29 December 2007

White Ribbon Campaign - Halifax Blog

In order to devote more focus and attention on the systemic problem of male violence against women, I have started a blog related to my work with the White Ribbon Campaign. It is called White Ribbon Campaign - Halifax, and it can be found here. Please tell all your friends about it.

Thoughts on the Bhutto Assassination

First, belated holiday greetings to everybody. It's been a pretty busy week around here, hence no previous updates on what I got for Christmas or anything of that sort. Suffice to say, it was fantastic, possibly the best ever, and I hope that everybody had themselves a wonderful time. Thanks to everybody for all the wonderful gifts and cards, it means an awful lot to me.

I've been trying to formulate in my mind how damaging the assassination of Benazir Bhutto by a homicide bomber will be to the future of Pakistan's development as a reliable ally and friend of the West. The murder of an opposition political leader is unfathomable in Canada. People may have grumbled about Stephen Harper like they do now about Stephane Dion, but that is nowhere near the scale of the threat of violence and murder that Bhutto lived with on a daily basis. People who speak out against the actions of the government do not enjoy the same freedoms in other parts of the world as they do here--many end up in exile, in prison, or disappeared never to be seen again to challenge the government. What happened to Benazir Bhutto serves as a vivid reminder of that reality.
For a long time now I have been very wary of Western support for the regime of Pervez Musharraf, the once-military dictator who now rules the country as a civilian. I do not believe him to a reliable friend and ally in the conflict against Islamofascism, as if not he himself, there are certainly elements within his regime that coddle and turn a blind eye to the actions of terrorists who seek to kill innocent people. While Musharraf may condemn the act of terror committed this week, he does stand to gain a lot from it. The main political opposition is now without a leader, there is a lot of civil unrest stemming from the assassination that may give him carte blanche to institute martial law and/or cancel the forthcoming election, and there will be people looking to him to clamp down and impose security to prevent further political violence. All of this adds up to a potential nasty recipe for democracy, the rule of law, and the ability to look upon Pakistan as a true partner in changing the political face of the Middle East.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Bhutto's assassination. We're not yet sure who is responsible, what will happen next, and how all the major players will react. It seems, however, that the coming weeks will be very ominous times in Pakistan, and the potential for further violence and a regression of freedoms in the country would appear to be very high.

22 December 2007

Foreign Policy is Not a Three-Word Catchphrase

This morning CNN is providing graphic evidence of why it's called the Crappy News Network. It's also providing graphic evidence that the majority of its website's viewers think that American foreign policy is so basic that it can be reduced to a perjorative campaign slogan. Feast your eyes on the "Quickpoll" that exists on the right-hand side of the main page after a little bit of scrolling:


By a nearly 4-to-1 margin, CNN readers believe that "go it alone" wraps up American foreign policy better than my mom can wrap a Christmas present. I realize that we're in the age of the 6-second soundbite, where simplicity matters more than thoroughness, and that a lot of people have been led to believe that American unilateralism is at an all-time high. But to see it all manifested so succinctly still causes me great concern. It is beyond the pale to describe a country that is the foremost promoter of free trade, which has a huge trade deficit, that has more political-economic-military alliances with other countries than you can possibly shake a stick at, that is involved in numerous international organizations--often in a leadership capacity, and so many other things that to mention all of them would require a list thousands of pages long as having a "go it alone" foreign policy. May everyone who clicks "Yes" in that poll get a terrible present under their tree on Tuesday for being so thoroughly ill-informed and simplistic.

21 December 2007

Musings

Kosovo is set to unilaterally declare its independence from Serbia in the next few weeks, following years of intransigence between the Albanian-dominated province and Belgrade. This is a move that Canada should support, having invested blood and treasure in protecting the lives of Kosovars in 1999 and thereafter. Canada should also not pay much attention to the Russian promise to veto conferring legitimacy on the UDI by Kosovo in the UN Security Council, something that the Russians say "is the first attempt to say that the West is no longer interested in the United Nations, that they will now solve complicated international problems outside the United Nations." Well, that's fine with me. The West's leader, the United States, has been little interested in the UN for many years now, and other countries are seeing its limitations as well. It is well past time to move towards a new multilateralism based on the realities of the 21st century, not the world order of 1945. I know that if Canada were governed by the Liberals, they would acquiesce to the will of the UN after Russia vetoes any resolution proclaiming Kosovo's independence, but I have confidence that the Harper-led government will do what is right and support the principle of self-determination for Kosovo.

In other hits, I got my Carey Price rookie card last night! Yay for eBay!

The view from my office window is almost nothing but cars packed into the mall parking lot. Looks like most folks aren't done their shopping yet. Must be awful.

In case I don't blog again between now and Tuesday, Merry Christmas!

18 December 2007

Quick Hits

At precisely 7am this morning, I finished my Christmas shopping. Thank goodness for 24-hour WalMarts to pass the time brought on by out-of-commission elevators.

Now that the Mulroney/Schreiber madness has died down a little, can we get back into the business of running the country and looking forward? Nary a peep of the Manley panel on Afghanistan and Canada's future role there during the past few weeks because of all the airtime dedicated to this political farce.

Trying to snag a Carey Price rookie card on eBay is proving to be as challenging as that time I tried to get Elton John tickets for some folks back in Kelowna when he came to town. That ended in success (after a frenzied ten minutes of F5'ing), so there's no reason to believe that I won't have Upper Deck Young Guns #227 in my hands in the near future.

Being at the office while it's still dark outside is a unique experience I hope I don't have to replicate again.

12 December 2007

Stream of Consciousness

Boredom is reigning supreme today, and after having entered "110753" and "31.5" into a computer a couple hundred times this morning I'm finding myself thinking that there has got to be more to life than this. So to help alleviate this, I'm going to keep this window open for a good chunk of the morning and pop in whatever pops into my head that may be discussion-worthy and press "Publish Post" at the end of the day and see what comes of it.

* I was glad to read last week that Iran gave up uranium enrichment for the purpose of producing a nuclear weapon in 2003. So that means the Iraq War is now responsible for: getting rid of Saddam Hussein, compelling Qaddafi to forsake terrorism, establishing a democratic bridgehead in the Middle East, and getting Tehran to stop pursuing nuclear weapons. These are 4 very strong positives. It's unfortunate that there have been as many negatives to emerge as a consequence as well.

* Pursuant to my recent post on US Presidential 2008, I'm pretty much certain that if it's not Giuliani or McCain I'll be supporting the Democrats.

* Canada fancies itself a progressive country, and Halifax embodies that attitude. If that's true, why are Canadians and Haligonians seemingly very supportive of one of the following two tracks regarding prostitution: legalization or maintainig the status quo in which women are criminalized for being used as a thing? Seems to me that the real progressive countries, ones that are genuinely dedicated to equality, are taking the approach that regarding women as things to be purchased and then disposed of is an act of violence against them and is a criminal offence. You don't see Sweden, ranked #1 in the world in terms of gender equality, undertaking sting operations to throw prostituted women in jail. Progressive means moving away from failed policies towards new ones that positively affect citizens, does it not?

* Christmas shopping has been a lot more fun this year. I'm still glad I'm done, though.

* Environmental activists are mad at John Baird because he went back to a meeting that would potentially get results for the environment rather than stick around to take a browbeating from them. You just can't win, eh?

* I saw a trade rumour that had Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder being shipped to San Jose in exchange for Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Bernier. If Marleau and Bernier can score and avoid taking selfish penalties, it might not be a bad idea.

06 December 2007

Remembrance and Action

Today, December 6, is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Eighteen years ago today, Marc Lepine walked into the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and opened fire while yelling that he "hated feminists" and killed 14 women. This horrific act was carried out because Lepine, like far too many men, hated women. It is the world's oldest hate crime and form of discrimination, it has been justified and rationalized by numerous arguments, and it is largely ignored. More than 3000 women are killed by men in the United States every year--roughly equating to a 9/11 on an annual basis. Yet there is no "war on misogyny" that seeks to eradicate men's terrorism and violence against women; it is accepted as the most outrageous manifestation of a "boys will be boys" mentality.
Today is a day of remembrance, to the extent that people know about what happened on December 6th. Given the paucity of white and purple ribbons adorning people's coats in Halifax, I think it is safe to say that not many do. A month ago, we all honoured--rightly so--those killed in the two World Wars by wearing poppies. It is expected. It is right and proper. But we don't take the time to remember the women who are murdered by men today, yesterday, last week, last month, last year, and who will continue to be killed tomorrow, the next day, next week, and so forth. There are memorials in many cities in Canada, and some small vigils. You don't see too many politicians wearing white ribbons in late November/early December. It says a lot about our pride in our forefather and our country that we remember those who gave their lives to a just and noble cause more than half a century ago. Unfortunately, it also says a lot about us that we don't remember and don't honour the women who are killed on an all-too-regular basis. But those of us who do, do so through books, through public events, through personal memorials, and through the commitment that we undertake to take action.
Today is a day of action. Today we come together and say, "This must stop." We join the White Ribbon Campaign, taking the pledge to never commit, condone, encourage, or turn a blind eye to men's violence against women. We can join Amnesty International's Campaign to Stop the Violence, or the Stolen Sisters remembrance campaign. We talk to our friends and family about violence that affects 1 in 3 women world-wide. We send letters and emails to our elected officials demanding justice. We tell people that think beating up, humiliating, and degrading women makes for good comedy that they are wrong, that it is not funny. We change our attitudes and look to change the attitudes of others so that we can all come to the very sensible conclusion that the scope and scale of violence against women is unacceptable, that it must end, that we must begin to regard all people with the same compassion and empathy and accord them the same rights and dignity that we expect for ourselves. This is what we do today...and what we must all strive to do every day.

02 December 2007

Best There Is, Best There Was, Best There Ever Will Be

Rather than express my disgust with Costco over how brutally disorganized the event was yesterday, I'll post simply this and say yesterday was a really good day in which I got to meet a childhood hero:



He's a little older and a little grayer now, but I could see the light in his eyes when I told him about how I saw him at the Canadian Stampede PPV in Calgary where they had the roof shaking. He's still the best.

29 November 2007

Down to Business

I'll freely admit that I've been paying relatively scant attention (by my standard, anyways) to the 2008 US Presidential Race. As a Canadian, it's something of an abomination to see a two-year campaign cycle, and the amount of money required to run a campaign is equally grotesque. One of the greatest accomplishments of Jean Chretien's career was to drastically reduce the influence of the wealthy and virtually wipe out the ability of large corporations to disproportionately affect an election race to their preferred outcomes. It is commendable that Stephen Harper has followed up on this, further limiting the extent to which an individual can contribute. None of these restrictions apply in the United States, and thus we hear of a $250 million warchest for George W. Bush and a not much smaller one for John Kerry in 2004.
One of the great problems with such a prolonged campaign is that someone who appears to be a virtual lock in the early stages turns into a total non-factor by the time the actual election occurs--hello and goodbye, Howard Dean. The potential for a timebomb to appear at a strategic time is also increased--witness Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or Dan Rather's accounting of GWB's Vietnam record. There is always the possibility for similar things in a Canadian election cycle, of course, but the compressed timeframe means that we're not subjected to multiple variations of the same theme ad nauseum. Thirdly, there are relatively few things that are discussed at a YouTube debate in August 2007 that are likely to still be resonating in the minds of voters by the time November 2008 rolls around. It's merely preliminary verbal jousting for months on end that does little to establish long-term positioning, especially in this, the era of "the flip-flop."
However, the primary season is almost upon us, and that means it is time to start paying attention. What is said in the next few weeks will determine where the Democratic and Republican bases park their votes. True frontrunners are likely to emerge in the next 50 days, while players that were playing well previously will be compelled to throw their weight behind others that have a genuine shot at winning their party's nomination. The mid-carders will start dropping off shortly, and the high-profile main eventers will have a greater number of even more intense spotlights shining on them. That means tough choices for a number of candidates, and that means the intrigue and interest will certainly be picking up.
Off the start, let me say that I am quite likely to be supporting a Democrat for 2008 unless either John McCain or Rudy Giuliani take the Republican nomination. There are a number of shortcomings facing the other Republican candidates that almost instantly disqualify them in my eyes. I cannot reasonably support a candidate who says such things as, and I'm paraphrasing here, "While Mitt Romney was promising to do more for gay rights than Ted Kennedy, I was moving in the opposition direction." It's unfathomable to me that a candidate for President of the United States would be proud to say that he was moving to deny a group of people rights--and of course, Romney himself no longer supports gay rights for Americans. With so many of the Republican candidates pandering to the religious right, they're alienating themselves from people like me who believe, to borrow Irwin Cotler's term, "a right is a right is a right." Other major issues for me include:
* Foreign Policy - I'll be looking for positions regarding the continuance of the Bush Doctrine, seeing who adopts what and who seeks to be the un-Bush when it comes to America's strategic role and primacy in the world. The candidate who articulates the strongest vision for American leadership, victory in Iraq and the broader War on Terror and Tyranny, ending genocide and human suffering, counter- and nonproliferation of WMDs, and the remaking of the system of international institutions is likely to earn my support.
* Domestic Policy - though I like my American leaders to largely follow the principle of the imperial presidency and leave the domestic agenda largely to Congress (and let's be honest here, being Canadian, what Americans do within their own borders is less relevant than what they do beyond them), there are some initiatives I would like to see. Someone has to reasonably tackle the challenge of increasing violence in the United States--against women, among gangs, as a result of drug trafficking, and otherwise. There's the looming Social Security and Medicaid crises. Education is another big issue. Homeland security and intelligence reform.

There's a lot going on in America that will be relevant and pertinent to a successful candidate for 2008. I'm looking forward to seeing who emerges in the coming weeks and months.

25 November 2007

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Today is the first of two days that specifically highlight the systemic problem of violence against women. It is internationally recognized by the United Nations, which has a comprehensive information section here: http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/violence/ I encourage all readers to head over there and check it out. I'll be out and about today with my white ribbon, hoping that others will ask what it signifies so that I can inform them. There is a collective responsibility to address violence against women so that it stops. It is inexcusable that 1 in 3 women in Canada will experience male violence in their lifetimes. It is unacceptable that there is virtually nobody in this country that doesn't know a woman that has been assaulted in some way. It is unforgivable that rape is utilized as a military tactic throughout the world. It is unjustifiable that too many husbands hit their wives. This must stop. It is not the work of one or two days of the year, it is an ongoing commitment to recognizing women's humanity and according them the dignity, respect, and justice to which they are entitled. Violence against women will not end because of November 25 and/or December 6th, it will end when men have absorbed the message of these days and integrated them into their lives.

24 November 2007

Happy Trails, John Howard

The results of the Australian election are in, and the torch has been passed. John Howard, who has led the country for years and been a strong ally of Washington in the War on Terror and Tyranny, has been defeated as Prime Minister, to be succeeded by Kevin Rudd of the Labor Party. The end of the Howard regime is the latest example of a generational changing of the guard in the world's democracies, following the ascension of Sarkozy in France, Brown in Britain, Harper in Canada, and preceding the departure of George W. Bush in the United States.
While it is always sad to see an old familiar face that has been a staunch supporter of expanding the scope of democracy around the world depart, it is a reminder of the primary virtue of the democratic system: nobody lasts forever. Contrast all the changes in democratic states with the stasis of undemocratic regimes in the past five years: Mubarak remains the Egyptian pharoah, Bashar Assad keeps Syria under his thuggish heel, the military junta still stifles Burma, and Pervez Musharraf continues his military dictatorship in Pakistan (though events may force that to an end in the very near future). Our system inherently rejects such permanence in its heads of government/heads of state because we prefer the system over the individual. So happy trails, Mr. Howard, and we look forward to working with Mr. Rudd in the future on a wide range of issues, from Afghanistan to climate change to international trade and beyond.

23 November 2007

Two Days

From the latest issue of the White Ribbon Campaign Newsletter . . .

Two Days
November 25th marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In Canada, December 6th is a National Day of Remembrance and Action for Violence Against Women. Two days in a year. Two days.

That leaves 363 other days where 51% of Canadian women over the age of 16 will still experience an act of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. 363 days where the global toll of violence against women will exceed the harm inflicted on women by traffic accidents and malaria – combined.

363 days where one of the most tragic, harmful, and preventable human rights atrocities on the planet will go largely forgotten. 363 days where the White Ribbon Campaign will continue its efforts to work with men and boys on the prevention of gender based violence against women and girls.

This year, the White Ribbon Campaign challenges you to do something, anything, to help realize a future that has no violence against women.

You can start by wearing a White Ribbon and making the pledge to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women. Explore your own attitude, behaviours and beliefs about gender based violence. Make a change that starts within.

You can make time in your life to listen to, learn from, and try to understand the experience of the important women in your lives. You can inform yourself through any number of vast resources that are available out there.

You can make a financial contribution to a women’s shelter, to a crisis line, or to a support program for women who have been victims of violence. These resources are chronically under-funded.

If you also think men and boys have a role to play, and violence prevention is a necessary part of the solution – you can get involved with the White Ribbon Campaign. Sign our online pledge [insert link] visit our Blog [insert link] or make a donation [insert link].

Talk to young people, challenge your peers, spread the message, talk to politicians, organize an event, share your stories with us. There are 363 days left, and there is lots that can be done. Have a look at our resource “What Every Man Can Do” [link].

Every little effort adds to the momentum, inspires others, and adds to the growing movement of hundreds of thousands of people in Canada and around the world who think it is time we solved this fundamental human rights issue, and create a safer world for all women and girls. Whatever you do, do something. This is our challenge to you this year.

To borrow a phrase from a colleague;
Until the violence stops.

21 November 2007

Oh, Celine...

I can't help but laugh and shake my head over this Celine Dion kerfuffle. The cancellation of her Halifax concert is degenerating into a "Halifax said, Celine said" mudslinging match that is making all parties involved look bad. Who comes out worse? In my view, the city, its media, and some of its more obnoxious residents. There was a Facebook group that pseudo-lamented they couldn't just kill her to prevent her from coming here to perform. The radio stations and newspapers mocked her endlessly. And the HRM itself now has seen two major events pulled off the table that could have given it the image of being an A-list Canadian destination (the other was, of course, the 2014 Commonwealth Games). As for Celine, it's simply a cancelled date (before tickets even went on sale) and another one of those things that people will use as evidence of her "diva behaviour," whatever that may mean.
It's bad enough that many major acts don't come here already. There have been a lot of big-time world tours/North American tours in the past few years and Halifax has had barely any of them. Yeah the Stones came. Yeah Bryan Adams came (good Canadian boy). Who else that will be relevant in 3 years? Slim pickings. People that already don't come here have no incentive to come, and those who may consider it will be discouraged. Good work, Haligonians!
All of this said, I'm not a Celine Dion fan. I wouldn't have paid to attend her show. I wouldn't have needed to since the Common is right across the street. I may have closed the windows if she did come. But there's thousands of people who would enjoy the show. Those folks no longer get that chance, and that kind of sucks for them. But hey, now all the negative nellies can crow about their great victory. Remember that though when your favourite band doesn't come here during their tour.

19 November 2007

SMU Journal to Print Apology

I received word last night from the editor of the Saint Mary's University Journal that the student-run paper will be printing an apology for their Halloween cartoon in their next issue. As you might imagine, this news helped brighten my day yesterday. The editor noted that they hadn't considered how bad it looked to have Batman punching out Britney Spears in the larger context of violence against women, and that she felt very bad about having such a thing appear. I'm glad that there has been a lesson learned, and commend the editor for responding positively. Change can be effected, we all just have to do our part.

16 November 2007

2007 World Economic Forum Study on the Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum's 2007 study examining the gender gap was released this week, and there is considerable reason for women in Canada to cheer. Though Canada slipped from 14th to 18th in the overall ranking, the score (with 1.0 equalling "perfect" equality) Canada received this year is 0.720, which is strong but signifies room for improvement.
Nowhere is it more clear that Canada can do better than in the realm of political participation. We rank 43rd overall when it comes to women in Parliament, facing an almost 4-to-1 ratio of men to women represented in the House of Commons. 1 in 4 ministers, however, are women, reflective of the talent that sits in the Conservative caucus. That a woman has been the Prime Minister of Canada for under a year in the total of our history drags down the overall mark, which has us at 36th overall. When you consider that Canada is a member of the world's most prominent alliance of democracies--NATO--this is a big blight on the record. We may be doing better than some other NATO members, but this is something that we need to examine in absolute terms, not relative terms compared to our friends and allies. I see where Stephane Dion is coming from when he advocates that 1 in 3 Liberal candidates should be women, but there is a lot more to the problem than can be fixed by simply nominating worthy women in unwinnable ridings to meet a quota. Attitudes towards public women need to be examined in detail to get a clearer picture; one need only look at the manner in which someone like Belinda Stronach has been treated since entering politics to see why so many women that would make excellent MPs opt out for a more quiet route to changing the world.
It is in other aspects of Canadian life that women have reason to cheer. On every measure of education levels, we have reached equality, and in this country, education = opportunity. Presently there are 3 women to every 2 men attending post-secondary education. This is fantastic. It means that the future trends for other areas, such as economic, will continue to be upward, hopefully eliminating the wage gap perhaps within two generations (if we're lucky!). It may also result in more women entering the political realm so that we can reduce that ugly mark on the record. On wage equality currently, we're looking at about 72% for similar work. That must be improved.
One key feature that I found to be of interest is the score we received when it comes to legislation that punishes offenders who commit violence against women. It is not the best score, but on a scale where 0 is best, and 1 is worst, we're at 0.25. Still some work to do, but we're getting there. This time of year is always one in which violence against women garners attention, so hopefully that can be utilized to get us to that ideal score.
There are, of course, many more indicators than simply economic and political that will measure true equality. When figures of violence against women have sharply declined from current rates, that will be a positive. Presently the economic costs of this are huge, and I'm surprised that the WEF didn't include a mention of the fact that violence against women results in billions of dollars of costs per year. All of this is linked together, and hopefully we will have a concerted and sustained effort to achieve genuine equality in Canada.

SMU Journal Thinks Beating Up Women is Funny

I glimpsed a copy of the Saint Mary's University student newspaper, The Journal, this morning. The "cover story" was a comic-book styled Halloween skit starring a cat, Batman, and Britney Spears. It begins innocuously enough, with "Britney" starting up an impromptu concert until "Batman" "senses danger," at which time he punches Britney out, inviting her to "suck knuckles" in the process.
Brilliant and original, the paper thinks that knocking out Britney Spears is comic gold. This is yet another example of a university newspaper making light of violence against women. See a separate example, which also contains links to still more recent examples, about a Central CT State story entitled "Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It" here. No doubt the SMU editorial staff will throw up their hands and say that it was "all in good fun" and not "something to be taken seriously." Of course, in the context of a patriarchy in which violence against women is all-pervasive, it is never acceptable to portray violence against women.

I'd like to encourage everyone to send a letter to the SMU Journal to let them know that their "comic story" was decidedly not funny and contributes to the problem. You can reach the Journal's editor, Amanda Wenek, at: thesmujournal@gmail.com

I sent the following:

To the Editor:
This morning I happened to pick up a discarded copy of a recent issue of The Journal. Imagine my disappointment and outrage when I saw that the Halloween story on the front page climaxed with Batman knocking out Britney Spears and winning the applause of everyone around him for doing so. With that, the SMU paper has joined a long list of university newspapers that portray and make light of violence against women. In this past year, university newspapers have treated rape, sexual assault, and men's violence against women as a joke, something used to generate comedy and sell extra copies while making legitimate and acceptable a major problem in our society.
Let me be clear: there is no acceptable situation that portrays violence against women. I don't care if you think you were being cute, or flip, or tongue-in-cheek; when the problem of violence against women is at such a high rate that Status of Women Canada estimates that between 1-in-3 and 2-in-5 women will experience male violence in their lives, the context of that violence is always prevalent. In any format or media, real or stylized, actual or acted, violence against women is something that we should never condone, promote, encourage, or portray in a quasi-positive light. I hope that, in a future issues, the SMU Journal will print an apology for promoting violence against women, and exercise better judgment at the editorial level in the future so that this outrageous incident will not be repeated.
RGM
WRC-H

10 November 2007

Links

It's getting to be the time of the year that the White Ribbon Campaign begins its major efforts leading up to the commemoration of the Montreal Massacre on December 6th. Here are some links for everybody to read and get informed on what the day means, and the motivation behind the cause to end violence against women:

Status of Women Canada's Official Site for December 6th
The White Ribbon Campaign and its Official Blog
Men Can Stop Rape
Facebook Cause for The White Ribbon Campaign
Facebook Group for the White Ribbon Campaign
Andrea Dworkin's Official Web Page

There are many, many more sites out there for people to learn more about ending violence against women, and I encourage everybody to check them out. I'll be posting more on the subject throughout the month.

09 November 2007

Words of Wisdom

Now that the Harper government has announced its intentions to have a probe into the Mulroney affair, hopefully this will spell the end of the opposition parties' calls for a full inquiry. As I've already said, the amount of money required to put on a full inquiry far outweigh the amount of money involved. There is a possibility that the integrity of the Office of the Prime Minister is at stake, and that is something to be taken very seriously; however, I do not believe even that important principle can justify the costs of the inevitable witchhunt that an inquiry into Mulroney's dealings with no doubt devolve into. And I am not the only one. Jean Chretien, the most successful Liberal in the past twenty-five years, has this to say in his book:

For the opposition parties, calling for a public inquiry is usually an easy way to dig up dirt or keep a hot issue on the front burner after they've exhausted their own supply of facts and questions...Very few of these inquiries in my experience have every been of much use, and those few were valuable only because they didn't turn into television soap operas. If there's a problem, you should face up to it and make a decision. If you need more information, you can always ask the department to give you a full report. If you need an independent point of view [RGM - as Harper is seeking] you can ask someone to carry out an investigation without a lot of fanfare...But it is the nature of public inquiries to get turned into show trials, kangaroo courts, and political entertainment. The rules of evidence don't have to be respected as they are in a court. There's not the same right of due process or even the same process to protect the innocent during the investigation into a possible wrongdoing. Scores of reputations are shattered for no good cause, people lose their jobs merely because their names happened to be mentioned in passing.


So there you have it. The Liberals have got Harper to compromise somewhat from his earlier stance. They should let this be the end of it.

08 November 2007

Huh, Who Knew?

Last week I wrote this about Guy Bertrand, the separatist gadfly that attempted to smear Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu for his limited French-speaking abilities:

"Hearing some low-life politician looking for his fifteen minutes of fame embodies what is wrong with the Canadian body politic today."

Turns out that M. Bertrand has already received much more than just fifteen minutes. I'm in the midst of reading Jean Chretien's memoirs, My Years as Prime Minister, during which I've learned that Bertrand is the person responsible for the Government of Canada sending a series of questions to the Supreme Court of Canada in what came to be known as the Quebec Secession Reference. Bertrand was of the belief that Quebec could unilaterally declare its independence from Canada following a 50% plus one referendum vote, no matter how muddy the question, and he pressed this viewpiont in public. All of this resulted in the Clarity Act, perhaps the finest moment of Stephane Dion's political career, which put many nails in the coffin of the separatist movement in Canada. But this little bit of linkage does demonstrate just how small a world it is, and how easy it is for any crankpot to make himself famous...twice.

07 November 2007

More NDP Pie-in-the-Sky Ideas

This evening's edition of Politics with Don Newman featured a discussion on the NDP proposal to abolish the Senate. Their talking head, MP Joe Comartin, said that, following a successful referendum, there wouldn't be any need to go the constitutional route to make the Upper Chamber simply disappear because, get this, the Prime Minister of the day would simply promise not to make any appointments. The idea is that once the sitting Senators hit the age of 75 and go into retirement, there will be nobody around to replace them, causing a failure to reach quorum and eventually to have a living body in the Senate. Well, that's about the dumbest thing I've heard all day. First, this proposal would mean that the Senate would still be around until 2037 when Michael Fortier hits the age of retirement. Based on the membership roster of today, he'd be the only Senator for a period of roughly 7 years following the departure of Liberal Senator Pierrette Ringuette (a Chretien appointment) on the last day of 2030. I'm sure that it'd be mighty cool for Mister Fortier to have the Red Chamber all to himself for 7 years, though.
Beyond the simple matter of timelines, however, the NDP is expecting its opponents to act with goodwill to such a pledge. In politics, relying on your opponents--dare I say, enemies--to play nice is suicidal, but then there's a reason that the NDP will never hold power. If you look at the current line-up, there are going to be a lot of retirements in the next few years. Approximately 25 current Senators will be out (including Kelowna's Ross Fitzpatrick next February) by the end of 2010. Do the NDP really think that Harper wouldn't engineer a couple dozen Senate elections to pack the chamber with Tories? Moreover, in the event of the Liberals re-acquiring power, would it not be almost expected of them to plunk in some long-time party members to ensure that they retain their long-running supremacy there? This is one of the many areas in which the NDP have their heads in the cloud, oblivious to the much less genial nature of real politics. "Oh, we'll pass a resolution and everybody will just honour the spirit of that." Yeah, good luck with that. It'll be either elected Tories or patronage appointment Liberals filling those forthcoming vacant spots in the years to come, not a gradually withering number of Senators until they can bulldoze the place.
The only way to achieve abolition of the Senate is via constitutional reform. I think we can all agree that there's no need whatever to go down that route. The NDP proposal is both impractical and naive. It should have been laughed off the set.

06 November 2007

Get Yer Torches! We're Goin' Mulroney Huntin'!

Brian Mulroney's name has been in the news quite a lot lately. First the book, in which the former PM slags the deceased Pierre Trudeau somewhat harshly, which I'm guessing only five people have gotten to due to the size of the memoir. Now, though, is something a little more nefarious, and it's got the Liberals' backs up in a big way. They want an inquiry into whether or not Mulroney illicitly accepted $300,000 (no small chunk of change) from a German businessman whose name is really not relevant and 99.9% unknown outside the chattering classes. Canadians hate Brian Mulroney, not only dyed-red-in-the-wool Liberals but many Canadians at large. My favourite pub & eatery in Kelowna has a framed photo of him, tilted sideways, covered in spitballs. I don't know of a single family member that has much good to say about him. So trying to tar Brian Mulroney--15 years after he left office--is something fun and cathartic for the Liberals, who, let's face it, can use some fun these days.
Here's the problem I have with the whole thing: it's not relevant to the Canadian national interest. Not one little bit. Kinsella may want to cast Harper in a negative light for not being interested in pursuing the Liberals' request, nay, demand, for a full and thorough investigation into the matter, but he's talking into an echo chamber on that one. I don't too often disagree with W.K., but I just don't see the point in spending millions of dollars on lawyers to find out if the guy before the last guy's predecessor at 24 Sussex Drive lined his pockets for a couple hundred thousand dollars. It's greasy, it's slimy, and it sure does make Mulroney look bad, but there's really nothing for anybody in the current political environment to either gain or lose by having an inquiry. Harper's team may look at Mulroney as something of an intellectual/ideological/strategic godfather, but it's not as if Harper's got any intention of appointing him to the Senate or giving him a job on the taxpayer dime. The Liberals may get to feel good that Mulroney is getting dragged through the mud again, but it opens up the door to investigations into Shawinigate and Martin's CSL operations--if it's good for the goose... And, of course, Layton will get to gadfly around a bunch but it's not like he'll suddenly shoot up five points in the national polls. Any gains would be surface-level and fleeting, while the millions spent pursuing the inquiry would be lost to much more important and pressing programs. They could pump the money back into Status of Women Canada instead, that'd be swell.
Going back to the Liberals, I'm really astonished that they're pressing this as hard as they are. There's any number of salient issues they could target to rebuild their fortunes and attempt to knock Harper off stride. For example, there's a new poll which suggests that Canadians still lack a global conscience--er, I mean, don't want to follow George Bush's hard-right neo-conservative search and destroy so-called war on terrorism agenda--and want to get out of Afghanistan before the government's suggested 2011 withdrawal timetable. I know why it's a mission worth supporting and pursuing to a successful conclusion, but many Canadians still don't and many can't even point Afghanistan on a map. That's still fertile territory for any of the parties to seize upon and frame in a national interest perspective. Make up something tangible about peacekeeping and why we should be somewhere else instead and you may receive a boost in the polls. There's still no real social agenda blueprint put in place by the Conservatives other than some tax credits; after waking up one morning and collectively deciding that Canada must have a national daycare program, they've been pretty quiet about that lately. Oil is getting close to $100 a barrel. Given the Liberal leader's supposed penchant for the environment and competitive sustainability, where is he on the charge to finding fossil fuel alternatives? Where's the big policy blueprint that makes Canada an innovator in eco-friendly fuels and energy?
I know that it's not easy to make priorities, but seeing the Liberals flailing in an effort to put Brian freakin' Mulroney back in the spotlight instead of real issues affecting Canadian interests and, dare I say, values, is sad to see. Rather than giving Canadians an idea of where they want to take us, the Liberals are trying to re-visit the late 20th century. Harper may not be big on the vision thing but at least his ship has a setting (gotta love the North Star) that may take us into a better future.

01 November 2007

Disrespecting a Real Leader

There have been a few reports going around about a Quebec separatist attempting to smear Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu for his limited French-speaking capabilities. This is the type of item that exemplifies how some politicians will say or do anything in order to advance an agenda, and no doubt sits in the minds of regular people as to why they dislike politicians. Yes Koivu plays for a Quebec-based team that has a long and enduring legacy of being known as "the Flying Frenchmen," despite the fact that that heyday is long gone. This is a team that features players from all over the world: goaltenders from France and British Columbia; defencemen from Russia, the United States, B.C. again, Quebec, and Switzerland; forwards from Russia, the U.S., all over Canada, the Czech Republic, Quebec, Germany, and Belarus.
And, of course, Finland, where Koivu comes from. He didn't even speak English when he was drafted by the team in 1993. He's learned and mastered that language, which has certainly helped him become a true leader in Montreal, the mecca of hockey. He can communicate with all of his teammates and let them know what to do on the ice, with the media, and with the organization. Most importantly, he's been able to communicate with the sick children that he regularly visits at cancer wards in Montreal. He's raised over $5 million for a new MRI machine so that others can get the same top-notch medical care that he received when he was stricken with cancer in 2001. He is a prominent figure in the community, and an ambassador for the franchise that is beloved by the city.
Hearing some low-life politician looking for his fifteen minutes of fame embodies what is wrong with the Canadian body politic today. Anything is fair game, anything can and will be said in order to tar somebody and advance an agenda. Trashing Saku Koivu is not in the interest of the province of Quebec and it doesn't advance anybody's cause. It is being done solely to trash him and shame him because he doesn't speak three languages, the most important omission being French. He's a hockey player, not a linguist. His job is to put the puck in the net, not ensure that some politician's feelings are upset because he doesn't introduce the roster in the language of that politician's preference. It is shameful and despicable, which isn't all that surprising given the separatist agenda.

31 October 2007

Tax Cuts a-Comin'

Me not being anything remotely approaching "expert" status on economic matters and which is better, a consumption tax cut or an income tax cut, let me still say that I'm looking forward to both. As a regular Joe working a 9-5, saving a few extra pennies on my morning double-double or anything else I want to go out and purchase is something I like. When it comes time to file my taxes in February, I'll be looking forward to getting more money back. It's a win-win, and the Conservatives know that measures such as this resonate with the people on a much deeper level than the chattering classes realize. Seeing Liberals going on and on about the GST cut being a stupid thing doesn't connect with people, especially those who have long enough memories to recall that once upon a time this party ran an election campaign (promise not filled, promise not kept, however) on abolishing the much-hated service tax.
Savings at the till + more money from the tax man = winning political strategy. I'm willing to wager that more folks who don't pay close attention to politics or the stock market will agree with Harper's position--no tax is a good tax--than that of the Liberals--a consumption tax cut is bad economic policy.
I should also mention the gadfly that is Jack Layton embarrassing himself on national television within minutes of Minister Flaherty's announcement. It's as if the man can speak only in platitudes, offering up grand-sounding statements that consist of very little substance. I personally laugh at the statement that the government, with its new tax cuts, is "continuing to lead Canada down the wrong path." When you look at the simple facts, that Canada is stronger today than it was two years ago (and due credit to the Liberals for their time in office on the economic management file), one year ago,and it's projected to get even stronger, saying that the country is on the "wrong path" makes one wonder what his agenda is. A strong dollar, a treasury awash in cash, investment coming into the country, sound resource management, paying down the debt, and general confidence are the hallmarks of Canada's economy right now. If that's wrong, baby, I don't wanna be right.

24 October 2007

New Tory Strategy: Every Bill is the Speech From the Throne

Given that the Official Opposition has abdicated its responsibility to Parliament, Harper may as well really ramp it up and make every government bill a matter of confidence. Dion will have everybody show up but stay seating and thereby give him a free pass. He'll get the omnibus (and horribly named) crime bill passed easily, the vote on the fall mini-budget/economic update will go by without any fanfare, and if Harper wants to pass a resolution that refers to the Liberal Party as "weenies," well, that'll probably end up passing with unanimous consent and 95 abstentions.

Harper has maneuvered the Liberals to the brink of irrelevancy with his strategy to this point. He'll be able to mock them for probably the rest of this session of Parliament, saying that the Opposition has no stance on any of the government's five policy points and passing pretty much all of it with ease. After all, if one of those points is so odious to the Liberals when it comes to a vote, how can they justify voting against it in December or January or February when they sat on their butts when the government declared its intentions in October? Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe now command more presence in the House of Commons because they've made their respective party's position known, loud and clear. They all stood up to be counted while the men and women in red collectively behaved like Prime Minister Paul Martin: so consumed with how to appear that they're impotent to act.

From this point until the middle of 2008, every bill introduced by the Government is going to be connected to the Speech From the Throne in some way. Since the Tories got parliamentary approval for their blueprint, I can imagine that, in the name of consistency, the implementation of that blueprint shall receive similar approval. Since the main opposition party has taken itself out of the equation, Harper now has a de facto majority, which will make the coming months all the more interesting. Or, if you're a Liberal supporter, infuriating and contemplating why you voted for that green scarf-wearing weenie in the first place.

Meeting Mister Mulroney

On Monday night Tasha and I had the opportunity to listen to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney speak about his life and career in politics. It is the type of meeting that I always try to attend, as there are only 7 living Prime Ministers of Canada, and each of them has a wealth of knowledge and insight that they can impart. The experiences they have are unique and incredibly interesting to hear, such as Mulroney's ability to speak of his work with Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, and Margaret Thatcher during the height of the Cold War and the Canadian role in ending the vile apartheid regime in South Africa. He has a canny sense of humour that all good politicians are able to wield, usually the self-deprecating kind. I know that there are many Canadians who still revile Mulroney for the imposition of the GST and a myriad of other policies, just as there are those who despise Trudeau for the policies that he initiated. Such is the life in Canadian politics.

There was much that I found myself nodding in agreement with throughout Mulroney's hour-long speech. When he spoke of the undoing of the bizarre moral equivalence that was held up between the United States and the Soviet Union, I harkened to Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy, and how removing that false equivalence brought forth a tidal wave that ultimately caused the implosion of that decrepit regime under its own weight. Listening to him recall speaking with Helmut Kohl about the future possibilities of reuniting the two Germanies was equally fascinating. Kohl's belief--proven correct--was that television would be the impetus in awakening the democratic spirit of the people of the German Democratic Republic, as East Germany was called. Seeing the colour and choice that the outside world offered to West Germans would create an untenable pressure against the oppressive East German regime that caused the Berlin Wall to come down. It is but one of many examples of the power of democracy and political openness to transform societies.

There was one major area in the field of foreign policy that I could not find myself agreeing with Mister Mulroney's position, however. He discussed the lead-up to the Persian Gulf War, and spoke of his pressure on Bush 41 to get a UN Security Council resolution or else Canada would not participate. This obviously implies that, in the absence of such a resolution, the American-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 is less just or legitimate than the original Gulf War. The senior Bush did have a point when it came to the problems in occupying Iraq post-Saddam (as current events readily demonstrate) but that is not the thrust of what Mulroney was discussing. His willingness to give individual countries a veto over Canadian foreign policy is an abdication that I cannot support. Recall also that the United States at least believed that it could get the 9 votes required to pass a resolution in the UNSC in early 2003, but the threat of the French veto scuttled all of that. I respect Mulroney's position that the cover of UN legitimacy is important, but it is not all-important and I question the legitimacy of the idea that a 14-1 vote can prevent authorization and passage of a resolution if that 1 vote is from France or Russia or China (or even the US and UK). This is the great paradox created by the structure of the Security Council, and I believe that Mulroney, like so many Canadian Prime Ministers both before and after him, is on the wrong side of the fence in his view that the absence of a UN Security Council resolution in all circumstances is justification for the continuance of an intolerable status quo.

After the speech, there was a book signing and now my copy of Mulroney's Memoirs features his autograph. There were a lot of people, so there was no opportunity to get a photo or have any real discussion. I did manage to have enough time to thank him for playing a key role for Canada in ending the Cold War and apartheid, and not much else other than a handshake. It was, all told, a very nice experience and so now I'm hoping that Jean Chretien will have recovered sufficiently in order to do a similar appearance.

21 October 2007

The Value of Information

Since 9/11, Western governments have put a premium on information, specifically intelligence information. Knowing what al Qaeda and other terrorist operatives are up to, where they are, where they intend to go, what they intend to do, and so forth are vital aspects of the Global War on Terror & Tyranny that the West seeks to prosecute while instituting tranformative change in the Middle East. While this is mostly defensive--protecting the homeland and Canadian/American allies--it also allows us to go on the offensive, targeting terrorist training camps, rooting out insurgents, and eliminating threats to the stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, one element that has been conspicuous in its absence--and which I have called for on a number of occasions--is a sustained campaign dedicated to winning over hearts and minds of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, our allies, and indeed here at home. It's incredible that a NATO-led, UN-sanctioned mission to rebuild a war-shattered country only enjoys 50/50 support in Canada, and not the good kind of incredible. It represents failure on the part of successive governments to put out a coherent and cohesive message for what the Canadian Forces and Canadian aid workers and diplomats are doing in that faraway land about which many Canadians know little. Given due explanation, it is my belief that the public would more warmly embrace the efforts of our fine men and women to bring a modicum of peace and security to a country that has not enjoyed it for decades. People who criticize "neo-conservatives" will no doubt see this as another example of a "neo-con" and his abiding faith that a little propaganda is all it takes to magically sweep people off their feet.

It is that simple word--propaganda--that has become a barrier to Canadian efforts (and those of its allies) to win over hearts and minds domestically and abroad. Any effort on the part of the government to disseminate information is automatically cast as something about which people should be dubious and skeptical, the very word conjured up to remind people of Goebbels and Hitler and the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. There is a fantastic article in the current issue of Parameters, the US Army's quarterly academic journal, that focuses on the problems that a democracy faces in waging an information campaign alongside a military one. Whereas terrorists have no inhibitions about stretching the truth or saying things which are blatantly false, democracies must rely solely on pure, unadulterated fact. And even when this is deployed, the press is usually there to portray the government as doing something sinister to guide people along a pre-determined path of their choosing. Never mind that national interests and objectives are at stake. I'm all for retaining a healthy sense of skepticism, but forcing information agencies to shut down within weeks of being established is going too far and indeed hinders the government's ability to achieve the objectives of the state.

To check out the article, written by Dennis Murphy and James White, click on the link. All comments for discussion are, of course, welcome. Propaganda: Can a Word Decide a War?

17 October 2007

Out of Touch...

The headlines today were all screaming "Election Blueprint" in reference to last night's Speech From the Throne and the establishment of the Government's agenda for the coming months. Both the Globe and Mail and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald portrayed the Speech as something upon which the Conservatives would rest their hopes in an election campaign. Let's face it, elections are sexy. They're full of intriguing storylines, angles, twists, plot devices, and they always have a thrilling conclusion in which one party rises supreme above all others. So desperate for another election campaign are they that they ignore reality.

I have maintained for a long time now that there will be no election in 2007. I'm on the verge of updating that forecast to suggest that there may not even be one in 2008. The opposition parties can snipe and bray all they want, they will ultimately back down. The Liberal Party of Canada has no chance of winning an election at this time. They haven't got the money, they haven't got the organization, they haven't got the people, and they don't have the policy. It has been well over two years since the last Liberal Policy Convention, which is odd given that there's something in the party constitution which states that policy conventions are to be biennial. They have been rudderless since Paul Martin ran out of good ideas sometime in September 2005. They've had ideas, but they have certainly not been good: banning the notwithstanding clause, anyone? They've had ideas, but they haven't translated them into policy. Firing off the name of your favourite city in Japan isn't a policy, it's not a blueprint, it's a word. In the absence of any semblance of preparedness for a six-week campaign against a well-oiled and well-financed Conservative machine, there is simply no way that Dion would commit political hari-kari and further fan the flames of the party's self-immolation by calling for an election.

And yet the media still insists that an election is imminent. It is no wonder that they are regarded as out of touch.

Speaking of, M. Duceppe is having a hell of a time trying to get out his speech. It's turning into a blathering rant without any sense of direction. I can't believe they're actually semi-serious about their intention to oppose the Throne Speech and therefore be angling for an election.

15 October 2007

US Calls for Establishment of Palestinian State

"Frankly, it's time for the establishment of a Palestinian state," Rice said.

This comes from a news story at CTV.ca. I must say that I'm very surprised to hear her saying this only a matter of hours after trying to get all parties scheduled to attend the Middle East peace talks held in the US this week to go in with somewhat low expectations. I guess we can safely that they've been raised extraordinarily high now.

I am in favour of the two-state solution. I would love to see the day that it takes place. I don't know what parameters Rice intends to put forward regarding the continguousness of such a state, its borders, its security situation, or any of the other hindrances to achieving this objective, but obviously she has some ideas in mind if she's making such a bold statement. It will be very interesting to see how this week plays out and if we get some real tangible progress moving.

14 October 2007

Osirak Redux?

There have been revelations this morning about the Israeli air strike against a Syrian facility last month. It turns out that the building was a nascent nuclear facility that could have ultimately been used to develop weapons-grade plutonium. Indeed, the model for the facility appears to be based on that used by North Korea to develop its nuclear weapons stockpile.
Because this was a preemptive strike against a facility very early in its development, it is very difficult to assess what it would have been used for. This is the great problem of preemption: it is impossible to fully ascertain what would have happened in the absence of the preemptive action, and the consequences of the action could prove more dangerous than what would have happened otherwise. Israel's strike against Iraq's Osirak facility in 1981 is a striking parallel. Initially condemned by the U.S. under the Reagan Administration, the strike has now been regarded as a very successful example of preemption because it set back Saddam Hussein's ability to develop a nuclear weapon by several years. The facility was years away from being completed, so it would have been probably close to a decade before it could have churned out weapons-grade nuclear material. Whether this inspires Syria to launch a renewed crash program or to abandon the pursuit of nuclear technology out of fear of further reprisal remains to be seen, and Assad's course of action will go a long way in determining whether the Israeli attack was justified.
Syria's near-silence on the matter suggests that there may be an element of "Gotcha!" involved, as one would expect there to be a torrent of outrage stemming from the country after an Israeli incursion into Syrian territory to attack one of its installations. There hasn't been any staging of propaganda events, "death to Israel" marches, or wide-ranging proclamations from any of the other countries in the region. Now, Syria may not be the most well-liked Middle East dictatorial regime, but there is generally a strong camaraderie when it comes to Israel and any cross-border action it may undertake. Damasacus has been on Washington's bad list for a long time, though, and that may be inspiring the region's more pragmatic leaders to keep Assad at arm's length and not do much of anything to strengthen his hand. A lot of people were quietly urging back in 2003 for the Bush Administration to send a couple of battalions on a little detour to topple Assad while the invasion of Iraq was ongoing, and I distinctly recall one of my old professors musing that Assad had to be "shitting his pants" at the prospect of the Iraq war. So perhaps that helps to explain why Syria and its assumed friends haven't been making too much of a stink about the Israeli strike.
This is going to be a situation worth monitoring in the coming weeks. There may or may not be more information coming out, as the intelligence communities have been very tight-lipped about the particulars of the strike, but if they do decide to let news out, it will hopefully clarify the picture a little and remove some of the murky details. If it can be demonstrably proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Syrian facility was to be used for illicit nuclear activities, this will be a blow in favour of nuclear non-proliferation and a check on the ledger for preemption. Only time will tell.

13 October 2007

The Afghanistan Panel

My hat goes off to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for creating a panel of "renowned" Canadians to collaborate and provide a detailed action plan for what Canada should do vis-a-vis Afghanistan following the end of the current mission in February 2009. The four options provided by Harper clearly indicate that the mission will be significantly different than the one that Canada is currently conducting, which means that the NDP will no longer be able to trot out such ridiculous lines as "search and destroy missions" or, due to the timeframe, "fighting George Bush's war." No doubt they'll come up with new slogans to counter the legitimacy of these four key conceptualizations for Canada in Afghanistan in 2009 and beyond, straight from the mouth of the Prime Minister:

Option one is to continue training the Afghan army and police with the goal of creating self-sufficient indigenous security forces in Kandahar province so Canadian troops can start withdrawing in February 2009.

This is as close to the status quo as we will see. As noted by fine blogs such as The Torch earlier this summer, the PM has pretty much given up hope of getting an extension of the current mission beyond the current parliamentary mandate. What makes this concept distinguishable from the status quo is that it provides for the beginning of the draw-down of Canadian Forces personnel starting early in 2009 and continuing until some undefined time in the future. The focus will be on improving security in Kandahar by assisting the Afghan security forces to step up their training and on-the-job efforts. It's essentially adopting the "as Iraqi forces stand up, American forces will stand down" plank that the United States had previously used in Iraq, with little success due to lack of political will on the part of the Iraqi government to actually stand up. We know that the Afghan government has been more assertive, however, and that may lead to this approach getting a strong recommendation from the panel. Canada's police and military forces are well-respected around the world for their professionalism, and if we can impart those skills, insights, and abilities upon the Afghan forces, they will be in good shape.

Option two is to focus on reconstruction in Kandahar, which would require some other country or countries to take over our security role.

This would require a shift in resource allocation and, more significantly, compelling one or several of Canada's European allies to step up their efforts. The first part of that is much easier. Canada has a tremendous international aid program headed up by CIDA. They do excellent work, and this is the type of "niche" activity that Canada could really appropriate and make it a defining feature of Canada's foreign affairs. It is something that appeals to many Canadians that buy into the myth of the blue-beret'd Canadian peacekeeper handing out sacks of grain and stopping conflict by doling out hugs. It wins hearts and minds to have Canadians working hard to build schools, hospitals, working to mediate differences between competing factions, and basically doing anything that involves building the state and not shooting terrorists. I like the concept a lot because it would serve as a template for Canada building a reputation for nation/state-building in post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization efforts. This is an area that is going to be of increasing significance in the coming years and decades. The American military Leviathan is sans peer when it comes to taking down the bad guys and eliminating hostile elements, but it is less adept at building things back up to establish a viable alternative to the status quo ante bellum. I'm predicting a more stringently multilateral America starting in 2009--whether a Republican or a Democrat is elected--and if Canada is going to remain engaged in the world and doing democracy promotion-related activities, this is the type of thing that can make Canada a desirable ally.
However, the second half of this equation is where the problem comes along. Harken back to the 2004 US Presidential Election, when John Kerry was musing openly that a victory for him would cause an instantaneous shift in European attitudes to American-led operations outside of the European defence perimeter of NATO's traditional area of operations. He figured that he'd be able to recruit Europe into Iraq to assist in the reconstruction of that country. It was, and still remains, a fantasy. We simply cannot rely on Europe to provide robust numbers of troops to take on the heavy lifting in this "out of area" international effort. There is considerable talk in European countries participating in Afghanistan to withdraw their efforts and drastically scale back their activities in the UN-authorized operation to rebuild Afghanistan. I can't foresee anybody other than the British stepping up to take over the hard power operations in Kandahar if Canada decides it wants to focus strictly on reconstruction efforts. I don't even know about their level of interest, as Gordon Brown is seemingly less the liberal interventionist than Tony Blair. I would really like to see this concept being adopted, but it is predicated on a very shaky foundation. The realist in me can see the glaring problem of hoping for the best when it comes to relying on reluctant allies to adopt our current role. They have seemingly less desire to sacrifice blood and treasure for the sake of Afghanistan than we do, and that results in it being very unlikely that they would increase their participation.

Option three is to shift Canadian security and reconstruction efforts to another region of Afghanistan.

This option runs into the same problem as that faced in the previous conception. If we leave Kandahar, somebody has to step in and do at least as good of a job as we have done during our tenure there. It would have to be one of the major countries stepping in, because they are the only ones that have a force capability to send at least 2500 troops to the region. France doesn't even let its soldiers off their bases at night. It pretty much comes down to Britain or Germany at that point, and I don't know if we can convince them to take on Kandahar. We simply can't pick a new place and not ensure that some other country comes in to fill the void. Geopolitics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and unless we get one of our allies to take over Kandahar, some more nefarious entity (read: the Taliban) will unless by some miracle Kandahar is completely secured by February 2009.

And option four is to withdraw all Canadian military forces after February 2009 except a small contingent to provide security for our remaining aid workers and diplomats.

A.K.A. Cut and run. This is the preferred option of the NDP and the radical left. The hard work of reconstruction and stabilization in Afghanistan will almost certainly not be done by February 2009. These types of efforts take at least a decade, possibly even longer under the circumstances. There is so much work to be done in Afghanistan, whether we're talking about human security and human rights, stability, democratic institutions, and law and order. Like I said earlier, Canada does this type of job really well, and it would be a real shame to see our leaders decide to withdraw all of our expertise from Afghanistan to leave the job to others. I'm sure that other countries can do the job, possibly as well as Canadians, but doesn't it reek of abdicating responsibility and embracing the cocoon? In situations where we can help, and our assistance has been requested, there is a degree of obligation to do so. Yes, it costs money and it may cost lives, but the long-term benefits stand to be enormous. Waving goodbye to Kandahar and Afghanistan while the work is incomplete has a ring of immorality to it, and I hope that this option does not end up being recommended by the panel.

12 October 2007

Al Gore's Nobel Prize

First off, let me try to issue a clarification/apology to all my readers: I'm not a weekly columnist, I'm trying to write with greater frequency, but the truth be told I'm just not really finding a whole lot to be worth writing about of late. I'm also doing a lot of reading, having polished off Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream earlier in the week and currently going through a collection of essays under the title American Power: Potential and Limits in the 21st Century. Also lurking around is the massive Mulroney memoirs and a small pile of others. Plus, that hockey thing. I was terrible during Election 2004 because of it, but what can I say? I love my Habs.

Anyways, the big news of the day is that Al Gore is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007. I'm pretty stunned by this announcement given that Al Gore hasn't brought peace to anything. He's done a lot of great work raising awareness of climate change in the United States, and made a popular movie to boot, but peace? Nothing Al Gore has done has made the world a less dangerous place than it was a year ago; conflict in Iraq, nuclear weapons being built in Iran, instability throughout the Middle East, and genocide in Darfur and the Congo are all still raging in spite--in spite!--of Al Gore's best efforts to raise awareness of the problem of man-made global warming. Yeah there were a few big concerts back in July that had everybody buzzing about the "Climate in Crisis" for about 48 hours--sort of like how Live8 solved famine in Africa--but the continuing lack of consensus among the world's major, middle, and non-powers about collective action on global warming sticks out like a very sore thumb.

If one truly wants to consider peace efforts in the world in the past year, why not look at North Korea? A year ago, Kim Jong-Il successfully detonated a nuclear weapon and was acting very boldly following his ascension into the nuclear "club." Conflict in the Korean Peninsula seemed to be in the short term, following a summer full of missile launches into the Sea of Japan and the usual rhetoric emanating from the aptly-titled "Hermit Kingdom." Yet here we are a year later, and legitimate and sustained serious talk about North Korean nuclear disarmament is ongoing. As in the past, the DPRK has indicated that it will disable and dismantle all of its nuclear weapons facilities, and work is underway to ensure that this is done by the end of 2007. Imagine that, from testing nuclear weapons to giving them up in barely more than a year. The six-party talks have proven effective, and the extraordinary face-to-face meetings between the North and the South--only the second such talks since 1953!!--have obviously paved the way for a more sustainable rapprochement between the two Koreas than we have witnessed in our lifetimes. There is even talk of allowing the Internet into the DPRK in limited areas. A completely closed society, governed by fear and propaganda, is slowly taking steps that open it to the rest of the world. There is to be an economic zone within North Korea that allows companies from the South to set up shop. This is amazing progress.

In the end, then, it seems to me that the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize was as much a political rebuke of the Bush Administration as was the awarding of the Prize in 2002. Carter, like Gore, has been incredibly outspoken in his hostility to the Bush Administration, and that appeared to be a motivating factor for the Nobel committee in its deliberations (remember, this occurred during the build-up to war in Iraq). I can only imagine what John Kerry must be thinking at this moment--perhaps something along the lines of finding his own cause celebre to chastize President Bush and gain favour with people around the world. I saw his book last summer, it appears as though there is something about losing to Bush that turns a person into an environmentalist. But that avenue has already seen its ticker-tape parade, so Mr. Kerry will have to look elsewhere. He's unlikely to secure the role of "Middle East peace envoy" since that's been given to Tony Blair (speaking of, where is he?) already. Maybe he can go on a Joe Wilson-style "fact finding mission" in Iran about its nuclear program. That'll for sure wow the Nobel committee.

05 October 2007

Waterboarding = Torture

It has once again appeared in the news cycle that terror detainees are being waterboarded as part of the coercive interrogation process. For those who don't know what this practice is, it's basically simulated drowning. A person is blind-folded, tilted back in a chair, and the interrogator pours copious amounts of (usually cold) water over them. Imagine the horror that a person would feel in that situation. The people who worked over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the orchestrator of 9/11, were impressed at his ability to withstand the treatment for over two minutes before confessing to his intimate involvement in planning the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Yet today we hear President Bush flatly stating that the United States "does not torture people." I would defy anybody to say with a straight face and a perfectly clean conscience that the above description of the waterboarding technique does not constitute torture. Instilling the sheer horror of imminent death in another human being--no matter how despicable that person may be--is torture. It is not a practice that should be used by Americans if they want to reasonably claim any semblance of the moral high ground vis-a-vis the likes of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, or any of the other groups out there that seek to kill innocent lives.
It is often noted that during war the lines of moral clarity become greatly obscured. When evil is everywhere and death omnipresent, retaining a sense of dignity and value for human life becomes very difficult. What I find so disturbing is that George W. Bush once held such a sense of compassion. Watching only the media clips of the press conference today makes me question whether that still exists. He has clearly lost the initiative and the command over American foreign policy and grand strategy that he demonstrated all the way into 2005. He seems lost, wandering, and resigned to simply serve out his term with the hope that Iraq doesn't completely implode under his watch. I find this most disturbing--and disappointing--of all.

04 October 2007

On Team Captains

This morning, given the fun events going on in both politics and the NHL, I have come to notice two distinctions between the captain of the Montreal Canadiens and the captain of the federal Liberal Party:

1. One doesn't speak French.
2. The other one is not a leader.

I'll leave it to my faithful readers to guess which is which.

02 October 2007

Go Habs Go!

Tomorrow is opening night for the Habs, and, as always, I'm excited. Carey Price has made the team and will be pushing Huet for the #1 spot. Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec are ready to step up in a big way--I'm looking for 30 goals out of Higgins and another 20+ from Pleks. If he can play on a regular basis the way he did against Boston here a couple weeks ago, that should be no problem.
There are concerns about the team, of course. The moves they made in the off-season to replace departed players resulted only in cosmetic upgrades. For a team that missed the playoffs last year, that's not enough on its own merit. Remember, though, this team was challenging Buffalo for first in the East when everybody got sick around Christmas time, and they never recovered from it. Combine that with some bad luck in the nets, and it's a recipe for disaster. This year should be different. I'm predicting 6th in the East.

26 September 2007

Harper at CFR

Before I get into this, does anybody out there subscribe to the PMO mailing list? Are you also not getting any messages from them lately? **Update** Never mind, just received two of them this morning. Good job, old chap, on the surplus!**

Luckily, I do still receive the podcasts (yes, I listen to the Prime Minister on my iPod...Bush's weekly radio address too), and the latest release is Harper's speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York this week. It is a great speech, delivered in front of a highly intelligent audience, and the Q&A that followed the speech is equally impressive. For those who don't know, the CFR is the body that publishes the most influential political science journal in the United States, that being Foreign Affairs. So the questions they ask are top-notch IR/poli sci stuff, and they result in serious responses from a serious prime minister. It is a far cry from the usual sham that goes on when he is interviewed by the Canadian mainstream media.

In the early minutes of the speech, Harper spoke of the need to promote democracy in the world, as well as open markets, the rule of law, and political pluralism. A more democratic world will be a more secure world, in which people are more free to pursue their dreams without fear of repression from their government. To hear Harper talking about this is very welcome to me. His section on Afghanistan was inspiring while remaining pragmatic. He understands that all the social, political, and economic progress in Afghanistan will arise out of a secure state, and that further progress in Afghanistan will bolster the security of the state. When people have a stake in a brighter future, they will be more willing to defend it. At this time, Afghanistan cannot do so on its own, and Canada has a responsibility to help, and it is fulfilling that. I hope that when decision time comes next April, Canadians of all political stripes will look at the accomplishments we have made there and helped the Afghan people achieve, and realize that we cannot walk away from that prematurely.

To conclude, it would be fantastic if Harper spoke with such clarity and conviction when making speeches for domestic consumption. However, he can only give amazing responses to relevant questions, and that is something the Canadian media need to realize. The political theatre environment of Canadian domestic politics today doesn't exactly encourage the type of speech that Harper gave at the CFR. It's all about the soundbite, who can "get" who the most often and the hardest. To date, Afghanistan has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves. Opposition politicians talk about how Afghanistan wasn't among Harper's "five priorities" in the last election, or that because the work is hard we should come home, or any number of asinine things that are said with an eye on the next SES poll. When conducting foreign policy, domestic politicking should not have a place at the table. Doing what is right and in the country's national interest should be first and foremost among considerations as to what actions, if any, the state should take. Promoting democracy, in the Americas, in Afghanistan, and all over the world is in the Canadian interest, and the political wrangling of leftist opposition parties undermines that pursuit.

23 September 2007

Habs Win! Habs Win! **now with video!**

**Update** Video!


Tomas Plekanec scores his third goal of the game during a 2-man advantage



Chris Higgins on a penalty shot. This guy is going to be a huge star!


4-3 over Boston! Tomas Plekanec had a natural hat trick, and Chris Higgins scored the other marker for the Habs. I'd forgotten that Chuck Kobasew is a Bruin now, so it was cool to see at least one Kelowna Rockets alumni tonight (Josh Gorges wasn't in the line-up for Montreal). Jaroslav Halak looked good in goal, Ryan O'Byrne had a short fight and was solid defensively all night long, and there were a lot of Habs fans in the audience. It was a great time. Pics? You betcha!


Jaroslav Halak warming up.


6'5" Ryan O'Byrne.


Chris Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn


Chris Higgins -- note the A!


Ceremonial opening face-off featuring CF personnel recently returned from Afghanistan


Jaroslav Halak minding the net


Michael Ryder in action


Capital G and Michael Ryder


Great save by Halak!


Habs Win!


Tasha got the game puck!!!


I got to hold the game puck!


Carey Price signing autographs


Chris Higgins signing


Michael Ryder signing Capital G!!!


Me and my multi-signed jersey: Mike Komisarek, J.P. Cote, Ryan O'Byrne, Bryan Smolinski, Ben Maxwell, Chris Higgins, Kyle Chipchura, and assistant coach (and member of the 1993 Stanley Cup Champions!) Kirk Muller. I also got Ryder to sign the base of his action figure. Very cool of him to do two things for me.


All in all, a fantastic night. Really looking forward to seeing them again on April 5th against Toronto. As always, GO HABS GO!!!

I Don't Need Your Civil War

It isn't often that I feel motivated to comment on the status of my former political party. However, the last week has been absolutely disastrous for the Liberals, and it would be remiss of me to not comment on it.
The situation is now being described as a civil war by none other than Sheila Copps. I had the opportunity to meet Miss Copps in 2003 and I very nearly ended up supporting her for the Liberal leadership that year. I bring this up because it is evidence that I respect her opinion and her insights. There were a couple of policy disagreements between us that ultimtaely led in me backing the greatest footnote in Canadian political history, but that in no way limits my respect for her. When she says that the old rivalries are resurfacing with new faces, I believe her. She knows many more people in higher places than I ever did in the Party, so her words should be taken seriously.
So it is the case that in September 2007 the Liberal Party of Canada is still engaged in the same internecine struggles that were damaging it in the period of 2002-2004. Rumours abound of plots to overthrow Stephane Dion's leadership, many of those plots focusing on Michael Ignatieff, but some also fingerpointing at Bob Rae. It is not entirely surprising that the impetus for all of this is a poor performance in 3 Quebec by-elections. Dion is a Quebec man, and it was believed that his long experience with the Intergovernmental Affairs portfolio and his self-proclaimed championing of a cause important to many Quebeckers--the environment--would help rebound sagging fortunes in the province. It turns out that the opposite has proven true. Dion hasn't established his credibility on the environmental file, having been criticized by former Cabinet colleagues who noted his lackadaisacal attitude when he was Environment Minister, and it turns out that many people in Quebec don't really appreciate his handling of Quebec-Ottawa relations. Plus he had a terrible organizational approach to the three elections, losing a long-standing Liberal stronghold and garnering a popular vote in the teens over the 3 ridings.
Cue the plotting. Ignatieff came out of the Montreal Convention as the runner-up to Dion. He was unable to grow his support from his initial 30% range on the first ballot to win the leadership, and I personally doubt that he'll be willing to stick around in Canadian politics as an opposition party critic for a long time when he knows that he could go back to any university and be the head of its political science department. Those hallways are less cutthroat than politics--Canadian and/or Liberal--and I would not be surprised if he regularly hears offers from institutions looking to add his formidable talents to their university. So it's either aim for coup or go back to academia for him. By all accounts, it seems he's going to try the coup first.
However, all of this neglects to look at the biggest problem the Liberal Party faces today. It is not that it's the same cast of stale characters or even the lack of a serious policy platform. It is criminal that they haven't held a policy convention since February 2005, that they don't articulate a consistent set of policies that liberals can rally around, sure. The biggest problem with the Liberal Party today is that it is called the Liberal Party. The brand is broken, toxic even. Back when Paul Martin became the party leader, the membership ranks boasted over half a million. Today it is a fraction of that. I don't know the numbers, but there are no pronouncements of mega-majorities or standing-proud local organizations looking to sign up every human soul in sight (living or dead, eh Joe Volpe?), so it is safe to assume that people have tuned out the Liberals. The absence of a message helps, but the lingering hostility over sponsorship, the fighting, the Martinites, and so much more takes precedence. Back in 2003 there was some hope for Liberals to make breakthroughs in areas that they had been shut out of since the days of Trudeau. Those are long gone, and they're now on the defensive even in bastions like Toronto and Montreal. Announce that you're a Liberal in some places and people may hiss and bear pitchforks.
What can they do? Rebuild, top to bottom. Make concrete steps to differentiate themselves from the Liberal brand of the recent past. Transforming one's image is difficult but it can be done--look at Stephen, formerly "Scary," Harper and his continued success as Prime Minister. Drop the arrogance, drop the "blame the voters" mentality, don't accuse people who disagree with you of lacking a "social conscience," don't formulate talking points around George W. Bush. Talk about your vision, talk about liberal values, compassion, humanity, a "role of pride and influence in the world," things that people can support. If they don't, these civil wars will be without end, and every leader will spend an inordinate amount of time looking over his shoulder to find out who is plotting to put a knife between his shoulder blades.

22 September 2007

Meet the Habs Goalie of the Future



The media guide has it wrong. His name is actually Hairy Price.

21 September 2007

Take Back the Night Halifax

Next Friday, September 28th, there will be a Take Back the Night March organized by the Dalhousie Women's Centre. Women and male allies will be meeting at 7pm at Victoria Park, across from the Public Gardens, at the intersection of Spring Garden Rd. and South Park St.

All those who support a woman's right to walk alone at any time in any place free from the threat of violence and intimidation are welcome to attend, and I encourage people to get in touch with the Dalhousie Women's Centre to find out how they can participate in the organization of the March. Their website is: http://www.dalwomenscentre.ca/