Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Republican Convention

Ah, the show must go on, mustn't it? The second 'big party' in the US Presidential election cycle kicked off today. More or less, this appears to be a 'coronate Bush' activity. It's not a vote per se - the decision's already made - delegates are present to nominate the incumbent president as their party's candidate for another four years.

Yesterday, I was browsing the Christan Science Monitor's website, and found this little article that was lauding Bush's four years of accomplishments in "uncertain times". I agree with the author in this regard - one has to look at the whole picture. From start to finish, of Bush's tenure in the White House.

What has he done for the country?

In the first 9 months of his Presidency, Bush turned inward. He tried to ignore the world, was rude, bordering on directly insulting to the leader of America's largest trading partner. Ignored the situation boiling over in Israel, and started invoking tax cuts that benefit the very wealthy. (Not an auspicious start)

After 9/11, things became much easier for Bush. 9/11 gave him the adversary that he needed in order to seem a credible leader. He could paint the faceless entity 'terrorism' as the smouldering evil that must be conquered. Not being a particularly subtle character, he launched a war in Afghanistan, followed a year or so later with invading Iraq.

In the meantime, he has presided over a period of history where the American economy has been sluggish at best (outside of domains related to defense spending).

The Republicans seem to trying to link 9/11 back to Iraq again, somehow thinking that this absolves Bush and his people of the taint left by the unsubstantiated allegations used to publicly justify invading Iraq. More recently, Bush has begun pounding the war drums over Iran. In Giulani's speech to the RNC, there's a subtle, oblique reference to intentions towards Iran:

But blaming these scapegoats does not improve the life of a single person in the Arab world.

It does not relieve the plight of even one woman in Iran.

It does not give a decent living to a single soul in Syria.

It doesn't stop the slaughter of African Christians in the Sudan.

The president understands that the changes necessary in the Middle East involve encouraging accountable, lawful, decent governments that can be role models and solve the problems of their own people.

Yikes! In a very subtle, oblique way, the process of justifying further wars in the Middle East has begun.

War is ugly, nasty and brutal. People die - those people are cousins, brothers, sisters, spouses. Someone, somewhere is left behind to deal with the ugly aftermath of those situations. In the 20th century, we went through two major wars, and a handful of smaller ones. Surely there are better ways to do things than engaging in what has euphemistically been called "regime change"?

Ask yourself - is the United States any safer for having invaded Afghanistan? Or Iraq? The shadowy world that organizations like al Qaeda work in relies on the kind of disruption that a major war creates in a region. Shadows need to be fought with shadows. Where conventional warfare creates shadows in its wake, order is needed to remove those shadows. For all of the bluster from Bush's administration, little or no apparent progress has been made towards dismantling the leadership of al Qaeda - which is what really needs to be done.

Of course, wars fought in the shadows are no where near as flashy as having the troops roll over top of a country.

At home, Bush has been no friend of any sort of real progress. The economy is still in the doldrums, in spite of the "stimulus" that tax cuts were supposed to provide. On social matters, he has hardly been a "compassionate conservative" as he claimed to be in the 2000 election. Instead, he has taken rigidly conservative stands on everything from equality rights to biological research. It's not a promising thing, especially when Bush has failed to act as a moderating influence on things like the Patriot Act and its descendents.

Looking beyond possible conspiracy theories, Bush's record in the White House is spectacularly uninspiring.

The article I referenced at the beginning tried to blame Clinton for the conditions that created Enron, and the 'Dot-Com Bubble'. On the other side of that coin, Clinton presided over economic growth, peaceful times, and generally improved the standing of the US in the world. He may have had the personal judgement of gnat, but he tried to do well by the US and the world. To blame Clinton for the crooked accounting that took place in Enron seems shallow and slightly ridiculous. Within the information known and available at the time, I fail to see how Clinton could have been aware of that malfeasance, much less taken steps to correct it.

To his overall credit, Clinton didn't invest the US in a major war of aggression - much less one that appears to have been predicated on falsehoods. Bush has, and it looks like it will be a very long time before the US will be able to extract itself from Iraq. (Much less go after Iran or anyone else)

A friend of mine sent me the following link: http://www.g2mil.com/Jul2004.htm


Monday, August 30, 2004

A reader's guide to the Patriot Act

In the days 9/11/2001, the US Government hurriedly passed a piece of legislation that has become popularly known as the 'Patriot Act'.

As a piece of legislation, it is quite disturbing to examine both for its implications and the utter lack of debate that it encountered as it moved through the three primary branches of the American Government. Where 9/11 redefined Bush's presidency, the Patriot Act, and its successor, 'Patriot II' set the tone of the current Republican-dominated government in the United States.

I have assembled a bunch of linkage about the Patriot Act itself, both official and editorial in nature:

An even more worrisome piece of legislation, dubbed 'Patriot II' was proposed shortly after the origianl Patriot Act was passed. The Patriot II act broadens governmental powers of search and siezure in the United States rather dramatically, and far beyond the already extensive powers taken under 'Patriot'.

Officially, Patriot II has never been presented to Congress. The leaked draft caused enough of an uproar in the public that it was quietly dropped. As the Slate article referenced above, pointed out, Ashcroft started crafting another bill dubbed 'Victory'. If you try to talk to any of the 'official' people, you'll find that Patriot II simply doesn't exist - or does it?

As a number of editorials I uncovered point out, the Bush Administration has been quietly adding parts of the Patriot II agenda to the legislative arsenal that US government agencies have at their disposal. It's been a small bill here, another amendment there approach - which in the US Congress and Senate seems to be how things get passed - riders that are totally unrelated to a 'funding bill' get attached and suddenly are part of the legislative body. It makes the legislation a complex, tangled web to follow at the best of times. (I almost feel sorry for US lawyers)

On examination, the Patriot Act(s) and their offspring are quite disturbing. They provide the government with wide ranging powers of search and seizure that are quite beyond the old tests that would have been needed for a judge to grant a search warrant. There are also aspects of the legislation that amount to a carte-blanche right to wiretap electronic communications such as e-mail and web browsing habits. Obliging librarians to report 'suspicious' book withdrawals is another worrisome thing, and rapidly begins to approach the Orwellian notion of 'ThoughtCrime' (See George Orwell's 1984).

I've noticed on several occasions little 'byline' articles describing a piece of legislation that had been signed into effect. Basically, it looks like under the 'fog' created by war in Iraq, and strategically placed terrorism alerts, laws that would otherwise cause quite a stir are being enacted. In any democracy, this is a very worrisome pattern, especially when many of the laws either grant new powers to law-enforcement agencies, or they begin restricting legitimate civil liberties.

As a Canadian, how do laws like the Patriot Act affect me? Not directly perhaps - unless I find myself living in the United States for some period of time. However, it was pointed out recently in this country that the Canadian subsidiary of Lockheed-Martin corp. was contracted to provide census systems to Statistics Canada. Commercially, that decision may have made a lot of sense. However, as people pointed out, under certain conditions of the Patriot Act, Lockheed Martin's US parent company could be compelled to turn over data that its Canadian subsidiary had on its servers. A potentially very worrisome notion if any legitimate census data were to be present on their servers. The indirect reach of the Patriot Act crosses international borders, and does so in ways that do not respect the sovereignty of foreign powers.

As an assault on civil rights that the American public, the Patriot Act and its offspring have implications that should worry citizens of all liberal democracies. While I can forgive the Patriot Act being a little overreaching as a knee-jerk reaction to the horrors of 9/11, Patriot II (or whatever form it has taken) is a much more coldly calculated bill, its intentions pointing towards giving unreasonable powers to law enforcement agencies without adequate counter-checks to ensure that those powers are not being abused.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ralph adds another nail to his own coffin

Seldom has a country to opportunity to watch a politician self-destruct as thoroughly as Alberta's Ralph Klein seems to be doing.

With a First Minister's conference on Health Care pending, Ralph decides that he's not going to participate after the first day.

Says Ralph: "there's no bloody votes down there". Further, he'd like to attend a speaking engagement in Lethbridge.

Wow - that's leadership for ya. We elect this clown to lead the province, and what does he do when there's actual governing needed? Runs for cover.

In the fall sitting of the Legislature, he conveniently was unavailable for the bulk of it. Granted, given the overwhelming majority that the Klein Tories hold, the legislature is something of a joke in Alberta, but for the Premier to absent himself for the bulk of a 3 week session is an inexcusable slap in the face to Albertans.

Now, what do we find? He knows damn good and well that with Dosanj sitting in the Minister of Health chair, and Paul Martin behind that, Ralph's pet project won't get much sway. This conference is an opportunity for Ralph to actually show that he is _in_fact_ the elder statesman of our provincial premiers - go there and show some actual leadership Ralph! Negotiate, don't just try to start your usual pissing match with the Federal Government. We (the voters) all know damn good and well that's about the most ineffective way to accomplish anything.

Earlier this week, Ralph proclaimed that he was going to consult with Albertans as to what government spending priorities should be in 'post-debt' Alberta. Sure - more like this is a cheezy little poll so that he can decide how to buy the next provincial election. I'm sorry Ralph, but anyone with half a brain in this province can see more than 10 options for how the government should be applying spending. It's not just a priority list. This 'consultation' is nothing more than an excuse for you to "justify" the next round of nastiness that you and your backers have in mind.

What do we have in this province? A dictator, and a worn out one at that. Ralph keeps trying to play populist cards, when he should have grown beyond that and actually be acting as the senior statesman among our premiers. Instead, we have a premier who runs and hides when he knows that he won't get his own way. (I think the people of Lethbridge might actually forgive you not showing at a speaking engagement if you are doing something productive - like being part of the solution to the problems that Health Care in this country is experiencing)

Along with a recent attempt at vote-buying with Alberta's seniors, Ralph's stance towards the First Minister's conference is deplorable. At best it is an attempt to raise an issue prior to an election - preferably one where he can squawk about the evils of the Federal Government, rather than actually have to be accountable for his own policies and activities in power.

Ask yourself if Klein is really transparent and accountable:

- The legislature sits for fewer days now than it did in the mid-1980s
- Klein thinks it is acceptable to absent himself from that legislature
- Has anyone actually benefitted from energy deregulation in this province? (I certainly haven't, nor has anyone I know)
- BSE emergency funding. Okay - $400 Million vanished into the pockets of the meat packers, and the program was "working as it was intended to" ????

Right now, Klein is setting himself up for another election. As voters in this province, it is vital that we recognize how tired and worn out the Klein tories are becoming. Where there should be leadership, there is only confrontation; where there should be clarity and accountability, we are rebuffed with the same schoolyard taunts that most people outgrow in grade school.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Cauldron Boil, Cauldron Bubble

The festering sore that is Iraq continues create waves - and serious ones that should not be ignored.

The focus right now is the battle over Najaf. Although the American-backed forces will no doubt prevail ultimately - by sheer force of numbers and raw firepower most likely, I don't think that Najaf will be the end of the troubles for "New Iraq".

First, although he is hinting that he will leave the Imam Ali mosque, al Sadr is also claiming that he will continue to fight the Americans.

Second, I don't think that al Sadr represents the only group vying for ultimate power in "New Iraq". The US forces have their hands full:

Oil Facilities Attacked
Abu Ghraib Scandal Not Finished Yet
Northern Iraq is Stable?

It isn't a pretty picture - but then, I didn't exactly think that post-Invasion Iraq was going to be stable. There are too many factors in that part of the world that conspire to ensure that a country like Iraq is going to be on the edge of social disaster at the best of times. Many of the countries over there are little more than loose coalitions of tribal societies. The persistence of tribalism alone makes much of the Arab world incomprehensibly fractured to the Western eye. We see "Iraq" as a nation. The near civil war in Iraq is starting to divide along old cultural and tribal lines - the Kurds, the Shia and whomever else may be feeling offended.

The American government has a huge task ahead of it. The instability in Iraq is contributing heavily to skyrocketing oil prices. If the situation in Iraq is not stabilized - fast - those prices could have a serious inflationary impact on most of the world's economy. When I bought a new car a couple of years ago, I suspected that gasoline was going to hover around $0.75/l. At $50/bbl, I'm beginning to think that was a low estimate and $1.00/l or more is not unreasonable.

I've already seen a number of things go up in price, simply based on the cost of transportation. I fully expect that trend to continue. The US "Consumer Price Index" isn't showing any substantial inflation - yet - but that index also omits gasoline, heating fuel and other key expenses that people have. The reality is that prices are going up, and that's going to freak a lot of people out.

If Bush's advisors are smart, they'll guide him in two key directions over the coming months. First, stabilize the situation in Iraq. Having that area on the edge of a civil war that would no doubt ultimately involve Iran and Saudi Arabia is a recipe for disaster at home and abroad. Second, focus on encouraging infrastructure upgrades and investment in the US. North American energy infrastructure desperately needs an overhaul from its pipelines to its electricity generation. That investment would not only create some short term gains in the economy - something that has been sadly lacking since GWB came to power - it would lay the foundation for future growth in the world's economies, not just North America.

Whether Bush's advisors have the requisite wisdom to see beyond their current pounding of the war drums, I do not know. I can only surmise that the silence over Iran the past week or so is a hint that they are beginning to clue in to just how far they have to go before its neighbor will be stable enough to allow the US military to divest itself somewhat. The current number of 250,000 troops on the ground in Iraq is probably inadequate to the job ahead of them.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Can the world take four more years of this???

I've speculated for a while that either Iran or Syria was next on the Bush administration's "hit list". Ever since Hussein's government in Baghdad fell, the US has been "warning" both Iran and Syria about various aspects of their behaviour.

Lately, the focus seems to have become Iran. This surprises me a little bit, as I think Iran will be a much tougher target to take down than Iraq was. The news lately has been filled with stories of Iran's "malfeasance" in the world community:

  1. They're developing nuclear arms capability.
  2. There might be links between Iran and 9/11. (Oh really?)
  3. Iran is helping North Korea test missiles.
  4. Iran is further developing their own weapons. (Duh? This is news to whom?)
And so the list goes on. Most of these are individual "so-what" items. In fact, I would almost go as far as to suggest that they wouldn't even appear in the news unless there was a political agenda being played up.

Then this little gem appeared on CNN this morning. I had wondered just where the US was going to find the additional troops to run another invasion. Here's the answer.

With Iraq on the verge of degenerating into civil war, it seems foolish for the US to be launching another war, yet Bush and his band of egomaniacs seem hell-bent on starting one. I had initially suspected that the sabre rattling in Iran's direction these past few months was more of an electioneering ploy than a statement of intent. However, with the US announcing a "major realignment" of troops I wonder. Only time will tell, but I'd put pretty good odds that a major fraction of those realigned troops will wind up in the Mediterranean or Middle East.

If one postulates that going after Iraq was a matter of securing an oil supply, it appears that much of Iran's oil reserves are concentrated along the Persian Gulf. If the US was to "annex" those lands, that might prove to be a controllable region. Much of it appears to be on the Gulf side of a major mountain range, which the US could use as a shield, once the lands were captured.

Unlike Iraq, Iran has not been restricted in its activities on the world stage these past ten years. Trade has flourished for them; the government has had much time to work on building up its military resources. Geographically, it is a very large country, which would make occupying it even more complex than Iraq has proven to be. (I would argue that the occupation of Iraq has hardly been a stellar success - various insurgent groups keep blowing things up, and generally making life difficult for the American forces) Occupying Iran would be orders of magnitude more complex.

If the Bush administration ( in particular the Pentagon advisors ) have their sight set on Iran, the world is truly in for a very nasty, messy period of time. Aggression towards Iran would solidify the Arab world against anything "Western", and likely would provoke various groups into carrying out far more direct attacks against "Western Interests", whether on US soil or not.

We can hope that the American voters, when they go to the polls this fall, choose to dispose of Bush Jr. I'm not sure I like Kerry any better really, but on the other hand, I'm not sure the world can take another four years of Bush and his simplistic, pugilistic style of government.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Nature Abhors a Vacuum . . .

A friend sent me to an article about Bush's policy on so-called "stem-cell research", and it took me most of last night to decide how to address the innate stupidity of the Bush rationale.

Stem cells are basically undifferentiated cells. They are the prototype for all of the specialized cell types in the body. Just what processes take place to transform one stem cell into brain tissue and another into a muscle, I have no idea. Clearly, science is slowly unravelling that mystery and finding some explanations.

The issue with research into stem cells is a complex, and ethically subtle one. From what I can tell, surveying 'web lit', the root of the issue is in the harvesting of the raw stem cells to begin with. Those that oppose 'embryonic stem cell research' (stem cell research for the purposes of this discussion) seem to take the position that life starts at conception. Since harvesting stem cells kills the fetus, you are essentially engaging in abortion which they consider immoral. There are some who have made some reasonably intelligible arguments on the subject - that is to say that they aren't just screaming in your face about how "wrong" it is. The whole issue of when and where to harvest stem cells from is much like the abortion discussion itself - the morality of it ultimately boils down to when you believe that life begins. That's a debate that will likely rage for the remainder of humanity's tenure upon this world.

However, I do take issue the following gem in the First Lady's comments:

"I hope that stem cell research will yield cures," the first lady told the Pennsylvania Medical Society. "But I know that embryonic stem cell research is very preliminary right now and the implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right and it's really not fair to people who are watching a loved one suffer with this disease."
Now, here's a piece of vapid logic if I've ever seen one. We're going to shut down a line of research because it isn't guaranteed to solve something. This is like clobbering a new cancer treatment because we don't _know_ that it will cure the disease. It might help the patient, or it might not. Telling the patient that there is a possibility of it working is not providing "false hope". It is called being honest. There are very few things in this world that have guarantees, research has less than most.

I'm not saying that research should run unbridled - as Dr. Mengele demonstrated in Nazi Germany, unwatched research can go horribly wrong. Research often has to tread in areas that were previously considered "forbidden". I would point out that Galileo trod right over the forbidden of his day - primarily by postulating that the Sun, not the Earth was the center point of the Solar System.

The issue is this - we know that stem cells have many significant biomedical applications, but harvesting them turns out to be a rather complex problem. It is the worst kind of blindness that causes government to simply ban a research endeavor because of the complexities of the issues. In all likelihood, there will never be consensus on the subject in the public forum. I think that as long as the processes do not involve coercion of a participant, and do not harm the woman who is acting as donor, the research world has done much to mitigate the problems already.

To blindly equate harvesting stem cells with abortion of a later term fetus is problematic to me. Basically, the argument then boils down to a purely emotional issue, and one that is likely unresolvable. Blind prohibitions merely drive things underground. Abortion in the pre 'Roe-v-Wade' era was very 'under the table', and very dangerous to the woman. Prohibition of Alchohol in the 1920's and 30's gave organized crime a huge source of income to fund other much nastier activities.

Those that oppose embryonic stem cell research need to ask themselves this: The genie's out of the bottle - around the world, there are people doing significant research. Western countries have been able to influence the application of many ethically difficult topics by being participants and leading the way. Can we afford to not be guiding lights in this arena?

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Sometimes, the obvious overrules dogma

On this morning's Calgary Sun, the headline reads "P3 Hospital Canned".

Now, I'm not essentially opposed to the notion of a P3 - there are certainly legitimate cases where the private sector can make and operate a building more efficiently than the government could.

Hospitals are something else. They are highly specialized buildings, built to precisely one purpose - caring for the sick. As buildings, they don't convert into other roles terribly easily. One only has to look at the Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary. Closed in the early 1990s, there were many suggestions for what to do with it - convert it into offices; make condos out of it; turn it into a homeless shelter. None of these has come to pass, in fact, the end result has been that the building has become host to a series of medical clinics.

The practical reality is that hospitals get built, and they get used as hospitals until the building is no longer viable. Period. Converting it to another purpose is at best a bad joke, or wishful thinking. I'm glad to see the CHR has woken up and realized that a private interest building the hospital won't work. A private interest wants to make money out of it - therefore, they are going to take shortcuts on implementation costs; the lease will be structured to ensure that they make a solid profit over and above the life cycle of the building. But what happens when toxic mold starts growing? When a flaw in the ventilation system propogates an airborne illness? Someone will bear that cost, and you can bet that any private interest isn't going to take that risk. They will likely plead poverty and try to get the government to pay for it - either way, we the taxpayer is on the hook.

This is a slap in the face to the dogma that the Klein government has been advocating. P3 's are no more an innovative solution than a sinking bond fund would be new. Both have their uses and validity. It is necessary that we recognize when it is reasonable for taxpayers to bear a cost, and when the private enterprise interests really do bring value to the table.

Blind adherence to an economic or political ideology is a good way to create situations that are doomed to failure.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Reasons for King Ralph to LEAVE

I've complained for a long time that the PC's (I refuse to accuse Klein's bunch of being "Progressive" - they aren't) in Alberta have been doing far too much of the government's business using "Order in Council" motions instead of the legislature where public debate can take place.

Finally, we are beginning to see other people catch on to this being problematic. Rick Bell has finally said - in print - the painfully obvious. The huge, overwhelming majority that Ralph Klein has enjoyed the last few elections has caused him to think of his hold on power as almost divine right. Long time observers of the Alberta legislature will have observed that the length of time the legislature sits has steadily declined under Ralph's watch (actually, I think it started dropping off under Don Getty's tenure). Then, to add insult to injury, the Premier wasn't even _IN_ the legislature for the bulk of the Fall, 2003 sitting.

If the legislature isn't sitting, and the government is 'taking action' that would ordinarily have to be debated in the legislature, then it's doing so as 'Order in Council'. This is about as undemocratic as you can get. Basically, the cabinet sits down and decides what to do, and issues orders to the bureaucracy based on that decision. There isn't even so much as a caucus debate with the back-bench MLAs. More or less, whoever happens to have the ear of the various cabinet ministers wins. *Aaaaargh!* I would point out that even while the legislature has been sitting, this government is doing a lot of business as "Order in Council" - a deeply disturbing thought to anyone who believes that the legislature is there to keep self-appointed monarchs from taking liberties they have no right to take.

With the recent release of the Auditor General's BSE investigation, we see yet another delightful whitewash inflicted upon us. "Oh, the program worked as designed" - that's an excuse??? That makes it "okay" that the bulk of the money wound up in the packer's hands? The public was told, unequivocally, that this was intended to help the _producers_, not the _packers_. Therefore, if the program worked "as it was designed to", there is a fundamental problem - the design was flawed, or we were lied to. (I'm banking on the latter).

Klein has been musing aloud that we will head to the polls in late November. It is past time to send a message to the provincial Conservatives - a message as loud and clear as Martin received this past federal election. In the absence of any truly compelling (as of yet) alternative that is ready to take the reins of power, it is time to send the PCs back with no more than a razor-thin minority. The current bunch in the Conservative party have lost sight of the people that put them in power. Taft's Liberals or Mason's NDP may not be ready to form a government today, but we, the electorate owe it to ourselves to groom an effective opposition party that will be ready to form the government. Democracy relies on alternatives to work effectively - Alberta's democracy is not working!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Attack of the leRant

I just read this column by Ezra Levant. Ordinarily, I'm not silly enough to read this man - like several other nameless columnists that publish in Alberta, he's basically a mouthpiece for a form of conservatism that irritates me.

However, Mr. Levant leaves so many things as half-stated truths, and implied insults to anyone who might choose to disagree with him that I can't just leave my hook unbaited.

Sayeth Mr. Lerant:

No party has a monopoly on patriotism -- though the Democrats' slavish respect for the UN does raise fair questions about where their sovereign loyalties lie. Democrats usually denounce patriotism as too arrogant, or too right-wing, or not nuanced enough.
I've never seen a US Democrat denounce patriotism. I have seen them express a great deal of frustration with the current Republican bunch in power, who seem hell-bent on imposing their idea of patriotism on the rest of the world. Americans as a whole a feverishly patriotic, no matter their political stripe. Mr. Levant's assumption that someone who disagrees with the current administration is "unpatriotic" is at best false logic, at worst pathetic.

Sayeth Mr. Lerant:

That is a challenge for the Dems, who have been anti-military since Vietnam. There is not one major military system that John Kerry didn't oppose while in the Senate, from missiles to bombers to infantry fighting vehicles -- the very tools that America now relies on today.
How does opposing wasteful spending make one "anti-military". You cannot assume any such thing. Perhaps Mr. Kerry has a different vision of what the role of the US Military should be. I would point out that those "tools that America now relies on today" haven't exactly helped them win the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Most of Iraq is hardly what one could call "safe", in fact it is a land on the verge of civil war, regardless of the presence of the Americans.

Mr. Lerant Chronicles Further:

And the party that would have surrendered to the Soviets now wants America to take it seriously on foreign affairs
Give me a break. During the Cold War era, there were numerous Democrat presidents. Not one of them "surrendered" to the Soviet Union. Oh yes, the enlightened wisdom of the Republicans - the same bunch of geniuses that have given the United States the laughable "Communications Decency Act"; Under both Reagan and Bush Jr., record deficits; the "Defense of Marriage Act", and most recently a proposal to amend the US Constitution against the imminent threat of Gay Marriages. How wise, really?

In the closing chapters of his Testament:

America, the only superpower, but more accurately the only grown-up country these days, cannot afford that luxury.
Canadians and liberals around the world can afford to despise America's strength, because we secretly know America will always protect us.
Really, Ezra, surely your lawyer's wit can do better than that? America "the only grown-up country"??? What are you smoking in your spare time? Leading up to invading Iraq, America sounded far more like a petulant teenager than a grown-up. Bush hasn't changed - he's still his narrow-minded self - busily trying to convince the world that he has changed.

Canadians and "liberals around the world" do not despise America's strength. Get your facts straight. We despise the overt use of that strength to achieve goals that have nothing to do with improving the world we live in. We despise being lied to by a bunch of politicians whose sole agenda is to start a war in another country. Above all, we despise people like you who sneer at those of us who would disagree with your pugilistic way of solving problems. I thought we got past that once we left grade school!


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Role of Canada WRT The US

I read a 'letter to the editor' in a local newspaper the other day that provoked some interesting thought. The letter was from an author somewhere in Texas who was busy looking down their nose at Canada. More or less implying that because of our relatively small size we were therefore insignificant on the World Stage, and in no position to criticize the United States.

I will agree with the author of that letter in one simple dimension - Canada is certainly in no position to enforce its will or beliefs where the United States is concerned. Although, one should remember that it was Canadian forces that ultimately attacked and burned down the White House during one of the colonial wars - so perhaps the smugness should be tempered somewhat.

However, I digress somewhat. The letter itself got me thinking about Canada's role on the world stage, and what form it should take. As a nation, we are relatively wealthy; we occupy the second largest land area on the globe; we possess significant resources. Our one single weakness is our relatively sparse population. At some 30 million citizens, there are individual states in the US that have more people than we do. If one views world affairs largely as a muscle flexing exercise, then Canada is clearly the 98 pound weakling on muscle beach.

However, as the world have proven time and again, international affairs are much more than just exercises in flexing flaccid muscles. As the US experiences in Vietnam, and now Iraq underscore, simply playing tough guy on the world stage doesn't get you very far. Canada has to be more subtle in its dealings with other nations. With our relatively small size, even under full war readiness, Canadians cannot put together an army of much more than a maximum of a million troops (and that only for a very short period of time). There are other ways that Canada can bring itself to bear - and often has. It would be false logic to assume that because Canada is not a "military power broker" that we do not have influence. In fact, our most significant influence in the world is predicated on that very lack of power to begin with - we are seen as honest brokers.

The United States is not seen as an "honest broker" for a variety of reasons. First, a 'six-shooter diplomacy' approach to the world simply doesn't convince anyone of the wholesomeness of intent. Second, a perpetual willful blindness towards Israel certainly doesn't buy any credibility in the Arab world. Third, US foreign policy since the Cuban Missile Crisis has been riddled with disasters - Vietnam, Cuba itself, much of Central and South America, Rwanda - the list is lengthy. In many of these, Canada has chosen not to stand on the same platform as its southern neighbor. Not out of hostility, nor out of a desire to antagonize. The reason is usually one of philosophy - Canada simply does not see things quite the same way.

Americans should look to Canada as a diplomatic conscience. Where the United States will often dive impetuously into conflict or other ill-considered activities, Canada is the nation that likes to 'think it through' first. (We have to - conflict bears a high human price, and our human resources are small) If Canada has misgivings about something, it is not a matter to be ignored, instead it is a matter for consideration and discussion. I think the events that have unfolded in Iraq these past couple of years stand in testament to Canada's stated reservations about that endeavor. The United States is no safer for having deposed Saddam Hussein, Iraq is on the edge of civil war, and the Middle East is now more polarized against "Western Culture" than it ever has been before.

When Canada expresses reservations about something, it's time for the American Government to sit up and take notice. Canada is, by nature, more introspective; more intuitive than the gestalt entity of the United States Government. Commonalities of history and geography make Canada the ideal foil for US foreign policy. I'm not saying that the US should follow Canada's lead, but rather that when Canada starts expressing reservations, the US needs to step back and re-evaluate its position. There is enough shared context between our two nations that significant differences of conclusion warrant careful consideration.

Canada is not the 51st State, nor should it ever be. We serve a far more valuable purpose in the world by being a sovereign nation. In the past, American presidents have used Canada as an intelligent foil to US foreign policy. Those presidents have presided over periods of relative peace in the world, and prosperity at home. (I would point out that GWB is presiding over a queasy economy, a world in turmoil (at his hand), spent credibility on the world stage, and a burgeoning budget deficit.)

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Mysogyny is Alive and Well

A friend just pointed me to this article about some enlightened tirade out of the Vatican. It took me a few minutes to read, and about an hour to calm down after I read it. I have long had my differences with that which passes for thought in the senior layers of the Vatican, but I have for the most part chosen to let it lie - until today.

A bit of digging on the Internet digs up the actual text on the Vatican website. It is, as I expected, a decidedly baroque piece of work. One which attempts to justify the position of the Roman Catholic Church in scriptural terms. Not being a theologian, I won't get into an analysis of the use of scripture here. Rather, I will take a lay person's stance, and point out much of what I take exception to.

First, the Church attempts to describe the notion of masculinity and femininity in scriptural terms. Given that most of the attributed authors of scripture were apparently men, I fail to see how any of them could describe a woman's experience in the world.

While these traits should be characteristic of every baptized person, women in fact live them with particular intensity and naturalness. In this way, women play a role of maximum importance in the Church's life by recalling these dispositions to all the baptized and contributing in a unique way to showing the true face of the Church, spouse of Christ and mother of believers.

In this perspective one understands how the reservation of priestly ordination solely to men22 does not hamper in any way women's access to the heart of Christian life. Women are called to be unique examples and witnesses for all Christians of how the Bride is to respond in love to the love of the Bridegroom.
I see the Church is continuing to play the role of 'pater familias' - in a Roman style family. I hate to point this out, but the Roman family structure no longer holds sway in the known world. (Or perhaps, there are still parts of the Vatican maps that say "Here be Dragons"?) The Cardinal continues to back up the blind notion that women should not be ordained as Priests in the Catholic Church.

Through the entire document, the author is very careful to appear to be giving "equal" hand to women, but in these two paragraphs, he snatches it away in one deft motion. No, if you believe this dogma, woman is supposed to be subservient to the will of the man.

"Separate but equal" arguments are inherently flawed. They are based on a notion of equality that is arbitrary and capricious. It strikes me that the Cardinal has yet to move beyond the notion of women anything other than bearers of the next generation. (no matter what the flowery language he chooses to bury the notion in) The argument goes to great length to extoll the virtues of the feminine, but then comes around to demanding that women take their seats - at the back of the room, thank you very much.

To look at Mary and imitate her does not mean, however, that the Church should adopt a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity. Nor does it condemn the Church to a dangerous vulnerability in a world where what count above all are domination and power.
Roughly translated, this boils down to one thing - the Church has yet to recognize that personality is not grounded in biological gender. There are women out there who are phenomenally masculine; there are men who are very feminine.

When the Church recognizes that all people have something to contribute, and not just in narrowly defined roles that someone extracts from two thousand year old texts, then it will be in a position to make useful commentary on these issues. In the meantime, the opening claim that the Church is "expert in humanity" is at best hubris, grounded in the arrogance that two thousand years of cloistering men apart from the company of women produces.

For the most part, Cardinal Ratzinger has merely produced a document that the more conservative elements in the Church will use to continue to propogate their narrow-minded, blinkered view of the world. It is time for the clergy of the Roman Catholic church to emerge from their cloister and learn about the world in which they live. This means taking wives, raising families, and living like the rest of us do. Then, and only then, will the Church's leadership be able to interpret scripture in a manner that is meaningful and productive.