Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Beating around the Bush

Oh my, we Canadians are becoming even less enamoured of our southern cousins' choice of president. A recent Globe and Mail/CTV News survey indicated the number of Canadians who think the election of George W. Bush was a bad thing has increased from 58 to 69 per cent over the last two years. Bush fans in this country will no doubt be playing their tedious "anti-American" card yet again. But of course that isn't what the survey showed, as was illustrated by the fact 70 per cent of the respondents agreed with the statement, "I value and respect the United States and its citizens -- It's just that I disagree fundamentally with their government."

The anti-American label, ironically often applied by people who seem to be anti-Canadian, is for the most part a bum rap. Very few Canadians are anti-American, but many see the Bush Administration as anti-world. Consider the evidence:

On the environment front, the Bush people refuse to sign the Kyoto protocol, even though it's only a baby step toward saving the world from incineration. On the social justice front, they not only refuse to sign on to the International Criminal Court, one of the finest advances in global justice ever, incredibly they work actively to undermine it. On the international security front, they refuse to sign the Mine Ban Treaty even though land mines are a much bigger threat to innocents than terrorists, their preferred nemesis. And on the war front, they continue to lavish money on their military to the point where they spend more money on armaments than the rest of the world combined. The list of maverick behaviour is long and sad.

And tragic. The United States, the most powerful nation on Earth, is in a unique position to be a world leader in all the above areas. But they aren't even followers, simply contrarians who insist only they know the high road to all things bright and beautiful. Perhaps the leadership will eventually come. But not until George W. Bush is history.

Wot about the workers

A recent editorial in the Globe and Mail offers a revealing peek inside the minds of corporate globalists. Commenting on the anti-China sentiment currently rampant in the U.S. Congress over perceived trade slights, the Globe suggests, "Beijing could take a lot of pressure off simply by letting the Chinese yuan float upward, making Chinese goods slightly more expensive for foreigners. Privatizing more of its state-run industries, cracking down on product piracy and easing rules on foreign investment would also help persuade Washington that it is playing fair."

Nary a mention about China allowing its working people freedom of association so they could collectively bargain for wages and benefits, thereby creating a level playing field for workers in the United States and other free countries. Labour in China is essentially coerced, giving the country a huge advantage in international trade, keeping the prices of its products down and thereby contributing substantially to the balance of trade deficit that is so worrying American congressmen.

But cheap labour is highly advantageous to multinational corporations, and they are what globalization as we know it is all about. So we should not be surprised when their media arm refuses to see a trade subsidy in the exploitation of workers.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mr. Hargrove throws a tantrum

The Canadian Auto Workers may have just pulled off organized labour's second stupidest stunt in recent memory. The first, of course, was opposing the Rae government in Ontario in the 1993 election, thereby helping to open the door for Mike Harris and his Conservatives who, just as one might have expected, proceeded not only to dismantle the progressive labour legislation brought in by the NDP but also to launch the harshest attack on social programs in the province's history.

Now the CAW National Executive Board has adopted a resolution that calls for, "CAW local leadership, staff, CAW members, as well as CAW local unions affiliated to the NDP, to withdraw all support and affiliations from the NDP federally and in all provinces and territories." Apparently the Board is in a snit over Buzz Hargrove's suspension from the Ontario wing of the party for advocating strategically voting for Liberal candidates during the federal election. Do these guys realize what they are doing?

Consider a province like Saskatchewan. Do they believe if the NDP government is defeated by the Saskatchewan Party, a Reform-style conservative party, this will be a good thing for labour legislation and social justice? Will it be a good thing for labour legislation and social justice if the NDP are defeated by the Conservatives in Manitoba? Will the NDP not do more for organized labour and social justice in B.C. if they win the next election?

That the Ontario NDP suspended Hargrove is not surprising. When you are a member of one party and you advocate voting for another, you can hardly expect less. But even if it was an overreaction, it is less than brilliant to overreact in turn with action that undermines your own best interests and goals. The CAW claims to be progressive, yet it acts to undermine the political party that has done more for social progress in this country than any other.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The plutocracy meets

I note that at the upcoming meeting of Prime Minister Harper and Presidents Bush and Fox, they have decided to each invite five corporate CEOs. Not a bad idea to get another point of view on economic issues, but why just from the corporate chiefs? Don't workers have some vague connection to economic success? So why aren't a few labour leaders invited?

The ubiquitous Thomas d'Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, commented, "The decision to invite influential CEOs ... signals a recognition by the leaders that winning in a changing global economy will depend on more than good public policy." Yes indeed, but may it not also have something to do with good labour relations and a good working relationship between government, business and labour?

Perhaps I'm naive, but couldn't our political leaders at least pretend we are more of a democracy than a plutocracy?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Oh, the ironies of war

Saddam Hussein is currently on trial in Iraq, charged with murdering dozens of residents of al-Dujail because someone in the village had tried to assassinate him.

As the trial proceeds, it appears some of Iraq's liberators may be capable of reprisals of their own. Last November, a U.S. Marine report indicated a roadside bomb near the town of Haditha had killed a marine and 15 Iraqi civilians. Further investigation, however, revealed the civilians, including seven women and three children, had been shot. The marines, it appeared, had gone on a rampage. A nine-year old survivor, Eman Waleed, said, "I couldn't see their faces very well, only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny."

Last week, Iraqi police accused U.S. soldiers of murdering civilians in the village of Abu Sifa. The police report read, in part, "The American forces gathered the family members in one room and executed 11 people, including five children, four women and two men, then they bombed the house, burned three vehicles and killed their animals."

There is an expression, I believe, "If you hate your enemy long enough, you become your enemy."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What's a trillion?

Once again the myth that conservatives are fiscally responsible is taking a beating. George W. Bush, possibly the most conservative president in U.S. history, has managed to turn a $128-billion surplus into a $423-billion deficit in a mere five years. And a conservative Republican Congress seems happy to oblige. They just bumped the federal debt limit to $9-trillion ($9-trillion!!), for the fourth increase in five years. One would never know it's an election year down there and the Republicans are in trouble. The problem from a northern perspective is that if the Bushites dump the American economy in the toilet, ours will probably go with it.

Afghanistan and the terrorist fallacy

A broad swath of the press and the political class, including most importantly our Prime Minister, continue to insist that putting our forces in Afghanistan will somehow protect us from terrorism. This notion assumes that al Qaeda's notorious training camps have been instrumental to attacks on the West. The fact is they have had little to do with the attacks.

For example, the perpetrators of the most infamous attack of all, on the World Trade Center in New York, needed to know little more than how to fly airliners, and they learned that not in camps in Afghanistan but at flight schools in the United States. The Spanish authorities have now confirmed that the Madrid bombings had no connection to al Qaeda at all. They were home-grown, as were the London bombings. In any case, those who carry out these atrocities, or those in Bali and on the American embassies in East Africa, only need to know how to build a bomb, and they can learn that on the Internet. Indeed, that is apparently where the Madrid bombers learned their craft.

We cannot defend ourselves against these kinds of attacks with armies, navies, air forces and missile defence shields. They can only be prevented by good police work, good intelligence and good social work. The importance of the latter was exemplified by the London bombings, executed by alienated youths from an ethnic community unsuccessfully integrated into the larger society. Armies cannot mitigate this problem, only good social infrastructure can. If we wish to protect our citizens from terrorist attacks, we should expend our resources on appropriate training for the police, on improved intelligence and on developing healthy relationships between our various communities. Money spent on the military will be money wasted.

We might ask why we are in Afghanistan in the first place. We are there, of course, as part of NATO, but why is NATO there? Because in October, 2001, the United States presented evidence that Osama bin Laden, then ensconced in Afghanistan, was involved in the September 11 attacks. NATO's secretary general, George Robertson of the U.K., declared the evidence to be clear and decisive, thus justifying application of Article 5 of The North Atlantic Treaty which states that an attack against one is an attack against all, and armed force may be used to "restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area." The evidence presented to NATO was not made public.

This story sounds disturbingly familiar. In order to justify invading Iraq, the Americans presented evidence to the United Kingdom that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was also involved in the September 11 attacks. Tony Blair declared the evidence sound and justified an invasion. The "evidence" was, in fact, utterly false. Why, then, should we believe the evidence presented to NATO regarding bin Laden's involvement was any better? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Bin Laden has complemented the bombers, but even though the attacks would be a big feather in his turban, he has denied involvement. The FBI is inclined to agree. In the crimes they list him as being wanted for, the September 11 attacks are conspicuously absent. He isn't even their most wanted terrorist which he certainly would be if he was responsible for 9/11.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Harper has stated, "Our two military objectives [in Afghanistan] are to fight terrorism ... and ... to aid the Afghan forces in fighting it themselves." Yet if the evidence the Americans presented to NATO was false, then we, and NATO, are in Afghanistan on false pretences. Furthermore, any fighting we do now is principally against the Taliban which means we are not fighting terrorists, we have joined a civil war.

If we are confident the Afghans want us to help them rebuild their country, we may be able to justify the presence of our troops to safeguard that effort, but there is no justification for the Prime Minister's stated objective "to fight terrorism." It will not make us safer, it may put us in greater danger if we create a critical mass of enemies, and it may be founded in lies. It smacks of seduction by Bushite paranoia.

We should demand three things from the government:

1. A thorough debate in the House of Commons about the mission in its entirety.
2. A policy statement on the humanitarian component of the mission that includes, as a minimum, assurances that the Afghan peoples' support for the mission exceeds the ability of opponents to wreck it, a plan for achieving our objectives including yardsticks for progress, limits of the mission, and criteria for ending it.
3. A clear rejection of the terror-fighting component of the mission.

We need answers to critical questions: For example, what happens when and if we stabilize Kandahar? Afghanistan is plagued by renegade governors and warlords, some as unpleasant as the Taliban. Is it our intention to stabilize the country province by province? And what if the increasing control of Waziristan by the Pakistani Taliban make stabilization impossible? Will we send our troops across the border?

Without answers to such questions, we may slide Vietnam-like into a foreign entanglement replete with noble intentions but based on false assumptions and devoid of thorough public discussion and support.

Friday, March 17, 2006

"We are going to be working within Kyoto"

Yes, those are the words of Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, and welcome words they are. During the election, Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper said some unkind things about Kyoto, going so far as to suggest it was dead. So it's heartening to hear our new Environment Minister insisting we will work within it.

Kyoto is, of course, just a small first step. Greenhouse gases will have to be reduced a great deal more than the protocol requires if we are to avoid turning planet Earth into another Venus.

The challenge is formidable. Under the protocol, we have agreed to a six per cent reduction in greenhouse gas levels from 1990. Our performance so far is a 24 per cent increase, a disgraceful effort. Nonetheless, countries like the U.K. and Sweden are meeting their targets, and their economies keep humming along, so it not only has to be done it can be done. We simply must hope the Conservatives are better conservationists than the Liberals.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

So now we know

I have so far supported sending our troops to Afghanistan, but only reluctantly given my misgivings about killing people, and only on the assumption they were there principally to aid the people of that tragic place stabilize their country and rebuild it, possibly even establishing a democracy in the process. Now Prime Minister Harper has disabused me of that notion. He has stated publicly that, "Our two military objectives are to fight terrorism ... and ... to aid the Afghan forces in fighting it themselves." He went on to say, "Afghanistan and Canada are connected in one common objective. The common objective is the fight against terrorism ..."

So there you have it. The principal goal of our military presence is to join President Bush's "war" on terror. How many Canadians, I wonder, want to become part of that farcical exercise. Most will, I suspect, support a military presence to safeguard our contribution to rebuilding Afghanistan, particularly if it enhances democracy, but not so many will support turning it into our version of Iraq. If we didn't need a parliamentary debate on this issue before, we desperately need it now. And we especially need a crystal clear statement of precisely what we are in that country for.

Kandahar ... keeping our fingers crossed

Seeing Slobodan Milosovic described variously in the press as "the butcher of Belgrade" by a Sun editorialist and as "a hero for all Serbs" by a Serb nationalist caused me to dwell upon our mission in Afghanistan. To us, the Taliban, like Milosovic, are quite obviously incorrigible thugs, but do the villagers of Kandahar share our perspective? Many of them, after all, cleave to the same harsh religious beliefs as the Taliban. And when, after the departure of the Soviets, Kandahar descended into killing, raping, corruption and drug dealing at the hands of the warlords, the Taliban restored order. And, perhaps most importantly, the Taliban are their people, the Pashtun.

So when heavily armed foreigners appear in their villages, and tell them some of their sons, fathers, brothers, friends and neighbours, are scumbags and they are going to kill them, should we expect those villagers to welcome the strangers or to harbour a desire to take an axe to them?

Do they see their world as we do? Or are we blinded by hubris? We had better hope it's the former, or we may be in for a very nasty war indeed.

Monday, March 13, 2006

On the Waterfront redux

The recent uproar in the U.S. about six of that country's sea ports potentially being managed by a Dubai-based company is nothing if not comical. American ports have notoriously been infested by the Mafia for years.

Fears of al Qaeda, or perhaps just of Arabs, drove the Republican Congress into fits of self-righteous rage, even though the company concerned, Dubai Ports World, is eminently respectable and was thoroughly vetted by American security. In the face of this gratuitous hostility, the company has abandoned its plans and will transfer the leases to a U.S. entity. Yet another victim of Bush-induced paranoia.

The Taliban invade South Dakota

A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist is a fundamentalist. Although the good Christian legislators of South Dakota aren't threatening to force women to wear burqas, they have passed a law that will force them to give birth to babies conceived out of rape or incest. Not being a woman, I don't know if being forced to carry the child of your rapist is better or worse than being beaten for showing your ankles, but I do know both cruelties arise from the sordid influence of patriarchal religion. Patriarchs like women kept in their place, and they aren't particular about the means.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Welcome to the Laotian rock rat

A member of Laonastes aenigmamus, commonly known as the Laotian rock rat, or more locally as kha-nyou, was recently found in a Laotian market. Unfortunately, the little critter was dead and ready for the stew pot. Nonetheless, for a species thought extinct for millions of years, it's nice to know the little guys are still around. As Homo sapiens drives ever more species into extinction, it is gratifying to see one seemingly return Lazarus-like from the evolutionary past. So greetings to kha-nyou, long may you haunt the forests of Laos.

PS: No offence to the rat family, but Laonastes aenigmamus is actually more of a squirrel.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Wisdom and compassion in Beslan

In a remarkable display of decency, a group of victims from the Beslan school massacre oppose the death penalty for the lone surviving hostage-taker.

In September, 2004, Chechen extremists took a school in the Russian town of Beslan hostage, and in the resulting shootout over 330 people, including 186 children, died. One attacker, Nur-Pashi Kulayev, survived. Although prosecutors and many victims want him to be executed, a survivors' group calling themselves the Voice of Beslan have stated they do not want to "become barbarians in response to barbarity."

They are an example to us all.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Disrespecting the Palestinians

The reaction in the West to the recent election of Hamas in Palestine raises serious doubts about our commitment to democracy in the Middle East. The Palestinians hold a free and fair election, mustering a voter turnout much better than ours, and rather than welcome them into the community of democracies we issue ultimatums. If they want to gain our blessing, they must submit to our policies. And if they don’t, we will starve them into submission.

Our government demands three concessions: they must recognize Israel, they must renounce violence, and they must accept previous agreements.

But why should they recognize the state of Israel? Israel doesn't recognize a Palestinian state. This, surely, is something the two scorpions must negotiate.

And why should they renounce violence? Every other government on earth is allowed the right to use violence to defend its people and their land. Demanding the Palestinians renounce violence is tantamount to demanding they surrender. And this while more of their land is being stolen even as I write.

Demanding they accept agreements made by previous Palestinian governments is a bit much coming from a Canadian government threatening to scrap various agreements negotiated between its predecessor and the provinces.

Our government labels Hamas a terrorist organization while in reality it is a Palestinian resistance organization and political party. Does it employ terrorism? Yes, it has been known to do so, as have good friends of ours such as the United States, and of course we have good relationships with governments, such as China's, that practice terrorism against their own people. And how else does an occupied people fight back? My answer is passive resistance but then I haven't been subjected to 50 years of conquest, ethnic cleansing, occupation, and humiliation.

By punishing the Palestinians for their electoral choice we disrespect them and we disrespect democracy. If we disagree with their government, and we have good cause to do so, let's initiate discussion not hurl threats. The Palestinians have been disrespected for fifty years; nonetheless, they have opted for democracy. That, we are duty bound to honour.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Khadr question

Deep in the belly of the Guantanamo beast a Canadian teenager, Omar Khadr, awaits his trial by military tribunal. Omar has been charged with murder by the Americans because he killed a U.S. medic in a gunfight in Afghanistan. In its Orwellian speak, the Bush administration has termed him an "unlawful combatant." He is, of course, a prisoner of war. Indeed, considering that at the time he committed his "offence" he was only 15 years old and continued to fight the American troops until he was too badly wounded to go on, he might even be considered rather heroic.

The Canadian government, to its shame, is not contesting his status and seems prepared to let him face the arbitrary justice the Americans have planned for him.

It is true he has an unsympathetic background. His family, Egyptian immigrants, have been immersed in violence. The father, Ahmed Said Khadr, killed in a gunfight in Pakistan, was accused of being a founding member and financier of al Qaeda. A sister in Pakistan, Zaynab, has been accused along with her brother, Abdullah, of running an al Qaeda training camp. Abdullah is currently in jail in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities who have indicted him for conspiring to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan and other charges. Another brother, Abdurahman, spent time in Guantanamo but has been released. Yet another brother, Abdul Karim, remains paralyzed from the same shootout that killed his father. The mother, Maha, a Palestinian, is committed to extreme Islamic beliefs. She received a certain notoriety in 2004 when she returned to Canada from Pakistan to obtain treatment for Abdul under Medicare.

But all this is irrelevant to the case of Omar Khadr. He is a Canadian citizen and deserves the protection of his government. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, despite being a staunch ally of the Bush administration, has refused to allow British citizens to be held in Guantanamo or face the kangaroo justice of the military tribunals. Ottawa should do no less.

Omar Khadr killed an enemy in the heat of battle when he was hardly more than a child. He is no more a murderer than the young Americans he was fighting. Indoctrinated, some might say victimized, by his fanatical father and carried off to Afghanistan by him, he has never been offered an alternative to violence. He deserves that opportunity. He deserves a chance.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

O Canada!

All together now (with apologies to francophones):

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

A lively correspondence in The Globe and Mail has brought to my attention we probably have the most exclusive national anthem in the world. Consider the "Our home and native land!" line. That would exclude immigrants, who are 18 per cent of our population. Then there's the reference to "... all thy sons command." If our daughters aren't commanded, we can assume women, half of us, are discounted. Next we have "God keep our land ..." which may offend those with no religious affiliation, another 16 per cent. Allowing for overlap, almost two-thirds of Canadians are rudely excluded by their own anthem from being fully Canadian. Not exactly the unifying symbol an anthem ought to be.

But remedies are at hand. Ever resourceful, Globe readers have come to the rescue. John Gault of Toronto suggests, "... all thy hearts command," followed by "With glowing eyes ...," to deal with the sexism, and for the God problem, "Let's keep our land ...," while Meg Clyne of Vancouver cutely suggests, to avoid alienating immigrants, "our home on native land." And the best part is we can do this without changing the constitution.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Liar, liar

Poor old Bill Clinton told one little lie, a lie any gentleman would tell, and he faced impeachment. George W. Bush tells lies like it was a presidential perk and no one outside of Harper's Magazine whispers the word "impeach."

Consider the latest example. Four days after Katrina devastated New Orleans, the president declared, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." It has now been revealed that the day before the storm, Bush and his Homeland Security chief were briefed, according to The Globe and Mail, "in dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms" that "the storm could breach levees, risk lives in the New Orleans Superdome and overwhelm rescuers."

That shouldn't have come as a surprise. New Orleans major newspaper, the Times-Picayune, ran a 5-part series in 2002 warning that the levee system was inadequate, concluding, "a major hurricane could decimate the region, but flooding from even a moderate storm could kill thousands. It's just a matter of time." Bush's vaunted Homeland Security could have and should have been fully prepared for the worst. Their excuse? They were blinded, they said, by the "fog of war." And by a foggy president.

... and so we enter the world of Orwell

George W. Bush has led his country into a war on terror, a war without end, an Orwellian war. He defines words as they best suit his war. "Terrorist," "torture," "national security," come to mean what he wants them to mean, and he has lawyers to support his definitions.

Now we are told by Lt.-Gen. Rick Hillier, Chief of Canada's land forces, that we, too, are inovlved in a war, a war that will last 10 years ... minimum. There is no need to discuss an exit strategy, General Hillier says. No need for a parliamentary debate either, apparently. Afghanistan has been devouring foreign armies for centuries; we must hope it doesn't devour ours.

Thank you, Mr. McGuinty

Finally someone in power has added something sensible to the current Senate discussion. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says just get rid of the damn thing. With Ontario holding 40 per cent of the country's population but only 22 per cent of the Senate's seats, the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the beast does not escape Mr. McGuinty's attention. If the Senate were elected, Ontarians would become 1/2 citizens.

The upper house has offended Canadian democracy for 140 years. Fortunately, it has had the decency -- perhaps arising from guilt over its illegitimacy -- to avoid interfering with the democratic process as much as possible. In other words, we have for the most part gotten along without it. Why on earth would we want to convey legitimacy now by electing senators?

The only justification it ever deserved was regional representation, but that can be better obtained, while increasing democracy in the bargain, by proportional representation, a long overdue reform. In any case, democracy is for citizens, not regions.

The Premier is right -- put the thing out of its misery.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I am woman

Sometimes the news is grim; sometimes it sparkles with delightful surprises. An example of the latter is the recent election of Portia Simpson-Miller as leader of Jamaica's governing People's National Party and therefore as Prime Minister of the country. Ms. Simpson-Miller will become Jamaica's first woman PM.

She is the third woman to assume head of government in recent months, joining Michelle Bachelet, who will be inaugurated as President of Chile in March, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was elected President of Liberia last November.

Ms. Simpson-Miller, who has served in various capacities in government, has been described as, "an advocate for the poor, the dispossessed, the oppressed and all those who remain voiceless and faceless in the corridors of power." This suggests precisely the feminine influence governance everywhere requires much more of if Homo sapiens is ever to overcome poverty, war, disease and environmental degradation and put itself on the road to survival.

My heartiest congratulations to Prime Minister-designate Simpson-Miller and the People's National Party of Jamaica.