July 2006 Archives

July 31, 2006

In praise of shades of grey

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There has already been some commentary offered up on the Conservative's odious attempt to use the Middle East conflict as a fundraising tool, but I would like to call attention to the language being used to promote Stephen Harper's reaction.

From Conservative Party Executive Director Michael Donison's fundraising letter:

"Admit it," Donison says. "Moral clarity feels a lot better than the endless equivocation we found with our previous government."

He boasts that Harper was "amongst the first of the world's leaders to take a principled stand" and suggests that since then "leaders the world over have risen to stand with Stephen Harper."

A favourate talking point of U.S. Republicans is George Bush's "decisiveness" and "moral clarity." It matters not that his decisiveness is a scripted act, or that the results of his firm decisions are almost uniformly disastrous. No, the act of being decisive is a value in and of itself, and an act or morality regardless of the outcome. Meanwhile, "endless equivocation", usually referred to as "diplomacy" is sneered at as being indecisive.

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While I was mulling over the future of warfare last week, it turns out a number of other bloggers were doing the same thing. I'm going to excerpt from each one, but every post is well worth a full read.

Here's Declan at Crawl Across the Ocean:

The moral approach and the pragmatic approach have converged - the way forward will generally be through diplomacy, peace-keeping and patience, even in the face of occasionally brutal provocation. In a way, I think George Bush's speechwriters had it almost right when they briefly spoke of 'bringing Democracy to the Middle-East'. But rather than democracy, which is a tricky beast, I'd say that what we need to bring to the Middle East is self determination. Of course that last sentence was self-contradictory - it is very difficult to bring someone self-determination - mostly you need to stay out of the way, only offering guidance, assistance and threats when absolutely necessary and/or asked for by the people's themselves.

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July 30, 2006

It's the berries

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You don't need a reason to eat blueberries, do you. I thought not. Just in case, though, here's the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2004 ranking of the top twenty foods rich in anti-oxidants:

1 Small Red Bean 1/2 cup dried beans 13727

2 Wild blueberry 1 cup 13427

3 Red kidney bean 1/2 cup dried beans 13259

4 Pinto bean 1/2 cup 11864

5 Blueberry 1 cup cultivated berries 9019

6 Cranberry 1 cup whole berries 8983

7 Artichoke hearts 1 cup cooked 7904

8 Blackberry 1 cup 7701

9 Prune 1/2 cup 7291

10 Raspberry 1 cup 6058

11 Strawberry 1 cup 5938

12 Red Delicious apple 1 5900

13 Granny Smith 1 5381

14 Pecan 1 ounce 5095

15 Sweet cherry 1 cup 4873

16 Black plum 1 4844

17 Russet potato 1 cooked 4649

18 Black bean 1/2 cup dried beans 4181

19 Plum 1 4118

20 Gala apple 1 3903

And just in case you don't know why anti-oxidants matter, we have this tasty bit of research history from the USDA itself:

Early evidence for the protective power of high-ORAC foods comes from rat studies. Rats fed daily doses of blueberry extract for six weeks before being subjected to pure oxygen suffered much less damage to the capillaries in and around their lungs. In other tests, middle-aged rats were fed diets fortified with spinach or strawberry extract or vitamin E for nine months. A daily dose of spinach extract prevented some loss of long-term memory and learning ability normally experienced by 15-month-old rats. Spinach also proved most potent in protecting different types of nerve cells in two separate parts of the brain against the effects of aging, the researchers reported in the Journal of Neuroscience (vol. 18, pp. 8047-8055).

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July 28, 2006

The jaw drops

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I've considered Stephen Harper many things, most of which are non complimentary. However, I have never thought of him as stupid. But what are we to make of this comment?

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been blunt about his lack of enthusiasm for committing Canadian troops to a still undefined international force to secure the Lebanese-Israeli border.

He argues it's a task better performed by soldiers from neighboring countries, and that Canada's contribution will come in the form of financial and humanitarian assistance to areas devastated by the more than two weeks of bombing. [Emphasis mine.]

Please tell me that our Prime Minister does not believe that an effective international peacekeeping force can be made up of Jordanians, Syrians, Saudis and Egyptians. When we consider that the Israelis have only reluctantly apologized for killing an Austrian, Finn, Chinese and Canadian, I have trouble believing they will hesitate to target Arab peacekeepers.

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July 27, 2006

The failure of force

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I picked up this interesting quote over at Altercation, and it got me thinking about the overall nature of force as a tool for international aims.

Even tiny, piteous, brutalized, famine-ridden North Korea, more a cult than a country, can deter the United States with its puny putative arsenal. The United States, to be sure, is a great power by any measure, surely the world's greatest, yet that power is hemmed in by obstacles peculiar to our era. The mistake has been not so much to think that the power of the United States is greater than it is as to fail to realize that power itself, whether wielded by the United States or anyone else -- if conceived in terms of military force -- has been in decline. By imagining otherwise, the United States has become the fool of force -- and the fool of history.

The quote is from an article in The Nation written by Jonathan Schell, and it is worth a read in its entirety.

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Headlines on Viagra

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So I stumble to the front door this morning, still half-asleep, as is my wont, to rescue the paper from wherever it has landed today, and I pad bleary-eyed back to the kitchen, unrolling the front page as I go. Wham. Suddenly, I am awake. There it is, better than caffeine, bold as brass, the main headline on the front page of this morning's Globe and Mail: Harper demands answers.

Wow, I thought. He did the right thing. It took him at least twenty-four hours and probably a little hard swallowing after he'd listened all day to a long succession of other world leaders expressing their outrage at Israel's sustained shelling of a UN observers' outpost in Lebanon, but he finally choked the words out. He remembered where his first responsibilities lie, to the Canadian who died and to all the Canadians who believe that at a moment like this, their prime minister should speak for them. Maybe he even felt a twinge of, y'know, loyalty? Patriotism? Conscience? Compassion for the ongoing uncertainty and anguish of the wife and family of Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener of the PPCLI?

Stand down, everyone. No such luck, and sorry to get your hopes up. Go back to bed if you need to (I may), and wonder along with me as you drift off: why is the Globe and Mail making excuses for Stephen Harper on its front page?

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July 26, 2006

A Second Letter From Beirut

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Here's an update from May. As before, the content is entirely hers.

Saturday, July 22: Final thoughts on leaving Beirut

With the situation getting worse and threatening to deteriorate further, Monica and I decided that if we hadn’t received word about specific evacuation plans from either the American or Canadian embassies by Thursday, we would make our own arrangements to leave Beirut. We were also seeing and hearing on the news (our primary source of information on the evacuations taking place about three miles from where we were!) the horrendous process of “official” evacuations, of people baking in the sun for long hours as they waited to board a ship to Cyprus, or being turned down and forced to return and wait again the next day. Once in Cyprus, however, the chaos continued with people spending days on cots before getting flights back home.

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The grindstone

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This is what Stephen Harper calls a "measured" response:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized Wednesday for a bombing that killed three UN observers, including a Canadian, in southern Lebanon on Tuesday.

Olmert said the killings were a mistake and promised a full investigation. Three observers are confirmed dead while one is missing.

The observers were from Austria, China, Finland and Canada, officials said. The Canadian is among the dead.

In a phone call to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Olmert expressed "deep regret" over the killings, according to Reuters news agency.

The bomb made a direct hit on the building and shelter of the observer post in the town of Khiyam near the eastern end of the border with Israel, said Milos Struger, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL.


Annan said the attack took place "despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire."

Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., called Annan's reaction "deplorable." He said the observers were caught in crossfire between Hezbollah and Israel.

Struger said there had been 14 other incidents of firing close to this position from the Israeli side Tuesday afternoon.

"The firing continued even during the rescue operation," he said.

Or perhaps he was talking about this:

TYRE, LEBANON — The last big Canadian evacuation operation is also the most dangerous, as this port city came under heavy bombardment from the air hours before a chartered ferry was to dock Wednesday to pick up as many as 1,000 stranded Canadians.

Israeli air strikes rattled windows Tuesday and set off car alarms several kilometres away, as thick plumes of smoke rose from the city's southern reaches, the area from where Hezbollah had earlier launched rockets aimed at northern Israel. The streets were almost deserted except for Red Cross ambulances and carloads of journalists that screeched through the old Phoenician city that before the war was home to 150,000 people.

Electricity cut in and out and cellular phone networks were working infrequently. Two Israeli warships were visible floating off the coast, and helicopters and jets circled above the city after dark.

Despite the ferocious Israeli assault — much of which seemed targeted at al-Rashidia Palestinian refugee camp on the edge of Tyre — the city's hotels were packed with refugees.

You know that last part is very interesting. I don't remember the Palestinian refugees in al-Rashidia making any rocket attacks into Israel. Ah well, they're all the same, right?

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July 21, 2006

The Wisdom of the World

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Okay. So every where you look what you see is so fucktard stupid your sense of anger is angry, your sense of outrage is outraged, your tolerance is intolerant, filling the bathtub up with tequila and using a chunk of garden hose for a straw seems totally appropriate and you are far closer to understanding the appeal of a high power rifle and a tall building than you ever wanted to be. Is that what's giving you a cosmic wedgie today, bucky?

Far be it from me to make lite of the increasingly dangerous and difficult situation in which we find our world today. But, convoluted as it may be, there is a point to what follows.

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July 20, 2006

Not the evacuation

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Meanwhile, back in Lebanon ...

The Canadian government's response has been flaccid, if something approaching criminal. Our prime minister has simply echoed the American president who has given Israel the green light to go on committing war crimes for, oh, let's say the next week or so, however long the Israelis need -- not to break Hezbollah, which would be impossible in so short a time, but to turn the whole of Lebanon into a beggar state.

The evacuation has been clumsy. The debates at home over the evacuation have revealed just how superficial and brittle our commitment to equality for all citizens is in some parts -- some dual citizens are ok, it seems, but others maybe not.

However the evacuation goes, though, it has been a godsend for much of the media. Simply covering the mass slaughter and devastation going on in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, much less analysing it, would be a hard slog, and perhaps not popular among heavily propagandized audiences at home. The misery of the evacuees -- and genuine misery it obviously is for many of them -- is still easier to sentimentalize, and besides, it will be finite. It will end soon. It will not make a permanent, burning demand on anyone's conscience:

Ben Brown [of the BBC] also told us that it was “understandable” that the British evacuees were “pretty scared” because they were not accustomed to this kind of bombing. Not like, he added, war correspondents such as himself or the people of Beirut, who had grown used to such assaults.

The outrageous racism implicit in this comment was clear the moment one paused to consider its possible meanings. Did Brown mean that the Lebanese do not mind being bombed? Did he mean that Lebanese children understand from birth that it is their fate to be attacked by Israel, that they get used to the explosions around them? Did he mean that their parents are less terrified than a British mother and father by the thought that their family might be obliterated at any moment? Or did he mean that Lebanon’s civilians will not be as traumatised by their experiences as other human beings would be?

This is the racist subtext of the foreign media’s evacuations story. That once the foreigners have been moved to safety, we in the West can leave those who understand only the language of violence -- the Israeli army and, apparently, the whole population of Lebanon -- to carry on with their unfinished business.

And we can be sure that this is exactly what will happen as soon as Israel’s “window” is shut. When the foreign powers no longer have even a small vested interest in the safety of Beirut, can we expect the coverage to improve? Don’t hold your breath.

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Cruel incompetence

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What started out as a hastily thrown together response to the Lebanon crisis has degenerated into a nightmare for the Canadians attempting to flee that besieged country. Stephen Harper's much ballyhooed evacuation has exposed to world the bumbling incomptence of the federal government's efforts, and the result is appalling suffering among the very people we are trying to help.

LANARCA, Cyprus — It could be a long trip to Ottawa for Prime Minister Stephen Harper if he decides to mix with the Lebanese evacuees he is ferrying home.

"It was a horrible trip," one after another describe their 13-hour voyage from Beirut to Cyprus when they disembark in the scorching heat here. "People were vomiting, there were no beds, the toilets with filthy.

"There was no air conditioning and they ran out of water," one young women told reporters before storming on board the waiting buses laid on by the Canadian government.

The arrival of the Blue Dawn, the first ship load of Canadians to be evacuated from war-torn Lebanon, was supposed to a joyous occasion.

Instead, the 26 people aboard the Lebanese-owned pleasure boat were disgusted by the conditions on board, particularly when compared to the ships that rescued French and U.S. citizens which loaded at almost the same time as them in Beirut on Wednesday.

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July 19, 2006

The evacuation

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The whole idea of evacuating some groups of innocents from a war zone but not others deserves a serious meditation, and I will turn to that presently.

But first, the tragicomic. On Sunday night, Conservative MP Garth Turner published on his weblog a letter from a Canadian who had just brought his family out of Beirut under heavy bombardment, who wrote simply and eloquently of pride, beauty, and distress:

During our stay in Lebanon we would on a number of occasions meet other Canadians. We all spoke with pride on our backgrounds as Canadians of Lebanese decent, and we spoke of how beautiful Lebanon has become after years of wars that ended 20 years ago.

Today, I can’t speak for those that we have met during our stay, but our family is ashamed and embarrased at our Prime Minister’s and hence Canada’s reponse to these tragic events. Israel’s attacks are far from being “measured."

To his credit, Mr Turner posted that letter without comment and agreed to meet with Nick D. But in an interview yesterday, after the entry had drawn a flurry of impassioned comments, the MP finally gave voice to an undercurrent of opinion we've all known had to be simmering away in some constituencies across the country:

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July 18, 2006

Man with a mission

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B.C.s' Jim Hoggan is a contradiction: he's a veteran PR-man who is mightily peeved about the dishonest messages sent out by his colleagues. An honest public relations man? What's the world coming to?

The issue that has lit the fire under Hoggan is climate change, and he has taken it upon himself to battle the dishonest corporate-fueled messages about climate change that we see in the media, and which are then faithfully parroted by the climate change deniers. His weapon of choice is his own blog, called DeSmogBlog, in which he outlines the facts around the current climate change "debate". (Hint: there isn't one.) His blog, he says, "is aimed at clearing up the PR pollution around climate change," and is a valuable resource for those seeking information beyond the spin.

From a recent interview The Tyee conducted with Hoggan:

Basically there is a scientific consensus on climate change that has concluded that CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing and it is actually causing an increase in the average temperature of the earth. And that a lot of that CO2 is caused by human activity, mainly burning fossil fuels.

An editor at Science magazine...looked back over 10 years to see how many peer-reviewed papers had been written on this consensus on climate change, and how many of these peer-reviewed papers had actually criticized this consensus. She found about 1000 papers, peer-reviewed papers, and she couldn't find one that questioned the scientific consensus on climate change. So the perception that there is actually a scientific debate, particularly a healthy debate, is totally wrong.

Now, there is a lot of debate about what the eventual impact on the environment will be. Around the world, some of the most sophisticated computers that have ever been built are doing this climate impact calculation right now. And some of the outcomes are quiet frightening, others aren't, but there is no doubt among the world's major scientific academies that the climate is changing. It's being caused by human activity, and the consequences of that are going to be serious.

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A Letter From Beirut

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I received this in an email from a good friend of mine. The author, May Farah, is my friend's sister-in-law and is currently in Beirut doing research for her Ph.D. in International Relations. The content of the email is May's: I have not edited or altered it in any way and I'm not going to attach any editorial comment of my own. May has given me permission to distribute it.

Dear all,

Thanks to everyone for their emails and concern. Yes, I am still in Beirut, but I am safe. I am sending this out to everyone on my mailing list, but for people who have written, I’m sorry my responses may have been brief or angry, or if I haven’t responded at all; it t has been difficult to sit down and write in any great detail what we are seeing, hearing, experiencing and feeling here in Beirut. In many ways, what we are going through continues to feel surreal. But, as we begin the fifth day of bombardment the reality is becoming much clearer. It has been very intense, very sudden, and very frightening. But, right now, that fear is turning to sadness as we realize the gravity of the situation, the number of dead and wounded, the level of destruction, and how quickly things continue to escalate.

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July 14, 2006

And a glorious Bastille Day to all our faithful readers in France.

So, ok, as a revolution, that one ran into some serious problems along the way and then collapsed into tyranny far too quickly. But some of its first movers hold a special place in the history of modern thinking about democracy. They challenged us all with ideals that haunt us still because none of us has lived up to them yet.

Democracy. May we build it one day.

Here's to those three most basic ideals -- liberté, égalité, and ... damn. What was the third?

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So there was a mole ...

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And now we're left to wonder whether he was also a provocateur.

Props to the Globe and Mail reporter(s) who did what reporters are supposed to do: slogged up to Ramara Township, found the local who had written down the licence-plate numbers, and then traced them ... and started to wonder about the one guy who hadn't been arrested.

For two weeks over the Christmas holidays, young men in military fatigues wandered around in the wilderness firing paintball guns and real guns and annoying the neighbours.

One of those neighbours was a grey-haired recluse who doesn't own a phone. He was so annoyed that he left his trailer and travelled down the dirt road where the campers had parked their cars.

He wrote down the licence plate numbers of the four cars blocking his road and filed the information with the rest of the scattered documents he keeps in his Dodge minivan.

Six months later, a few days after the campers were arrested and accused of being terrorists, the hermit handed the licence plate numbers to a Globe reporter who went to see the training camp for himself.

Almost all of the licence plates made sense. Three of them were registered to the family members of Zakaria Amara, Ahmad Ghany and Qayyum Abdul Jamal — all of whom have been taken into custody on the terrorism charges.

But there was a fourth licence plate, attached to a blue minivan, that didn't fit.

It was registered to Mr. Shaikh's younger brother, Abu Shaikh.

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July 13, 2006

Beirut Baghdad, mon amour

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By now, none of us needs a news link. The news is all bad, and it looks likely to get worse, much worse.

The Israeli government and military have made starkly clear what they are prepared to do:

... it is clear that the IDF is interested in inflicting a much sharper blow on Lebanon.

Senior officers in the IDF say that the Lebanese government is responsible for the soldiers' abduction. According to the officers, if the kidnapped soldiers are not returned alive and well, the Lebanese civilian infrastructures will regress 20, or even 50 years.

And from the Guardian:

Israel's army chief today declared everywhere in Lebanon was a potential target for military strikes, as Israel imposed an air and sea blockade on the country and the Palestinian president warned of a regional war.

"Nowhere is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that," said Brigadier General Dan Halutz. He warned civilians in the southern Beirut district of Dahiya, where a large number of Hizbullah militants are based, in particular.

The Guardian reminds us of the Syrian connection. The Boston Globe reminds us of the Iranian gambit:

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July 12, 2006

Stephen Harper has a bizarro-world view of the softwood lumber deal his government is trying to foist on Canadian lumber producers.

'' We're not going to get a better deal. We're getting 82 per cent of the disputed duties back. The alternative is seven more years of litigation where the money will keep flowing to lawyers, to Americans ... we think, on balance, this is the best deal Canada is ever going to see and we think the industry, on balance, is going to strongly support us.''[Emphasis mine.]

Um...wrong on that one, I think.

By pushing for amendments to the [softwood lumber] agreement, Quebec's industry is joining the position advocated by British Columbia. Associations in Alberta and Ontario have adopted stronger positions, condemning the entire agreement.

Unless, of course, he was referring to the US industry. Cause yeah, they're good to go.

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Cause if it does, it won’t be good news.

I grew up in the most rural of circumstances. I ventured into “town” (pop. 600) to go to public school and travelled slightly beyond “town” to go to high school. A world that small tends to produce some very strong friendships, and while some of those dwindle as distance and (hopefully) broader interests infiltrate them, many last for years - some for life.

It is in the way of friends, that I’ve always been exceedingly lucky. My same motley band of renegade girls that used to induce many a parental bald patch, are the same ones now causing our spouses to rip out their hair, and discussing such merriment, in one way or another, almost daily – from all over the country. And husbands (we have yet to celebrate a same-sex marriage in our group) usually make up the bulk of the discussion, often at their expense, because if there’s one thing small-town girls love to do…it is to get married.

Among the many brilliant traits shared between me and my best buds, is that we are all just cooperative enough to be tolerable, but still defiant enough to be interesting. When considering the matches we’ve all made so far, I’ve credited this particular disdain for doing things “just to get along” with our ability to ensnare some pretty decent fellas (mindblowingly awesome in my case of course). We all made sure that our men came from a place at least one half-day’s drive away, so as to help ensure that our future children did not come out with five heads (no “kissin cousins” for us), and we sought men who were able to be, and content to be, our equals in the important stuff…strength of character…stuff like that. Or so I thought.

It seems that one of my oldest friends has apparently developed the ability to keep very painful secrets with heartbreaking resolve.

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July 10, 2006

Stepping Back Through the Looking Glass

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After the last election I pretty much stepped away from blogging about Canadian politics and wandered off into US blogging. So, when the Pogge writers were kind enough to let me join them, I came back to Canadian blogging with only the impressionistic view of recent events that someone who hasn't been paying much attention (ie. ordinary people) has.

The first thing that struck me as odd was how the softwood lumber fight has shaken out. Somehow the deal is now being opposed not because it's a lousy deal that screws timber producers and turns NAFTA into used toilet paper, but because the Americans want to write in an escape clause.

Excellent! If they want to scrap it in two years, bonus! Yeah, I understand that they'll scrap it then demand more, but that's fine. Maybe at that point Canada will realize that if every time a bully starts pushing you around you cave, they just keep pushing.

Now, let's talk about how a Canada that is willing to endure some pain, and is willing to fight, in order to get a good settlement, could do so.

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July 9, 2006

Wankery of the day

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Double standard for U.S. critics

Imagine for a second that U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney said in an American magazine interview that Canadian dependence on public health care was dysfunctional to the point that we were like junkies finding veins in our toes.

There would be instant outrage in this country, with pundits denouncing what would undoubtedly be termed arrogant American interference in Canada's domestic affairs. Politicians from coast to coast would similarly be calling upon the federal government to send a message to the American VP that he should not be telling Canadians how to run our health-care system.
So what happened when former American vice-president Al Gore, the subject of a fawning interview in Rolling Stone magazine this month, made the same kind of drug addict comparison, only using the Alberta oilsands as the focal point?

Federal Liberal MP Keith Martin said that Gore's book, An Inconvenient Truth, on which his documentary movie is based, should be "required reading for everyone."

That view -- echoed by other Liberal politicians -- is typical of the double standard that exists in this country when it comes to Americans telling Canadians what to do.
As long as the Americans are of the left-wing variety and speaking out against capitalism and big business or in favour of the environment (and preferably all three), they can lecture Canadians to their hearts' content and we're supposed to listen.

The poor, poor right. It's just a crime that they don't have any outlet to express their point of view. It's shameful that they're tied to their chairs and forced to listen to Al Gore and given no opportunity to rebut him. Except for the Sun newspaper chain. The National Post. Talk radio. The Blogging Tories. Not to mention the fact that the Conservative party forms the current government and has done its best to trash Canadian efforts to combat climate change which is the cause Gore is championing.

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July 8, 2006

Arar fears he's still on blacklist after problems with flight

Maher Arar, an Ottawa man who was detained by U.S. authorities four years ago and deported to Syria where he was tortured, says he suspects he still might be on some kind of a government blacklist.
Arar told the Globe and Mail that he arrived at Montreal's Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport for a June 23 trip to Edmonton only to be met with a series of obstacles.

He said his name wasn't in the reservation system that would allow him to use an automated check-in kiosk.

A ticketing agent at the Air Canada counter also had trouble getting the system to create a boarding pass for Arar.

The agent spent 15 minutes on the phone before sending Arar through security screening and to the gate with a boarding pass marked "S-S-S-S" — a code for "selected for secondary security screening."

While the government continues to put obstacles in the path of the release of the O'Connor commission's report, Transport Canada still hasn't developed the home-grown no-fly list announced four years ago leaving the airlines to work with "a hodgepodge of databases, partial watch lists [and] instincts." So not only do we have to watch while politicians sacrifice civil liberities so they can boast about keeping us safe, they can't even do it competently.

There has still never been a single shred of credible evidence put forward to suggest that Arar has done anything wrong. Hasn't he already payed a high enough price for Flying While Muslim?

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July 7, 2006

After finding this link over at Sinister Thoughts, I became utterly baffled as to why the Conservatives would consider the softwood lumber deal to be a winning issue for them. The image the deal presents of them is one of caving in to American pressure, rewarding U.S. non-compliance with supposedly binding treaties and screwing over Canadian lumber producers.

OTTAWA -- A spruce beam can take a lot of pressure, but nothing compared with what Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd. and other Canadian producers are under to drop their lawsuits and support Ottawa's softwood deal with the United States.

For the July 1 timber truce to take effect, Canadian softwood companies must cancel about 30 separate legal actions they've launched against Washington over the dispute. While its lawsuit gives the Westbank, B.C.-based company a potential tool to block the deal, president Bill Reedy sees no logic in ending up the lone holdout.

He's unhappy with the agreement -- which he considers capitulation -- but will only keep Gorman's lawsuit going as long as big players such as the B.C. government keep fighting for better terms.

"When the federal government says 'Take it or leave it' . . . what are you going to do?" he says.

"It's really hard to fight on your own."

Facing widespread opposition to the July 1 deal, the Conservative government is expected to start arm-twisting timber companies to accept the agreement over the summer so it can be implemented in October.

The biggest deciding factor may be the internal financial pressure facing many companies.

Softwood producers stand to recover 80 per cent of the $5-billion (U.S.) in duties they have paid Washington since 2002, as long as they agree to relinquish claim to the remaining $1-billion.

For Gorman Bros., whose annual sales are about $90-million (Canadian), this anticipated refund means about $28-million. That's 80 per cent of the $35-million it paid in duties -- cash that the company could use to upgrade its high-end operations. "In our case . . . the lack of profit -- because the United States has taken it all -- has made it very difficult to improve our mill," Mr. Reedy says.

This deal is an utter disgrace, and it will take a hell of a lot of spinning to turn it into a victory in time for it to pass a fall vote in Parliament. But then I remembered something else I had read recently, and thought, what if the Conservatives are looking for an issue to trigger a fall election? Certainly, a rejection of the softwood lumber deal, though not necessarily a confidence issue, would provide a covenient excuse if one were being sought.

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July 6, 2006

Caving in on softwood lumber

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Let us be clear about the new softwood lumber deal recently signed by Stephen Harper and George Bush. It sucks. It is as worthless as any other deal in the hands of U.S. Republicans.

At least the American are being up front about this particular deal, writing in their escape clause for all to see. Despite their past history of contempt for NAFTA rulings and the broken treaties noted above, Harper and International Trade Minister David Emerson seem to think this deal is the real thing, and they're tolerating no opposition on the matter.

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July 5, 2006

That clean-up of government the Conservatives promised continues apace. Remember the howling about how the Liberals were politicizing the judiciary by appointing their supporters to positions on the bench?

Brazen manipulation of the judiciary. As I mentioned before, when other evidence of Liberal corruption of the legal system was brought to light, I really didn't think that I lived in a country which tolerated these sorts of banana republic idiocies. In a perverse Orwellian twist, the mantra of the Liberal party is that the executive (i.e., the Prime Minister) needs to maintain explicit control of the judicial appointments process so as to "preserve" the independence of the judiciary - when in fact their actions show that they are engaged in the exact opposite: they are corrupting the judiciary, and by extension, the entire legal structure of the country, by retaining the unfettered right to appoint whomever they wish (meaning, in practice, Liberals). This isn't just a shame, it's a disgrace.

The disgrace continues, only this time the shameful shoe is on the Conservative foot.

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July 4, 2006

The circle game: Cuba

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A new high-level report due for publication later this week urges the United States government to begin preparations to intervene in Cuba in the event of President Fidel Castro's death. The goal is to help spawn a speedy transition on the island towards "democracy and political freedom".

The recommendations, which include the creation of an $80m (£43m) fund to promote democracy in Cuba, are contained in the latest report compiled by the Commission for Assitance to a Free Cuba, created by President George Bush three years ago. The group is co-chaired by the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and by the US Commerce Secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban-American.

Imagine. A commission created by the president of the U.S. of A. is now "urging" him to do just what he has always wanted to do! He and every American president before him since Dwight D. Eisenhower! President Bush's own people agree with him! Will wonders never cease.

News of the forthcoming report comes to us from today's Independent and from Reuters (via the New York Times), which seem a little more up to date than the State Department's commission itself so far.

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