Monday, May 26, 2008

Lies and Vicious Calumnies

What is it with the news media in the West, have they been completely suborned by their unspoken pledge to uphold a collective agreement to paint Israel in the most blighted colours possible, throwing truth and reality to the winds? Guess it sells.

The condemnations that accrue and rain down on Israel for its purported inhumane treatment of a neighbour population that outright refuses to relinquish its vendetta against an upstart presence are cringe-inducing to Israelis, seemingly incapable of mustering the resources to deny slanderous accusations.

During the Israel-Hezbollah confrontation that escalated into semi-war proportions in the summer of 2006, the "political wing" of the terrorist organization proved itself adept at providing western news media with photographs showing Israel in a human-rights abusing light, just as the "military wing" of that group laid the theatricals by staging assaults directly from within crowded population centres.

Doctored photographs allied with vicious propaganda were fodder for international condemnation of Israel. As public relations and media manipulation go, Hezbollah proved downright masterful. But they wouldn't have succeeded as spectacularly as they did without the complicity of the news sources eager to avail themselves of these special resources handed over to them by Hezbollah's agents.

And when it came to cynical manipulation of public opinion, leading to outright censure of Israel, no one knows how to twist reality as well as the Arabs do, they've had a long tradition of doing just that. Their blythe arrogance in flying traditional white flags of truce to avoid fire when they ferried about members of their militia placed real refugees from firing zones at risk, but that hardly mattered to the warriors of terror. About as much as deliberately placing civilians at risk by firing assaultive rockets against the IDF from the midst of crowded residential areas.

The thing of it is, even when astute observers, neutral or partisan alike have been able to determine that damning photographs and the narrative that accompanied them were falsified, nothing unravelled the original damage. The apprehension in the public mind of Israel victimizing those whose sole purpose is to destroy that country remains indelibly engraved in the memory and minds of a readily manipulable public. The original story sticks, it will not relinquish fiction to restore reality.

So when a French appeals court recently overturned the libel conviction of Philippe Karsenty who claimed that the France-2 TV report of the death of a young Palestinian boy, huddled beside his helpless father as Israeli troops shot the boy to death, it was a vindication too long in coming. One that will never resonate with the public for the simple reason that it will not receive anything resembling the wide international media coverage that the falsified film footage had.

Mr. Karsenty, as publisher of a media critique website, Media Ratings, stated that a media report aired in September 2000 by France-2 from Netzarim Junction in Gaza, ostensibly showing the shocking killing of an Arab youngster by Israeli soldiers represented a deliberate and vicious fiction. One that the world absorbed and condemned Israel for.

And which Arabs found useful for the purpose of instilling even more hatred of Israel from within the Palestinian population, as well as the broader Arab world. The Arab League found it useful to dedicate October 1 as the Day of Arab Children, honouring the name of the "dead boy". Iran saw fit to name 150 schools after the "dead boy", a symbol of monstrous Israeli inhumanity.

Yet the Arab father and child, feverishly attempting to protect themselves from IDF gunfire were play actors in a deliberate theatre of public relations whose purpose was to smear Israel beyond redemption. And they succeeded admirably.

On the basis of raw film footage that the court viewed that encompassed the production of the film, the court ruled that Mr. Karsenty's allegation that the clip had been staged - was a reasonable conclusion. Thus exonerating him from an earlier libel conviction brought against Mr. Karsenty by France-2, which sued him for libel.

A formal Israeli investigation indicated without a shadow of doubt that it would not have been physically possible for any Israeli soldier to have shot the boy; subsequent independent investigations served to confirm the Israeli findings. Some foreign media outlets came up with similar findings.

Yet none of this was ever reported in the media at large, that same media so eager to leap all over the film that appeared unequivocally to show Israeli inhumanity in a theatre of war. Left-wing, anti-Israeli journalists remain eager to make use of any emotion-inspiring photographs and rumours calumniating Israel.

Locally contracted Palestinian stringers, photographers, cameramen who serve an agenda not entirely commensurate with serving up truth and reality provide the wherewithal for outside news agencies to report on items of mass emotional content, irrespective of lack of truth.

News agencies from Europe to North America routinely use the work of these stringers and cameramen without any questions as to their veracity. Editors don't seem very much interested in establishing that there is no fraud involved. It's been left up to keen-eyed bloggers to separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from febrile imagination.

"The Al-Dura lie is an assault on our ability to think, to criticize, to evaluate, and finally to reject information", said Karsenty. "Especially the right to reject information on which we base our most cherished assumptions. One of Europe's most cherished assumptions is that Israel is a vicious Nazi-like entity that deliberately murders Palestinian Arab children.

"Moreover, polls conducted in Europe have identified Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, greater than Iran and North Korea, Pakistan and Syria. The Al-Dura hoax is one of the pillars on which these assumptions rely."

In Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the country's public broadcaster, is funded with an annual budget of over $1-billion, with more in other government grants for independent production companies producing programs for CBC airing. This once-proud media corporation, designed on the template of the British Broadcasting Corporation, has followed the BBC in its left-wing, anti-Israel trajectory through its broadcasting biases.

Canadians were at one time so very proud of their very own CBC, yet it has reached such a pitifully low standing of popularity that its viewership has diminished in lock-step with the lost quality of its programming. Inclusive of news coverage whose bias is painfully evident.

It seems somehow fitting that the CBC's former head of neutral news production has retired to take up a similar position with Al Jazeera.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Crisis Upon Crisis

Burma's leaders have urged the international community to come up with the trifling sum of $11-billion in reconstruction aid for that country. Just send the money, thank you very much.

It has been made abundantly clear that the military junta has, for all practical purposes, embraced a fatalist view with respect to the hundreds of thousands killed and injured, the millions of people displaced and homeless. Their interest in salving the wounds of the injured, of saving those who could be saved, was never a reality; they were abandoned as a matter of government disinterest.

Three weeks post-cyclone the Burmese authority never advanced beyond pretense, in its concern for its afflicted people. Their single interest was to advance the fiction of Democratic action in calling out the voting public in complete abandonment of humanity, for the furtherance of their political agenda.

The estimated 2.4-million survivors of Cyclone Nargis have been left to their own desperate devices. The generals have promised entry to disaster relief teams from abroad, but this is a thin promise, meant to ultimately elicit the hard cash they await.

Rotting corpses remain unattended to, ensuring that waterways will remain contaminated for some time to come. Ensuring also that dread disease epidemics will also become a reality for those who have managed to survive their crises.

Ever the optimist - rather than wringing hopeless hands of despair - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon insists that Burmese General Than Shwe's word will be good, that the French and U.S. naval ships full of relief supplies awaiting permission to enter the country will eventuate.

While in China, the government has released new figures of a death toll that will surmount 80,000 and beyond, and with an estimated 300,000 people injured, the country's medical teams and hospitals are working to exhaustion to meet the challenge put to them.

Another 30,000 missing, and over 5.47 made homeless by the earthquake. Some of these homeless will never be able to return to their destroyed villages, nor the geography which will remain too vulnerable to further collapse.

China's premier has issued a message to the world: "I would like to sincerely thank the international community, the leaders of the world, the governments and people of every nation for their concern and the materials and the help they have offered."

The country's plight has been compounded by the fact that it's chief nuclear weapons laboratories are located within the disaster site. Along with a number of atomic sites. China's experts have isolated 50 "hazardous sources of radiation", as a result of the geo-tumult. They are dealing with these additional threats. Hopes remain high that they can be contained.

And soldiers have been dispatched as well to try to avert the potential for mass disease outbreaks, spreading disinfectant to counteract the effects of still-unburied corpses remaining in the quake centre.

China has announced it welcomes the intervention and assistance of international psychiatrists and psychologists. To aid the country in trying to assist the countless victims who are inevitably suffering the trauma of their experiences. There are over twelve million displaced in the country, five million of whom will never be able to return to their ancestral geography. It's estimated that it may take three years to relocate destroyed villages.

Yet a Chinese official pledged that attempts will be made to provide "safe, economical and convenient temporary housing for 98 percent of the residents within the next month". An amazing contrast in governing methodologies, in leadership qualities, in civilian and government response to the disasters in each of these countries.

Both of which claim rigid ideologies. Both of which represent totalitarian governance. One of which, despite anomalous human-rights abuses, adheres to a profound value principle of necessary civilian entitlement to safety, security and critical needs met. The other, dysfunctional humane-offensive governance reeking of corrupted human values.

Aren't human beings just so complex, so compellingly and frustratingly complicated? Aren't human institutions so reflective of the flawed humans that control them...!

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Right To Food

Life forms exist on this earth, and they struggle to find a place for themselves, to advantage themselves so that they may survive. If they are fortunate they will survive because they have proven themselves fit to, through their manipulation of their abilities to find vital food sources. Nature endows none of her creatures with a specific "right to survive", they must in and of their own particular resources, ensure to the best of their abilities that they are capable of surviving.

This speaks to the needs of all creatures upon this earth. As it is with the vast populations of insect life, by far the greater preponderance of life, pound for pound, species by species, in this world, as well as it does to the fish of the oceans, the crustaceans, the birds and reptiles, and humankind. Humans have proven themselves to be singularly adept at manipulating their very environments, of forging great technological advances, of claiming the majesty of the highest order of lifeform on earth.

Though that's debatable, when one considers the social order and co-operation in survival demonstrated by ants and bees. Since human animals, unlike these insect social counterparts, are unable, on a large scale, to act en masse for the greater good of the species, seeking instead to advantage themselves individually, to prolong and safeguard their specific genes into posterity.

We all of us are ordered by nature with our variable agendas. Compassionate human beings will share with others when they have sufficient for themselves, but not always. When we are confronted by the fact that there are starving people and those among us who have food to spare are willing to share it that is one thing.

When people are largely dependent on their leaders, their governments, to order society in such a way as to benefit the entire society, one of the basic rights under the covenant between the people and their leaders is to govern wisely, to assist in the provision of certain freedoms, including the right to access food.

When the world was brought face to face with the Asian plight of food shortages, in the 1960s, new technologies, new varieties of seeds, new farming techniques were imported through what was then labeled the "green revolution", and India and China became capable of feeding their populations through greater productivity leading to higher agricultural yields. Asia was able to feed its burgeoning populations.

Now it's Africa that is facing food shortages, due to a combination of circumstances, from climate change resulting in abnormal weather patterns, to vicious civil wars, the rising cost of fertilizers and transport, and traditional farming communities uprooted from their agricultural homes to become migrants, refugees, as a result of political, tribal and social unrest and government mismanagement.

In these instances, when famine becomes reality because of the lack of interest or care or knowledge on the part of governing bodies whose rule results in collapsed agriculture and ruined economies, it might seem more reasonable to anticipate that the premiere world body, the United Nations should demand of these governments that they reform and return to the business of adequate governance.

Instead, the burden is placed on developed countries through initiatives such as the recent UN Human Rights Council calling on the international community to "take all necessary measures to ensure the realization of food rights - a basic human right" be available to all populations throughout the world.

While it makes good sense for the council to urge its member states to review "any policy or measure which could have a negative impact on the realization of the right to food", that subtlety should be abandoned by an outright call for civil order in failed states.

Critically aware of the delicacy of the feelings of human-rights-abusing states, the Human Rights Council avoids naming and shaming, will not call on African countries to restore a working semblance of democratic action and the installation of responsible civic infrastructures to ensure the well-being of their people. Instead the burden of provision is placed on the well-managed and governed developed countries.

While there is a well-defined collective responsibility for the international community to aid and assist those nations still struggling to emerge into modernity and economic self-sufficiency, there is also a responsibility for emerging economies and traditional struggling economies to order themselves in the best interests of their people.

The countries of Africa, so long insistent on self-governance after their colonialist past, have bred collapsing expectations through ineptness and corruption.

The developed world balks at the necessity to interact with corrupt totalitarian regimes defiant of criticism, yet it acknowledges that to leave the plight of the people who suffer under these regimes to their fate is also not to be countenanced. Africa so often seems such a lost cause that the international donor community appears to have lost interest in offering help in agricultural modernization.

The World Bank has cut its lending for agriculture substantially, European donors have cut back, there are fewer bilateral development assistance projects from North America. African countries shun genetically modified food seeds, with the exception of South Africa. But China, with its immense and growing population is looking to its agricultural future, its continued ability to feed its huge hungry maw.

And finding itself with insufficient agricultural lands China has looked elsewhere - to Africa, where it can rent huge tracts of land and farm them, sending back the results to China to ensure that country remains food-sufficient. Chinese farmers are being increasingly dispatched to African countries where such deals have been signed, to use their expertise to ensure bumper harvests to benefit China.

Spectacularly, it is often enough the very African countries whose populations are critically short of food, that have signed deals with China, deals that enhance the government's coffers while doing nothing positive for its hungry population. Wouldn't a responsible government insist that Chinese agricultural expertise be taught and shared with African farmers whose traditional subsistence farming techniques would be improved?

Shouldn't it be seen as a responsibility for a country like China to share knowledge and technology with a view to giving practical aid to African countries with which it signs land-lease deals that enables China to export much-needed food to its own population?

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Fabrications by Destructive Elements

The government of Burma is well aware that a hostile world watches their every inaction, condemning the ruling junta unfairly for ignoring the needs of hundreds of thousands of Burmese survivors close to perishing from lack of food, water, medicines, shelter.

Rigorously adamant about rejecting desperate pleas from the international community to allow expert rescue teams and medical personnel to enter Burma to assist in relieving the plight of the survivors, Prime Minister Thien Sien and his cohorts remain unmoved.

This is their country to administer as they will, and if the international community considers them to be errant in their duty this is their version of events, not the ruling junta’s. They, after all, rule the country.

They should know, intimately, what the people need, and how to gain their support, not foreigners who have no idea of what the country needs and what the people enthusiastically clamour for, in support of their government.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on a conciliatory-pleading mission to Rangoon, visited the Irrawaddy Delta to see for himself the progress the government is making on rescuing survivors, providing them with aid and encouragement, and generally proving to the Burmese people that their government is concerned for them, and working on their behalf.

Mr. Ban Ki-Moon is also preparing to meet with General Than Shwe, in the country’s new capital. Just to show they can still be friends and colleagues, to demonstrate no hard feelings at the General’s continued refusal to take urgent messages from the Secretary General over the plight of the Burmese people.

Meanwhile, cyclone survivors in Rangoon were being peremptorily ushered out of their temporary shelters for there were other, more important plans afoot for the schools.
“The school will be used as a polling station. We needed people to leave.”

Leave? To go where? To hastily set-up refugee camps, where soldiers forage among the woeful inhabitants, enquiring of the presence of over-18s, to be placed on voter rolls. “The evacuees will do whatever the authorities want if they are given food”, a volunteer explained.

The government is preparing for another vote, to follow the 92.4% “yes” vote with the 99% turn-out of voters the week following the cyclone; this one to formalize their military rule. They’re prepared to accept yet another ringing endorsement by the populace eager to have their heartlessly totalitarian rule in place for the foreseeable future.

Even the dead vote in the Irrawaddy Delta. And those who are starving and suffering from the onset of disease are also eager to get out and do their civic duty, to ensure their well-being at the hands and hearts of the ruling junta. Which selflessly continues to offer them the hope for their futures in their country.

Perhaps also one should consider the hundreds of starving survivors crammed into the monasteries which have themselves been severely beleaguered by the junta; their willingness also to vote for the junta. Even the jailed and tortured monks might be coerced in the kindest possible way.

The official figures released by the Burmese regime claim 78,000 to have been killed and 56,000 missing. Disputed figures by those enemies of the junta: “destructive elements” who ply their evil trade in constructing fabrications to embarrass the junta.

And while survivors have flocked to the village voting stations - in search of scarce food - they’ll be sent packing soon as the vote has been cast.
“If they fall into the habit of getting food from the people they will just become beggars, they won’t go back”, according to one government official.

“Now it is beginning of monsoon and farmers have to grow rice. They have to do what they should be doing.” And the government proudly does what it too should be doing, opening rehabilitation camps to benefit survivors - which the survivors unfortunately have had no success in locating.

They have, however, successfully found bodies remaining in trees, under houses, in the waterways. And their former sources of drinking water remain unpotable. And the hordes of starving people? More fabrications by destructive elements.

The United Nations claims - unfairly according to the shocked regime, amazed at the perfidious untruths - that a mere quarter of the 2.5 million facing disease and starvation have received aid.

Liars, all.

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies. Nor implicate myself. Amazing, isn't it, in the country of the free and the brave, the nation that values its superior system of justice for all, which steadfastly upholds the majesty of its vision of the universal declaration of human rights, it was seen as a compromise to introduce the shameful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for the U.S. military.

Uncle Sam needs - you - but not if you're homosexual or bisexual. Thanks, but no thanks. Keep your distance. You've no skills required by the military, thank you very much. Unless, perchance, you agree to keep this your deep, dark secret well concealed. But then, what if, during the course of your active duties you happen to make enemies, and someone undertakes to cast doubt on your true-blue, red-blooded heterosexuality?

That old bugbear of someone harbouring a deep, dark secret making them vulnerable to blackmail or to dereliction of duty, has turned a new tack. The very institutional policy which permits gays and lesbians to enter the military as long as they don't advertise their gender preferences, renders them vulnerable to someone with a grudge turning them in.

And then, regardless of exemplary and/or long-term service, regardless of distinction under fire, or being singled out for praise of duty under horrendously difficult battle ground circumstances; of a certain and well-earned trajectory up the hierarchy of achievement and placement, it can all collapse into a heap of quiet accusation and hurried dismissal.

What, exactly, does it take to earn the praise and honour one deserves, without the fear that one's private life revealed will effectively destroy a career, a reputation, future aspirations? In the United States of America, no less, experiencing such creative difficulty in coming to terms with gender orientation disapproved of by religious conservatives.

Attitudinally superior to, for example, a repressive theocratic autocracy like Iran, yet the world's highest achieving democracy with its vaunted freedoms and citizen entitlements haunts and prowls on the tracks of homosexuals. And where in Iran homosexuals are hounded, imprisoned, tortured and killed, the process is more subtle in the U.S.

More, shall we say, nuanced, quietly undertaken. In the end, still viciously life-destroying. Modus operandi slightly different: end result bears unfortunate similarities, sans finality.

Take, for example, the case of Major Margaret Witt, having earned a promotion to colonel, less than year from earning a full pension. Then pouffe! a lifetime achievement evaporated. Twenty years as a U.S. Air Force nurse, promoted time and again for her unstinting work in saving the lives of wounded troops.

She was discreet about her private life. She was outstanding as a flight and operating-room nurse. In recognition of her outstanding commitment and sterling work ethic, George W. Bush awarded her a medal in 2003 for service in Afghanistan, giving her high praise for "outstanding medical care" for the injured, and for her "outstanding aerial accomplishments".

Weighed on the scale of accomplishment and justice all her dedication, her skills, her commitment came out lighter, in the military judgement than the heavy weight of her sex-gender transgression against the conservative view of public morality in private spaces. Pity, isn't it, that when the military is badly in need of skilled service people, they see nothing amiss in dismissing courage under fire for purported same-sex misconduct.

Roughly ten thousand service men and women have been dismissed from the American military because of revelations relating to their sexual orientation. Countless more remain with the military, as covert homosexuals, but overtly-capable and dedicated service men and women. They lead a discreet double life; careful and purposeful.

Major Witt's 2007 dismissal may yet see justice. Her eventual success will offer hope to the Service members Legal Defense Network, a representative group dedicated to breaking with American tradition in discriminating and harassing gay and lesbian U.S. military personnel.

As for Major Witt, her purpose in bringing a law suit in challenge of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as a violation of her Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, was so she could return to active duty. "I want to serve my country."

"Wounded people never asked me about my sexual orientation. They were just glad to see me there."

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

The New Killing Fields

The new horizon, with all its promises for the future has somehow failed to materialize. It started out so well, with the whole world looking on, helping South Africa to celebrate the end of Apartheid, lionizing Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu as the conscience of the Continent, and the forerunners of a brave new Africa.

So what happened? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard all those dark tales of atrocities and misery. It gave voice to the oppressed and the oppressors. Everyone wept, had compassion for those who suffered, and agreed to forgive. Wounds healed, more or less. Less, it would appear.

South Africa today has become the most violent country in the world. Although there has emerged a burgeoning black middle class, those at the bottom remain there. Unemployed, unvalued, destitute, without hope. And breeding resentment and hostility toward everyone else.

Whatever happened to all that brave resolve to usher in a new, fair world of opportunities for all?

That shining beacon of hope for the rest of Africa is looking fairly tarnished of late. It hasn't at all helped that Thabo Mbeki refused to recognize that the plague of AIDS was not truly a malicious malady let loose on Africa by Whites, nor that a medical-pharmacological protocol was required to combat it.

His soon-to-be successor's dim understanding of the connection between AIDS eradication and the predatory practises of black males does no credit to the regime, either. But that the government, despite all its promises on land-sharing, and providing employment opportunities for all its constituents has failed so spectacularly has been no great help.

Perhaps the worst moral lapse is the government's failure to denounce their neighbour-state leaders who have failed their country's needs and those of their populations in an even more deliberate and miserable manner than their own.

In supporting murderous dictators like Robert Mugabe and Omar el-Bashir, South Africa has aided Zimbabwe's and Sudan's leaders and their humanity-averse agendas, and deserted their peoples to misery, deprivation, loss of hope and death.

The Africa of today remains as fragmented, dysfunctional and tragic as it ever was - despite the hope and the real strides forward made in countries like Kenya, itself now facing a collapse of democracy and hope.

South Africa's reputation as a place of refuge had refugees from Malawi, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Zimbabwe seek comfort there.

The formula of 42% South Africans employed, with the remainder jobless and desperate, the millions housed in shacks bereft of basic amenities; the indigent, the homeless, battered by rising food prices and shortages of basics, have ensured bitterness against their fate - and directed at the even more powerless and fragile among them - refugees.

Brutally murderous Xenophobia blooms where hope has faded.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Middle East Refugees: Cause/Effect

So now that Palestinian Gazans have their very own representative protectors whom they have themselves, in a democratic show-down voted into power, are they out of their minds with satisfaction and happiness?

Hamas, after all, counts its strong-hold in the area of public opinion in the Gaza Strip. Support also in the West Bank, but more as a back-lash to the abject tradition of failure through Fatah. Fed up with corruption among their legislative body, Hamas seemed like the answer; unswervingly straight-up, supportive of the needs of the Palestinians.

They say what they mean and they mean what they say. And when the Hamas hierarchy declares unequivocally that their first order of business is the restoration of Palestinian land from the illegal occupiers through the destruction of the State of Israel, they mean it.

And this, most Palestinians seem more than a little comfortable with. Of course, even the Palestinian Authority's ruling Fatah have pledged themselves similarly, albeit covertly. For Palestinian indulgence, not to be divulged internationally. It is too, too inconvenient, and would portray the Palestinians and their cause in a manner other than what they continually seek to construe it as.

The Palestinians as pitiable victims of brutal Jewish conquest in a land that Islam has dedicated to Muslims, where interlopers, foreign "others", infidels and Crusaders and friends of Crusaders have no legal place other than as a fractured and slighted minority.

So, if Palestinian Gazans are so comforted by the presence of Hamas why is it that they are leaving in virtual droves? Some 50,000, confirmed by the PA prime minister, since Hamas took possession of the Gaza Strip.

Estimating also that far greater numbers would eagerly join them if they had but the required financial wherewithal. The sharp drop in international aid to Gaza as a response to the Hamas take-over has had its unfortunate impact on an already economically-marginalized population.

The religious ruling issued by the Mufti of Jerusalem for the PA, banning emigration from "the land of Palestine" has done nothing whatever to dissuade Gazans who can, from emigrating. The ruling was brought down in an attempt to hold back the flood of young Palestinians converging on foreign embassies in their desperate bid to escape the dire conditions brought upon Gaza by their Hamas saviours.

There is an odd air of familiarity about this. History re-visited. While there remains a great deal of disagreement with respect to the original flight of Palestinians from the land in 1948 after Israel's declaration of statehood, members of the Palestinian Authority have begun themselves to look history straight in the eye, rather than resorting as they've always done to the claim that they were forced out of the region, as refugees.

Refugees they did indeed become, but when they fled they harboured the belief that it would be for a brief interregnum, before returning to a liberated Palestine; the fledgling State of Israel reduced to simmering ruins, and its people dispersed. A senior PA journalist whose article was published in the PA daily Al-Ayyam has written:

"The Arabs who became refugees in 1948 were not expelled by Israel but left on their own to facilitate the destruction of Israel. This plan to leave Israel was initiated by the Arab states fighting Israel, who promised the people they would be able to return to their homes in a few days once Israel was defeated."

By no means was Israel entirely innocent of taking its own steps to persuade Palestinians to leave their land, for in some instances this was done. Sometimes by force, and sometimes by insinuating life would be very difficult for them if they remained. Yet many Palestinians, despite the severely unsettled atmosphere, stood their ground, stayed with their land, and became citizens of Israel.

Those who maintain a keen eye on the Arab media have noted, however, an increasing move on the part of Palestinians to openly recognize the part that Arab states and not Israel, played in fomenting fear, and encouraging the Palestinians to leave. The refugees who for so long remained a useful propaganda tool against Israel have outlived their usefulness, as the claims that Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 belies historical reality.

Newly-recognized and -published witness accounts brought to the PA media in support of these claims of Arab conspiracy to displace the Palestinians and leave them as abject refugees, a seeping wound with which to denounce Israel in the world at large, have been emerging. As with the statement by a PA journalist in Jordan, Jawad al Bashiti, writing in Al-Ayyam on 13 May, 2008:

"Remind me of one real cause from all the factors that have caused the Palestinian Catastrophe [the establishment of Israel and the creation of the refugee problem], and I will remind you that it still exists... The reasons for the Palestinian Catastrophe are the same reasons that have produced and are still producing our catastrophes today.

"During the Little Catastrophe, meaning the Palestinian Catastrophe, the following happened: the first war between Arabs and Israel had started and the "Arab Salvation Army" came and told the Palestinians: 'We have come to you in order to liquidate the Zionists and their state. Leave your houses and villages, you will return to them in a few days safely. Leave them so we can fulfill our mission in the best way and so you won't be hurt."

And wrote Mahmoud al-Habbash, another PA journalist, in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida: "...The leaders and the elites promised us at the beginning of the Catastrophe in 1948, that the duration of the exile will not be long, and that it will not last more than a few days or months, and afterwards the refugees will return to their homes, which most of them did not leave only until they put their trust in those promises made by the leaders and the political elites. Afterwards, days passed, months, years and decades, and the promises were lost with the strain of the succession of events..."

And this description from a woman, Asmaa Jabir Balasimah, who also fled in 1948: "We heard sounds of explosions and of gunfire at the beginning of the summer in the year of the Catastrophe. They told us: The Jews attacked our region and it is better to evacuate the village and return, after the battle is over. And indeed there were among us those who left a fire burning under the pot, those who left their flock and those who left their money and gold behind, based on the assumption that we would return after a few hours."

Again, a Palestinian viewer contacted PA Television, to say his father had told him that in 1948 the Arab district officer ordered all Arabs to leave Palestine or be labeled traitors. An Arab Member of the Knesset, hearing this, cursed those leaders.

To which the viewer continued: "Mr. Ibrahim Sarsur, I address you as a Muslim. My father and grandfather told me that during the Catastrophe our district officer issued an order that whoever stays in Palestine is a traitor, he is a traitor.

To which MK Ibrahim Sarsur (then head of the Islamic Movement in Israel) responded: "The one who gave the order forbidding them to stay there bears guilt for this, in this life and the afterlife, throughout history until Resurrection Day."

That was then, this is now. The seven hundred thousand refugees from 1948, now numbering in the millions insist on the right of return to a land they dispossessed themselves of under utterly false pretences. Joining them today are hundreds of thousands more.

The Arab countries that convinced them through whatever means to flee, had no intention of aiding and assisting them beyond the failure of their initial, then period onslaughts of Israel. Nor had they any intention at any time of absorbing them, settling them within the confines of their own borders, having implemented a failed strategy that made hapless refugees of the Palestinians.

Added to that perfidy was the brutal ouster of 900,000 Jews from Arab lands where they had resided for millennia. The once-tolerated Jews had become the 'enemy', ensuring their homes and belongings were forfeit, and they made homeless. Those Jews made their way to Israel, where they were absorbed and became Israeli citizens. They have never been acknowledged, never recompensed.

So where lies the moral responsibility of re-settlement and making amends?

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The Height Of Folly?

When options are so slight as to be hairsbreadth-fine, does one logically leap into an inferno hoping to reach the opposite edge of the burning gulf? When one's hold on hope becomes so tenuous that desperation compels suing for a settlement with an entity which has proven time and again to harbour seriously harmful intents against one's longevity, is that an expression of logic?

It's been known for some time that Israel has engaged in fairly high-level, low-expectation talks with Syria. And in that period, when covert meetings were ongoing between Israeli legislators such as Tzipi Livni and Syrian bargaining agents, was there any amelioration of Syria's malevolent presence in the area, a softening of its orders to Hezbollah, a distancing from Iran?

Syria is beside itself as it has been since 1967, that ownership of the Golan Heights was taken out of their hands, and resides with Israel. It ferociously demands return of the very heights from which it pounded Israeli towns below, attacks that succeeded in killing and wounding many Israeli civilians, exacting turmoil and destruction.

Syria, close ally of Iran, Lebanon's predator-nation; supporter of the Iran-Syria proxy militia Hezbollah, cheerer-on of Hamas, remains odd-nation-out in the Arab federation, preferring its cozy relationship with the Persians and its command of terrorist militias. They've all, collectively and singly, vowed the destruction of the Jewish State as their stated aim.

A scant few months ago Israel bombed Syria's nascent nuclear facility.

How naive could an administration be to imagine in their wildest nightmares that this is a regime which could be trusted. The Golan Heights to be returned to Syria in exchange for a promise of peace, that Syria disconnect itself from its Persian ally, initiate the disbandment of Hezbollah? On trust?

That a signatory to demilitarization of the zone between Israel and Syria is deserving of confidence?

Most certainly Israel has good enough reason to trust Turkey, a Muslim country that sincerely would like to establish peace and order in the geography of the Middle East. Asserting its credentials as a secular regime patterned on the democratic model of responsible governance yet looking to its Muslim inheritance to do honour to Islam through the pursuit of universal peace.

Initially, should such an agreement be stamped, signed, sealed and delivered, it would enhance Turkey's position within the European Union; it would demonstrate that the country's new, Sharia-leaning administration could be all things to all governments. In the process Israel would submit to losing the strategic advantage of the heights, along with control of the Sea of Galilee. The verdant and beautiful agricultural areas around the Golan Heights as well.

While the current administration appears to feel that any overture is worth the effort, the Israeli public does not appear to agree, since fully 75% of the population opposes the potential of such a withdrawal and handover. For one thing, what guarantees could there possibly be? None, other than placing trust in an egregiously and unabashedly untrustworthy regime.

Israel is dangerously beleaguered on all its borders; add Syria to that malignant standard, inviting al-Qaeda to set up shop on its northern border. Israel risks everything in handing over the Golan Heights; what does Bashar al-Assad risk? He would simply be further advantaged and emboldened to enter Lebanon again and occupy it alongside Hezbollah, while bombarding Israel from all corners, plus a height.

In a region where fresh, potable water is scarce and may be getting scarcer, that's quite a sacrifice to make on Israel's part in the dim, extremely faint hope that tribal, cultural, traditional, religious enmity that has smoldered for so long will not leap into a conflagration engulfing it completely. All indications from Syria are that it has no intention of standing down from its current club membership in terror and aggression.

Peace with Syria? How long would that fiction last?

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Profound Loss, Anguish, Uncertainty

It is simply amazing the inner strength that people can draw upon. The struggle for survival against all odds. That people can still, so long after China's earthquake - now upgraded to a 8.0 magnitude quake - be found on the rare occasion, alive.

The survivors of that monstrous upheaval faced the very worst that nature could slam at their frail existence. Living in far-flung regions of the country, earning a subsistence living, cherishing their families, educating and raising the next generation, and suddenly life comes to a halt.

For those who live so far away from the catastrophe, it's difficult to imagine - even while shocked empathy is there - the immensity of the event. Cities, towns, villages destroyed. Schools and factories collapsed. Dams in danger of collapse.

Succeeding after-shocks; smaller, though still-powerful quakes. Damage done to the structures containing nuclear reactions. Landslides shutting off road access. Mud and rubble stopping lake outflows leaving the distinctly fearful threats of flooding.

Countless people left homeless, bereft of immediate assistance. Hunger, thirst, the misery of exposure to the elements without shelter. The anguish of looking for loved ones whose whereabouts remain unknown; possibly dead, possibly evacuated, possibly injured and being treated elsewhere in that vast country now so destabilized.

Cardboard and plastic, bits of wood lend themselves to lean-tos where people seek shelter from wind, sun and rain. The fortunate ones are being provided with rice, water, newly harvested cabbages.

"We need to move as fast as possible, with no delays, to speed life-saving medicines, vaccinations, water purification tablets, oral rehydration salts, obstetrics and surgical kits, water containers", UNICEF's China representative explains.

The average disposable income in Sichuan province, for example, was roughly $275 annually. Enough to eke out existence. No savings, how could there be? How then will these people, those who survived, plan their future, be capable of re-building, get on with life? Those who plied a trade have lost the tools of their trade.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has announced that survivors facing difficulties will receive a daily allowance of 500 grams of grain and 10 yuan ($1.43) for a three-month period. That is immediate relief, but scant promise for the future.

Disaster relief experts continually test the quality of the river water. Where possible, garbage is collected and disposed of; people issued insect coils against the flies and mosquitoes bearing the potential for disease transmission.

Those areas where the survivors have been reached and aided face hygiene problems with insufficient toilets. Water is provided by trucks for washing up. This is living in the rough; not even modest amenities for the vast population of survivors who managed to escape the devastating upheaval's worst excesses. Alive, but bereft of family members.

How will these bereaved, shocked and traumatized people adjust to normalcy, to a life ongoing, the everyday struggle for existence; complications multiplied from what they've already experienced throughout their meagre existence. How many of these now frail psyches will succumb to despair, mental illness, an inability to carry on?

The vast and difficult problem of providing for the survivors for the immediate present, the clean-up process for the near future, the reconstruction will proceed as it must. But rescue workers and relief workers, having paused to express the nation's grief for a three minute ritual of painful respect will carry on.

The official death count nearing 35,000. And counting.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

No End In Sight...

Talks are ongoing. There are demands and counter-demands. Hints at concessions, and implacable denials of possibility. The goal is hugely required, needfully determined, perpetually elusive. Both sides, traditional antagonists, require a final settling of accounts. There is a legitimate grievance on both sides.

But the brutality of the burden of tribal grievance, bitter resentment and a traditional culture that is more familiar with bombastic threats and real-life carnage resulting from mindlessly bloody assaults, make the bargaining for peace arduous beyond expectation. Simply put, there are some issues that cannot be negotiable, since they benefit one side disproportionately, leaving the other helpless to order and defend its very existence.

A just solution remains an optimistic phrase, a hoped-for result in a faint atmosphere of reality. There is the authority on one side of an unstable government atop a successfully capable nation resiliently reliant on their immense resource capital of people dedicated to survival. On the other side, a covert terror group posing as a legitimate voice of governance for an ill-done-by population.

The reality is that the facade of civility fronting the Palestinian Authority belies the reality of their conviction that they are the rightful owners of the entire geography upon which the State of Israel is based, and beyond. The reality is that their overtures meant for international approval belie their underground activities which teach the young hatred and promise the population a return to a time that never existed.

The inalienable rights they demand as theirs would ultimately destroy the legitimate state they bargain with, promising a fair and just outcome. While balking at reasonable and moderate halfway measures that should effectively satisfy demands from either side. The "right of return" of a population that has arisen from the original refugee population is manifestly impossible.

The PA's current chief negotiator has placed a new demand on the long list currently being negotiated in status talks with Israel. The requirement of the Palestinian Authority to have an army to defend the new Arab state, the nascent state of Palestine whose existence is to become reality on satisfying the needs on both sides for security. Defend the new Arab state? From whom and from what?

The PA source that divulged this new demand elaborated, "This isn't an army intended to launch an attack against Israel. We are not asking for F-16 jets, but rather a force that would be able to defend the nation from threats and realize its basic right to exist in security." Their purported need for security, however, may result in the lack of security for the neighbour with whom they share a near proximity.

This apprehension was not alleviated by the source who left the security issue unelaborated. The demand appears to be in clear violation of all previous agreements which stipulate that any future Palestinian Authority state would be a demilitarized one. Israel, understandably, would be rather unsettled by the reality of an armed military force alongside her borders. Particularly given the unclear agenda of the PA.

The Palestinian Authority in fact, has an existing security force. As they did before the first Intifada. A force partially trained and equipped by Israel. A force which interacted with Israeli security agencies. Before the Intifada turned them once again into enemies and violence bloomed again through unending bloodshed that only the Security Wall halted. The current security force of the PA has yet to prove itself.

It has, in fact, proven itself inadequate or/and unwilling to the task of apprehending assaults against Israeli interests. It has, under the guidance of the PA authority, relinquished its role on numerous occasions when it has suited the PA. Releasing prisoners guilty of murder of Israelis, or of planned and/or executed assaults. Are they prepared to put a stop to the rocket attacks from Gaza, where some of Fatah's own affiliated militias still operate?

And the random attacks against Israeli civilians, will they be taken seriously enough by the PA security force in solidarity with the legitimacy of a neighbour's peaceful existence and security needs? Will it concern itself with the rampages of rioting Palestinians who attack their neighbours? Who throw rocks at Israeli vehicles, who set fire to farm and Kibbutz crops just before harvest?

This is an ongoing, year-by-year problem. Will it be resolved through the resolve of the PA security forces? In the interests of reciprocity, given that volunteers are often sent from Kibbutzim to accompany local Palestinians during the olive harvest, to help protect them from similar assaults from misguided Israeli sources?

Will the demands from the PA negotiators just keep increasing, going beyond the division of Jerusalem, the issue of "refugee return", borders, settlements, water and security - and now an army - stop any time soon? Mahmoud Abbas is quite concise about the 2,400 square miles of the West Bank and Gaza Strip the new state for the Palestinians requires.

Which is to say, the Gaza Strip, West Bank, east Jerusalem and areas along the West Bank frontier representing the pre-1967 war no-man's land. Offering for this largess on Israel's part, exactly what? Guarantees of future non-aggression?

To succeed in that, the PA would have to put the brakes on its commitment up to now in teaching Palestinian children to dread and hate their neighbours, to commit to future warfare against them. It would have to do an abrupt about-face in its up-to-now promises to Palestinians that the PA will secure the entirety of the territory - including that on which Israel sits - as their very own promised land of the future.

Perhaps that can happen, but in the meantime, based on the reality of current conditions and the situation as it unfolds, it seems remote at best, impossible in the worst-case scenario. And then what exactly? The searingly violent and never-ending hostilities re-commence with the fury of failed expectations.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Reasonable Accommodation

People should exercise reason, be reasonable human beings, not expect of others precisely what they expect of themselves. Everyone has their own very particular values, priorities, and code of ethics. It isn't entirely unreasonable to suppose that most people subscribe to the basic code of humanity, to share existence with others by exhibiting at least a modicum of understanding of others. At best compassion, a sense of fairness, a need for a just environment equally entitling all.

These basic human needs may evade some individuals but by and large every human being needs the emotional support, the caring of someone. Excluding those whose basic endowment of human traits have been somehow impaired, leaving them in a permanent state of sociopathic isolation, incapable of empathizing with others, oblivious to the needs of others, unwilling to lend themselves to the human need to support the community.

In Canada, the Bouchard-Taylor commission on "reasonable accommodation" tasked by the province to conduct a series of open hearings, weigh responses, synthesize their findings and recommend solutions for a more workable, trusting environment have just released their report. Which suggests basically that the fairly homogeneous community of francophones in Quebec become a trifle more relaxed about the quite overt cultural differences of immigrants that have invaded their traditional space.

"We think it is possible to reconcile Quebecers - francophones and others - with practices of harmonization, once it has been shown that:
  • these practices respect our society's fundamental values, notably the equality of men and women;
  • they don't aim to create privileges but, rather, equality that is well-understood and that respects everyone's rights;
  • they encourage integration and not marginalization
  • they're framed by guidelines and protected against the effect of spiralling out of control;
  • they're founded on the principle of reciprocity;
  • they don't play the game of fundamentalism; and
  • they don't compromise the gains of the Quiet Revolution."
Completely and unequivocally reasonable. The commission looked not only at the simmering problem of adjustment into society at large of Muslim immigrants, but Sikhs, and the Jewish orthodox as well. The issues of religious symbols; hijab, burkas, niqab; turbans, kirpans; skullcaps, kosher foods. And a distinct distaste emanating from those holding traditional orthodox prohibitions against public display relating to gender.

The problem is that migrating communities of cultural, religious and traditional peoples bring with them social mores and traditions that are often clearly in contradiction of equality between the sexes; infanticide, clitorectomies, polygamy/polygany, honour killings. Immigrants may also often bring with them not only societal conventions that don't work well in liberal democracies that defend human rights and egalitarian balance, but they bring also viral hostilities toward other groups.

Pluralism can and does work, it has in the past and it can continue to do so in the future. In decades past, immigrants saw fit to observe the social norms within the communities they emigrated to. They understood that if they were to succeed in fitting into their new society they would do well to conform to normative behaviours and values in their new country, and to integrate their children.

With the formalization in Canada of multiculturalism there grew an idea that cultures and traditions foreign to the country were equal in value to the native traditions of the country, and all such immigrant cultures and traditions were to be given equal value. This earned a sense of entitlement among immigrants who began to see no need to conform, to integrate, to value the host country's culture.

It isn't just Canada where this has occurred, but obviously other countries of the world. Most notably, Western, liberal democracies who for some incredibly short-sighted and absurd reason began to burnish feelings of guilt associated with centuries-past slights against others through the era of colonialism. An atmosphere of collective atonement encouraged host countries to relax expectations of new immigrants.

In the process the host culture, traditions and values became devalued, shunted aside. Western interests were to be apologized for, and made secondary to having immigrants feel comfortable in their new surroundings. We're only now beginning to understand how we've marginalized our own interests in favour of fostering pride within immigrant populations at our own expense.

It's past time that the base culture turned back into itself, welcoming immigrants to join the mainstream values and traditions of their host countries. Becoming fully integrated, becoming full citizens in every sense.

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Next Year In Palestine

Sixty years, they figure, is long enough. Too long, in fact. They just haven't agitated, fomented crises, tormented and attacked the state and its people sufficiently to uninstall it from the geography. Not that their collective heart isn't in that originally short-term, turned long-range project, as it most certainly is.

Imagine, a collective heart suffused with utter detestation for another people, rather than infused with the compassion for others that Islam is purported to demand of its adherents.

But there it is, yet another audio tape, an audible verbal missive from the master terrorist of Islamist fascism, encouraging Muslims to corrupt the original message and design of Muhammad, while portraying themselves as modern-day messengers of that same God.

What can you expect from an ancient Bedouin tradition that feasts on hate and the delivering of death as a divine gift to the exalted one on high?

They must know of what they speak, after all: "We will continue, God willing, the fight against the Israelis and their allies". We will not give up a single inch of Palestine as long as there is one true Muslim on earth."

What's a true Muslim, then? One supposes the throngs of Shiite Muslims in Pakistan protesting in Lahore on the occasion of Israel's 60th would qualify. Their signage of "hate America", "Crush Israel" delivers their twisted tutoring, that version of Allah's love.

Osama bin Laden appears to have realized that his deadly minions have gone a trifle too far in targeting other Muslims in their sectarian arguments about who is more deserving of Allah's love. The Sunnis in Iraq seem to have developed a stark distaste for the methodology of al Qaeda's representative militias in that misbegotten country where, at the best of times, Shia and Sunni would rather murder one another than live in tentative harmony.

Bin Laden and his extraordinary cohorts promising death to all moral malefactors denying Islam, remain ensconced between Afghanistan and Pakistan, comfortable there in the tribal mountain wildlands, where they can indulge in practising their compassion toward those of their faith.

Like Hamas, seeing nothing morally untoward in encouraging Downs Syndrome girls to wear explosive vests in populated areas ripe for death.

These courageous warriors send out Burqa-clad bombers and ten-year-old boys to commit themselves to eternity in a violent blast of flesh and sinews, committing their witless volunteers to eternal Paradise in the blessed pursuit of godliness.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

The Gruesome Toll

It's beyond normal human comprehension; deaths of innocent people on such a monumental scale. The earth shudders cataclysmically, and humankind is impotent to defend itself. Life is normal with all its small successes and little irritations, its hopes and aspirations, and then suddenly another perspective entirely intrudes, its finality imperiously diminishing all human conceit. China this time, another country another time.

Massive rescue efforts are still underway, but little hope is given now for the potential of discovering still-living victims of the quake's deadly impact. Countless isolated towns remain unapproachable; the very worst-impacted of the sites left in deadly disarray. Aftershocks continue to terrorize an already-traumatized populace. Tens of thousands of troops of the Peoples' Army desperately look for survivors.

China estimates that ten million of its people were caught in the aftermath of the giant quake. Beijing has agreed to accept material and practical assistance from Russia, South Korea and Singapore. There have been some isolated miracles; here and there a child, a pregnant woman found after having been buried for days. What are the mental and physical prospects for people who have suffered so monumentally?

The tens of thousands who have died leave behind family - when entire families haven't been wiped out - and neighbours, and communities, all of whom have been irreversibly stricken by the worst possible catastrophe that could impale hopes for the future on a bloody spear of blind nature blandly, stonily ordering our environment as she will.

Cities of almost a million inhabitants with fully half their buildings demolished. Those buildings still standing, in no condition to remain inhabited, and those survivors who remain huddle together for comfort under makeshift canopies, hoping for rescue, for food, for water, for medicines. No running water, no power, flimsily inadequate shelter.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao dispatched himself within hours to the quake zone, at least those parts that were approachable, giving encouragement, holding out hope, insisting that China will surmount the insurmountable. It is his government that upholds the one-child per family dictate. It is his government that has been complicit with local community leaders building multiple-story cement schools devoid of steel rods for stability.

Communist-era cheap construction, complete with corrupted contractors extracting their bribes and using substandard building methods and materials. All those families now bereft of their future, the children still to be brought out of the collapsed buildings which taught them to be good citizens. Children are the prized future of any country, no less so in China, attempting to control its burgeoning population.

China's government does want the best future possible for its people. They certainly do not want the people turning in anger upon them. Premier Wen Jiabao entreats his people to respect the zeal of the government in their herculean efforts to deploy all its resources in the arduous and desperate work to save those who can yet be saved, to treat the injured, restore reasonable habitation.

And to avert further catastrophe by attending to the hundreds of dams whose walls have been weakened and cracked, just at the very time when the season approaches when flooding can be anticipated. Order will be restored, at great cost to the country and to the people affected. Bodies are being disposed of in an effort to forestall further potential disaster.

China is not Burma.

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Quality of Life

In the vast spectrum of human achievements, personal satisfactions, the collective ability to persevere through the ages despite horrendous levels of racist assaults, Jews have proven themselves capable of surmounting all obstacles laid in their path toward advancing themselves within history.

So it's worth looking at the overall presence of life statistics measured and calibrated by world-respected institutions, looking at countries throughout the world, and using the results to view Israel's ranking as a comparative measure of human, social and political achievement expressed through the quality of life of her people.

In the 2006 United Nations Development index, the top one-to-thirty listings of the highest levels of achievement include Israel. In numerical order, one to ten, Norway, Iceland, Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, Japan and the United States rank highest. Israel comes in at 22, between Germany and Greece. Nowhere near the top 30 are any of the countries surrounding Israel, within the Middle East.

In the 2005 Quality of Life index compiled by The Economist, the top rankings go to Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Italy, Denmark and Spain. Canada is 14th on that list, with the United States 13, and New Zealand 15. And there is Israel, not too near the top, but nowhere near the bottom, at 38.

In contrast, Qatar is 41, Kuwait 55, Bahrain 62, Oman 67, United Emirates 69, Libya 70, Saudi Arabia 72, Jordan 75, Egypt 80, Iran 88, and Syria 97.

For all their vaunted oil wealth, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Libya, the United Emirates and Iran haven't succeeded in improving the lives of their people to any notable degree. Their rankings are testament to this, and the answer can be found in large part to their political system, the kingdoms, the theocracies, the totalitarian aspect of governance.

How could a population such as Israel's be considered as socially well-adjusted, intellectually and technically advanced when they are encircled by hostility, one might wonder. Yet, apart from border towns continually bombarded by deadly missiles, the incursions into farming communities by terror-wielding Arabs, most of the population goes about life "as usual".

When another survey was undertaken to quantify population satisfaction rates of 35 industrial countries, Israelis were found to "appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation". The country's fertility rate is 2.77, while the suicide rate is 6.2 per 100,000 people. As opposed, for example, to the United States with numbers of 2.1 and 11, respectively; France at 1.98 and 18.

It's telling, no doubt, that Israel's neighbours have been wont to boast - at least those who actively seek the Jewish state's annihilation - that they don't fear death; that as much as the Jews love life, they love death. They've institutionalized Thanatos as the spiritual adviser to Allah. Israel has the misfortune to be surrounded by neighbours delighted with the thought that their life-sacrifice as martyrs enables them to attempt the destruction of Israel.

Grade-school children in the Palestinian Authority are taught to aspire to become sacred martyrs, to dedicate their lives to the greater glory of Allah - in whose name their despised neighbour whom they regard as villainous occupiers and mass murderers - who orders the destruction of Israel. And then their patrimony - so long denied them pre-Israel by their own Arab brethren - will be restored to them.

When The Economist worked out their quality of life index they relied on a number of vital signposts of a country's health. They took into account material well-being; health; political stability/security; family life, community life; climate-geography; job security; political freedom; and lastly, gender equality.

In the UN Human Development index, the areas identified as vital clues to the health of a country and its population were life expectancy; education; adult literacy, GDP per capita. In all of these important indices the developed countries of the world with a national conscience guiding them toward providing the best possible social, educational and political environments for their populations came out on top.

Among them is Israel, doing herself and her population proud, despite having to contend with nation-threatening, population-averse threats on a continual basis, on each of her borders with her neighbouring states. Israel struggles to maintain herself and her charges, and in the process provides herself and her people with opportunities and advances matched only by the most humanely-productive and developed countries of the world.

Her neighbours continue to struggle to advance toward agendas beyond bitter enmity one to the other, possible extension of hegemony, tribal animosities, religious strife, tyrannical rule, and their score to settle with the one country in the geography that has managed, despite all ill designs, to set a template ignored by her neighbours.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thanks, No Thanks; We're Fine

The bland assurances to your enquiries lay to rest any troubling worries that you could be assisting in a disastrous accident, leaving you free to walk away, conscience assuaged. Or perhaps not. But there it was, after a meeting between Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, the world was advised not to worry, the situation is well in hand.

"He insisted that his country has a government, its people and the private sector to tackle the problem by themselves", said Mr. Samak. "They are confident of dealing with the problem by themselves ... They don't need experts, but are willing to get aid supplies from every country. Get lost. Send money. Send emergency supplies. Keep your disaster relief experts at home. Don't worry. Everything is fine.

Two weeks post-Cyclone Nargis the country is back to normal. Very resilient, extremely self-sufficient, obviously talented in survival modes well beyond the understanding of those who have never had to cope with such a brutal onslaught of nature. Take notes; we might learn something of stalwart self-appraisal and self-reliance should we ever be faced with such a nature-induced tragedy.

The United Nations is obviously indulging in unwarranted panic. Imputing negligence to the military junta of Burma. Whereas the ruling generals know their country intimately; did they not just hold a referendum, resulting in a compellingly-reassuring vote of confidence from the Burmese people? Ensuring that the kindly totalitarian junta has the blessing of the people to continue its rule?

The Red Cross reporting that over a hundred thousand Burmese have expired is obvious rubbish. Worries evinced by the international community about an impending epidemic of infectious water-borne diseases are rank nonsense. Projecting a catastrophic loss of the rice crop - some convincingly 65% of which emanates from the cyclone-hit area is nobody's business; never heard of sovereign dictatorship?

Logistical planning is obviously best left to those who are expert in its prosecution; namely the ruling junta. Did they not, after all, restore electricity instanter to the street in Rangoon on which the first lady resides? The operation of highly technical equipment such as water purification plants is no big deal; we'll manage without international expertise, says the junta.

Everyone just wants to stand around and ogle the after-effects of the cyclone. It's human nature, like the crowds that gather around the scene of accidents. Exactly what all those aid organizations are doing, getting in the way of government troops doing their thing. Which may or may not be distributing emergency rations to needy survivors.

Bear in mind that the ruling State Peace and Development Council knows what it is about. You foreigners, what do you know? The cyclone may have killed thousands of farmers and villagers, inundated rice fields with salt water, destroying dikes and irrigation channels, drowning hundreds and thousands of plow-dependent water buffalo. That's all right.

That's life. And what is life, after all, but a slow death procession. Foreigners are a nuisance, a pestilence, a deterrence to management of the situation. Which accounts for the added security measures to detain and keep reporters and intrepidly-stupid foreign "experts" from entering and further diminishing the junta's potential for dealing with the situation.

Another significant tropical system heading this way? We'll look after things. Just go on, get out of the way, stop bedevilling us and interrupting our vital business.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fraud and Other Self-Entitlements

What a way to celebrate an anniversary of success for a proud country. At the very time that foreign heads of state are arriving to take part in the festivities celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary as a nation, the country absorbs the reek of yet another political scandal. What is it about politicians at the very highest level in Israel, that they find it so very difficult to keep their hands clean?

What a predicament, what an embarrassment on the world stage.

The former prime minister accused of sexual harassment, forced to resign. And "harassment" is putting it politely; the man is a vicious sexual predator. A good family man, an honourable politician, a patriot. And while the current president of the country may be far more circumspect in his social behaviour, and well meaning, he stands accused of corrupting his high office by accepting big-time bribes in his past public office.

Doesn't this country have more than enough problems? For heaven's sake, this is the occasion to celebrate her triumphs. Triumphs achieved under the most adverse existential conditions that any people, any nation, could ever be challenged with. This is a country reaching toward social maturity as an embattled nation from within and without. A people who, despite such dread adversity has managed to produce a flourishing economy.

A people whose intelligence has enabled them to excel in science and technology, medicine, arts and culture, agricultural advances. Whose gifts to the world in scientific and medical breakthroughs are numerous. Whose ability to educate their young and to advance the future of the country is unparalleled given the cruel history of their struggle to survive in a hostile world that viewed them as outsiders and much worse.

This is also a nation of stark contrasts, like any other. Even while it is viewed by the international community as unlike any other. Held to a standard of response to ongoing attacks against its people and its sovereignty that no other nation is expected to match. Israel must absorb and restrain itself from fully reciprocating against onslaughts because upon that country is imposed a singular expectation.

Failures of one kind or another exist, from its inability to reconcile its secular history with its religious heritage; from its privileged and growing upper middle class with all their modern amenities and advantages, to its underprivileged and disadvantaged minorities struggling to make a place for themselves.

In a country requiring too much of its national assets and funding to be directed toward defence rather than diverted to social welfare.

That this nation of Jews and its minority populations of Christians, Muslims, Druze and Kurds has struggled against all odds to persevere, to move toward a future rewarding all of its inhabitants is a miracle in and of itself.

That it must, under the most extreme conditions, continue to pursue its interests and secure its geography, while under internal dissent and external threat is beyond belief.

Doesn't such a country deserve praise for its heroic presence, its sterling achievements? Does it not deserve far better than to be represented at the highest levels of political authority by such pitifully failed people?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Warring Sects and Clan Leaders

Men so proud of their warrior status, so full of the honour of representing Allah, in their Islamist jihad against moderate Muslims. Moderates, people looking to the future, to placing themselves, within Islam, in a context of acceptance and inclusion and forward-seeking advancement within the community of communities that is this world that all of its disparate countries inhabit.

These brave challengers of those willing to live in peaceful co-existence with others are so proud of their status as Islamist warriors that they adopt a uniform geared to promote fear.
They present themselves, well armed and ready for combat, so courageous that they hide their facial features behind masks, revealing only the hostility of avenging, hate-filled orbs, eyes revealing their agenda of jihadist nihilism.

Hezbollah, the army of god, their god, the god that exudes ill will and condemnation of any who cannot find it in their religious or secular landscape to accept the challenge and the power and the deep satisfaction of blood-letting carnage. All generations somehow manage to produce their quota of brutish young men engaged in fixed ideas of force and the brutal efficiency of fear and terror.

It is now the shame of Islam, the state of mind of Islamic values that recognizes the human need of compassion and fairness and just relationships to one another, to be held in ransom by a self-styled army of god, a fascist terror group. The Ayatollahs of Iran are content to manipulate the endless stream of self-absorbed and psychotically-inclined men who style themselves defenders of the faith.

The dream of a resurgent and even more powerful and widespread caliphate under Iranian Shi'ite rule with the imposition of Sharia Law taking the place of liberal democracies abroad once it has successfully obliterated the incorrect rule of Sunni sultanates, kingdoms and dictatorships, leads Iran's agenda. The legitimate government of Lebanon hardly knows how to react to its loss of face in having to climb down from its initial decision to declaw an insubordinate Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, the creature of Iran and Syria, will not be subordinate to any other dictates than that which currently satisfy its needs. All this, from permitting Palestinian refugees and their militias, thrown out of Jordan, to settle in southern Lebanon. Lebanon doing a slow disappearing act; the Lebanon of grace and beauty, the holiday destination for the Middle East, with its lush landscape, and cohabiting Sunni, Shia, Christian, Druze. Pride makes way for a heavy fall.

Ancient and bitter sectarianism, aided by renascent Bedouin parochialism and the introduction of Palestinian grievances tipped the balance into civil war, occupation, and ongoing conflict. Interspersed with quiescence, occupation, resentment, and restive attempts at independence from the thrall of Syrian occupation, Iranian decision-making. How humiliating for Lebanese patriots. They denounced, they resisted, they paid with their lives.

Lebanon, poor country that it is, pride smashed, civility in disarray, dissent and dissatisfaction the order of the day, has been utterly humiliated. The country's proxy position as a scapegoat between American and Iranian interests and Arab support, makes it the ultimate victim. Yet it is toward Israel that it points the finger of accusation - the evil manipulator of its lost national fortune.

When and if regime change does occur finally in that poor lost country, circumstances will tip once again, with a string of Iran-supporting countries; Iraq, Syria, Qatar and Lebanon, facing off against the remaining Sunni-majority Middle East. Extremely nervous-making. Should the current government resign, Hezbollah and its ally Amal will have free rein to complete their violence against the Druze and Christian and Sunni militias. The Lebanese army somewhere in between, impotent.

Walid Jumblatt tells the Al-Quds Al-Arabi that the power balance in the Middle East is trembling on the edge of uncertain determination: "Now we are waiting for Hezbollah, Iran and Syria to determine the rules of the game."

The Arab League hardly knows how to respond - other than to term the current destabilization in Lebanon a "domestic issue". They've succumbed to threats. An inter-Arab committee will be launched to hold talks with "all sides in Lebanon". Seems as though Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been backed into an unfortunate, worrying corner.

The Saudis lament that the legitimate Lebanese government cannot be abandoned to Iran and Syria: "We must do everything in our power to end this war and to save Lebanon..." They worry about the very real potential of "Iranian expansion in Arab countries, which are evident in Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon".

Photographs released by several news agencies showing Amal and Hezbollah militias setting fire to posters of murdered patriot Rafiq Al-Hariri, and replacing them with posters of Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad tell quite the story.

An editorial reporting on the Arab foreign ministers' meeting criticized "the cowardly Arabs", incapable of determining a united stand between the axis of the radical countries and the bloc of moderate countries. "How long will these countries fear? Now that Beirut has fallen into the hands of Iran, and Fouad Al-Siniora's government is under siege, the Arabs have no choice but to confront Iran because they had better know that that which they fear today will happen tomorrow".

The writing is on the wall, but no one seems capable of deciphering it. Instead, that tired old fall-back position of blaming Israel for all the internecine battles in the Arab countries and between the Arab countries and Iran give them all the denials, the needed excuses they seek in place of responsible decision-making. Real diplomacy, true consensus-building, effort-laden missions of responsible action seem beyond them. They resort to what they know best.

The efficacy of blaming outside influences, the baleful, Islam-hating outside world.

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China's Learned Response

Never willing to permit the world to know of unfortunate straits within the country, it was always China's response to internal disasters to admit of no internal problems to the outside world. As though to reveal any internal disturbances caused by natural disasters or infectious diseases causing havoc in the geography and within the population would be akin to admitting fault with itself, an inability to control events quite outside the control of any human agency.

When the SARS epidemic in China spread outside its borders, even to cities in North America, as it did in Toronto, China feared being blamed for the deadly outbreak and was loathe to admit the extent of the problem it was itself facing, failing to alert the UN's World Health Organization, along with the international community. As a result, it was relatively simple to export the virus leading to SARS through infected passengers from China flying westward.

China had resolved to open itself up to the world, in her effort to persuade the International Olympic Committee that Beijing could be entrusted with the honour of holding the 2008 Summer Olympics. Fully understanding the expectation from the world at large that she would also be anticipated to improve her human rights record. The fact is that the totalitarian and occasionally reasonable government of China has struggled to improve the lives of the Chinese people.

While at the same time committing human rights offences against disparate groups living within China; Christian Chinese, Chinese Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners. China sees differences in her population leading to challenges in her ideology, the adherence to religious dictates, chafing of some rebellious segments of her far-flung populations for independence, as injurious to the country, an seditious assault upon the state.

But she genuinely does want to improve the lives of her people. Economically, socially, culturally. China embraces inclusiveness, while at the same time demanding that all those square pegs shape up and fit themselves into the round holes so generously prepared for them by their government. Still, China today is a far cry from the horrible repression and outright social catastrophe she once was during the Chinese Revolution.

When seismographs around the world picked up unusual activity, according to scientists at the Geological Survey of Canada, they were startled to see the huge impact registering on their Richter scale. Resulting in utter disaster in the remote mountainous Sichuan province of south-western China. "You walk in the morning and you see something like this and you know somebody has been clobbered" according to one earthquake specialist in Victoria.

As he explained the manner in which waves from such large quakes travel around the planet two or three times before they dissipate. The immense force of the earthquake was felt across much of the vast geography of China, causing buildings to sway in Beijing and Shanghai, and as far away as Taipei, Bangkok and Hanoi. And hours, then days after the disaster hit there was no word from the epicentre of the quake, where 112,000 people live. China responded with anxious alacrity.

Unlike what has occurred in Burma, with the secretive, paranoidally brutal junta unwilling to release details, unwilling to admit the presence of international disaster relief teams, willing only to accept emergency food, shelter and medicines for its affected population. And deliberately taking no official steps to itself aid and assist the desperate survivors of the murderous cyclone that hit the country.

Whereas China has opened itself to international scrutiny and has dispatched emergency response teams whose professionalism can match those of any elsewhere.

"We are in urgent need of tents, food, medicine and satellite communications equipment" the Xinhua news agency reported, placing the initial death toll at 10,000. "We also need medical workers to save the injured people here", Xinhua reported, quoting Wang Bin, Communist Party secretary of the country. The government immediately rushed troops and medical teams to dig for survivors and to treat the injured.

Access to the worst-hit sites has been delayed by impassable roads, littered with huge boulders and debris. This was a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, its epicentre 80 kilometres north of a city of 11 million people. Where schools were destroyed, falling in on thousands of students, trapping them under huge slabs of building concrete. Construction cranes were brought to the scenes of collapse and frantic parents awaited rescue of those of their children still alive.

In another city of four million near the epicentre, more schools had collapsed, and two chemical plants were destroyed, releasing tonnes of highly corrosive liquid ammonia into the atmosphere. Immense landslides of mud and rubble have pushed over telephone lines and cellphone towers, blocking every road in the area. Vehicles full of rescue supplies sit helplessly in long lines awaiting road clearance.

The 50,000 troops that China's leadership has dispatched to the worst-hit areas are stranded far from the target areas, awaiting the opportunity to advance, once road clearance has been successful. In one factory alone in Suchuan province the initial tremor killed or buried "several thousand" people, according to Xinhua News Agency. In another town a steam turbine factory collapsed.

The landscape is littered with crumpled houses and landslides, with survivors desperately searching for family members.

Where Burma insisted on proceeding with a vote to extend their military junta's leadership, putting aside the clear necessity to dispatch the army in aid of survivors of the deadly cyclone, China has announced that coping with the devastating aftermath of the cyclone was foremost in mind, that ensuring social stability remained the government's top priority.

"Time is life", according to an official announcement from the Communist Party standing committee. "Make fighting the earthquake and rescue work the current top task." With the full knowledge that speeding food, water, medicine and other life-saving necessities to the quake area trumped all other concerns.

There is mounting fear for the fate of the survivors if they're not reached in a timely enough way to aid the badly injured. Yet recurring aftershocks continue to send people into the streets in fear of a repeat of the original horrendous upheaval. High winds and unrelenting rain are further hampering efforts.

Nature doesn't ask permission, doesn't give advice nor timely warnings. Shifting tectonic plates do what they must to release all that energy. There's no good time for such cataclysmic upheavals to occur, but mid-afternoon when children are in school and workers in factories might be the worst of all possible times.

"We are doing everything we can, but the roads are blanketed with rocks and boulders", said a local communist Party official, trying to lead a rescue team. Human ingenuity, desperate determination and the urgent response to rescue the helpless is simply no match for the weather, the environment, our fragile position on the skin of the earth.

Nature shrugs.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Responsibility to Protect - Again Denied

Yes, there was that United Nations resolution that there would be times when intervention by the world body and its associated members might be feasible. When a totalitarian government or a tyrannical ruler failing to live up to obligations to that country's citizens would require humanitarian intervention. When violations of human rights were so depraved in their nature as to lift normal international caution in intervening in the affairs of independent states.

We can see where the best of intentions have led in the instance of the Sudanese government dealing with Darfur. The United Nations' hand-wringing and desperate pleas to the government of Sudan has not resulted in any relief for Sudan's black farming communities. The African Union troops have been ineffectual, and despite a tenuous agreement to allow UN peacekeepers into the country, the final assent hasn't been received from Khartoum and Darfurians continue to suffer.

There are certain sensitivities at play here. Desperate people who continue to be preyed upon are left to their miserable fate because to launch a UN or Western-based coalition of troops to protect them against the sovereign will of the government of Sudan would open them up to accusations of racist or imperialistic hubris. Political correctness is of utmost importance; it trumps the forcible cessation of carnage wrought on helpless people.

The people of Zimbabwe face a hopeless future. They lack food, medicines, employment, security. An unheard-of inflation rate has driven people to desperation; they can afford no staples of life. A food shortage caused by the insane policies of an egomaniacal despot who claims entitlement to ruin that already-devastated country ad nauseum, is further complicated by Mugabe-supporting thugs destroying crops as a message to Zimbabwe's farmers looking for an alternative to his destructive rule.

Ban ki-Moon is supportive of Morgan Zvangerai as the winner of the election, despite that it took five weeks post-election for the Zimbabwe Election Commission to post figures showing a slight majority of votes for the opposition, but the country's African neighbours are unwilling to exert their opprobrium at the corrupt and ruinous government. South Africa, that beacon of African liberation from Apartheid under Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, remains supportive of the brutal Mugabe.

And then, of course, there is the situation in Burma. Where the ruling military junta of the country's generals remain adamant that they will not permit entry into that country of foreign disaster relief specialists. They finally agreed to receive emergency food and medicine and water and shelter to aid their desperate people, but those only. Starving and water-parched survivors of the catastrophic cyclone desperately await help, but little is forthcoming.

Burma's military, which should be delivering vital food aid to the cyclone's survivors were diverted to assist with the referendum on a new constitution. The forced vote resulted in an "overwhelming turnout" to ensure the ruling junta will remain in power, thus causing much celebration in the corridors of Burma's power elite. The desperate plight of the cyclone's survivors? Well, that'll be attended to, eventually. Just a matter of setting priorities.

The survivors are bereft of food, clean water, shelter and medical supplies. They, it would appear, are expendable. Nature left her calling card and it wasn't dreadfully appreciated, but that's life, after all. The country is simply not yet prepared to permit foreign aid workers into its secretive borders. "With each passing day, we come closer to a massive health disaster and a second wave of deaths that is potentially larger than the first" warned the International Rescue Committee emergency co-ordinator in Rangoon.

Aid supplies and food are there, sitting in warehouses in Rangoon. Some of these items were handed out to the needy by government representatives, to give the impression that the emergency supplies were courtesy of the government, not foreign aid. Other emergency supplies have been left in the warehouses, to be distributed at such time as the government considers it to be required, to those of their choice.

Dead bodies float down the canals of the Irrawaddy Delta, and although fish are to be had in the canals, starving villagers will not eat them, believing the water to have been contaminated. And they're perfectly correct. That contamination will inevitably - unless expert aid and burial and reconstruction begins soon - lead to dread waterborne diseases.

And then the count of the dead will increase exponentially.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Colonialism of Food Security

China does its very best for its very own. It's a huge problem to solve a haunting dilemma. How does a vast country which, despite its immense geography representing 8% of the world's tillable farmland, produce enough food to feed a population representing over 20% of the world's population?

Well certainly not by observing careful agricultural practises, and restoring to the spent soil what has been taken out of it. By letting some land lie temporarily fallow, or by reversing crops, or by re-investing the soil with the nutrients that have been removed. Its own arable landspaces have suffered, and so has their atmospheric environment.

There are some scientists, population specialists, environmentalists who claim we are polluting our environment beyond redemption, as well as producing far too many people in a finite landscape.

And that as the earth's population becomes more numerous and as the search for water to fulfill basic needs, as well as to secure sufficient land to grow food crops, we may have to begin looking elsewhere for those need to be fulfilled. Sending out pioneers to brave new horizons. Pioneers in space, looking to settle themselves on other planets. Fairly far-fetched.

Yet China has begun to embark on something similar. She has signed partnership contracts with some Latin American and African countries to lease arable land for agricultural purposes.

To send forward some of her many farmers on a noble mission abroad to grow scarce and needed crops in African settings, to be sent back to China, to help feed her growing masses. Imperial colonialism renewed; not in the interests of expanding geographic interest, nor of extracting natural resources, but of securing scarce farmland.

This is termed, in China, as the "go-out policy". In their anxiety for food sufficiency, Chinese companies buy and lease land, sending Chinese labourers out to do the work, and producing crops to be sent back home; even exporting some to the larger world market.

There are such agreements for leasing in Kenya and Uganda, in Mozambique and Tanzania. where local workers claim to have been exploited, having to work in inferior conditions, causing anti-Chinese protests.

Ironically, while this is happening, African countries are facing scarcity of their own food supplies. In the Rift Valley in Kenya, political violence caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes as youth mobs destroyed tons of corn and shut down tea farms.

The Rift Valley was considered the country's breadbasket; food prices have risen 30% there. Energy and fertilizer costs are soaring. Food prices have risen by 50% in West Africa. Violent demonstrations have broken out in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Somalia and Ivory Coast.

Understandably, African countries are becoming alarmed by China's activities, encouraging their "go out" program to benefit China's population, with complicit African governing bodies at the expense of their own populations' food needs.

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