The Stories Are Starting to Filter Out

I have not been particularly impressed my Canadian media coverage of the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla on its way to Gaza.

Called the Freedom Flotilla the effort was organized by a coalition of human rights and humanitarian organizations to try to non-violently break through Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza. The intent was to deliver much needed humanitarian and developmental aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.

Almost 700 passengers from 40 different countries joined the flotilla, including: human rights workers, humanitarian aid workers, Members of Parliament, doctors, nurses, teachers, community leaders, and international journalists. Amoung them are Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire and former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, who is also Irish.

The Christian/Zionist crowd, as I expected, have been supporting this act of piracy and have been given the ink they need to try and justify Israel's actions. Stephen Harper, out of step with most international leaders, just before the G20, is backing an Israeli investigation of the events surrounding this travesty.

Although it is usually described as a Turkish flotilla there were participants from several nations.

Henning Mankell, the Swedish author of several popular crime novels was aboard the Sofia, one of six ships in the flotilla. He said the ship was carrying cement, building materials and prefabricated houses to Gaza. Mankell said, "I can promise you that there was not a single weapon aboard those ships.

About 25 passengers were on board, many of them Swedish. They were all captured, Mankell says they were "kidnapped", and all were imprisoned in Israel before being released. “This happened on international waters, so this was an act of piracy,” Mankell told journalists in Berlin.

He is calling for an international boycott of Israel.

Iara Lee, a Brazilian filmmaker who was on the ship Mavi Marmara, said the Israeli soldiers stormed the ship after cutting all communications. They then "started shooting at people". Speaking to a Brazilian TV network Lee said, "It was a surprise, because it happened in the middle of the night, in the darkness, in international waters, because we knew there would be a confrontation but not in international waters. Their first tactic was to cut all of our satellite communications and then they attacked. All I witnessed first hand was the shooting. They came on board and started shooting at people."

She said the commandos then sent all the women to a lower level of the ship.

"They said we were terrorists – it was absurd. They came into the part where the women were, lots and lots of them, dressed in black and with gigantic weapons as if they were in a war. They confiscated all of our telephones and all of our luggage and took everything out of the bags and put it on the floor."

"We expected them to shoot people in the legs, to shoot in the air, just to scare people, but they were direct," she said, in a São Paulo newspaper interview. "Some of them shot in the passengers' heads. Many people were murdered – it was unimaginable."

Australian Fairfax Media Limited, one of Australia's largest diversified media companies had two journalists on board the flotilla.

Fairfax journalist Paul McGeough, and photographer Kate Geraghty said they were "fine" as they landed after being deported from Israel.

Another Australian, Ahmed Luqman, did not leave Israel with the five planes as he was in hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg sustained during the raid by Israeli commandos in which nine activists died.

What I wonder is where are the interviews with the Canadians who were participating in this humanitarian endeavour. Why haven't we heard firsthand accounts from them?

Is This About Finding the Truth? I Think Not.

Ottawa is a very odd place or, perhaps what we see of it is odd. I'm not sure which. As citizans, what we do see of the process of governing this nation is pretty messy.

Those people who claim to be championing our causes in Parliament would have us believe that we just don't see the real workings of government which mostly goes on behind closed doors. What we see, they tell us, is just the show.

I wonder.

The latest bit of theatre that caught my attention is brought about by Harper’s new  rules that Parliamentary committees cannot call Ministerial Assistants to testify. Oh, I guess they can call them but, they are not allowed to appear.

Instead they send over their employers, mainly cabinet ministers, intent to bullying the committee members who are trying to get answers to issues that should concern us as Canadians.

The latest spat is around the committee trying to find out what was behind something that has aleady been put to the committee in evidence. Rahim Jaffer apparently approached officials at least seven federal agencies last year on behalf of companies he had some relationship with. It is reported that Jaffer spoke with political aides who in turn spoke to officials about speeding up the process.

It makes one ask, since Jaffer didn't speak with the ministers themselves, or at least as far as we know so far,  who would be able to bring more clarity to the issue than the ministerial assistants who were actually involved in the exchanges?

Now, to be honest, I don't think that Jaffer was doing anything that any other defeated MP might do. He was trying to make a few bucks by using his old political buddies. Calling in a few chips if you will. It might not be legitimate under the rules of engagement but I personally think they'd all do it given the opportunity.

What the Harper government is doing with the investigative process however, stinks to high heaven. We know that anything he does at this point isn't to protect his old buddy Rahim. Harper has already written him off and thrown his wife Helena under a bus. So what's up?

I think that what Harper is afraid of is, that ministerial assistants might just be tempted to tell the truth. Something he isn't as concerned about when he sends over the odd cabinet minister. They have been trained. That is why the Bloc tried yesterday to get Transport Minister John Baird to swear on the bible. Baird, is a card carrying member of Harper's Christian right. The theory is,  if those guys swear on the bible there is at least an outside chance they might actually tell the truth.

Baird however didn't really attend the meeting with any intention of answering questions however. His role was to disrupt proceedings.

He wrote to the committee saying that he wanted to appear as a witness, and then he got into a procedural wrangle with the chair of the committee when he was treated as a witness. He said he was there as a Member of Parliament. He shouted, (the CBC said he "bellowed") over the chair and completely disrupted the procedure. In the two hours set aside for the committee hearings there were only 10 minutes of actually questioning,

I am sure Stevie's Storm Troopers all had a good chuckle about all this around the caucus table but for me it is just another example of why these guys have to go. Come on you guys in opposition. It is time to bring this government down.

It is time to  reclaim Parliament. It isn't meant to be Stephen Harper's private club. 


Shame on you Stephen Harper

Our Prime Minister's initial response to the raid by the Israeli Navy on the aid flotilla fell far short of the mark. Harper said he'd have to wait and see if an investigation of the event gave him cause for concern.

I'd have thought that the boarding of vessels carrying aid to Gaza, by the Navy, in International Waters, would be enough for most reasonable people to say, "Hang on, that went too far." But Stevie, like the USA, wanted to wait and see.

In the end I thought, well at least we'll have an investigation by an independent international body and surely at the end of that someone will stand up and say that the actions by Israel were a violation of international law.

Think about it. Several Israeli ships harass the flotilla for several hours. Then, in the middle of the night heavily armed Israeli combat troops rappel from military helicopters onto the ships' decks. The ship's crew responds to the attack and Israel condemns them as the ones who initiated the hostilities and justifies the killing of several crew members.

The United Nations Security Council issued a statement significantly watered down as a result of aggressive America interventions, but calling for "a credible and impartial investigation" of the incident. Not satisfied with that the US administration later insisted that any investigation of this aggressive and illegal act should be done by Israel.

Isreal can no more conduct an unbiased investigation into this affair than Tony Soprano could lead an unbiased invesigation into organized crime in New Jersey

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and it cramps my fingers just to call him that, was quick to climb on board the American attempts to prevent an unbiased investigation.

Shame on you Mr. Harper. Shame on you.

A bit Late For That

No matter how legitimate their cause, I couldn't help but find the planned boycott of the World Cup Kick Off Concert by the South African artists union a bit amusing.

They have already missed the boat. The event is sold out.


Another Lukiwski Shit Sandwich

All right, I want to be right up front. I don't like my Member of Parliament Tom Lukiwski.

He send me a lot of mail. Most of it either empty boastful law and order rhetoric or what can only be described as anti liberal hate mail. The result is, that I write back to him fairly often.

Unlike most of Stevie’s Storm Troopers he writes back. Hell, guys like me probably keep a MP staffer employed just answering mail. (Note to Conservative staff members - No thanks are necessary. It is just one of the services I provide as a citizen)

Perhaps you are not familiar with the term but, Tom sends me shit sandwiches. They are of a pretty basic construct. The first paragraph is usually like this one.

"Thank you for taking the time to write to me. Contributions such as yours allow me to more accurately articulate the opinions of my constituents for consideration and debate in Parliament. Please be assured that I have noted your concern regarding the long-gun registry"

That opening is then followed by half a dozen paragraphs telling me that I don't know what I am talking about,  I am wrong about the issue and that the Harper government is on the right track. It ends with a sweet;

"Again, I thank you for your feedback as it helps me to be the most effective parliamentarian and representative possible. If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me in the Future."

It is pretty clear. Tom tows the party like pretty closely but, Tom doesn't listen. So, how can I get anyone in Parliament to represent my point of view. Over 50%  of us in the riding voted against Lukiwski but that old first past the post system assured him of a victory. Tom's letters make it very clear, the majority of people in my riding have no representatation. Tom just blows us off.

I don't know how you feel about it but it is hard to feel good about our so-called democracy when my MP keeps feeding me shit sandwiches.

Does Anders' Comment Reflect Tory Sentiment

I swear Ottawa gets weirder by the minute.

An obscure Christian group, El Shafie Ministries, got permission from Harper and his gang to put an oversized "Support Our Troops" card in the House of Commons. The group lobbied for MPs to sign in the card Ottawa That creates a bit if a quandary for MPs, if they don't sign the card Stevie's Storm Troopers are bound to suggest that they are cavorting with the enemy or something else as ridiculous. We all remember the “Taliban Jack” comments.

Most MPs left notes like, "You are the Best" or "We are all proud of the work you do" but not to be undone Calgary West Reform/ Alliance/Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders' note says "When in doubt, pull the trigger."

Anders admits he left the message on the card, suggesting that "it's a common military expression" that isn't meant to alarm anyone." "It's just another way of saying keep safe and defend yourself," he told the Calgary Herald. He thinks the issue is being overblown by detractors.

Opposition MPs are outraged but we haven't heard much from the PM on the issue which would imply that Harper quietly supports the sentiment. No surprise there.

Meanwhile, interestingly enough, the El Shafie Ministries website has pulled all but their first page from their website. One has to wonder who the hell they really are anyway.

I also have to wonder what the response would be if a union, for example, asked to post a card on Parliament Hill asking MPs to support workers injured on the job. No I really don’t wonder. I know what the response would be. I did my time in Ottawa.


I'm Going to miss Dennis Hopper

I was sorry to read about one of my favourites moving on. Dennis Hopper made more films than most actors, some really good, others quite forgettable.

Dennis Hopper was in some of the first films I went to with my friends as a boy. Films like Rebel Without a Cause, Giant and Gun Fight at the OK Corral  kept us glued to our seats as 11 and 12 year olds.

 His characters were always a bit complicated. He seldom played characters that were really likable. He pushed the envelope on screen and off with  Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet or  River's Edge.

Even in his bad movies and there were a few of those, Hopper stood out. 

  He died Saturday at 72.

The Bare Naked Ladies Couldn't Even Count That High

One Billion Dollars

So the Harper government is going to spent $1 billion on secutiry for the G8/G20 meetings. Who knows what the rest of the uber-photo-op is going to cost us.

To be honest I am not sure how we as Canadians calculate how much a billion is. The UK has more zeros in their billion than the US does in theirs. Who knows where we stand on the calculation but no matter how we make the determination, it is one hell of a lot of money.

Let's assume that we use the American way of counting, just for this blog posting.

So, how much is a billion dollars. Well, perhaps the easiest way to viliualze how big a billion is think about it in terms of time.

  • A billion seconds ago it was 1959
  • A billion minites ago the Romans were building Hardian's Wall 
  • A billion hours ago we were in the stone age
You get my drift. So, what would that much buy us.

    • The average elementray school would cost about $6.5 million to build these days.  You can do the math too but, that is about 154 schools.
    • Olivia Chow suggests that “Three percent of that $1 billion would provide all Canadian children a nutritious and healthy breakfast or snacks every day. We can lift all seniors out of poverty by increasing the guaranteed income supplement”
    • Think 19 top scholars for $200 million was a good deal? How about another 94 for $930 million?
    • We could’ve given the 500,000 Canadian college and university students a real edge next September. The money could have bought each of them a 64-gigabyte Wi-Fi-only iPad.
    Or the federal government could have forgiven the student debt for:
    • 33,214 graduates in Atlantic Canada, where the debt at graduation is $28,000 (the highest in Canada).
    • How about a year’s supply (about three litres) of maple syrup for every man, woman and child in the country. There’d be enough money left over to mail souvenir containers of the stuff to the leaders and their entourages. And maybe even a T-shirt, too.

    In comparison, the UK only spent $30 million last year to put on the same kind of event in a London, city known for terrorist bombings. The US only spent $18 million in Pittsburgh which has a murder rate 2.8 times higher than Toronto. 

    That price tag does not include salaries, contractors, meals, booze, hotels, airfare, taxis or hookers for that matter. Just security.

    Think of all this as a kind of back door deal for the law and order Haper to funnel money into the RCMP, the Armed Foaces and CISIS.

    Harper thinks it is fine to spend over a billion on these meetings when Canada's place in word standings in infant mortality has slipped several points. Canada gets a “C” and now ties the U.K. for 15th place out of 17 peer countries. Its infant mortality rate is shockingly high for a country at our level of socio-economic development. When are we going to get rid of that man?