Category: Politics

What's the matter with Canada?

But beneath the calm exterior, Canada’s political system is in turmoil. Since 2004, a succession of unstable minority governments has led to a constant campaign frenzy, brutalizing Canada’s once-broad political consensus and producing a series of policies at odds with the country’s socially liberal, fiscally conservative identity. Canada is quietly becoming a political basket case, and this latest election may make things even worse.

What’s the matter with Canada? – By Christopher Flavelle – Slate Magazine

I don’t necessarily agree with the whole “basket case” assertion, it is a fundamentally strong country with a broad consensus on what the country should be.

The current set of political parties is rewarding a minority set of policies (the conservatives) by fragmenting the majority centre-left of centre consensus between 4 different political parties, none of which will talk to each other. This is not exactly new, the conservatives only merged their parties a few years back.

The liberals suffer from Dion’s non Englishness, he gets little traction from the English media (no idea about the French, I don’t know any). He’s not that charismatic, nor does he orate well in English, and so like the American election, it is all optics. The liberals also seem to have no understanding of what it takes to win a modern election. The conservatives get in the news all the time, their ads are all over TV, the liberals seem to be MIA.

Harper on the other hand is “strong”, strength of course being defined as sounding decisive and declaratory, even though he usually just sounds alarmist and hyperbolic all the time. Somehow, this is interpreted as leadership. I guess the only good quality of leadership is being loud.

Dion also made a gamble by selling something called the Green Shift, a carbon tax, to increase efficiency in energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even though the tax is designed to increase efficiency in a country notorious for its very poor efficiency (27th among the 29 OECD countries in energy use/capita), it is being demonized as a tax that will destroy the country (just like every other environmental regulation destroyed every other country). It is also bad timing, as energy prices have soared recently, and Canada’s economy sputters to a halt due to falling resource prices and the American housing market bust (destroyed the BC lumber industry). The last thing people want to hear is “tax”, even though the middle class will get more than sufficient rebates to cover any tax increases. The liberals seem to have overplayed this hand. Elections are never won on environmental issues, too easy to attack.

The conservative pitch thus far has only been to attack Dion while offering some incremental changes. But as Harper is flirting with a majority, this Toronto Star editorial asks the right questions.

While Harper is presenting himself as a kinder, gentler Conservative these days, in the past, as a Reform MP, head of the National Citizens’ Coalition and leader of the Canadian Alliance (successor party to Reform), he staked out quite radical positions. He has called Canada “a northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term,” has denounced the “moral nihilism” of the Liberals and the left for opposing the Iraq war, has suggested building a “firewall” around Alberta, and has called for “market reforms” for health care, “further deregulation and privatization,” and “elimination of corporate subsidies.”

With a Conservative majority in sight, it is fair for Canadians to ask Harper whether he still holds these views and would implement them once in office. And if the answer is No, Harper should use the remaining four weeks of this election campaign to tell voters just what he would do with a majority.

The media lets Harper get away with sounding “presidential”, his proposals are very vague, and that is worrying. It is clear, however, that from an environmental standpoint, he will be a disaster. A combination of a slowing economy and reduced social support programs (conservatives hate safety nets for regular people) will be bad for the not so well off Canadians. We shall see what happens in a few weeks.

Hold Your Heads Up – A defence of American Liberals

Civil rights? Women’s rights? Liberals went to the mat for them time and again against ugly, vicious and sometimes murderous opposition. They should be forever proud.The liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance, both of which were contained in the original Social Security Act. Most conservatives despised the very idea of this assistance to struggling Americans. Republicans hated Social Security, but most were afraid to give full throat to their opposition in public at the height of the Depression.

Op-Ed Columnist – Hold Your Heads Up – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com

Bob Herbert is one of the few major US columnists giving voice to the dispossessed and the less than lucky. He writes a very eloquent post about liberal achievements over the years. Good stuff…

It's Official: Elections on the 14th of October

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pulled the plug on his minority government to ask voters for a fresh mandate as Canadians face growing global economic turbulence, a move that opened the political floodgates for an Oct. 14 vote. Harper’s political opponents say the campaign will be a referendum on his leadership and the direction he has taken the country since the Conservatives won power in 2006.

Federal leaders deploy as election battle begins

Yes, as always, we will be 2 weeks before the Americans, and a much shorter schedule. It is good timing for the conservatives, the economy’s crap has not hit the fan yet, 6 months later, totally different story.  It is going to be interesting. If all the mail I am getting and all out TV blitz are any indication, there’s only one party running, yes, it is those conservatives, not being too conservative with their use of money! I haven’t heard/seen the Liberals or the NDP run an ad yet, but I don’t watch too many commercials!

Not looking good for Canada and Climate Change Policy

Meanwhile, the Conservative party received an F+ because it has chosen a "completely inadequate" target for reducing greenhouse gases and because it is relying on intensity targets to meet its goals.

Greens tops, Tories flops in Sierra Club climate-change report card.

So, all the other parties get at least a B grade. The conservatives are relying on so called greenhouse gas intensity targets, or emissions/dollar of GDP, which is a meaningless statistic. As many have pointed out previously, greenhouse gas intensity is a meaningless statistic and decreases naturally as processes grow more efficient and economies transition from a manufacturing to a service oriented economy. The GHG intensity dodge was invented by the Bush administration and the conservatives were happy enough to follow along.

So, as Harper turns his high profile and the utter fragmentation of centre/left of centre vote into an opinion poll lead, a reminder that ever other party in this race has at least a half way realistic climate policy.

Canada can’t really wait too long to get in front of this problem. I believe that the US will have something proposed/in place by 2010 and as Canada’s biggest trading partner, will be in enforce a carbon regime on Canada, so this may be moot.

Tory majority in Canada?

According to the poll, conducted by the Strategic Counsel, 37 per cent of Canadians would opt to vote for the Tories were an election to be held today, compared with 29 per cent for the Liberals, 17 per cent for the NDP and 9 per cent for the Green Party.

globeandmail.com: Tory majority? Pollster takes your questions.

The interesting fact is that Centre-Left parties (Libs NDP + Green) are much more popular than the Tories, so while the country prefers left of centre politics, there is a lot of vote splitting going on. Need to learn a bit more about that, eh! If this were India, the NDP and Liberals would be running a united ticket.

Canadian Elections October 14th?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will later this week ask Governor General Michaëlle Jean to set Oct. 14 as the date for the next federal election, senior government officials said Monday.Harper will visit Jean at Rideau Hall, her official residence in Ottawa, to establish the election date, the officials told the Canadian Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.The prime minister will declare that, after having met with all three opposition leaders over the last few days, he no longer has the confidence of Parliament, the sources said. As per tradition, it will then be up to Jean to decide whether to dissolve Parliament and set the election date.

Harper to ask GG to set Oct. 14 as election date: sources

Just like most things Canadian, our elections will also be about 2 weeks before the American one, it’s Harper vs. Dion, also starring the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party. Climate Change will be front and centre, thanks to Dion and the Liberals’ Green Shift campaign:

Our plan is as powerful as it is simple. We will cut taxes on those things we all want more of such as income, investment and innovation, and we will shift those taxes to what we all want less of: pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and waste.

Energy costs are soaring all over the world. While energy prices continue to rise, we need to encourage energy efficiency. We need to change wasteful habits. We need to discourage polluting activities.

In other words, a kind of Carbon Tax similar to the one the BC provincial government instituted this July. Of course, Harper called this a tax increase and has forecast gloom and doom for all Canadians if something like this happens. As such, his attacks have been successful and support seems to be dropping.

It’s going to be very interesting and very tight, with the Tories and Liberals both polling in the Mid 30s. Expect yet another coalition government. The Greens could affect results in certain ridings, always good to follow. I hope to learn a lot about Canadian politics from watching this election. The system is quite like India’s and as such, is easily understandable.

Also expect no soap operas, this is Canada, folks, if you were expecting the Jerry Springer feel to this weekend’s goings on South of the border!!

US Police State Update

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with sub-machine guns drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

Massive police raids on suspected protestors in Minneapolis – Glenn Greenwald – Salon.com

These “police” seem to be massively insecure. I have met many people similar to those arrested and they are the most harmless people not really known for anything more than their earnestness to protest! I don’t want to be too harsh on them because they are good people and mean well, but they are not really that radical, or in my opinion, willing enough to disturb the peace sufficiently to stage an effective protest. So, to send SWAT teams at them in a transparently obvious attempt to intimidate and frighten reeks of Soviet era police tactics. Shameful, but what you expect from the Republican party.

Here’s a video of interviews in the aftermath of the raid.

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Child Soldiers


khadr.jpg
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The U.S Government Department of State Factsheet about child soldiers:

Child soldiering is a unique and severe manifestation of trafficking in persons that involves the recruitment of children through force, fraud, or coercion to be exploited for their labor or to be abused as sex slaves in conflict areas. Government forces, paramilitary organizations, and rebel groups all recruit and utilize child soldiers. UNICEF estimates that more than 300,000 children under 18 are currently being exploited in over 30 armed conflicts worldwide. While the majority of child soldiers are between the ages of 15 and 18, some are as young as 7 or 8 years of age

The two (now) men pictured above were both well under the age of 18 when they were “recruited” by coercion and fraud, one by his father’s brainwashing and the other by strangers. They were both eventually found on battlefields. One has admitted to carrying arms, killing people and burning villages at the age of 13. One is accused of possibly throwing a grenade in a battlefield at the age of 15.

One of them is the author of a highly acclaimed memoir of his time as a child soldier which details his capture, long nightmare of drug induced fighting/killing, and slow and painful, if very inspiring story of rehabilitation. He now lives in Brooklyn, NY and hopes to go to graduate school. While his story has been criticized for not being completely true, most of it is shared by the thousands on other children who are made to fight their elders’ battles.

The other languishes in a cell in a prison well known for its utter disregard for all international law and documented incidence of torture. He has now been there for more than 5 years, where he has been subjected to torture threats, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, no family visits, and utter disregard for due process.

One of them was successfully rehabilitated by a system that kept faith in him by refusing to judge him for the acts he carried out as a child soldier and slowly helped him get back to some semblance of normality.

The other was betrayed by his country and can never get out because he is imprisoned by the most powerful nation on earth.

It is very easy to point to videos/pictures of kids assembling bombs or setting up land mines and point out that they were responsible for their actions. The hallmark of a mature and civilized country is to apply guiding principles and laws equitably and without regarding popularity. A child soldier cannot be prosecuted for his/her actions, they must be rehabilitated. They will never get back their lost childhood, but they should not pay for their elders’ sins.

Prime Ministers Chretien and Harper both went out of their way to forget the fact that they lead a civilized and mature country. They fudged facts, hid behind walls, trotted out due process and stoked fears of terrorism to keep a child in prison.

Rooting for a 21 year old Muslim son of a known terrorist is not easy, especially when he was captured wounded and accused of killing Americans (the highest crime possible). But, to belabour a point, the hallmark of a mature and civilized country is to apply guiding principles and law without regarding popularity. This kid is being held for alleged actions at the age of 15. Even if he participated in battle and killed people (which apparently is the point of battle, much as I hate it), he was a child!

Will Canada eventually do the right thing? Who knows. I sure hope so. Today’s release of the interrogation video is revealing of the fact that there is a shred of hope and decency in the system. Please watch this kid being “interrogated” by people in power he thought were going to help him “go home”.

You picked up a kid in the battlefield, imprisoned him for several years. In doing so, you committed a crime far worse than what he’s being accused of, child abuse…

I leave you with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s quote today

“Mr. Khadr faces serious charges. There is a judicial process underway to determine Mr. Khadr’s fate. This should continue,”

This week's New Yorker Cover


I think this cover is way too misogynistic. Yes, of course, the obvious flag burning, the Barack muslim thing, the Osama picture, yeah yeah, we get it, satire. But, what the hell’s with Michelle Obama’s Afro? and the Gun, and the Shoes? The hair especially is disgusting. As my partner (see, I do listen!) has pointed out to me many a time, there’s a long history of black women being made to feel funny about their hair, remember the Don Imus Nappy Headed comment (which was offensive even without the whole sex for money insult – Don’t bother clicking on the link, you’ll only see the stupid comment again).

I stand by my earlier contention that America is not ready for a non-white president, hopefully, I will be proven wrong, now that we know John McCain can’t even get on the internet without help. But the attacks on Michelle Obama are going to get very nasty before this is all over. Every black woman stereotype is going to be thrown at her.

Obama interview in Indian magazine

In an exclusive interview, the US presidential hopeful speaks on a range of subjects: the nuclear deal, Mahatma Gandhi, his ability to reconcile Islam with modernity, and how he wouldn’t have put all eggs in the Musharraf basket

‘I Am Reluctant To Seek Changes In The N-Deal’ : outlookindia.com

Interesting interview. Obama says the right things most of the time, so no surprises here. The interviewer also helpfully provides a summary at the top of the interview where he tells us what Obama said and what it means, a little bit of contextualization that goes a long way in helping the reader get perspective on the issues. Western journalists should try this sometime…

On the nuclear deal

“I continue to hope this process can be concluded before the end of the year…. I am reluctant to seek changes.”

His remarks suggest he is opposed to renegotiating the deal, as the BJP has demanded. Should the deal not be sealed this year, Obama as president isn’t likely to impose new conditions, a fear the UPA has constantly stoked to compel its critics to fall in line.

Now that’s an interesting observation because the proposed India-US nuclear deal will formalize India’s standing as a nuclear weapons power while providing the country with access to reactor fuel and technology. The deal will also mean that India will have to come under the purview of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that certain nuclear safeguards can be agreed upon and met. The so called communist parties of India are protesting this as an affront to the sovreignity of the Indian State and have withdrawn support to the Indian government, who faces a very delicately balanced vote of confidence next week.

Both the US and Indian governments are currently in agreement that the deal needs to be done before Bush leaves or else… Obama’s thrown a little bit of cold water over this idea, which will weaken the ruling party’s hand a little. The deal has been ratified by the US, so the only thing standing in the way is the continued stability of the current Indian government.

What do I think? Nothing much other than it appears that India is getting most of what it wants from this deal, a formalization of its nuclear weapons status, access to more civilian technology and legitimization of its nuclear programme in return for some safeguards (which are good for safety and non-proliferation anyway). It’s just that the opposition BJP cannot possibly support the deal because they are the opposition and recent election results in various states have them reasonably confident of getting back in power in New Delhi if the government were to fall and elections were to be called. The left is trying to remain relevant and is usually reflexively anti-US. So dealing with the US government is like dealing with Satan for the “communist” parties (right, call yourselves communists, insult to the word).

In other, more personal parts, we find out that Obama was in Pakistan for a few weeks when he was 19, which I did not know, but is apparently common news knowledge.

Interesting times, he’s not even president yet and still has great influence on happenings far away.