Thursday, August 31, 2006

Layton Goes Beyond Kennedy

Jack Layton calls for pullout in February:
NDP Leader Jack Layton says Canada should pull its troops out of Afghanistan by February...

It has no clear goals, no exit strategy and no criteria to judge success, he said at a news conference Thursday.

"This is not the right mission for Canada," he said. "There is no balance. In particular, it lacks a comprehensive rebuilding plan and commensurate development assistance."

The focus in Afghanistan has changed from reconstruction to open war and Canada should have no part of it, he said.

"Stephen Harper wants to take Canada in the wrong direction."

The timing of Layton's new position is curious. You could speculate Layton is trying to outflank the Liberals from the left. While Kennedy demands a re-focus, Layton advocates a immediate withdrawal- period. February seems somewhat unrealistic, given our commitments and the logistics involved. Layton's call could well provide some cover for Kennedy's position, in that his view now looks relatively benign. The suggestion of an eventual pullout, predicated on conditions, is far different from declaring the mission lost and immediately leaving. I tend to see Kennedy's view as prudent, while Layton seems to allow for the "cut and run" criticism. Layton's new position smells of grandstanding and political gamesmanship (i'm shocked!), but it is useful in that it changes the tone of the debate.


It looks as if Canadian forces are planning a Fallujah like offensive in Afghanistan. Telling villagers to evacuate translates into big munitions, razed towns and widespread destruction.

Spinning Our Wheels

Defence Minister O'Connor admits we have made no progress to date in Afghanistan:
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor says he wants to send more money and equipment to help Canada's mission in southern Afghanistan, acknowledging that the security situation hasn't improved since Canadian troops arrived there in force earlier this year...

He also acknowledged that the security situation hasn't improved in Kandahar since his previous visit in March. Canada took responsibility for securing the volatile province earlier this year, but local officials say a rising insurgency has crippled Kandahar in the months since the handover.

"Since I was last here in March, there has been an increase in tempo of conflict in this area," Mr. O'Connor said...

"I can't say that things are better at the moment in the security sense, but they're certainly under control."

O'Connor also admits that NATO must do more to better equip the Afghan army, so that they can defend themselves. This admission might serve as the first possible hint of an exit strategy- it also lends credence to the quagmire argument.

The fact that the Defence Minister, a primary defender of the war, acknowledges the stalemate gives weight to those who suggest we need to re-think our mission. What is the point in spinning our wheels, while people continually die? There is an element of changing gears in O'Connor's statements which makes the criticisms of the mission all the more well founded. It would seem everyone is coming to terms with the fact that the mission isn't accomplishing its goal, despite the massive commitment of the international community. Interesting, that the Kennedy position might turn out to be "ahead of the curve" as we move forward. Naive or astute?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ignatieff Gets It

You can't expect to find a candidate that absolutely agrees with you on every issue. In a practical world, all you can realistically demand of leadership is honest and frank discussion, the ability to admit mistakes, and a sense that there is a moral coherence to the message. Even when you vehemently disagree with a position, you can find some acceptance if the thought process attaches some concrete values. Case in point, Ignatieff and his support for the war in Iraq. While Ignatieff finds similarity with the neocon position, he gets there for entirely different reasons, and frankly his intentions are somewhat admirable:
What I say is, they have to understand what I saw in Iraq in 1992. I have been a human rights reporter and you get scorched by what you see. I saw what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds in 1992 and I decided there and then that I would stand with these people no matter what happens. And I've done so ever since.

I've paid the price but I see no point in pretending otherwise. I did believe at the time, because Saddam had invaded Kuwait and Iran at the cost of 1 million lives, that he was both a human disaster and a strategic menace. I believed that in 2003, I still believe it.

The Americans have made every mistake in Iraq, and then some. I don't have any trouble admitting I grievously underestimated the American capacity to do this right. I've made lots of mistakes in my life and I'm sure I'm going to make more. What I won't do is walk back from very fundamental human rights commitments that I've made ...

I take Ignatieff at his word, that he was "scorched" by the atrocities he witnessed. The Ignatieff view of Iraq isn't guided by oil or power, but a dedication to human rights. Within this context, his support for the war isn't completely without merit. You can question his judgment, because this war seemed so terribly flawed from the onset, but I don't think it fair to throw Ignatieff in with the Bush bunch that used human rights and repression as an afterthought to sell the war.

On Afghanistan, Ignatieff's position isn't as far removed from Kennedy as first blush would suggest. Ignatieff doesn't articulate the blind logic that Harper argues and you do sense a pragmatic approach with these comments:
The Taliban offensive will probably run out of gas as the winter season comes. These things are seasonal. One benchmark of success is if we don't get a resumption next spring. If it comes back gangbusters in April '07, we do have a problem. The second benchmark is just intelligence co-operation. Are villagers helping us? Our moral legitimacy depends on us believing we are their friends and the Taliban their enemies. If we start to lose intelligence co-operation and help, that's a pretty good benchmark that something has gone badly wrong in our relationship...

Then there's some reconstruction benchmarks that are important. Part of my benchmark for evaluating Harper is whether he's got the reconstruction, humanitarian and military pillars of this in balance. If this becomes exclusively a counter-terrorism exercise, that's not what the Canadians wanted and that's not what the Liberal mission implied.

Ignatieff argues for "balance", which isn't terribly removed from Kennedy's call for changing our emphasis to make the mission work. Ignatieff also acknowledges the critical points which will reveal our success or failure, employing a "wait and see" mentality, as opposed to simple stubbornnesss and dedication for a lost exercise. I get the sense that Ignatieff's view isn't written in stone, the mission isn't open-ended and we will adjust accordingly. Ignatieff seems to recognize the fluid nature of this exercise.

Honesty is refreshing, Ignatieff seems to offer this in spades. On pure policy Ignatieff isn't my first choice, but that doesn't diminish my sense that the man gets it. Superficial similarities don't support "Harper-lite", because these men are light years apart on the paths they travel to get to the end result- if they do join, or mirror, it is more coincidence than evidence of kindred souls.


Apparently, Scott Brison disagrees, in what looks to be a desperate attempt to get some press for a failed campaign. Brison makes Conservatives grin, clearly time to cull the herd.

The Big Picture

Jason Cherniak has a rather unflattering assessment of Gerard Kennedy on his blog. Fair game to criticize the various candidates, although you have to question the objectivity from such a highly partisan opinion. In other words, did we really expect anything but an attempt to takedown Kennedy, given Jason's close ties to the Dion campaign?

Freedom of speech aside, I think it important for Liberals to take a "big picture" approach to this leadership race, particularly ones who constantly remind us of their high profile. Personally, I think all the top tier candidates have great appeal and are assets to the party. With that sentiment in mind, it is critical that who ever wins emerges in the best possible light to fight the real foe. The emphasis should be on the positive, or at the least legitimate discussion surrounding the policy positions. It isn't helpful to attack someone, simply as a function of trying to help your guy. Criticism is one thing, transparent attempts to influence opinion is quite another. I read Cherniak as a clear case of the latter.

I realize I argue a fine point, and it does open up the possibility of being called a hypocrite if I write anything but positive fluff entries (which I won't). However, I guess my concern is more one of perception on this particular kind of criticism. Something about this post smells bad, it reeks of old school politics that nobody finds attractive. Hyper-partisanship runs counter to credibility in my mind, it's just simple propaganda. I have written positive pieces on Kennedy, Ignatieff, Rae, Dion and Dryden and I hope this affords me some latitude when I do decide to take a shot at someone (like Kennedy's lack of policy positions, which has since been addressed). I have read several bloggers who openly support someone (Cerberus and Calgary Grit come to mind), yet they are still, on occasion, able to argue with some perspective beyond their immediate preference. I think Jason better serves the party he lives and breaths if he takes a big picture approach and sees the campaign as a discussion amongst friends, rather than a "we must prevail" mentality. I also think people are more inclined to accept your criticisms as legitimate if they are presented without the constant stench of self-interest. Two cents.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Quebec PORK

This announcement should fuel the argument that Quebec gets special treatment from the federal government:
The federal government will provide $110 million to help celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City in 2008.

Ottawa will provide $40 million for festivities to mark the occasion and $70 million for various infrastructure projects, Heritage Minister Beverly Oda and Francophonie Minister Josee Verner announced Monday...

The Quebec government is also providing $40 million for the festivities, while Quebec City is contributing $10 million.

Don't get me wrong, there is some importance tied to this milestone. However, $110 million seems like a ridiculous expenditure and a disporportionate share for the federal government. Why is Ottawa picking up 69% of the tab? This announcement, particularly the "infastructure" portion, smacks of pork barrel politics meant to appease, rather than genuine reasoning. I don't think the federal government, with all the pressing needs of the country, can afford to waste this huge sum on a birthday bash. Apparently, political considerations take precedent over practical use of public money.

The Anti-War Candidate?

The Toronto Star had another piece relating to Gerard Kennedy's stance on Afghanistan. I also caught Kennedy on CTV news- it would appear he is ready to make the war a cornerstone of his campaign. Some valid points:
Without a focus on development, the war can't be won, he said, adding that Canada has spent $4 billion on its military mission and $100 million on aid to Afghanistan — "a ratio that doesn't work."...

"Somebody has to pull the plug on this grand illusion that is not working," Kennedy told a meeting of Young Liberals at Ryerson University...

"Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper is making the same mistakes the Bush administration made in Iraq and it will lead to long-term failure."

Kennedy doesn't come right out and demand withdrawal, but he makes it clear that the mission needs a radical re-focus to be successful. The analogy between Bush in Iraq and Harper in Afghanistan is accurate, in the sense that Harper shows the same stubborness and "stay the course" mentality that has doomed the Americans. Harper is also guilty of lifting Bush adminstration rhetoric verbatum, as well as employing the same tactics to squash dissent.

Reality suggests the situation on the ground is fluid, so it isn't reasonable to fall back on the original commitment and remain firm. Even the military has admitted the resistence has been far stiffer than initially thought. This fact alone suggests that the environment of the original vote is outdated and our view must show some pragmatism. Kennedy's strong stance will invariably be dismissed by the government as typical "liberal" softness, but I find his position an astute reading of the landscape. The question becomes, is leadership really about unyielding resolve, or having the power to admit mistakes and react accordingly? History will show that the main failing of the Bush administration on Iraq was it's inability to adapt to a moving target. Harper demonstrates the same tendencies, in some warped sense that blind dedication is a sign of strength. Kennedy seems to recognize that spinning our wheels isn't progress, nor does it provide the leadership required.

I think it an open question as to whether we have made any progress whatsoever to date. To admit this predicament is risky because it implies that the sacrifices are in vain, which nobody welcomes. Unfortunately, judging by the various reports of coalition countries, the situation in Afghanistan is actually deterioriating on several fronts. We need to ask ourselves if what we are doing is the best use of our resources. Then the question avoids the "abandoning" argument, and focuses more correctly on strategy. Kennedy, as I read his various comments, isn't advocating "cut and run", because this exercise is more than just military- or at least it should be. I see his position as a mature, logical way to approach a mission that is showing clear flaws and looks more like a quagmire with each day. Canada's Howard Dean without the scream?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Afghanistan Fatigue?

Reading about the latest incident in Afghanistan (not the mortar attack last night, the one this morning- it gets confusing), I was thinking just how commonplace these headlines have become. Everyday, its either a firefight, a suicide bomber, a civilian casualty, a body boarded or taken off a plane, or a funeral. I read today's piece and didn't even flinch, abnormal has become the norm. Just a couple months ago the incident would have seemed extraordinary, now these events generate less discussion. Have we already become somewhat desensitized and fatigued?

You see this predicament on full display with American coverage of Iraq. A couple soldiers dead barely gets a mention on a ticker, nevermind any real coverage. Only the spectacular generates debate, as though a certain threshold of carnage is now required to perk curiosity and re-hash the same arguments. I would suggest that Canada is now in the early stage of this syndrome, which is dangerous indeed.

Adaptability if one of the great human traits, new realities are quickly absorbed and we make the mental adjustments to re-constitute the world. In so doing, our initial outrage is tempered by acceptance. With Afghanistan, who is now surprised to hear today's news? Relatively, you think- well no one died today, it could have been worse. The struggle is to maintain the same sensibilities we had during the initial part of this mission. I don't want to become complacent, or play the numbers game. It's not just me, you see it in the media coverage, the ranking in the bylines, the number of blog posts, the editorials. Canada is getting used to war and developing a skin.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Children Respond To Harper's Childcare Strategy

Children are incredibly perceptive.

Liberal Leadership: "A Dud"

I read a Sun Media "editorial" today that categorizes the Liberal leadership as a fruitless exercise, fought amongst uninspiring "duds":
The convention is already shaping up to be a dud.

Party members appear doubtful any of the candidates can win the leadership and then go on and beat Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in the next election. Why else would so few be willing to pony up any serious money for the contenders campaign chests...

What's most revealing is the absence of Liberal heavyweights from this race. They've obviously decided to wait on the sidelines until they have a legitimate chance of beating their opponents.

They apparently understand, as do a multitude of Liberal supporters, that there's no point betting money on a lame horse.

The thesis, that fundraising numbers support the "dud" argument fails to acknowledge the new rules for contributions. Does anyone really believe that coffers wouldn't be full if candidates could solicite money the old way? You can't compare apples and oranges and extrapolate a real gauge of interest.

Maybe the author of this editorial is locked inside some Conservative bunker, because any objective reading of the polls suggests a grand opportunity for the Liberals to re-take power. Despite the fact the Liberals are without a leader and Harper essentially has the stage alone, it would appear we are exactly where we were on election night. It is actually amazing that the Liberal brand hasn't deteriorated, and the Conservatives flourished, despite the adverse conditions- this is cause for great optimism in my mind.

For all intent and purposes, the leadership race is just starting. Did anyone really expect the public to be riveted for months on end? Candidates are just now putting flesh to bone, the debate is gaining some clarity and the calendar is kind. I am saving this editorial, so I can re-read it the last week in November and have myself a good chuckle, as the race reaches crescendo.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Kennedy: "Losing Strategy" in Afghanistan

Kennedy sure isn't timid:
Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy is calling for Canada to insist NATO drastically change its strategy in Afghanistan to a major economic reconstruction program or pull out its troops.

Staking out his position on an issue that has become a dividing line in the Liberal leadership race, Mr. Kennedy argued that Canadian troops are now fighting with a "losing strategy" adopted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and it should force changes or pull out.

Kennedy's argument echoes Bob Rae's assertion that our mission lacks a balance between military and economic expenditures. Rae:
We have about 2,000 troops fighting on the ground in Kandahar, at a rough cost of half to three quarters of a billion dollars a year. By contrast, we have about half a dozen civilian Government of Canada officials doing much needed development and reconstruction work, and we spend about $100 million a year on aid to

The lack of balance goes beyond Canada. Since 2001 western donors have provided Afghanistan with on average U.S. $2.5 billion per year in aid. Yet it has been estimated that the US and NATO countries combined are spending U.S. $15-18 billion per year on military operations in Afghanistan.

Adopting the phrase "losing strategy" will surely open Kennedy up to criticism as the Conservatives will counter with the kneejerk "support the troops" or "cut and run" arguments. However, I appreciate Kennedy's frankness and think it an accurate assessment of what is happening. If the goal is to win hearts and minds, a predominately military exercise is bound to fail, as history will attest. Whatever our military expenditure, it must be matched with reconstruction efforts because this represents something tangible for Afghans to latch onto and subsequently shun the Taliban.

The closeness of the Rae and Kennedy argument gives the position added weight, and could become Liberal policy heading into the next election. I think Canadians would endorse a re-thinking, without outright abandonment. We can debate for eternity whether the Liberals originally endorsed this type of mission (or better this emphasis on military at the expense of reconstruction), but I think it clear that Canadians didn't initially appreciate what we were getting into. This reality allows for a fresh debate now that the focus is there. The position of Kennedy finds support in the numbers and shows a pragmatism that Harper clearly lacks.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Kennedy Offers Bold Proposal

My only gripe with the Kennedy campaign has been their failure to address the criticism that he is light on policy. Today, Kennedy too a big stride with an impressive and, frankly, bold initiative on female equality. The highlights:

-A commitment of 0.7 per cent of GDP to childcare and early learning programs in Canada by 2012. In Canada, the share of GDP devoted to total public expenditures on formal daycare and pre-primary education is 0.3 per cent compared to the OECD average of 0.7 per cent. Denmark spends 2.7 per cent of GDP, which is considered one reason it ranks among the top-three OECD countries with the highest female workforce participation rates...

-Review the tax rate that is charged on second-earners relative to single earners in Canada, thereby discouraging female labour force participation. Canada ranks near the top of all OECD countries with one of the highest disincentives to two-income couples. The ratio of tax rates between a second earner and a single earner is 1.4 in Canada compared to an average of 1.2 across the OECD. We will look at reducing this disparity in marginal tax rates or eliminating it entirely...

-Promotion of apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades to women to achieve greater participation: According to 2001 data from Statistics Canada, men accounted for 91 per cent of total registrations in formal apprenticeship programs.

Kennedy's plan on childcare goes well beyond the previous Liberal government's commitment. Kennedy's commitment offers an even more striking descrepancy with the Conservatives plan, which would make for an interesting election debate. It's a bold plan, with considerable money required, but it demonstrates Kennedy's commitment to a progressive agenda.

Eliminating the flaws in the tax code that put two income families at a disadvantage should help close the gender gap and create a more equitable environment. Encouraging female participation in traditional male dominated trades (which are high paying jobs) also moves the agenda forward, toward an eventual goal of real equality.

Planting a flag on the progressive landscape beyond the easy platitudes. This type of policy paper is exactly what Kennedy needs to do to demonstrate he has a vision for the country. I'm impressed with today's release because it sets the bar high and demonstrates a real, concrete, commitment that compliments the rhetoric. Good stuff.

Big Tent

The middle east has proven to be a sore spot for the Liberals, in attempting to craft a cohesive message. I don't find it particularly alarming that the Liberal Party mirrors the divisive opinions found in the general public. When you have a party that prides itself on being inclusive and embraces the "big tent" approach, this reality presupposes a certain amount of friction. While it may be important to present a united face publicly, it is also unrealistic to expect the goosestep from diverse members.

What is important in moving forward, is that various "interest groups" aren't allowed to bully their position, at the expense of other factions within the party. Jewish Liberals have become increasingly vocal in demanding that the party adopt their perspective. However, the Liberal Party can't be an extension of the Jewish lobby because it effectively alienates other constituencies that are equally important. An inclusive party must draw on various opinions, especially in a circumstance where both sides can claim validity. You can't expect a party to completely adopt a perspective that doesn't have universal appeal. Official party policy must reflect some emotional detachment from an issue that allows for a rational approach.

I would argue that the recent policy purity that has been demanded undermines the premise of free speech and a robust discussion of ideas. In my mind, the Lebanese question is incredibly complicated and doesn't lend itself to simple black and white propositions. It is an open question on how to proceed diplomatically, and it may involve some decisions that aren't endorsed by all subsets of the Liberal Party. Offering to negotiate with Hezbollah doesn't necessarily translate into a lack of support for Israel, but it may simply reflect a simple reading of a permanent reality. Purging people and demanding resignations from those who express this sentiment is a dangerous precedent that shows no recognition of the complexities moving forward, nor does it embrace the idea of a big tent. Everyone who like the party to completely reflect their opinions, however a party that adopts narrow points of view is destined for marginalization. The Liberal Party is "messy" and it really shouldn't be any other way. People shouldn't feel threatened if they express a view that isn't endorsed by everyone.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The People Jason Kenney "Welcomes"

And you thought Hezbollah was bad. A few highlights, from a long, long list:

-The Mojahedin are known to have assassinated the following Americans in Iran during the 1970s:
Lt. Colonel Lewis L. Hawkins Killed: June 2, 1973
Air Force Colonel Paul Schaeffer Killed: May 21, 1975
Air Force Lt. Colonel Jack Turner Killed: May 21, 1975
Donald G. Smith, Rockwell International Killed: August 28, 1976
Robert R. Krongrad, Rockwell International Killed: August 28, 1976
William C. Cottrell, Rockwell International Killed: August 28, 1976

-For example, the Mojahedin sent a telegram to Khomeini expressing allegiance to the Ayatollah's policy of "rooting out the aggressive, American imperialism of the traitorous Shah." The telegram closed with the following declaration: "(We are) awaiting the definitive command of the Imam (Khomeini) for uprooting all the imperialist and Zionist foundations.

-The Mojahedin initiated a wave of bombings and assassinations against the Khomeini regime that reverberates today. The most spectacular attack occurred June 28, 1981, when two bombs ripped apart the headquarters of the Islamic Republic party (IRP, the party of the clerics), killing 74 members of the regime's top leadership, including the IRP's leader, Ayatollah Beheshti, 14 ministers, and 27 Majles deputies. On August 30, the Mojahedin reportedly bombed a meeting of the regime's National Security Council, Killing the new president, Alt Raja'i, and his new prime Minister, Mohammad Javad Bahonar.

-At that time of the Gulf War, the Iraqi Kurds also claimed the Mojahedin had assisted the Iraqi army in its suppression of the Kurds, "a claim-substantiated by refugees who fled near the Iranian border." The leader of the patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, told reporters that "5,000 Iranian Mojahedin joined Saddam's forces in the battle for Kirkuk."

-On October 12, 1992, the Mojahedin claimed credit for bomb explosions (two out of three planted went off) at Khomeini's tomb, a site 10 miles south of Tehran visited daily by thousands of Iranians.

-In June 1995, the Mojahedin claimed responsibility for bombing oil refineries and other sites in southern and Western Iran... A number of these self-described operations included attacks against clearly civilian targets, such as automobiles, highways, government buildings open to the public, businesses. and private homes. As a March 1994 broadcast claimed: "The exploding of bombs ... took place on the various streets and districts (throughout Iran)."

-On June 17,1992, Rajavi and a Mojahedin delegation visited Saddam. In his statement, Rajavi said, "Iranian national movements and their masses strongly denounce the Iranian regime's alliance with U.S imperialism, world Zionism, and regional reactionaries to launch aggression against Iraq,

-The most spectacular incidents took place April 5, 1992, when in a wave of coordinated attacks members of the Mojahedin stormed Iranian diplomatic missions in New York City, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Australia. "In New York, "according to press reports, "five men armed with knives invaded the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, took three hostages, smashed furniture and computers and spray-painted slogans on walls in a two-hour rampage behind chained doors.... In Ottawa, Iran's Embassy was attacked and pillaged by about 55 people armed with sticks and hammers.

Interesting that the group uses the term "resistence" to justify their tactics. Propaganda, aimed at gaining western government support, has apparently been quite successful. Jason Kenney seems supportive.

Complete Incompetence

Who is in charge of releasing fundraising numbers for the Liberal Party? I've read several different articles today that show different totals for the various candidates:

The National Post has the headline "Ignatieff, Rae camps pull in the most cash: Front-runners raise twice as much as closest rival":
Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff have raised more than twice as much as their closest rival in the Liberal leadership race, Gerard Kennedy, new details of financial donations revealed yesterday.

The information confirms the status of the two former university roommates as the apparent front-runners in the race for the leadership...

The success of the Rae camp, however, confirms the former Ontario NDP leader's success in winning over supporters in his bid to lead a party he joined only recently, and the organizational ability of his campaign.

The Globe and Mail, "Rae, Ignatieff have big financial edge":
Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff have the best-financed Liberal leadership campaigns, but several others had yet to raise enough by the end of July to pay the deposit to enter the race, according to figures released by the Liberal Party yesterday...
But even candidates such as Montreal MP Stéphane Dion, now considered by many to be in a top tier of four, had barely covered the $50,000 deposit he paid to enter the race, raising only $66,370 by the end of July.

The CBC has completely different numbers that put an entirely different spin on things:
Many candidates released their own, more up-to-date tallies of their donations later Wednesday. According to their figures:

Bob Rae had donations of $478,750 by the end of July and loans of $275,000.
Michael Ignatieff had raised $373,922 to July 31, with loans of $125,000.
Gerard Kennedy had raised $361,503 up to Aug. 12, with loans of $200,000.
Joe Volpe had raised $340,000 up to July 31, with no loans.
Scott Brison had raised $230,000 up to Aug. 22, with loans of $200,000.
Stephane Dion had raised $155,000 up to Aug. 22, with loans of $530,000.
Carolyn Bennett had raised $77,350 up to Aug. 22, with a loan of $35,000.

Take the CBC numbers and the headline should read, "Rae, Ignatieff and Kennedy Lead Fundraising". All candidates should have a gripe about the way these numbers were released. You can't take back headlines, or commentary, that influence momentum. Someone reading their morning paper would be under the impression that Dion can barely pay off his deposit- is he really a top-tier choice? Kennedy's numbers are extremely impressive, yet the stories make it out to be a "two-way" race.

This disaster doesn't really matter to the attentive, but the casual observer has been given the wrong impression and we all know appearance is king. This confusion is unacceptable, especially given the criticism the last time numbers were released. What the hell are the true numbers anyways? Embarrassing incompetence.

A Bcer In Toronto plays with the numbers to show an entirely different spin in terms of who really has momentum.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Some Good News

You know when your cruising around, reading various articles, you can't help but get discouraged by all the negativity that surrounds us. Pieces like this help counter the bleak landscape:
Exhibition Place closer to becoming energy self-sufficient. The largest solar photovoltaic installation in Canada was unveiled yesterday on the rooftop of the Horse Palace, joining a solar revolution that already has similar, smaller panels being installed on homes across Toronto every week.

"It's a win, win, win situation," said Councillor Pam McConnell, representing the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. "Everyone wins. With this project we save energy, the environment and our money."

Exhibition Place plans to be energy self-sufficient by 2010. Annually, the 536 solar panels, which cost $1.1-million, will save more than $10,000 in hydro costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 115 tonnes (equivalent to carbon dioxide absorption of almost 1,600 trees), and generate roughly 120,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough to power up to 35 homes...

Interest among Ontario residents is also rising. The Canadian Solar Industries Association estimates as many as 200 residential solar systems have been installed in the province since March in anticipation of the Ontario Standard Offer Program, which offers electricity generated by solar panels for 42 cents a kwh.

A small step, but a good sign indeed. The apocalypse is hereby delayed for another 5 minutes.

Israeli Government Gets It Wrong

In my mind, one thing is clear in the aftermath of the latest conflict- the only way to counter extremism and instability is too deal with the underlying causes. Instead, Israel is hardening its stance and effectively providing more fuel for radical points of view, at the expense of moderation:
The Israeli government's plan to dismantle some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and redraw the country's borders is being shelved at least temporarily, a casualty of the war in Lebanon, government officials said.

The plan, which propelled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to victory in March elections and was warmly endorsed by President Bush as a way of solving Israel's conflict with the Palestinians, is no longer a top priority, Olmert told his ministers last weekend, according to one of his advisers...

"I think that it is clear to everyone that the unilateral disengagement is a mistake," said Eli Yishai, minister of industry, trade and labor in Olmert's cabinet. "It's wrong to give up land unilaterally. It's clear to everyone that now it's canceled."

Not to split hairs, but withdrawal really means returning occupied land, not "giving up land" as Yishai attempts to argue. I have always viewed Israel's "unilateral" policies as flawed, in that it doesn't engage the Palestinians directly, but arbitrarily decides it own terms in a patriarchal manner that lacks respect. That criticism aside, Israel now appears poised to assure further agitation by abandoning withdrawal plans. What message does this send to Palestinians? Doesn't this policy play into the hands of Hamas? Tangible proof that Israel intends to occupy Palestinian land forever, which translates into the need for "resistance".

Now is the time to speed up withdrawal, remove some of the irritants that fester the wound. Instead, we see a hardening of positions that sends the wrong message and undermines the moderate Arab voice that argues for peaceful dialogue. I don't understand how the Israeli government doesn't see the longterm impact of its policies. Maybe it is time for the international community to demand a seat at the table and "unilaterally" decide on its own what is required to stop this endless cycle that effectively holds the world hostage. Neither side can be trusted to act in the best interest of the region, we need a detached voice to dictate the terms once and for all. The state of the world supersedes the state of Israel, everyone has a stake in the outcome, it's time we acted accordingly.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Negotiating With Hezbollah

First off, I actually saw the tape from Lebanon where the MP's made the controversial remarks. Peggy Nash was holding a tiny shoe she found in the rubble, while Borys Wrzesnewskyj looked deeply shaken by the carnage he had seen. Every reporter I have heard, who has witnessed the devastation first-hand, is completely dumbfounded by the scale and scope. Once you put the context in place, the statements made seem less alarming than a simple reading would suggest. Wrzesnewskyj made his comment about "state-sponsored" and I immediately thought to myself, "that will be trouble", but I could understand it because you could sense the backdrop that produced such a flippant remark. Standing in the middle of a completely bombed out area, after touring the death and misery all day, might cause someone to make comments that cooler heads might otherwise resist. If these MP's hadn't clarified their comments later, then the maelstorm of criticism would carry more real weight in my eyes.

The people who argue that we should have no contact with Hezbollah deny practical truth. If you accept the premise that Lebanon can't be liquidated from the map, then this admission brings tough choices. The reality is clear, Hezbollah is so woven into Lebanese society that it can't be isolated from the "state". Hezbollah is also more influential than ever in the post-war period, which demands some dialogue if you actually hope to reach the Lebanese people. Hezbollah won't disappear, the Lebanese people won't stop viewing their actions as "resistance" and Israel will never have security unless we engage.

Should Canada have Hezbollah on its list of terrorist organizations? Unequivocally yes, however Canada should also attempt to see if there are incentives that could eventually lead to removing the political wing from the list. If Hezbollah were to recognize Israel, denounce all "terrorist" activities, much in the same way the PLO did, then that represents progress and has the effect of increasing Israeli security.

The simple fact remains, the world has already negotiated with Hezbollah behind the scenes to achieve the ceasefire. The Americans have had secret talks with insurgent groups in Iraq (who have bombed and killed their own soldiers). NATO is apparently negotiating with the hated Taliban to see if some will lay down their arms. We don't have high-profile summits, but we sure as shit have some dialogue. Nasarallah has a reputation for being "reasonable", this suggests there may be room for movement with the right stick and carrot approach. Simple refusal ignores the situation and has the ironic effect of actually endangering Israel further.

If someone in the mid-80's would have suggested that Yasser Arafat would shake the hand of a Jew, win the Nobel Peace Prize, recognize Israel and visit America, they would have been institutionalized. Maybe a dialogue with Hezbollah is a useless enterprise, but what is really lost by trying? Give the "moderate" fringe in Hezbollah something to latch on too that has the potential to change minds (it does happen). We need to adopt an evolutional approach, wherein small steps could actually lead to significant change. The alternative is do nothing, ignore the "terrorists", while Lebanon suffers and we wait for the next conflict.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pissing Off Alberta

Ignatieff has released his environmental policy, with the cornerstone idea being a revenue neutral system that rewards the environmentally conscious and punishes fossil fuel use. Gerard Kennedy offers the obvious criticism:
Gerard Kennedy, one of Ignatieff's rivals, called the platform "divisive" because it would hit some parts of the country -namely Alberta - harder than others.

In the past, Liberal leadership contenders have criticized bumping up taxes on regular gas as too reminiscent of the Liberal-era National Energy Program, which enraged Alberta and consigned the Liberals to electoral purgatory there.

"It's going to put a crimp into some of the investments flowing into the West related to the oil industry which is shared right across the country," Kennedy said Monday.

"What we need to do is create a consensus on how we're going to deal with Kyoto."

I actually asked Ignatieff a pointed question on this policy- pointing out that Alberta has more emissions than Ontario despite a quarter of the population, which translates into an asymmetry with regard to burden. I told him that Albertans would react angrily, and may not get past the "tax" issue to see any merit in his proposals. Ignatieff's response was that he felt he was doing what needed to be done, period.

Kennedy's concerns are valid, but "dealing with Kyoto" inevitably means dealing with Alberta through sheer logic. If Canada has any expectations of reducing emissions then it has to deal with the elephant in the room. Do we try to save the environment, or do we pander to appease the polluters?(the Harper agenda). Klein keeps spouting off about "clean coal" and environmentally friendly technology, so taken at his word, there would appear to be viable solutions available in the future that could offset oilpatch emissions. Ignatieff would be wise to use Klein's own salespitch against him.

Kennedy is correct to use the term "divisive" because Ignatieff's approach will only add fuel for narrow points of view in Alberta. The question then becomes, how do you deal with emissions without "hurting" Alberta? Offering incentives for efficiency is a great idea, but I also agree that the moron in North York, riding around in his Hummer should compensate the rest of us for his excessive behavior. Ignatieff told me that his ideas were spawned through consultation with Canadian environmental heavyweights, with the greatest expertise on solutions.

Kennedy is right, but so too is Ignatieff. The trick will be showing the merits and getting past kneejerk reactions. Canada's future may well hang in the balance. Moral imperative or political expediency?

Meeting Michael Ignatieff

This past weekend, I had the chance to meet Michael Ignatieff at a small gathering of local Liberals. A combination of a stump speech and one on one discussions, it provided an excellent forum to get a handle on Ignatieff's views. It was also interesting to watch how the man carried himself, to see if all the "frontrunner" hype was justified. In trying to decide who to support for the leadership, Ignatieff wasn't really even on my radar, but after this meeting my list has grown.

Ignatieff was extremely impressive. Eloquent to the point of inspirational, Ignatieff commands the room with ease. All the criticisms surrounding citizenship are misguided, because one thing is clear- Ignatieff is passionate and genuine in his love for this country. Ignatieff's view of federalism is cohesive and speaks to a vibrant, healthy union that reaches beyond the "me" mentality that tends to dominate the discussions. I have no doubt, Ignatieff would be a forceful voice for federalism.

One of the great things about a leadership convention, the various candidates are constantly in discussion with the grassroots throughout the country. This condition has obviously benefited Ignatieff, because you can really sense that he is in touch with average Canadians. Ignatieff doesn't appear as the aloof professor, with the lofty mannerisms, but someone who has his pulse on Canadian concerns. There is a practicality to Ignatieff's message that I hadn't heard in past interviews. Clearly, the leadership process has borne fruit in re-connecting the elites to the grassroots.

I was particularly impressed with Ignatieff's emphasis on the environment. When he spoke about the issue, Ignatieff displayed genuine concern and offered a bold vision. Despite some of the criticism Ignatieff has received, he remains committed to a tax and incentive combination to move forward (the carrot and the stick). I had the chance to ask him how if his environmental ideas might serve as a divisive force, particularly in the oil patch. Ignatieff was unapologetic, saying there was a way to make it work that didn't disportionately hurt certain segments of Canada. Ignatieff spoke of meeting with the petroleum sector in Alberta to gauge their concerns and it was obvious that a great deal of consultation had gone into forming his policy.

In general, even on some of the issues where I disagree with Ignatieff, I still had to respect his conviction and his own sense of self. This is me, these are my views and I don't apologize. Consistency speaks to integrity. Ignatieff's opinions seem decidedly apolitical, spoken from the heart as opposed to focus group tested. I went to this event simply out of curiousity, I came out more confused than ever on who to support. One thing is clear, if Ignatieff does win the leadership, all Liberals can take comfort in the fact that this man has the potential to tear Stephen Harper to shreds.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


I just watched a political roundtable on ABC's "This Week". Among the guests discussing Iraq was middle east affairs expert Reuel Gerecht. Gerecht had an audience with George Bush earlier in the week to discuss the situation in Iraq. When asked about his meeting with the President, Gerecht made the following statement (paraphrasing):
"The President asked alot of questions about the Shia population and seemed quite interested to know how they operate."

I found it absolutely astounding that 3 1/2 years into the war and Bush needs to brush up on his Shia. How can someone make critical decisions without an intimate understanding of the landscape? What an embarrassing admission of inexcusable ignorance, on a subject that has dominated this administration. Is it any wonder that the Bush administration has failed to recognize all the warning signs of civil war?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Kennedy's Weakspot

Yesterday, I wrote a somewhat critical take on Kennedy and his failure to deliver comprehensive policy positions. A comment raised this valid point:

I think you should look at how much policy other campaigns have produced, before citing a lack of policy from Kennedy. They are all about the same (or even less than Kennedy

It might be unfair to expect more from Kennedy at this stage, but I think he is in a unique position within the “top-tier” candidates. There is the blank slate aspect to Kennedy that is attractive, but it also demands that he distinguish himself more than the others. The criticism of “too inexperienced” has to be met with detail, to show that you can play with the big boys. Particularly on foreign policy and federalism, it is imperative that Kennedy articulate his vision, beyond the easy platitudes. Kennedy needs to deliver a series of meaty policy speeches, to demonstrate his prowess and deflect any detractors who wonder if he is up for the job.

Kennedy doesn’t enjoy the benefit of a long paper trail like Ignatieff, which effectively balances the “newcomer” tag. Rae has a long resume of distinguished work, while Dion is well known on the international stage. These candidates can afford to offer less for now, because their track record is established. Kennedy doesn’t enjoy this “status”, so to be taken seriously he really needs to flood us with policy, and inventive stuff at that.

Kennedy has something to prove, that is the perception that is quickly gelling. The early hype around Kennedy set the bar high and the media seems to want confirmation that he is the real deal (see Chantal Hebert for example), or he risks falling behind. While Kennedy has an impressive provincial record, this doesn’t hold much weight on the federal scene.

The key for the Kennedy campaign now is recognizing their weak points and addressing them forcefully. It’s time for boring policy to take precedence over shaking hands, the conditions demand it. Anyways, that’s my friendly advice.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

France Doesn't Deliver

Despite the fact that the French played a pivotal role in carving out the ceasefire agreement, they fail to deliver when it counts:
France has rebuffed U.N. pleas to make a major contribution to a peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, setting back international efforts to send a credible military force to the region to police a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, according to U.N. and French officials.

French President Jacques Chirac instead committed Thursday to send a relatively small military engineering company of 200 soldiers to serve...

France did little to dampen expectations that it would play a far more ambitious peacekeeping role as it joined the United States in fashioning agreement on a resolution authorizing the force...

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, held out hope that France would reconsider. "I'm not sure France has made up its mind," Gillerman said in an interview. "There were a lot of expectations the French would actually lead this thing and a lot of countries are waiting to see what France does."

It was entirely logical to think the French would play a large role in stabilizing southern Lebanon. Afterall, they acted like a superpower in negotiations and looked poised to be a responsible mediator. Chirac's refusal to send a robust force gives the impression that France is nothing more than a paper tiger, unwilling to take any practical risks. Other countries looked to France for leadership, and now they essentially fail the region. Sending a paultry engineering company tells the world that France doesn't merit the status it so often demands.

France has received alot of kudos for standing up to American bullying. However, this fact doesn't detract from my belief that France is almost always mostly bluster, that would rather talk for eternity, instead of achieving any real results. France's latest decision to drop the ball in Lebanon serves as another example that the world can't look to Chirac for any leadership, besides convenient rhetoric. Put up or shut up- this is very disappointing.

Cork2Toronto has a completely different interpretation. I also cross-posted this entry at Daily Kos, which generated a spirited debate.

Dryden To Kennedy?

Okay it was only one, largely unsubstantiated line, in a piece about the importance of momentum, but it is intriguing:
It's not clear who any candidate would support if he or she drops out.
There are links between the supporters of Mr. Dryden and Mr. Kennedy, but the former hockey star has not shown his leanings.

If there is some tangible proof of this “connection”, I think Kennedy’s people should go full on to secure Dryden’s support. I like Dryden, as a matter of fact when this race started I envisioned scenarios where he could emerge as the consensus number two. However, his campaign has failed to gain any traction whatsoever and as a result his prospects are bleak at best. Bevilacqua's decision starts a new stage in the race, wherein pressure for other second-tier candidates to drop out intensifies, while the supposed frontrunners jockey to garner support. Now is the time for people like Dryden to make some tough decisions and possibly bold endorsements.

To be frank, Kennedy desperately needs a high-profile endorsement to get some momentum. Kennedy has benefited from impressive signup numbers, but since then has largely failed to capitalize on the attention. I really want to endorse Kennedy, his lack of baggage is his trump card, all things being equal. Trouble is, right now all things are hardly equal. Despite repeated criticisms about a lack of policy positions, the Kennedy campaign has failed to respond. On the campaign website, there are a paltry two policy positions (although innovative), of which the last was released a full two months ago. Maybe the campaign has some master plan to bombard us with substance as the convention nears, but time doesn’t allow for distant strategies. People are deciding now, buzz is influence and momentum king. Distinguish yourself or be extinguished.

The Kennedy campaign must operate with a sense of urgency, despite the perceived long timetable. Kennedy’s handlers should press hard, find common ground with the Dryden campaign and do everything possible to bring him on board.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dodge and Weave

The best way to deflect criticism, look pro-active and criticize others. This strategy is clearly on display, as Tony “no show” Clement launches his assault on AIDS:
Health Minister Tony Clement says he's launching an immediate review of why Canada has failed to deliver on a pledge to get low-cost AIDS drugs to countries in need…

Clement said the government intends "to do this comprehensively, do it rationally to get some good information and advice because reallythis is our first opportunity as a new government to consider this legislation."

Stephen Lewis responds in kind:
But Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, was skeptical of when the review will be held.

"This gives new meaning to the word immediate. They were elected eight months ago. If this is the nature of their particular dictionary, I wouldn't trust any word."

If there was a sense of urgency about it, the review would already have happened six months ago, he said.

"We've lost another six months, in other words, and now we'll lose even more time."

All of sudden “immediate” action is required. Nice to now this new sense of urgency is motivated by damage control, as opposed to moral necessity.

A Sense of Country

Whether or not you support Bob Rae, you do have to acknowledge the man comes up with some great lines. I think all Liberals can get behind Rae’s vision of federalism, which stands in direct contrast to Stephen Harper. Here is the distinction:
Considered to be among the front-runners in the Liberal leadership race, Rae said he disagreed with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's writings during his time with the National Citizens Coalition about creating an economic or legislative "firewall" around Alberta.
"We should not be a country of firewalls and silos and water-tight compartments. We should be a country which is generous and recognizes the need for co-operation and integration and people working together."

Rae shows great political instinct in addressing the minefield that is Alberta’s oil and gas revenues. This is a great line:
”The job of the federal government, as I see it, is not to cut down the tall flowers," said Rae, who is the former NDP premier of Ontario.
"The job of the federal government is to make sure everyone understands that if something works to Alberta's advantage, it's not a zero sum game. It doesn't mean somebody else has been disadvantaged."

Don’t punish a province for its success, but remember the mosaic. Rae’s views on federalism might be his key asset as we move forward. I make the assumption that Rae has credibility with Quebecer’s, given his past stances. If Rae can show some understanding of western concerns, he may be able to craft a coherent vision that has sadly been lacking in our past leaders.

In my mind, the greatest danger of a long Harper reign is his narrow view of federalism. It is imperative that the Liberals have someone in place that has a good sense of how to keep the federation together, in a strong and meaningful way. With Rae, I don’t think anyone can question his ability to articulate a detailed view of how Canada should work. We need a Prime Minister with a philosophical flare, that can look beyond the immediate gratifications. I still think Rae has some hurdles to overcome, but I can’t help but be intrigued by his statesmanship. One of the great things about a leadership campaign, no matter who wins, the eventual winner has a great pool of ideas from which to draw as the party moves forward.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Fanatics Or Patriots?

The Washington Post has an interesting story, which puts a rare face on the "terrorists" fighting Israel. In the aftermath of the war, the commentary from Hezbollah fighters challenges the perception that these men are religious fanatics, first and foremost. As a matter of fact, maybe the reason they fought so hard, wasn't because of fanaticism, but civic duty:
"Either we live with dignity and strength or death is better," he said...

There was a word repeated time and again Monday in Khiam, by both fighters and the residents who chose to stay through the war. It was karama , or dignity. In the speeches of Arab leaders, ridden with clichés that often provided the rhetorical buttress of authoritarian regimes, it had come to lose much of its meaning. But in Khiam, it was uttered so often, so fervently, that it felt different.

"This is our land," said Bilal Ali Saleh, a 42-year-old beekeeper. "Can we leave our land? Would you leave your land?"...

My view, my sense of this, is that no one who comes from their land and is attached to it can ever be defeated," he added. "It is the land of their fathers, it is the land of their grandfathers."

It is estimated that more than 20000 shells landed on the village of Khiam. Despite the leveling of the village, Israel wasn't able to dislodge the Hezbollah fighters. Listening to the IDF officials, they attribute this fierce resistance to fanaticism, but the more you listen to the participants, the more you think they fought for their country. Their land, their identity, which seems entirely reasonable and, dare I say it, honorable by historic standards. Was the south of Lebanon armed for an offensive operation, or was it merely a "cold war" mentality, meant to deter a perceived aggressor?

The main criticism of the "terrorists" during this campaign was their use of the katusha rockets that indiscriminately targeted civilians, and who's sole purpose was to inflict death. While not condoning this tactic, I think it important to put this action into perspective, when choosing moral sides:
The director of Nabatiyeh National Hospital in the south, Dr Hassan Wazni, has been quoted as speaking about "vacuum bombs''. 'They vacuum the air out of the body and that stops the breathing and thus the heart stops operating.' He also speaks about one 'death' case, that of Sadek Hamed (12) whose cause of death is still unknown (medically).

Dr. Bashir Sham, member of "French Association of Cardiovascular Surgeons", explains that the way the corpses look when they reach the hospital, especially those from the 'air strikes' in Doueir and Rmayleih, is very abnormal. "One might think they were burnt, but their colour is dark, they're inflated, and they have a terrible smell. All this, and the hair is not burnt nor do the bodies bleed.' Several doctors have claimed that white phosphorus has been used in the south of the Lebanon. They have no doubts. Certainly cluster shells have been used...

Guess what, there are no good and bad guys in this fight, as the propaganda suggests. Maybe, all we have is a tragic case of two opposing sides, who unfortunately view the other's destruction as their only path for survival. There is an underlying commonality at play, despite the polar opposite impressions.

Tories Play Politics With AIDS

Yesterday, the Conservatives were supposed to lay out their AIDS funding initiative. Just minutes before the scheduled press conference Health Minister Clement cancelled the announcement, leading to confusion and suspicion. Given the government's track record, I think it quite accurate to conclude the following:
However, the sudden cancellation left some observers wondering if it had to do with the barrage of criticism levelled against Canada for its poor performance in delivering cheap drugs to Africa, and over Prime Minister Stephen Harper's no-show at the conference.

Some speculated the Conservatives may be beefing up their funding plans to counter negative publicity over Harper's absence, or that Harper might make a surprise appearance and make the announcement himself.

Anyone believe this sad excuse?:
"That's not the case," said Eric Waddell, Clement's press secretary. "Both ministers (Clement and Verner) decided there were still some i's that have to be dotted and some t's that have to be crossed before they can make their announcement.

Cancelling 15 minutes before the announcement can only be one of two things. Either Clement's department is completely incompetent, or the Conservatives are reacting to public criticism of Harper. My prediction, the Tories are scrambling to "fluff" up the initiative, to counter further criticism. It really does make you wonder what the initial proposal would have been- my bet is mostly window dressing.

This funding snafu is entirely consistent with a now well established pattern of Harper's government's making decisions primarily for political advantage. Manipulating the AIDS funding as a response to criticism is simply disgusting. On an issue like this, the government should be guided by its moral compass, not kneejerk reactions to political climate. Apparently, Harper prefers damage control, over ethical responsibility.

You could argue I jump the gun in criticizing the government. However, this cancellation is really so transparent, it would seem the motivation is obvious. The government will now announce an "unprecedented" funding package, that "turns the page" on the AIDS epidemic. Gag, cough. These people really do take us all for fools.

Another Minister gets cold feet. It's almost like the Conservatives are afraid of getting AIDS or something.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Dueling Pollsters

Compas firm attacks Strategic Counsel's poll on Lebanon/Israel conflict:
In one corner, the Strategic Counsel firm is standing by a recent survey that suggested only one-third of Canadians shared Harper's staunch pro-Israel stand. In the other corner, the head of the Compas firm says the prime minister enjoys twice that much support and accused his rivals Monday of conducting a "misleading anti-Harper poll."

Compas said its rival invited an anti-Harper response by asking about "Israeli actions" - a term it decried as a hostile-sounding statement that swayed respondents.

Coming to Strategic Counsel's defense:
"The Strategic Counsel has produced a fair and reasonable study of how Canadians feel about some of the issues here," said Bruce Anderson, president of Decima Research.

"The criticisms are not terribly well-founded."

I find it quite ironic that Compas speaks of misleading questions, given their biased questions. Here is how Compas reached its results:
Compas arrived at its conclusion that Canadians supported Harper after asking the following four questions:

-Does Israel have a right to defend itself? (82 per cent responded in the affirmative)

-Was Iran wrong to arm Hezbollah and call for the destruction of Israel? (69 per cent agreed)

-Was Syria wrong to arm Hezbollah and disobey the United Nations resolution requiring Syria to keep guns out of Lebanon? (68 per cent agreed)

-Did Hezbollah in Lebanon start the war? (Just 38 per cent agreed)

Compas then took those four responses, averaged them out, and concluded that 64 per cent of Canadians supported Harper's policy.

Most sane people wouldn't dispute Israel's right to defend itself. In fact, I don't even see that as a serious question, ditto for foreign countries arming Hezbollah. The only question that really asks anything in my mind is the, "did Hezbollah in Lebanon start the war?", of which only 38 per cent agreed. That response is the most telling because it speaks to intent and blame. I am actually surprised that more didn't agree with this statement, because it has become conventional wisdom in all reporting that Hezbollah initiated the violence.

If anyone was "skewing", it would appear to be Compas, with its broad questions that didn't address Israeli response. How someone can conclude that taking the average of these four questions is representative of Canadians views is beyond me. Compas might want to remember the saying "if you live in a glass house...", because the more scrutiny their own polling receives(see link), the more it stinks of patent bias and manipulation of opinion to cobble a desirable result.

Bevilacqua May Force a Rae-examination

Bevilacqua endorses Rae, so what does it mean? Well respected, Bevilacqua now becomes Rae's campaign co-chair and economic advisor. Despite the fact that Bevilacqua's campaign never seemed to have any traction, his support of Rae is significant for a number of reasons. The fact that Bevilacqua was a perceived "center-right" Liberal, with fiscal credentials, should challenge many of the pre-conceived notions surrounding Rae.

Rae's achilles heel is his legacy of massive deficits and a big recession. That someone like Bevilacqua chooses to endorse Rae and says, "We have been talking for some time about the economic changes we have to prepare for", patently challenges the perception that Rae is an economic nightmare. I suspect many Liberals, particularly those in Ontario, who have dismissed Rae out of hand, may take another look. Bevilacqua's endorsement gives Rae momentum in trying to shed his formidable baggage.

Despite the fact that Rae is now a Liberal, he is still largely remembered as the NDP Premier. Given Bevilacqua's standing on the political spectrum, his support weakens the "too left" argument. There must be some philosophical kinship if Bevilacqua finds it necessary to not only endorse, but take a prominent role in the campaign. Again, this endorsement forces a re-examination because it challenges the conventional wisdom.

I think Rae gets a great deal of mileage out of this endorsement, far more than would normally be expected from an "also-ran" candidate, who drops out months from the convention. Detractors, who have questioned why Rae is listed as a top-tier candidate, may have to re-access their opinions.

No Excuse

Most world leaders put the AID's epidemic amongst the top international issues. Especially concerning that our Prime Minister couldn't find the time to show up, even in his own country. In fact, it would appear the PMO has lied to conference organizers:
In the first public criticism of Harper by conference organizers, Wainberg said he had been trying since the last election to get the prime minister’s agreement to attend the conference.

“We understood that a new prime minister and a new government might not understand the importance of this conference,” he said, “and we wanted to tell them everything they needed to know. We never wanted to embarrass Mr. Harper, which is why our door was open until the last moment. I have deliberately not made statements to the press about his absence until now because we have been hoping against hope that he would change his mind.”

"Trying" since the election doesn't quite jive with this sad excuse:
Although Harper was on a visit to Canada’s north this past weekend, organizers don’t believe the prime minister is absent from the AIDS conference because of a scheduling conflict — the reason now being given by his officials.

They see his decision as deliberate, but seem genuinely baffled as to why he isn’t attending and sharing the international spotlight with attendees such as former U.S. president Bill Clinton and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

What a golden opportunity for Harper to host the world, even if his appearance was merely symbolic. There is only one way to spin this absence, Harper intentionally snubbed the conference. I'm sure the rest of the world in attendance is collectively shaking their heads. Unbelievable.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Breaking: CNN Is Cheesy

It really is interesting to watch the various newscasts from different countries. While networks like CBC and the BBC generally provide substance, the poor Americans are forced to endure FOX(which luckily I don't have) or CNN, which seems to cover war like some obscene sport. I finally reached the breaking point when I saw CNN's "Countdown To Ceasefire" box on the screen, as though a big ball would drop at midnight. The trivial "Breaking News" or "Developing Story" line that has been on the screen for 33 days straight. The maddening Wolf Blitzer(does he sleep?), who always follows up even the slightest criticism of Israel from a guest with, "but what about those katushas". The insanely cheesy narratives of Anderson Cooper, dubbed over the requisite images of war. Thank god for John Roberts(J.D to us Canadians-shhh!!), he seems to be the only credible reporter. I'm just waiting for the headline, "Holy Land Gone Wild". Is this news, or entertainment?

They Started It

Any rationalization of Israel's behavior is always predicated with the argument that Hezbollah initiated this conflict. Factually correct, it was Hezbollah that began the horrible chain of events, although I disagree that this completely justifies Israel's reaction. However, if the question is really "who started it", in my mind you can't isolate a single date. In fact, the sad part is both sides have a sense of validity for their positions, and neither is without fault.

On the surface, when you hear Hezbollah or Hamas advocating the destruction of Israel it seems an unacceptable notion. But, I would argue that this perspective is entirely western in nature, failing to acknowledge history from the Arab point of view. Afterall, anyone would be hard pressed to demonstrate how the creation of Israel has benefited non-Jews in the Middle East. I think it entirely reasonable that a young Palestinian, who's only contact with Israel is one of occupation and suppression could develop the view that Israel is a scourge. Hatred of Israel isn't an innate condition, but more a learned response, just as some Israeli's develop a contempt for their Arab neighbor's because of their hideous actions.

I think we spend far too much energy debating the effects, when any solution must address the underlying causes. People like Nasrallah are inevitable products of a warped environment. The rise of Hamas is an entirely logical response to third-world conditions, largely as a function of occupation and suppression. These people hate Israel, because Israel has brought nothing but hardship, a loss of dignity and continued repression. Maybe we in the western world can't understand why the "Arab on the street" sympathizes with the hideous tactics of Hezbollah, but then again we haven't "walked a mile in their shoes".

The Washington Post has an interesting story titled "Young Muslim Rage Takes Root in Britain". There is an analogy to the middle east with what is happening in Britain. No accident that Britain's frontline role in the unjust war in Iraq has spawned resentment and alienation. Britain's situation serves as concrete proof that violence begets violence, occupation invites a response. A "firm resolve" only exasperates hatred and fuels radicalization. Misguided policies become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the ever expanding war on terror.

Israel's tactics have emboldened Hezbollah, turned otherwise Lebanese critics into overt supporters and provided more evidence for those that see Israel as a neo-colonist, bent on killing Muslims. Massive violent reaction acts as a boomerang, it has everytime in the past. Let's not forget that Hezbollah grew out of the last occupation. How many little Nasrallah's are now tattooed with horrific memories that will shape their opinions? Will we really be shocked when a few to decide to act in the future?

What if Israel actually gave back the disputed land, pulled back all settlements and took the bold step of making Jerusalem a "shared" city with the Palestinians? What if negotiations were held that treated the other side as equal partners, with all the dignity that entails? Who would benefit from real engagement, a true sense of understanding- extremists or moderates?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Ceasefire Mirage

I worry that the optimism surrounding the U.N.'s peace resolution may be misplaced. At first glance, this sounds encouraging:
Israel and Lebanon agreed to accept the terms of the U.N. cease-fire, according to U.S. and U.N. diplomats. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will ask his cabinet to approve the resolution when it meets Sunday, according to Israeli officials. The Lebanese cabinet is scheduled to vote on it Saturday.

Boths sides look to ratify the resolution this weekend, with the next logical step a cessation of hostilities. That's how ceasefires work, right? Apparently, this ceasefire allows for lots of fire, for an unspecified time:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the cease-fire will not go into effect immediately. She said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will consult with Israel and Lebanon in the coming days to set a date for the cessation of hostilities.

"No one can expect an immediate end to all acts of violence," Rice said. She cautioned that "the conditions of a lasting peace must be nurtured over time."

The resolution provides the first significant hope for a gradual reduction in the violence

Call me thick, but a ceasefire agreement usually means we can "expect an immediate end" to violence. Instead, we have a situation where the date of actual ceasefire is yet to be determined. So, we have a ceasefire, but we still need negotiations to agree on the ceasefire, and even then it will only be gradual ceasefire. My head hurts.

I see many scenarios where this formula completely unravels. If both sides agree to the framework, why not an immediate ceasefire? The delay suggests that there is still much to be clarified, which contradicts the back-slapping optimism at the U.N. This conflict isn't over, not by a long shot.


Nasrallah today:
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah says the guerilla organization will follow the terms of a UN ceasefire, but will keep fighting until Israeli troops pull out of southern Lebanon.

Israeli Army Chief Halut:
Halut pledged the roughly 30,000 Israeli troops currently in Lebanon will stay put until an international force arrives.

Israel won't leave until there is an international force in place, while Hezbollah vows to fight until Israel withdraws. Given the practical obstacles, a UN force can't be put on the ground for weeks, so it would seem a ceasefire still remains a distant hope.


Peter Mckay offers his usual insightful commentary:
Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said Canada welcomed the UN resolution, calling it "the most important political development since the beginning of the conflict."

Or, maybe the only political development? I'm sure Canada was instrumental in these talks and will play a vital role as we move forward. Cough.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Finally, it looks like the glacial pace of diplomacy is about to bring a framework for peace to Lebanon. With this sense of optimism in the air, how does Israel react:
Israel launched an expanded ground offensive in Lebanon Friday evening, the Associated Press reported, just as diplomats at the U. N. Security Council said they were nearing final agreement on a proposed cease-fire resolution.

Few details of the beefed-up military campaign were immediately available, in part because it was announced just at sundown in Israel, the start of the Jewish Sabbath, and many government officials were unavailable...

A spokesman for prime minister Ehud Olmert told the Associated Press that Olmert gave the order after concluding that the deal being worked out by the Security Council in New York failed to meet Israel's basic requirements,

Basic logic, give us everything or we will keep killing. I know this sounds blunt, but Olmert's tactics resemble that employed by kidnappers, and dare I say it, terrorists. Lebanon proper is now being used as a pawn, so that Israel can leverage its position. Why turn up the heat now, when a diplomatic solution was clearly on the horizon? Israel's reaction is reckless, risks undoing any progress and opens up the spectre of the dreaded "wider" war. The curious timing of this announcement, like earlier ones, leads me to believe that Israel is sabotaging the peace process, now that a solution looks feasible.

Damage Control

Some people just seem to be a lightning rod for controversy. Such is the case of Michael Ignatieff, who always seems to be "clarifying" his words, while his handlers do damage control. I must say, Ignatieff's penchant for self-inflicted gaffes should give Liberals pause. Afterall, just imagine a quick-paced election campaign, where a few reckless words can command the debate for a week and cause massive momentum shifts. If there is one lesson to be learned from Harper's election campaign, it's that discipline and ability to stay on message are critical components for a successful campaign.

Ignatieff is a dangerous choice, in the sense that he likes to "freelance", which could be refreshing on the one hand, but all too often it reveals a lack of political instinct and experience. The new Liberal leader doesn't enjoy the benefit of a couple years to hone his craft, the election will most likely come quite quickly after the convention. A couple gaffes like we have witnessed recently is the equivalent of a death sentence, and will ensure a Harper victory. I have this eerie feeling that an Ignatieff led Liberals would spend most of its time on the defensive, allowing Harper to pounce on clumsy words.

Supporters point to Ignatieff's anti-political disposition as a plus in a false world of packaging and partisanship. However, this sentiment is still forced to admit the reality that you can't usurp the political arena. Wording is critical, careful consideration vital and an ability to see the landmines essential. Ignatieff's complete failure in reacting to the middle east crisis immediately, coupled with the problematic language in the eventual statements, represent a glaring example of someone who just might not get it. Just because you are an intellectual heavyweight, doesn't preclude a person from lacking basic common sense, nor does it necessarily translate into effective leader.

This leadership campaign is a dry-run for the general election. We scan the policies, but we also see who is quick on their feet, who shows the ability to challenge Harper effectively and who demonstrates sharp political instinct. With all due respect to Ignatieff, from the moment he declared himself a Liberal, the evidence suggests glaring liabilities that constantly re-surface. In my mind, other than the obvious choice of Volpe, Ignatieff has run the worst campaign to date and this fact should give everyone pause before it's too late.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Israel Admits Targeting Civilians

One of the more curious elements of the war in Lebanon is the frequency with which Israel has dropped leaflets throughout the country. It is as if these leaflets serve to absolve Israel of any responsibility, despite the practical problems with the requests. The latest warning dropping from the sky contains an ominous warning, and what is a frank admission that the Israeli army intends to "indiscriminately" target everything:
"Beware," the leaflets said. "The broadening of terrorist operations by Hezbollah will lead to a painful and severe response whose results will not be limited to the bandit Hasan [Nasrallah] and his criminals."

All the rhetoric of "careful" strikes is just that rhetoric. However, this leaflet dropped in Beirut and other towns is the first time Israel has admitted its vindictive nature in this war. The Israeli army has previously stated that for every house struck in Israel, ten will be levelled in Lebanon, but this latest leaflet seems to endorse a scorched earth philosophy. With every day, the illusion of Israel's "self-defense" looks more laughable.


I also posted this on Daily Kos and it seemed to generate quite alot of controversy.

Rae Commands Respect

I just had a chance to look at Bob Rae's foreign policy speech today and was quite impressed. Rae's overall theme of embracing Pearson's legacy was a masterful way to demonstrate Canada's revelance and ideological underpinning in world affairs. Some highlights:

On Afghanistan, Rae makes a strong point that our priorities are wrong:
We need to approach our policy on the basis of at least three fundamental criteria: Is itworking? Is it consistent with our experience of what can work? And is it balanced? Today, Canada’s efforts and resources in Afghanistan are heavily weighted toward the war fighting side of the equation. We have about 2,000 troops fighting on the ground in Kandahar, at a rough cost of half to three quarters of a billion dollars a year. By contrast, we have about half a dozen civilian Government of Canada officials doing much needed development and reconstruction work, and we spend about $100 million a year on aid to

The lack of balance goes beyond Canada. Since 2001 western donors have provided Afghanistan with on average U.S. $2.5 billion per year in aid. Yet it has been estimated that the US and NATO countries combined are spending U.S. $15-18 billion per year on military operations in Afghanistan.

An accurate shot at Harper:
The Parliamentary vote the government engineered in the spring to “approve” this mission was a cynical manipulation of the House of Commons. By prohibiting all but six hours of debate, and insinuating that those who would vote against the government are being somehow unpatriotic, or lacking in support for our troops, the Prime Minister politicized a military operation in a way I have not seen in my lifetime.

The value of aid is the central theme of Rae's speech, wherein he argues Canada needs to double its monetary assistance. On Afghanistan, Rae suggests that Canada currently lacks "balance", allocating too much to military matters, not enough to infastructure and societal betterment. This statement is key in understanding how to effectively win "hearts and minds".

Rae looks equally strong, when speaking about the Middle East. Articulating a bold position Rae argues:
No country can live with rockets and bombs killing and maiming its civilian population. All countries in the region have a right to live in peace, within secure and recognized boundaries. It must be said that every country has a right to defend itself from attack. Managing, reducing, and ultimately resolving conflict in the Middle East is one of the great geo-political challenges of our time. Canada is not "neutral" about the outcome. Canada must be engaged in helping shape it. The outcome must secure the future of every country in the region: Israel, Lebanon and Palestine. All as viable, recognized entities with borders that are secure and with governments that have an equal capacity to govern their populations and control violence.

These are issues whose resolution will take much time and extraordinary perseverance. A radical Islam that cannot accept pluralism and diversity in the Middle East is an obstacle to an objective that sensible people everywhere share. The question is: how to keep the next generation from embracing these destructive ideologies? Defeating extremists who use terror as a weapon in their arsenal is very difficult when they have much of the civilian population under their control. There are as many examples in modern history of unsuccessful efforts to do this as the reverse. Guerilla groups can abandon terrorism when the political context around them changes, but military firmness has to be matched with the imagination to create that new framework.

Rae essentially endorses the carrot and stick approach to bring Hezbollah into the "mainstream". As opposed to the current approach, the military option isn't the only option, but in fact a long term solution demands a dialogue. With the PLO, IRA and ANC as historical precedent, Rae's support of "imagination" translates into cultivating the ground to allow for progress. Wingers will scoff at this suggestion, but in the past they also would have laughed hysterically if anyone suggested Yasser Arafat would win the Nobel Peace Prize. Baby steps, careful and slow acceptance, which can actually lead to something substantative if the right statesman has the vision.

Rae's experience as moderator allows him to understand the deep passion of both sides to any debate. Disputes are complicated, everything Rae suggests is done so with this reality in mind. Rae also resists the idea of government led by ideology, which he sees as simplistic and an impedient to progress:
Another conservative, Edmund Burke was right – “governing in the name of a theory" isa bad idea. The avoidance of ideological enthusiasm, doing less harm, saving more lives,reconciling differences, eliminating the worst poverty, steadily constructing a worldorder, step by step, this is the better way of the future. It should be the Liberal way. It should be the Canadian way...

The choices we face as a country are not between "decisiveness and dithering", or between "taking sides and neutrality". They are rather between over-simplification and wisdom. We made a wise choice, the right choice, as a country many years ago when we affirmed our support for an Israeli state in the Middle East. And we also made a wise choice when we affirmed the need for a Palestinian state. Wisdom is about balance, realism, and finding just, enduring solutions. What steps can we take that will ensure real peace, a peace that starts with a ceasefire and an end to violence, but goes well beyond that to deeper solutions. The answers lie more in the world of politics and diplomacy
than anywhere else.

Wise words indeed. After reading Rae's thoughts, I can't help but think he would absolutely destroy Harper in a policy debate.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Moral High Ground?

I heard an interview with Senator John McCain, wherein he defended Israeli actions by comparing it with Hezbollah's tactics. In what has become a recurring theme, McCain said that there was no moral comparison to Israeli's "tactical" strikes and Hezbollah's indiscriminate launches of rockets, with the sole purpose of inflicting maximum civilian damage. Israel it is argued, acts in a far more civilized way, as opposed to the barbaric actions of soulless terrorists. This reality allows Israel the benefit of moral high ground in this war.

In my mind, all that Israel enjoys is technological superiority, which effectively makes the other side appear "primitive". The simple fact, Hezbollah is using all means available to repel what it believes to be a threat. The rocket attacks are its most effective psychological weapon, so they use them for maximum effect to break Israeli will (was "shock and awe" really that different?) In no way am I condoning these heinous attacks, merely pointing out that Israel's own despicable actions disallow any claim of moral superiority. Does anyone believe the Israeli army wouldn't resort to the same tactics if these weapons were all they had at their disposal? Does anyone believe if the world community wasn't watching, Israel wouldn't wipe Lebanon from the map?

I find it completely hypocritical for anyone to claim a morality while people die. Interesting to note, Lebanese civilian casualties are ten times that of Hezbollah fighters. A quick scan of Israeli casualties shows a far more balanced breakdown, despite the opponents "barbaric" techniques. With this stark fact in mind, I would suggest the view of moral high ground is largely a function of which side you endorse, not an objective truth. In many ways, this war highlights the absence of morality, so please refrain from the sanctimonious propaganda about good and evil.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Israel Sacks General

The Israeli's are pretty astute when it comes to political propaganda. There is no other way to spin this announcement as anything other than a frank admission of failure:
Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters waged deadly clashes in several border towns Tuesday and exchanged air and rocket attacks as the Israeli army sent a new commander to oversee its offensive, a move widely believed to reflect dissatisfaction with the way the war is proceeding.

The command change came as Israel's top security officials were set to meet Wednesday to consider an expansion of the ground offensive in Lebanon, a move called for by several commanders.

Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, was named "to coordinate the Israeli army's operations in Lebanon," according to a statement. It said top army officials retained "complete confidence" in Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel's Northern Command, who has led the assault on Hezbollah since it began July 12.

But some Israeli television reports described the arrival of Kaplinsky, who had previously commanded Israeli forces in the West Bank and Lebanon, as "an impeachment" and said it was the first time since 1973 that the top command had been reshuffled during a war.

Another sign that mighty Israel has been humbled:
On Tuesday, Israeli authorities stepped up the evacuation of Kiryat Shemona, the country's northernmost city, which has been hit by more than 500 Hezbollah rockets in the past month.

The city's mayor said the government's plan to relocate 15,000 people from the north overnight was a response to unprecedented Hezbollah rocket attacks.

"This is the first time in (Israel's) history that a million people are living under fire," Mayor Chaim Barbivai said, referring to the population of northern Israel. "The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is so much stronger than Hezbollah, we thought it would be over in a flash."

Who would have predicted that Israel would still be bogged down in border towns:
The incident is just one among dozens of examples of an enemy that has proven more resilient and better-equipped than Israeli military forces anticipated. After nearly four weeks of air attacks and ground combat, Israeli military officials say that they have killed only a small fraction of Hezbollah's fighters and that the group still has hundreds of launchers and thousands of rockets at its disposal.

"What we face is an infantry division with state-of-the-art weaponry -- night-vision gear, advanced rifles, well-equipped -- deployed along our border," said Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, who until last month was director of analysis for Israeli military intelligence. "They have some of the most advanced antitank missiles in the world."

Not quite parity, but increasingly a new reality, wherein Israel doesn't have the luxury to act with impunity. Complete backfire, the psychological advantage Israel "enjoyed" over its Arab rivals is now largely evaporating. Arab youth will now look to the heroic struggle of the David, and it will represent a source of great pride, as opposed to the multiple humiliations of the past. What was gained?

Ambrose To Court?

You have to hand it to the Sierra Club:
A coalition of environmental groups today served Federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose with a petition giving her 60 days to step in to protect two endangered plants in Alberta or face a lawsuit. Alberta Wilderness Association, Federation of Alberta Naturalists, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Sierra Club of Canada and Nature Canada, represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund, are threatening the suit to test the federal government’s intention to protect Canada’s endangered wildlife.

“When Canadians were assured by the federal government that the Species at Risk Act would protect all of Canada’s endangered plants and animals, were they being told the truth?” asked Rachel Plotkin of Sierra Club. “This case will reveal the answer.”

The Species at Risk Act, while a national law, does not apply in the provinces unless the federal cabinet orders it to, which it will do only on the recommendation of the Federal Environment Minister if she considers provincial laws inadequate.

Pure brilliance, fought on the correct battlefield. How Ambrose responds to this threat will reveal a great deal about her commitment to the environment and set an important precedent. Just imagine the federal government, and a Tory one at that, stepping in and telling Alberta it must respect endangered species. It will be very interesting to see how Ambrose reacts.