Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Support our troops? Not if they're as crazy as this guy

Taliban storming ashore at Wreck Beach? Crazy, you say? Well, not according to Brigadier-General David Fraser, Canadian head of NATO forces in Afghanistan. "The Taliban are a threat to nations around the world, including our own," says the general, according to an article in this morning's Globe. He added ominously, "I don't want my sons to be doing what I'm doing here on the shores of Canada."

The irrationality of the general's comments is disturbing. If this is the way the man who leads NATO forces thinks, we may have a bigger problem than we thought.

Opponents of our mission have been careful to insist that while they may want our troops out of Afghanistan, they wholeheartedly support them nonetheless. Political correctness demands as much. But if General Fraser's paranoid observations reflect our military's thinking on the war effort, maybe that support deserves rethinking.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The system works

The current minority government arrangement in the House of Commons is not pleasing to political parties. Political parties pursue power and are not happy having to share it. Even if they only get 40% of the vote, if that's enough to form the government they like to have 100% of the power.

The Canadian people may, however, be of a different mind. With the Conservatives in a minority position, they need the support of other parties to pass bills, and they must modify those bills accordingly. This means that all elected representatives, not just those of the ruling party, get involved in approving legislation. In other words, all Canadians, or at least a majority, have a say in making the law of the land. It's much more democratic than the usual one-party rule, and less divisive, and Canadians may just approve of that. Of course the ruling party fusses and fumes at having their will thwarted, and will no doubt make a lot of noise about it in the next election, but that we must expect from power-seekers.

Maybe Canadians, in their collective wisdom, achieved exactly what they wanted in the last election, either by design or by sheer good luck. I sincerely hope we'll do something similar, with maybe a rearranging of the parties, in the next election.

Negotiating with the bad guys

A few months ago, Jack Layton caused a bit of a stir by suggesting it might be more productive to negotiate with the Taliban rather than to kill them. A recent news item reinforces the merit of that approach.

Last week Vietnam was offered membership in the World Trade Organization. This is the same communist-led Vietnam where the United States once waged a brutal war to save its people from godless communism. And who was one of the cheerleaders for its entry into the WTO? Why, none other than the United States. Vietnam's membership "will be an important addition to the organization" enthused an American official. Trade between the two countries is growing rapidly and is now expected to grow even faster. Hanoi will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November and George Bush is scheduled to attend.

If the Americans had opted for negotiation rather than killing in the first place, perhaps over 3,000,000 people wouldn't have died and a country wouldn't have been devastated. Something to keep in mind as we sink ever deeper into the quagmire of Afghanistan.

Sandanistas betray women

At one time, the Sandanistas were the voice of progress for women in Nicaragua. They declared their intention to "abolish the detestable discrimination that women have suffered with regard to men and establish economic, political and cultural equality between men and women." Now they are willing to sell women out in order to win the upcoming presidential election.

Last week the Nicaraguan parliament passed a law banning all forms of abortion, including for rape victims and for pregnant women whose life is in danger. The Sandanistas supported the law.

That the misogynist Roman Catholic Church drove the campaign for the ban and the ruling right-wing Liberal Alliance promoted it is not surprising. That the Sandanistas would go along is surprising. Or perhaps not. The fast-tracking of the legislation during an election is a shameless ploy that apparently the Sandanista candidate, Daniel Ortega (yes, that Daniel Ortega, the one who was once a hero to progressives) apparently didn't want to lose out on.

Current law allows abortions in special circumstances, but few are performed. Rich women travel abroad for the procedure while tens of thousands of poor women have illegal abortions every year. A third of new mothers in Nicaragua are 16 or younger.

Ortega is the odds-on favourite to win the presidency. If he is successful, it will be in no small part due to his willingness to sacrifice women on the altar of the Church.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Groundbreaking new law to protect Indian women

India has long been a patriarchal society and like all patriarchal societies dismissive of the rights of women. For instance, men have been allowed to rape their wives without fear of prosecution as long as she is over the age of 15. But the most common source of domestic violence has related to dowry, with in-laws beating or even killing women if they feel they have received insufficient gifts or money. A common atrocity is "stove-burning" with a woman being set on fire by her husband's family who then claim it was a kitchen accident.

Women have been defenceless in the face of this violence, fearing the shame of being divorced or separated in a traditional society, and financially dependent on their abusers with nowhere to go for help.

The new law will deal with much of this. It will provide for protection officers and groups to ensure abused women receive medical and legal aid and have safe places to stay. It will also guarantee women the right to live in the marriage home. Not only will abusers be punished, they will be responsible for their victims' medical damages and legal costs. Women will also gain a share of their abusers' property and salary. The law will apply to common-law as well as married women, and also to mothers, sisters and widows.

The law is a few millennia overdue, but congratulations to the Indian government, nonetheless.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On the other hand, blame it on the meat

Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, Australia's senior Muslim cleric, has suggested women wouldn't be assaulted if they wore hijabs and stayed home more. He illustrated his theory with a little homily:
"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the back yard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem."
Needless to say, not all Australians appreciated the Sheikh's homely wisdom. Pru Goward, Australia's sex discrimination commissioner, called for Hilaly, who has also praised martyrdom and called the September 11 attacks the work of God, to be deported for inciting rape. "It is incitement to a crime," she said, "Young Muslim men who now rape women can cite this in court, can quote this man -- their leader -- in court."

Nor were many Muslim Australians thrilled. The Islamic Council of New South Wales called his comments "un-Islamic, un-Australian and unacceptable," while Iktami Hage-Ali, a former government advisor on Muslim issues, said Hilaly should be fired.

Ah religion, always good for a little moral enlightenment.

When in doubt, blame teenagers

Last Saturday, at 5:30 in the morning, an older man was brutally beaten in a Canadian Tire parking lot in Airdrie, a town of 25,000 just north of Calgary. The story was a press favourite with sensational reports about this "61-year-old Albertan whose skull was repeatedly fractured by teenagers who beat him up in an Airdrie parking lot." The outrage has made headlines all week, sparking calls for curfews to protect innocent citizens from wayward youth.

Now come the facts about this "teen swarming." The police have arrested three men, none of them teenagers, and it turns out there was nothing random about the assault. The men apparently knew their victim and sought him out for retribution as a result of drug deals gone bad.

Of all the TV stations and newspapers that covered this story you might expect one reporter or editor would have suppressed their eagerness to blame youth long enough to realize they did not in fact know how old the attackers were or their motive. The media owe teenagers a collective apology.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

U.S. soldiers to petition Congress to end Iraq war

A group of active duty U.S. military are planning to petition Congress to bring home the troops from Iraq. The petition, to be delivered to Congress on Martin Luther King day in January, reads:
"As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for US troops to come home."
A website for the petition "An Appeal for Redress" can be found at http://www.appealforredress.org/. As part of the campaign, a U.S. marine who has served in Iraq, Sergeant Liam Madden, will go public today with his opposition to the war. "The more informed I got, the more I opposed the war," said Sergeant Madden.

Aussies get the global warming message

Australia is the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide and appears to be paying the price. It is currently experiencing its worst drought in living memory blamed in part at least on global warming.

But this non-signer of the Kyoto Protocol seems to be getting the message. The Australian government has announced it will
contribute $64-million out of a total cost of
$359-million toward a 154-megawatt photovoltaic solar power plant. The plant, to be fully operational by 2013, will be the biggest in the world and provide clean electricity for 45,000 homes. Fields of mirrors will focus sunlight on high performance solar cells originally developed to power satellites. The plant will be one of a series of clean energy projects receiving government funding.

Unfortunately, Australia remains the world's major coal exporter and will continue to depend heavily on coal for its own rapidly increasing demand for electricity. Nonetheless, the conservative government does seem to be slowly coming to terms with reality. Finance Minister
Peter Costello confesses, "I accept the scientific evidence, which is that global warming is taking place, that it is caused by carbon emissions, that restraining the increase in carbon emissions will counteract that process of global warming and that we should play our part."
Well said, Peter, and about time.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Israel and the ethnic cleansers

We can appreciate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's desperation in trying to save his government -- we've been having some experience with minority governments ourselves lately -- but bringing in a party of right-wing bigots? Olmert announced yesterday he is forging a coalition with Yisrael Beiteinu, a party whose policies of ethnic cleansing bear considerable similarity to Britain's infamous National Front. And, if that wasn't bad enough, he's making the party's leader, Avigdor Lieberman, his deputy in charge of security in the Palestinian territories. Talk about putting the fox in the chicken coop.

Lieberman, founder of Yisrael Beitenu, is a Russian immigrant. This migrant suggesting how populations who have lived in Palestine for generations should be distributed is about as good an example of chutzpah as one could find.

The man is undoubtedly popular, and his party does have 11 seats in the Knesset, but to offer a racial segregationist such a position of power is more than desperation, it's sordid.

OPEC and us ... a little gratitude, please

Both the Alberta and Canadian governments have declined to join The Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC) despite an appeal for closer ties by its president, Edmund Daukoru of Nigeria. Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn declared, "Our whole energy industry in Canada is based on free-market principles and we will not stray from that at all."

Mr. Lunn manifests an unfortunate ignorance of the energy history of both Alberta and Canada. Prior to the election of John Diefenbaker's government in 1957, Alberta crude oil couldn't compete with cheaper foreign imports. But "the Chief" came through for his Western brothers and sisters by instituting a national oil policy which dictated that all markets west of the Ottawa Valley were reserved for Western crude. In other words, Ontario consumers paid higher than market prices to subsidize the Alberta oil industry. The national oil policy was pronounced in 1960, coincidentally the same year OPEC was formed.

The policy served Western independent producers well until the early 1970s after which it was no longer needed. The OPEC cartel discovered its ability to manipulate world oil prices and began to do just that, driving them sky-high. Immense riches accrued not only to its members but also to non-members such as Alberta which, no longer having to compete with cheap imports, rode OPEC's golden coattails to enviable prosperity.

In summary, Alberta's great good fortune is much more the result of government interference in the marketplace than in Mr. Lunn's beloved "free-market principles." Canada, too, has benefited greatly. A little genuflection to OPEC wouldn't be out of order.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Putin puts in a good word for rape

"Say hi to your president. He turned out to be quite a powerful guy. Raped 10 women. We're all surprised. We all envy him."
Thus spoke Russian president Vladimir Putin, commenting on Israeli president Moshe Katsav's alleged sex offenses. Katsav may be charged with the rape and sexual harassment of several women.

It was the usual thing. After a meeting with Ehud Olmert, and the press had been ushered out, Putin thought the microphones had been turned off and made the offhand remark to the Israeli prime minister.

What a week: the Russian president expresses his admiration for a rapist while our very own minister of foreign affairs, Peter Mackay, refers to Brenda Stronach as a dog. You've got a long way to go yet, baby.

Klein wants to put the brakes on public infrastructure

Premier Ralph Klein has called for a delay in constructing schools, roads and other public infrastructure in Alberta because of spiraling costs.

There are a couple of sound economic arguments for the premier's request. First, as the current boom tapers off, construction costs should decline, saving the taxpayers money. Second, postponing projects will avoid adding to an already overheated economy while providing a stimulus when the economy cools.

All good Keynesian practice, but why is the premier focusing on the public sector? If he wants to slow down cost escalation, why not curb tar sands expansion? That is, after all, the root of the problem, and there is a much stronger case to be made. The mad pace of tar sands development is creating a range of challenges that are not being adequately dealt with, from increasing stress on infrastructure in the north to environmental destruction. Even the sage of Alberta politics, Peter Lougheed, has called for a dramatic reduction in the rate of tar sands exploitation.

Premier Klein's priorities seem to place profit ahead of the public good. Who would have guessed?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Crime, punishment, and fish oils

Research on criminals in Britain and the U.S. suggests that a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the modern diet contributes to impulsive and violent behaviour.

In a trial at Aylesbury jail in the UK, violence declined by 37% when the inmates were fed multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. A study conducted by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism on 30 patients with violent records found that those given omega-3 supplements had their anger reduced by a third.

The idea behind the tests is that modern diets are changing the way the brain works. This shouldn't be surprising. We have long known that diet can affect the behaviour of other organs, such as the heart, so why not the thinking organ? The brain is very fatty and the type of fat can significantly affect its performance. Nerve cell membranes tend to function more effectively when derived from omega-3 fatty acids than when derived from omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately, over the last century Western diets have shifted dramatically from omega-3s to omega-6s which come largely from industrial frying. The Japanese, who eat a diet rich in fish, a good source of omega-3s, have low rates of depression and murder.

The scientists are not suggesting diet alone creates criminals. They are saying it could be a significant factor. It is research like this, that gets at the root causes of crime, that holds the most promise of reducing crime, not tougher sentences and more prisons.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The veil row

What's with this UK tempest in a teapot about the veil? You can walk down a street in London any day of the week and witness any number of Brits adorned with self-styled disfigurements -- tattoos, lip piercings, etc. -- and now all this excitement because some women want to cover themselves up?

Even a cabinet minister has gotten into the act. Jack Straw, former foreign secretary and now leader of the House of Commons, suggests that Muslim women remove their veils when they visit him in his office. He can talk to someone on the phone, but he can't talk to a woman with a veil? Come on Jack, loosen up.

On the other hand,
Nazir Ahmed, the first Muslim to sit in the House of Lords, has accused politicians and the media of "demonizing" Britain's Muslims.

So what if women, or men, wear tattoos, veils, clown suits, or jeans down to their pubic hair, it's all just decoration. Surely cabinet ministers and lords have better things to squabble about.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Asbestos irony

Only days after Canada successfully led the fight to keep chrysotile asbestos off a global watch list of toxic substances, hundreds of Native people on the Tsuu T'ina reserve west of Calgary were being urged to leave their homes because of asbestos contamination. Chrysotile asbestos is a known human carcinogen and the most commonly used form of the mineral; however, Canadian authorities claim it is safe if handled properly.

Natives began squatting in the rundown units due to a housing shortage when the military abandoned them in 1998. Although the homes may still be safe, many have deteriorated to the point where Health Canada feels it necessary to investigate for airborne particles. If inhaled, these particles can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. One wonders if this stuff can be handled properly.

What has the U.S. got against democracy?

The United States has never been particularly friendly to democracy in the Third World. Indeed they have been known to help overthrow democratic governments they didn't feel were acting in their interests, or at least in the interests of their investors, and replace them with dictatorships.

Recently they have been trumpeting democracy in the Middle East, but when the Palestinians elected a government they didn't approve of, they immediately began to undermine it. Now they are ramping up the assault. According to Aljazeera, they intend to spend $42-million on efforts to unseat the Hamas government. The money will be spent on a variety of tactics including funding other parties such as the notoriously corrupt Fatah, encouraging "watch-dog" groups and journalists to investigate the government, and setting up private schools. The $42-million is more than three times all the main parties and candidates spent in the last election, so it should be very effective.

The use of wealth to undermine democracy is firmly in the American tradition. Big money plays such a large role in American politics, the United States could just as well be termed a plutocracy as a democracy. Maybe that's what they really want in the Middle East -- little plutocracies.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Calgary goes phallic

EnCana Corp., North America's largest natural gas company, plans on building Western Canada's tallest skyscraper in downtown Calgary. The 59-story building will be "a landmark that defines Calgary" effused Mayor David Bronconnier. He is no doubt right. It will certainly overwhelm everything else in the city.

No fan of the bigger is better syndrome that obsesses North America, and is positively epidemic among architects, I admit to being underwhelmed. Bah. Humbug.

Hell, I think Calgary is big enough now. I can't think of a single reason why we need more people, more traffic, more pollution, more consumption, more whatever. I would prefer to concentrate on the better.

Imperial Oil has announced plans to follow Encana with a monolith of its own -- a case of tower envy?

Fox -- the American Pravda

Lawrence Martin's column in yesterday's Globe contains a paragraph that deserves repeating:
"The new American journalism is, of course, best symbolized by Fox News. No one could have imagined that something resembling Leonid Brezhnev's Pravda could have survived in America. But it not only survives, it also flourishes."
Fox News as the American Pravda -- the perfect analogy. No wonder Martin is my favourite Globe columnist.

Bombing Aljazeera -- the Brits fess up

David Blunkett, Britain's home secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion, has admitted he advised tony Blair to bomb Aljazeera's television transmitter in Baghdad. Two weeks after Blunkett offered his advice to Tony Blair, the U.S. military attacked the station's Baghdad offices, killing a journalist. Blunkett, who apparently isn't entirely without scruples, insists that although Aljazeera's transmitter was fair game, killing journalists lacked "legitimacy." The Americans claim the bombing was a mistake, but after Blunkett's confession, that's hard to believe.

Ahmed Al-Sheikh, editor-in-chief of Aljazeera's Arabic channel, observed, "This adds to the growing number of evidences that will one day prove that the attack on Aljazeera was premeditated ... at the highest levels." He states Aljazeera will ask for an official statement from the British regarding Blunkett's claims.

Telling the Arab side of the story can be a bother when you're killing Arabs.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Liberals' selective sensibilities

Upon Michael Ignatieff's reference on Sunday to the Israeli bombing of Qana, Lebanon, as a war crime, the co-chair of his Toronto-area campaign, Susan Kadis, resigned in a huff. Quite aside from Ignatieff's opinion being eminently reasonable, at least if we assume that killing dozens of civilians, many of them children, is a violation of international law, the sensitivity of Liberals like Kadis seems rather selective. In August, Ignatieff stated he wasn't losing any sleep over incidents like Qana, a callous observation indeed, yet it didn't have Kadis writing out her resignation. So it's a little difficult to believe she's acting out of moral outrage now. Political outrage, perhaps?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Playing politics with the planet

Normally there isn't much point in criticizing politicians for playing politics. But occasionally an issue arises which is much too important for the usual political gamesmanship. One such issue is global warming, the greatest challenge we have ever faced -- or will ever face, considering it threatens all life on Earth.

So when the Prime Minister offers legislation on setting greenhouse gas reduction targets that will require at least a year of discussion with industry and the provinces, we must protest. It appears the Conservatives would rather not debate greenhouse gas reduction during an election campaign and have manufactured a good excuse to justify delaying the debate for a year. That should nicely get them past the next election. Delay, delay, delay seems to be the plan.

Their reluctance no doubt arises in large part from their "intensity-based" approach, an approach not so much made in Canada as made in Alberta, or more specifically, made in the tar sands. Intensity-based allows for very large increases in emissions, and that's exactly what's expected in the tar sands.

Canadians who would rather not help transform the Earth into another Venus must demand absolute targets now, i.e. Kyoto targets. There is a planet at stake.

The nuclear scofflaws

As the megalomaniac Kim Jong-il flaunts his testing of a nuclear bomb, the world trembles. Of course Kim, the world's goofiest head of state, may just be bluffing, but whether Korea has nuked-up or not, we might keep firmly in mind the other side of the equation. The nuclear powers who signed the Non-proliferation Treaty (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) have long been obligated to reduce and ultimately eliminate their nuclear weaponry, but they haven't and they aren't.

The intention of the treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons was set out in the preamble:
"Desiring to further the easing of international tension and the strengthening of trust between States in order to facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery pursuant to a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control,"
And enshrined in Article VI:

"Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

As long as the major nuclear powers refuse to fulfil their obligations, other nations are bound to want to join the club. Raging against Iran, North Korea or other wannabes will be fruitless.

We are caught up in a vicious circle. As more nations develop nukes, those who already have them gain a more powerful argument to maintain, or even expand, their armory. And thus the world marches relentlessly on to Armageddon.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Senate sees no evil ...

In its recently released report on Canada's military, a Senate committee has come out staunchly in favour of Canadian participation in the U.S. missile shield. But that isn't nearly nearly militant enough for the good senators. They also want us to join the race to put weapons in space. "The truth is that there is nothing inherently evil about weapons," the committee boldly announced, "just as there is nothing inherently sacred about space."

Nothing inherently evil about weapons? I was under the impression their primary purpose was to kill people. And there is nothing inherently evil about that?

We're worried about Iran ... hell, we should be more concerned about our own Senate.

Losing hearts and minds in Afghanistan

It's not enough we are squandering the lives of our troops in Afghanistan with a remarkable lack of planning and direction, it turns out we're squandering our aid money just as recklessly. According to International Co-operation Minister Josee Verner, we don't know where the money goes because we just hand it over to the Afghan government in a lump sum and leave it up to them to do with it what they will. The problem with this arrangement is the Afghan government is utterly corrupt. It would be quite a surprise if most of the money isn't going into the pockets of President Karzai's officials and their tribal associates. For all we know, it may even be pocketed by drug lords.

The most frightening thing about this ridiculous state of affairs is that we don't even know if any of the $100-million a year in aid we pour into the country is being spent in Kandahar, i.e. where our troops are. As is always the case with counterinsurgency wars, to win we have to win over the Afghan people and to do that we have to create a strong association between the Canadian military and real improvements in their lives. That's hard to do if the aid money is being grafted or spent elsewhere. So much for winning hearts and minds.

This whole affair is slowly drifting from the realm of the implausible into the realm of the absurd.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Living off the fat of the land in Gauntanamo

It appears the detainees in Guantanamo Bay are getting fat. Although they arrive slightly underweight, the combination of lack of exercise and high-calorie meals is packing on the pounds. According to prison spokesman Robert Durand, most are now "normal to mildly overweight or mildly obese."

Are they trying to turn these guys into Americans?

The Three Gorges and harmonious development

China's massive Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world, was expected to require the relocation of 1.1 million people. It turns out a few more, 300,000 more actually, are going to be joining them. The head of the dam's construction committee, Pu Haiqing, announced the inconvenience in impeccable bureaucratese:

"Considering the ecological capacity of the reservoir areas, the need for the migrants to prosper and the pursuit of harmonious development, the government considers it suitable to increase the number of people being resettled."

Prosperity and harmonious development -- who can quarrel with that?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A green morning in Alberta?

As the race to replace Ralph Klein as leader of the Alberta Conservative Party heats up, strangely pro-environment sounds are being heard. The leader in the race, Jim Dinning, claims Albertans "want to see the bar raised on the environment," and promises to set aggressive targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions if he becomes premier. He would set up both incentives and regulations to ensure the goals were met, and in addition establish a research foundation to work on clean energy solutions to global warming.

Dinning has also said he will slow the development of resource projects and mineral leases. Another leading contender, Mark Norris, declares "It may well be time for a breather" in the tar sands. Both echo former premier Peter Lougheed's reference to tar sands development as a "mess" and his suggestion that no more than one plant be built at a time.

All this sounds promising. The big question mark is whether or not the new premier will confront industry as Lougheed was wont to do or roll over for it as Klein habitually did. According to Jim Dinning, "Industry doesn't need to be pulled along ... they know they've got to find a reduction, so they want a government that's going to reach out and say we want to help." Unfortunately, industry does need to be pulled along, and we need a government that is ready to do some pulling.

I guess we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Condoleeza hangs out with the wrong crowd

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has begun yet another Middle East visit. And once again she intends to visit with the wrong people. She will start off with a tete-a-tete with one of the Bush family's favourite dictators, King Abdullah of Arabia, then the obligatory stop in Israel, and finally on to the Palestinian territories to meet with the ineffectual Mahmoud Abbas.

If Condi and George W. want peace and stability, they might try meeting with the most influential country in the region, Iran, and with the most respected parties in the region, Hezbollah and Hamas. The latter are, furthermore, two of the few entities in the Middle East that participate in the democratic process. The Bush administration's claim to want democracy in the region is not reinforced when they prefer discussions with sordid dictators like the Sauds over discussions with a democratically elected government like Hamas.

Senate reform sucker-punched

Political conservatives meeting in Calgary over the weekend, at a conference entitled "Calgary Congress -- Restoring Responsible Government," defeated a resolution calling for a Triple-E senate.

It's encouraging to see that even Western conservatives are beginning to recognize what a dumb idea this is, particularly the "equal" part. Electing equal provincial representation to the Senate for Prince Edward Island and Ontario would in effect be giving each Prince Edward Islander 85 votes for each Ontarian's one, a profoundly undemocratic reform. Democracy is, after all, political equality, no more, no less, and a Triple-E Senate would gravely undermine political equality.

Quite aside from the philosophical objection, there is the practical problem. Can one seriously imagine Ontarians allowing their democratic rights to be so gravely diluted? Or Albertans, for that matter? Even they would be offering Prince Edward Islanders 22 votes for each one of theirs.

An effective Senate? Of course. An elected Senate? Maybe, if it's worth keeping at all. But an equal Senate? Dumb idea. The conference participants were quite right to give this mole a good whack in the city where it first raised its head.