Saturday, July 22, 2006

Technorati Profile

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Eye of the Beholder

Nothing exposes the cold reality of politics like a crisis. The current state of affairs in the Middle East is an example of this, par excellence. As of this evening, three Israeli soldiers have been taken prisoner in two separate operations by Palestinian militants and Hezbollah. The Hamas-led operation which captured Gilad Shalit resulted in the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the arrest of most of the Hamas government. The second operation by Hezbollah in which two Israeli soldiers were captured prompted a full scale attack on Lebanon, coupled with a complete blockade of the country in an effort to pressure the Lebanese government into securing their release. As always, the countries allied with each side launch diplomatic salvos to accompany the bombs and rockets.

The first person to weigh in on the matter was President Bush. “Israel has a right to defend herself,” he explained. “Every nation must defend herself against terrorist attacks and the killing of innocent life.” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood strongly by that statement, adding “I think Israel's response under the circumstances has been measured. The onus to end this escalation is on the other side, and I would urge them to return the prisoners.”

This type of outright support for Israeli military action is commonplace when it comes to the American government, without whose patronage Israel would not exist. It is a marked departure for Canadian foreign policy however, and this crisis has presented itself as Harper’s first international incident. That he is allying himself immediately with Bush comes as no surprise, but what is alarming about his comments is the simplistic terms he uses to describe the complex, decades-long conflict. “The other side”, happens to be two completely different societies, ethnically, culturally, and religiously. In fact, the only tangible thing they share is the wrath of the Israeli army and subsequent occupation.

To be fair, this crisis was provoked by the capture of Shalit. I will not refer to it as kidnapping, as he was taken by soldiers while sitting in an Israeli tank. However, as the media and western governments focus on his fate, no one mentions the thousands of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, many of them held without charge or on flimsy evidence. Israel’s decision to arrest the majority of the democratically elected government of Palestine nullifies any claim of the moral high ground, and smacks of Bush style “justice”. Also, the 1200 or so artillery shells which Israel lobbed into Gaza (the most densely populated area on earth) can hardly be described as “measured”. It is collective punishment on the civilian population, and the only Western governments to stand up and say so at this point have been France and Russia. As usual, America has promised to veto any Security Council resolution condemning Israel, ensuring that no real diplomatic trouble will hinder her assault.

At the end of the day, the message coming from leaders such as Bush and Harper boils down to this: Israel is never wrong. Israel is always a victim of her bloodthirsty neighbours. Israel does not want to occupy Muslim lands, raze people’s homes, and turn an entire nation into refugees. She is forced to do these things in the name of peace. If the price of recovering three soldiers is hundreds, or even thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilian lives, so be it. Israel is blameless.

In any conflict, there is more than enough guilt to go around. While Israel didn’t provoke the current situation, the claims of Israeli innocence go beyond disingenuousness, especially when they come from the mouths of North American leaders who often portray themselves as “honest brokers”. It would be refreshing to hear them admit that it takes two to tango.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

An Epiphany?

It is 12:13 am on April 4th 2006. The wind is finding its way through the tiny openings in my windows, whistling as it does so. Today was a blustery, wet day, unremarkable in every way save for one: I asked myself why I’m not doing what I love to do, and I had no answer.

The last woman in my life asked me what I would do if I could have any job. Before she had finished her question, I said “Foreign correspondent for the BBC.” She smiled at me and asked me why I wasn’t pursuing my dream. I don’t remember my exact response, but I’m fairly certain it had something to do with not being able to afford journalism school, being too old, and generally resigning myself to the idea that some people get to live their dream while others toil endlessly at jobs they hate, slowly filling their hearts with regret at what might have been had they taken a shot at what makes them happy. For the last three years I have subscribed to this way of thinking, and I can honestly say it has gotten me nowhere.

I am a 32 year old account manager for a media company. Simply put, I sell ad space on garbage cans. My life wasn’t always like this. I spent four years working and traveling in Asia during my twenties. At the time I had lots of money, friends, and the freedom to do pretty much whatever I wanted. I returned to Canada for a number of reasons, namely the feeling that I should settle down and start a real career, one which would fulfill me both intellectually and financially. However, since my return I have descended into an aimless, meager existence punctuated with bouts of poverty and humiliation. I have been forced to work thankless, filthy jobs for shifty employers who promise plenty but provide only emptiness. I have had women spurn me because I am chronically broke. Most of my friends don’t bother calling me to join their boozy nocturnal adventures anymore due to my track record of declining such invitations. I currently live on the edge of financial ruin, constantly worried that an unforeseen event might put me out of work, shattering the illusion that I can hold on until the next pay cheque, just as I’ve been doing now for months.

As of today, this will all change. No longer will I pound my head against the wall in a vain attempt to excel at something for which I have no talent or passion. There are three subjects in which I consider myself to be well versed: politics, road safety, and mountain biking. These topics may seem random and disconnected on the surface, but when coupled with a talent for writing, the opportunities begin to reveal themselves.

Since the average person works to the age of 65, I figure I have roughly 30 years to pursue a career, make money, and try to make a difference in the world. Currently, my existence does not affect the world in any way. If I were to die tomorrow, my friends and family would mourn my passing, my sparse possessions would be distributed amongst them, and I would be replaced by my employer. There would be no legacy, no lasting impression on the world to prove I ever existed.

I have no ambition to immortalize myself or become famous. I would be quite content to be remembered for making a notable contribution to the world in the pursuit of the truth. My curiosity, creativity, and passion for politics are calling me to enter the world of journalism. I have felt this calling before, but the fear of failure resulted in a litany of excuses as to why I couldn’t or shouldn’t. I’m not sure what has changed since then, but failure is no longer scary. Indeed, I don’t see any reason why I should fail. If I enjoy it and work hard, it will happen.

Tomorrow is the day when my plan goes into action. Local papers will know I exist, the journalists I know will receive queries on how to get that first freelance piece published. I will pull out every story and opinion piece I’ve ever written, clean them up, and publish them on my blog. It’s time to start acting like a writer.

Due Process, Please

The recent announcement by Canadian security officials regarding a case of “homegrown” terrorism in the GTA has badly shaken this country. Until now, terrorism has been viewed by most Canadians as an abstract phenomena, undeniably real yet always at arm’s length. The prevailing attitude until this week seemed to be one of ambivalence and denial, aware of the existence of terrorism but comforted by the idea that terrorists have no reason to attack us. The arrest of 17 men last weekend on charges of plotting terrorist attacks against targets in Toronto and Ottawa has shattered that mind-set. Canada now has the dubious honour of joining the ranks of nations that have been singled out for spectacular acts of violence by terrorists. It won’t be long before the plaintive question is put forth, “Why do they hate us?”

But before we decide to tighten the borders, ramp up our spy agencies, and treat everyone from a Middle Eastern country as a potential suicide bomber, I believe that a few facts should be observed. For starters, this is not the first time these kinds of accusations have been leveled by CSIS and the RCMP. Recall three years ago when 19 men of south Asian descent were arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack against the nuclear power plant in Pickering. The evidence, according to police, was damning. One of them was enrolled in flight school and had flown over the plant, another had $40,000 in a savings account despite being unemployed, and several others had been spotted attempting to walk along the beach adjacent to the plant. The authorities painted a vivid picture of these men plotting to wreak havoc on the GTA, complete with a mushroom cloud. Whatever happened to these men? There was no trial, because eventually it became evident that they were not the bloodthirsty killers CSIS thought they were. They were quietly released, and left to try and rebuild their shattered reputations.

Secondly, the tactics being employed by Canadian authorities in the current case seem to be more an effort in stoking fear than enforcing the law. The spectacle of these men being brought to the courthouse under heavy guard with snipers on the roof is vaguely reminiscent of the notorious scene of Saddam Hussein’s statue being pulled down from a Baghdad square. Exactly whom do the police expect to attack the courthouse? If they’ve been monitoring these men for months, they would have a good idea whether or not there are additional terrorists out there with the capability to launch an attack within 48 hours of their co-conspirators being arrested, would they not? Also, the number of times the term “Al-Qaeda inspired” has passed the lips of security officials is suspect. Are they linked with Al-Qaeda or not? If so, why not just tell us? If not, what is the reason for the tenuous link? The fact that they were noticed months ago by CSIS and ultimately tried to purchase three tons of ammonium nitrate from undercover agents doesn’t exactly speak to their prowess in clandestine activities. They appear to be sub-par as far as terrorists go, something for which Al-Qaeda is not known for.

Lastly, this appears to come at a very convenient time for Prime Minister Harper. He is presently facing mounting questions over his decision to extend Canada’s mission to Afghanistan, and an event such as this could be held up as a shining example of what happens when countries such as Canada are “soft on terror”. Due to the deluge of media coverage focused on sensational remarks made by prosecutors regarding beheading the Prime Minister and blowing up Parliament, uncomfortable questions about Canada’s reasons for the Afghan mission are bound to be lost in the fray. Indeed, Mr. Harper’s comments today on the subject reflect the easily digestible jingoistic sound bytes of U.S. president George W. Bush. “Canada is a target because of our freedoms, the way we live, and our values.” These disingenuous remarks do a huge disservice to our country. Just days before the arrests, CSIS deputy director Jack Hooper told a Senate committee, "We had a high threat profile before Afghanistan. In any event, the presence of Canadians and Canadian Forces there has elevated that threat somewhat." This rare admission by a Western intelligence officer that the presence of foreign troops in Muslim lands contributes to terrorism got very little media coverage, and needs to be discussed further. If we know that our foreign policy is inviting disaster, why is there no debate about it?

It will be very interesting to learn the details as this case goes to trial. Perhaps this is the wakeup call Canada needs to understand that by participating in the occupation of a foreign country we run a larger risk than just dead soldiers. “Bringing the fight to the enemy” goes both ways.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wading Confidently Into a Quagmire

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today that Canada would be extending its mission in Afghanistan by two years in order to complete the mission of bringing stability and democracy to the Afghan people. He challenged the opposition to put a stop to his plan, even going so far as to claim that he would take Canada back to the polls in order to secure a mandate on the issue. The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have announced their displeasure over the idea, and the Liberals were cautious in their response. Most of the criticism had to do with the number of dead soldiers returning to Canada, as it was announced today that another Canadian soldier had been killed, bringing the total to 18.

However, an important aspect of this issue has so far been completely ignored by both politicians and the media. What does Canada get out of this mission? We went in with the rest of NATO as we were treaty-bound to do. An attack on a NATO member is tantamount to an attack on the alliance itself, so we were precluded from reacting any other way in the wake of September 11th. However, following the downfall of the Taliban and America’s speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan in order to prepare for the invasion of Iraq, nations who had no formal quarrel with Afghanistan were left holding the bag. Instead of peacekeeping and overseeing reconstruction efforts, our soldiers are now facing Taliban and Al-Qaeda on their home turf, frequently in areas sympathetic to their cause.

Prime Minister Harper’s ideas regarding seeing the mission through to its conclusion are understandable, but this mission has no exit strategy at present. The Taliban were a loathsome regime, but governing isn’t what they had originally set out to do. What they excel at is fighting in the rugged terrain of Central Asia, dragging the conflict on for years if necessary. This is what our troops can expect to encounter each day they spend in Afghanistan. Are we ready to see the kind of casualties America is suffering in Iraq? Are we prepared to be demonized and denounced by Islamists who will undoubtedly compare us to the Americans and British as imperialist crusaders? Are we willing to experience a terrorist attack on the scale of the London or Madrid bombings in a Canadian city?

These questions are not easy to answer. As Canadians, we like to think of ourselves as peacekeepers and responsible global citizens. But let us not deceive ourselves regarding the true nature of the situation in Afghanistan. There is no peace to keep. Our troops are actively hunting the enemy, killing them, and being killed. We have placed an offensive force on foreign soil, Muslim soil. This is exactly the kind of thing Bin Laden and his allies warn the West not to do. The countries which fail to heed such warnings are invariably the ones that become targets of terrorism, as Robert Kaplan explains in his book “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”.

History has proven Afghanistan to be a graveyard of invading armies. Although times have changed and America proved air power to be extremely effective against a dug-in enemy, this war is by no means over and the Taliban has openly proclaimed the beginning of a summer offensive against Afghan and NATO forces. The Canadian government would be wise to carefully weigh the pros and cons of an extended stay in Afghanistan, lest the name of a Canadian city become synonymous with another terrorist atrocity.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Am I the only person who is baffled by the prominence of Keith Richard’s Fijian antics in the media? I realize that celebrities make for profitable subjects in today’s increasingly sensationalized publications, but the idea that a geriatric rocker falling out of a coconut tree taking precedence over real news has put a burr under my saddle.

Let’s put this into perspective, shall we? At present, we have a simmering standoff between Iran and the U.S. over nuclear power, ever tightening restrictions from the West on aid to the Palestinian government, and a fresh outbreak of violence in Sri Lanka. But what keeps popping up on the sidebars of every news site I visit? “Keith Richards to undergo surgery”. “Stones guitarist OK.” “Richards may miss out on Pirates of the Caribbean role”.

Am I missing something? Sure, I empathize with the guy, as I don’t wish harm upon anyone, especially while on vacation. Coincidentally, I’ve been to Fiji and have had the misfortune of dealing with a head injury while traveling there. I fully understand Keith’s decision to head to New Zealand for treatment, as the facilities I encountered there could best be described as primitive. What annoys me about this whole ordeal is the lack of context in which the media portrays it. Richards is the quintessential rocker: talented, inarticulate, prone to excess, and unbelievably rich. Considering his history, is it really surprising that such misfortune should visit him? From what I’ve seen, he’s not in danger of dying or suffering from any long lasting effects. Perhaps his tree climbing days are over, but most people over the age of 50 come to terms with this fact long before him.

I can see the tabloids being all over this story, but when large publications such as the BBC and CNN throw in their two cents, I am forced to call them on it. I’m sure there are more important stories out there that could be told. Now please, someone tell them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Martin?

It has become evident that the past 5 years have seemed to spawn a new kind of North American politician. Paul Martin was dubbed “Mr. Dithers” by the Economist back in February for his spectacular inability to show leadership of any sort. George W. Bush has received far less flattering handles, too numerous to mention. The interesting aspect of both leaders is that their abject failures at governance are overshadowed by their canny ability to campaign. In these days of mass media and constant news coverage, it seems that the will to lead the country is sapped by the Herculean effort at attaining and maintaining power.

The current election campaign is a prime example. Anyone who has seen Paul Martin speak since the last election is painfully aware of his shortcomings as a persuasive, charismatic leader. His speeches are rarely interesting, and he spends more time looking at his notes than he does facing the audience, a problem which also bedevils his American counterpart. Neither can hold a torch to Trudeau or Clinton, both of whom gave the impression that their words came not from memory, but straight from the heart. However, both Martin and Bush make up for their respective lack of public speaking talent with the ability to capitalize on an opportunity. During the 2004 Presidential election, Bush seized upon John Kerry’s inability to clearly define his position on an array of issues, most importantly the war in Iraq. It took the focus away from the fact that John Kerry was a “war hero” and Bush was just shy of being a deserting draft dodger. Bush, with the ample help of Karl Rove, campaigned brilliantly, and then proceeded to lead America to its lowest point of the past century. Bush had Kerry, and Martin has, well, the Americans.

Since Bush came to office, America-bashing has become quite vogue here in Canada, a fact not lost on Martin. After a rather slow start in the campaign which saw Stephen Harper take the initiative and set the tone, the Martin camp has been struggling to present a viable reason to stay in office apart from the usual boogey-man rhetoric spewed about the Conservatives. This week, Martin’s saviour waded into the fray in the unlikely form of U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, wagging his finger and warning Martin to lay off the Bush-baiting. It was the best thing that could have happened to Martin, as it simultaneously inspired anti-American feelings amongst the Canadian public and effectively silenced Stephen Harper, a staunch American supporter. Wilkins’ warning of a “slippery slope” of sinking relations between the two countries only served to embolden Martin, who promptly shot back. “I’m sure that many of you have heard the comments yesterday from the American Ambassador – a man for who I have a great deal of respect. But that does not change one vital fact: when it comes to defending Canadian values, when it comes to standing up for Canadian interests, I’m going to call it like I see it.”

This tough-guy rhetoric is obviously campaign bluster, but it works. Martin’s “Mr. Dithers” has suddenly been replaced by a confident, feisty leader of all things, who will no doubt sink back into obscurity when the Liberals win a second minority government. This is the new politician of North America: campaign savvy, calculating, and quick to recognize a political opportunity, but when it comes to actually running the country, he prefers to sit in his ivory tower and repeatedly tell his citizens that everything is just great. I’d suggest fixing the problem by calling an election, but that doesn’t seem to work these days.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Chickens Coming Home to Roost?

How much worse could it possibly get for George Bush? With Libby’s indictment and Rove under investigation, his poll numbers are sinking and there seems to be no bottom. His visit to the Free Trade Summit in Argentina sparked riots and gave his greatest Latin American rival a perfect venue to hurl accusations at him, baiting him for a very public fight. Bush declined to respond, knowing better than to be pulled into a war of words with Hugo Chavez on his own turf. However, during photo opportunities Bush had the look of a man besieged.

The scandal back in Washington over the leak of a covert CIA agent’s name has followed Bush to Mar Del Plata, as he faced questions over Rove’s future. He sidestepped them, citing the ongoing investigation. Bush was probably hoping to come away from the summit with some kind of an agreement, at least in principle. If so, he must be disappointed at the result. Not only was FTAA stopped dead in its tracks, his meeting with President Kirchner of Argentina was reportedly curt and unproductive, denying him any measure of progress whatsoever.

Added to all of this, allegations of CIA-run “black sites” have aroused the suspicion of the UN and EU, both of whom have begun investigating whether or not such secret prisons exist in Poland and Romania, as reports suggest. The questions have not yet been put directly to Bush, but the media has become bolder as of late as the administration hunkers down in an effort to weather the multiple storms it is faced with.

Now, Dick Cheney is lobbying Republican senators in an effort to make CIA employees exempt from John McCain’s ant-torture bill. The administration is tacitly stating that it supports the use of torture, which is banned under international law, and gives one pause on the matter of whether or not American agents are currently practicing torture in any of the far-flung foreign prisons currently run by the CIA and the Defense Department. These are not usually the talking points of an administration trying to turn its PR situation around.

Of all Bush’s troubles, the case of Libby’s perjury and obstruction of justice charges is the most worrying. Because the leaking of Plame’s name has been tied to the case for war in Iraq, Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald’s investigation will inevitably drag up the statements made by Bush and other officials regarding WMD’s and Saddam Hussein, something the President would rather not revisit. The next few months should be very interesting.

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