Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Jewish Perspective

The following is the text of a speech given at a solidarity rally for Israel on
Sunday July 23, 2006 in London by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks:

We have come together today
To stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel
And to say a simple prayer.
Ribbono shel olam,
Let your people Israel live in peace.
Let there be an end to bloodshed and violence.
Let there be an end to hostility and hate.
Let Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev come home.
Let Israel’s defence forces come home.

What else did Your people ever want,
Except the right to live with security, without fear, in peace?
Almighty G-d, let your people Israel live in peace.
Today we stand in solidarity with Israel,
And rarely have I felt so proud of Anglo-Jewry as I have done these past few days.
Especially of our young people.
Last week 1300 of them, from youth groups right across the religious spectrum,
Went out to Israel.
Every one of them, or their families, might have said: no. Not now. It’s too dangerous.
Yet almost none of them did.
I want to say to every one of those young people: Kol hakavod. You make us proud.
And today I want a message to go forth from us to Israel to say: Israel, you make us proud.
In a mere 58 years, in a country half the size of Lake Michigan, you have done things that are unbelievable.
You have gathered together Jews from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than eighty different languages and out of them made a great nation.

You have taken a land with no natural resources and turned it into one of the great economies of the modern world.
You have created a democracy in a part of the world where no one thought it possible.
You have taken a desolate land and made it blossom and bear fruit.
You have developed medical technologies to save life.
Wherever in the world there has been a natural disaster, you have been among
the first to offer humanitarian aid.

Through six decades under almost continuous threat you have given the world poets and philosophers and musicians and novelists whose heart is Jewish and whose love is for all humanity.
You have taken the language of the Bible and made it speak again.
You have taken a people from the valley of the shadow of death and made it live again.
You have taken hope itself – hatikvah shnot alpayim – and made it breathe again.
Israel: you are our people and our pride and we stand with you today.
Why then does a people who have consistently said Yes to life and No to death,
Who have consistently said Yes to peace and No to terror,
Find itself today fighting in Lebanon and Gaza?
The answer is so simple, yet so unbelievable, that we must hear it clearly and unequivocally:
Israel is fighting today in Lebanon because six years ago it withdrew from Lebanon.
Israel is fighting today in Gaza because one year ago it withdrew from Gaza.
And Israel discovered the terrible truth spoken by the late Mother Theresa
That no good deed goes unpunished.
Every gesture of goodwill undertaken by Israel has been seized on by its enemies as a sign of weakness.
Every Israeli effort towards peace has led without exception to an increase in violence against Israel.
The Oslo Peace Process led directly to the first Palestinian suicide attacks in Israel.
Taba: the most generous offer Israel ever made to the Palestinians, led directly to the most concerted set of terrorist attacks against any nation in modern history.
The Gaza Withdrawal, the most painful act Israel has ever had to undertake, led within less than a year to 1,000 Kassam rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets including schoolchildren.
And finally the Lebanon withdrawal, undertaken by Israel six years ago in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 425. That resolution was immediately broken by Hizbullah, about which the United Nations special envoy to Lebanon warned at the time, in November 2000: “Such breaches of international peace and security in the south threaten to ignite a new spiral of violence with tragic consequences for the civilian population.”

That failure led in 2004 to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 which called categorically for the disarming of militias in Lebanon. Again rejected. This time Kofi Annan himself protested to the Syrians. The effect? The arming of Hizbullah with weapons that threaten the very heart of Israel.

Israel withdrew from Lebanon.
Israel does not want to be in Lebanon.
It does not want to do any of the things it is now doing.
It accepted in good faith the commitment of the United Nations that it would not have to.

It is acting today only because the international community has failed to ensure that its neighbours met their obligations when Israel met hers.
Israel, the Israel we know and love, is a people that pursues peace, yearns for peace, sings about peace, needs peace.
For 58 years it has done everything a nation could do in pursuit of peace, and it has been rewarded instead with violence and terror.
It has done what the world has asked it to do, and the result has been that it has been left vulnerable and alone.

Which of us does not weep when we see the news day after day?
Does any of us, God forbid, take satisfaction at the devastation of Lebanon?
Is that who we are?
Let me be clear and unambiguous.
We weep not just for Israel
But for the people of Lebanon also.
Lebanon was once a great country,
A centre of civilization
A beacon in the Middle East --
Until Jordan drove the Palestinians out of Jordan into Lebanon
Until Syria used them to terrorise the Lebanese
Until Iran armed and funded and manipulated them;
Until the whole country of Lebanon, every man, woman and child, became a
And so a great country was destroyed and reduced to ruins.
And today Israel is fighting in Lebanon so that Israel should not become, G-d forbid, another Lebanon,
As any country in the world will become
If it lacks the clarity and courage to say No to terror and Yes to peace.

Tragically Jews have learned over the centuries
That when their enemies speak of killing them, driving them into the sea, wiping them off the face of the earth, they mean what they say.
What Hizbullah and Hamas have said in word and deed is:
We will kill you if you stay
And we will kill you if you leave.
We will kill you if you retaliate
And we will kill you if you don’t retaliate.

What can Israel do but to seek to end the terror
That threatens and is meant to threaten its very existence?
When alone among the 192 nations that make up the United Nations, after 58 years it still finds its very right to exist denied?
Friends, let me tell you what is wrong with terror. It is not just that it murders the innocent: the young, the old, the defenceless, the uninvolved.
It is that it murders innocence itself.
It turns virtue into weakness, decency into vulnerability.
And if we, if Israel, if Europe, if America do not take a stand against terror, if we ignore it as the world ignored it for so long, then it will leave a stain on the human future that no tears, no regrets, will ever remove.

The battle Israel is fighting today is not for itself alone.
It is for the sake of all those who say no to terror
No to the desecration of life
No to killing in the name of God
Whether they live in Bali or Beslan, or Madrid or Mumbai.
And therefore let me end with simple words of prayer:
Ribbono shel olam: Be with your people Israel now.
Hear their cry
Heed their tears
Listen to this, our prayer on their behalf.
Grant peace to all your children, Jew, Christian and Muslim alike.
Help us live together, respecting one another.
Help us cherish life.
Help us to use the powers You gave us, to heal, to mend, to build.
We ask of You, Almighty God, just one thing:
You who make peace in high places,
Help us make peace down here on earth.


Friday, July 28, 2006

The Israelis and Lebanese Need Our Help

What is needed, for both Israel and Lebanon, is for the international community to send in forces to enforce UN Resolution 1559 by ousting the Hezbollah militia completely from southern Lebanon. Israel should not have to be doing this alone. This situation is causing avoidable deaths on both sides (mostly Lebanese) and Israel is taking a huge PR hit that will increase its security risk for years, perhaps decades.

Israel is in a fight for its life. It has been trying to get Lebanon to remove Hezbollah and its thousands of rockets from its border for years. Hezbollah has spent the last six years attacking Israel, building bunkers in civilian areas, bringing more Iranian rockets into Lebanon from Syria, and preparing to attack Israel.

There is a pretty good argument that Israel has been too soft, both in not striking sooner and in telegraphing its bombing targets by dropping leaflets to warn Lebanese civilians. (You wonder how all that damage you see on the news could have resulted in only 400 Lebanese deaths? I don't mean to trivialize the hardship to the Lebanese, but Israelis have died because the Israeli military is trying to limit Lebanese casualties.)

Iran is trying to build nuclear bombs, and at the moment the front line is in Israel and Lebanon. If the Israelis and Palestinians signed a peace accord tomorrow, it wouldn't make one whit of difference to Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, and their regional aspirations. In the west, we are all benefiting from what Israel is doing. When/if Iran gets nuclear bombs, it won't just be Tel Aviv that's a smoking rubble.


Privacy on the Internet

We all like to rant in our blogs about privacy infringements by the US government, phone companies, our ISPs, and the rafts of snooping ne'er-do-wells who are looking to commit fraud or just cause some mischief.

Yet on these very same outraged blogs, many of us are collecting a suspicious amount of info about our visitors. I don't really want bloggers to know that I visited their site and what I looked at, even if they can only see my domain (and so, in many cases, guess it's me). I think that's creepy. I protest.

I have a site meter on this blog, but it collects no individual data, just statistics about average visits. Rest assured, your privacy is protected on Yappa Ding Ding!

Update: After discovering (thanks Tom) that my site meter does collect individual data, and even makes it available to anyone looking at my site, I removed it.


Monday, July 24, 2006


As I continue to think about the conflict in the Middle East I am trying to better appreciate the Iranian perspective. I suspect that last year's "leaked" US government statements about nuking Tehran probably caused this situation, especially after the US called Iran part of the axis of evil and made it clear that it was thinking about bombing or even invading the country... no country wants to end up like Iraq. Iran is trying to develop nuclear capabilities and is working on long-range missiles that could hit Europe, and the US is desperate to stop it. Even if another goal of Tehran is to occupy parts (perhaps all) of Iraq and vastly increase its domination over the Middle East, probably the immediate cause of its aggression against Israel is related to defending itself from the US.

Pinned down between Iranian missiles in the Gaza strip and southern Lebanon, Israel would make a heck of a hostage. Even if Israel prevails, the only way it can do so is to bomb Lebanese civilians with its US-funded military, which will increase hatred of the US in the Arab street. And Iran has set itself up as a Muslim protector and a major player, which will help it garner support when and if it is attacked by the US. Finally, as I reported in a previous post, Iran may be using this diversion to move along its nuclear program.

As to the Israeli perspective, Israel's immediate strategy is to disarm Hezbollah and make it impossible for Iran and Syria to send reinforcements. To that end, Israel bombed the Beirut airport and the Beirut-Damascus hiway. Hezbollah hid itself in the civilian population, which is why Israel is bombing civilian areas. As to its long range goals, Israel has made it clear that it wants a sovereign Lebanon that is free from Iranian and Syrian control.

Along with the rest of the world, I'm horrified by the widespread killing in both countries, but I think Israel has a strong case that its actions are a proportionate response and are justified:

- Israel tried all diplomatic methods to remove the military build-up on its border. Since 2000 when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon and Hezbollah moved in, the UN has repeatedly demanded that Hezbollah leave the area and has called on the Lebanese government to remove them.
- Israel did not attack until it was attacked... many times over the last few years by Hezbollah in its hiding places across the Lebanese border. Throughout this conflict, Israel has been bombed continuously by Hezbollah.
- Before bombing civilian areas, Israel drops leaflets warning residents that the area will be bombed. Unlike Hezbollah, Israel is not bombing civilian areas because it wants to kill civilians; it is doing so because it is the only way to destroy Hezbollah's military capability and cut off reinforcements from Syria and Iran.
- It is vital to the security of Israel that it defeat Hezbollah. That's why the US is not asking for a ceasefire. There are two reasons why Israel can't hold back. One is that Hezbollah has an estimated 15,000 rockets in Lebanon aimed at Israel; as with the Cuban missile crisis, that situation can't be allowed to continue. The other is a deadly psychological consideration: if Israel doesn't win and win decidedly, it will look weak and its enemies will attack more ferociously.

Israel can and probably will beat Hezbollah, and the Lebanese might even kick out the foreign agitators who have been wrecking their country for decades. But lasting peace isn't possible until there is some sort of detente between the US and Iran. A US-Iranian peace accord might provide assurances that the US will not invade Iran, with Iranian concessions on its weapon build-up, or something like that.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Threat and Opportunity

The Iran-Syria alliance has a lot to gain from their bold move to destabilize the Middle East. By instigating and arming Hamas and Hezbollah to provoke Israel, Iran has vastly increased its influence on the Arab street and has moved a step closer to unseating Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and becoming the dominant power in the Arab world. (That would probably explain why the latter three countries condemned the Hezbollah attack on Israel.) But there's another way to look at this situation: things have been going quietly bad in southern Lebanon for the last six years, and we now have an opportunity to change their course.

By waging a proxy war, Iran has insulated itself from direct military reprisal. However, it is not guaranteed to escape unscathed. Iran's areas of vulnerability in this conflict include the following:

1. Hezbollah may be destroyed
The Israeli strategy is to destroy Hezbollah as a military presence in Lebanon. The Hezbollah presence in southern Lebanon amounts to only about 5,000 (very well-armed) soldiers, working with up to a thousand Iranian soldiers. It is going to be difficult to find them because they are shielding themselves in the civilian population, but they are still beatable. Israel might succeed on its own or a western-led peace process might finally put some teeth in the resolution to demilitarize southern Lebanon. If Hezbollah is beaten, Iran loses a fighting force it has put a great deal of energy into arming and supporting, and the possibility of Middle East peace is greatly increased.

2. World opinion may be starting to understand the Israeli dilemma
When Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 Hezbollah was supposed to withdraw as well, but instead it continued to move missiles into the region - all aimed at Israel. So while some commentators are trying to paint Israel's bombardment of Lebanon as a land grab or a hate-filled killing spree, most analysts and governments see that Israel has its back against the wall and needs to solve the problem of tens of thousands of missiles pointed into its territory from just across its border.

3. Syrian influence in Lebanon could be diminished
If Israel can rout Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, it might weaken the strangle-hold on the Lebanese government that is enjoyed by Hezbollah and Syria. The effect of this conflict on long-term power structures in the region is largely going to be determined by how the peace is brokered. With most western and many Arab countries seeing that this was Iranian-Syrian aggression, the eventual cease-fire, with possible deployment of UN peacekeeping forces and new UN resolutions, may address the issue of Syrian influence in the democratic country of Lebanon.

4. The Iran-Syria alliance could be weakened
Politically, Iran seems invulnerable, but it relies a great deal on Syria, and Syria is very vulnerable. Iran is the dominant power, but Syria has the important ties with Arab militias. The military wing of Hamas is headquartered in Damascus. As Daniel Byman wrote in 2003 in the journal Foreign Affairs, "Although Syrian leaders do not have Tehran's close ideological and personal ties to Hezbollah, Damascus' leverage is actually much greater. Syria serves as a conduit for Iranian military supplies and often determines the timing, location, and scope of Hezbollah attacks. Moreover, Syrian intelligence on Lebanon is superb; unlike the United States and Israel, Damascus knows the identity and location of Hezbollah's core leadership. Syria also... has demonstrated its skill and ruthlessness by disarming every militia there except Hezbollah. Damascus essentially exercises a veto over Hezbollah's operations, as it has demonstrated by shutting down strikes against Israel when it has suited the regime's purposes."

As the New York Times reported today, "The United States and its Arab allies might persuade Syria to end its decades of supporting terror and reconsider its close ties with Iran."

5. Iran's true goals are being exposed
In the last couple of weeks, many media articles have reported on the Iranian troops that are currently fighting with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, the enormous amounts of money the Iranians are pouring into Hezbollah, the Iranian-made rockets being shot into Israel, and Iran's motivation in destabilizing the region. Daniel Schorr wrote in the Christian Science Monitor this week that Iran is using this war to divert attention from its nuclear program. (One piece of evidence for this is that Hezbollah invaded Israel on the first day of talks in Paris about the Iranian nuclear program.) Finally it may become common knowledge that what's going on is not about Israeli-Palestinian land negotiations (although those are extremely important); it's about who will control the Arab world.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Party Renewal

There has been a lot of talk about reorganizing the Liberal party in all kinds of grandiose ways, and some of the proposals sound good and some sound awful. But none address my problems with the party. These may be localized to my riding or even just to my social ineptness, but in case these problems affect people other than me, I'll report on them here.

I have lived in Kitchener-Waterloo (Andrew Telegdi's riding) since last August. I contacted my riding association by email after I moved here and said I wanted to help with the upcoming election, but I got no response. As soon as the election was called I phoned Telegdi's campaign office to volunteer and was told someone would call me back, but nobody did.

After the election I asked a prominent Liberal to help me. He was the campaign manager for a Liberal candidate in another riding where I was quite active (helping to write pamphlets, ads and the web site as well as canvassing). He happens to be a friend of the K-W riding association president so he told him about me and said I was trying to get involved. That resulted in my being notified about the riding association AGM.

I am a member of the Liberal party for the K-W riding; I attended my riding association's AGM this year; and I went as a delegate to the LPC(Ontario) AGM (paying all my own expenses). I have told both the riding association president and Andrew Telegdi that I want to be more involved.

Yet nobody in the riding association ever contacts me except the women's group, and so far I haven't been able to meet even with them because they all seem to know when the meetings are so they either don't tell me or they tell me at the last minute and I can't make it.

Someone I know who is not even a party member was sent an invitation last month to a $150/plate fund-raiser for Bob Rae in this area. I didn't receive an invitation (I would have gone if I had, but I learned about it after it happened). I contacted the Rae people and they said that the local organization mailed the invitations.

I have never received any information from the Liberal party or my riding association... not a membership card, not an email update of riding news, not a notice of any meetings. (The exception is the leadership candidates: I get quite a lot of email from them!) I do not have any contact email or phone number other than Andrew Telegdi's MP email which is used by the women's organization.

I'm really quite a normal person. I don't think there's anything in my behavior that could make me such a pariah. I suspect that my riding association is just not very open to new people or to people who aren't insiders. I also suspect that they have inadequate procedures for maintaining contact lists. I also wonder if men are treated as I have been; in a discussion on party renewal recently someone alleged that Liberal women's groups are a sort of ghetto where female members are shunted, and I'm starting to wonder if that's true.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Canadian Consular Services

All day I've been hearing interviews on CBC radio with Canadians in Lebanon. They talk of the nationals of other countries being evacuated from the war zone, but they say they aren't getting any help from their own country. Some say that they have heard there will be a ship to evacuate them but they have no way of getting to the sea to find it. Meanwhile some of them are close enough to the bombing that you can hear it during the interviews.

I'd like to see a review of Canadian consular services. I have a little experience with them, having lived in England and Tanzania as an adult. In England I registered with the Canadian embassy and never heard boo from them - which was fine because I didn't need their services. But in Tanzania I did need their help on a several occasions and got no help at all.

There were only about 100 Canadian citizens in Tanzania during the time I was there (1995-97) and there was a large consulate in Dar es Salaam with many employees. They imported Canadian beer in bottles and other luxuries (I can't recall how I know this; I certainly never got invited to a party there). They provided services for Tanzanians who were looking to emigrate or claim refugee status, but I never did figure out what else (if anything) they did, despite my going there at least half a dozen times.

I was lucky that I'm also a US citizen so I could register at the US embassy. During the Tanzanian elections there was the threat of civil unrest and the US embassy had a plan in place to take care of us if necessary: they made sure they knew how to reach all of us (since many of us, like me, had no access to a telephone and lived on streets with no name), and we were all assigned a leader who would make sure we got information and help if things went bad. I asked at the Canadian consulate if anything was being done and was told that contingency plans were in place only for consular staff.

My mother became very ill and was thought to be on her death bed; my family contacted the Canadian consulate and asked them to contact me but nobody there was interested in helping, so they tried the US embassy - who immediately sent a car and driver to my workplace to inform me (and I flew home the next day).

Ambassadors and their senior staff live in enormous luxury, with pomp and ceremony and no expense spared. Many of those jobs are great perks for the political elite and their backers. They live in gated mansions with large staff and are treated like royalty, all paid by Canadian tax payers. That in itself should be a minor scandal, but the fact that they have no plan in place to help Canadian visitors in Lebanon evacuate the country... that should cause an enormous stink.

Errata July 18: Some of the comments I got to this post make a strong case that I misrepresented Canadian (and other country's) efforts in Lebanon. I think I let my grudge against Canadian consular services get in the way of the facts. I should have done some research and not just relied on the CBC radio news.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Finger in the Dyke

News in Israel and Lebanon this week has been upsetting, stressful, and worrisome. I'm a worst case scenario kind of guy and my mind jumps ahead to wild speculations, such as: Bush & Co are not up to the task of mediating peace -> the Europeans may step in to the vacuum -> the Europeans are anti-Israel -> Israel's security will be pushed to the limit -> Israel will nuke somebody.

If Israel uses an atomic bomb, the whole world enters a new era of nukes. It's the worst worst case scenario there is. It was my biggest worry during the Gulf War (remember those germ warfare-tipped scud missiles Sadaam sent into Israel?). I wonder how close Israel came to nuking Baghdad then. I'm glad I wasn't a fly on the wall in those discussions.

Instability in the Middle East has so many causes these days that it's hard to see how things can ever get better. A catalyst is that the US occupation of Iraq is widely seen as both illegitimate and a failure, so in one fell swoop the US has lost both respect and fear.

The bombings and border incursions by Hamas and Hezbollah are not about getting Israel to draw a new border. A Palestinian state is not even the point anymore, if it ever was. Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and Syria are all working towards restructuring the Middle East... and there is a whole lot of jostling as to who will run the show. Part of the deal is to wipe out Israel, but Jordan could be next. (Article 6 of the Hamas covenant says that Hamas "strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine... this is the law - namely that no part of Palestine may be given up - and the same goes for any land the Muslims have conquered by force, because during the time of Islamic conquests the Muslims consecrated these lands to Muslim generations till Judgement Day."

Israel is just the finger in the dyke. And the past 25 years have shown that when Israel makes concessions, Arab extremist aggression escalates. When Israel stands tough, the dyke holds. Israel is bombing the bejeezus out of Lebanon, and next it's going to invade and probably go door to door throughout the south, routing Hezbollah. It's heartbreaking to think of the destruction in the beautiful country of Lebanon, but it's not clear that there's any hope for the region if they don't.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Mary's Berries with Ricotta

First and foremost delicious... also easy and healthy.


Berries: such as a mixture of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries

2 cups ricotta (475g or 16 oz)
4 oz (125 g) cream cheese
2 T honey
2 T sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Wash the berries and drain them. If they aren't really sweet, you may want to put one or two tablespoons of sugar or liqueur on them. Taste: you might also want to put 2 teaspoons of lemon juice on them.

Put all else in a food processor and whip until it is smooth.

For each serving, spoon some berries in a bowl and top with a large dollop of ricotta.


Monday, July 03, 2006

We Can Win!

Sometimes I hear people talk like it's a given that Harper will win the next election. Some Liberal bloggers argue that we can't elect a Liberal leader who's 57 (Rae or Ignatieff) because they'll be 62 or older by the time they're in a position to win, so instead we should strategically elect a young unqualified leader who can learn on the job and win in 5 or 8 years.

I feel like I need to get out my pompoms and whistle and lead a cheer here. We can't give up and concede the next election. Winning has to be top priority (along with party reform). I know, I know, I'm preaching to the converted and preachiness is obnoxious, but I'm sensing a bit of defeatism and complacency.

Let's never forget that our opponent is not the Progressive Conservatives. Harper orchestrated a hostile take-over of that venerable party and appropriated its brand, but Harper is Reform/Alliance. He's no Preston Manning either. Preston Manning was a populist perhaps even more than conservative and believed in social programs and a government that represented the people. Harper took the party Manning started and moved it far to the right.

At the beginning of the last election campaign the media cut off Martin at the knees by announcing that he was planning attack ads to make Harper look scary, thus discrediting that entire line of the campaign. The fact is that Harper is scary. He has extremist views that are counter to the values of most Canadians. If he wins a majority he will probably change Canada in fundamental ways that will be odious to most Canadians. When Harper tells American neo-conservatives that "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term," we need to understand that he is announcing his plan to destroy our social safety net and universal health care.

I think it's fair to say that the Liberals lost the last election because of the sponsorship scandal, and not because Canadians want a Harper-style neo-conservative country. Harper is not a good choice for Canada and is not what Canadians want. Furthermore, in the top candidates for the Liberal leadership we have three men (Rae, Ignatieff and Dion) who are exciting, progressive, and qualified to lead the country. The next election is very much within our grasp.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

What's Really Going On?

As a Little Guy and a political outsider, it occasionally hits me that I have no idea what's going on. The following is base speculation and should be considered only as questions, and certainly not as truth.

I'm barely savvy enough to realize that most of the candidates for the Liberal leadership are in it to further their political careers. As an example from another race, Belinda Stronach parachuted into celebrity political status by putting a ton of money behind a Conservative leadership bid - was that just a couple of years ago? - when she was totally unqualified. Most of the current Liberal contenders have no chance of winning and are just in it for a cabinet position, when/if the Liberals regain power.

Some of the can't-wins may be in the race to get their ideas in the national forum. I hope that's why Carolyn Bennett's there, because her ideas about reforming the party and bringing it back to the grass roots are wonderful, but I don't think she'd make a good leader.

Then there are the front-runners. A friend of mine was speculating the other day that Ignatieff would not have given up tenure at Harvard unless the current powers-that-be had promised him a mighty strong chance to win the leadership. My friend's argument was that because of this Ignatieff is the candidate who offers the least chance of party renewal and the highest likelihood of returning to government-by-senior-consultants.

What about the other two front-runners, Dion and Rae? Why are they in it? They seem like straight-ahead guys who are in this to win, but is it possible in either case that this is just a chance to rejuvenate a flagging political career or to increase their brand so that they can win international positions? I strongly believe that Bob Rae would be an inspirational leader and one of our greatest Prime Ministers, but sometimes my faith falters and I wonder if he's really in this to win... or whether the race is already overwhelmingly favored for Ignatieff.

Another issue that's nagging at me is why so many senior people, including my riding leadership, are supporting Gerard Kennedy. Kennedy couldn't win the next general election and isn't qualified to run the country; either they're conceding the next election to Harper (as many of Kennedy's supporters say they are), or they don't care whether the Liberals win... or they're strategizing the second and third ballot in the leadership convention... or they hate all the other alternatives... or there's something else going on.

I'll probably make a bid to go to the convention, despite the estimated $1200 price tag. I'm currently a Rae supporter who would probably follow Rae's direction if he had to drop out on a subsequent ballot, or would otherwise go to Ignatieff... so I have no idea if I would get enough votes in my riding to go. In the meantime I'm trying to be transparent in my reasoning and open to debate.


Why I Left the NDP

I worked in federal and Ontario elections for NDP candidates from the time I was eligible to vote in the late 70s until 1995. I saw the NDP as the party of ideas. I didn't want them to run the country, but I wanted them to have a strong presence in Parliament and to bring fresh, pragmatic, people-oriented ideas to government. In particular, I was a big fan of Stephen Lewis, Ed Broadbent, Bob Rae, Jack Layton, Audrey McLaughlin and Svend Robinson (until Svend came out against Israel).

Yesterday I reported Bob Rae saying that his problem with the NDP is that they care too much about how to divide the pie and not enough about how to grow the pie. That reflects on his time as Ontario Premier, but for most of the period of my NDP support I didn't care if NDP ideas were completely pragmatic. I thought that business interests were more than adequately represented by the PC and Liberals, and I wanted the NDP to be a special interest group for the people. Back in the days that we had three parties I thought it worked out well that the NDP was the 3rd party, but I wanted them to have a stronger voice.

There were several hiccups in my support. I was never comfortable with the NDP's emphasis on unions; not being a union member, I found it difficult in meetings and rallies to cheer for unions above all, and frequently found the union position to be sexist. I was very upset with Broadbent's 1988 decision to go after a few Liberal seats rather than oppose Mulroney's free trade agreement. In 1995, I saw Alexa McDonough's federal leadership defeat of Svend Robinson as the triumph of politics over ideas, and felt she used her time in Parliament too much for knee-jerk government bashing and not enough for representing the interests of the people. (This may or may not have been true about McDonough; she and McLaughlin were both given inadequate media time so it was difficult to know what they were trying to do.)

And then of course there was Bob Rae's election as Ontario Premier in 1990. When the full understanding of the Ontario deficit and the recession hit, I agreed with him that the government had to reduce spending. I (along with almost everyone I knew) was laid off in 1990-91, so I felt viscerally that the government must support the unemployed as well as the employed. The NDP base demanded that the government support only the unionized. I had several friends who found jobs and were laid off again two or three times during that recession, and I and many of my colleagues have never fully recovered our careers. This was the second major recession in my working life, and I was appalled that the rank and file of my party seemed to be solely concerned about maintaining wages for civil servants. The attack on Bob Rae was vicious and totally out of proportion: "Wanted" posters appeared on telephone poles all over Toronto showing the pictures of NDP MPPs who supported Rae's social contract, pledging to vote them out of office, and Rae was regularly booed in public meetings.

In the 1995 Ontario election I found myself canvassing for an NDP candidate in downtown Toronto with the instruction to say that the candidate didn't support the leader of her party and Premier of the province. It was a depressing experience. I was glad to have moved to another country by the time the election occurred, and not terribly surprised that the NDP fell from a majority government to a single-digit percentage of the popular vote. I felt very strongly that Bob Rae had done a stellar job as Premier and that I couldn't support a party that repudiated him for governing for all citizens and not just his political base.

When I moved back to Canada in 1997 I was on the fence about the NDP, first as a strategic voter between the NDP and the Liberals, and then as a Liberal supporter. I worked for Liberal candidates in Ontario elections but might have gone back to the NDP federally had the party of ideas not become fully supplanted by seats-at-all-costs, knee-jerk government bashing. When Layton was elected I thought he might bring a spark back to the party, but he hasn't. Layton's latest move to facilitate the election of Harper is a final nail in the coffin of my NDP support.

There is an upside to all this for me. Since I have moved to the Liberals, I have discovered that I feel much more comfortable in this party than I ever did in the NDP. I support a strong central government; the best social programs we can afford; fiscal responsibility to create a healthy, stable economy and make social programs possible; and strong regulations to protect people, the environment and our culture from the injurious effects of free enterprise. I want to be in a party that is creative and pragmatic. Furthermore, I want to be in the fight against the Conservative-Bloc determination to gut the federal government and to give away Canadian sovereignty to the United States. The NDP has chosen to stand on the sidelines, attacking the Liberals in the hopes of picking up a few seats instead of working on the real issues. In 2006, the Liberals are the only party who are effectively standing up for Canada and for social programs.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Bob Rae on the Muslim Chronicle

What a treat to see Bob Rae on the TV show The Muslim Chronicle tonight. It was a meaty 30-minute interview, largely dealing with his feelings about the NDP and his thoughts about the Middle East. (In the leader's debates the candidates are constantly cut off after one, two, or three minutes, making it impossible for them to say much of substance.)

The first part of the interview dealt with Rae's feelings about the NDP, why he left, and about being a Liberal. Much of it is the same stuff that he said in his 1996 book From Protest to Power and has repeated many times since - the NDP is too much about protest and not enough about good government, and is too inflexible and not practical about creating a strong economy to afford social programs. He said that since he left the NDP in 1998 he has worked for federal and Ontario Liberal governments as well as international organizations and private enterprise.

The host's first question about the Middle East was why Rae signed a letter in 2002 that criticized remarks by Svend Robinson that were pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. One of the reasons I like Bob Rae so much is that he stands by what he believes. Knowing that he was speaking to a primarily Muslim audience, he said that Canada needs a balanced view that supports both Israel's and Palestine's right to exist, but we also should insist on negotiated borders between the two. He said as Prime Minister he'd try to bring together Jews and Muslims within Canada to talk. He mentioned doing this while he was Ontario Premier; apparently after the 1993 Oslo Accords he got groups of Jews and Muslims and went with them to Gaza, Israel, and other spots.

On the issue of Afghanistan, Rae said that he wasn't against a Canadian military presence, but he felt that we shouldn't focus on American-style counter-insurgency: it creates resistance that is counter-productive. He reminded us that the west intervened in Afghanistan not to help the Afghans but to defeat Al Qaeda. He said that the imperial solution does not work, that the Taliban are as strong as ever in northern Pakistan, and that unless someone starts to repair the underlying problems in Afghanistan the Taliban will return to power after we pull out. He said Canada needs to understand how it can be most effective, and that is probably not in a combat role supporting the US army.

On Iraq, Rae reminded us that the US destroyed not just the Iraqi army but the Iraqi state, creating chaos, and that it will be a long job to rebuild. Again, he said that the imperial solution is not effective.

Rae seemed perfectly at ease and in command of the topics. He is obviously a passionate and committed Liberal. He has worked in recent years in both Afghanistan and Iraq, studied the current problems first-hand, knows what he's talking about, is sensitive to all sides and pragmatic about finding the best way to help.

I didn't take good notes so I hope I didn't butcher his remarks too much.