Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gratuitous Ted Haggard YouTube Post

Shamelessly ripped off of Canadian Cynic to boot. Because mocking self-hating, hypocritical homophobes just never, ever gets old.


O Shut Up Already, Canada!

I've been really trying to ignore the whole kerfuffle over the anthem-less school in New Brunswick, but it's getting hard to concentrate with all the SHRIEKING going on. So, a few thoughts:

1) This school stopped singing the anthem over a year ago and nobody noticed or cared.

2) Judging from some of the commenters here and elsewhere who are blathering about our glorious history and traditions, people are either very young or have incredibly short memories. 'O Canada' has been through a lot of changes over the years, and only became our official anthem in 1980. That's the same time the lyrics were changed to include the 'God keep our land' line.

3) This had me giggling:
A cursory survey of schools across the country shows that Belleisle is one of many where students don't sing the national anthem daily.

In British Columbia, morning renditions of O Canada are so uncommon that principals there can't fathom what the Belleisle hubbub is all about.

“I was surprised to hear that the daily singing was still going on,” said Brian Chappell, principal of Harwin Elementary School in Prince George. “We stopped doing it a long, long time ago. I think that's pretty standard throughout the district and the province.”

The reaction was similar in Alberta, where school officials said morning anthem policies vary from school to school. Terry Young, president of the Canadian Association of Principals, said singing of the morning anthem is so rare as to be “a non-issue.”

4) In amongst all the flag waving and rabid nationalism, a voice of sanity:
nicole lorusso from Canada writes: Singing O Canada does not make students more patriotic. I have taught at schools where the anthem has was sung daily and at others where it was only sung at sports events. Secondary students most often considered it a tedious task that was so overdone it completely lacked meaning or significance. I think the practice of singing it daily is done to pacify those at the school board offices rather than to inspire patriotism.

If you want students to care about their country and to value the privilege of being raised in such a phenomenal country, then have them discuss and analyze issues in the classroom. Students love to have the opportunity to voice their opinions and debate issues. It is amazing what they discover through those debates. The best lesson I had on the Canadian identity and patriotism came from a morning when I let my students vent their anger and frustration on being forced to sing the national anthem every morning. Their conclusion... that day's discussion was more inspiring to them and made them think more about what it meant to be Canadian than an entire year of singing the anthem.

And that's the last word.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Meanwhile, Back in Chalk River... (UPDATED)

... things continue to come apart at the seams.

Canada's nuclear agency misled the Prime Minister's Office about the nature and extent of a radioactive spill at the troubled Chalk River reactor west of the capital in December, a senior government official said yesterday.

"We are as upset as anyone," the official said.

The official was responding to an exclusive Sun Media story yesterday, detailing the reactor leak on Dec. 5 that released radioactive tritium into the air.

...After a brief shutdown, Atomic Energy has continued to operate the reactor even though officials there say they have not found the source of the leak and it may reoccur at any time.

In an unrelated mechanical failure, the same reactor has been leaking as much as 7,000 litres of water a day for more than a month from a crack in a weld.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says the water spewing from the weld has "a very low level of radioactivity" and is not a safety concern.

The water is being dumped into the Ottawa River.

One clarification: that 'unrelated' leak was reported more than a month ago, but at that point it had already been leaking for "several months".

Lisa Raitt, the natural resources minister responsible for the leaky reactor, told Sun Media yesterday that she has ordered a full written report on the radioactive spill from the nuclear safety commission.

Raitt said she and her departmental officials received an "e-mail briefing" on the leak the day after it occurred.

"There are some aspects that came out today that we weren't fully aware of,"
the minister said yesterday.

I'm guessing she's referring to the whole tritium thing.

Let's be clear about something. AECL, operating as it does on a for-profit basis, can to some extent be expected to downplay such an incident and even cover it up. That's what businesses do, whether they are privately or publicly owned. Which is precisely why we have a non-partisan, impartial nuclear regulator in the form of the CNSC to keep an eye on them and keep us safe.

Or we did, until Linda Keene was fired for doing her job last year. Since then, one can't help but wonder if perhaps her successor might be somewhat hesitant to examine activity at AECL too closely, or to step in and shut it down in any but the most dire circumstances.

Certainly not in today's job market.

Whether this is what happened in this case, or whether AECL really did manage to pull the wool completely over the CNSC's eyes as well as the government's, remains to be seen.

I'll be emailing our Minister of Leaky Reactors Natural Resources and see if I can get some answers - specifically, was that December email briefing from AECL or from the regulator? And, what exactly is CNSC's justification for not shutting down the reactor in order to find the source of this second leak?

It would have been nice to hear something from her today when CTV did a brief story about this on 'On The Hill', but apparently she was 'unavailable'. I guess she was busy with more important things.

(crossposted from HaltonWatch)

UPDATE: CNSC has issued a press release clarifying and on some points disputing the Sun article. Specifically, they report:

- At no time was the public or the environment at risk. There is no radioactive material leaking into the Ottawa River associated with these leaks. CNSC has on-site staff that monitors the NRU and ensures that it operates safely and is in compliance with its licence conditions. Any water released into the Ottawa River is treated and monitored by AECL according to environmental standards.

- The second leak referred to in the media reports involves light water leaking from the NRU reflector system. This water is collected by AECL and purified in the Waste Treatment Centre. Therefore, there is no leak into the Ottawa River and there is no risk to the public or the environment.

- Contrary to media reports, it did not take four days for AECL to inform the CNSC of the leak. The CNSC was made aware within hours of the leak and verified that it did not pose any significant risk to the public, workers or the environment.

None of which is good enough for the NDP, who are very keen to have a word with Ms. Raitt at the upcoming Natural Resources Committee meetings.

“Minister Raitt has some serious explaining to do,” said New Democratic Natural Resources Critic Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley), “Minister Raitt either knew about the leak and didn’t bother informing the public, or, didn’t know about the leak – I’m not sure which is worse. Either way, the Minister has let the people of Canada down.”

I Am Jack's Sense of Moral Absolutism

Repeated ad nauseum at Jack Layton's presser today:

“We have a new coalition now on Parliament Hill: It's a coalition between Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff,” said the NDP leader, who dismissed the Liberal amendment as “a fig leaf.”

“Today we have learned that you can't trust Mr. Ignatieff to oppose Mr. Harper. If you oppose Mr. Harper and you want a new government, I urge you to support the NDP.”

And this is why I don't vote NDP anymore. Seriously. Just stop talking, Jack.

Duceppe at least had a coherent - and far more entertaining - criticism of the proposed Liberal amendment:

Today, Mr. Duceppe ridiculed the Liberal proposition, saying the timeline ensures the Conservatives will remain in power until at least the next budget. Mr. Duceppe predicted Mr. Ignatieff will respond to a report in June by saying Canadians want an election during summer like “a hole in the head,” mocking a recent line from the Liberal leader. Mr. Duceppe predicted the Liberals will use the same line again in December to argue there's no appetite for an election over Christmas.

And I agree.

Instead, the Liberals should be insisting on the amendments I suggested yesterday (removing the E.I. wait time and removing the requirement for matching provincial and municipal funds for infrastructure spending). And in fact, a lot of people thought that they were preparing to do just that.

So why didn't they? It's just a guess, but I wouldn't be surprised if Ignatieff proposed just such a thing to Layton last night and was told in no uncertain terms that the NDP would not support anything short of a defeat of the government. Without their support, and given that the Conservatives would resist strongly even minor changes to the wording of their budget, such amendments could never pass. So we are left with a lukewarm and toothless amendment that gives the appearance of accountability but really changes nothing.

Thanks, Jack.

Budget of the Pod People

Watching Jim Flaherty trying to choke out words like "deficit" and "infrastructure spending" in any sort of convincing way was like watching one of the pod people from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" trying to approximate human behaviour but never quite getting it right. The brand new Conservative budget has most of the right elements (and a few very wrong ones), but you can tell that they don't like it, they don't believe in it, and on a fundamental level, they really don't understand it.

The overall effect is that of a paint-by-numbers painting: disjointed, vaguely appealing from a distance, and yet utterly devoid of any overarching theme or vision.

Still, there is very little here that one can specifically object to - at least, not in 100 words or less. Some tax cuts were inevitable, but although they are so low as to be completely ineffective as stimulus (as if they could be effective anyway), they are directed mainly at low and middle income earners instead of corporations, and at least they didn't cut the GST again. They made a token effort at extending E.I., but avoided really addressing the major problems with it. I was glad to see the $400 billion for VIA Rail 'service improvements', but what does that really mean? Are we finally getting the high speed rail link from T.O. to Montreal, or are they just getting new seats?

The biggest issue is the infrastructure spending, which appears to be tied to matching provincial and municipal funds. If this is actually the case (and it seems it is), then they might as well not have bothered because just about every municipality in the country has already set their infrastructure budget and is already maxed out in terms of property taxes.

Oh, and the Canadian film industry got pooched. Again. But yay for the Canadian Television Fund! Now if they'd only start requiring Canadian broadcasters to actually start making and/or carrying Canadian programming again...

As for the deficit, what can I say? Given current circumstances it could hardly have been avoided. But let us never forget that current circumstances are a direct result of Flaherty pissing away the surplus built up by previous governments on vote-buying fripperies such as a two percent GST cut and massive corporate and personal tax cuts.

My advise to Michael Ignatieff, for what it's worth: do what Dion did with the Afghanistan mission. Insist on cheap but essential tweaks such as the elimination of the two week wait time on E.I. benefits and making federal infrastructure spending less contingent on matching funds before you agree to anything.

Otherwise, see you at the ballot box.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How's That "Judicial Process" Working For You, Steve?

"Everybody is concerned about that process," Harper said. "The biggest concern about Guantanamo Bay is that most of the people there weren't charged with anything and weren't facing any kind of legal process. That is not the case with Mr. Khadr and, obviously, we have to see what the U.S. is going to do in terms of moving forward on that."

Yeah. About that...

Guantanamo Case Files in Disarray
Situation Complicates Prison's Closure

President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said.


Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.

That's ok. I'm sure Khadr was being tried in that other kangaroo court.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Excuse Me?!?

Khadr was not a 'child soldier': Harper

Harper's assertion that the government's "legal position" is that Khadr was not a child soldier is bound to anger supporters of Guantanamo's youngest and only Western detainee.

"My understanding of international law is, to be a child soldier, you have to be in an army," he said in the pre-taped interview.

And in that, sir, you would be WRONG.

"A child soldier is any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms."

- Cape Town Principles and Best Practices on the Recruitment of Children into the Armed Forces and on Demobilization and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers in Africa (Cape Town, 27-30 April 1997).

You know, if he were actually as stupid as some former world leaders I could mention, I could cut him some slack for this kind of blatant error. But he's not stupid. Not at all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Barack Obama

Man, that has a nice ring. Almost as nice as "Former President Bush".

I can't put this all into a coherent post, so bear with me as I share a few random thoughts.

I was surprised that I got through the entire day without crying. I'm usually a regular blubberfest, but I think I expended most of my raw emotion through the campaign and his acceptance speech. Today, I mostly felt relief that it all actually happened. Although I did well up a bit when he passed the Canadian Embassy and all those Mounties were standing on the steps saluting him. Maybe it was just the thought that this was the first time in my lifetime (except for maybe a few months in '93) when Canada has had a Prime Minister who is demonstrably more conservative than his U.S. counterpart.

Somehow, this makes it real.

I tried very hard to keep an open mind about Rick Warren, but I'm sorry - he was horrible. So was the poet, Elizabeth Alexander. Not just an uninspiring poem, but a really bad reading as well. Seriously - they should have brought Maya Angelou back. She made me cry.

Joseph Lowrey, on the other hand, was awesome.

And just for the record, you moron - it was Chief Justice Justice Roberts who screwed up the Oath of Office.

The speech was great, but not quite as moving as some others, like his "A More Perfect Union" speech. I think it was because his most inspirational speeches have always been very personal, and he couldn't really do that today. Still, the emphasis on public service and the hard break with the divisive policies of the past really struck home. That, and the idea that America has "chosen hope over fear". The last election was most certainly born out of fear - fear of terrorists, fear of 'the other'. Today, Americans are equally afraid of violence and their uncertain economic future, and yet they really have chosen hope.

The best part of watching Obama step out of the armoured limo and walk proudly up Pennsylvania Avenue with his wife to the deafening cheers of the crowds, was the knowledge that both of Bush's inaugural parades were lined by protesters. Some with eggs.

The Obama daughters were unbelievable. Beautiful, happy, smiling, completely unselfconscious. Here's hoping they stay that way.

I must admit, the whole "historic moment / first black U.S. President" thing was beginning to wear on me a bit. I'm neither black nor American, so my attitude towards the whole racial aspect has largely been, "Yeah, well, it's about time". Until I read this article in the Toronto Sun of all places.

'I look at him and I see myself'
West Hill students on pilgrimage to U.S. capital

All their lives, people have been telling friends Damian Patterson and Brian Woon-A-Tai what they cannot do.

Barriers and obstacles constantly strewn in their path because they are young black males and they aren't supposed to scale the walls of their Scarborough projects.

They may have been knocked down and roughed up along the way, but the naysayers have no power over them anymore. They've stopped buying into it, these two handsome young men. Now more than ever, these West Hill high school students have a dream.

And that's why, on this Martin Luther King Day, they are in Washington, D.C., counting down the hours until they can personally witness the inauguration of their inspiration -- Barack Obama, America's first black president.

A man whose stirring motto of "Yes We Can" has become their own guiding mantra, as well.

"I look at him and I see myself," explained an excited Patterson, just hours before boarding the bus taking him and 44 other African-Canadians to the American capital. "I see someone with similar features who I can emulate. He's probably the most positive role model for someone like me."

Like Obama, Patterson is of mixed parentage: His mom is white while his father comes from Jamaica. And like the incoming president, he's being raised by his mother alone.

Woon-A-Tai can also relate to Obama's racial background and laughed when asked about his heritage. "My parents are Guyanese, my mom is Indian-native and my dad is Chinese-black. I'm a pretty big mix."

... "Obama is a clear representation of what tenacity can achieve," said Scarlett, a TV and film consultant. "That's an important lesson, particularly for young black males."

A lesson that both these grateful 18-year-olds are taking to heart.

"He accomplished the impossible," Woon-A-Tai said passionately. "He gives me the sense that everything is within our reach. I can accomplish anything if I put my mind to it."

He was once told black kids don't play hockey, but went on to become a winning goaltender for the West Hill Warriors. Now he's set his sights on going to Ryerson University next year for film studies, the first in his family to ever get beyond high school, and he's been working 40 hours a week outside of school to pay for his tuition.

Patterson has lost friends to gun violence -- "more than there should be," he said when asked how many -- and few of his pals will get their high school diplomas, but he's determined to graduate and go on to study business at Seneca College. "I want to run my own film/entertainment business with my friend over here," he said with a nod to Woon-A-Tai.

I don't know why, but for some reason hearing that sort of thing from a couple of Canadian kids really brought home to me just what "Yes We Can" really means.

Oh, Happy Day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Canadian In Gaza

(crossposted from Canada's World)

Eva Bartlett is a human rights activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement. She is also a Canadian, the daughter of two classical musicians from Fergus, Ontario.

No shrinking violet, Bartlett has spent the past few years trying to help the people of Gaza and the West Bank by volunteering, bringing aid, protesting, and simply bearing witness. She even spent a couple of days in an Israeli jail for helping the residents of a small West Bank town dismantle a barricade that was cutting them off from supplies and medical services.

Today, Bartlett is travelling with ambulance crews in Gaza and reporting what she sees on her blog, titled simply "In Gaza". Nobody could be closer to the human tragedy that is unfolding there than those who courageously collect the wounded and the dead, and she frequently ends up describing the ground-level reality of events that western journalists can only watch from their distant hilltop on the border.

As we watch those odd-looking white plumes exploding over Gaza, Bartlett is reporting mysterious cases of caustic smoke inhalation being seen by Red Crescent ambulance drivers in Jabaliya. Days before we heard the story of emaciated children being found next to their dead parents after four days in a bombed-out house, Bartlett was hearing stories about the Israeli Army preventing ambulances from reaching survivors in a house where people had been told to stay (or, possibly, were locked in) and were subsequently bombed.

And all the while, medics she knows and has befriended are being shot at and killed.


I've become so caught up in all this that every time she goes for more than a day between posts I imagine the worst.

There is no shortage of personal accounts and horrific images coming out of Gaza. Sadly, all of these accounts are open to accusations of bias and even outright fabrication because professional journalists (who are assumed to be 'unbiased') have been prevented from entering the region. A few were inside the fence already and are doing what they can, but generally we are left to sort truth from propaganda from the confusing and conflicting stories coming from Israel and from those who are experiencing all this first hand.

Still, sometimes we have to accept the bias of the observer and just look at what they are observing. However they (or we) are interpreting it, it's vital that we have this raw data - both as evidence of what has happened, and as human reality check against the punditry and analysis and political spin.

There are no politics in the back of an ambulance.


UPDATE: Eva shows us some devastating and unusual looking burns inflicted on one family, and MSNBC has a photo of what is very likely white phosphorous as it rains down on yet another U.N. school.

Oh, and one of the few functioning hospitals in Gaza was shelled and burned. It's been a busy 24 hours.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Life is not a straight line. It's a circle.

That's the thought that stayed with me as I walked out of the theatre. The thought that our lives gradually fill with memories and experience and then slowly empty again, regardless of whether we are getting older or, as in this curious case, younger.

This rich, languid film seems to encourage such philosophical musings. Set largely in sleepy New Orleans, the plot walks rather than runs through the extraordinary life of its protagonist. From his birth and abandonment, his 'childhood' spent in an old age home, through his many relationships and adventures right to his poignant end, we remain transfixed. I was shocked when it was over to discover that I'd been sitting there for almost three hours.

Through it all is Daisy, the love of his life, who tells the story to her daughter from her deathbed. And it's through her eyes that we come to see this seemingly tragic life as beautiful. Five stars.

(Murray would have liked it more if he didn't have the attention span of a twelve year-old boy.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And then there's the OTHER Iggy

This guy is going to drive me crazy. He pisses me off so bad, and then he turns around and gives this wonderful, inspirational speech to a bunch of young Liberals in a pub. Not even a speech, because it really seems like he's speaking from the heart.


BTW, is it just me or does he have this whole Martin Landau thing going on?

(h/t to BCer)

Dear Mr. Ignatieff

(I sent the following email to Michael Ignatieff on January 9th. To date, I have received no reply.)

Dear Mr. Ignatieff,

As a proud member and supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada, I would like to express my profound disappointment in the comments you made yesterday in Halifax regarding the situation in Gaza.

Your statements, whether you intend them to or not, are coming across as identical to the position of the Conservative government - and for that matter, that of the Bush administration. I don't know if those comments accurately or fully reflect your true opinions, or if you are simply trying to be cautious and inoffensive. But hearing you echo the simplistic notion that only Hamas is to blame for civilian casualties and anything Israel does in its own defense is justified, only seems to confirm everything your worst critics have said about you.

I agree with your condemnation of Hamas and appreciate your support of Israel's right to defend itself. But surely it is possible for a man of your intellect to express that support, and at the same time articulate something a little stronger than a vague "concern" over the growing humanitarian crisis and the appalling and disproportionate death toll among innocent Palestinians, particularly children.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have been taking to the streets to protest their government's actions. Prominent members of the Jewish community in Toronto and elsewhere have publicly called for an end to Israel's killing of innocent civilians in Gaza while condemning, equally, Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel. And yesterday, Jimmy Carter - who probably knows more about the Middle East than anyone in North America - wrote his own account of the events of the past year which manages to detail Israel's own culpability for the current situation without in any way excusing the actions of Hamas.

If all these people - none of whom could ever be described as 'anti-Israel' - can bring themselves to criticize Israel's blockade of Gaza, the killing of UN aid workers, the bombing of UN schools and other appalling incidents, while simultaneously condemning the attacks on Israel, then surely you can find a way to do the same.

Yours truly,

Jennifer Smith

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New MP, Same Old Riding: Lisa Raitt's Town Hall Meeting

Lisa Raitt held her first town hall meeting in Burlington on Saturday. Or was it her third? She claims to have held two previous meetings in December, but damned if I can find any announcement or reference to them in the archives of the Milton Champion or any of the other local papers. I never got any notification in the mail, and it's not like she had a web site to announce them on.

I'm guessing that's why attendance at the previous meetings was apparently less than they were hoping.

Saturday's meeting, on the other hand, was quite well attended - thanks to my promotion of it on this blog, no doubt. I counted about 50 people, which was on par with one of Garth Turner's town halls. We were asked to 'register', not just in a guest book but by filling out a full page form asking for name, address, email, and such things as 'what issues are most important to you?' and 'do you think the government is on the right track?' I filled the first part of mine out, leaving the rest for after the meeting, but I overheard a few people who didn't want to fill it out and apparently that was just fine.

I had no idea what to expect and was feeling a little conspicuous, what with my trademark button collection proudly displayed on my purse, but I figured nobody would be paying any particular attention to me as I quietly walked in and...

"Hi, Jennifer!"

Crap. It's D'Arcy Keene. He's spotted me.

"Hi, D'Arcy, howzit goin?"

He still scares me a little. He's wearing a particularly menacing black turtleneck-and-blazer ensemble today, such as one would expect to see on the guy who turns out to be a vampire at the end of some '70s British horror movie.

Keep walking. Don't make eye contact.

I did see a couple of friendly, or at least familiar faces. Former Green Party candidate Amy Collard turned up and sat in the front row. Mike Cluett came in late and stood in the back. And then we got started.

Lisa started off by explaining that she was one of about half a dozen cabinet ministers who had been asked to conduct 'budget consultation meetings' in their ridings and that this was one. I don't remember seeing that in the announcement, but fair enough. She does say that we can talk about other things but that she's mostly looking for ideas and priorities, particularly regarding economic stimulus.

She also informs us that she will be calling on people row by row, front to back. This rather rigid format was in stark contrast to the more open discussions that went on at Garth's meetings, where one person would raise an issue and then whoever wanted to talk about that issue would put up their hand and talk about it. Once everyone had had their say, someone would bring up another issue.

At this meeting, someone would ask a question or make a comment, Lisa would respond, and then she'd move on to the next person in the row. Some limited discussion happened, but in general if someone else wanted to say something about that same issue, they had to wait until she got to their row. It was very civilized, but I personally felt that it was less productive than it could have been.

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by the people in the crowd and the kinds of questions and concerns they raised. I'm not sure why I expected them to be any different or any more partisan than the people who attended previous meetings just because we have a Conservative MP now, but frankly I couldn't tell you who voted for what party judging by their questions. Spending as much time as I do immersed in the cutthroat world of political blogging, I tend to forget that average people don't give a rat's ass about party politics - they just want things to be better.

Some of the items discussed:

The deficit.

Raitt said that there were "a variety of opinions within our party" regarding the wisdom of posting even a temporary deficit, but I didn't hear anyone raise this as a concern. There seemed to be an understanding that there was simply no way of avoiding a deficit and stimulate the economy.


A lot of people talked about this, and suggested a wide variety of projects including social housing, wind and nuclear projects, small hydro, transit - even one fellow who suggested we redress the errors of the past by buying back the 407. Concerns were raised by a couple of people that going overboard with project spending could result in cost increases due to increased demand. Raitt said that MPs were being asked to provide John Baird with a list of shovel-ready projects in their ridings, and that she has been working closely with Gary Carr on this.

Environment and sustainability.

I was impressed by how many people spoke intelligently and enthusiastically about green energy, local business, local food, etc. Despite efforts to paint these as 'left-wing' issues, it seems that everyone now understands that progress on these fronts is not only vital to our planet but will also ultimately help the economy. I got no sense from anyone that there was any choice to be made between the environment vs. the economy. Good to hear.


There were a number of seniors at the meeting, so there was a lot of talk about pension investments and suggestions for tweaking the tax laws to make it easier for them. Not really any demand for tax cuts per se - most just wanted to be able to withdraw from their pensions or sell their property without being penalized so heavily.

Aside from pension issues, there was some discussion of rebates for energy saving retrofits, which falls under Raitt's purview. The consensus was that the rebates were too small and the paperwork to onerous. Much laughter when someone noted that rebates were available on water-saving toilets, but only for one toilet per house. One complaint about the cancellation of the hybrid / fuel efficient car rebate.

At one point, Raitt commented that during previous economic hard times, governments have simply downloaded services and costs but that they weren't going to do that. I'm sure she was talking about Martin, but of course Ontario's King of Downloads was the very same guy who's in charge of the federal purse right now. Points for irony.

Politics and electoral reform.

The only time the crowd broke into spontaneous applause was when one woman spoke of how disgusted she was by the behaviour of our elected representatives over the past year. She complained that there didn't seem to be a lot of empathy from the government for the plight o average Canadians, and that everyone from every party - including the Bloc - needs to work together on this through an "honourable process". Raitt promised to do better.

There was also an interesting exchange on electoral reform, specifically PR, where someone referred to our having "a two-party system in a five-party country" (brilliant line). Raitt said that she was surprised by how many people in Halton are aware and informed about this issue - much more so than in other ridings.

And my favourite line of the day was from the woman who stood up and said, "I am a life-long Conservative, and I believe that Stephen Harper owes the Canadian people an apology".

I asked two questions: why is Jim Flaherty consulting with business groups and corporate leaders and bankers but not labour groups? (Raitt said she was pretty sure he would be at some point, and that she was meeting with labour leaders out west sometime soon), and what was up with the AECL strategic review? (The review is apparently done, but a lot depends on the results of the Ontario bid). That led to a few questions and comments about AECL and the nuclear industry in general, and Raitt said she thought it was very important to keep nuclear jobs in Ontario. Which didn't exactly address the whole public/private issue, but whatever.

After the meeting, I went over and said hi to Mike Cluett (stop twitching, Esther), and ran into D'Arcy Keene again over by the Tim's.

"I really wasn't trying to be rude when you came into the office that day - I was just... surprised."

"No worries", I said. "Just the usual paranoia." Ha ha. Don't make eye contact.

He chuckled. "I'm really not that scary, you know. I'm just tall."

Well, he' not that tall. I'm pretty sure my husband's taller.

But seriously, I'm just teasing him. I'm sure he's a very nice person and not scary at all. And really, he's a very natty dresser for someone who can't see his own reflection in a mirror.

(crossposted from HaltonWatch)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Oh, Iggy

A study in contrasts, courtesy of National Newswatch. There's this:

Obama camp 'prepared to talk to Hamas'

The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush's ­doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.

The move to open contacts with Hamas, which could be initiated through the US intelligence services, would represent a definitive break with the Bush ­presidency's ostracising of the group.

And then there's this:

Israel must be allowed to defend itself, says Ignatieff

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says Israel is justified in taking military action to defend itself against attacks by Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

"Canada has to support the right of a democratic country to defend itself," he told reporters in Halifax on Thursday after speaking to a forum of business leaders on the economy.

"Israel has been attacked from Gaza, not just last year, but for almost 10 years. They evacuated from Gaza so there is no occupation in Gaza."

"Hamas is a terrorist organization and Canada can't touch Hamas with a 10-foot pole,"
he said. "Hamas is to blame for organizing and instigating these rocket attacks and then for sheltering among civilian populations."


Just when I almost sort of start liking the guy, he opens his mouth about foreign policy. Again. Geh.

Gaza Miscellany

I was very relieved to see that the In Gaza blogger is ok and posting again. Lots of photos today, including several from a home across the street from the bombed school. Nine family members died there. They were making bread.

She also posted photos of the cemetery where they were burying victims of the school bombing. The cemetery is overflowing, and all that mark these shallow, hand-dug graves are small mounds of sand and a couple of cement blocks.


I was trying to get a handle on just how big the Gaza strip is, so I did a little Wiki research and discovered that the whole thing is only half the area of the City of Toronto and also about half the population - therefore, about the same population density.


There was a fascinating interview on CTV today with Omer Goldman. She is the 19 year-old daughter of a former Mossad deputy chief, and is one of thousands of young Israelis who refuse to serve in their country's military because of Israel's actions against the Palestinians.

In the interview, she speaks of a demonstration in which over 10,000 Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv in protest this week. The whole event was ignored by the media and protesters were derided, harassed and imprisoned by the government who just want them to shut up and go away.


And finally, Jimmy Carter (bless 'im) wrote a thoughtful and balanced piece on the situation, based not only on his long experience with the region during his presidency, but on his more recent involvement as an observer through his Carter Foundation.

Here, he tells his version of how the six-month ceasefire began and ended:

After about a month, the Egyptians and Hamas informed us that all military action by both sides and all rocket firing would stop on June 19, for a period of six months, and that humanitarian supplies would be restored to the normal level that had existed before Israel's withdrawal in 2005 (about 700 trucks daily).

We were unable to confirm this in Jerusalem because of Israel's unwillingness to admit to any negotiations with Hamas, but rocket firing was soon stopped and there was an increase in supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel. Yet the increase was to an average of about 20 percent of normal levels. And this fragile truce was partially broken on Nov. 4, when Israel launched an attack in Gaza to destroy a defensive tunnel being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza.

On another visit to Syria in mid-December, I made an effort for the impending six-month deadline to be extended. It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossings into Gaza. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted.

Did you get all that, Jason?

A Prayer for the Children of Gaza

For all the horror and the heartbreak I've watched and read coming out of Gaza over the past week and a half, I hadn't actually cried until I read this prayer by Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman of Kol HaNeshama, Jerusalem, which was shared with us by Montreal Simon this evening.

Simon says he isn't religious, and neither am I in any conventional way, but this really got to me.

A Jew's prayer for the children of Gaza

If there has ever been a time for prayer, this is that time.

If there has ever been a place forsaken, Gaza is that place.

Lord who is the creator of all children, hear our prayer this accursed day. God whom we call Blessed, turn your face to these, the children of Gaza, that they may know your blessings, and your shelter, that they may know light and warmth, where there is now only blackness and smoke, and a cold which cuts and clenches the skin.

Almighty who makes exceptions, which we call miracles, make an exception of the children of Gaza. Shield them from us and from their own. Spare them. Heal them. Let them stand in safety. Deliver them from hunger and horror and fury and grief. Deliver them from us, and from their own.

Restore to them their stolen childhoods, their birthright, which is a taste of heaven.

Remind us, O Lord, of the child Ishmael, who is the father of all the children of Gaza. How the child Ishmael was without water and left for dead in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba, so robbed of all hope, that his own mother could not bear to watch his life drain away.

Be that Lord, the God of our kinsman Ishmael, who heard his cry and sent His angel to comfort his mother Hagar.

Be that Lord, who was with Ishmael that day, and all the days after. Be that God, the All-Merciful, who opened Hagar's eyes that day, and showed her the well of water, that she could give the boy Ishmael to drink, and save his life.

Allah, whose name we call Elohim, who gives life, who knows the value and the fragility of every life, send these children your angels. Save them, the children of this place, Gaza the most beautiful, and Gaza the damned.

In this day, when the trepidation and rage and mourning that is called war, seizes our hearts and patches them in scars, we call to you, the Lord whose name is Peace:

Bless these children, and keep them from harm.

Turn Your face toward them, O Lord. Show them, as if for the first time, light and kindness, and overwhelming graciousness.

Look up at them, O Lord. Let them see your face.

And, as if for the first time, grant them peace.

While we're at it, let's spare a thought for In Gaza blogger Eva. She had been posting a couple of times a day, but it's now been a day and half since her last post. I know there are a million things that could be interfering with her ability to get online, but I can't help but be concerned.

Salaam alaykum.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I lost all patience with Jason Cherniak pretty early in my blogging career, and my decision to not join Liblogs was largely due to my unease at what I perceived to be his excessive partisanship and intolerance for dissent.

I'm feeling pretty good about that decision today.

LeDaro reported today that a previous post of his had appeared on Liblogs and then mysteriously disappeared. There is still no indication of whether that was a glitch or an intentional removal, but just before LeDaro made his first post, Jason Cherniak posted a statement of his own on Liblogs' front page:

Israel and Gaza

Liblogs is not affiliated with the Liberal Party of Canada. It is a non-profit organization without charitable status and we provide an advertising service to bloggers who identify themselves as Liberal Party supporters. We take no responsibility for what those bloggers write and only remove them for actions that go beyond reasonable discourse. Such decisions are made by a Board of Directors and I am only one vote out of five.

As President of Liblogs, I speak on behalf of the organization. While I will never force bloggers to adopt my view, I feel it is my responsibility to lay out the official position of Liblogs on the fighting in Israel and Gaza. Individual bloggers are free to disagree as long as they do so in a mature and civil manner.

He then proceeds to lay out what amounts to his personal opinions on the current situation in Gaza.

Now, I don't want to get too much of a discussion of censorship here. I suspect that the issue was not so much LeDaro's post as much as the graphic photos that accompanied it. If that is the case, and since Liblogs displays photos along with text in its previews, I can see that being a legitimate, if questionable, editorial decision. And it is true that several Libloggers have made posts even more critical of Israel's actions than LeDaro's that have not been deleted.

What concerns me more is Cherniak's use of Liblog's home page as his personal pulpit. While his previous statement asking for cool heads and civility on the issue was an appropriate one for him to make as Liblogs president, what he posted today was downright bizarre. "The official position of Liblogs on the fighting in Israel and Gaza"?! In what possible way is it appropriate for a blog aggregator to have an "official position" on such a contentious and ongoing situation - particularly when that position happens to be identical with the personal position of one member of that aggregator's board?

All of which makes me wonder - are the other Liblogs board members cool with this? Is Jeff, whose own opinions on the situation seem to differ somewhat from Jason's, on board with this new "official position"?

Like I said, I'm not a Liblog member and so none of this is really any of my business. But I know and respect people who are involved to one degree or another, so to them I would respectfully suggest that they have a little chat with Mr. Cherniak and recommend that he consider reviving his personal blog if he wishes to express his views on this or any other topic.

That's what blogs are for.

UPDATE: I asked Jeff Jedras about his feelings on this over at his place, and here is his response:

Jennifer, I believe Jason erred by saying "official position of Liblogs." Liblogs has no official position, other than keep it clean people. The opinion expressed in the admin note was his own. And I'd prefer admin notes be confined to administrative matters, as yesterday's note largely was. And we all, being Jason and the board, agree that a note at the top of the aggregate is not the best way to disseminate messages to the membership. We're working on coming up with a new method of posting such messages in the future that is less obtrusive, and more like a regular post that will fall down the page. And since Jason's current message has certaintly been disemenated by now, it should be offline this evening/early morning I would suspect.

And so it is. Fair enough. Thanks, Jeff.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The People Flaherty Isn't Listening To

Jim Flaherty has been a busy boy. Running all over the country, meeting, consulting, listening, getting input from all sides as to what stimulus measures he should put in his budget.

Well, some sides. Ok, one side.

So far, he's met with the CEOs of the big banks, the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation (aka "The Canadian Federation of Really Rich People"), and of course his 'economic panel' of top corporate movers and shakers.

Funny. I'm not seeing the word "labour" anywhere here. I'm not seeing the word "poverty" mentioned, either.

Happily, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - which, as the media has helpfully informed us, is a "left-wing think tank" - has come out with its own proposals for a stimulus package that focus more on jobs and strengthening the social safety net than anything being proposed by Flaherty's advisors.

The stimulus package, whose promised impact was validated by Informetrica Ltd. -- which has a macroeconomic computer model -- would boost GDP by three per cent and create 407,000 jobs, it said.

A breakdown of the proposed key investments includes:

- $12.4 billion to strengthen the employment insurance system so more out of work Canadians receive benefits, and to provide income support for low-income seniors, children and the working poor.

- $14.7 billion to strengthen municipal infrastructure and affordable housing, invest in child care, post-secondary education, and honour the First Nations Kelowna Accord scrapped by the Conservative government.

- $5.8 billion investment in "green infrastructure, training and education, and energy retrofits."

Most significantly, CCPA's proposal omits the one element almost guaranteed to figure prominently in Flaherty's budget.
The package does not include any broad-based tax cuts.

"Simply put, government-spending initiatives outlined in this plan provide far more job-creating stimulus than across-the-board tax cuts," said David MacDonald, an economist who co-ordinated preparation of the alternative federal budget.

"People who have jobs spend; people who lose (jobs) do not."

A few things need to be understood here. One is that, fundamentally, tax cuts cost just as much as government spending. 'Tax cut' sounds better in an election, but translated into personal terms it amounts to the difference between having a $500 rent increase and a $500 cut in your paycheque.

Another is something that Ali Velshi just pointed out on CNN, talking about the possibility of Obama bringing in tax cuts: that giving everyone, say, an extra $500 in their pockets doesn't really solve anything because if you are out of work or losing your house, it's not enough to help, whereas if you are doing ok then you won't really need it.

The third point is this: a lot of the stuff we buy here in Canada is made elsewhere. So a goodly chunk of the money spent at Wal-Mart or Loblaws or Canadian Tire, is just going to go to support the economies of the U.S., China and Mexico. And that's assuming that people would actually spend that money and not just sock it away in, say, one of Flaherty's not-really-tax-free savings accounts.

All of this would be perfectly obvious to Jim Flaherty if he were listening to those who speak for the low to moderate income Canadian workers (i.e. most of us) who are going to be hardest hit by this recession. Instead, he is choosing to consult only with those seeking to protect their profits and wealth. Who, incidentally, are the very people whose opinions on economics are pretty much identical to Flaherty's.

Welcome to the echo chamber.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year's Catch Up: Gaza

I've been taking a bit of a blogging break, partly because of the holidays, but also because I've been reluctant to weigh in on the situation in Gaza. Not that I don't have opinions - it just seems like too much of an effort to try to appear to be unbiased when I'm not feeling unbiased at all. But I suppose I can't avoid it forever.

Holiday's over.

To start, I would like to say how disappointed I was with Michael Ignatieff's statement on Gaza. To condemn only Hamas without even acknowledging Israel's culpability both before and during this current conflict was particularly spineless, even for Ignatieff. Sadly, this is exactly the sort of thing we've come to expect from him - it's just a shame that he's now making these sorts of evasive, apologist statements on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Not everyone is busy tap-dancing, however. Today, the BBC cuts through a lot of the bullshit with a surprisingly dispassionate analysis of the murky question of what is and is not being considered a legitimate military target in Gaza.

The bloodied children are clearly civilians; men killed as they launch rockets are undisputedly not. But what about the 40 or so young Hamas police recruits on parade who died in the first wave of Israel's bombing campaign in Gaza?

And weapons caches are clearly military sites – but what about the interior ministry, hit in a strike that killed two medical workers; or the money changer's office, destroyed last week injuring a boy living on the floor above?

As the death toll mounts in Gaza, the thorny question is arising of who and what can be considered a legitimate military target in a territory effectively governed by a group that many in the international community consider a terrorist organisation.

This is also the group that won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 and a year later consolidated its control by force.

...International law’s rules on keeping civilian casualties to a minimum are based on the distinction between "combatants" and "non-combatants".

As Israel launched the first air strikes, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "You - the citizens of Gaza - are not our enemies. Hamas, Jihad and the other terrorist organisations are your enemies, as they are our enemies."

But when an Israeli military spokesman also says things like "anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target," things get complicated.

The International Committee of the Red Cross - guardian of the Geneva Conventions on which international humanitarian law is based - defines a combatant as a person "directly engaged in hostilities".

But Israeli Defence Forces spokesman Benjamin Rutland told the BBC: "Our definition is that anyone who is involved with terrorism within Hamas is a valid target. This ranges from the strictly military institutions and includes the political institutions that provide the logistical funding and human resources for the terrorist arm."

And the money quote:

As Fred Abrahams, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch puts it: "Even if you have a legitimate target you can’t just drop 10-tonne bombs on it."


Meanwhile, the CBC is also showing a little spine. I just finished watching Suhana Meharchand call bullshit on Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Ofir Gendelman when he tried to claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. She quoted the heads of CARE and other NGOs who have said otherwise and asked if he was calling them liars. Nice.

So what do I think? I think that, ultimately, it doesn't matter what I think. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too complex and too intractable to be solved by a bunch of bloggers and pundits. I do think we need to speak up - loudly - when obvious violations of human rights and international law are being perpetrated by either side, but any long-term solution is ultimately up to the people of Israel and Palestine.

The only thing that gives me hope is remembering other seemingly insoluble conflicts in places like South Africa and Northern Ireland, that just seemed to end of their own accord one day after decades of violence and stalemate. Sure there were treaties and accords and ceasefires, but those had been made all along and broken dozens of times before without bringing a final end to the violence.

Looking back on it, it seems to me that two factors were key. One was simple weariness, as though the two sides simply tired of fighting one another and decided it was no longer worth the trouble. The other was the integration of former enemies - even those previously branded as 'terrorists' - into the government. The ANC, Sinn Fein, even the Parti Quebecois are examples of supposedly radical factions being elected to govern and, almost overnight, becoming peace-loving, moderate bureaucrats.

I believe this could have happened to Hamas after their election as the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority. However, the stubborn refusal of Israel and the United States to recognize that government and their subsequent transformation of Gaza into a virtual prison camp, has made that transition all but impossible.

People don't stop fighting because of treaties and accords. They stop fighting when they no longer have a reason to fight and, more importantly, when they have an investment in the peaceful governance of their own lives.

UPDATE: Big H/T to skdadl for introducing us to Eva, who is blogging direct from Gaza as she travels with medics caring and transporting the wounded and the dead.

Skdadl's right - stop reading all us armchair bloviators and go read In Gaza.