This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Monday, December 28, 2009

America's Vulnerabilities

During the U.S. Campaign for the presidency candidates Barack Obama and running mate Joe Biden made some fairly impressive and certainly responsible and responsive statements regarding their intention to safeguard and improve upon the American transportation system. One of their pledges was titled "Safeguard Transportation From Terrorism", and it is an interesting document, no doubt instilling in the American voters who took the time to read it, a great confidence in this nascent leader of their Republic.

Protect Transportation Infrastructure from Terrorism:

The federal government's National Asset Database, which is intended to guide homeland security priorities, lists 77,069 potential U.S. targets including petting zoos and popcorn factories. Experts say this database is not useful for homeland security planning. Barack Obama's Department of Homeland Security will develop a meaningful critical infrastructure protection plan across the nation and will work with the private sector to ensure that all high-risk targets are prepared for disasters both natural and man-made.
Bolster Airport Security:
Between October 2005 and January 2006, government Accountability Office investigators were able to smuggle bomb components past federal screeners at all 21 airports they targeted. And airline passengers are still not screened against a comprehensive, accurate terrorist watch list. As a result, almost six years after 9/11, we still have a security system that results in eight-year olds and grandmothers being repeatedly questioned and even stopped from flying. Developing a comprehensive, accurate list must be a priority and used in a way that safeguards passengers' privacy while ensuring the safety of air travel. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Barack Obama believes we must redouble our efforts to determine if the measures implemented after 9/11 are adequately addressing the threats our nation continues to face from airplane-based terrorism. Obama has supported increased numbers of federal airport screeners and improved funding for aviation security.
Uh-oh, something appears to have gone missing. Perhaps the increased numbers of federal airport screeners, or perhaps improved funding for aviation security. That keen sense of humour back up there in the first paragraph listing petting zoos and popcorn factories among potential U.S. terror targets, is very much appreciated, given the gravity of the situation.

And while we're speaking of grave situations and monitoring of terrorism targeting the vulnerabilities of the United States, should we not recall that the hijackers of those planes that created those monumental world-class distractions, bringing down the World Trade Centers, sacrificing almost three thousand people, received their flight training as student pilots in the United States, resident there on visas issued to them, even while several of these jihadis were known threats, listed with the CIA. Or was that the FBI? Neither of whom bothered to exchange information with one another...?

The latest would-be disaster, apprehended by the swift action of self-preserving ordinary on-board citizens, saw an individual whose own father was sufficiently alarmed about his wayward son's radicalization that he alerted the U.S. embassy in the attacker's home country of Nigeria. Despite which, a visa was issued to this man intent on his mission to destroy the lives of hundreds of people, wreaking newborn fear in the hearts of Americans through his close brush with success.

Somewhat tardily, Barack Obama's attention is now focused on the matter at hand. And from Hawaii has been issued a public proclamation where Mr. Obama's public address ensures Americans that his administration is monitoring efforts focusing on strengthening air security. Nicely timed alongside al-Qaeda's claim of responsibility for the failed plot. Failure to take off perhaps, but triumphant in instilling fear and consternation.

Mr. Obama's administration will now make certain that air marshals are deployed, that flights are secured and safely land. Whew! Oh yes, hazardous materials will not be permitted on board.

Now, if memory serves, directly in response to and right after the 9/11 attacks, the finger of suspicion pointed at Canada's leaky borders to explain how terrorists could conceivably gain entry to the United States. And even after investigation concluded that none of the terror bombers issued through Canada, the American administration continued to point at Canada.

Even now, Americans involved in transport security claim that Canada remains the U.S.'s greatest security threat through its "cosmetic" "reaction security".

Well, Canada is reacting on this occasion too with alacrity and alarm. Genuflecting studiously in its efforts to assure the American authorities that Canada has no intention whatever of permitting potential terrorists to use Canada's travel corridors as easy pickings into their preferred terror-locale.

Canadian travellers to the United States are doubtless under greater pressure and scrutiny than are Americans returning to their country from abroad. All in the interests of securing American trust. Well, of course, safeguarding our own interests, safety, security, commercial.

As for ensuring that our great southern continental partner trusts us, seems it ain't gonna happen.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mission. Accomplished.

Isn't it peculiar? Britain has video cameras installed in all manner of public places. It represents the world's most 'watched' society. This is an effort to instill into the public a sense of security. It is also a reminder to the public that people are expected to behave civilly, to respect authority, and recognize the social compact. And just coincidentally, it is within Britain that young Muslim men have been urgently radicalized in mosques and social centres where imams thunder their anger and hatred against the West, and promise their audience that Islam will one day prevail and Britain will be Muslim.

Britain has been helpful, of course. It has tolerated the presence of these incendiary fanatics, even when it has been aware of the damage they do to society, and within Muslim communities. The country recognizes sharia law and that too is most helpful. Britain has discovered how helpful all of this has been in the wake of atrocities committed on its soil through attacks by British-born Muslims who have been radicalized to the point where they reject all but their own cloistered, hateful traditions, leading to jihad.

Another near tragedy averted. Thanks to an alert passenger on a plane headed to Detroit from Amsterdam. Where Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate an explosive device which malfunctioned, and which would have destroyed hundreds of lives if he had been successful. This man was educated in Britain, as an engineer. Which is where he was recruited into violent jihad, as well. He reportedly had a propensity toward jihad, and found comfort in its grasp.

He was trained and equipped in Yemen, and sought to do the bidding of his al-Qaeda-affiliated trainers. Obviously more than willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good of Islam. He had informed his family, after a sojourn in Egypt, and then Yemen, that he wished no further contact with them. His alarmed father, a former high-ranking Nigerian official, alerted his own country's authorities and intelligence agents in the United States as well. Much good did that do.

Interestingly enough, a connection between this young Nigerian and American-born, educated and trained army medic Nidal Hasan of the Fort Hood massacre has been found, linking them both to Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi. Who himself was said to have been killed a week earlier in a raid by Yemeni authorities. Only to have been found alive and well, a few days ago. These are very busy people, with plenty of plans and aspirations, all in the name of Allah.

The amazing thing is that Mr. Abdulmuttlab's name is known to American intelligence. He had been placed on a watch list (said to consist of some 550,000 names) but not on the no-fly list (which has 14,000 names listed) nor on the "selectee list" of 4,000 names of which his should have been the 4,001st. . There was no air marshall on this particular flight. This man was passed through security, his explosive securely sewn inside his underclothing, undetected.

This was his mission, his singular opportunity to prove his love and dedication to Islam, his submission to the need to wage violent jihad on behalf of his religion. His mission failed, but not entirely, for it did accomplish much of what it set out to do. It is not just killing people, but making the attempt as well, even if it fails, because in the final analysis, both are capable of instilling terror in the minds of those whose society is attacked.

In this case, his mission was accomplished.

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The fundamentalist religionists in society present as a continuous problem to the rest of society. Insistent that theirs is the right, to do whatever they are commanded by their interpretation of sacred religious promise and precepts. The ultra-Orthodox in Judaism are a thuggishly intolerant lot of barbarians. It is they who insist on settling in areas that were designed for use by others within the Middle East.

On the other hand, various governments in Israel have traditionally encouraged Jews to settle in the West Bank and they haven't all been intolerant bigots nor fundamentalist Jews. Now the situation has come back to haunt the country as it struggles to find a balance between its needs and that which it must surrender to the other party that lays claim to land that has been illegally built upon.

While West Bank settlements remain a flash-point for violence between Jew and Arab there is yet no guarantee their removal will result in a cessation of the tradition of Palestinian victimhood and strident grievance against Israel. Gaza is a case in point, where unilateral withdrawal of Jewish settlements resulted in increased violence, lawlessness and chaos. And which now, under Hamas control, continues its threat against Israel.

The ultra-orthodox have managed to partially overturn the secular face of Israel to reflect in large part the religious-right insistence on traditions that they claim are to be honoured even if and when they restrict the freedoms of others. They are as intolerant as the Islamists who scorn the legitimacy of any other religion's right to exist. Their constant clashes with authorities, their unwillingness to assist the country or to tolerate compromise is classic.

But they are not destructive and murderous as the Islamist fanatics have shown themselves to be. And therein lies the great divide between the practise and the reality of the two religions, Judaism and Islam. It is Islam that denies, defaces and destroys sacred relics that belong to other religions, never Judaism. It is Islam that entreats its followers to practise jihad both of the spirit and of blood-letting. That too is tradition.

It is fanatical Islam that destroys and rampages and visits atrocities on those they claim as enemies, whose jihadist exponents proclaim their love for death, and scorn others' love of life. Who celebrate brutality and violence as strengths, and deride the real strength and principle of restraint, taking it as a sign of weakness. Whose insistence on their right and others' wrong speaks of their inability to compromise.

In the current negotiations between Israel and Hamas for the release of Sgt. Gilad Shalit in exchange for the release of a mind-boggling thousand Palestinian prisoners, Israel plays the game of the jihadists, expressing its humanity in its struggle to retrieve one of its own, and granting Hamas cause for jubilation at its "victory" in imposing the release of a thousand for one.

This, Hamas believes as does the Arab world, is a sign of their strength, and renders them much prestige. Encouraging them, as well as other terror groups, to believe that further abductions of Israelis will simply gain them further triumphs. Israel's weakness their strength. Israel well knows that earlier releases of Palestinians have resulted in many of those released returning to prey on Israelis.

The recent murder of a Rabbi from a settlement in the West Bank by three members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, several of whom were released through previous prisoner-release deals simply points out the lack of intelligence in dealing with these murderers. Israel can insist until it's blue in the face that none of the murderers it releases in exchange for Shalit return to terror activity, but it is utterly pointless.

They will return to active terror attacks on Israel and Israelis, for they have dedicated their lives to this tradition, of 'honour' and honouring Islam by 'resisting the occupiers'. Rather than negotiating in good faith to solve the mutual problems associated with the Palestinians' refugee status, and ultimately leading to a state of their own.

Using the West Bank settlements to further delay peace talks simply legitimizes a belief that there is no urgency on the part of the Palestinians to sue for peace, to work toward a state of their own. Underlining the possibility that another agenda exists, one which will, they believe, further their interests by ultimately destroying Israel.

This is not realism, this is flagrant delusion. And it will malfunction as all other, previous such delusions have, leaving the Palestinians no further ahead, more embittered than ever.

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On Perpetual High Alert

We've become a society ever on the alert for dreadful occurrences. Things that we cannot possibly avoid. Dread miseries that haunt our waking hours, residing deep within the worry-area of our very guts. We seem to stumble in a state of helpless disarray from one potentially threatening possibility to another. And it quite seems that the media is having one hell of a good time, bringing the low-down on all manner of disasters - man-made and those foisted on us by nature - to our attention, constantly.

Those with a sanguine disposition, or who don't pay attention to the urgently breathless news of the day, or who prefer to just shrug off what they hear as utter nonsense, are really ahead of the worry game. These are the people who refuse to submit to the dire alerts, the urgings, the warnings, the Jeremiads among us. Those who proffer themselves as the critics of society, the experts on natural disasters, the intelligence agents who have a deep knowledge of the deranged mind.

Much of society has descended into a slow, agonized dependency on the news of the day, catching our breath with alarm as each new signpost of our inevitable journey to extinction - man-made or natural - is brought to our avidly fearful attention. Much as it frightens us and depresses us and diminishes the quality of our lives, we cling to these harbingers of gloom and doom as our modern-day prophets of end-of-world finality.

The abyss may not be where we think it is, we may not be edging toward the cusp of that dark, soundless, hollow edge toward nothingness, but we're obsessed with the certain thought that we do face the apocalypse. If not from a newly-identified and deadly virus conceived as yet another pandemic, then from the spectre of nuclear winter, or other deadly attacks by rogue governments or free-agent raging terrorists.

You'd think we'd be grateful for a break in all of this, yet the most popular films appear to be those that build upon our fears, presenting doomsday scenarios even our fervent imaginations helped ably by classic disaster writers could never visualize, chilling us even more thoroughly into a state of catatonic dismay. Our minds are on overdrive, we seem to have become unwholesomely dependent on gloom.

There well may be some reason for concern, but despair and panic, perhaps not. It is as though we've become collectively infanticized, or at least brought back to our early teen years, revelling in this fascination with misery and depression. And allied with that a kind of dependency on it, as though without feeling breathless with anticipation over some disaster heading straight for us, and unavoidable, life has no excitement, adventure, appeal.

Of course a sense of crisis in society isn't all that surprising, given the very real and fairly constant threats emanating toward many societies from fanatical, socially-averse and psychopathic linked groups of self-heralding terrorists, Islamist jihadists who take very seriously indeed the chaotic morale-busting they have brought to bear through their insistence on proving how odiously capable they are of delivering death on a grand scale.

There is another crisis of social confidence in the manner in which we encounter and deal with nature's continual evolution in the atmosphere and our close environment. Nature is always in flux, climate has always undergone gradual alterations, environmental scientists are not able to quite understand what propels them, quite apart from the fact that the human animal degrades nature and abuses our surroundings.

We've become an earthly population of ultra-aware, grief-stricken victims, fearful of everything that surrounds and threatens us, uncertain how we should respond and proceed. And as a diversely huge race of beings, of quite intelligent animals, we're capable of far better than that. The first place to start, though, is how to deal with one another, and we still haven't figured that one out.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Now, To Be Completely Just....

The European Union, now with 27 member-countries, has become a political and trade powerhouse. It wields a heavy hand with its members, insisting on policy conformity from farming and production standards to interference with member-state legislation, insisting on the need for all members to accept a common, functional and political framework. It lays a heavy hand of condemnation on countries not part of the European Union, as it has done in condemning Canada's traditional seal hunt, forbidding entry to EU countries of that product.

Nonetheless, many countries of the world, including many of those not geographically located within Europe, would dearly love to be included in the network of European countries with its dedicated trade and emerging political clout. There are even some who believe that as China and India emerge as the new world super powers and the status of the United States as the world's only super power declines, the EU may step up to the plate to challenge both China and India.

The EU leadership, a revolving one, but one with its own parliament, assembly of armed forces, unified direction and singular currency, also views itself with great pride, as an emerging political and moral force in the world. Initially its current chair Sweden, sought to bring a resolution before the EU calling for Jerusalem to be recognized as the capital of a nascent Palestinian state, utterly ignoring Israeli interests. The EU has never recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In the wake of urgent, strenuous upbraiding by Israel and Tzipi Livni in particular, at the resolution's bypassing of Israel's interests in Jerusalem, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt accused Israel of playing a "divide and rule" game with the EU, is Israel pulled out all the stops in calling for fairness from countries within the EU more obviously sensitive to Israel's needs and realities than Sweden.

The altered resolution now recognizes both Israel's and the Palestinians' shared interests in Jerusalem as the capital for both states; the present and the emerging one. Arabs have not, in the past, nor do they at the present time, as custodians of some elements of their isolated sacred shrines, recognize the legitimacy of Jewish traditions and holy places. It has never been a priority for Islam to give equal time to any other religion, even those predating its existence, particularly those from which Islam took its inspiration.

Sweden, in any event, and the EU in general, consider Israel's capture during the 1967 Six-Day War of the eastern half of the city to be illegitimate according to international law. International law is rather mute on the right of Israel to reclaim her heritage. And while the EU has called upon Israel to halt all "discriminatory acts" in eastern Jerusalem, nothing stands in the way of Palestinians acting counter to the interests of both themselves and the Israelis, through clearly illegal squatting, and enacting scenes of religious violence.

The Council of Foreign Ministers of the EU speaks grandiloquently of its "readiness to contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements, aimed at ensuring the sustainability of peace agreements, and will continue the work undertaken on EU contributions on state-building, regional issues, refugees, security, and Jerusalem", all of which speak to its commitment to one party only, the Palestinians. The urgency of Israeli security, of the country's commitment to retaining its right to its holy sites is another matter distinctly lacking resonance with the EU.

The original draft resolution, a product of Swedish manoeuvring, was emphatically pro-Palestinian, entirely ignoring the needs of Israel in the equation. And in the process of championing the Palestinian cause, stood to lose the co-operation of the State of Israel, which has repeatedly pointed out that negotiations leading to peace have largely been stalled on the Palestinian side, with their refusal to return to the negotiating table.

There are many outside elements eager to try their hand at negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians, inclusive of Egypt, Turkey, France, the United States, despite that for a half-century all such attempts have failed miserably. In the past, both sides came close to what looked like a meaningful agreement that would lead to a cessation of hostilities, but in the end came to nothing, and mostly because of the intransigence of the Palestinians.

Who have their legitimate grievances that should be addressed, to be sure, but in the final analysis, when these failures occurred, it was largely because a return to 'resistance', to 'honour', and to waging 'war against the oppressors' seemed infinitely more attractive than the very real possibility of finding an end to the bloodshed. Israel can be seen to be intransigent too, but she has far more to lose through unreasonable demands of the Palestinians than do they.

Israel has responded to the allegations of the EU's Council of Foreign Ministers, in a reasonable enough manner: "It could be expected that the EU act to promote direct negotiations between the parties, while considering Israel's security needs and understanding that Israel's Jewish character must be preserved in any future agreement." Which means trust must be established, and there can be no trust while there is also active engagement in provocation and violence.

Nor is the ongoing insistence on 'right of return' anywhere near possible, since that would effectively translate as a complete dilution of the Jewish character of the Jewish state, overwhelming the Jewish presence. And this, precisely, is what the negotiations are about; the Palestinian insistence that it be allowed to drown Israel in huge numbers of Palestinians, most of whom have never lived in the geography but who represent the Palestinian resolve to retake that which they hold was theirs.

Which, in reality it never was. The Gazan Palestinians were Egyptians. The West Bank Palestinians were Jordanians. The Jews were the actual Palestinians and have lived in the geography for millennia. Egypt has no wish to re-absorb those Palestinian Gazans for they are an unruly lot, and she has her hands full attempting to stem the tide of her own Islamists. Jordan, in its bloody fratricidal war with the Palestinians in 1971 killed more of its own during Black September than Israel ever has over the years.

It is an indisputable historical fact that the single most holy site in Judaism was co-opted by the later religion of Islam. The Rock of the Dome, the Al Aqsa Mosque was built upon the Temple Mount. And while the mosque and its general area is considered the third most holy site in Islam, Judaism's first sacred site is often denied Jewish presence even now because of the rioting of Muslims refusing to allow Jewish entry to what they claim to be solely their right of approach.

So much for dividing Jerusalem.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009


No, not that kind. Think stripping something of all its saleable assets, for example. Like corporate raiders that buy up a failing business that still has potential in the right hands.

An enterprise that employs plenty of people but hasn't been flourishing in the market because of incompetent management, or because of a downturn in the economy, or because their product requires updating. Instead of being bought out by moneyed interests with a view to returning them to profitability, their saleable parts are disposed of at great profit, and the shell that remains is dumped on a market that isn't interested.

But the corporate raiders have done well for themselves; bought the entire enterprise at a fire-sale price, and made hefty profits through the dismemberment of the whole, so letting go the shell that remains at a loss hardly matters. That remaining shell is worthless. And those whom the healthy corporation employed in its better days suddenly find themselves rootless, unemployed and set adrift.

This, really, is the story of ruthless American-style free enterprise.

So should it really be surprising when the little guys, the people who got stung with those inflated house prices and worthless mortgages is taking a page out of the corporate books? There are no laws to halt the pirate-ization of corporate entities; what they do to manipulate a property to scavenge the healthy portions and destroy the entirety in the process isn't illegal. It's business and profit and the bottom line.

So imagine, people whose homes are on the verge of foreclosure, advertising on Craig's List that they're in the process of stripping those homes, and anyone who is seriously interested should be alerted to opportunities to access appliances and fixtures and anything that isn't hammered down too securely, to come right along and pick up bargains. They go at bargain prices, and the small advantage to the foreclosed homeowner is that he walks away with something.

Of course the stripped-down house is no longer a home, nor is it all that much of a house. But that's the way such things go, isn't it? The stripping bazaar has become very popular, it would appear, in states hardest hit by foreclosures, like Arizona, Florida, Nevada. Where there may not be laws enacted prohibiting this type of activity - for who, actually could have foreseen such behaviour?

"Clearly it's happening, and it's happening with some frequency", admitted the president of the Mortgage Bankers Association. As for the banks, they have no legal power to halt a homeowner from proceeding to strip his property - for it is his, until such time as the foreclosure takes effect. The expense and difficulty in pursuing the matter through the court system mitigates against it, since there is little gain to be had in the final analysis.

So, when ads are posted, offering air conditioners, kitchen cabinets, ceiling fans, light fixtures and appliances at rock-bottom prices, little wonder, in a tight economy where people are generally feeling the pinch of a heartless recession, that there are buyers eager to bring home bargains.

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Imagine the Adventure

Most of us, ordinary people, wonder what propels and compels and impels some small section of a population to become adventurers. Those for whom the greatest pleasure seems to be to imagine themselves struggling against the most difficult of physical circumstances, and prevailing. From those who seek to cross vast oceans unaccompanied, climb the world's most inaccessible mountain peaks (accessible to those endowed with physical prowess and mind-boggling determination), and those who set out to reach the Arctic, the South Pole.

Incredibly strenuous activities that most of us would far prefer to read about, rather than ourselves to engage in. It takes the most dauntless of spirits to embark on such expeditions fraught with potential danger, and exacting every bit of energy and courage from those who set out to relish the triumph of accomplishment in these endeavours. We admire such people at the very same time that we wonder what exactly it is that motivates them.

The quest for adventure, the curiosity of what certain landscapes look like, the imagination of placing yourself there, in the very landscape that looks so inaccessible, obviously appeals to certain individuals. And for some of these individuals it becomes the motif of their lives' ambitions, to surmount all physical difficulties and to prevail in their attempts despite very real dangers, the evidence of which they also occasionally see for themselves.

In the mid-19th Century intrepid, educated and experienced world travellers, both men and women, travelled to the far corners of the world, where "civilized" people rarely ventured, to staunch their curiosity and satisfy their indomitable spirit of adventure. Many of those people wrote books recounting their adventures, their impressions, their fascination with their journey and their immense satisfaction at having set out and completed their destinations.

Occasionally, one reads such an accounting, published one hundred and fifty years earlier, by such explorer-adventurers and one such account was that of an overland journey from parts of the United States, on into the territory of Canada, well before the provinces were gathered into confederation. Where people set out from Britain with the intention of seeing for themselves the grandeur of the prairies, the mountains, the lakes and the forests of Western Canada.

In the process experiencing incredible hardships of an extent quite impossible to imagine today with modern communications and modes of transport, and highways and communities settled in areas that were not all that long ago, the province of the few. The original people of the country, the Sioux, the Assiniboine, the Shushwap, meeting up with the voyageurs, the white men and the Metis who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company.

Imagine the primeval forests where veritable giant trees thrived, fell over with their venerability, or from the effects of violent storms, so thickly covering the forest floor that access through the forest would be impossible. Veteran adventurers, skilled in the use of axes might attempt to cut and thrash their way through the forest, only to come across the dreaded Devil's club, whose sharp thorns would tear their clothing and their skin to shreds.

The Fraser and the Thompson river canyons affording hopeful avenues of progress for staunchly determined adventurers to travel from Edmonton, with its handful of hunters, not yet even a village, to FortKamloops , a journey of hundreds of miles on foot, with tough little Indian horses employed to carry supplies for a half-dozen people, hoping to supplement their pemmican and flour with game and fish on the way.

One has the idea that game would be plentiful, but there were winters when the aboriginal populations, skilled at life in their familiar territory, found insufficient game to maintain life and they faced starvation as surely as did the less capable adventurers moving laboriously through the landscape. Their horses starving for lack of decent pasturage, becoming skin and bones, but valuable, as were the dogs that accompanied them, as comprising an emergency food source.

Imagine the desperate condition of attempting to travel through such thick forest growth that pack horses would constantly stumble and fall, and refuse to continue and attempt to hide themselves within the forest; in the summer set upon by blow flies and utterly miserable from starvation and accidental injuries, yet they would carry on, even after tumbles down mountain sides and fording rivers with swift currents threatening to carry them and the travellers' provisions off.

Imagine the travellers, desperately seeking game, setting out from a winter's temporary location to follow game, only to be able to snare a marten, a skunk, a few partridge. Cooking up the predator-animals, finding their cooked stench detestable, but forcing themselves to partake of it to preserve their lives. Imagine that they have no provisions left and must contemplate butchering the horses that have served them so well.

Imagine, in dire straits, wondering whether they will somehow survive their travails, coming across the sitting corpse of another who had been in the same circumstances, before him the remnants of a fire, and the skeleton of his pack-animal before him, his desperation availing him nothing, in the final analysis. Imagine the misery, the determination, and the hope that compelled them to continue.

You needn't merely imagine: Read The North-West Passage By Land - Being a Narrative of an Expedition From the Atlantic to the Pacific (Viscount Milton and Walter Butler Cheadle, Prospero Canadian Collection)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Amnesty International along with retired diplomat Gar Pardy and others testifying at an informal hearing of the committee investigating allegations of senior government and military cover-up of Afghan prisoner torture makes some fairly dubious claims. But Liberal Members of Parliament are having a grand old time, extracting information that they feel vitalizes their all-too-obvious politicizing of an issue that the current Conservative-led government is aware of, and attempting to handle properly.

They've handily forgotten, or chosen to overlook their own leader's equivocating on the matter of when and where and on which occasions some elements of torture are morally permissible. Validation of an ambiguous morality? But that, of course, is not germane to the study at hand. Nor is the fact that it was originally a Liberal-led government that took Canadian forces into Afghanistan and it was as well known then as it is now that the country's tribal mentality saw little amiss in physical violence directed against inmates of prisons.

They also overlook, because it suits their purposes, that the current government has taken steps to ameliorate the situation, by training prison guards, by funding the construction of new prisons, by removing prisoners from situations where it is thought they would be abused. They choose to overlook that when in a foreign country, while one does not always feel justified in "when in Afghanistan do as Afghans do", it is difficult during the stress of war to impose Western constraints on Eastern mindsets.

However, retired general Rick Hillier was definitely diplomatically incorrect when he famously stated in a public forum, his distinct opinion of the Taliban as "detestable murderers and scumbags". One cannot take issue too fervently, however, with his characterization other than that it was impolitic. The executive branch of government or the military generally exercises a greater degree of diplomacy. It wouldn't do, after all, to encourage that kind of thought in the head of a disgruntled grunt.

And the term 'scumbags' is surely a trifle undue in description of the Taliban. This is a sobriquet given to low-level societal misfits whose predations on society strike the meter as nuisances. The Taliban are, rather, the scum of the Earth, in their deadly predations on the defenceless schoolgirls willing to court danger to empower themselves through learning; on widows whose only source of income they constrained to ensure their prohibition on women appearing in public was maintained.

The Taliban don't prey in the lightest way on the population; they flay those who celebrate life, enslave young women to old men's desires, slaughter opponents and schoolteachers, line their pockets while pauperizing the helpless population unable to defy the whims and demands of fanatics. The Taliban who pay for farmers to grow poppies for opium production, and who set IEDs to destroy the lives of foreign soldiers are decidedly not scumbags though they are detestable murderers.

And while they are detestable murderers, representatives of NATO may not engage in meting out to those taken prisoners, their hatred and their spite in the form of physical punishment. Not even after themselves being targets of those murderers. Nor enable their Afghan counterparts to do likewise, even if to do so is a heritage-function of their prison system. Nor has the Canadian military done so. Nor has the Government of Canada been complicit in enabling prisoner abuse and torture.

And General Hillier is spot on in observing that "...even in a perfectly functioning society like our great country, if you walk into Millhaven penitentiary and you ask half the inmates there whether anybody's abused them, they'll probably all say yes, because that is the nature of the beast. So there is always a risk that something can occur, and you are comfortable that there is a follow up process that would recognize that. That was the key."

Unfortunately, the opposition in Parliament is utterly disinterested in turning the key to unlock the real truth; they're too busy inventing their own.

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Notes of Sublime Grace

A 72-year-0ld Iranian musician whose hey-day was realized as a social and musical celebrity in the decades before the Islamic Revolution in 1979 has found a new meaning for his life. In the days when the Shah of Iran sat on the Peacock Throne ruling his country, music was appreciated. That was the period when Ali Jafarian, as a blind musician, composed songs, played concerts and was an intimate of his country's star performers and aristocracy.

With the Iranian Revolution the country's classical music fell under threat. The ruling clerics blessed only religious and martial music. Iran's performers began to drift away, to go abroad where they could practise their craft. Or, like Ali Jafarian, stayed at home and mused on what they had once had and no longer did. Mr. Jafarian is no more idle; he teaches a weekly orchestral class of about thirty women playing the classical instruments of Iran.

Although he is white-haired, physically frail and blind, religious convention does not permit him certain things; although this is 'his' orchestra in a sense, he cannot attend the public concerts of the all-female ensemble, the Fars Women's Chamber Orchestra. The women, for their part, see their weekly practise with their conductor as a meaningful and valuable part of their lives.

"We have something to say in this world of art, no matter how small", explained one of the young violinists. " The instrument is strength. It's power. It's the freedom of my soul. When I play here, I feel proud of all the women here. Only women play. We show that we can stand on our own feet." It is because Mr. Jafarian is elderly and blind that the women are permitted to diverge from custom and assemble in his presence.

"I realized that the only group restricted from making music or singing was women" said Mr. Jafarian. Since he introduced his ensemble to the country, they have gained expertise as musicians, pride as women, and the attention of that means so much to them. The orchestra gives performances in the ancient arts-loving city of Shiraz, with dreams of some day performing abroad.

The women play their violins, santurs and dafs, (large, flat drums) in the parlour of this blind musician's home, celebrating their femininity, their culture, their heritage, and their future.

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Polymath Savant

What could be more inspiring that the reality of a human being thought by society to have sub-grade intelligence displaying a level of cerebral functioning far outdistancing even those in society celebrated for their genius in a particular field of endeavour? There was one such man with outstanding feats of mental ability and mastery of so many fields of intelligence that he presented as surely the most uniquely-capable man since Leonardo da Vinci.

Universities who would never have admitted this man to their august corridors were forced by his erudition and performance to classify him as a genius in music, geography, history and mathematics - to name but a few of the fifteen classifications he excelled in. Previously, those recognized as precociously savant while labouring under the constraints of mental illness were realized to have been outstanding in one or possibly two fields of study.

In the case of Kim Peek, born with a head 30% larger than normal, with recognized damage to the left hemisphere of his brain - the area that controls language and motor skills - his tremendous mental powers increased as he aged. In his early developing years he was unable to walk until age four, but was able to read newspapers and books before reaching the age of two.

By the age of six he could recite the Bible in its entirety. When he completed a book, it was returned to the shelf upside down as indication that he had read it. With private tutoring he completed the high school curriculum but local authorities in Utah refused to acknowledge his achievement.

His prodigious memory was put to work in strange ways as he exercised his mathematical skills, adding columns of seven-digit telephone numbers in his head perusing telephone directories until he amassed mental figures in the trillions. Neuroscientists discovered that the corpus callosum which has an information-filtering function, was missing in his brain.

He was said to have memorized twelve thousand books over his lifetime. Amazingly he was able to read two pages of a book simultaneously, devoting each eye to each page. He was able to absorb the contents of a novel in the space of an hour. He and his devoted father went on lecture tours to impress upon people the need to respect differences within others.

The film, Rain Man, which starred Dustin Hoffman as an autistic numerical savant, was broadly based on Kim Peek's life and abilities. His father authorized a biography of his son: The Real Rain Man: Kim Peek.

Kim Peek died of a heart attack on December 19, age 58.

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Drug Terror

It seems that drug lords and Islamist jihadists have much in common in their vicious penchant for remorseless blood-letting. Little wonder that in countries like Afghanistan tribal warlords and Islamists both find involvement with opiate drugs irresistible to fund their cause for domination of society, enabling them to continue their murderous course of targeting schoolgirls, their teachers, innocent passersby, and just about anyone who presents by chance as a victim to instruct those who defy them that there is honour in atrocities.

Mexico, on its way to becoming a viable North American state, achieving benefit from more open markets for trade and services with its continental partners, fell by the wayside, thanks to the imperatives of drug trafficking. When a dread cancer is in the process of establishing itself, its presence must be identified and swiftly eradicated. Given the opportunity through lack of attention and due diligence it will thrive, metastasize, and corrupt the body in which it resides.

In Mexico now, no one is safe. Not ordinary, uninvolved civilians who just happen to be in the wrong place at the right time, nor police, nor federal agents, nor armed troops, or even government ministers are safe from heedless slaughter. Police chiefs of towns which have been infested by drug dealers become society's first-line defence in the past tense if they refuse to avert their attention from these predators.

Horror stories of mass killings by drug gangs have resulted in seven thousand deaths, along with torture, decapitations, bodies hanging in public view, or found at roadsides commonly seen atrocities. Mexico's government has deployed almost 50,000 troops in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood and drugs. In that order, or any other; some cessation of each would suffice to indicate a modest but welcome modicum of success.

But there is no relief in sight. The drug lords and their gangs simply move on and forward in their determination to utterly destroy civil society for the greater good of their freedom to distribute illicit drugs. It is their will to wallow in the proceeds of moving drugs. Which will, for the most part, destroy lives in greater abundance than their law-and-life-mocking attacks on law enforcement in the country.

The most warped mind would be challenged to visualize more brutal scenarios of utter disinterest in the value of human life. These gangs represent a barbaric throwback to a time in the dim history of the world when roving psychopaths had few organized entities to halt their conscienceless attacks on people, robbing them of their lives and their worldly possessions.

A successful raid by special forces marines that placed a boss of a major drug cartel permanently out of commission, and which also saw the death during that operation of special forces marine Melquisdet Angulo saw him praised as a hero by the Mexican navy. His naming had dire consequences. Following his funeral, when his family were gathered in the family home they experienced a surprise visit.

Gunmen firing assault rifles broke down the door of the home with a sledgehammer and shot everyone in the home to death. His mother will no longer stand as a beneficiary of a lifelong government pension as a tribute to her son's bravery in confronting the druglord and his vassals.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009


When in doubt, flail wildly, and whatever your arms hit in the process, eliminate. That will be construed as positive action for by their removal you will have seemed to have done something positive toward adversity. Something like Ontario's Premier Dalton McGuinty, who hardly knows where to turn to divert attention from the quite obvious fact that his double-tenure has been somewhat of an economic catastrophe for Ontarians.

His oversight has been so poor that management of government agencies have managed to dredge funding from an already-tight treasury to enhance the bottom line of the managers, while producing nothing of any value for the province and its taxpayers. The province had been warned for years that its business taxes were too onerous, resulting in a reluctance of businesses to establish there, but he did nothing to ameliorate that.

Now, we've got another taxation device from a premier who sailed into office on his sterling promise to hold the line on taxes which quickly tarnished when he re-imposed a universal health tax, which itself did nothing whatever to improve health services or waiting times for the province. But the harmonized sales tax, while imposing another burden on the middle-class will help business avoid its classical tax overpayment.

Now this genius who is functionally incapable of understanding that fundamental good management practises are key to good government, finding himself the premier of a province that was once the engine of the Canadian economy faltering because of a loss of production jobs, thinks it's good politics to make propaganda war on Alberta and Stephen Harper to endear himself with the electorate through his climate conscience.

A climate conscience so uniquely his own that his pledge on entering office to close down all those filth-spewing coal-fired installations has quietly succumbed to the inertia of lost memory. To save several hundred automotive-industry jobs he has indentured the province's taxpayers to a long haul of debt-recovery at a time when it could be least afforded. Of course in lock-step with the feds who also saw profit in 'saving' those jobs.

While workers in other industries saw their livelihoods slowly melting away in the direction of the far east because people everywhere, including all those ordinary consumers in Ontario are so taken with the notion that buying cheap is better than buying local - yet another human fallacy beyond redemption. We all have short memories and scant discretionary spending powers.

Isn't that why we elect a politician who claims omniscience and the kind of practical know-how to guide us toward a better future through his uncanny ability to sort out the things that puzzle the rest of us? He's sorted those puzzles out so very well that he's prepared to go the way of Great Britain in its shambles of privatization - come too think of it, perhaps more like Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its resulting impoverishment.

Our miserable deficit has left the man and his Cabinet with a pounding headache, but they're bulling it through, coming up with an absolute brainstorm of an idea. De-acquisition! Sell off that which results in topping up government coffers, along with those government assets held for the people by Queen's Park that have been inordinately poorly operated, further straining the budget.

Short-term measures for short-term gain that will inevitably result in private enterprise - which is not invested in gain for the public weal but gain for private enterprise - rendering to the public sub-par services while reaping the windfalls that the Government of Ontario couldn't wait to pat securely into their laps. Sounds kind of painful in the long run; government spiting itself and the taxpayers.

Essential assets like Ontario Power Generation, and Hydro One, perennially poorly run, always appearing in deficit-and-debt mode, are signal assets that should never fall into the hands of private operators; instead their importance to the province should be recognized by the due diligence of adequate oversight. The result of their sale will surely conclude with higher prices to the consumer.

And the same goes for the Liquor Control Boards. Though it's anachronistic in this day and age that tight controls are maintained over sale venues that could be incorporated into a set of new operating regulations without surrendering control of the Board. As for Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.; its golden shakeout of easy-made revenue presents a moral issue, one to be resolved intelligently.

This Liberal government of Premier McGuinty's has surpassed that of former NDP Premier Bob Rae in a sense; when in an intolerable economic crunch, Mr. Rae sought to impose 'Rae Days' on the unions, Mr. McGuinty prefers surrendering to union wage demands beyond need and caution. So, the taxpayers of Ontario should be shouting loud and clear that sure, an election's coming up, and their short-term memory is good enough to aid their choices.

And selling off the province's key revenue assets to private interests will not result in Mr. McGuinty's experiencing hearty applause and a gentle shoe-in for a third term.

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Aid and Assistance

. CIA Linked to Palestinian Authority Torture
by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu CIA Linked to PA Torture

The CIA is aware of, if not helping, PA “special forces” to torture prisoners and terrorists, mainly those of the rival Hamas faction, the London Guardian reports. The use of torture by both the Fatah and Hamas factions has been well-documented in the past, but this is the first time that the United States has been directly linked with the practice.

A PA minister responded to the report that torture “happens all the time in every country in the world.”

The Bush and Obama administrations have pumped tens of millions of dollars directly into the fledgling PA army, trained by U.S. Army General Keith Dayton. The American Congress several days ago approved a new foreign aid package that for the first time includes the PA and awards it half a billion dollars, on condition that it halt terror and incitement and that it formally recognizes the State of Israel.

It now appears that some of the American funding for the PA has been used by the CIA to work with PA forces, some of whom routinely use torture, despite orders signed last year by U.S. President Barack Obama prohibiting torture of those in American custody. Human rights groups have not charged the CIA with authorizing or teaching torture, but they also have not ruled it out.

They accuse the agency of turning a blind eye instead, rather than ordering PA forces to cease the practice. At least one diplomat said that the CIA is aware of the use of torture.

The Guardian reported, “The relationship between the CIA and the two Palestinian agencies involved – Preventive Security Organization (PSO) and General Intelligence Service (GI) – is said by some Western diplomats and other officials in the region to be so close that the American agency appears to be supervising the Palestinians' work.”

PA human rights groups have documented several deaths of victims of PA torture, such as forced sleeplessness and victms being forced into staying in painful positions for lengthy periods of time.

Sa’id Abu-Ali, Interior Minister for the PA, admitted to the Guardian that the “Americans help us” but denied they supervise the PA forces. The CIA also denied it supervises PA forces but conceded its operatives work with the PA. Concerning the use of torture, Abu-Ali declared, “[Abuse happen in every country in the world.“

Ibrahim Hewitt, senior editor of the Middle East Monitor, wrote that he is concerned by the report and that the Interior Minister is “in the government regarded as the "moderates" by the U.S., Europe and Britain.”

Last year, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group released a report that documented 14 years of extra-judicial brutality under the Palestinian Authority, with the direct and explicit support of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Fundamental Reforms, U.S.-Style

Universal health care coverage must represent the single most polarizing issue between the Democrats and Republicans - and their singular constituents - in the United States at the present time. It's kind of a classic case of those that have and those that haven't; the rich and the poor, the entitled and the disentitled. For of course, it is mostly the poor underbelly of society that is affected so deleteriously by the current non-system.

Those who are well employed, who can afford their own insurance coverage, can afford to be disinterested in having health insurance coverage extended through state intervention to all citizens, on the basis that their taxes will be paying to advantage the disadvantaged. That separation in public conscience between the Republicans and the Democrats certainly represents a stark division in the national narrative.

The United States presents itself as the sole wealthy industrialized nation on this Globe without a universal health coverage scheme. Rather shameful, in fact, for such a socially, politically and technologically advanced economic powerhouse. How is that different than a country, say, like India, struggling to bring itself into social modernity and economic viability, with its millions-masses of indigent poor?

In the final steps toward achieving an agreement that would bring health-care reform to the country the universal health-insurance scheme has been diluted in its universality and general usefulness by an officiously disgruntled opposition of the hard right. Not only will states now be enabled to opt out of paying for abortions, but single states have been materially benefited by their Senate-grudging vote.

The overall goal of a government-responsive public insurance plan has been watered down to resemble a faint image of its original intent. And in the process Nebraska is excused from paying into the Medicaid fund; Vermont won a $9-billion concession to fund community health centres and Louisiana was gifted a $300-million Medicaid increase for their Senate votes, bringing the total to the 60 required to avoid a filibuster.

This kind of horse-trading is kind of fascinating, as elected members of the Senate and the House appear to prefer to represent not the good of the nation, but that of their individual states. Fascinating because one automatically thinks of the states as being united in their purpose to see fairness and justice prevail throughout the country, yet their primary focus is state, not country.

A confederation of singularly-entitled states? Bespeaking an all-too-human lack of national identity and a broader imagination to benefit the entirety.

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Ah, In England, You See....

When is discrimination a good thing? When one muses over whether an action is justified on the basis of its merits? Most certainly not when an individual is demerited when he/she lacks some substance or attribute that the host deems a requirement for inclusion in their refined institution. Or, perhaps not. It's a mind-teaser, a real puzzler.

When you start with a religion's basic premise that one is considered, say, a Jew, through matrilineal descent it seems straightforward enough. But wait! What about conversion, what about when a thoughtful, intelligent (presumably) individual makes a profound decision to adopt a religion other than that which they may have been born into, or introduced to in their familial circumstances?

Does this not qualify them for representing as a Jew? Even if Judaism does not evangelize? It does, after all, in its various manifestations, permit non-Jews to pass the test by teaching them the tenets of the belief.

In effect, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. There are extremely fundamentalist Jews who believe implicitly in every word of the Old Testament and for whom pilpul, Talmudic study, is their reason for existence. And there are those who practise a far more relaxed version of Judaism, and of course those who remain Jews but who are secular in the nature of their non-belief in the Divine. Ah, and there are the converts.

The fanatically orthodox have little use for all those other categories and they hold Jews in fairly low esteem who do not practise orthodoxy of religion; that is their privilege, even if it does represent a failure in humanity's ability to rise above factional ideologies. So a religious school in Great Britain, one of 50 such religious-parochial schools discriminated against an orthodox Jewish family on the basis of matrilineal descent of the child.

This is a religious-social aversion, a quite unpleasant circumstance where the devout make certain choices which are more detrimental to themselves in actual fact as human beings, than those whom they discriminate against. There are always other avenues open to those insistent on belonging where they are not welcomed. But this family chose to seek litigious action and the state became involved in a religious matter.

There's just something about Judaism that rankles and resists British even-handedness. The low-lying slight of anti-Semitism is never very distant from relations in a broad sense in that country which claims to value the contributions of their Jewish compatriots, but all too often demonstrates that value by all-too-obvious slights, misgivings and quasi-slander emanating from government sources albeit denied, and the courts, also denied.

A 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court of Britain concludes that the London Jewish school erred on the side of illegal discrimination in refusing entry to their establishment of a young student wishing to engage in studies there. "One thing is clear about the matrilineal test; it is a test of ethnic origin. By definition, discrimination that is based upon that test is discrimination on racial grounds" Lord Philips, president of the Supreme Court made clear.

Two of the four dissenting jurists presented fully dissenting opinions where they stated the school's policy was strictly religious and as such did not constitute discrimination along an ethnic base. "The ruling represents a definitive end to six decades of exclusion of children who are devout in their Jewish faith, but considered by some to be not quite Jewish enough to enjoy the benefits of their community's leading faith school" huffed one of the family's lawyers.

And isn't he precisely correct? And why would that family wish to pursue that tactic, why would they even want to be associated with that particular school other than that it is a prestigious one? Of course, they place high value on their right, as practising Jews, to be considered eligible for their son to attend the school, and they're right there, too. Nothing, however, will alter the indomitable insistence of the rigorous, righteous orthodox.

And the fact that Britain's Supreme Court sought to become involved in this issue, and to find the school wanting in its legal requirements is another sad issue; one of gross interference in one particular religion's school system. One in which the Supreme Court of the country set itself up as an arbiter of the last word as opposed to 3500 years of doctrinal acceptance. Because it is seen as 'inconsistent' with British law.

This is actually an inter-faith argument, one in which the law of the country should not be seen to intrude, because in applying that law as it has been done, unevenly, it represents gross interference in a religion's right to practise its faith as it sees fit. Or at least one segment of that religion, since liberal Jews would find great difficulty in supporting the actions of the orthodox school.

The issue did not merit the interference of the state. Which attempted to have it both ways; acknowledging that the school's test did represent a legitimate religious test; nonetheless polarized to British law. For the school administration itself points out that its mission is to teach all Jewish children regardless of their observance; the issue was their right to apply the ancient test of Jewish inheritance, which they did.

In the final analysis, however, this is a classic case of a pox on both sides. With the unfortunate potential of vastly complicating issues for the Jewish community and their parochial, religious schools; an interference whose true purpose is questionable, and the fall-out of which may be deleterious to all faith-based schools funded by the state.

For the secular it's a case of religious indoctrination being unrequired and intrusive in the life of an individual, complicating free-will. Yet on the other hand there is also a moral issue here one that is incredibly complex and unfortunate.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Triumphal Facade

The largest, most ambitious, most ballyhooed event ever sponsored by the United Nations has just concluded. It has concluded with an agreement whose contents are evasive, opaque, irrelevant, cowardly and hypocritical. It could hardly be otherwise, considering all the competing, self-interested, belligerent, entitled interests involved.

Considering also the aura of suspicion that surrounds the legitimacy of the science that accords with the UN-approved IPCC belief of anthropomorphic responsibility in global warming, little wonder.

It might have been far more intelligent to attend to the reality of climate change, not global warming, since there is really no true scientific consensus on the latter. Greenhouse gases caused by carbon dioxide and particulate emissions are another thing; they do, most assuredly, add to climate change, but to what degree that might conceivably be in reality, is anyone's guess.

Guess, because much of what is being discussed is hypothesis.

The real issue here is the vulnerability of third-world, or emerging countries in the face of climate change. Those countries whose frailty due to their lack of opportunity to emerge from their indigent state, partially caused by their unscrupulous tyrannical leaders; those countries whose low-lying position along coastal waters of the world's great oceans render them particularly susceptible to inundation, flooding, tidal and storm events.

There is general, non-binding agreement that temperatures should be maintained below two degrees Celsius, no more, to avoid global catastrophe, but no firm pledges for curbing carbon emissions and above all other considerations, that the wealthy countries of the world pledge to hand over bulging treasuries to assist poor countries in their attempts to prepare for climate change.

Venezuela's representative thundered against the last-minute 'agreement' while India's prime minister emphasized the "glaring injustice; to the countries of Africa, to the least developed countries and to the small island states whose very survival as viable nations is in jeopardy". Human beings never learn; municipal authorities in developed countries are supposed to refuse building permits on wetlands, floodplains, friable earthworks.

Sudan blasted the unconcern of Western nations for the well-being of the undeveloped countries. And Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, set out to teach humility and respect for the Divine to the gathering: "We think the environment is the greatest blessing of God to human beings ... If somebody cuts a tree without a reason, it is as if he cut the wings of an angel. If someone pollutes the environment, he commits an arch sin."

Is he not the very embodiment of arch righteousness? At least Fidel Castro is content to subjugate and oppress his own people. The Islamic Republic of Iran, so faithful to God, represses its own population, and goes on to threaten the very existence of other countries through its need to develop nuclear weaponry to be wielded by a narcissistic, belligerent clergy that hears God's voice in the promise that Israel should be 'wiped from the map'.

The climate change conference concluded with its 193 UN-member countries agreeing to 'take note' of the Copenhagen Accord. With countries tasked to list their emission reduction targets, and above all begin the process of assembling billions of dollars in hand-overs to poor nations. The proceedings were well summed up by the UN's climate chief Yvo de Boer in describing the state of 'taking note'.

"...a way of recognizing that something is there, but not going so far as to directly associate yourself with it." Something akin to handling a distinctly offensive object with the proverbial ten-foot pole?

Take note.

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Sue His Maker

Wouldn't it be interesting if society could sue God for constructing an imperfect human being? Might there be any sense whatever in a just and sensible divinity permitting creatures to exist who have no saving virtues whatever other than that they exist? Those who prey upon others, who destroy life, who wreak havoc in society and cause no end of misery and agony to the world at large. Those who do so in their small societies, and those who wield great power to evil ends in their larger societies, impacting on the world at large.

Do we not expect parents to be responsible for the characters and values of their offspring? Now that's interesting; we obviously do not, since rarely does society blame the parents of a monster for his or her atrocities. But the very everpresent, omnipotent, omniscient being who so many around the world claim through their various interpretations of the divine will, to be responsible for our presence on Earth; should we not expect better of His creations?

It's all a little silly, of course. How to blame an idea in humankind's mind for the failures of humankind's emotional stability? We are imperfect and horribly fallible as thinking, caring creatures since too many among us are anything but. Society is surfeit with sociopaths and psychopaths whose mental equilibrium is so ill-balanced it flashes into viciously malignant disorder resulting in horror wherever they strike.

As was the case with a criminal named Steven Bugden who murdered a long-time friend because she did not share his romantic feelings. Psychopaths are unable to maintain stable emotional relationships, their personality disorder renders them incapable of empathy or concern or of love for others; they are mired in their own paramount, egotistical needs.

This man had a friendship with a young woman from their teen years until she attended university and he took automotive repair at Algonquin College. They remained friends, but never romantically, although he ultimately envisioned their relationship otherwise. When Angela Tong informed her friend she simply wanted to remain his friend he viciously ended her life, in 1997.

He stabbed her fourteen times in the back and then five times to her head. He stuffed her body into a bag, and hid it behind the hotel where he had invited her to meet up with him. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. He claims now to have sustained physical harm because of a malfunctioning piece of exercise equipment in prison, and is now suing for $50,000 in damages.

He claims that prison authorities in Kingston failed to have him attended by qualified medical practitioners. That he lived with pain for two years, until a diagnosis finally indicated he had sustained an inguinal hernia - a protrusion through the groin muscle, requiring corrective surgery. There is a kind of sweet justice here.

One that should not be disrupted by the very thought he entertains that he is due anything from society.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009


Is Canada on the right track with its insistence on honouring the rights of all people to all manner of ideologies, creeds, religions, cultural, social and traditional beliefs, giving equal value to all? Sounds awfully decent. Of course, there's the salient fact that in a fair and just society no one individual's interpretation of their religion, their culture, their ideology or their gender orientation should actually deleteriously impinge on that of others' like rights. And that's a tough nut to crack.

Good thing we have our valued, trusted and inspiring Human Rights Commissions. Who actually, in their inception, set out to right the wrongs that pluralism saw in the community, from people representing 'visible minorities' (there's that UN-abhorred phrase; pardon) not being able to access decent housing, and finding jobs scarce when they presented their exotic features to interviewers. That was the kind of societal problem that these commissions were good at solving.

Trouble is, on the way to becoming a well-balanced, less discriminatory society, many of the distasteful practises that made lives miserable for minority groups have dissolved in a society that now prides itself on its level of acceptance of others, of an expanded and extended social contract that represents modern Canada. Even Jews can attend university and be invited to private clubs in this glorious new Canada of the 21st Century, although dogs still aren't permitted.

Recent actions by human rights commissions in Canada, however, have threatened to turn this society inside out as it were, where traditional and conventional majority religions are now thwacked down at every opportunity for perceived insults and inaccommodation toward minorities. So perhaps we've gone a tad too far? Gone from the middling-moderate of the Golden Mean to topple over in the opposite direction, and in the final analysis society suffers.

Some may claim that this is an anticipated result when people become too entitled, feeling that their entitlements now give them cause to dis-entitle others, and that truly is a huge shame. Because, actually, on the international scale of balance for religious freedom, for example, Canada stands pretty high for tolerance. Wouldn't be nice to see us begin to topple from that tolerance-plinth of deserved pride of human-rights accomplishment.

Joining the ranks of other countries whose records on religious tolerance truly rankle. Of course within North and South America we're not all that special, since most countries on those continents are pretty open to religious differentiation, and hugely tolerant. As opposed, say, to China and to Iran and to Saudi Arabia. And it's also instructive that the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's release looks at both official and unofficial state views.

In other words, in some countries, like China, tolerance toward religious minorities, or 'the other' is high among the general population, but there is a low level of tolerance by the state apparatus, the ruling, governing elite. Not quite like Iran, Egypt and Pakistan, for example, where resentment of other religions runs rampant through the population, just as their states also strenuously oppose recognition or tolerance of other religions.

Roughly one-third of the world's countries (the study looked at 198 nations) have a high level of official and unofficial obstacles to freedom of worship. Unsurprisingly, given decades of disturbance emanating from Muslim countries thanks to a resurgence in religious fanaticism, Middle East and North African countries rank very high on repression of other religions. Where in fact, arrest and torture of clerics and their flock occur regularly.

Restrictions listed by the study include refusal of employment based on faith, church vandalization (including temples, mosques and synagogues) and beating or murdering worshippers of the disdained religion. Even where some countries have a provision in law to protect other religions, in practise it is ignored. The single country pointed out as repressive in the Americas was, surprisingly, Cuba. With Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia not far behind.

So we're doing all right, but why would we congratulate ourselves, since that's how we should be doing, as a tolerant, welcoming, multi-cultural society, embracing an enormous number of international immigrants yearly? There's clearly, on the record, however, room for improvement.

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Canada Today

  • A man who became paraplegic after contracting herpes from unprotected sex lost a $100,000 disability award when the Supreme Court of Canada sided with his insurance company in a ruling that concluded that his misfortune, while tragic and unexpected, did not represent, in fact, an 'accident' in the generally understood way. The court unanimously ruled that allowing Randolph Gibbens to cash in "would stretch the boundaries of an accident policy beyond the snapping point" by turning it into a health insurance scheme with lower premiums, for disease suffers.
Poor man, he contracted a rare form of genital herpes after having unprotected sex with three women. The virus attacked his spine and paralyzed him from his abdomen down. Now that's hitting a man pretty low down on his centre of gravity, his horizon: "In the case of Mr. Gibbens we are dealing with a disease transmitted in the ordinary course of having sex." So fellas, be aware, and by all means, beware.

  • For more than a year, Canada's military police have been investigating allegations suggesting Canadian troops abused Afghan detainees, according to media reports. (Remember Shidane Arone in Somalia?) The detainees were captured in 2008 and the probes began at least one year ago, CBC reported Friday night. According to documents obtained by the network, allegedly written for Defence Minister Peter MacKay last spring, military police launched six investigations in 2008 to find out whether Canadian troops were involved. Military police determined there was no basis to five of the six cases, while the remaining case is still being investigated, a Canadian Forces spokesman told CBC News.
Presumably, the lone military malefactor took his cue from the snarling reference by Canada's former chief of the defence staff, Rick Hillier, of the Taliban as "detestable murderers and scumbags", a characterization that retired General Hillier is not prepared to retract. And while it's entirely possible that one 'rogue' soldier vented his fury on a Taliban, conceivably after another ramp ceremony, what followed is adequate proof that the military and the government take their Geneva convention obligations seriously. While the opposition, hot on blood-scent is grateful for new ammunition to launch against the Conservative-led government.
  • Fifteen members of the notorious criminal United Nations (!wot?!)drug-smuggling gang claimed in court that tax officials were working illegally with police by passing on their confidential information and trying to humiliate them by showing up late at night or meeting them in public places "to achieve maximum embarrassment". While in the U.S. a multi-year, multi-agency investigation revealed that the UN gang was moving $26-million yearly of cocaine and marijuana across the Canada-U.S. border. The Federal Court of Canada has sided with UN members over the Canada Revenue Agency, claiming a government employee had no authority to issue letters demanding information about the gangsters' source of income.
Tuck that tongue back in your mouth. And work up a little compassion for those poor guys being "publicly humiliated". Isn't that conducive to feeling warm and cozy all over that even thugs responsible for destroying lives through their dedication to providing drugs to those who get hooked through their kindly auspices, are guaranteed 'justice' in Canada through our highest court, concerned with their rights and privileges as citizens?

  • The mayor of the British Columbia community of Squamish defended volunteer firefighters' on-the-job boozing, saying it's part of their "debriefing" process. Former Squamish Fire Rescue Chief Ray Saurette said he was fired earlier this week because district councillors did not agree with his no-alcohol policy. Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner defended the decision to allow the district firehall to serve alcohol after 4:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday and on weekends. "Being a firefighter can be quite traumatic", he said.
And so, assuredly, is being the victim of a home fire. Hoping to be rescued by a sober, clear-headed, and capable firefighter. Unless those volunteers are setting the fires themselves because they've been infected by that odd disease afflicting pyromaniacs who love to follow the outcome of the fires they set, and sometimes put them out too - isn't it a reality that fires occur Monday to Friday, after 4:30 p.m. and on weekends, too?

  • The extradition hearing for accused synagogue bomber Hassan Diab has been delayed for at least several months after Crown prosecutors successfully argued Friday that France needed more time to review the case. The adjournment was allowed, giving French authorities opportunity to review evidence Mr. Diab's lawyers intend to bring forward to challenge handwriting analysis and intelligence the French claim links him to the 1980 bombing in Paris that killed four and injured 40. Mr. Diab and his lawyers are not pleased with this turn of events, claiming undue hardship on Mr. Diab will result from the delay, despite that when it suited their agenda, they had previously called for a number of such delays.
Canada has a treaty with France, just as it has with other democratic nations in the international community, to extradite and hand over to lawful authorities those individuals deemed guilty, or alleged to be guilty, of serious crimes, where they are to stand trial in those countries where their crimes were committed. Justice is not necessarily well served with permitted stalling tactics, dancing around the conviction by French intelligence experts that they have more than adequate evidence on which to try an individual for the charges laid.

And finally, puff-puff:
  • The brother of Quebec's Catholic archbishop has taken the highly unusual step of buying an advertisement in a newspaper to explain why he pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges against two female minors, aged 13 and 15. Paul Ouellet, brother of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, wrote in the ad, published in the weekly La Frontiere, that he pleaded guilty so he could move on. He said he is only guilty of having succumbed to the victims' "advances".
Good thing that's cleared up. Who could blame some poor guy for succumbing to the sexual invitations of two over-sexed Lolitas, after all? A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do to satisfy calls on his services, and 13- and 15-year-olds can be pretty persuasive. Seems Cardinal Ouellet's saintly faith-and-respect-for-the safety-and-security-of-minors-from-the-wantonly-nasty-predations-of-child-molesters wasn't shared by his brother. A kindly man, it would appear, who was molested himself once too often by importunate children.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Lunatic Psychopaths

It's debatable whether psychopaths are deranged, to begin with, or whether they simply represent human beings for whom the emotions of empathy and compassion are absent from their arsenal of feelings. Are people who have an utter lack of interest in others, in whether they suffer, and whether their actions are the cause of such suffering, representative of a debased intelligence? Likely not, since it has been demonstrated in the past that mass and/or serial murderers have been possessed of intelligence while constrained of human emotion.

And what the hell do you do when you discover that there are actual raving lunatics in your midst? All the more so when faced with the reality that those who are judged to be a potential risk to the health and safety - and longevity - of their near social group are young people? We're really ill-equipped, even as a progressive, intelligent and medically-advanced society to cope with the numbers of young people who are critically alienated from society in general and their peers in particular.

The instance of two Winnipeg teens, a 17-year-old boy suffering from autism, and a 18-year-old girl, his close friend, who conspired together to inflict major harm in as wide a swath as possible among their peers in school. And once they were finished mopping up that little atrocity, they planned to move on to another location, the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus, and continue their planned killing-excursion there.

They had secured four rifles and shotguns and made careful plans. They may have been inspired by previous school massacres. They may have felt a deep and abiding revulsion for others their age who might have avoided contact with them on a social basis, instinctively feeling there was something not 'quite right' about those two with their seething animosity for others.

School authorities at the high school they attended had been given reason in the past to feel there was something dreadfully wrong with the young man. As a result he had been submitted to a psychological investigation, and its results conveyed to his father. His father had taken immediate steps to divest himself of his firearms, taking them to the home of his mother. From whence his son had availed himself of the weapons, in any event.

The two had planned to trap students and teachers in the school gym before setting a fire and shooting any of those in the gym who tried to escape the resulting fire. From there they planned to proceed to the university campus to continue their killing spree. They also planned to devote some attention to College Lorette collegiate and Church of the Rock parishioners. They obviously had a wide net of institutions and individuals whom they felt violently aversive.

Things went awry for them when they fell under suspicion after the girl had confided to a friend and that friend alerted police. Both teens attempted suicide. They since underwent tests validating their serious psychological issues: "These reports make clear that both young persons suffered from serious mental aberrations [and] disorders at the time of the offence and that both require continuing intensive psychological treatment".

The two, who had agreed to kill one another if either attempted to back away from their original plan, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit murder. They have since been tried and under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the maximum sentence for such a charge amounts in total to three years behind bars and supervision. Which has resulted in two-year incarceration sentences for both.

And, dare we hope, plenty of efficacious treatment. Doubtless inclusive of a drug regimen. And what will result from that? Two young people released back into society, encouraged to remember to take their prescribed drugs to control their mental 'issues', and society hoping that their frail conditions don't deteriorate and lead them back to similar plans to exact revenge on a society they are alienated from.

How frail.

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The Faithful

The former archbishop who distinguished himself by practising exorcism (remember a year or so back when one of the Vatican's hierarchic cardinals carefully explained that there is a legitimate place for exorcism in the Church, so don't cluck like that), faith healing (the father of which has just gone to his Maker; those that don't respond are bereft of faith) and then created great perturbation in the Roman Catholic Church by marrying, has, sadly, been defrocked.

This fellow, Emmanuel Milingo (just call him Mister, forget the Archbishop title now) was a Vatican official who lived in Italy during the 1980s and 1990s. His extraordinary behaviour caused no little fuss with the Holy See, when both the late Pope John Paul II, and currently Benedict XVI "personally followed the case of Archbishop Milingo in a spirit of paternal solitude", but the ingrate persisted in his stubborn waywardness.

"The Holy See has therefore been obliged to impose upon him the further penalty of dismissal from the clerical state", a move "most extraordinary". Archbishop - oops, Mr. Milingo, originally from Zambia, had taken it upon himself to ordain bishops to invest them within a breakaway church he threatened to initiate, which would permit priests to marry.
In fact, he did ordain four married men as priests within Married Priests Now.

The Holy See stressed that, although Mr. Milingo is defrocked, he is not released from his vow of chastity that he accepted when becoming a priest. He is now 79, and enjoys a married life with a 43-year-old Korean woman, selected for him by Sun Myung Moon, the South Korean-born evangelist who personally officiates at marriages by the hundreds in much-celebrated mass weddings.

Mr. Milingo remains a thorn in the genital area of the Catholic Church, insisting on criticizing the Vatican over its continued insistence on celibacy. Not, heaven forfend, that there is any connection, but it is interesting to note how deeply affected the current Pope has been by the dreadful revelations of priests preying on vulnerable children for sexual gratification (and temporary release from celibacy).

He is saddened, but stoic in acceptance of the resignation of a bishop criticized for giving cover to the issue of priestly sex abuse. Bishop Donal Murray, the Bishop of Limerick (no, really) "humbly" apologizing for his role in the explosive Irish priestly-predatory scandals fretting the Vatican, emphasizing that his resignation "cannot undo the pain of those who suffered." How noble of him to care so dreadfully much.

Wait, there's other pedophile priests being brought to public shame with the revelations of their sexual assaults on altar boys. See, that old joke wasn't really a joke at all. (Parents of these kids should have been alerted; where there's quips there's truth.) One priest confessed to abusing over one hundred children. Another that he had abused children once a fortnight over a period of 25 years. His was a methodical mind with a maniacal message.

One senior cleric whose name appeared in the report finding church leaders in Dublin guilty of refusing to report abuse to police, complicit with the general church culture of hushing things up has said, poor man, "I am 73 years old and I am obliged to hand in my resignation when I turn 75. However, if it will serve the Church, the people and the victims, I am prepared to go sooner".

Not soon enough, good soul, if one thinks of all the children who would have been spared grief and trauma had he reported their activities, recognized the imperative of his position was to his flock's need not that of his errant colleagues. What's that old saying? "Ve get too soon old und too late shmart"?

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Christmas Spirit

No, this wasn't the Spirit of Christmas that came prowling at night to leave a reminder that someone up there at the North Pole is thinking about people in need. But it was someone - or someones - who counted on the generosity of people coming to the practical aid of those whose Christmas spirit would have been dashed if they couldn't rely on an area food bank to supply them with foodstuffs for a Christmas feast for their family, and toys for their children.

Which is why the Riceville Food Bank found themselves deprived of a goodly proportion of the frozen turkeys, hams, potatoes and other food items that they were planning to use to prepare hampers to be given out to local needy families who had identified their need by signing up well beforehand in the hopes of receiving one of those hampers. Which would also include small wrapped gifts for their children.

There's something about the Christmas season, bringing out the best in people who have enough for themselves and to spare for others as well. And there's also much about the Christmas season that appeals to children, anxiously wanting to experience the same kind of excitement and happiness in a brief interlude between fall and winter's cold, bleak onset when they can expect a memorable dinner and something new to play with.

"They didn't just take stuff, we found freezers wide open, stuff all over", said one of the volunteers on discovery of the theft. "Then they went upstairs to steal the children's gifts." The food bank is located in the premises of the Prescott-Russell Church of God Sunday School on Country Road 16. Presumably, it would have been local goons who might have knowledge of the cache they could loot.

Kids, maybe out to have some fun for themselves, doing something both illegal and nasty-mean. Sociopathic and loving it. Happily, though it was estimated by Reverend Maynard Chant that some 60% of the gifts and 50% of the turkeys were stolen, "We're just thankful it wasn't all taken." And if anything can be guaranteed at this time of year, it's that others will pull together to make up for the purloined items.

The hundred families in the area in dire need of provisions for Christmas and their children hoping for new toys to enliven their Christmas holiday will still get to celebrate. The churlish oafs who took the food and the toys can chuckle with delight to their hearts' content. Conscience won't bother them.

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Jeez, Sorry to Hear About That

What kind of cretins are we turning into that we have so monumentally trivialized life and reality, transforming it into a world where we send our every intimate and/or absurd thoughts through the ether to inform people whom we don't know, who don't know us, and couldn't much care less, about the trials and tribulations of our lives? Perpetually throughout the day. Got a thought passing through your hollow head? Catch it, fast, before it escapes. And post it, swiftly! (Or as the Victorians said, post-haste.)

I'd like to think it isn't only twits who tweet. After all, once this peculiar social phenomenon got going all manner of news organizations and generally intelligent and thoughtful people also signed on to the quirky attraction of posting whatever came to mind. Updates and absurdities, tidbits of information and reminders, and personal accomplishments and aspirations. Hey, public out there, cheer for us! We tweet, therefore we are.

This thing about posting brief little updates is kind of cute, actually. You're unloading thoughts, and sometimes they're worth unloading for whoever is interested - and that's a matter of additional debate. But this is a pastime, a brief diversion in one's day, a way to idle away a few whimsical moments here and there - in your spare hours. A boredom-reliever. This is not a necessity, a dire need to make contact with other minds existing elsewhere.

This may sound trite, but tweeting is not living. Get that? So it was kind of mind-boggling to read that a woman - supposedly in full possession of her mental faculties - posted entries several hours apart. One, when her infant son was in hospital emergency, when doctors were trying to resuscitate him after he'd gone into the family pool, and then again, when all attempts to revive the little guy were unsuccessful.

A two-year-old child - no one I'm certain needs reminding - can move in a flash. That old adage about children not being careless, but care-free is true, very true. Two-year-olds cannot envision harm coming to them as a result of something they initiate. Their curiosity must be assuaged at all costs; they don't realize the potential costs. If no one is there to supervise them they charge straight ahead. Into a pool from which they'll never emerge alive.

Across a busy highway, straight off a summer-cottage dock, into a hornet's nest; whatever appeals. And at that age a whole hell of a lot appeals to these children's sense of adventure and exploration. It's what children do. It's how they learn. But we hope that their learning opportunities don't result in the kind of finality visited upon the child of this woman living in Florida whose gut reaction is to post whatever happens.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

American Health Care

It's amazing, really, the conflict between the free enterprise system gone amok and the need of ordinary American citizens to have some modicum of relief from the spectre of devastating health issues impacting their futures in the most deleterious of ways. From being unable to access needed medical treatments because of a lack of adequate insurance - or any health insurance due to its exorbitant cost - to having to pay off hugely expensive surgeries over the life-time of the patient.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health points out that some 44,000 people may die this year alone in the United States simply because they are without health insurance. People unable to pay for treatments, for pharmaceuticals simply put off going to a doctor, being diagnosed, having to pay for surgeries or drugs they simply cannot afford. Effectively limiting their lives.

There are an estimated 46.3-million Americans without health coverage. Some physicians and surgeons with conscience are lending their professional expertise to temporary, large-scale free clinics, as an opportunity of last-resort for desperate and ill people. These are often middle-income people whose insurance, reaching $1000 monthly with $5000 annual deductibles simply have no option but to cancel.

Less expensive insurance is available, but will often turn down applicants with pre-existing conditions, even relatively minor ones. Those are the people who are living on the edge of hope that nothing will go dreadfully wrong and hurl them into the chasm of desperation. Other, lower-income people rarely visit doctors, and if they do, cannot afford to have their prescriptions filled, fearing crippling debt.

The White House hopes to pass health-insurance legislation that would not permit companies to deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. A heart condition leading to treatment with two stents installed will set a patient back $83,000 in medical bills, and if there is no health insurance, and the individual has a limited income the future looks pretty bleak. The family's future sacrificed to crippling debt.

With the downturn in the international financial system and the banks-collapse in the United States leading to huge job losses, the laid-off have lost their company-provided health care insurance, but their situation may not qualify them for Medicaid. Many people belonging to the lower- and the middle-class with vulnerable health were hoping that Congress's new plan would extend Medicare coverage to those not yet elderly, but 55 and over.

That hope now seems a remote possibility with the refusal of independent Senator Joe Lieberman to back that initiative. As the health care legislation now before the U.S. Senate stands, it barely resembles the wholesale plan that President Barack Obama envisioned as a much-needed health-insurance safeguard for his country's population.

As the legislation now stands private insurance companies and their brokers stand to gain, the original proposals now so completely gutted as to appear toothless in their intent and reality. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Dr. Howard Dean characterizes the legislation now before the U.S. Senate as "...an insurance company's dream..."

So much for good intentions, dire need and the power of established, powerful lobbies.

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