Wednesday, March 29, 2006

International sanctions declared against Canada

The United Nations today declared international sanctions against Canada only a few weeks after the election of a Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "As freedom-loving, democratic countries," a press release stated, "we cannot support or encourage this reactionary regime. Canada has some distance to go before it can resume its place in the civilized community of nations."

Citing Harper's refusal to recognize the Palestinian Authority, and recent statements from his office demanding that the Afghanistan government force its judges to accept Western standards such as tolerance and the separation of powers, the statement continued: "It is intolerable that a country should be allowed to 'go Conservative' simply because of the irresponsibility of its own people." While direct military force has been ruled out—for now—Canada can expect the imposition of reduced export quotas and a world-wide boycott of seal meat in the near future.

Applauding the move, the newly-elected President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, declared: "Democracy is not a right but a privilege. It is far too precious a commodity
to be simply squandered on the electorate."

Media were unable to obtain a comment from Harper's office. "He's out of town with his Cabinet," a typist in his office said. Refusing to provide further details, she stated: "He'll talk to you when he's good and ready."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bernie Farber's chutzpah

The Hebrew word pilpul precisely sums up the verbal gymnastics of Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, on the Three Wishes issue. A means of reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable in Jewish law and its interpretations, pilpul has come to mean the use of increasingly fine distinctions in argument, often in casuistical fashion.

Mr. Farber doesn’t want to be branded a censor, as he indignantly makes clear in today's Globe and Mail. But, on behalf of the CJC, he sent a letter to all school boards in Ontario, "asking them to reconsider" whether this book is appropriate for Grades 4-6. The Ontario Library Association (OLA) says it is, but the latter, Farber states, with breathtaking chutzpah, are not experts on curriculum design.

That the same is true of Mr. Farber and the CJC is obvious, but that didn't stop them, and a few school boards have caved in. Farber praised the Toronto District School Board in particular for “courageously decid[ing] that
Three Wishes is best read by students in older elementary grades, knowing full well that a decision running contrary to the position of the OLA might engender controversy.”

The hard fact is that making decisions contrary to the position of the CJC can land one in controversy too. Nobody wants to be branded an anti-Semite, and for these boards, discretion was clearly the better part of valour when an official letter from the CJC landed on their desks.

The upshot? The book is now banned from several classrooms, whose children are deemed unready by the CJC to hear the voices of their faraway cousins in Israel and Palestine. If that isn’t censorship, what is?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Death by bureaucrat

Thalidomide is a drug with a dubious history. Once prescribed as a sedative and to counteract morning sickness for pregnant women, it turned out to be disastrous for their babies, many of whom were born with shortened limbs and other serious birth defects. More recently, however, it has proven effective in treating a form of cancer called multiple myeloma.

The maker of the drug, Celgene Corp., is making a nice little profit out of what is now called Thalomid; I blogged about this back in August last year, after it was revealed that Celgene was playing the bureaucratic game by not applying to have its drug approved
for general use by Health Canada. It has only been available, under our rules, through a special access program, which effectively prevents the sale of generic versions of the medicine.

Until recently, some Canadians in modest circumstances managed to qualify to receive the drug free of charge through Health Canada. This all changed, however, with the introduction of another last-chance drug, Velcade, produced in Canada by Ortho Biotech. This one will have patent protection until doomsday, and is already proving to be another fine money-maker for the Big Pharma folks--one five-month treatment cycle costs up to $35,000.

Because of the availability of Velcade on the market, Health Canada bureaucrats have decided to stop providing Thalomid under its special access program. Velcade is presently covered under all Canadian provincial medical plans--except Ontario's. Health Canada refuses, however, to release a free drug that can save lives in this province, and, for its part, the Ontario government would rather spend its money on roads and bridges.

The official excuse used by Ontario to justify not covering the medication is that a committee of "experts" has recommended that it not be publicly funded. But no one in the Ontario government has apparently bothered to ask them to explain why they disagree with their equally-qualified colleagues in twelve other Canadian jurisdictions. Instead, in the words
of Ontario Health Ministry spokesman John Letherby, "When that committee makes a recommendation...the Ministry of Health stands behind it."

If you are an Ontario resident, in other words, and can't meet Velcade's inflated price-tag, that's just too bad--you're going to die. Just ask Raymond Bouchard.

Mr. Bouchard is a retired carpenter living in Northern Ontario. Thalomid is his last chance, because he can't afford Velcade. It's available free from Celgene because of his desperately poor financial circumstances. But he can't get it.

"When the [Ontario] Ministry of Health says 'No,' it is absolute,"
says Colleen Savage, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Advocacy Coalition of Canada. The same, apparently, applies to Health Canada. Not that the latter isn't sorry about it: a Health Canada spokeswoman said, "Obviously this is a very unfortunate place for this man to be, beyond unfortunate." Hand-wringing, however, won't save Mr. Bouchard.

The Globe and Mail seems to have taken this on as a cause, providing extensive coverage of the issue over the past few days. But the blogosphere, notably a place of much twittering and chirping about the alleged failure of the "MSM" to report on matters of substance, is virtually silent on the slow killing of Mr. Bouchard and others like him in Ontario
. He is being murdered--let's not mince words, this is a deliberate, cold-blooded act--by bureaucrats who know his circumstances perfectly well but are withholding life-saving medication; and by grubby politicians who don't give a damn whether people like Mr. Bouchard live or die.

This is my country. In 2006.
And I am ashamed.

UPDATE: The outcry worked: it was all a "clerical error" we are told. But, apparently, only Mr. Bouchard, and not others in his predicament, will benefit.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Cops copping cops flops

Once again, we have an egregious example of the worthlessness of the current system of civilian complaints against police in Ontario. Police are not policing themselves: they are pleasing themselves.

I have blogged before about the case of Paul Smith, an Ottawa activist forced to the ground at a demonstration after an improper arrest, handcuffed, and then repeatedly Tasered when he refused to get up and walk to a waiting police vehicle.

His saga has been a long one. His initial complaint to the Ottawa Police Services Board was dismissed out of hand. Going limp, he was told, was active resistance, and "pain compliance" was justified. He appealed to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services, which, unusually, determined that his case had merit. But OCCOPS assigned Robert Fitches, a retired police officer, to adjudicate the case--so much for "civilian review."

Fitches had quite the case before him. The police videotape, oddly enough, was missing precisely those few seconds in which Smith had been Tasered. The police camerawoman claimed that she had simply been "repositioning herself." But an independent cameraperson captured the moment on film, forcing Fitches to concede that excessive force had indeed been used. He noted that the film had been "instrumental" in his findings, and that it directly contradicted police testimony. He did his best with intractable material, though. Only one of the two officers involved in the incident was found guilty, Constable Paolo Batista, the officer who actually used the Taser on Smith. The other officer who was holding him was acquitted.

Yesterday, it was time for Constable Batista's sentence. A reprimand. Yup. Must have stung. Fitches claimed that the use of the Taser was "not gratuitous" and that there had been no intent to harm Smith, just to gain control over him (as he lay on the ground in handcuffs). It was just a "mistake," declared this former Ontario Provincial Police officer. It was done in the "heat of the moment." "Anyone can make a mistake," he said. He sounded for all the world like a judge presiding at an honour killing trial. Besides, Batista lost his rank of acting sergeant but was demoted to constable, and that cost him $10,000, and that should count for something.

I blogged earlier about a case in Toronto, in which a uniformed thug viciously assaulted a Somalian without cause, and then used the old "resisting arrest" ploy. The man was facing jail time and deportation until a videotape surfaced. The officer, who with his buddies was castigated by the judge for lying, covering up and abuse of power, was convicted--and given a thirty-day sentence, immediately denounced as "Draconian" by his police association.

No wonder police increasingly believe they are a law unto themselves. Ottawa has seen some horrific incidents of late, and they are continuing. The price of complaining can even be, as the previous link indicates, losing one's job. The complaints system itself is a virtual whitewash--a farce, in fact, not to put too fine a point upon it, with fewer than one per cent of complaints upheld, not to mention years of frustration for complainants brutalized by police. The most recent case: a businessman who dropped his kid off at school, admittedly in a no stopping zone, was followed to his place of work by a police officer, and ended up in hospital with a fractured rib and a bruise on his face. He's since been charged (surprise, surprise) with "resisting arrest."

I can just smell more reprimands coming--can't you?

And now, perhaps emboldened by the impunity principle that seems to attach to police officers in 21st century Ontario, Ottawa cops want to enter municipal politics. It's enough to make one believe in slippery slopes.

Monday, March 13, 2006


I begin to suspect the reason the Left is so cowardly is that it has abandoned the notion of Transcendance. If you really believe this world is all there is, and that even most of that consists of cynical crap about power struggles between race, class, and gender, it becomes exceedingly hard to find reasons to put your neck on the line for anything. But the human heart goes on demanding heroism of itself. So the Left settles for the child's game of pretending to be courageous by standing up to Tom Monaghan, or calling Bush "Hitler", or similar variations on double-dog daring each other to knock on the door of the widow down the street, shout the F word, and run away. If they actually had to face a real tyrant or threat, they would crumple like tin foil. It's kind of sad, really. I miss Harry Truman.

I ran across the gem just above while doing my usual sweep through the blogosphere yesterday. It's hard not to rise to bait like that, and I did. Unfortunately, however, you won't find anything in the site-owner's Comments section in this respect. It seems that the echo-chamber syndrome has struck him with a vengeance, and I have been banned from his site.

Just so no one jumps to hasty conclusions, I'll tell the story here. Be warned: it has its twists and turns, and even some self-mockery. It has cowardice, lies and over-generalizations aplenty. But—and this I guarantee, although it's hardly necessary to do so for my small but hardy band of regular readers—you will find no X-rated language here, no abuse, no violence, not even the herbs and spice of a good personal jibe. This is Dawg’s Blawg, after all, not Pulp Fiction. Kids are always welcome.

First, let me introduce Mark Shea. He runs a religious blog called Catholic and Enjoying It. It is hard to pigeonhole Mr. Shea. He is generally conservative, but hates what the Bush Administration is doing at Gitmo. He is into Church politics, but is not an extremist: if you want to know about the dread "RadTrads," head on over there. He is also capable, however, of breathtakingly silly comments such as the one above.

Among the cast of characters there is also Kathy Shaidle, who needs no further introduction, and won't get one either, nor will she get a link; someone named Paul who appears to be a co-religionist; some supporting actors on what's left of the Comments thread; and Dr. Dawg himself.

Let’s get the offending paragraph, for "offending" it is, out of the way first. That a person could write such a thing while the news of Tom Fox's death is still reverberating in the media speaks volumes about his world-view. Lacking courage, eh? With Canadians Harmeet Sooden and Jim Loney, and Norman Kember from the UK (who are still alive, many of us hope, but not all), Fox literally put his body on the line for his pacifist and progressive beliefs. It was an act of courage and of integrity so profound that even conservatives in the blogosphere have published respectful pieces. One of them got labelled “lib-leftish” for her pains, but that's the breaks.

Among others who would no doubt be sweepingly dismissed as "cowardly" by Mr. Shea are Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, NAACP activist Rosa Parks (not to mention Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andy Goodman), the countless other folks who did dangerous sit-ins and voter registration in the Deep South, and, earlier on, IWW union organizers like "Big Bill" Haywood and IWW members like Helen Keller (yes, that Helen Keller)…and the list goes on. And on.

Let’s be blunt: anyone who states that the "left" is composed of cowards is seriously out of touch with the phenonomenal world. It's a preposterous claim, advanced in an unsubtle petitio principii sort of way. It amounts, quite frankly, to revisionist history. The little flourish at the end seems quite in keeping with the rest of the fantasy, too. Harry S. Truman? The man who courageously ordered from his executive office that A-bombs be dropped on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Is that the man we’re talking about?

But I didn’t get into much of that over at Shea's. I did, in my initial posting, mention Tom Fox and Rachel Corrie, though. (I also made the foolish mistake of stating that Shea was using the word "Left" to describe anything he didn’t happen to like, but more on that in a moment.) That’s where things began to come apart.

It appears that Shea is somewhat of an admirer of Kathy Shaidle, and it was the latter who had sparked this particular post on his part with an entry at her place about T-shirts emblazoned with swastikas and the slogan “Vote Republican.” A pretty easy target, when you come to think of it, Korporate Amerika making bucks by dissing Korporate Amerika, but this is the blogosphere, and easy targets are our stock in trade. In any case, he linked to her site, and, immediately following what I thought was a pretty inoffensive post over all, Shaidle's trademark blizzard of dry ice landed in the Comments section.

Tom Fox, she said, should have bought an expensive sports car to deal with his middle-aged Angst. As for Rachel Corrie, she was "about as courageous as Patty Heart (sic)." One commentator roasted her for the first throwaway line. I'm still scratching my head over the latter one. But she also accused me of stalking her.

Now, boys and girls, that's a pretty serious charge. Stalking is a specific offence in the Criminal Code of Canada. To accuse someone of that falsely is libellous, and, for what it's worth, actionable. As you know, however, I don’t approve of suing bloggers, so I merely point this out. That this took place in Mark Shea’s version of Fantasyland seemed oddly appropriate, though. Here I was, at Shea’s site, engaging a comment made by Shea, and making no reference whatsoever to Kathy Shaidle, and she drives by to claim that this constitutes stalking. Of her. She's so vain...

It is true, of course, that Kathy and I have crossed swords on occasion, in the Comments section of blogs in which we happen to share an interest. She doesn't permit comments at her site, but I have been known to take a swipe or two at her views on mine. In fact, the very first comment I ever received—now archived at Haloscan until I spring for their "pro" version—was a warm and cuddly little post from none other than Shaidle herself, which I richly deserved, to be honest, having mentioned her and others in an unkind fashion in my maiden post. But that's run-of-the-mill blogosphere give and take. She went after me on a few occasions for using a nom-de-plume; I would obligingly uncloak, but it never made a difference. I referred to her infamous "Newsflash: Arabs are violent retards" header more than once, but I haven't been alone in that. She draws attention for that sort of thing, including mine, but Antonia Zerbisias, for one,has probably spent more time on Shaidle than I have.

So much for the "stalker" charge, which I asked her to take back, not under threat but out of decency. I also wrote directly and non-threateningly to Shea, pointing out that a line had been crossed on this occasion. But then a new actor entered the scene, one "Paul." He went after me like a rabid pit bull for daring to besmirch the name of Shea by my stating that he had misused the word "Leftist" to mean anything that displeased him.

The truth? I was wrong. He hadn't done anything of the kind. I am so used, by now, to hearing the word "leftist" employed by conservatives to describe everything from neo-Nazism to parking in a fire lane—one commentator over at Dust My Broom even called Pat Buchanan a "leftist," for crying out loud—that I over-reacted and over-generalized, not for the first time. Shea wasn't saying that all cowards, by virtue of being cowards, are "leftists." He was saying that all leftists, by virtue of being leftists, are cowards. Mea culpa, and I'm glad we cleared that one up. In fact, I did so over there.

The dénouement of this little saga? This morning, I discovered that Kathy's offending comment had been removed. And every word of every one of my posts had been as well, leaving what Osip Mandelstam once called "just enough people for half a dialogue."

And today we have a guest ending from A.A. Milne:

Tigger said: "Excuse me a moment, but there's something climbing up your table," and with one loud Worraworraworraworraworra he jumped at the end of the tablecloth, pulled it to the ground, wrapped himself up in it three times, rolled to the other end of the room, and, after a terrible struggle, got his head into the daylight again, and said cheerfully: "Have I won?"

Just another perfect day in the blogosphere.

Friday, March 10, 2006

US. Nose. Face.

The US continues to oppose the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, established under the Rome Statute to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Small wonder, the cynic might conclude. The US has an inglorious history of complicity in torture (e.g., the infamous School of the Americas
, the more recent contracting-out of torture in its "extraordinary rendition" program, and the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo), overthrowing democratically-elected regimes as in Chile and Haiti, and flouting international law, as in its misuse of "enemy combatant" status to sidestep the Fourth Geneva Convention. America, in fact, has nothing to teach the world about human rights, and plenty to fear from vigorous international prosecution of human rights abuses. It's right up there with Israel, China and Zimbabwe, perhaps not-so-strange bedfellows when you come to think of it.

But, not content with simply proclaiming its rogue superpower status, the US has once again adopted its time-honoured custom of bullying other nations, in this case those that have signed on to the Rome Statute:

  • In 2002, Congress passed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act. This law mandated the refusal of military aid to any country daring to ratify the treaty establishing the ICC. Exempted were members of NATO and other US allies such as Egypt, and nations that entered into bilateral agreements (see below) with the US to shelter suspected US war criminals by refusing to turn them over to the Court. As for US military personel being held under the jurisdiction of the Court, this Bill authorized the use of military force by the US to free them.

  • In 2002, the US threatened to use its Security Council veto to block a number of peacekeeping mandates unless US citizens are held exempt from the Treaty. This led to a compromise that permitted annual exemptions by the Security Council. Canada, to its credit, opposed the legality of this move. After the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, it became clear that a majority of Security Council members for renewal in 2004 was not to be had, and the US withdrew its application for exemption.

  • "Article 98" agreements, bilateral impunity agreements between the US and a number of other countries permitted under Article 98 of the Rome Statute (although the legality of this interpretation has been challenged) effectively permit the sheltering of suspected US war criminals from the authority of the ICC, . States have been pressured into signing these agreements by US threats of withholding military and economic assistance. In 2003, the US stopped military aid to 35 countries, including nine European countries, who refused to be bullied. By 2005, approximately 100 states had signed agreements, some in secret.

  • The US has cut aid and development funding for a number of countries for cooperasting with the ICC, including, according to the Wikipedia article just referenced, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, South Africa, and several other Latin American and African countries.
Mexico is the latest country to feel the wrath of the Bush Administration. But this is where things get interesting. These sanctions have cost Mexico millions of dollars intended for anti-terror and anti-narcotics training and anti-terror equipment for Mexico's military.

Now, there are none so blind as the blinkered ideologues who run the Bush administration. But this latest move makes one positively nostalgic for the clear, predictable Realpolitik of Henry Kissinger, a fellow, by the way, who would have had his own reasons to fear the long reach of the ICC were it not for the non-retroactivity provisions of the Rome Statute. At least there is a logic, if a nasty one, to the self-interest of states. But what are we to make of this utter destruction of the rational actor model?

Mexico, after all, shares a 3,141K border with the US. It is obvious that terrorists and drug lords don't see Mexico as either a place to fly hijacked aircraft into buildings or a good market for narcotics. Pay in the maquiladoras couldn't buy one fix a week, real wages in Mexico have dropped by two-thirds over the past two neoliberal decades, and al-Qaeda has not yet, to my knowledge, designated that country as a Great Satan. The purpose of this military spending, in fact, was to protect--you guessed it--the interests of the United States.

One can only wonder at the closed delusional system inhabited by the policy-makers and enforcers in the Administration. "There," I can hear them saying, "that'll teach Mexico a thing or two." Reason as collateral damage in the continued ideological offensive.

In my nastier moments, I have to say that I find myself wishing the Bush regime success on this front. Canada remains a strong ICC supporter, ratifying the Rome Statute in 2000. We are, however, exempt from US sanctions as a NATO member. But suppose that we were to call for the end of this exemption, demanding that we be treated like Chile and Brazil and now Mexico? Who knows? The US might respond by refusing point blank to permit us to join on with missile defence, demanding that we get our troops out of Afghanistan, maybe even boycotting our water.

One can dream.