Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NY Times: Canada regains high ground

In response to the Canadian parliament voting to bring down two elements of anti-terrorist legislation, one that permits detention without charge, and one that allows coerced testimony, the NY Times wrote an editorial supporting the decision of the Canadian parliament, saying

The United States was not the only country to respond to the horror of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with policies that went much too far in curtailing basic rights and civil liberties in the name of public safety. Now we see that a nation can regain its senses after calm reflection and begin to rein back such excesses, but that heartening news comes from Canada and not the United States.

Read more:

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Housing and homeless in Vancouver, and 2010

I live in Vancouver, BC, where the gap between the very rich and the extreme poor is all to apparent. In the same day that I see droves of people drive to work in their fifty thousand dollar SUVs, I see more droves of people barely surviving in the Donwtown Eastside. One thing that really gets me as much as anything is the relentless ignorance of those who would believe that the extreme poor are in that state by choice, leave them to their own devices, and demand that they just "get a job." Well, it's not as simple as that.

Choices are very important in life, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. They are constrained by the social, economic, environmental, societal, and biological context within which one exists. If you have a mental illness, you have the inability to make rational choices from the start. The cards are stacked against you. Alot of the mentally ill on the streets are there because of the de-institutionalization by the Socred government in the 80s. if you come from a poor background, you have the cards stacked against you. If you have a disability, you have the cards stacked against you. If you come from an abusive background, you have the cards stacked against you. If you are an aboriginal, you have the cards stacked against you.

And, if you live in a society that doe not look after the weakest of the citizens, as we do, and you are already homeless, you virtually don’t have a chance. It is a trap that is extremely, extremely difficult to escape. How are they going to do that? They don’t have a place to sleep, a place to shower or change, let along anything to change into. All they probably have are the smelly, torn clothes on their back. Their nutritional intake is extremely poor. And that’s assuming that they’re even capable of working, as opposed to having a mental illness or some undiagnosed physical disability?

Recent events are a symptom of this continual ignorance. First is the government money spent on a countdown clock for the 2010 Winter Olympics, money that could easily have been spent instead on helping the homeless. Second is this past week's provincial government budget, proudly promoted by Carole Taylor as the housing budget. There were shelter beds for the homeless promised, but not nearly enough, and decent affordable housing rather than shelter beds would have been much better.

With the 2010 Olympics coming, the well-known prediction from the Pivot Legal Society that homelessness may triple between now and 2010, and the lack of sufficient response from all levels of government to the issue of housing and homelessness, I am very concerned about what the future is going to hold for the homeless. Are the fears that the Downtown Eastside will be gentrified and the extreme poor pushed even further into the margins of society actually likely to materialize?

At this point, my temptation is to say that this is a crossroads for our city and we have to decide which path we will take: continued self-absorbtion and ignorance, or a new enlightenment recognizing social as well as personal responsibility.

However, society doesn't change that much in three years, so I will put it this way: Our governments can go one of two ways on this problem. Either way, the end result must be that visitors to our fine city in 2010 to not perceive a homelessness problem. The tact that I'm afraid will materialize is to push the homeless even further into the margins of society; this will backfire, as crime will increase. The better long-term approach is to show visitors that we are a conscientious, inclusive society, and feed, house, and clothe our homeless citizens.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Vulture Funds

This is disgusting. I have to say I was completely unaware of this phenomenon.

On Thursday 15 February a high court judge in London will rule whether so-called vulture fund can extract more than $40m from Zambia for a debt which it bought for less than $4m.

There are concerns that such funds are wiping out the benefits which international debt relief was supposed to bring to poor countries.

Martin Kalunga-Banda, Zambian presidential adviser and a consultant to Oxfam told Newsnight, "That $40m is equal to the value of all the debt relief we received last year."

Vulture funds - as defined by the International Monetary Fund and Gordon Brown amongst others - are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off and then sue for the full value of the debt plus interest - which might be ten times what they paid for it.


Caroline Pearce from the Jubilee Debt campaign told Newsnight it makes a mockery of all the work done by governments to write off the debts of the poorest.

"Profiteering doesn't get any more cynical than this. Zambia has been planning to spend the money released from debt cancellation on much-needed nurses, teachers and infrastructure: this is what debt cancellation is intended for not to line the pockets of businessmen based in rich countries."

As it turns out, Zambia lost the vulture funds case.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now had an excellent interview with Greg Palast on vulture funds today, which initially drew my attention to the issue.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

URGENT: Hunger Strike in Kingston reaches 80 days.

Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Hassan Almrei have been held for six years in Kingston on security certificates without charge. To protest this, is well as poor treatment, they have held a hunger strike for the last 80 days. During this strike, they have been refused doctor's visits. From Verbani-19, here is their letter.

We are the undersigned Mohammad Mahjoub, Mahmoud Jaballah, and Hassan Almrei. We have been imprisoned over six years under so-called security certificates. We have never been convicted of any crime, much less charged with one. We have been told we are dangerous to the security of Canada and a threat to the public, without even seeing anything in evidence against us. Neither our lawyers or ourselves have the right to challenge or see what the government claims they have on us. These rights everybody takes for granted in this country or in any country that applies the rule of democracy.

Since our arrests we have been thrown in solitary confinement for years without any explanation, surviving in a small, concrete, frozen cell.

We faced many difficulties in practicing our religion, or contacting our families, and countless nights without sleeping from hunger.

On April 24, 2006, the government decided to move us to a new facility after the provincial government’s refusal to keep us in their detention centre. From that time we are detained in a small trailer parked in a parking lot on the grounds of Millhaven.

Shortly after our arrival here we realized that we are in a no-man’s land and everybody applies his own rules: guards, supervisors, directors. We don’t know whose rules we should follow. Policies change by the shift. We thought our life at this facility will be better than Toronto West Detention Centre. Were we wrong in our thoughts?

This is all humiliating and insulting not only for ourselves but to our families as well.

We requested repeatedly that these unjust treatments be changed and to be treated as adult human beings. When all our requests and complaints have been rejected by the director to cover up her staff’s wrongdoing, we decided to engage in a hunger strike, which is the last option for us to change our conditions.

We are on a hunger strike for the last 80 days for Mahjoub, 69 days for Jaballah and Almrei. Until recently, we have never seen a doctor to treat us, not even one single time, even though we requested daily to see a doctor and get treatment. We would only see a nurse behind the closed door through a small glass window. We are unable to get to the so-called treatment room because of our fear of our own safety from the guards because we have been abused by them many times.

There were many many media reports about our hunger strike and 2 visits by Members of Parliament and several questions put to the government in the House of Commons about our conditions and hunger strike. Only then did the CBSA [Canadian Border Services Agency] decide to send a doctor to see us on February 7, 2007, for the first time, and order a supervisor to escort us to the treatment room to see a doctor and a nurse. We have requested a supervisor to escort us any time we have to move in the facility. The supervisor is only now being provided temporarily. This is not a solution.

We feel some small changes have happened here because of pressure from the public and MPs. But we still need your help to fix the big problems here.

We may not have much more time, so please keep up the pressure in standing for our rights.

We thank you for all of your kindness and support. May Allah bless you and reward you for all of your efforts.

Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub, Hassan Almrei.

(letter dictated by phone to the Campaign to Stop Secret trials in Canada)

For more details, and tips on how to take action, see Verbani-19

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Chirac on Iran.

Gwynne Dyer is bang on in the Straight this week, basically arguing that Iran is not a threat, that its purpose in acquiring nucelar weaponry is basically defensive in nature, and that

the danger is not that Iran would be irresponsible with its nuclear weapons but that they would lead to a general proliferation of such weapons in the Middle East.

Now, I'm not always the biggest Chirac fan. He acts purely out of self-interest, whether its opposing the war in Iraq, or selling arms to China. Here I am sure there must be self-interest involved as well. Nevertheless, that does not change the fact that his is right.

Dyer concludes:

The truth may be that Iran is for the moment seeking only a “threshold” nuclear-weapons capacity: a level of technological expertise from which it could, in an emergency, develop actual nuclear weapons in only six months or so. Such a position is entirely legal, and some 40 countries currently occupy it.

The truth may also be that the nuclear-armed neighbour Iran really worries about is not Israel but Pakistan, whose 1998 nuclear tests scared Iranian strategists half to death. They don’t worry about the intentions of Pakistan’s current dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, but they know that it is a one-bullet regime and they worry a great deal about what kind of fanatics might succeed him in power.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

IPCC report; fossil fuel industry responses

The International Panel on Climate Change Report has been released, providing us with the strongest evidence yet that signifigcant climate change is caused by human activity, and that it is a threat to life on this planet.

Of course, the fossil industry hacks are disputing this finding:

The American Enterprise Institute is offering $10,000 to scientists prepared to write papers opposing findings of the IPCC report.

The Fraser Institute will be giving a press conference in London on Monday to give their reaction to the findings. Media Identification will be required for admission.

George Bushes hedges taking action on the issue.

For info as it comes in on this issue, read the DeSmog Blog.