Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Saleapaga, Samoa

Something I wrote in 2003, after my late partner and I returned from our travels in the South Pacific:

In Saleapaga, Upolu, we attended a "fiafia night," with a pretty good barbecue and then an evening of dancing, music and costume. Far from putting on a "show," the villagers were actually sharing with the audience a celebration of current culture--traditional and Western melodies blended with extraordinarily good dancing. That audience seemed to be mostly the other half of the village, plus a handful of tourists and Peace Corps volunteers. The very young children sat under tables near the action.

A magical performance by a little girl of eight years or so, in which she went through a series of complex movements while other dancers tried to distract her, was followed by groups of young people, perfectly synchronized, dancing to music both traditional and Western. At the end, they disappeared for a few moments, to return in baggy jeans, sweatshirts or T-shirts and running shoes, and continued to dance. The point was obvious: all clothing is costume. The audience was then invited to party, and the whole event became a disco--stopping promptly at midnight because the next day was a Sunday!

Saleapaga was virtually wiped out by yesterday's tsunami:

I am in Samoa. Radio 2AP just reported truck loads of victims from Lalomanu being brought to the morgues in Apia. The villages of Lalomanu and Saleapaga are virtually gone they said. Death toll far above 100 for sure only in that area. Tourists from the beach fale resorts as well. This is far worse than already reported on NZ or elsewhere.

Samoa lies devastated, and there were fresh tsunami warnings out today. And I can't help wondering about those kids...

Relief efforts are already well under way. I'm looking for the coordinates of a relief agency directly involved in the rebuilding effort, and if readers can help out, that would be much appreciated. I'll update when I have the information, and yes, I know, I was slow off the mark here.

UPDATE: (October 1) More Saleapaga news: at this point, 18 are confirmed dead in this tiny village--in one family alone. The survivors are presently on higher ground under tents. Reader Cameron, a resident of New Zealand, has hunted down some relief agency coordinates. Here's a consolidated list:

Pacific Cooperation Foundation
Deposits can be made at at any Westpac branch. All the money raised will go to the Samoan Government. More information here.

Red Cross
- Make a secure online donation at Here's the donation page.
- Send cheques to the Samoan Red Cross Fund, PO Box 12140, Thorndon, Wellington 6144
- Call +6490031100 to make an automatic $20 donation

ANZ bank Donate directly to the ANZ appeal account: 01 1839 0143546 00 Oxfam
- Make a secure online donation at
- Make an automatic $20 donation by calling +6490060020

UPDATE: (October 1) At least 50 people are thought to have died in Saleapaga.

Two photos:

A woman in the back of a truck sobs as nearby rescue workers at Saleapaga, Samoa, continue a search for bodies Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009

Rescue workers dig through a swampy area at Saleapaga, Samoa, as they search for bodies Wednesday


...asks Pale.

A short documentary, shurely?

Not enough hanging chads get Republicans elected these days, it seems, or prevent a Black man from becoming President. What's left for deranged American conservative wingnuts? A coup?

That is, if they don't kill Obama first. Because impeachment just takes too durn long.

Remember how we used to say, "You lost--get over it"?

They're not getting over it. Not, definitely no pun intended, by a long shot.

[H/t Chet Scoville and Garry Wise]

Afghanistan: torture coverup continues

The Harper government is pressing on with its attempted coverup of Canadian complicity in torture in Afghanistan.

A little history first. In 2007 the story first broke: our troops were handing its prisoners, whoops, "detainees," over to Afghan officials to be tortured and killed. This is in clear violation, if not of the Geneva Conventions (the people involved are not "prisoners of war" but merely "enemy combatants") then certainly of the moral norms of any society pretending to be civilized.

The 2007 revelations were horrific. They included a request from one visiting
Correctional Service of Canada official for better boots, after having to wade through blood and feces in an Afghan dungeon.

The ensuing outcry led to prisoner transfers being halted in November of that year, and finally prompted a Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry, expected to start hearings next month. The Harper government, deeply implicated, has been resisting the inquiry from the start, and with a fair degree of success.

It has already blocked a suit by Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association on the detainee transfer issue. This past May, the Supreme Court of Canada refused leave to appeal an earlier federal court decision that found that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms do not apply to our "detainees." The current inquiry is really the only hope left for getting to the truth.

The government, which has officially covered for torture in the past, has been using every legal trick at its disposal to prevent an open inquiry into our Afghanistan wrongdoing. The military inquiry was undertaken nearly a year ago: it was supposed to be a wide-ranging investigation, but the Department of Justice went to court seeking to have its scope drastically curtailed. A federal court sided with the government just last week.

But even with the ambit of the inquiry considerably reduced, the Harper regime continues its outrageous stonewalling. Subpoenas have been issued to senior military officials, but the government, through its Department of Justice lawyers, is refusing to permit these witnesses to utter a word at the inquiry.

The question is not whether we were indeed complicit in abuse--we were, as the government's antics amply demonstrate. What Canadians need to know, pronto, is how many were implicated, who they were, and how high up the complicity went.

While the government once claimed that only one instance of prisoner
abuse had been uncovered, its officials have now admitted to the Commission that several investigations were conducted in Kandahar. The lead counsel for the Commission, Freya Kristjanson, became aware of the investigations last year and asked for copies of the reports. She has now been informed--nearly a year later--that the government has not had time to censor them, and will not provide them. Kristjanson was aghast: "I've never seen something like that in all of my life. It seems to me the government has never had any intention of co-operating."

All of this is allegedly being done in the "national interest," but what is truly at stake is the Harper government's self-interest: the two have unfortunately become conflated. But this coverup must end. It's high time, more than two years after the fact, to name and punish the guilty--and
by now, if not at the time, the guilt seems to extend as far as the PMO.

UPDATE: More on the government's torture cover-up here. [H/t Scott Tribe]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Assisted suicide? No way, says NDP

I'm talking politically, of course. Michael Ignatieff is pushing a non-confidence vote this Thursday in the Commons just as Canadians are expressing their own non-confidence in him and his party.
(Beset by internal problems, the Liberals are continuing to toboggan rapidly downhill in the polls.)

So what's up? Is this a desperate act of political machismo? Or is it a vote Ignatieff knows will go nowhere, giving him the luxury of being able to save his own hide while railing against his NDP benefactors?

In any case, word has it that the NDP may be taking the advice I offered a few days ago, but one way or the other, they will not be supporting the motion.
And this should be welcome news, not only for those with qualms about assisted suicide, but for the unemployed and, I suggest, the Liberal rank-and-file as well. They can read the sad poll numbers like anyone else, after all, and the untimely Quebec imbroglio has likely not improved their mood.

The NDP, supporting the Harper government? Nope. Doing their level best to prevent a Harper majority, in fact, while the Liberals continue to play chicken against all the odds.

Heather Mallick

 back in a blaze of stylish glory, praise whatever gods there be.
Go read, even if Margaret Atwood isn't your cuppa.

UPDATE: And, predictably, she prompts the envious gasbaggery of nonentities, and assorted buzzes and clicks from the burrowing inhabitants of small dead animals. Wear the fool's reproach with pride, Heather. You're getting to them, as always.

A tale of two citizens: the nightmare continues

Two items in the news today: two Canadian citizens, safely home after being exiled by their own government--but the government's war against them continues in all its fury.

Suaad Hagi Mohamud, left to rot in Kenya after being branded an "impostor" by officials in the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, was finally permitted to return after a DNA test proved that she was Suaad Hagi Mohamud. She, quite rightly, is suing the government for its unconscionable treatment of her. Now the government is lashing back.

Two pictures of her may be seen here: one as she arrived in Kenya, one as she attempted to leave. Different women? If you look closely, you can see what appear to be two identical veins in her forehead in each picture. In one, her lips are parted; in one they are not. But this photographic "evidence" is offered as proof of the High Commission's good faith in the matter. I remain as unimpressed as her lawyer, Raoul Boulakia.

We are told that interviews were conducted by a Canadian High Commission official. Mohamud apparently couldn't name Canada's Prime Minister, or the previous one. (Alas, for the apolitical majority of Canadians, this sort of thing is all too common. But I'll bet she knows Stephen Harper's name by now.)

There were other alleged gaps in her knowledge as well. She didn't know what "TTC" stood for, or "ATS," the company for which she worked, couldn't name Lake Ontario, etc., etc. Until all the facts are brought out in court, of course, we have only the government's word that these interviews even took place, or that the record of them is accurate, but even if it is, it proves nothing at all. The DNA evidence is irrefutable; her insistence upon it is a matter of public record. And, contrary to the suspicions of the official who interviewed her, she has no "younger sister" in Kenya.

In any case, if I were to be wrongfully arrested and incarcerated in a filthy Kenyan prison, I might not do so well in a series of interviews myself. I might blurt out "2006" instead of "1996," or be rattled enough to misspeak in other ways, or forget things I know perfectly well.

But this isn't stopping the tinfoil hat brigade from spinning their absurd theories: that Mohamud had lent her passport to someone else (how was she supposed to return to Canada herself without it?), and, even more fancifully, that she and an impostor switched places twice, once in the airport and once after her--or the impostor's--arrest and imprisonment. Of course, that would have to mean that the High Commission officials interviewed
both, but failed to detect any physical differences.

An apology and an offer of compensation from the Harper government would likely have laid this matter to rest. But, as we know, that's not how they roll.

Turning now to Abousfian Abdelrazik, who was recently interviewed at length by the Globe and Mail's Paul Koring, we find that he is not yet out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination.

Unlike any other Canadian, he cannot open a bank account, cannot receive anything--not even food--legally, cannot access medical services (even though he suffers from serious health problems), or social assistance, cannot lawfully get a job.

Anyone who helps him, even his family, could potentially be charged under current Canadian law. CSIS is apparently still harassing him, warning neighbours to stay away from the "terrorist." He no longer knows if he's imagining surveillance, or if it's really continuing.

Abdelrazik is not a free Canadian. He's brought Khartoum with him, and it surrounds him like the walls of a prison cell. All he has to do, says Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon airily, is to persuade the United Nations that he isn't a terrorist. I'd ask readers to suggest how they themselves might go about doing that were they in Abdelrazik's shoes.

One tyrannical government. Officials aplenty who take their cues from it. And two Canadians, living in a continuing nightmare from which there seems no easy escape.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Gary Goodyear's attempted blackmail

Readers will recall attempts earlier this year by the ludicrous Minister of Creationism Gary Goodyear to shut down an academic conference at York University about the Middle East.

I blogged about that at the time, and noted with some relief that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council had politely rejected his request to convene a second funding panel to "review" SSHRC's decision to provide support for the meeting.

It turns out that the folks at SSHRC, one of these formerly arms-length agencies in which Harper's ministers have seen fit to meddle, were braver than anyone at the time gave them credit for.

Goodyear's office,
as we now learn, gave every indication that the Minister would not take No for an answer. He was prepared, in fact, to blackmail the agency into submission, although subsequently it appears he was either overruled or else some expert in administrative law whispered urgently into his ear.

Here's the entire text of the press release issued today by the Canadian Association of University Teachers:

Minister Gary Goodyear’s office threatened to withhold federal budget funding for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) over its decision to fund a controversial academic conference, according to an email obtained by CAUT through Access to Information.

CAUT first learned in June that Minister Goodyear had telephoned SSHRC president Chad Gaffield to insist on reconsideration of a peer-reviewed decision to fund an academic conference called “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace” held at York University later that month.

“At the time we considered this personal intervention by the minister so serious we called for his resignation,” said CAUT executive director James Turk. “Little did we know then that the phone call was apparently accompanied by a threat from the minister’s office to withhold increases in federal budget funding.”

Marked “Extremely Urgent,” and sent to SSHRC president Chad Gaffield on June 5, 2009, the email is written by SSHRC’s communications manager Trevor Lynn and describes what he has just been told by Minister Goodyear’s Chief of Staff, Phillip Welford:

“He [Welford] said that this is a serious issue and is so serious that it will make it hard for the Minister to recommend increased funding for SSHRC in the next budget."

“This email raises serious questions about how decisions are made about federal government funding for academic granting councils,” said Turk. “Minister Goodyear must be called upon to explain his chief of staff’s actions, and if he cannot provide an adequate explanation, Prime Minister Harper must safeguard the integrity of academic research in Canada by asking for the minister’s resignation.” [Emphasis added]

This is, even for the Harper government, an extraordinary example of ministerial arrogance.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the salient principle upheld in Roncarelli (which applies, for example, to Jason Kenney's revocation of a grant to the Canadian Arab Federation because he didn't like the cut of its jib).

The Premier of Quebec at the time, the clerical-fascist Maurice Duplessis, had denied a liquor license to a citizen of that province because he was a Jehovah's Witness. His view--echoed by the Harper regime today--was, in effect, that he could do anything he jolly well pleased because he was the Premier. The Supreme Court disagreed:

In public regulation of this sort there is no such thing as absolute and untrammelled "discretion", that is that action can be taken on any ground or for any reason that can be suggested to the mind of the administrator; no legislative Act can, without express language, be taken to contemplate an unlimited arbitrary power exercisable for any purpose, however capricious or irrelevant, regardless of the nature or purpose of the statute. ..."Discretion" necessarily implies good faith in discharging public duty; there is always a perspective within which a statute is intended to operate; and any clear departure from its lines or objects is just as objectionable as fraud or corruption. Could an applicant be refused a permit because he had been born in another province, or because of the colour of his hair? The ordinary language of the legislature cannot be so distorted.

Recently the federal court slapped down yet another minister--Lawrence Cannon--who had taken a view quite similar to that of Duplessis. The government argued, unsuccessfully, that he could deny a passport to Abousfian Abdelrazik essentially for any reason that he chose, he was not accountable to the courts, and the Charter of Rights didn't apply.

Now we have another clear instance of executive overreach, if I can put it thus: a minister of the Crown threatening the budget of a granting agency for not bowing to his command. To the head of my old agency, Chad Gaffield, who refused to bow, kudos.

And to Gary Goodyear, one word, in the name of democracy: Resign.

UPDATE: (September 29) And the decline of our international reputation proceeds apace. [H/t reader "dizzy."]

The language maven: William Safire, 1929-2009

It may seem odd that I had an affection for a columnist who wrote speeches for Richard Nixon and that consummate boob Spiro T. Agnew, but I liked William Safire in spite of his politics. (In any case, in comparison to the banshee wailing and screeching of present-day Republicans, they were fairly moderate.)

It somehow took me this long to discover from the obituaries that he, and not Agnew, fathered the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism" to describe the media pundits of his era. But his loyalty to the Nixon team did not give him immunity: as he found out later, he too had been wiretapped by the Nixonians for "national security" reasons. This did not please him. He had not, he said, "worked through a difficult decade, to have [Nixon]--or some lizard-lidded paranoid acting without his approval--eavesdropping on my conversations."

Safire's politics were quirky, to put it mildly: a self-described "libertarian conservative," he voted for Bill Clinton, then became his wife's worst nightmare, and defended George W.'s Iraqi adventure, WMDs and all, subscribing in fact to one of the wilder conspiracy theories on the Right: an alleged al-Qaeda-Saddam Hussein connection. Despite being debunked by the 9/11 Commission, Safire's tale of a Prague meeting between 9/11 conspirator Mohammed Atta and senior Iraqi officials was never retracted: he called the meeting an "undisputed fact."

But for me his politics were secondary. It was his love of language that I treasured, and when I subscribed to the Sunday New York Times I turned to his "On Language" column in the NYT Magazine first thing. It was always a fun read--no dour Henry W. Fowler was he. An incurable lover of puns, he was also one who eschewed an overly-prescriptive view, but held to his standards:

Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don't overuse exclamation marks!!

He was always current, and his research was meticulous--but not perfect. His column on "Blegging for blargon in the blogosphere" is well worth a read for those of us in the game. In it, he credits
William Quick of the Daily Pundit for coining the latter term on January 1, 2002. But "blogosphere" made its first appearance on September 10, 1999 in an on-line column by Brad Graham, a piece also worth reading to remind us how recent is our time-devouring addiction.

Safire didn't see eye-to-eye with those of us who push for a gender-free lexical shift: those feminists who want to use "actor" to refer to an actress, he said, would never call Madonna a "sex god." He also responded with good grace when avid readers pointed out his own inevitable linguistic errors.

There's a personal connection here, too. Many years ago, responding to a column of his on abortion-issue terminology, I had the temerity to write to him and put the case for using "pro-choice" instead of "pro-abortion." (Were no-fault divorce law supporters "pro-divorce?" I recall asking.) I never did receive a response, but one day a colleague asked me if I'd seen Safire's new book, darned if I can remember which it was--there were so many--and he had reproduced the letter in its entirety, devoting a page to it, right after a reprint of his column. Without comment. To this day I believe that Safire was interested in the exploration of ideas above all, without the felt necessity of drawing hard and fast conclusions, and that the honour he did me was in that spirit.

Indeed Safire should be remembered, not only as a man passionate about language, but as a civil and urbane conservative who, I would like to believe, was as appalled by the current outbreak of right-wing political ergotism as am I. He died of pancreatic cancer, an illness I know well. What a lousy way to go for a man who, whatever his politics, touched people across the divides.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Canadians don't want another election"

I caught myself wondering about this little
idée reçue today. Certainly Canadian opinion seems clear on the matter. Michael Ignatieff's continuing poor fortune in the polls, in fact, has been linked to his foolhardy threat of forcing an election.

But the NDP saved his uncharismatic butt and spared Canadians the agony of a Harper majority by swallowing hard, holding their noses, and voting with the government a few days ago. (I still think my party should have abstained, but no matter.)

I digress.

What is so tough about an actual election for the average Joe and Jane? Is a trip to the polls truly that arduous a task?

Well, John Snobelen (name ring a bell?) thinks so:

[I]f Canadians are dragged back to the polls for the second time in a year, there will be no doubt in our minds who dragged us there.

"Dragged," we are, reminding me of that other meme, "hauled before the Human Rights Tribunal." None of us, as I've mentioned before, seems to remember how to walk or drive anymore. But really: voting for most of us is a matter of an hour or two, and employers are obliged to provide time off at their own expense if employees cannot otherwise get to the polls in time. It's not, in other words, a Herculean task.

There are, of course, as indicated in my first paragraph, very good reasons for not having an election at this point. Ignatieff has not yet been able to define his leadership, share his vision (if any), or carve out a single issue upon which an election might be successfully fought. Add to that the bill to the taxpayers ($300 million or so), and the conclusion in the short term seems obvious enough.

Canadians also want a majority government. Without an election, the chances of that seem rather slim. But they aren't mindless: without a
reason to go to the polls, they--most of us--question the need for an election. It was up to the fellow from Harvard to tell us what that reason might be, and fire us up so that it became our reason too. But he has failed, magnificently, to do so.

Snobelen goes on, blaming Quebec for our string of minority governments, and making modest proposals like this one:

Ignatieff could table a motion to require all official federal parties to run candidates in every region of the country. It seems to me that the lack of confidence in government has more to do with the presence of Bloc MPs who care only about Quebec than with any difference between the Liberals and Conservatives.

But for all his faults Iggy is not, so far as I know, blindly suicidal. Although his election talk in the teeth of the polls has, admittedly, made me wonder.

Sunday well-meaning overlords

From a handbook called "The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo," published in English and Inuktitut by the Bureau of Northwest Territories and Yukon Affairs, Lands, Parks and Forests Services, Department of Mines and Resources, in 1947:


If face, nose or ears get frozen do not rub. That will make it worse. At first sign of freezing cover the part and leave alone.

When feet and hands are clean and dry they are hard to freeze.

So keep feet and hands clean in cold weather.

Keep socks and mitts clean and dry.

If feet get wet change to dry socks at once. Do not wait for a warm place to change.

If you do freeze your feet put them in cold water until the frost is gone. Do not rub.

Make sure frozen part is clean.

Boil seal oil and let it get cold.

Boil thin cloth (cotton).

Soak the cold cloth in the seal oil and wrap the foot. Keep the covering loose.

Be sure that only very clean hands are used to dress the frozen foot.

Change dressing every day.

If frozen badly, get to the doctor or nurse as soon as you can.

[H/t Peter Irniq]

Saturday, September 26, 2009

On plural loyalties

Given the brouhaha over Antonia Zerbisias' recent Tweet about Irwin Cotler, combed over at length in a recent post of mine and pursued in an enormous thread there, I found myself wondering about the notion of "divided" or "dual" loyalty per se--and how the notion supposedly became yet another instance of allegedly anti-Semitic discourse.

What is the etiology of this supposed slur? When did it first arise? Does it apply only when Israel is one of the objects of loyalty?

There's a surprisingly good overview of the "dual loyalty" problematic here. One of the first things to note is that it is a general notion,
not specific to Jews in North America or anywhere else. It has applied to minorities from hostile countries during wartime, for example--the Japanese internment camps come to mind, but there are many other examples. And it has even wider application, going back centuries, if not millennia.

The question really is one of interests. There is nothing wrong, one assumes, with plural (a word I prefer to "divided") loyalties in cases where the interests of the objects of one's loyalty are aligned. Difficulties arise when those interests are misaligned, or considered to be so.

Hence, during the English Reformation, when the interests of the Papacy and the King of England were clearly divergent, one could not be loyal at once to the Crown and the Pope--as Thomas More and Mary Stuart learned the hard way. There are many other examples provided at the link.

But these days in the global village, I find it hard to believe that plural loyalties are confined to only two, or that they are uncommon, and I don't believe they are inherently wrong, either. Many of us are loyal to our families, to our country, to a higher being (in some cases, anyway), to humanity all at once, and no one would dream of making an adverse moral judgement about any of that. The latter comes in when one's national loyalties are at issue.

So we saw not long ago the banshee Right attacking Michaëlle Jean and later Stéphane Dion for alleged dual loyalties, based upon their dual citizenship. Yet I never saw a reasoned case set out as to why French citizenship (in this instance), even if it did command a loyalty, was something to worry about. It seemed to me then, and still does today, that the attacks were politically motivated, and had no other conceivable rationale.

Earlier there was Ezra Levant, questioning the loyalty to Canada of then-MP Omar Alghabra in the most revolting terms.

But a connection to Israel, as always, is different, and we need, as ever, to walk on eggshells. Of course many Jews--most--feel an affinity for Israel. But to say so for some reason is considered a slur, at least when we are discussing the construction of Canadian or American foreign policy. Canadian and American citizens who happen to be Jewish often do have a divided loyalty--or, far better stated, more than one loyalty. So what? I'd make the same observation about the many other ethnic groups that make their homes in this country.

So does this sort of thing bother me? Not in the least--why should it?

But when it comes to shaping foreign policy, allow me my concerns.

How might we feel about a Russian national in charge of the Communications Security Establishment? Or a Chinese-Canadian dual citizen as a senior CSIS staff member? All hypothetical, of course: neither would never be permitted to happen.

Obviously, however, the odour that would be emitted by screening out Jews (as opposed to Israeli nationals) from any occupation whatsoever would be horrendous. And--because every syllable uttered by a critic of Israeli state policy is relentlessly parsed by the "Israel right or wrong" crowd to "prove" anti-Semitism--let me here state, unequivocally, that I would find such a measure odious in the extreme.

But that doesn't mean we are out of the woods. Here's Glenn Greenwald on neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, who explicitly calls for American Jews to invoke their loyalty to Israel at election time:

Apparently, The Godfather of Neoconservatism believes that American Jews do -- and should -- base their political beliefs not on what is best for their own country, but on what is best for a foreign country (Israel). According to him, even though Obama shares most of their views on political matters ("on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, gun control and assisted suicide, the survey data show that Jews are by far the most liberal of any group in America"), American Jews should have nonetheless voted for McCain because of McCain's alleged "long history of sympathy with Israel." Isn't this the "dual loyalty" argument that nobody is allowed to make upon pain of being accused of all sorts of bad things -- that the political beliefs of some American Jews are shaped primarily or even exclusively by loyalty to Israel? Yet here we find not Walt and Mearshimer [sic] or Chas Freeman making this claim, but Norman Podhoretz.*

This extreme and flagrant double standard has been permitted for a long time now. Neocons arrogate unto themselves the right to make appeals to what they believe is the "dual loyalty" of American Jews -- most of whom, in fact, reject their radical ideology -- when trying to coerce support for their agenda. Podhoretz's Commentary Magazine convened a "symposium" of some of the nation's most typical war-loving neocons to discuss his new book, and virtually everyone of them argued that American Jews should shift their political loyalties to the Right because the Right is "better for Israel" -- as though considerations of what's best for a foreign country is how most American Jews (rather than just neocons) decide how they vote in American elections. Neocons have long gotten away with this manipulative game: simultaneously demanding that American Jews support the Right on the ground that the Right is allegedly better for Israel (i.e., a "dual loyalty" appeal) while branding as "bigots" and "anti-Semites" anyone and everyone who points out that neocons think this way.

Greenwald rejects the notion that most American Jews are swayed by this appeal to dual loyalty, and backs this up with statistics. But his point--that what is "anti-Semitic" in the hands of progressives is just plain common sense in the hands of conservatives--stands.

Which, by a circuitous route, brings us back to the Zerb, still being defamed by Jonathan Kay in the National Post in the context of a column about Manuel Zelaya. (Hey, Jon, come a-visiting again--you might learn something.) She talked about loyalty in the non-reflective manner that Tweeting encourages ("MP Irwin Cotler's children join IDF. Which country are you loyal to, sir?"), and admits that she could have phrased things better. There's no
choice of loyalty involved here, of course, and no one should be forced to make such a choice in any case. It's never one or the other in the case of dual loyalties: it's both, occasionally in tension.

Plural loyalty is neither suspect in itself nor even very remarkable. It's not specific to supporters of the state of Israel. It's not news, to echo what Global anchor Peter Trueman used to say--but it is reality. So why should we not be able to discuss the question openly in all cases without having the inevitable "A" branded on our foreheads if we choose the wrong one?

*I added the last two links. The Walt and Mearsheimer one is rather long, but a must-read. Needless to say, their critics preferred silencing them to debating them.

Manuel Zelaya's excellent adventure, continued

The elected President of Honduras continues to hold court in the now-besieged Brazilian Embassy, while, world-wide, a meme is circulating that originated in the Miami Herald: Zelaya is complaining about being gassed and irradiated, and somehow Israeli mercenaries are involved as well.

I read the story when it first broke, and it looked like something that might appear in the Onion. If it was serious, which I wasn't sure of at the time, I figured it might prove to be another "Hamas brings back crucifixion" or "Iranian Jews must wear yellow stars" kind of fantasy.

Well, it appears that much of the story is true--but as always, context matters. Wired magazine has the straight goods.

The gas that Zelaya complained about is likely the tear gas deployed by the troops surrounding the Embassy to disperse pro-Zelaya crowds. Zelaya addressed them from an Embassy balcony, and (I can testify from experience) just a whiff of the stuff will indeed make your throat sore; it also tends to hang around for a long time.

Forced into exile in a coup three months ago, Zelaya sneaked back into the country on Monday. He gave speeches to crowds of supporters from an embassy balcony, calling for a peaceful solution to the current crisis. Recognizing the risk of a popular response, the coup leaders sent in security forces to clear the area using tear gas and water cannon. According to the Guardian, twenty people were injured and at least 170 detained following the disturbance; the BBC say that at least one person died.

As for the "radiation":

The embassy is now surrounded. Water, electricity and telephone lines have been cut off. Embassy staff were permitted to leave, but access is now restricted. According to the BBC the embassy occupants have no soap, towels or fresh clothes and are surviving on biscuits. These are fairly routine methods of making the subjects of a siege feel isolated and uncomfortable, but an added dimension has been added by the use of noise.

According to Reuters, a truck-mounted speaker was used “to blast the embassy with harsh sounds.” The Guardian describes the speakers as being used to generate “high-pitched noise.” The Miami Herald cites witness reports that “soldiers used a device that looked like a large satellite dish to emit a loud shrill noise.”

The device seems to have spooked Zelaya; in the Herald report, he claims that he is under attack by some sort of radiation weapon. This reminds me of someone I talked to who once told some protesters that the LRAD sonic blaster emitted radiation that would shrivel their testicles. He was impressed at how fast they got out of the way.

More here, with links. And the mention of "Israeli mercenaries," it seems, may have some foundation too. (This report in Spanish refers to "Israelis operating in the country," and claims that "a retired Israeli general" is in charge of the current military operation.)

Is this all paranoid, anti-Semitic delusion? Likely not. More than two decades ago, in The Israeli Connection: Whom Israel Arms & Why (1987), author Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi noted (p.xii):

Mention any trouble spot in the Third World over the past 10 years, and, inevitably, you will find smiling Israeli officers and shiny Israeli weapons on the news pages. The images have become familiar: the Uzi submachine gun or the Galil assault rifle, with Israeli officers named Uzi and Galil, or Golan, for good measure. We have seen them in South Africa, Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, from Seoul to Tegucigalpa, from Walvis Bay to Guatemala City, from Taipei to Port-au-Prince, Israeli citizens and military men have been helping, in their own words, in 'the defense of the West'.

Israel plays Realpolitik like any other nation, and it has an increasing stake in South America these days. That's fact, not fantasy.

So what originally appeared as the ravings of a caricature of the "loony Left" needed only a bit more context to become intelligible and reasonable. Carry on, Manuel: but I'll admit that you did have me worried there for a while.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another rotten brick in the wall

...falls to the ground. After more than six years, including two in prison, Adil Charkaoui is today a free man. All bail conditions have been lifted, and the judge in the case, Justice Daniele Tremblay-Lamer, has announced her intention to halt deportation proceedings.

It's been quite a tangled tale, one that the Globe & Mail's Colin Freeze sums up here. But it's not necessarily concluded. The government plans to appeal the judge's ruling in the case that secret evidence be publicly disclosed. In her estimation, having reviewed it, doing so would not pose a threat to national security.

Given her ruling, that evidence was withdrawn by lawyers for the Department of Justice, undercutting the rationale for a security certificate. The tarnished Canadian Security Intelligence Service, meanwhile, is sticking to its guns, insisting that Charkaoui is a security risk.

Should the appeal succeed, the government could
hit the reset button and issue a new security certificate, although these certificates may now be a dead letter. But at this point, yet another blow has been struck by the courts for natural justice.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Braidwood Chronicles: end-game

The Braidwood Inquiry has heard its last witness. Closing arguments begin on October 5.

A few items worthy of note: first, it now appears that the supervisor of Cpl. Benjamin Robinson, head cowboy of the Four Horsemen, was less than pleased with the quality of Robinson's notes of the Vancouver Airport events. "They weren't up to my standard," said Staff Sergeant Doug Wright. Were they up to his? asked Don Rosenbloom, representing the government of Poland before the Inquiry. "I'm not sure," Wright responded.

As noted before, but this sort of thing can get lost in the voluminous details, the four officers were permitted by Staff Sergeant Wright to work together for several weeks after the Dziekanski killing. It wasn't considered necessary to separate them, he said, although there was a protocol in place prohibiting the men from discussing the case amongst themselves. We can assume, therefore, that they just talked about the weather and the Vancouver Canucks during all that time, and I'm the King of England.

One troublesome detail that continues to nag at me, and which bears directly on the question of whether the use of the Taser was pre-arranged, was a portion of the audio of the infamous Pritchard video. I noted here, with help from Alison at Creekside, that there was excited talk of Tasering Dziekanski before the officers had even passed through the doors to the area where he was.Why was this fairly crucial evidence not brought out in testimony?

Finally, it seems that all of this has lain rather heavily on the shoulders of various BC police forces, including the RCMP, to the point that--at long last, Hallelujah--they themselves are calling for an independent, civilian-led investigative agency to look into complaints of police misconduct. Maybe it'll happen, now that the police themselves recognize the folly--or at least the bad optics--of relying on in-house investigations that almost invariably clear their own folks.

In any case, their desperate call makes we civil libertarian types, who have been demanding this sort of thing for years, feel a little less isolated. Who knew that we'd someday be making common cause with some of the very organizations we've been watch-dogging?

Abdelrazik: the other shoe drops

Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen marooned in Sudan for six years by the wilful actions (and inaction) of successive Canadian governments until the courts forced his repatriation this year, is suing. Read the Globe and Mail account here, and his Statement of Claim here.

Abdelrazik's lawsuit is against the Canadian government and--I like this very much--Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon personally for "malfeasance in office." It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

The active, malevolent resistance of the Harper government and Cannon in particular to Abdelrazik's return to his country has been amply documented by the
Globe and Mail's persistent Paul Koring, and faithfully reproduced here. An evil little cat-and-mouse game was played with the man, promises broken, hopes dashed.

Bizarre and absurd arguments were made
by the government, culminating in the submission to federal judge Russel Zinn earlier this year that, in effect, Lawrence Cannon could do anything he damn well pleased in his ministerial role, the Charter didn't apply, and the courts had no authority over him. As for the UN no-fly list regulations, which permit a listed person to return to his own country, government lawyers argued that they applied only if Abdelrazik were already at the Canadian border. Justice Zinn's stinging comments on these and other matters may be found here.

Minister Cannon acted in bad faith every step of the way. To this day, as a person who remains on the UN no-fly list, Abdelrazik cannot legally be employed or receive social assistance in his own country. Those of us who helped him return are apparently lawbreakers. Indeed, anyone who gives the man the price of a cup of coffee is a lawbreaker under our flawed United Nations Act.

The treatment of this man by the government has been a horror. Perhaps this lawsuit will mark the beginning of the end of a regime whose ministers have behaved on occasion like absolute monarchs to whom the law simply doesn't apply. I, for one, wish Abdelrazik well in his continuing quest for justice.

UPDATE: Abousfian will begin a speaking tour today. For events in your area, check out the Project Fly Home schedule.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Twitter: the Libyan connection

Backseat Blogger has uncovered the plot: there is nothing left to do now but turn ourselves in, I guess. I reproduce his post in its entirety:

The mask slips

It’s always interesting when a person’s mask slips and reveals the real person.

In this case, Antonia Zerbisias has lets her antisemitism hang out for all to see in her recent twitter the old tried and true dual loyalty canard.

i know nothing about twitter but i do know top level country codes. *.ly is libyan.

is in Jonathan Kay’s posting on this issue) a usual domain reference in twitter?

Whoops. Here's the URL shortener created by Twitter on my last Tweet:

Zelaya's back!
from web

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Anti-Zion is not a forgery! I can think of no other credible explanation.

Toronto neo-McCarthyism

The rabid dogs are howling after Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias once more. She had the temerity to have Tweeted (on her own behalf, no connection with the Star) the following:

"MP Irwin Cotler's children join IDF. Which country are you loyal to, sir?"

The vulgar National Post columnist Jonathan Kay, who sees anti-Semites under every bush and behind every tree, pounced on this immediately.

Loyalty tests for a person's children? That's pretty disgusting, Antonia. Now why don't you use your Twitter feed to apologize. Or are you going to wait until your own newspaper slaps you down for yet another inappropriate attack on a Jewish public figure — like it did in July?

I think I see a pattern here. Just another example of how hatred of Israel is driving the once-respectable Canadian left stark raving batcrap.

Get a grip, Jonathan. As one of your commenters asked, what would you have said about a proud father announcing his kids' enlistment in, say, the army of the Islamic Republic of Iran? Are we not permitted to question a senior Canadian politician's publicly expressed pride that his children have signed up with an armed force that has brutalized the West Bank population for years and recently committed war crimes in Gaza?

Kay then brings up Zerbisias' light-hearted comment some months ago about Bernie Farber's attendance at a Gay Pride parade after he had bemoaned the fact that a pro-Palestinian faction in the march was "politicizing" the event. He suggests that this, too, was an instance of anti-Semitism. Not that he and scores of others who play this squalid game would ever have the courage to come right out and say it.

But he's not done. In an update to his wretched little squib, he states:

On her Facebook page, Antonia is now endorsing the notion that "It doesn't seem possible for Jewish people to have a RATIONAL discussion about Israel!"

A flat-out lie. She said no such thing: it was a comment left at her page. Why does leaving this comment in place constitute an endorsement? Does Kay "endorse" all of the comments attached to his articles?*

But I'll go so far as to partially endorse that comment myself, minus the "Jewish people" reference. I'm seriously wondering at this point whether a rational discussion about Israel is possible, period. I've attempted it at my place, and invited all sorts of people in, but the well is inevitably poisoned by mindless pro-Israel partisans accusing me of anti-Semitism, "obsession," even supporting the Holocaust. (The real anti-Semites are smart enough to steer clear, and those that aren't have been banned.)

Irwin Cotler himself is a case in point, writing an inflammatory two-part article in the Jerusalem Post denouncing the Goldstone Inquiry before it had even issued its report. (A well-worded smackdown by Human Rights Watch was published by the JP a few days later.) And Kay, who is a well-poisoner by profession, renders the issue utterly toxic with his continual accusations and innuendos.

It's of a piece, of course, with this little effort, about which I've blogged before--and which is still unreported by the mainstream media. Well, those of us old enough can remember Joe McCarthy, and his rabid press demagogues, cowing Americans into silence. And we remember how he did it, too: anyone and everyone who didn't go along with his slobbering was a "Communist" or a "Red." Families were torn apart; careers were wrecked; reputations were ruined.

That was then; this is now. We will not be silenced, Jonathan, by the likes of you, or by Parliamentary busybodies who already have their conclusions in hand as they begin their bogus investigations. Count on it.

UPDATE: And right on schedule...
*UPPERDATE: Jonathan Kay takes exception to my response to this comment. Zerbisias did indeed "endorse" the quoted remark by someone else, he claims, by stating "I agree." She didn't stop there, in fact, but continued: "...Worker Bee. It's almost existential for many of them." Kay himself then caricatured that response by stating: "Yes, those 'Jewish people' are nuts!" She didn't say any such thing, of course.

Nevertheless, while I stand by my overall critique, Kay does have a point, and I withdraw my characterization of that particular comment. A term like "flat-out lie" might apply more accurately to the claim that Zerbisias was advocating "loyalty tests for a person's children."

But in any case I am confirmed in my variation of Worker Bee's observation every time a new comment appears in my threads from the "Israel right or wrong" crowd. You just can't have a "RATIONAL discussion" with any of them. Many of the most strident and irrational apologists for Israel's state policy, however, don't happen to be Jewish.

"The country is in jail"

You will remember the ouster of the elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, a few weeks back, in a coup that has been supported by much of the right side of the blogosphere, not to mention a few crackpot newspaper columnists.

Ostensibly this was to defend the country's constitution. Zelaya wanted a non-binding referendum on constitutional change to take place at the time of the next election--when he wouldn't even be running.

That was too much for certain forces in Honduras, wary of the President's leftist way of thinking, so they ran him out of the country. For some, as I've noted before,
democracy is far too precious a commodity to be squandered on the people.

Since that time, according to the International Federation for Human Rights, the new defenders of democracy have violated the rights of Hondurans in a "generalised and systematic" manner, including:

thousands of arbitrary arrests, systematic persecution of independent press, extrajudicial killings, inhuman and degrading treatment, physical and psychological torture, death threats, unlawful deportation or expulsion, persecution of foreigners especially Nicaraguans, as well as persecution of civil servants, members of parliament, mayors, judges and prosecutors who have opposed the coup.

Now Zelaya, as we know, is back in town, holding court at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. Excited crowds gathered immediately when the news got out, and to stamp out such popular outbursts the coupsters immediately declared a curfew and suspended the constitution--you know, that document the sanctity of which was the pretext for exiling Zelaya in the first place.

Shades of Ben Trế.

As the panic subsides

Mohamed Harkat has won a measure of freedom.

Jailed under the provisions of a security certificate for more than four years, he was released in 2006 under onerous bail conditions into a particularly oppressive, fishbowl form of house arrest. Towards the end of this period, and this may in fact have been a precipitating factor in
Judge Simon Noël's decision yesterday, his home was tossed, partly it seems for the fun of it, by Canadian Border Services officials.

As a result of the new ruling, Harkat may now travel unescorted in Ottawa, the video surveillance cameras have been removed from his house, and Border Services won't be sitting outside his residence 24/7 any more, at least not in plain view.

I don't know whether this guy is an al-Qaeda sleeper agent or not. No one has seen the evidence. No one ever will. Why? Because CSIS destroyed it.

CSIS, as we know, also withheld vital evidence going to the credibility of a key informant against Harkat, possibly Abu Zubaydah, who allegedly pointed to him as an al-Quaeda operative without actually naming him. Rumours that the mentally-ill Zubaydah, waterboarded 83 times in one month (August, 2002) by the CIA, also confessed to sleeping with Catherine the Great and unmasked Stephen Harper as an extraterrestrial lizard-person remain unconfirmed.

Judges are rightly getting impatient with CSIS and its dirty tricks. The federal government, for its part, is wisely stepping back.
Centimetre by centimetre, it seems, we are moving away from the sacrifice of essential liberty for a little temporary safety. One hopes that the Canadian body politic will soon be able to pass a sobriety test.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Braidwood Chronicles: the case of the missing emails

The Braidwood Inquiry resumed today, after a three-month hiatus brought on by the disclosure of an email from a high-ranking RCMP officer, Superintendent Dick Bent, that indicated that the Four Horseman who killed Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport in 2007 had planned to use a Taser on the victim before even arriving at the airport. This flatly contradicts their own testimony earlier this year.

The salient bit of text:

Finally spoke to [Supt.] Wayne [Rideout] and he indicated that the members did not articulate that they saw the symptoms of excited delirium, but instead had discussed the response en route and decided that if he did not comply that they would go to CEW [conducted energy weapon].

The email was sent to RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al Macintyre. Rideout is claiming that the statement quoted above is inaccurate. For his part, while insisting on the over-all accuracy of his statements, Bent is willing to concede that he "could have misunderstood certain parts of" what Rideout told him at the time.

Although Bent claims that the investigation of Dziekanski's death was conducted as a criminal one, he admitted that the Four Horsemen somehow didn't receive the customary Charter cautions.

For his part, Macintyre testified that senior officers checked up on the Four Horsemen: "We wanted to make sure they knew senior management was concerned about their well being," he said--all very clubby and chummy, to be sure. Two further phone calls were made to ensure that the suffering officers were recovering nicely from their ordeal.

And this is where things get interesting:

The officer, who oversees all criminal operations in B.C. and has been a Mountie for more than 36 years, said some of his e-mails were not able to be recovered.

The gap included e-mails sent between Nov. 1 through 8, 2007.

"I have no explanation for that," Macintyre said, adding he got a new BlackBerry on Nov. 1, 2007.

He pointed out 3,546 of his e-mails were recovered.

Macintyre said RCMP e-mails are automatically stored but computer experts could not find the missing e-mails.

Emails, one might note, that were sent at a crucial time--two weeks after the death of Dziekanski when the RCMP was in full scramble mode. Somewhere the ghost of Rose Mary Woods is smiling.

Words fail me.

Unfortunately, that would not seem to be the case for those who felt compelled to add their own racist, loathsome, right-wing, intolerant and execrably ignorant comments after this CBC news item.

A 61-year-old Winnipeg store owner has been arrested and charged in the death of 29-year-old Geraldine Beardy.

Police allege Beardy was confronted by the man, whose name has not been released by police, after she was caught trying to steal a can of luncheon meat worth $1.49 at a Sherbrook Street convenience store in Winnipeg on Sept. 13. She was assaulted before she fled to a nearby residence, police said.

From the comments:
On another note, why was she stealing, everyone is entitled to welfare, food banks exist for these situations. Don't steal & you won't get clobbered.

Food banks? Oh yes, these food banks. And these ones.

Easy as Dell

My colour laser printer won't start. I need a Dell technician. Apparently the local printer doctors can't get Dell parts.

First, I try a number in the phonebook and get a phonebot that demands a 7-digit extension (!) and which hangs up when I go for the "hit zero repeatedly" trick, or enter seven digits randomly, hoping for a score.

Then I spend literally hours talking with several clueless Dell call-centre folks about the problem.

The first keeps running away for five minutes or so, then returning to thank me for my patience. It appears I am out-of-warranty. I'll have to pay for the servicing. No problem.

She wants to "troubleshoot." I say, "That's easy. Won't start."

"Did you try another outlet?" (Good grief.) "Yup."

All I want is the name and telephone number of a Dell technician in Ottawa. Sorry, that's confidential. But one will be telephoning within 24 hours.

Uh-huh. I find that a little iffy, so I try another Dell Canada number that I'd stored. I repeat my request: name and number of an Ottawa technician. After being confused for five minutes or so, the call-centre person gives me a number to call. It's the one by which I have just reached her.

I hang up. A few minutes later, one of them calls back, wanting to give me a "dispatch number." What for? I ask. Silence, and more confusion. She wants to give me a part number too, and I ask how the heck she could possibly know what part was needed. She gives me yet another Dell Canada number to call.

I call it--the "out-of-warranty service department"--and repeat my question. The person is utterly helpless in the face of my request for a local technician's coordinates. He passes me on to someone else, who suggests that I telephone the "out-of-warranty service department."

He then connects me back--with a person who tells me that this information is not available.

Then this new gentleman informs me that he is with the ink-jet service department, not the laser service department. This is nearly at the two-hour point.

I give it one last try. I am disconnected, try again, and somehow get connected to a laptop person, who--after considerable back-and-forth about sending my printer to Newmarket, Ontario, and like that--says he'll connect me to an on-line technician. Hey, the morning's shot anyway, so why not?

I spend a happy few minutes listening to various useless recorded messages from Dell, and then a fellow comes on who says he can send me out a technician, if I'm still within warranty. I say that I thought I was calling the out-of-warranty service department.

"Oh, I see. May I have your service tag please?" He wants to give me yet another number to call, but then he says he can send out a technician all by himself. One will be contacting me within 24 hours. (See above.) He asks a lot of questions, and then we are disconnected.

We're now at the 2.25 hour mark. Easy as Dell.

Will the phone ring? Your guess is as good as mine.

We shall be returning to regular programming shortly. Just let me calm down a little.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I think it's time...

...that we demand to see Orly Taitz's birth certificate. We need tangible proof that she's a carbon-based life-form.

[H/t CC]