directing attention toward a hoary old allegation brought to bear against the reputation of her primary rival for the post, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. Who, in disgust at the revelation simply removed himself from a tarnished process. Someone must have engineered and sponsored the synchronized effort to discredit Mr. Walcott.

And although Ms. Padel admits to having 'tipped off' journalists to the allegation of ill-conduct on the part of Mr. Walcott, she claims to have had no part in the greater scheme to discredit, embarrass and scupper his candidacy for the plummy post she would prefer be granted to her rather than him. In Mr. Walcott's own words, the "...low and degrading attempt at character assassination".

"I genuinely believe that I did nothing intentional that led to Derek Walcott's withdrawal from the election. I wish he had not pulled out", said Ms. Padel with obviously true regret. There is no one who would not regret becoming a pivotal figure in a miserable little scandal such as this, particularly when the finger of guilt points squarely at oneself.

There are times when it is better to withdraw. As Mr. Walcott did. As Ms. Padel herself now did, relinquishing the cherished position, stung by the notoriety that has now come her way. Her 'reason' for behaving as she did sounds spurious at best, asserting that she "naively - and with hindsight unwisely", reacted to a student's expressed concern with respect to Mr. Walcott's suitability for the post.

She did not hesitate to cast aspersions of blame on the two journalists to whom she divulged the information of Mr. Walcott's past allegations of misconduct whom she "believed to be covering the whole election responsibly". It was, then, they who were not behaving responsibly, by writing up the information she directed them toward, not she who led them to their discovery.
Poetry is an act of peace. peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread. Pablo Neruda, Memoirs
Perhaps it's time for Ruth Padel to write an anguished poem of responsibility.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

How Perfectly Awful

Politicians give no quarter when it comes to advancing their party's interests over that of an opposition party. Politics being what it is, we don't often see political parties in common agreement over anything, even if their platforms are eerily similar. Partisanship comes to the fore as it will, even if there are no profound ideological variances. The party currently enjoying the ascendancy will do its utmost to ensure that its major opposition has no advantages if they can do anything about it.

So here's the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper unleashing campaign advertisements that consign the leader of the opposition, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to the role of 'foreign interloper' in the Canadian democratic process. Nasty, nasty. Not at all gentlemanly, not even dreadfully civil. The "politics of personal attack", according to a cool and composed Michael Ignatieff who tells a Liberal rally that "They've been attacking me recently for being out of the country". Yes, they most certainly have.

"Out of the country" in this instance refers to 34 years of living and earning a living outside Canada. Obviously, Mr. Ignatieff preferred to live that considerable length of time in England and the United States to pursue his interests there rather than in Canada. Might that impute a disinterest in Canada on the part of Mr. Ignatieff? Fair to say. And are 'personal attacks' the monopoly of the Conservatives? Haven't the Liberals always attempted to paint Stephen Harper as a dark presence whose ideological conservatism would bring the country to wrack and ruin? That's not personal?

But, according to a very righteous Mr. Ignatieff, "We don't do that kind of politics in the Liberal party". Could've fooled me. And that's precisely what the Liberals are on about; fooling the electorate. "It doesn't matter about me, I can take anything they throw at me, anything at all. I'm standing up not for myself, but everybody who understands one thing about this country - we have one kind of citizen, only one kind, and Stephen Harper doesn't get to decide who's a good citizen and who isn't." Right on.

The electorate does. And though the electorate has an unfortunate tendency to forget past misdemeanors, the fairly recent past under the Liberals did not give the voters much satisfaction in trust and reliance on their type of governance. As for Mr. Ignatieff bravely claiming' it doesn't matter about me', why nonsense, it's all about 'me'. And if the Conservatives really wanted to get down and dirty they could talk about the lack of 'family values' demonstrable in Mr. Ignatieff's personal life, but they haven't. They have standards of decency too.

The Conservative advertisements are amusing, actually. And in fact, they're simply reminding the electorate of the truth of the matter; that the leader of the official opposition, champing at the bit to return the Liberals to power and their current leader to the executive position he feels he should occupy is more than a trifle hypocritical. His deep and abiding love for and interest in Canada was nowhere to be seen throughout the course of most of his adult life. To challenge that reality Mr. Ignatieff produced a family history the clear purpose of which was to counterbalance the perception that he was more American than Canadian.

After all, while living in the United States Mr. Ignatieff had no hesitation in referring to himself time and again as an American. Not a Canadian who happened to be living in the United States, but a 'we' American with fully vested interests in whatever happened in the United States. While living as an American he was in agreement with the Bush administration's professed need to invade Iraq, and he mused as well on the needfulness under certain circumstances to apply some modes of what might be construed as torture in interrogating jihadists bent on wreaking havoc in 'his' country.

Moreover, even high-ranking Liberals who were themselves vying for the Liberal leadership pointed out during the original leadership campaign less than three years earlier, that Mr. Ignatieff was extremely un-Canadian in his familiarity with, and commitment to the country. Not at all, they said, leadership material. How could someone aspire to become the country's prime minister under those circumstances? Or, as one of his rivals pointed out reasonably, "...someone should only seek to lead this country if he has "Canada in his bones"." Writing that one's ancestors had 'Canada in their bones' just doesn't cut it.

As for Mr. Ignatieff pointing out the current government's failings exemplified by the fact that "There's enough on the record that we can attack. Record unemployment, record bankruptcies, record deficit, that should give us enough. I feel very strongly that that's what Canadians want. (The Conservatives have) been in power since January 2006; this is a record open for examination." Yes, it most certainly is, and the prime minister gets high praise for the manner in which he has led the country, abandoning ideology for decency and commitment to salving old wounds among other positives.

He has expressed his regret to various communities; our Aboriginal communities, over past misfortunes with residential schools; the Chinese-Canadian community for Canada's imposition of a loathsome 'head tax'; the Indo-Canadian community for the incident revolving about the Komagata Maru refused entry to Canada. He has officially welcomed and given full recognition to the Dalai Lama, has recognized the suffering of Ukraine, the genocidal tragedy of the Holocaust, and given official recognition of the Armenian Massacre.

This government has remained a loyal ally to Israel, while still supporting Palestinian sovereignty. The Harper government placed the Tamil Tigers on Canada's terror list, alongside Hamas and Hezbollah. Mr. Harper has formed a working relationship with the new American president. This government has demonstrated the intestinal fortitude to make tough decisions, such as absenting itself from official attendance at Durban II, and it has comported itself in the United Nations in a manner quite unlike the obsequious attitudes of previous Liberal governments, to discomfiting ethical situations.

This government has sought to bring Canadians together, bargaining in good faith with the provinces. While no government comes close to perfect, and none is capable of satisfying all the country's interests, to lay out an agenda of blame on this government for the current global economic disaster is disingenuous at best, a bit of charlatanism thrown in for good measure. The current government is doing precisely what the Liberals would be doing, (we hope) were it they in power at this time, struggling to bring the country out of economic doldrums.

The Liberals, in a crass attempt to keep the Conservatives and Stephen Harper from ascending to government warned the electorate through their straight-up advertisements that bringing the Conservatives to power would ensure there would be "soldiers, with guns. In our cities. In Canada". Mr. Ignatieff, who do you think you're fooling?

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Shunning Galileo

It smarts, bruises the ego, when an individual who prides himself on his academic achievements and respect within the academic world discovers that rash decisions taken in one's youth that impacted hugely on social safety within a secure society can come back to haunt. Although Chicago academic William Ayers, once a co-founder of the Weather Underground radical group, now a still-radical but respected academic, claims not to "feel personally offended, nor particularly aggrieved" at being declared persona-non-grata at the Canadian border, it's clear he is both offended and aggrieved.

To assuage his feelings and to put things in the kind of perspective he feels should teach Canadians a lesson in democracy and the need to respect open borders for academic exchange to enable students to learn all the facets of life and human existence, he has set out to good-naturedly, heavens, not patronizingly, teach us a well-earned lesson about democracy. Perhaps overlooking the fact that many democratic governments do not appreciate the appearance on their borders of rabble-rousers whose past indiscretions include violence and inciting to violence in disagreement of their own government's policies.

That too is a democratic right, for any government to make choices of that nature.

In the interests of free speech perhaps anything should be open to a public airing, to allow people to make up their own minds. There is reason to hope that individuals on a learning curve in academic situations are open to all facets of reasonable debate, exclusive of violent civic disobedience clearly representing criminal offences. Destruction of public property by means of the manufacture of explosive devices not intending to kill people, merely to alert them of a difference of opinion might not be seen by all to represent democracy in action.

As to Mr. Ayers's comparison between Democratic and Authoritarian societies' academic openness, in exposing students to fresh new ideas that might be counter to those that their society values and prioritizes, he must also be aware that all societies pattern their education systems to reflect their social mores and political values. Which does not hamper philosophical, political and scientific enquiry that goes beyond an accepted mode or rote in democracies; rather people remain free to pursue and develop alternate research and publish findings that further the boundaries of free thought and research.

That Mr. Ayers is confounding his personal experience as a former felon rehabilitated to represent a fashionable leftist-radical educator - rejected entry by a country that sees no particular value in admitting him because generally speaking, people with criminal backgrounds no matter how elevated they may be in other spheres of endeavour are not welcomed to the country - as an indication of Canada's failings as a free and open society is unfortunate.

It's more than likely that his personal appearance to speak as an invited participant in Carleton University's Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences would do no harm to the country, and the theories he expounds might seem to be valuable to the participants, and in that sense it is unfortunate that he has been excluded. But his theories are not likely very unique; university settings are hotbeds of disdain of government and politics and tradition and the social compact. There will be others, without criminal pasts, who can espouse what he does.

His unctuously ingenuous invocation of the "sense of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood, recognition and respect" of human beings "born free and equal in dignity and rights, each endowed with reason and conscience" is redolent of academic purple prose. Don't we all believe in the potential to achieve, and the worthiness of mutual respect and understanding? It is not only achieved through academic introspection and minute inspection of human relationships, but within the larger arena of the public marketplace of interaction.

Finally, introducing to the debate and his condemnation of the decision of a government agency at the border to exclude him from entry on the basis of his past associations and behaviours, the historical instance of the Catholic Church and its hounding of Galileo for daring to uphold truth through his astronomical observations, as though his experience is no less an example of a rigid authority belittling and demeaning truth smacks of an intolerable hubris.

And while this professor of the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago claims that what is at stake here is academic freedom of exchange and the marketplace of freedom of expression in the public sphere; "the right to a mind of one's own, the right to pursue an argument into uncharted spaces, the right to challenge the state or the church and its orthodoxy in the public square. The right to think at all", he is unimpressively overwrought in his condemnation.

I think we're all right without the wisdom of his profundities.

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Tight Borders, Tighter Trade

"Buy America" is threatening to cast NAFTA into the forgotten steamer trunk stuck up in the attic, leaving Mexico and Canada wondering whatever happened to free trade and open borders. Keeping pace with the 'longest undefended border in the world' suddenly morphing into one of the longest defended borders of the new world, the trusting and mutually beneficial trading and economic relationship between Canada and the United States is fast deteriorating.

That U.S. economic stimulus package that has insinuated within it those 'buy America' steel and allied building materials provisions has crimped a long-standing bilateral trade whereby industry has become inter-related to a degree that it seemed at one time nothing could rent asunder. Protectionism can do that, and more. Canadian companies long accustomed to doing a brisk business with U.S. customers are seeing their futures suddenly evaporating.

The two countries may have a $1-billion-a-day trading relationship, but it's beginning to hiccough and falter, here and there. With some Canadian manufacturers understanding quite clearly that if they are to hope to maintain their customer base they will have to relinquish their proud 'made in Canada' status, and set up manufacturing sites in the United States. Not that there is anything new in this; it's what the U.S. has always tried to achieve.

NAFTA was supposed to be a trusted mechanism between three North American partners that would allow countries to maintain their origin-status and permit an easement of trade. Canada and Mexico have been attempting, diplomatically, to educate the new U.S. administration, but they're meeting a bit of Congressional resistance. Of course there's always the retaliatory tool, but it's a last-ditch cudgel.

Diplomacy can only go so far, however, and the truth is that despite years of lobbying to inform and educate their American counterparts, nothing seems to dodge the protectionist bullets that fly everywhere any time the economy suffers a set-back in the U.S., despite its stated commitment to free trade and enhanced business between the Continent's partners. The top executives, newly-appointed in the U.S., persist in displaying raw ignorance.

The "hardened" border that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks so casually, yet meaningfully of, means a thicker, more difficult to penetrate border, closing down newly-opened opportunities, turning back several decades of progress. The passage of goods, services and travellers between the two countries has been deleteriously impacted, as the U.S. closes in upon itself, in its traditional mode of turtling-and-tilting against adversity.

Canada's business leaders are fuming, and with good cause. They would very much like the government of Canada to press home to the Americans that our trade relationship, our economic inter-relatedness, our position as the largest provisioner of fossil fuels and other energy sources to the United States, is also negotiable.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

On Balance ...

The moral integrity of a compassionate and good man seeking to make sense of an undisciplined world where the good order of international balance has been set on edge by the gradual and stunningly vicious success of a relatively small, but resourceful and intransigent order of Islamist jihadists is set on edge by the irrationality of it all in an otherwise rational world order.

As though by reason alone, by extending an offer of listening respectfully to an aggrievement and attempting to work out a reasonable response, beneficial to settling the point of contention, the afflicting will see the light of reason.

President Obama - in speaking of the conflicting opinions in the United States over the approach to responding to terrorism, and the agenda of his predecessor in meeting the challenge - is right when he observes that "Both (ends of the spectrum) may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right".

Perhaps entirely right, might have been better put. Somewhere in between. To harbour a healthy sense of trepidation over potential, but not succumb to irrational fear. And to respond proportionally, yet wholly engaged.

To maintain, as President Obama has done, that it is the hard-hitting response of the United States against terrorism that may be at fault for the increasing numbers of jihadists is questionable, at best. Spain, Indonesia, Britain have also had to handle the fall-out of attacks on their soil, by terrorist groups.

As have Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, on an ongoing basis, none of whom agonize over handling their attackers with kid gloves.

Democratic societies prefer to react and to protect themselves under the letter of their national laws, in observation of international law. Although those laws were never constructed with the challenge of opposing the unappeasable will to bloodshed of terror groups dedicated to instilling mass terror in the societies they target.

The United States suffered censure internationally with the use of Guantanamo Bay as a terror-incarceration site. Where jihadists or those under suspicion of being jihadists have been handled with rather less than the rule of law, and kid gloves. Where methods approaching the grimness of torture were employed, which insulted the Geneva Convention.

Meant to set a standard of international behaviour, a protocol for treatment of prisoners of war. Terrorists do not oblige by acting out their jihadist agendas with treaties in mind; their purpose is to kill and to terrorize. They do not represent national standing armies.

The West and western democracies agonize about overstepping the bounds of decent human response in the apprehension and treatment of suspected terrorists. But there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in play here. The simple fact being that there are national agencies that are meant to be discreet and operate strictly underground, tasked with actions not to see the light of day.

If President Obama feels so conflicted and morally agonized over Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, perhaps he might respond to a question that might puzzle some ... why appoint Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal to act as the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan? This is the man credited with turning around the emerging civil war situation in Iraq, where Iraqi Sunni were inspired to challenge al-Qaeda in Iraq; the "surge".

This man is a counter-terrorism expert. Men under his command are known as throat-slitters. They identify enemies of the state, those whose intent it is to sow terror and bloodshed in the United States, or among American troops, and they summarily execute them. This secretive practise is no secret to the President of the United States nor his executive body.

Why the agony of the double standard?

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Honourably Disingenuous

Perhaps so steeped in an aura of decency, good humour and optimism that he simply is incapable of understanding that there are entire cultures in which those virtues are quite simply non-existent; call it cultural relativism. A spirit of open goodwill toward others will not necessarily be reciprocated - although it could very well be. When one makes overtures, as one human being to another, innocent of a deeper design than to make human contact, in most instances a connection is made, people responding to the elemental decency in one another.

But that elemental decency can be compromised, and it can be altogether missing, in some individuals, some groups of individuals, some larger congregations of peoples for whom a deeper, darker vision of humankind is set deeply in a national consciousness. People are, after all, naturally suspicious of strangers in a setting where strangers often harbour ill will toward other tribal groups through a long heritage of inculcated fear of aggression.

The Middle East is one of those places, where for as long as history has been recorded, and certainly before recorded history, one group after another, of Bedouin, farmers, settlers, townsfolk, have viewed each other's presence as a threat to the stability of their own in a harsh environment with fixed and finite resources. The Middle East shares with Africa a tradition of warrior-societies.

And collective social attitudes so long ingrained in the consciousness become habitual, even when the original, primitive need for suspicion, fear and response to conflict is lifted. In the United States, there is an ongoing debate, led by President Barack Obama, over an enlightened democratic society's response to direct threats to its security and the safety of its citizens. Mr. Obama insists that moral 'suasion by example will soften malevolence.

It is his considered and honest opinion that an open gesture of acceptance will be met with the same, enabling two solitudes to confer and lead to a situation of trust, overturning conflict. He seems unable to discern that his attitude and his character stems from an entirely different crucible than those to whom he proffers the hand of friendship. Earning him, from those sources, scorn for his effete response to their belligerent provocation.

Mr. Obama claims to believe that the response of the United States government to the impact of 9-11 on the consciousness of Americans reeling from a totally unanticipated violent attack symbolic of religious hatred taken to an outer extreme was the cause of the growth of violent jihad. He somehow overlooks the fact that violent jihad was brought to the United States in an imperative to destroy and leave fear in its wake.

This is what terrorists do. And Dick Cheney is quite correct in stating that if terrorists responded to "fine speech-making and appeals to reason", they would "long ago have abandoned the field". Reason has no place in the arena of impassioned faith that one's religious dictates compel dedicated followers to destroy an enemy, that it is the duty of the faithful to respond to that religiously-inspired directive for the greater glory of the god they serve.

"In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half-exposed" succinctly sums up an observation to be respected, even if the voice and the opinion and the directives of the former vice-president are not held in respect. He lacks charisma and is personality-challenged in a way that President Obama never could be. And he is guilty of urging toward prosecuting a war that should never have been launched.

But in this matter of combating terrorism, he is perfectly correct.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

World Affairs

Fears of a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka were growing yesterday after the government said 280,000 refugees who fled the conflict zone would be held in overcrowded camps for up to two years. Officials said the delay was necessary to search for Tamil Tigers and to rebuild and restore electricity and water supplies to the vast areas of the country destroyed in the 26-year civil war. Humanitarian groups say conditions in the refugee camps were quickly deteriorating, amid growing anger at the restriction on access for international aid groups, including the United Nations and the Red Cross.
The triumphant government of Sri Lanka, obviously going out of their way to assure the world at large that it is fully cognizant of the needs of the Tamil minorities, and will do its utmost to ensure that their future looks a whole lot brighter than their oppressed and miserable past has been at the concerned hands of the Sinhalese-majority country.

New Delhi
Almost one-third of MPs elected to India's new parliament face criminal charges ranging from trespassing to murder. A report by the Association for Democratic Reforms said 153 of the 543 new MPs have criminal cases pending, with 74 facing serious accusations including robbery and murder. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has 43 of its 116 members facing criminal charges, 19 of those serious. The ruling Congress Party was close behind, with 41 of its 206 members under investigation, 12 of whom face grave charges. The election results saw a 20% increase in the number of MPs with cases pending compared with the 2004 polls, but the five MPs facing the most charges were voted out of office.
The second-most populous country in the world, and the world's 'largest democracy', proving yet again that it has room for everyone in its capacious geography, with no standing in judgement on those who go about demonstrating their commitment to the public weal in seemingly unorthodox ways, using illicit means and even personal capital justice.

A high-profile corruption case came back yesterday to haunt Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister. A Milan court has released its full reasoning for convicting his British tax lawyer David Mills of accepting a US$600,000 bribe. Mills gave "false testimony ... in order to grant impunity to Silvio Berlusconi and [his holding company] Fininvest ... or at least to protect the considerable profits earned", said the court's detailed finding. Mr. Berlusconi is immune from prosecution under a law he sponsored soon after returning to power for a third time last year.
Mr. Burlusconi is clearly a man of firm convictions; that he is above the law, and in instances where it may appear that he may be compromised by inconvenient laws, why he can just re-invent new ones that don't restrain his business acumen and entitlements. Isn't that what all top executives aspire to? And what's up with Italy, anyway, they taking lessons from India?

The House of Lords suspended two Labour Party peers yesterday for offering to amend laws in exchange for cash, the first time any peer had been excluded for more than 350 years. The Lords upheld a ruling from its privileges committee that Lord Truscott, a former energy minister, and Lord Taylor should be suspended until the fall, when the current session of parliament ends. Two other peers, Lord Snape and Lord Moonie, a former defence minister, were cleared of wrong-doing but ordered to apologize publicly to the house for 'inappropriate' remarks. Peers of the Realm know their entitlements, they're historical, their heritage to do as, when and however they will. How perfectly uncivil, crass and common for the Lords to hold British peers to the type of ethical and moral standards that are rightfully imposed upon the commoners, the chattering classes; it is so utterly declasse. They're kidding, right?
Buenos Aires
An international arrest warrant has been issued for a Colombian accused in the worst terror strike on Argentina soil, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish charities building that killed 85 people and injured 300. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman said yesterday the suspect, Samuel Salmon El Reda, was living in Buenos Aires at the time of the attack, the second major anti-Jewish bombing in Argentina. He was married to an Argentine national, "was part of the most radicalized sector of the local Muslim community". Argentina has previously requested the arrest of former Iranian officials in connection with the deadly bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association.
There's that peace-loving Islamist agenda again, heeding the Holy Koran to make peace with neighbours and other religions somehow interpreted by jihadists as inciting to bloodshed on as large a scale as possible; they're only Jews, after all. Iran cheering all the way.

Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Barack Obama approved a civilian nuclear deal yesterday with the United Arab Emirates which some observers see as striking a contrast with Iran's defiant nuclear drive. Congress must now decide within 90 days whether to block the pact, which provides for U.S.-UAE co-operation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Mr. Obama's memorandum certifying the deal was in U.S. interests, did not mention U.S. disquiet over a video of an Afghan merchant allegedly being beaten by a member of the UAE royal family, which raised human rights concerns with Congress.
Is this a cerebrally-conflicted president? He sees no parallels between offering nuclear advantage to one Arab-Islamic country while professing fear over the possession of same to a Persian-Islamic Republic? Is he then prepared to offer assistance to all the countries of the Middle East for nuclear proliferation? Prepared to guarantee the use of same? Grin and bear the unpredictable results?

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday Iran had tested a missile that defence analysts say could hit Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf, a move likely to fuel Western concern about Tehran's nuclear ambitions. President Barack Obama "has long been concerned" by any development in Iran's missile program. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. A U.S. official said the test was a 'step in the wrong direction'. A U.S. defence official confirmed the launch, although Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to say whether the U.S. military had any evidence of the test.
Well yes, there is evidence, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is chortling about his abilities to strike his enemies, starting with Israel and the United States, holding out that open hand of friendship. What's next, the U.S. administration giving congratulations at the new longer-range missiles, and offering to sponsor warheads? That'll put that arrogant Netanyahu in his place.

Sexual abuse was "endemic" in Catholic boys' homes in Ireland and church leaders turned a blind eye to it, according to a report Wednesday on mistreatment in church-run institutions dating back to the 1930s. The head of the Catholic church in Ireland said he was "profoundly sorry" after publication of the 2,500-page report which said there was a "culture of silence" among authorities about the abuse.
Well, that's amazing, a real shocker; sexual abuse endemic in Catholic boys' institutions. It might have been surprising to hear otherwise. And why is the head of the Catholic church in Ireland 'profoundly sorry', that the matter has become public, no longer kept under wraps? Public disclosure of unfortunate misdemeanors is so inconveniently demeaning and irritating.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scale and Proportionality

Time for festivities in Sri Lanka. That long and bitter civil war between the Sinhalese majority, its government and the minority Tamils and their Liberation Army of Tigers has finally concluded. No more worries for the government of attacks by the Liberation Tigers, no more need for cease-fires that were respites while the Tigers re-armed and re-grouped, seeking recruits through the conscription of children from fearful families knowing they could not refuse.

"Our motherland has been completely liberated from separatist terrorism", crowed President Mahinda Rajapaksa, announcing the end of the 26-year-long civil war. The hero and leader and founder of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam killed, shot through the back of the head. Attempting to flee in an ambulance. Reminiscent of the way that Hezbollah used ambulances to ferry their members about during the Israel-Lebanon war.

"Today we have been able to liberate the entire country from the clutches of terrorism. We have been able to defeat one of the most heinous terrorist groups in the world", Sri Lanka's president announced joyfully, as people in Colombo embarked on a very public celebration in relief and release from fear of bloody terrorist attacks. The Tigers perfected suicide bombing and exported their expertise to the Middle East.

Head of the Liberation Tigers political wing and head of its "peace secretariat" were killed by their own troops, as they attempted to surrender to the government troops. Or, if the version told by one of the top members of the Tamil Tigers is to be believed, they were murdered by government troops while attempting surrender, holding up white flags. Having been invited to surrender, government troops pledging their safety.

White flags were used by Hezbollah too, to ensure their safety while travelling from one zone to another during the Israeli-Lebanon conflict; a clear contradiction of purpose and surely a breach of the Geneva Convention. While the government of Sri Lanka is jubilant over their success at eradicating the Tigers and their leader, the United Nations and aid agencies attempt to aid the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians made refugees.

Sick, malnourished, and wounded, they languish without the essential humanitarian aid they require. Most are in government-operated internment camps named "welfare villages"; squalid refugee camps with inadequate assistance. Sri Lanka is not eager to grant access to these camps to aid agencies, not quite yet.

"These people have endured one of the cruelest military sieges of modern times; daily shelling over several months. They need urgent help", urged an international aid worker. No doubt they were in a difficult situation; held as human shields by the Tigers whose ostensible purpose was to defend them, and caught in the no-fire zone by shelling from government troops.

The ethnic Tamils who have always suffered degraded citizenship, oppression and discrimination, somehow find it difficult to suspend their fear of retribution by a government and a president for whom sensitivity to their needs has been forever absent.

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Tight, Friendly Borders

That celebrated border between Canada and the United States that bisects the top two-thirds of North America and which was once so casual and relatively porous, with some towns demarcated by a street across which was the United States, Canada on the other side, no longer serves its purpose. Casual no longer the order of the day, having succumbed to vigilance. The terror attack of 9-11 altered the relations of complacency.

And while incidents of potential terror suspects treading lightly across from Canada into the U.S. have been fairly non-existent, the fear of that particular urban legend becoming reality has convinced American legislators that it is true.

It is as though they have to be seen to be doing something. To protect their borders from dangerous invasion resulting from a perceived Canada's less-than-diligent vigilance to detect the presence of villainous predators seeking to do harm to the world's super-power.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, during her campaign for president echoed that oft-repeated slur of leaky Canadian borders threatening American security still treads those same highways of suspicion. The by now ingrained belief that most of the 9-11 attackers entered the U.S. through Canada simply refuses its own funeral proceedings.

"I represented New York for eight wonderful years, and our border was pretty porous, just to be blunt. We had both land and water points of entry that had been traditionally used without any questions being asked." And that's true to a most certain degree, of two people living in contiguous association, casually crossing that border to work, or to shop, or to vacation, or to visit friends, neighbours and family members.

Those who were long accustomed to casually cross the border with a friendly wave-through by Customs agents now sit in prolonged waits as Immigration and Customs personnel scrutinize passport identification and ask questions. The NAFTA was, needless to say, supposed to free up those borders even more, to encourage the free trade and passage of goods and people between the two signatories.

Over to the U.S. Homeland Security, with its Secretary, Janet Napolitano as well informed about the Canada-U.S. border issues as the Secretary of State, contemplating another trip toe extend goodwill and trust between the two countries in the form of further tightening.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Effecting Change We Can Believe In

Easier said than done, and isn't that always so? Reality intervenes to upset projected anticipation of effecting changes that appear so reasonably possible in theory, but prove so unreasonably impractical in real life. Everyone has a solution to problems ranging from the mundane to the complex. As long as they're onlookers, and aren't involved in the day-to-day hands-on manipulations attempting to come to terms with the complex issues of reality.

It's the essence of campaign promises, to point out where political competitors' predecessors have gone wrong, and to convey the message to the voting public that whatever ails the social system, the economy, international relations, can be speedily re-adjusted. No problem, folks. Trust is what will get you to where you want to be. So trust us, we can deliver. If it's change you want, and hope for the future, watch us dig in and dig out.

This is not necessarily a symptom of a political huckster, a hollow charlatan, it's just that from the outside looking in everything seems simple. It's only when one takes political office that the various, problem-impeding complexities come to light and present as puzzles to be solved when pieces have gone missing. That's when the back-pedaling comes into play, and when promise gives way to pragmatism.

It's a tough lesson, but it's also a growing experience. Growing into the responsibilities of public office. Sorry folks, no other way. Everyone learns on the job in this profession. So President Barack Obama, while decrying the ineptitude of his predecessor has discovered that the way taken occasionally was the only response situations allowed. While disparaging methods taken to ensure safeguarding the security of the country and its citizens, back to square one.

Military tribunals reinstated. Guantanamo reinstated. The Military Commissions Act reinstated. Some of those incarcerated in Guantanamo may have to be held there on an indefinite basis - to protect the security of the United States. Photographs of American forces' abuse of foreign detainees released as per promise? Not such a good idea; the backlash quite unacceptable.

Solving the financial meltdown hasn't been as simple as releasing massive amounts of the treasury to the financial institutions that created the crisis. Don't even think about that mountain of debt; the future will look after itself. That huge infrastructure stimulus still waiting to get off the ground, creeping toward shovel-ready. The headaches brought on by buying into vehicle manufacturing still pounding and not much resolved.

Massive amounts of foreign aid given to Pakistan to battle the Taliban? Somehow finding its way into funding new nuclear installations and the manufacture of modernized, upgraded nuclear bombs. Persuading Syria to play nice with Iraq and close its borders to the infusion of jihadists in exchange for oil refining resulting in Syria pledging an alliance with Iraq and opening its border to an increase in terrorists.

But then there's always good old Israel, reliable partner-in-war against global terror. Israel can be pressured into doing the right thing. Sitting back, relaxing, not aggravating itself about the existential threat posed by Iran, until the U.S. has had its opportunity to flog diplomacy into the ground. Good old resilient Israel. Suddenly recalcitrant, not so ready for a two-state solution with neighbours quietly complicit with Iran.

Life can be such a bitch.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The "Obese" Dilemma

Populations world-wide, particularly in the developed world of access to plenty, have become increasingly overweight, obese and morbidly-obese. We are not, generally speaking, disciplined as consumers of anything marketable, let alone the food we consume. We are not attuned to the practicality of the golden mean, taking things in moderation, seeking a fine balance between sufficient and enough, choosing to select for ourselves more, far more than is good for us.

We seem unable to contain our greed, unwilling to recognize that we do ourselves harm.

A recent survey points out that physicians view their obese patients in quite a personal aesthetic, as "awkward", "unattractive", "ugly", and "non-compliant". Overly weighty people can be all of those descriptives, and more. They consign themselves to a life of physical awkwardness, incapable as a result of the extra, unneeded weight they carry around, to perform perfectly ordinary physical tasks. Walking is too great a strain, and eating to their heart's strain is a delight.

They become complicit in their own physical incapacities, and by extension psychological imbalance, recognizing their newly-acquired and difficult-to-shed bulk, but lacking the will to embark on a more sensible style of living. Exercise doesn't appeal, but food does, enormously. It is so available, they succumb to advertisements that entice them to indulge, and live for the moment that the pleasure of consuming gives them, unwilling to admit that they are actively working toward a shortened life-span fraught with ill-health on the way to death.

And they heartily dislike the way they are seen by others. Regarded with a distinct lack of respect, as though their weight issue superimposes itself on the issue of their intelligence, capability or character. Well, it does, doesn't it? A lack of self-discipline, a surrender to the urge to over-indulge does speak of a certain lack of character, capability and in the end, intelligence. The bias and prejudice that obese people bemoan is a very real phenomenon and in a way it's not quite fair that others sit in judgement upon their choices.

On the other hand there is the very real issue that obese people are not particularly well people; their lifestyle habits of sedentary over-eating lead them steadily toward heart problems, compromising their entire physical well-being, leading to diabetes which itself can lead to blindness, kidney breakdown, neuropathy and other ultimately life-threatening conditions. All of which could be avoided with a little common sense and a lot of determination.

They could avoid being targeted as objects of dark humour, of 'disrespect', of being short-changed in the areas of opportunities, employment, friendships if they made a concerted attempt to control their instincts to over-consume. In over-consuming food they don't need they impair their health and by extension use the public health-care system far more than most other people content to live reasonable lifestyles that benefit them and society at large.

Obesity-based discrimination is unfortunate, but it does reflect human nature to spurn and to hold in low esteem those whose physical condition is a self-imposed one, through neglect and succumbing to the temptation to overdo needs. Adults who raise young children who then go on to inherit a familial lifestyle that is so obviously at want are neglecting their duty to their young.

Canada, a country of just over 30-million people, claims a demographic of 7 million overweight, and 4.5-million obese individuals. That's a lot of unnecessary consumption looking for a disaster to settle on.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Next, Please

In a Parliamentary Democracy the people are represented by those whom they select as the likeliest candidates in a roster of possibilities in exercising their franchise to bring into Parliament honoured members ostensibly dedicated to the public weal. Conservatives, liberals, socialists, labourites, environmentalist parties, they all have the opportunity to present their platforms, assemble their faithful, pluck from them likely candidates for public office, and promise to faithfully represent to the best of their abilities, those who have cast their vote.

Sounds good in theory and works well enough, given that other systems of governance are none too palatable. Populations chafe at having to live under the iron thumb of dictators, the lofty yet ironbound theism of religiously-represented states, the autocratic social elite, the royalty who see their whims as the wish of the populace, the tyrants who brook no restiveness among those whose lives they carelessly impact. Among human constructs to bring order to society, democracy appears the fairest, most trustworthy alternative.

Trouble is, we're dealing with the frailties of human nature. Shy and retiring individuals don't seek to run for public office. Those imbued with more than their share of brash ego, skilled at manipulating the opinions of others, most often seek to impose their unerring view of the rightness of things by seeking public office. Launch publicity campaigns, persuade a sizeable number of voters to cast ballots for them, and win that popularity contest. Respect, prestige, and the opportunity to enact and change the law of the land.

One party is popular at a given time, reflecting broad social issues that catch the public imagination, and as long as the economy is bubbling along and there are no untoward instances of the party being too long in the ascendancy, with few whiffs of scandals reflecting bias, entitlements, and snuffling at the public trough, they can rest on their laurels. Resting upon which burnishes certain assumptions, and ethical rectitude is relaxed, while morals saunter off to a netherland.

It's inevitable, it seems. One party too long in power, stumbling into man-made cowpies earning public rage. Time for another party to step in, demonstrate its determination to bring order to the chaos left by the reigning opponent, promising to enact new laws to counteract the open loopholes availing members of parliament to claim illicit and undeserved entitlements and it's out with the old, in with the new. A hiatus of nose to the grindstone, then slippage, time after time after time.

In Britain allegations of expense-padding, illegal claims for extraordinary expenses have embarrassed the Labour government of Gordon Brown. Goodbye, it's been nice to know you. Time for a clean sweep. Each party in its turn fails the smell test, and this time it's Labour. Conservatives are patient, but it's past time, and they're waiting in the wings. After all, MPs and ministers who play cutesy with taxpayers' money with their dishonest claims of entitlement have played out their usefulness.

Britain has 646 legislators, receiving annual salaries of roughly $116,000, with an entitlement to an additional $166,000 in various allowances. Comfortable enough remuneration for a public position but, it appears, not quite enough for ambitiously entitled parliamentarians who have taken to claiming tens of thousands for personal and often quite absurd expenses they have no legal entitlement to.

Inclusive of swimming pool maintenance, chandeliers and lightbulbs, garden manure, and double-dipping for living expenses. Tch, tch, whatever happened to moral rectitude?

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Belittling The Catholic Church; Fiction Trumps Fact

It's more than a little ironic that a writer has discovered a successful formula for success in demonizing the Roman Catholic Church. Certainly the institution of the Catholic Church has much to answer for in historical abuses of human rights. From the bloody adventures of the Crusades, to the equally bloody tortures and deaths of the Inquisition, to the institutionalized depictions of Jews as Christ-killers and the associated encouragement of their isolation, victimization and wholesale slaughter.

And then, of course, there is the indelicate reminder in modern history of the Holy See not exercising itself unduly as a great moral voice in world affairs to take the trouble to firmly, loudly condemn Nazi Germany's extremely successful pursuit of refining a death machine so punctilious in its performance that it proved capable of annihilating millions of people in the fascist march toward establishing the Thousand-Year Reich. Pope Pious XII considered the better part of valour to equate with no overt reaction.

We are now in a different era altogether. This is the 21st Century, the world is enlightened, the international community forges a bond which the advanced countries of the world urge upon all to respect human rights and eschew discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism. The current Pope, Benedict, has been asked to condemn another genocidal state, and we are awaiting his words of blazing censure. He has not hesitated to condemn anti-Semitism, any manner of racism, nor to declare the Holocaust a seminal event in humankind's inhumanity.

That apart, those two best-selling novels of the duplicity and criminality of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy feeds on a public fascination with intrigue, murder and para-normal events tied into the sacrosanct institution of the Holy See and its infallible Shepherd of God, surrounded by unscrupulously entitled Cardinals whose first order of business is the venally-inspired enrichment of the Church and its protection from any suspicion of vicious skulduggery.

The ruthless authority author Dan Brown's novels portray, the irreligious murder plots, the creative evil of his Satanic portrayals of the Church's secretive and powerful institutions thrill a huge audience, prepared to believe any half-baked plot calling into question the orthodoxies of God's written word in a totally different interpretation, hauling readers into a conspiratorial aura of the cognoscenti.

The pity of it is that the novels are clumsily written with few exceptions, in the execution of the plot, the descriptions of arcane rites and forbidden scenes of human lust, avarice and malediction. Simply put, these novels, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, represent junk fiction, poorly conceived, just as awkwardly realized and committed to the printed page.
Best left ignored by any self-respecting book-lover who appreciates creative literary talent.

The books are really self-disparaging through their clumsy construction, questionable plots, poor grasp of the writer's art. And defused in their vendetta-scoring malice by a sensible Church response, dismissing them as 'harmless'.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Low Cost, Low Safety

Deregulation of the air industry certainly made flying to holiday and vacation destinations a whole lot more affordable for a whole lot more people. That's the democratization of flight, one can only suppose. Anyone with modest means can now flit about the world to gawk and enjoy geographies other than those most familiar to them. Well of course they can fly to and from destinations in their own countries as well, needless to say. It's simply more functionally commonplace now, now that fares are so low.

And think about the airline industry anyway, the prestige, glamour and excitement of being an airline pilot, a stewardess, the opportunity to gad about, seeing other places - just so wonderful. Talk about opportunities, having a dream vocation along with a well-paying job, one that is highly respected in society, requiring an acute level of training to acquire that coveted pilot's license. Think of the responsibility, all those lives dependent on the pilot's flying skills honed by years of flight experience.

Or maybe not. That, perhaps, was how it was at one time. And no longer is. Abusive drunks assailing the sensibilities of other passengers, the stewardesses futilely attempting to quiet them down, assuage their aggressive tendencies. But the experiences of going to exotic places, the pay scale, the social esteem, the prestige, more than makes up for minor inconveniences. Everyone looks up to and admires those talented and fearless pilots.

That's popular perception, anyway. Reality is more like airlines desperately undercutting one another for a finite and economy-shrunk cartage of passengers. Long working hours, long commutes for pilots to even get to their flight-takeoff destinations, low pay, inexperience and fatigue are more like the reality of today. And that reality is being unveiled at an enquiry into the deadly February crash of a commuter plane near Buffalo, N.Y.

Investigators into the tragedy now know that Colgan Air pilots often live hundreds or thousands of kilometres from crew base. The night before the crash in Buffalo of that commuter plane first officer Rebecca Shaw, all of 24 years, who had worked for the airline for a year, left her home with her parents near Seattle to commute to her job at Colgan's operation in Newark, N.J.

Co-pilot, Captain Marvin Reslow, who lives in Lutz, Florida also made his way the day before the flight, to crew base. Both of the pilots napped in the crew lounge overnight. And both were heard on the cockpit voice recorder after the disaster, yawning during the flight. Pilot Shaw was feeling ill with a congested condition due to a cold.

As the Bombardier Dash 8 - a craft neither had full experience flying - plummeted to the ground during approach to Buffalo Niagara International Airport because the captain's reaction to a swift deceleration was incorrect - due to fatigue, inexperience and inattention - all 49 people on board were killed, along with one unfortunate on the ground.

It took 34 seconds for catastrophe to rear its ugly head.

First officer Shaw was earning about $16,254 annually. Cashiers at supermarkets earn better than that, and they are not flight experts, nor charged with the safety of an aircraft and its passengers. Captain Renslow, when he applied for a position with Colgan, somehow overlooked a requirement to disclose he had failed two flight tests in small planes. Due diligence obviously absent.

But flight is cheap - personnel salaries, anyway, even if fuel isn't - and most manage to arrive at their destination sound and safe. Miracles happen more often than we might realize.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

This Humble Man

What a dreadful indignity to impose upon a man of outstanding virtue, a man who sacrificed himself for the advancement of the country he represented in an admirable display of selflessness. After steering the country toward environmental responsibility, moral 'suasion through condemnation of South African apartheid, bringing us closer to our American cousins through the Free Trade Agreement, this is his thanks.

We scorned him for his Irish blather, detested his greasy ingratiation, and spurned his attempts to make the country a finer, better place to live through the Meech Lake Accord.

Yet we returned him to office with one majority after another.

Until finally, the electorate could no longer tolerate the stench of his political entitlement, recalling hazily his condemnation of John Turner in their famous televised pre-election debate when he belittled his adversary with his scathing remark, "You had a choice, sir" and then himself indulged heartily in pork-barrelling. Another kind of political Canadian heritage, realized by one party after another, just the price of doing business, as Jean Chretien allowed, during Adscam.

But it was the 'atrocity' that a vengeful country and an even more vengeful Chretien government visited upon him with the RCMP investigation into the Airbus affair that most wounded this great and greatly misunderstood Canadian. The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney moaned and wept and raged over the devastation that wrought upon his family, beyond emotion when recalling how it affected them: "Nicholas was 10 years old". Um, yes.

But this was not the purpose of the Oliphant commission.

It did present Mr. Mulroney, however, with the opportunity of lashing out at his tormentors, the news media, print and electronic, reporters who relished writing nasty books of innuendo and false premises, besmirching his good name, ruining his reputation. Of course someone like Stevie Cameron was also responsible for the fact that he suborned his own high executive office like someone addicted to protecting himself through outright denying, denying, denying.

And of course it was the Fifth Estate's hounding that compelled him to become a munitions and arms lobbyist for an international arms manufacturer, and to accept filthy lucre under the table, squirrel it away in a home safety deposit box, and deny, deny, deny. What he actually did for the money in allying himself with a character-questionable lobbyist whom saner heads refused contact with will not readily be revealed.

Mr. Mulroney's lawyers and his own foxy mind more than capable of inventing events in retrospect to claim perfectly reasonable explanations for perfectly inexplicable behaviour. Why did he lie to the Airbus enquiry? Why he did no such thing; he merely responded to the hair-splitting extent he felt he was required to. Failing to pay tax on his retaining fee - well this seasoned lawyer and lawmaker had no idea he was required to.

It was safely put away, not used, not until he decided to pay tax on it, once word got out so very inconveniently. It was sitting there, in trust, not considered by this man to be part of his income. His own perfectly peculiar rationalization. And who brought to Canada the Goods and Services Tax? Well, that's for everyone else to ponder and to pay, not for him. He excels at re-structuring reality, this humble man.

We are an ungrateful nation, yes we are. Talk about lugubrious, head-banging sanctimony, greed and entitled sympathy.

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Antidote to Psychopathy

Taxi driver Sami Aldoboni will see some kind of justice done to ameliorate his pain and restore his sense of security. The attack he suffered on Monday at Ottawa International Airport, witnessed by dozens of bystanders will not go underground and become an instance of malfeasance hushed. For that he, and by extension all we others, have the news media to thank for taking up this story and playing it for what it represents; an unprovoked attack on a visible-minority-Canadian by an arrogant racist psychopath.

It will not only be the violent aggression of the unnamed, off-duty police officer that will be under scrutiny but the resulting reactions and follow-up unprofessional behaviour of the six other police officers who responded to the 911 call for help; the first two who colluded with the offending officer, and the later four who showed up once the initial two drove off with Mr. Aldoboni's assailant, hastily removing him from what represented an obvious crime scene.

The province's Special Investigations Unit will look into the off-duty officer's conduct for indications of criminal action - and there were plenty of those - while the investigation into the follow-up conduct of the uniformed police officers will be an internal one. It will be very difficult for this shockingly disturbing event to be hushed up, given the publicity it has received and the resulting outrage of the public. There is reason to anticipate that a full measure of justice will be meted out.

The disquieting thing however, most immediately apparent, is that despite the statements of witnesses and the victim himself, the violent attacker was not immediately suspended, but was 'relegated' to a supervised desk job. That may seem like a harshly temporary demotion to the police, particularly to one as arrogant as the assailant who obviously felt he could comport himself as he wished with his special privileges as a police officer, but doesn't give much comfort to the public.

On the plus side, West Carleton-March Councillor Eli El-Chantiry, chair of the Police Services Board stated the commitment of the board and the city to determining precisely what had occurred with respect to the assault and the puzzling conduct of the uniformed officers who responded to the call for help. "Both incidents are under investigation and I can assure you, as a citizen of the city of Ottawa, as an immigrant myself and as the chair of the police board, no one, and I mean no one is above the law in this country."

A spokesman for the city's chief of police assured the public that the internal police investigation to probe the conduct of the responding police officers will be conducted with a view to determining whether they responded "in a manner that we would normally handle any other member of the community in this type of investigation". Which clearly, they failed to do. Whether taken aback at the bizarre behaviour of one of their own, resulting in confusion over their response, or a deliberately witless attempt at cover-up.

It is, however, the attitude of Mr. Aldoboni, nursing his injuries - his psychical bruising as well as physical damage done to his arm and hand - that confounds. Rather than bitterly denouncing the wholesale lack of professionalism of the police force, he reinforces his earlier opinion of the force as one to which he and other citizens give their trust. He is sufficiently sensitive to the situation as it impacts on the reputation of the Ottawa Police to state that it is his hope the incident does not tarnish the reputation of all officers.

"If we lose trust in our police, to who will we go to seek help?" he asked reasonably, in the process of convalescent, from his bed at home. This is an obviously good-natured and forgiving man. He has five children, and does not plan any time soon to describe to them what happened to their father. Simply because that would undermine what he has always taught them, that police protect the public, they are there, on duty, to ensure that public safety is assured.

"I've never been in a fight with anybody before", he said ruefully. "Now, the first time, it's with a police officer." Well, in fact, he wasn't in a 'fight with' anyone on this occasion. He was the victim of a vicious attack by an obviously malfunctioning human being who just happened also to be a member of a police force, and that's a horrible combination. That, truly, represents a breach of public trust.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Very Public Malfeasance

It's not entirely true that the public enjoys crucifying their politicians, they would far rather prefer to honour and respect them. Not entirely the public's fault that their elected lawmakers somehow manage to indulge in schemes and behaviours that bring criticism upon themselves. We have every right to expect better from those who elect themselves to run for public office. That those we help elect to high office succumb to behaviours that bring disgrace on themselves and to that office is a matter for their conscience, and our notice.

In the City of Ottawa, the mayor, a former highly successful businessman, is on trial for suborning the electoral process by attempting to buy off a competitor for election to the mayoralty, promising him that he could deliver a future position through his political contacts at the federal level. Mayor Larry O'Brien has temporarily stepped down from office, until the case has been adjudicated and he has been found not guilty of the charges brought against him in a court of law. He has the wherewithal to hire expensively clever lawyers.

Former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney has proven himself to be somewhat less than completely honourable, bringing insult to the office of the prime minister through his back-room machinations with a shady lobbyist, while still in office. He accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, made no tax return on the funds, kept the cash in a home safe, and never divulged his relationship with KarlHeinz Schreiber for fear of reputation-contamination.

He needn't have feared. His ego and his greed alone combined were what distinguished this man as unfit to hold public office, despite his greasy soliloquy before a federal inquiry reminding his interlocutors of the executive office he held, and what his consummate skill as a politician availed this country. His accomplishment boasts, his recounting of his modest background rising to attain legal and corporate respect, and finally the highest office in the land, obvious manipulation.

Unexplained, still, his decision to sully the office to which he was elected, his exploitation of his position of influence at home and abroad, ostensibly to represent a foreign manufacturer of munitions and military vehicles, for which he would be paid handsomely. A former prime minister of Canada shilling as an arms-dealer-at-a-remove. Right-un-honourable to a loathsome degree.

And then there's the Commons committee enquiry into the employment of foreign care workers temporarily in Canada on work permits for domestic workers. Employed by none other than the Liberal Member of Parliament, Ruby Dallah who had served in various portfolios (critic for youth and multiculturalism; critic for social development; member of the House standing committee on health), and aspirant for the elected post of leader of the Liberal party.

Her principal residence, along with her brother, is with her mother who requires the services of an in-house care provider. She undertook to hire caregivers to live in her loving and compassionate home, to look after her mother's needs. In that loving and compassionate home the caregivers contend that they were tasked with demeaning work, had their passports taken, were not given the work permits required by law, were exploited, overworked and underpaid.

What all three personalities have in common is a larger-than-life ego and sense of personal entitlement. Their positions in life entitling them to considerations not shared by others leading more pedestrian, untalented lives of ordinary, everyday under-achievement.

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To Protect and to Serve

Every society needs its policing agencies to ensure that social misfits and those living on the fringes of society preferring to live by their own sometimes-illegal devices rather than sign on to social convention and the banality of living responsible lives, don't overwhelm society. Acts of illegal commission, people behaving brutally toward one another, flaunting of legalities, the laws that are meant to keep us in check and safe from one another must be upheld.

The pity of it is that there appears to be no certain methodology to ensure that those policing agencies don't train and uniform and certify as legal public security enforcers those very same social misfits they are enjoined to protect society from. An incident that occurred two days ago at Ottawa's International Airport a startling case in point. When a taxi driver was assaulted by the driver of an SUV, who was an obvious racist and psychopath.

The taxi driver, Sami Aldoboni, had been tailgated driving on the Airport Parkway, the driver finally following him into the airport taxi parking lot, and parking his SUV directly behind his taxi. When each emerged from their respective vehicles, the SUV driver was shouting racist invective, and attacked him, beating him viciously. Contacted by local media soon afterward, police confirmed they were investigating.

The taxi driver was sent to hospital after the melee. He now has a cast on his left arm, broken fingers on his right hand, and bruises all over his body. He's been effectively put out of commission while he heals from the savage thrashing he sustained. One of those puzzling incidents of road rage. In explaining what happened, Mr. Aldoboni asked of the SUV driver "What's wrong, why are you here?"

He soon discovered precisely why, when the man shoved him to the ground, pulled his jacket over his head, and beat him repeatedly shouting "I'm going to f--- up all you immigrants!" Two fellow taxi drivers hurried over to attempt restraint on the attacker. "Go ahead, call the cops, I'll show you, I own you", one of the other drivers quoted the SUV driver as shouting at them, challenging them to do something about the incident.

Flashing a police ID card at them. And when two airport police finally arrived, they were aware that roughly 30 other taxi drivers were witness to the event. They also became apprised of the fact that the assailant was a fellow police officer whom they took aside, spoke with, proffered a note pad and pen, then drove off with him, the assailant driving while the other two sat in the back seat of the SUV.

Other police arriving at the scene took possession of the officers' patrol car, one driving it away. During his overnight hospital stay Mr. Aldoboni was questioned by police who took his statement. Letting him know they weren't certain whether they would be able to press charges.

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