Sunday, July 31, 2011

Normal, Well-Adjusted ... With Pet Peeves

Norway has an enviable reputation. As a conciliator. As a country devoted to peace and goodwill. As a country dedicated to expressing its belief in equality among peoples. And as one of the wealthiest per capita countries in Europe. Of its population of five million, some 800 of its citizens are Jewish. And Norway has a subterranean, well-entrenched institutionalized system of anti-Semitism.

A survey done in Norway brought the information that 51% of all students interpret "Jew" as a pejorative; 41% had overheard or used ethnic jokes about Jews, 35% insulting comments, while 5% had been present in a classroom when the Holocaust had been denied. After Jews, the most bullied group was Buddhist at 10%, Muslims just over 5%.

The country has just suffered a dreadful calamity. A completely sane, socially alienated Norwegian has seen fit to demonstrate his anger and disgust with the ruling Labour Party in inviting and absorbing a large Muslim immigrant demographic which he abhorred, and feared would change the cultural traditions of his country.

In his rage he carefully planned out an explanatory ideology and itinerary to be published to explain his position and the extreme actions he carefully planned to the last detail, as he proceeded to act as "a judge, jury and executioner". The atrocity that he served upon his country, in attacking government offices in Oslo, then murdering 68 young political campers on an isolated recreational island has convinced Norwegians that he is a madman.

Which he is not, given his completely rational explanation for his decision-making. He is somewhat like the evil in the banal that Hannah Arendt recognized. A perfectly ordinary individual, socially adapted, with a circle of friends - no loner he - who had adopted an extreme political position.

His feelings about immigrants and Muslims in particular are echoed by many. None of whom would be moved to act as he did.

Look out for the ordinary unassuming, held in thrall by a theory, to go amok. But not without an unhealthy dose of inbred psychopathic psychosis for final leavening.

After the shock of the slaughter had settled in, Norway's Ambassador to Israel had his own declaration of understanding. Equating the Utoeva massacre with inexplicably lunatic hatred, impossible to make sense of other than as a terrorist act of a madman. No one in their right mind could commit such an unspeakable act.

Whereas it is completely explicable why Palestinians would seek to destroy Israelis, however regrettable that decision. For Palestinians have been driven to that act by the desperation they feel over the inhumane occupation of their land. Ambassador Svein Sevie contends the moral incompatibility of each event is evident. Though the end result is similar, the cause is different.

The hatred of Anders Breivik toward his country's ruling Labour Party political system that welcomes immigrants to pervert Norwegian heritage and custom is unforgivably evil. The revenge motivation of the Palestinians toward Israel, on the other hand, is understandable, and therefore forgivable. Which explains why Norway sees it as feasible and necessary to engage with Hamas.

"We Norwegians consider the occupation to be the cause of the terror against Israel. Those who believe this will not change their mind because of the attack in Oslo."
Got that?

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Delusional Illusions

The Arab, Islamic countries of the Middle East - virtually the entire Middle East of course - is hieratically, culturally rife with actively baleful aggrievement, through a prolonged and still-active history and heritage of clan and tribal warfare, blame, hatred and strife. The deeply-rooted exclusivity of one clan or tribe to another, the investment in an almost instinctive suspicion and base hatred one against the other, may be puzzling to the Western mind, but is well understood in the culture from which it emanates.

The visceral reaction of one tribal member to another's perceived insult, the generations-long memory of insults, assaults and unforgiveable transgressions remain active, at a low level, to be brought into full force of re-activated revenge-seeking at the earliest, most appropriate opportunity.
"The general was a tower, they got what they wanted from him and then took him out. He knew he'd die but he thought it would be on the front, not this way, in Benghazi and killed by his own people. Today we'll bury him, and then we'll take our revenge."
Unfortunate, and puzzling to the Western mind. Not so much to the Byzantine mindset of a people whose heritage as nomadic tribes invested in a religion devised to suit the needs of such people mired in historical grievances brought to the fore and acted upon. General Abdel Fattah Younes made his mid-stream choice on the horse of opportunity when he left his loyalty to Moammar Gadhafi and galloped into the future with the Libyan rebels.

His decision to join the National Transitional Council in Benghazi gave it gravitas and the respect of the West, whom they desperately needed, through NATO involvement, to give them a head start on their military campaign against the Gadhafi regime. His defection to the rebels, his rejection of his orders to crush the uprising also sealed his fate. He would be useful and used, until no longer useful and would then be dispensed with.

This is a line of reasoning that finds acceptance in a Bedouin community, and even more so, in Koranic scriptures of what is permissible to achieve the greater good in the name of Islam; deception when required to achieve the goal of success. Success is still elusive, the Gadhafi regime, despite the NATO pounding from the air, is still actively resisting the resistance, but it is tired, worn out, almost as much as the resistance.

A terse statement from Mustafa Abdel Jalil, confirming the death of the general, does not describe how his killers were able to breach the heavy protection around him, nor how he was murdered, or where they disposed of his body and those of his two aides. But not one single member of the rebel government saw fit to appear at his funeral which took place in a cemetery on the edge of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold.

General Younes had been called to appear before a judicial committee investigating military issues, it would appear. Of course this would have nothing whatever to do with the fact that General Younes that disputed the leadership of the rebel forces. The world abounds with mysterious occurrences. Some of them readily open to easy interpretation, some not.

Whoever naively believes that once Libya is free from Gadhafi's rule, it will become a law-abiding, liberty-guaranteeing, human-rights-respecting member of the international community may be delightfully delusional.

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Whose Revolution?

"We agreed with the Brotherhood and the Salafis over the past week to come to Tahrir Square today, unite, and pressure the government to work on reform. They lied to us and came down to promote themselves and show off their power. The Salafis attacked us because we were calling for the demands of the revolution." Youssef Adel, of the liberal Youth for Justice and Freedom
Who can they trust, then, the youth of Egypt who claim they want to achieve a secular-type liberal-based democracy that will offer them freedom and opportunities not available to them under the old Egypt represented by the president whom they opposed and successfully deposed? And whom they still insist must be brought to 'justice', along with his sons and all those who served him faithfully as president of the country.

Theirs was the initial world-arresting effort that brought the country to the condition it now stands in. The youth of Egypt, those who were unaffiliated with a deep religious conviction, and who yearned for the types of freedoms that were so available elsewhere in the non-Muslim world, felt their idealism could move continents. The Middle East would become like Europe, like America; secular, democratic, lawful, wealthy.

President Hosni Mubarak who had ruled his country like a potentate of old, yet with concern and wisdom, struggling on one hand to contain the Islamists, the Salafists among the population - determined to restrain them and to ensure his country might prosper with considerable monetary aid from the United States, and peace with his militarily powerful neighbour Israel - kept their aspirations capped.

For this he must pay, there would be no acceptable excuses, no circumstances cited in his defence. Unwittingly, the students, the young people who began a revolution they could not control, did the work of the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, who sat back, unblinkingly, and watched ... and waited. Their turn would come. Tahrir Square belonged to them. Egypt would be theirs.

"The Islamist movements ignored the agreement between all political and community currents to unite against the attempts of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to divide us and tarnish the reputation of the revolutionaries", claimed 34 political parties and youth movements, including the principal groups who had led to the toppling of the government of Hosni Mubarak, as they voiced their protest against the Islamist capturing of their mission.

Their dreams have been shattered. They were willing dupes, and now they are hapless victims. Again. The liberties they foresaw as their modern birthright and their future destiny, evaporated. Because the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, no longer led and directed by a man with a vision and a love of his country, has turned inward to embrace Islamism, power and the Muslim Brotherhood.

An entirely, unfortunate but predictable outcome. Inevitable, as the ruling military's and the protesters' ideologies clashed, values colliding irreconcilably. The military now portray the protest activists as troublemakers, agents of foreign governments, doing the work of the United States, of Israel, once again mortally suspect, alien, forbidding and dangerous. Peace agreement? It can be abrogated.

The Muslim Brotherhood simply makes a better fit for the military, with its large support base and its organizational and public relations skills reaching out to the larger world to portray themselves as religiously-politically neutral, not extreme nor threatening within or outside Egypt. Major General Mohammed al-Assar of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces praises the Brotherhood for its constructive role in post-Mubarak Egypt.

And Egypt's ex-president will now face a murder trial shortly, in Cairo. Along with his two sons Alaa and Gamal. This demand of the activists who will not be appeased in any other way than to have their revenge on Hosni Mubarak, because they must have at least that satisfaction, will be met. Six police commanders, a businessman and the former interior minister also scheduled to be thrown to the wolves of rage.

Accomplishing precisely ... what ... ?

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Norway's Anguish

The world looks on with compassion, and speaks in hushed tones of the courtly and calm democracy, the social advocacy and the graceful accords that Norway has achieved within its society. Norway, where the Norwegian Nobel Institute hands out the Nobel Peace Prize annually, although it is Sweden which established the Institute and a Swede, Alfred Nobel, that is responsible for its establishment. Still, it adds a touch of nobility to the country.

Given Norway's history during the Second World War with its counterpart of the French Vichy government, through its own Quisling regime, deferring to Nazi Germany in its fascist occupation of the country, where 15,000 Norwegians saw fit to join the fascists, it has enjoyed quite a fascinating history. The country considers itself now devoted to the expression of human rights and equality, as a compassionate, socially advanced nation.

Although Norwegian police, like their counterparts in Great Britain, are not armed with firearms, the country has more than one firearm for every five people. The popularity of hunting and competitive shooting contrasts oddly with a gun-loving population being comfortable with the peculiarity of its police force being unarmed in the pursuit of its professional security duties.

Not only are the Norwegian police unarmed, but they appear also to have been ill equipped, with access to a single vessel that malfunctioned when in an emergency response to a mad killer, police had to borrow a private vessel to gain access to the island where mass killings were ongoing. Calm self-assurance appeared to be somewhat vaguely missing in the enterprise of inhibiting an ongoing massacre.

And the helicopter that they were equipped with evidently was inadequate to their needs as well, while that belonging to a news organization buzzed overhead, giving false hope of imminent rescue to the young people hiding from the crazed murderer whose predations went unchecked for over an hour, long after police were notified of the massacre.

Police, to begin with, when contacted by frantic parents whose children, actively being targeted by a mass murderer, texted their parents for help, refused to honour the integrity of the parental messages. "Get your children to call us themselves", parents were peremptorily advised by the police.
"What happened is that I was absolutely not believed when I explained what my daughter on Utoya had told me. I was told if that was the case, the children had only to call the police themselves. Even when I begged them to take me seriously," explained one incredulous father.
When police eventually did confront the murderer, Behring Breivik, he faced them unthreateningly, hands up in the air, prepared to be taken into custody. His mission, after all, was accomplished as he saw it; the bombing in Oslo to distract police and where seven died, and the 68 young people he shot to death on the island to demonstrate his rage at Muslim immigration changing Norwegian society.

What he did also succeed in doing was to give ample ammunition to the left who excuse lavishly the 'misunderstanding' leading Muslims to be accused of terrorism and mass killings. For here is a right-wing ideological lunatic who in the name of resisting Muslim immigration to Europe - with its threat of overtaking and subverting European society and its mores poses a cultural-religious-political threat of immense proportions - commits a gruesome slaughter of the innocents.

All those, therefore, who abhor Islamist political ideology that seeks to infiltrate the West and upend democracy, while in the process both through influential persuasion and violence, manages to alter liberal democracies and their laws for the purpose of paving the way for an Islamist renaissance of power over non-Muslims, are now tainted with Breivik's madness.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

PA Independent State

The World Bank and the European Union congratulated the Palestinian Authority and proclaimed it ready, on the basis of its burgeoning economic success, to achieve independent status as a new country. The Palestinian Authority has demonstrated a new and growing ability to govern and to make full use of the critical instruments of civil government, from the provision of services to its population to administering its executive properties.

In the process of lauding the PA, the World Bank and the EU appear to have overlooked the reality that without the financial and administrative props of the EU, the United Nations and the international community at large, let alone Israel, the West Bank with its four million population and its admirable GDP would collapse. Its vaunted independence is a hollow aspiration as it stands at the present time.

The Palestinian Authority may feel it is fully prepared to declare statehood, but it is heavily reliant, and indeed dependent on foreign aid to maintain the integrity of its financial stability. The irony here is that Mahmoud Abbas and his administration refuse to sit at the bargaining table with Israel to work out a final and lasting agreement for peace, yet without Israel's ongoing goodwill, enabling tax collection and trade, success will remain elusive.

Without negotiating seriously with Israel for firm, acceptable borders what kind of state can be declared? The PA bureaucracy may now be capable of functioning, and of administering the affairs of state, but it will remain a hollow, incomplete instrument incapable of fully representing itself independently without recognizing fully Israel's role in its statehood success, an issue that the PA continues to evade and avoid.

The Palestinian economy is highly dependent on its massive trade with Israel. Where elsewhere will it send its exports should Israel decide not to absorb them? Israel employs, at a far better pay scale than what is paid in the West Bank, those Palestinians fortunate enough to find jobs in Israel. And those Palestinians who work in and for Israeli West Bank settlements, whom Abbas intends to force away from such employment, where will they find comparable wages?

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics itself declares that Palestinians working for Israeli employees earn two to three times what is paid to their PA-West Bank-employed counterparts. This too forms part of the successful PA economy, much to the chagrin and annoyance of Mahmoud Abbas. A far greater number of Palestinians were employed by Israelis before the staging of the Intifadas and the suicide bombings in Israel.

They were replaced because of the ongoing security threats, by migrants from Asia and Eastern Europe, more than willing to work in Israel. What occurred when Israel unilaterally vacated Gaza is a case in point, where trade collapsed and employment by Gazan Palestinians with Israelis was cut off once Hamas took power there, resulting in 50% unemployment.

Additionally, a highly-economic-dependent PA in the West Bank would see itself without financial support from the United States should it proceed as it is determined to do, to face the United Nations with its demand for statehood recognition without first establishing an agreement with Israel.

Belligerently autocratic, essentially impractical. What measure of success can be anticipated to arise from irrational demands and a refusal to recognize Israel and its offers to negotiate? To do so, obviously, would mean that the PA would be forced to admit that it will never acquire that which is mourns as a loss, by unseating the Jewish State from its Islamic geography.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mohammad's Turban

Canada pulls its troops out of Afghanistan's Kandahar province as planned, and leaves security where it belongs; in the incapable hands of the Government of Afghanistan. There remains yet U.S. troops to ensure that the province doesn't fall completely apart. Simply put, the government of Hamid Karzai is incompetent and untrustworthy.

And the irony is that the Karzai family has its roots in Kandahar.

President Karzai's brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, took his place as his brother's emissary and strongman in the province. Deeply invested in the drug trade, he was little more than a warlord and drug kingpin. Feared and hated in an atmosphere of tribal and clan disputes, entitlements and belligerent claims and counter-claims. Where vengeance is the order of the day.

And where religious zealots have turned themselves into despotic Islamists determined to turn the country back into the terror-driven, Sharia theocracy it was when the Taliban ruled and befriended and gave haven to al-Qaeda. Where conscripts into the Taliban ideology are readily absorbed in infiltrating government agencies, the national police and the military.

And where turbans are so symbolically engrained in peoples' estimation of piety that to touch one or to suggest it may represent a threat is unheard of. Understandably, a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad sporting a turban which hosts a bomb elicited threats and murderous condemnation of Denmark; such an insult to Islam could not be countenanced.

Leaving a young assassin free to lodge a bomb under his turban as he entered a mosque for the funeral service of Wali Karzai, and where the suicide bomber blew to smithereens the Kandahari senior cleric, himself and two others. And now another suicide bomber with yet another bomb under his turban has assassinated the mayor of Kandahar.

More than adequately demonstrating that no one anywhere in Afghanistan is immune to death. Mayor Ghulam Haldar, born in Kandahar, a personal friend of Hamid Karzai, answered his appeal to return from his residence and citizenship in the U.S., to aid his country. Mayor Haldar thought he could bring an end to corruption and civil disobedience and unlawful activities.

He succeeded in confusing himself with a politician in a civil and civilized country, when he was in reality a politician in an uncivil, tribal and uncivilized country. One where casual enterprise is the norm, with people setting up bazaar-like stalls in the streets to sell produce that can sustain their meagre livelihoods, and where impoverished children sell negligible items.

These age-old traditions of free enterprise were opposed by Mayor Haldar, who felt that Western-style shops only should be allowed to operate, and who felt that building permits should be obtained before any manner of construction was undertaken. And who, in the process of attempting to overturn a country's traditions, enraged and humiliated the population.

In Afghanistan it is considered a grave affront to touch a man's turban. In Afghanistan, explosives can be hidden in a turban to dispatch an enemy.

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U.S. Debt Plan

Canadians sometimes feel that their governments are not as effective, efficient and responsible as they should be. Oddly enough, we often look to the United States to recognize efficiency and effectiveness. It is, after all, the world's largest economy. And for a very long time the world's most highly respected economy, leading all others. Who could fault it, for producing an enviable life-style for its population, for its entrepreneurial spirit, for its enterprise and enthusiasm?

Well, right now, it's being faulted extravagantly. Mostly because the U.S. government has suddenly plunged itself into the unenviable position of posing and posturing as though they represent the government of a dysfunctional, Third-World state. With partisan bickering, complaints and heated rhetoric that has caused a rift that widened into a gap so wide it's become immune to being bridged.

With the Republicans blaming the Democrats for beggaring the country and the Democrats blaming the Republicans for lack of social vision. There is, after all, a social visionary in office in the White House. One whose vision for the country runs completely counter to the American free enterprise system, and who insists that the wealthy must begin paying a larger share of the pain.

There's something to be said for that, since statistics are showing that the gaps between rich and poor are widening inexorably. Corporations, investment houses and the well-off are beginning to recover their pre-recession comfort and entitlements. Jobs, employment however, still floundering. The country remains mired in debt and deficit, and it is growing at an alarming rate.

The interest payment on the debt alone is staggering. And it's growing as the debt itself grows. And the U.S., still in recovery mode, needs to borrow still more money to keep itself on an even keel, and pay its operating bills, its employees and its services provisions. And therein lies the problem.

Republicans are loathe to give the President of the United States what he demands; an increase in the debt ceiling, while he refuses to cut spending.

The problem is so all-encompassing, so all-threatening in its capacity to shut down government operations and invariably impact on the economic recovery not only of the United States, but of its trading partners that the global community is waiting with bated breath for the outcome. The Senate, controlled by the Democrats, refused to accept the President's proffered budget.

The Republicans, in their Tea Party-led refusal to agree to raising the debt ceiling with tax-cut and spending-cut guarantees to balance the situation, are facing criticism from their own members. The Democrats, in their determination to proceed with raising the borrowing ceiling without spending cuts touching social services face like criticism from their own members.

Does this resemble a functioning government?

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Arab Spring and Islamism

The world should recognize in Tariq Ramadan the successor to the late Edward Said. Humble yet learned academics, stressing the noble nature of Islam, and the misunderstanding of the West in not acknowledging its true status as a religion of peace and justice for all in the great brotherhood of humankind. We have but to relax and welcome Islam into our daily lives.

Bit by bit we will become accustomed to it. Tariq Ramadan has taken up where Edward Said left off. Normalizing Islam in the minds of those who view it with suspicion. Learning to accept the inevitable, and do it with good grace. The war has been won, in a sense. For one great segment of Western society has adapted and fulsomely welcomed Islam in all its glory to take its place where it belongs.

That portion of society is the accepting, tolerant, equivalent-value-recognizing one of the left in the halls of academia, politics, society, public-service unions and the public education system. Which understands, to their great mind-liberating credit that one must not judge lest ye be judged. Which recognizes that values are not so much universal in nature, but cultural in advantage.

There are no absolutes, merely points of view. And Tariq Ramadan is lecturing to the initiated and smugly accepting that there is no need to fear Islamism, for there is no such thing. There is Islam, and Islam, the original Salafist, Sharia-expounding Islam must be welcomed wholeheartedly, for it is authentic and noble.

And Islam, contrary to what its detractors claim does value freedom, democracy, universal suffrage, individual rights and justice for all equally. "These are not Islamist uprisings, but the great majority of the people asking for dignity, justice, freedom and democracy are Muslims. The Muslims in the Middle East share with us in the West the same values."

This is the Arab Spring explained. For the elucidation of skeptics and doubters who see the Muslim Brotherhood lurking behind dark shadows, with the bright young idealistic faces of young Muslims out in the open sunshine, as facades. This professor of contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University patiently, good-humouredly leads the doubters to revelation.

It is the Egyptian military, for example, with its close alliance to the corrupted influence of the United States, that is holding Egypt back from its full expression as a burgeoning, budding democracy offering freedom of expression to its people. The Muslim Brotherhood is an honourable group of scholars wishing to bring Islam back to its glory days in the purity of authentic Islam.

The apprehensions and fear about the Muslim Brotherhood is a device to instill suspicion in the West, one laid by the Arab dictators to maintain control of their populations and to remain in power in direct violation of their peoples' rights. It was not the Brotherhood that controlled the Arab Spring uprisings, but they aspire to assist the people to attain their goals of equality and liberty.

Mr. Ramadan, world-renowned scholar, respected interlocutor, has inherited a burden which he feels determined to discharge to best advantage. His grandfather initiated the Muslim Brotherhood, and his father was of vital importance in setting up Muslim Brotherhood branches while in exile in Europe. Now the sceptre is in Tariq's hands, his to hold impressively high.

He has his detractors, those who believe him to represent a messenger to the West for the Muslim Brotherhood, to dispel suspicion and fear, to lull the suspicious into acceptance and open-minded complicity with the gentle spread of Sharia, for this is a good thing and all good things should be embraced.

He, Ramadan, is the "charming face" of European Islamism, said Salim Mansur, political scientist at University of Western Ontario. He, Ramadan, is "the darling of the world Islamist establishment", who "camouflages his Islamist agenda under the niqab of ambivalent doublespeak", says Tarek Fatah, founding member of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

Consider the source of his support: the Islamic Society of North America, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Muslim Association of Canada, whose website claims roots that are traced to the Muslim Brotherhood, that it "strives to implement Islam ... as understood in its contemporary context by the late Imam, Hassan Al-Banna."

None other than Tariq's grandfather. Confidence and obligation take a circuitous route to success.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Help Required, Urgently

The United Nations' UNICEF program has been permitted by the Somali Islamists to resume saving the lives of Somalian children. "It was successful and it was a good step toward airlifting supplies into Somalia. It is the first in two years", UNICEF spokeswoman for Somalia Iman Morooka declared.

Al-Shebab has reconsidered. Perhaps foreign aid humanitarian groups are not after all Western spies and Christian crusaders. It is dreadfully inconvenient for al-Qaeda-associated Islamists in Somalia to have all these people dying around them. It makes them look bad, particularly if they persist in disallowing aid to reach the starving.

Not their fault, after all, if a persistent drought has destroyed the region's crops and left people suffering from endemic malnutrition. They're just busy doing what's right with Islam, bringing strict Sharia and the Salafist tradition back into dominance where it belongs. The Prophet, the Koran and Allah demand no less of them.

And it's all the fault of the West, to begin with. Draining Africa of its wealth and natural resources, leaving nothing for the people of the region but parched land and dead hopes. Dead children also, lots of them, perishing on the long march from Somalia to the refugee camps in Kenya. Even UNICEF blames the West for its lack of response to the emergency.
"We have seen some derisory offers from rich European countries. the whole international community ... should now realize the scale of what is happening in the Horn of Africa and put their shoulder to the wheel and do everything they can to help." British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.
And where is Africa helping itself? The oil-rich states, for example, and those governments whose leaders pocket rent from China for the leasing of agricultural land where Chinese farmers work the land and the produce is sent back to China. How does this benefit Africans? Does this not represent a violation of the human rights of Africans?

The palm oil, eucalyptus, teak, corn, cassava, sugar cane and other crops could hugely benefit African farm workers and African consumers. Chinese companies who have forged farming deals and taken land concessions have no stake other than exploitative in African well-being; their international conscience is assuaged by sending a paltry few million dollars to the UN food program.

Tens of thousands of desperate Somali women and children are trekking a long march to arrive at refugee camps where they hope to receive food, water and medical help. On the way the children who are too weak to survive the journey, die. Families are exposed to attacks on their journey and robbed of the paltry few belongings they have.

The refugee camps in Dadaab constitute the world's largest, with over four times their capacity, holding over a third of a million desperate people. History, in Africa, has an unfortunate tendency to repeat itself, time and again. Depressingly familiar, the stories of famine, drought, starvation, civil war, violations of human rights and dignity.

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Integrity Intact - But Not His

How the mighty doth protest their innocence. It is, after all, too painful to express regret for stupidity. Particularly when one holds a highly responsible position for which his presumed intelligence has fitted him to, and he is held in high esteem, as a result. With the resounding title of a knighthood, matching cerebral rectitude to patrician deliberation.

Sir Paul Stephenson has resigned his post with Scotland Yard. However, this is a mere formality. In so doing he acknowledges that the public is furiously angry. The public feels rather let down by their top security agent, in fact. And, as Sir Paul stated previously, such a perception is difficult to battle, even if they are wrong, and he did not fail in his public duty.
"Let me state clearly, I and the people who know me know that my integrity is completely intact."
Obviously, the man is wrong, wrong to the point of mildly delusional. He needs a reality check but he is obviously not amenable to one on a personal level. For he believes his behaviour has been impeccable, and the scandalous decision-making attributed to him completely misses the point; he has acted honourably and with no reason for regret.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, perhaps recognizing himself in Sir Paul's dilemma, declared the resignation to represent "a very sad occasion for him. I wish him well for the future." And doubtless Sir Paul wishes David Cameron well for the future. Even while he took a stab at savaging the Prime Minister's reputation just a tad.

Interesting, the revelations that come to light: who knew the Metropolitan Police Commissioner was able to take a five-week break from his duties, and everything would run smoothly in his absence? That five-week absence just happened to be a gift at a luxury health spa. It works very nicely, having an in with someone who is a PR consultant, like former deputy editor of News of the World, Neil Wallis.

Each was gifting the other; Sir Paul paying Mr. Wallis a handsome thousand pounds daily for his contractual appointment to Scotland Yard, advising Sir Paul, and the compliment capably returned by Mr. Wallis arranging for Sir Paul to have an all-expenses-paid stay at a luxury spa. But heaven forfend that anyone take from this the absurd notion that anything was legally amiss.

Morally, ethically, well perhaps. For the police force which had decided that there was nothing amiss in a cellphone hacking accusation six years earlier, and which re-opened an enquiry into the very same activities, still saw its head of operations hire Mr. Wallis two months after he left the tabloid newspaper which was at the centre of the investigation.

Details, details; they are so unnervingly irritating. "I may wish we had done some things differently, but I will not lose sleep over my personal integrity." Well, that's a huge relief. Now, back to the Prime Minister ... ? Who was in fact emulating his predecessor in his choice of media adviser. And isn't that fascinating, that David Cameron was himself a PR hack in an earlier incarnation?

As in it's all in the family kind of thing? If the Prime Minister could hire an ex-News of the World editor, what could possibly be wrong with the head of Scotland Yard doing the same thing? "Unlike Mr. Coulson, Mr. Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge, been in any way associated with the original phone hacking investigation", said Sir Paul.

Oh dear, oh dear.

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Incarcerating Psychopaths

When the public thinks of prison inmates - if they think at all of that topic - they think of robust, muscle-bound men in mid-life or younger. Social misfits, for the most part, men with violent tendencies to be sure, but also petty criminals, drug dealers, threats to society's peace and good order. They belong in prison. To keep the rest of us, law-abiding citizens safe. It's what we have police for, to track them down, isolate them from the rest of society.

Courts of justice find them guilty as charged of a variety of public criminal offences. And there's a price to pay for that. To give ease of mind to the public at large, that those who abuse the laws meant to protect us all, will not be permitted to ply their illegal trades and violate the public trust. And to demonstrate to the criminals among us that their dedication to crime will not be tolerated, and they are expected to pay the price.

This is society's retribution for the wrongs practised against it. It is also the manner in which we have, as a liberal democracy, agreed that punishment for criminal acts will be meted out. Serious crime begetting serious sentences. For acts of murder in the first degree, automatic life sentences. And if the crimes are sufficiently gruesome and inexcusable, forget parole.

We did away, after all, with Capital Punishment.

So a conscienceless, serial murderer who is found guilty of the charges laid against him will be sentenced to consecutive life sentences. It is hardly likely he will be freed from prison. There he will stay, there he will grow old, there he will become ill from the ravages of advanced age, and there he will die. It is, in fact, another kind of death sentence, it merely takes its time.

There he will also receive costly and advanced medical treatment. And there he will be, in advanced old age, his faculties failing, body breaking down, health severely compromised, wheel-chair bound, dwindling into a feeble, white-haired, dessicated elder. Should he be released into the community, allowed to rejoin his family, permitted to die a free man?

It would free up prison space, free up the work time and attention devoted to him by prison workers, by health and medical workers. Prisons have undergone a physical alteration in recognition of the ageing of its inmates, from more technically advanced and modern medical facilities, to adjusting the facilities with wheelchair accessibility.

Should aged people with diagnoses of advanced, lethal cancers be the recipients of humanitarian regard and allowed to exit prison, to be reunited with extended family, to die in peace, outside a prison setting? Can we consider that they have paid their debt to society through their long penal incarceration?

Here's the story of one 'interesting' inmate, someone who dispassionately murdered two policemen, shooting them in the back of the head after disarming them with their own handcuffs. He was 83, having served 40 years in prison. He pleaded to be dismissed from prison, despite his lack of remorse for his crime and his awful prison record. He died in Kingston Penitentiary's Regional Treatment Centre.
"The board found Hutchison's extensive history of violence both in and out of prison to be more serious than his health problems. Not only had he murdered two police officers, the board noted, but Hutchison and some friends had previously kidnapped another police officer and held him hostage with his own gun. On another occasion, they kidnapped the 14-year-old son of a wealthy businessman and held him for ransom, taping the boy's elderly grandmother to the stairs. Inside prison, Hutchison staged hunger strikes and planned multiple escapes, often faking injuries so he could be taken to an outside hospital where friends would smuggle him weapons. He successfully escaped at age 73 and was caught after a 3-day manhunt."
You be the judge.

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Unforgivingly Forgiving

The Liberal-left has invested itself in the belief of cultural relativism. And anyone who doesn't agree that background circumstances, culture, heritage all converge to produce a value system that might differ acceptably from what we deem to be universal values of good and bad, is simply bigoted. Without allowing the benefit of the doubt to someone whose values don't comply with what are taken to be society's recognition of the verities of right and wrong, we're doing them a disservice.

How are they to know that what they believe, what has been indoctrinated into them through their cultural instruction, may not conform to what we may think of as a universal value? If one tribe or clan exhibits a visceral hatred for another, that's to be expected because this is a heritage value. If women are seen as inferior to men and their education and life opportunities neglected, this is simply a reflection of cultural norms.

If the way to settle arguments between neighbours resorts to belligerent rhetoric, sometimes elevating to violence, and this is the way that matters were settled in the milieu in which the abusers grew up before migrating to another country, it's not their fault. If racial, ethnic, ideological or religious prejudice follows a new immigrant into an accepting country, they're to be excused because of other social customs elsewhere.

Raucous, bawdy, sexually suggestive 'celebrations' with gyrating, half-nude men and women parading themselves in a loud public parade celebrates Caribbean 'culture'. If other people take offence or feel put out at the noisy intrusion into their own leisure time, they're upbraided as being culturally insensitive. The Caribbean 'culture' of single mothers abandoned by petty-crime gangster fathers is simply another facet of 'culture'.

When a Muslim community imposes its Sharia-based values on the greater community claiming it to be part of their religious inheritance, a hushed acceptance is supposed to settle over and smother the voices of those critical of entitlements handed to this group that are denied others. Criticism that stems as much from a need to point out that no other religion is given permission to present in a secular public school system.

And that with that religion's 'cultural' beliefs comes a belittlement of females, the teaching of young girls that they are not to consider themselves equally entitled to any types of value consideration with males. That this cultural installation runs counter to the social mores of an egalitarian society like Canada's is excused by the Lib-left apologists as cultural entitlement.

In fact, the Lib-left appears to have a questionable attitude about the entire problem of acceptance of cultural exceptionalism. What it does is accept as normal a low standard of public behaviour on the part of those who claim their culture and their experience supports actions and beliefs at odds with those of a democratic liberal society.

It is patronizing and an admission of low expectations from those who practise objectionable cultural values on the part of the hypocritical who espouse acceptance of the indefensible. But in their devotion to their belief that they are being generous and accepting of societally-deleterious values, they debase our own and effectively give permission to barbarians to practise socially adverse customs.

This is not open-mindedness. This is cultural suicide, opening the gates of the fair and just social contract to the ideological, misanthropic, religious, misogynistic practises of those mired by custom and practise in the Middle Ages. This is reverse racism.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pragmatism Versus Polemics

The European Union and its Parliament suffered agonies of indecision, all the while knowing that the Euro had to be protected and so had one of their member-states, from financial collapse. The union of various European countries with differing values and social systems and popular social contracts sounds like such a good idea on so many fronts, and formulating laws and regulations that are meant to equalize everything seemed like an excellent solution.

But then, some countries have a reputation for financial prudence and careful stewardship of what they have, along with a dedication to hard work, and they prosper, accordingly. They also form the economic backbone of the union, when countries like Italy, Portugal, Greece, Spain and Ireland run into trouble and threaten to default.

Greece, with its generous social programs and laxity in tax collection, requiring a second hand up, perplexing the EU and sending shudders through the banking community. Should Greece default, there would be wide repercussions, and not only throughout the European Union, since international banking systems are involved.

But as financial catastrophes go, that would be a small tremor compared to the earthquake that would result should the United States, the world's most successful, powerful, wealthiest country fail on its debt. A debt that has, over the past four decades grown beyond manageable proportions to finally rest as a financially monstrous burden.

A succession of mostly Democratic, but also Republican administrations have managed to run the U.S. economy into the ground. Oversight on the corrupt and entitled Wall Street banks and financial brokerages was less than useful, enabling the free-market, U.S. capitalist system to run amok, corrupting itself with worthless paper while its executives ladled in handsome pay-outs.

Its economy is stricken in a drought of deficit, business losses, intractable unemployment rates, mortgage foreclosures, bankruptcies, municipal and state financial straitjackets, and the country is facing difficulties servicing its debt. And because the Republicans, like fiscal conservatives everywhere are loathe to raise taxes, particularly on the well-to-do, and would prefer to cut back services, agreement with the Democrats remains infuriatingly elusive.

So that if the huge figure of the current debt limit isn't raised, the country's Treasury faces collapse and its financial institutions will come to a standstill. President Obama is determined to wrestle the new Republicans associated with the radical Tea Party group into some form of acquiescence; they're equally determined to stay their principled ground.

When does principle become self-mutilation? Presumably when the largest bond-holder, China, begins to panic. And Japan, second to China as a U.S. debt-holder, also doesn't need the grief. When and if the U.S. stops paying its bills and transactions limp nowhere without the raising of the debt ceiling, social programs will grind to a halt, employees of the government, including its military, will not be paid.

America's triple-A bond rating will be imperilled. And so will the economies of much of the rest of the world, through simple fall-out, since the United States, even in its weakened economic condition is still a buying, consuming power-house. Countries like Canada will be affected deleteriously, since sales to the U.S. of Canadian products still represent three quarters of its export market.

And if the U.S. halts payments to its suppliers, the trickle-down effect will result in many lay-offs and higher unemployment than the already historically high rate. The growing lack of confidence in the U.S. economy throughout the international community is translating into a more robust showing of other countries' currencies against the U.S. dollar.
"We believe that one of the most valuable assets of the U.S. is the safe haven nature of the dollar and U.S. Treasuries. We believe that any fears of missed payments is likely to threaten this status permanently." Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch
They got that right.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

U.K. Inquiry

"I do not believe on any occasion I have acted inappropriately. I am very satisfied with my own integrity. But I do accept ... and acknowledge that perceptions can be different from reality." Sir Paul Stephenson, Metropolitan Police Commissioner
How very dignified and self-serving. Sir Paul knows of a certainty that he has acted, fully cognizant of his position, in the best of all possible moral and ethical ways. He has no need to apologize, no need to explain, no need to rescue his reputation from any unfortunate slurs that might come his way.

He generously is prepared to accept that perceptions can be different from reality, but is not prepared to admit that although he attributes that little observation to those who conflate his actions with ill doing, his own admission confuses his perception with reality.

British police, having arrested the former deputy editor of the Sunday tabloid, News of the World, Neil Wallis, have instantly conferred upon Mr. Wallis guilt associated with illegally and immorally exploiting underhanded techniques in the interest of obtaining the inside goods on salacious, malicious and harmful stories that the public abhors, yet is anxious to read intimate details of.

And although guilt by association is often very unfair, sometimes it well describes the errant stupidity and moral obloquy well earned by those who profess innocence of wrong-doing. And in this instance, where Sir Paul Stephenson, in his position of public trust and responsibility saw fit to take on Mr. Wallis as a personal advisor.

It might be of more than passing interest to hear Sir Paul describe the manner in which Mr. Wallis was to have advised him; the issues involved, for example.

At a time when Scotland Yard was called into public scrutiny and tasked with reopening an investigation into phone hacking that had concluded unsuccessfully, what leap of faithful integrity spurred Sir Paul to bring Mr. Wallis into his confidence?

Sir Paul had met on multiple occasions with Mr. Wallis while he was engaged at the tabloid as a high-powered executive. Presumably, someone as well placed as Sir Paul, engaged so deeply in public security and protection against malfeasance, might have some personal antennae for trouble?

Evidently not. For he prevailed upon the distasteful Neil Wallis to sacrifice two days per month of his invaluable time and expertise, working for Scotland Yard. That onerous task, of advising Sir Paul, came with a stiff price tag of one thousand pounds per day.

Surely, Sir Paul, while assuring the public and his Parliamentary interlocutors, of his diligent dedication to duty, could mount a reasonable explanation of funding well spent?

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Inspired by a Danish Cartoon

Call it a brilliant copycat-motivated manoeuvre, but it worked exceedingly well. At the same time that it illustrated that what was so dreadfully offensive to Muslims was merely a wry reflection of truth-in-hypocrisy. The bomb set to go off in the turban caricatured the fact of violent jihad posing itself as doing the work of Islam at the behest of Koranic texts.
The controversial cartoons of Muhammad, as they were first published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 (English version). The headline, "Muhammeds ansigt", means "The face of Muhammad".

Well, just as art imitates life, life imitates art. Flawlessly, to boot. Aren't humans clever? Of course primates are, too. And it's usually monkeys we attribute the 'monkey see, monkey do' vaudeville acts to. But the cartoon, while inspiring a young man to forego his future in favour of a suicide attack by placing explosives within his turban, in Kandahar, has been vindicated by his act.

The cartoon that had been the source of such violent anger and accompanying vicious protests against the West, leading to a number of riots and deaths, elicited rage from the faithful, quite predictably perhaps. But when such dreadful acts are performed by a Muslim the ardour of anger is much diminished and a hushed quiet seems to descend.

Amazement that a faithful Muslim would so insult his own faith. And the belief that somehow, the West must have been responsible for provoking him to such sacrilege. When the very hint of a suggestion is received that someone in the West plans to burn a Koran, the outrage is deafening and viral. But a young Muslim who has dedicated his life as a sacrifice for the greater glory of Islam, while in the process defiling Islam, is barely condemned.

The memorial services for Ahmed Wali Karzai who had been assassinated several days earlier was rocked by an explosion hidden in the turban of a young man whose fervid resolve to martyr himself was granted. How was he persuaded that he would greatly please Allah by sitting beside Maulavi Hekmatullah Hekmat, head of Kandahar's clerical council, and killing him too in the blast?

What faultless logic convinced the young man to fantasize that the Prophet Mohammad would have approved of his defiling a mosque with an explosive hidden in his turban with the intention of blowing innocent people to strips and rags of bloody flesh and entrails, and the Korans they held to blood-soaked ribbons, earning him a beguiling covey of willing virgin flesh in Paradise?

In this young assassin's tradition and heritage a turban itself is considered to be sacred. What this young man performed in the name of scholarly religious pursuits was termed a "violation of the code of the Pashtunwali". "You cannot touch (a turban) because we respect the turban in our culture. These people (the bomber) are misusing its dignity and honour."

Dignity, honour, sacred beliefs, traditions, the tragedy of fundamentalist insanity, all encapsulated in a tribal-based religion that holds life so dear that all are deemed enemies ripe for death. Is that paradox not worthy of a cleverly sly cartoon?

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Quiet Before The Storm

Protesters in Syria, those brave enough to keep coming out in huge numbers after the traditional Friday prayers, continue to do so, despite the regime's brutality. Bashar al-Assad is immovable. He promises reforms, but they will be reforms as he deems them necessary. Those who are now protesting will have to accept that the regime may somewhat alter its governance but the security situation that so many are fed up with, the emergency rule that hampers lives and stifles human rights is simply a fact of life in Syria.

And they must know that although the West decries the suffering that the regime has imposed upon them there is not much that can be done for them. They have demonstrated the courage of their resolve and they will have to continue doing just that. And many among them will be casualties of the brutal regime they live under. They will be arrested, they will be jailed, they will undergo torture and they will be tormented to death, some of them.

That is, those that escape being targeted as they attend funerals, as they march in Friday protest processions as they leave their mosques. Because of the violence and the turmoil that has occurred as a result of the ongoing protests against Syria's military rule, their country has been divesting itself of a very impressive arsenal of weapons. Entrusting them to the care of Hezbollah, in Lebanon. Which is delighted to receive them and plans to take exceedingly good care of them.

Until such time when the Hezbollah leadership determines they shall be used. Those sophisticated missiles capable of hitting targets deserving of destruction. Israel in particular. One doesn't suppose that the protesters, much as they detest their tyrant, hate Israel and the Jews any less. So it is of little concern to them what occurs as far as providing weapons to Hezbollah is concerned.

One doesn't imagine that the oppressed and the exploited, the repressed and the brutalized of Syria much care that their country has formed an evil bond with Iran and with North Korea, and as a threesome they represent the potential to foist upon the world the horrors of nuclear annihilation.

Do they know, are they aware that their country has a Scientific Studies and Research Centre located in Damascus?

This is a missile program, a deadly one. Which has provided Hezbollah with advanced Scud D surface-to-surface missiles, and which North Korean technicians have helpfully assembled for them. Capable of carrying one-tonne warheads, accurate to an admirable degree, able to target Israel, Jordan and Turkey. Are Jordan and Turkey concerned? Unlikely. Is Israel? Very likely.

One wonders how the Syrian protesters regard their country's close co-operation and friendship with North Korea, another country that is tormented by a ruthless tyrant who hasn't resorted to shooting at his people, merely starving them instead. Weapons entering the Bekaa Valley from Syria to profit Hezbollah were initiated with the early protests.

There may be some satisfaction to be had in knowing that the vigour and determination of the protests despite the brutal government response has concerned the regime to the extent that it has. That official Syria considers itself somewhat unstable, spurring it to move some very serious military hardware out of the country for safekeeping.

In London, a Syrian embassy official claims to have no knowledge about all these allegations. Everything is calm and normal and there is nothing concerning nor untoward occurring in his country.

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Deadly Famines

There is Africa again in the news. Children are dying of malnutrition. There is widespread drought in the Horn of Africa. People who rely on their cattle to give them bare sustenance in a nomadic society are watching as their cattle die, and they are left with nothing to sustain them. They walk long distances for days without adequate nutrition, let alone potable water. Children's bellies are swelling with hunger and disease.

There are no edible crops in the field, everything has dried up. The cost of basic foodstuffs, grains and fundamental edibles have risen on the world market. Charities whose business it is to provide the indigent with assistance are finding it ever more difficult to do just that; the funding they have is not going as far as it used to. There is an epidemic of need and response is slow and inadequate.

The destitute, the ill and the starving implore us to help them. The United Nations World Food Bank has warned that ten million Africans are on the verge of starvation. Desperate refugees are arriving in camps set up to hold a fraction of the numbers that are showing up. Somalians are arriving in Kenya hoping for help, for food and water and medical attention, in desperate straits.

Funding from the international community is trickling in. And none of it has yet reached those who need it. World Vision has been trucking in water on a daily basis, but they are running out of supplies and cash. "There have been droughts before, but then people came to assist us, there was food available, even the animals were helped", commented an elder.

"Now there is nothing. We see vehicles from the government passing by some days, but they do not stop. The situation is worse than ever. Why have we been forgotten? I cannot tell." The refugees have been arriving for a month and they keep arriving, old people, mothers with infants, children in tow, hoping for relief from their deadly travail.

The Kenyan authorities view the arrival of thousands upon thousands of Somalians with fear and suspicion. It might be possible that among them are members of al-Shabab. Kenya's prime minister, Raila Odinga sees little option but to admit them: "Although we consider our own security, we cannot turn away refugees."

We in the West, the well-fed, the people who conventionally respond to such situations by sending charitable donations haven't been responding with the usual alacrity. Donor fatigue? We've become accustomed to reading about and hearing about all these dreadful stories of people in extremis? We've lost our faith in charitable NGOs' ability to use all the funding they receive to good use?

We salve our conscience by the ease with which the Internet allows us to electronically send our donations to Oxfam, Save The Children, Doctors Without Borders. What, after all, else can we possibly do? The world economy is still experiencing difficulties, a great number of people are unemployed; people have their own problems that must be solved.

Africa is a stain upon humanity. Its incessant tribal wars, its internecine battles, its heartless dictators, its constant appeals to the world community to send relief. Today Ethiopia and Somalia, tomorrow another part of Africa will be in a turmoil of disaster, pleading for help.

And we respond, because there is nothing less we can do.

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Inheriting Chaos, Not Culture

Another tragedy, another child's life lost on an Indian Reserve. Of course children lose their lives through misadventure, neglect or simple bad luck anywhere. But on reserves the incidence of parents neglecting the welfare of their children appears to have become the norm. Societal and familial break-down on reserves presents as a fact of life. Values have become utterly distorted.

Respect is voiced for an historical way of life whose memory is treasured, but which reality likely would ascribe dreadful privation and health and longevity difficulties to. Little different in that respect to other societies at an earlier place in time in food scarcity, inadequate and dangerous employment, and medical and health unavailability for the masses.

None of these conditions need apply now, in a modern society that is capable of providing social services and universal medical care and education and job prospects in a wealthy, technologically advanced country. The choice to live in geographical isolation to maintain traditions and the sacred memory of an indigenous religion and culture has not resulted in a balanced society.

Unemployment is rampant, education and health services are inferior, adults become addicted to alcohol and drugs, and their children, neglected and left to their own devices, are right behind the adults. Suicides are rampant, and hopelessness reigns. Young men form gangs, and as though in emulation of tradition, they represent 'tribes' and tribal warfare results.

There is no band council or aggregation of adults capable of deflecting the influence of alcohol, drugs, gang violence and resulting danger. Children and infants are sacrificed by default to this dysfunctional tribal lifestyle where nothing has absolute value and everything is neglected, from parental responsibility, to pride in one's social condition.

A child sleeping in his bed is struck by a stray bullet when two rival gangs express their violently challenging conflict against one another. Another victim. The conscience of the community is stricken, briefly. There is talk of reform, of making an effort to ban drugs and alcohol and draw young people away from the gang culture.

It is sincere and ineffective.

This is a place where dysfunction expresses normalcy. A reserve doesn't even have to be one mired in poverty, it can be one that realizes wealth through the sale of natural resources. Without the intellectual means and inner discipline to manage that wealth that is meted out to each reserve member, it is meaningless and doesn't lift them out of the poverty of spirit they live with.

Band child-welfare agencies have their work cut out for them. The Department of Indian Affairs barely knows how to respond. The Government of Canada anxiously looks for meaningful ways to alter this miserable state of affairs - for the good and the future of the large contingent of First Nations children that represent a boon to the country.

All appears in vain. For the patient cannot seem to find it within itself to make the effort to seek and obtain a decent, safe, and self-respecting future.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mumbai's Agony

There it is again, the deadly hand of Islamic loathing and blame and anger determined to inflict as much pain, horror and death upon its perceived enemies as possible. The goal being to make the enemies of Islam tremble in fear. And tremble they do; not necessarily enemies of Islam, but most certainly targets of Islamism.

India, a giant, sprawling country of well over a billion people whose only rival in population size is China, another great sprawling country of Asia, lives directly beside a country that has sworn itself as a mortal enemy of India. Though it was once part of India, Pakistan - even as its founder foresaw it as a good neighbour where majority Hindus separated from Muslims, would give ease to both - has fostered a deep and abiding hatred.

Pakistani politicians, its military, and its secret service have all been fixated on their burning loathing for India. That both countries own nuclear arsenals is no guarantee that they will never unleash them on one another - through the (cold war) MAD deterrent - creating an end-of-world disaster in their region.

Three warring clashes using conventional instruments of war did not serve to assuage the rage.

Their traditional rivalry and each claiming to possess Kashmir is a flash-point, but even were the situation to be resolved, the enmity would not be. One has the impression that were it up to India alone, no such situation would have evolved.

It is Pakistan and Pakistan alone, with its Muslim heritage of conquest and superiority that is responsible for the friction and danger that exists between the two.

Although there are times when Hindus and Muslims most certainly attack one another within India, the government itself makes every effort to damp down hostilities. India itself faces other problems from within its diverse population through culture, ethnicity, religion, ideology, from Sikh opposition, to Naxalite-Maoist enmities.

But India's most pressing dangers appear always from its neighbour Pakistan. With Islamist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba mounting vicious, well-planned and -executed suicide attacks, horrifying Indians and creating a spectacle of pure evil hatred unleashed on innocent citizens who have no defences against the lethal violence.

And now Mumbai has been visited with the second co-ordinated terror attack in a three-year period. Not as damaging as the first in 2008 which took 166 lives and injured hundreds more in a 60-hour stand-off between Indian police and ten terrorists, but a still-horror-and-terror-inducing attack that has killed 20 and injured 130 innocent Indian civilians through the use of timed explosives.

This latest atrocity in Mumbai may not be the work of LET, but it most certainly represents a co-ordinated terrorist attack on India's commercial heart. Perhaps setting back once again official negotiations for a settlement of hostilities between the two countries.

Once again, Pakistan demonstrates its bona fides as the world's terror central.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blasting Off

Another United Nations-based trip-up. UN-seized shipment of confiscated munitions emanating from Iran in an illegal shipment to Syria, meant for Hezbollah. No doubt one of many, but this one just happened to be apprehended. And despite that the Greek Cypriot government requested time and again that the munitions be taken elsewhere, the appeals were ignored.

The United Nations is a busy, distracted enterprise with many fingers poking in a multitude of pies. And the munitions were left to the reluctant keeping of the government in Nicosia. Evidently not safe-keeping, however. It cannot have been the United Nations that decided appropriate storage would be represented through close proximity to the Vassiliko power plant.

And it was noticed that the cache of confiscated munitions appeared to be emanating some danger signals in the confined heat of scorching temperatures where they were being held at the Evangelos Florakis naval base on the south coast of the island. But of course this is a military base and the military know all about munitions and safe-keeping.

They hired two men, 20-year-old twin brothers, to execute a fail-safe technological manoeuvre to solve the problem of cooking ammunition. They were ordered to hose down the metal containers. That would prevent them from overheating; simple logic. But there was something about a fire that ignited the munitions and caused a tremendous explosion.

A devastating blast ensued that killed a dozen people, including the navy chief, as well as the two brothers, and injured another 62 personnel. As for the power plant which produces over half of the island's power, well, it is expected that power cuts could occur for months, even years, and could lead to water rationing as well.

The end result is anger, confusion, demands for resignation. The defence minister and the head of the national guard have obliged. Costs to repair the catastrophic mess will likely amount to $1.3-billion. Greek Cypriots are furious and they are demanding accountability. The president must step down.

Simple common-sense precautions when storing munitions, is that too much to ask of the cream of society who represent the elite among its politicians and its military?

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The Banality of Prurient Curiosity

We are creatures who relish dirty linen. That is, others' dirty linen, ours simply don't exist. We are born gossips and love nothing better than to be scandalized and thrilled and impressed with the bad fortune and ill timing of others. What else could conceivably explain the proliferation of tabloid newspapers? All the news unfit to print find their way into those rags.

And their popularity level has never been higher. The 'news' they purport to publish ranges from pure sick fantasy to pathological expressions of humanly degrading acts so miserable that they paint people a yellow hue of vomit. Yet there they are, at every supermarket check-out, handy for selection. There might have been a time once when people read them surreptitiously. No longer.

They are now mainstream fare. Along with the pin-ups, the salacious tales and the lawsuit-inspiring slander. All hazarded with flair and gusto, and read in a like spirit of appreciation. Trash sells. So it's no great tragedy at all that a newspaper that has been publishing for a century and a half has seen its final print roll-out.

What is a tragedy, however, are the revelations of human fallibility that led to this news event. The only thing about the News of the World that is newsworthy, actually. And that is the political traction and disgusting influence that its owner and those who worked at the highest echelons for him achieved in the sphere of British politics.

Respect for politicians? After viewing the vomit-inducing protestations of innocence by Prime Minister Cameron, a new aura of slimy regard has been produced. The earnestness of innocence of any and all wrong-doing, the resolute condemnation of the harm done to the innocent victims of the newspaper's stealthy attempts to unearth all the dirt they deemed fit to print.

None of it with even a veneer of honesty, but certainly geared toward restoring trust in the electorate for those whom they voted into office. A prime minister whose public relations background suddenly and mysteriously vaulted him into high office, while continuing to consort with slack-moralled social climbers bearing a close resemblance to his personal values.

It isn't mere disgust on viewing all of this trash, it is sadly leavened with grief at the extent of human gullibility and treachery. Is this truly the best we can do as a civil and civilized society?

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Another Martyr in Afghanistan

New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall named several staunch Karzai allies, including Akhunzada and Nurzai, as widely believed to profit from the drug trade, and she quoted unnamed diplomatic sources as saying "there are even reports" that Ahmed Wali Karzai was also linked to the drug trade". Wali Karzai denied the charges, but the president was furious and ordered an investigation into Gall's sources, which turned out to be a senior British diplomat whom the Afghan government briefly declared persona non grata.
Reports about Wali Karzai intensified in June 2006 after the American television network ABC quoted U.S. Army files purloined from the Bagram base describing how Wali Karzai had received money from drug lords. "They want to give my brother a bad name", Wali Karzai retorted. The U.S. military said the report was outdated but did not reject its authority. Wali Karzai lived in Kandahar, where he represented his brother in managing the southern Pashtun tribes. He was criticized by many Pashtuns for allegedly favouring his own tribe and other tribes loyal to the Karzai family, while pushing away tribes who were not natural allies, forcing them to join the Taliban. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, Wali Karzai was elected head of the Kandahar provincial council, further enhancing his power in the south. Many of the former NA warlords - ministers and generals in the north - were also involved in drug trafficking. Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos
The Karzai clan gained quite the reputation within their country. Little wonder that Afghans in general view them with contempt, knowing the extent to which they contribute to the general aura of graft and corruption, rampant in the country. When the Afghanistan Central Bank ran into problems because its assets were being drained by those in authority, the country's central bank governor fled to the U.S.
The corruption scandal at the bank also named another Karzai brother as being involved in the country's largest private lender, the Kabul Bank. The bank was founded in 2004. And its co-owners included Mahmood Karzai, another brother of President Hamid Karzai. This prominent family certainly has distinguished itself in its service to the country.

And now, another brother who had successfully eluded previous attacks on his life has finally succumbed to one which he was incapable of interpreting as a threat, coming as it did from a trusted old family ally and retainer, one who had been effectively entrusted with defending his life but who had obviously been successfully turned against him. On a pretext of loyalty in a private audience, shooting Ahmed Wali Karzai three times, fatally.

Leaving NATO in a state of shock with the ramifications that will certainly fall into place, making departure even more difficult with a Karzai stalwart who had controlled Kandahar province for years on behalf of his brother dead, and no one in sight to take his place. Particularly so when the governor of the province himself is preparing to leave his post.

Among his many enterprises, Ahmed Wali Karzai operated a number of well-remunerated security companies, who were hired to provide protection for convoys of NATO food, fuel and ammunition. Ahmed Wali Karzai's security enterprise doubtless flourished amazingly once his brother, President Karzai, banned the presence of foreign security companies from Afghanistan.

In a corrupt country accustomed to milking the foreign presence and the international funding meant to benefit the country's infrastructure and fledgling state departments and services, Ahmed Wali Karzai distinguished himself. He was a loyal adjunct of his brother's regime, a trusted friend and adviser. And he maintained good working relations with foreign dignitaries and NGOs.

"Mr. Karzai literally ran southern Afghanistan for his brother and his removal will leave a vacuum, especially now that everyone is looking over their shoulder to see what happens, when the NATO folks disappear", advised Brian MacDonald, senior defence analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations in Ottawa.

President Hamid Karzai is in mourning. "My younger brother was martyred in his house today. This is the life of all Afghan people. I hope these miseries which every Afghan family faces will one day end."

For many it will not. For women and girls in particular. Bibi Aisha, the beautiful young Afghan woman whose father-in-law mutilated her by slicing off her ears and her nose will never see justice. Her father-in-law, though confessing to the mutilation, has been released.

Afghanistan is noted as the worst possible country in the world for women and girls to live in, their rights regularly violated and their futures hampered by a misogynistic culture. When NATO troops depart and the tribal antagonisms once again re-ignite and chaos erupts, it will be the women of Afghanistan whose suffering will represent hell on Earth.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

United States "Irate"

The United States seems most unwilling to finalize a diplomatic break with Syria. Despite having come straight out finally and saying that perhaps it is time for the regime to listen to the protests of its people? Equivocating perhaps, by recommending that the regime perhaps hold back a trifle on the vicious response to the protests? Protesting now and again that it is not at all good policy when a government actually violently attacks its population...?

In which instance it seems somewhat foolhardy on the surface of things, when the ambassador secure in the comfort of international convention that holds that an embassy located in another country is to be considered the soil and property as it were, of the foreign country, to provoke his host. But with the assurance that as a diplomat, Ambassador Robert Ford, felt he was perfectly within his mandate to visit the centre of the protests in Hama.

He and the French ambassador Eric Chevallier set out on a trip to see for themselves the setting of the anti-regime's most active gathering. Where they sympathized with the protesters, declaring the Syrian President to be in gross violation of his population's human rights. Quite endearing themselves, in other words, to President Assad.

Who returned the compliment by having his supporters undiplomatically converge on the two embassies with the thought in mind of attacking them. Which they did, causing extensive damage both to the American embassy and the official residence of its ambassador who according to them was a "dog". And they took especial delight in flying a Syrian flag within the U.S. compound.

Thus violating the Vienna Convention, which troubled them not one whit. While Syrian security forces looked on with at least, one might assume, a modicum of curiosity, without feeling spurred to intervene. Following orders, one could safely assume. Somewhat like the Syrian state TV station which had undertaken to incite the pro-regime thugs, uh, demonstrators.

President Obama is no doubt troubled by this sundering of good relations with Syria. After all, there was his new-presidency promise to the Muslim world. His declaration that they could all get along to get along. That America was not truly an enemy of Islam. That the United States greatly respected Islam and Arab countries.

It's just that things have somehow turned awry; even though this president has no intention of shoving democracy down Arab/Muslim throats as his predecessor did, it would appear that many of those who have lived too long under tyranny have been inspired to shove democracy down the throats of their oppressors.

Hey, good luck on that one. That's the opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood, too.

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A Metal Coffin

Summertime, and what could be more natural than families wanting to get out into the out-of-doors and make the most of the weather? Embarking, for example, on a short but pleasant cruise. An exciting event for children in particular. And there is this about human nature, we trust. We do not, though perhaps we should, ask questions about safety, taking for granted that the authorities have already done all of that on our behalf.

We trust that if a vessel is available for a certain purpose; tourism, recreation, and a lot of people embark on a trip, there is safety in numbers. They cannot possibly all be wrong in trusting that all will be well now, can they? Well they can and in this instance they were dreadfully misguided. But how were they to know, after all? Besides which, when families set out with their children to all enjoy a holiday, no one wants to disappoint the children by turning back.

We trust, because it is human nature under these circumstances, to do so. We trust that all will be well. That everything will turn out well in the end. That a good time would be had by all. And on returning home, the main topic of discussion will be what fun everyone had, with the children's excited, chattering voices raised high in happiness, and parents well satisfied with the outcome.

Except, that wasn't at all what happened. On the Volga waterway, a vessel not actually licensed to carry passengers, but with a maximum capacity of 120 people, set off for a two-day voyage, with 208 passengers. Now 128 of those passengers are feared dead, among them about 50 children. Most of these children were securely locked inside a playroom while the ship, named the Bulgaria proceeded.

For that matter, many of the ship's doors were locked as passengers discovered when they attempted to escape the sinking ship. "We were all buried alive in the boat like in a metal coffin" said one woman who managed to escape through a window but who lost her ten-year-old daughter because she could no longer manage to hold on to the child.

The voyage hadn't turned out as the passengers hoped it would; there was rain and strong winds, not the kind of pleasant weather that was anticipated. One of the vessel's two engines broke down. When the ship left port it was listing heavily. Passengers and crew asked the captain to halt the cruise in light of the state of the ship, but he adamantly refused.
"He should not have left port. The weather was bad. It was stormy weather. what kind of cruise could there be for God's sake?" Anna, surviving passenger.
With only one working engine, an attempt to make a sharp turn against the strong current failed, and the ship capsized.
"The vessel sank in less than three minutes. It flipped to the right and swerved and went down. Our whole family was on that ship. We lost everybody. My wife and my grandchildren. There were a lot of children on the ship. They were all in the games room and it was impossible for them to get out. My grandson would be five years old tomorrow."
Some survivors claim that two other boats had passed by, saw the drowning passengers, but did not stop to give assistance. Tourists aboard one of the boats, said one of the survivors, filmed people in the water on their mobile cellphones.

President Dmitry Medvedev, in mourning, promises to take "rust tubs" like the Bulgaria out of service.

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