Friday, May 26, 2006

Stephen Harper and other "Ottawa Stuff"

Stephen Harper is in my hometown Victoria today. And it's busy. I wonder if he will also be challenged by local journalists about his stand not taking questions from the National press gallery anymore.

This issue is an important one. Apart from Harper's (unproven) conceived bias against him, he has not given any reason why it is that the Prime Minister's Office wants to chose who gets to ask the question. What are his objectives with this policy? To ignore tough questions?

In the meantime many abroad get little (but important) snippets of the current feuds. Here are some of the articles about the press feud: Gulf News, United Arab Emirates - Malaysia Sun, Malaysia - Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Australia. Also reactions to the "new Canadian view" on the Kyoto Protocol: Die Tageszeiting, Germany. And how about the fake news about Iran? NRC Handelsblad, Netherlands. In other words, our country is noticed again, but it's far from good news. Is this the image of Canada we want others to have about us?

Stephen Harper and the National Press GalleryHarper thinks that this press-feud is just "inside Ottawa stuff", but that time has long gone; things get noticed everywhere, and that's a good thing! We (, the people) have to be able to scrutinize the government. Harper can not be taken serious by calling the National Press Gallery biased, and doesn't offer any proof either. The argument should be reversed: "Why is Harper so biased against the National Press Gallery?" Linwood Barclay's editorial gives (funny) insight where Harper's perceived bias comes from.

A skeptical press, yes, Canada's press is quite skeptical about the Conservative party. And calling journalists biased while not offering any proof is not a clever thing to do. I hope that Canadians start to realize the importance of the issue. This is not a simple "inside Ottawa stuff" issue: We need to know what's going on in Ottawa. No media can be trusted better than a skeptical media.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Is Harper up to the Job of PM?

This story is not about current problems of the media; it's all about Harper.

Stephen Harper has a problem with the media. He tells us the media is biased, but I don't think that's the case; if the National Media was really all that biased he probably would never have in office. The issue is actually quite simple: he wants the media to report what he has to tell them. And please, no questions.

Amy GoodmanIt brings me back to the interview Bill Clinton gave (video) at Democracy Now! (DN!) on election day 2000. Clinton, a Democrat, is also not used to tough questioning by (one of my favourite) journalists {Amy Goodman) which resulted in a hostile reaction:

"Now you listen to me. You ask the questions, and I'm going to answer. You have asked questions in a hostile, combatitive and even disrespectful tone [...], and you have never been able to combat the facts that I have given you."

After this show DN! got a phone call from the White House press office (US version of the PMO):

"[Clinton] called to discuss getting out the vote, and you strayed from the topic. You also kept him much longer than the two to three minutes we agreed to."

Amy Goodman replied:

"President Clinton is the most powerful man in the world, he can hang up when he wants to."

This example describes my position well. Harper does not need to answer all questions in the most detailed way; he can answer them the way he wants, even walk off when the questions become too hostile. If he's not up to dealing with the National Media, he should consider getting an easier job.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Harper: "Media, Bad Media"

Stephen Harper hates the mediaIt's interesting when politicians start blaming the media. Harper accuses the media of "being the opposition of the government". Are things that ugly already?

The media is upset with the latest controversial policy regarding questions to the prime minister. And they should be. Geoff Norquay explains:

The reality is that every new government wants to keep a tight lid on its messages and this one in particular.

I'm puzzled with such announcements. What does this have to do with the way the press functions? Are you telling me Harper is not able to keep his mouth shut when necessary? Is Harper not up to the job of prime minister?

It really isn't about the press; it's about the Conservatives, and their need to control how to "get the message out". Questions are not needed. It's simply a lot easier to answer questions from conservative-friendly journalists than from unrespectful others; you might not have the right answers up front (like Rumsfeld in this video - Realplayer).

"Real politicians" make the news themselves. Stephen Harper is one of them, using a false story by the National Post to make up his own story about a new Iranian law forcing Jews and minorities to wear badges. When the truth of the actual story was questionable, he continued with the following:
"Unfortunately, we've seen enough already from the Iranian regime to suggest that it is very capable of this kind of action," Harper said.
"We've seen a number of things from the Iranian regime that are along these lines . . .
"It boggles the mind that any regime on the face of the Earth would want to do anything that could remind people of Nazi Germany."

An apology has been given by the National Post, but no comments yet from Stephen Harper; prime ministers obviously don't apologize to the public. I guess we won't be able to ask him about it either.

What is it what we, voters (and non-voters), want from a govenment? I believe that transparency is essential to a well functioning democracy, where a government is responsive and responsable to it's voters. We need to be able to ask questions, all questions, and let it be up to the prime minister (in this case Stephen Harper) in what way she/he likes to answer.

I always enjoy looking at some of the blogging tories blogs to see what kind of reasoning they can come up with. William Deemers argues that "the media lacks the ethical will to stick to reporting the news, but instead takes it upon themselves to create news ".

When it comes to news you have to take the good with the bad. Yes, free speech has limits which are outlined in our laws. I would be surprised if the majority of Canadians want any change. I also hear often from Conservative circles (and from William Deemers) that
Harper is [...] caught up with his work as PM and does not have time [to] waste every other minute talking to journalists.
Bush supporters claim the same thing too and I can only point to this story by the Washington Post. And mister Harper, it's simply part of your job to take questions from the press; get used to it or step down. Compared to European politics (which I continue to follow) we already see very little of what's going on in Ottawa; deny voters essential insight and we'll see what will happens with the next elections.

I'm wondering if Harper is considering other US tactics too: How about paying reporters to skew the news?. Maybe he'll be in for the same approval ratings of Bush too.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Amnesty criticizes War on Terror and Helpless Darfur

Amnesty's latest rapport tells us that the poor suffer from the so-called war on terror. And many countries choose national security above individual human rights. These kind of changes in national policies are a sign of the times. The whole world has significantly changed into a perceived war-zone.

So what do we do to change all this? We send peace-keepers to Afghanistan and Iraq. Strangely enough there is no peace yet; Afghanistan is still fighting and Iraq, well, about 2000-3000 deaths each month tell it all. So what are peace-KEEPERS going to do when a long lasting peace is not even in sight?

Let's agree that we have to get rid of the silly word peace-keepers, and call the peace-keeping operations for what they are: military operations. Oh, I've got one more up for a reality check; how about friendly fire? There's nothing friendly about being killed by your own people. It's probably the most stupid thing that can happen, so why mistake stupidity with friendliness?

Darfur FamilyA military operation is needed in Darfur. But we're not going. All our troops are situated in Afghanistan and, beside the current 17 (!) Canadian troops in Darfur, we are not willing to offer more help than committing $40 million. The US also has it's priorities straight. Over 100.000 troops in the oil-wealthy Iraq, but less than 5% of that in Darfur. Of course, Darfur doesn't directly threaten the US national security so why worry? Who cares about 180.000 deaths when there's money to be made from prison camps to oil? Finding the right words to describe the greed is a matter of choice: state-capitalism at work, or should we call in neo-colonialism? Either way it's power before people, greed before sharing, national security before human rights. And it's not that we haven't seen this before (Arundhati Roy).

See also today's interview of Democracy Now! with Arundhati Roy:

Monday, May 22, 2006

Kyoto Protocol or the "Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate?"

Looking at the title you almost want to forget the troubled Kyoto and start the "Partnership on Clean Development and Climate". The latter sounds a lot better (sexier), but there are some real problems with this so-called "partnership". The big difference with the Kyoto Protocol is that there is no mandatory enforcement mechanism. Yes, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is the goal of the partnership, but, no worries, just see what you can do and hope for the best; not much of a plan for the environment crisis we are currently in.

"We've been looking at the Asia-Pacific Partnership for a number of months now because the key principles around [it] are very much in line with where our government wants to go," Ambrose told reporters (source: CBC).

Well, at least Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is honest about where the current Government wants to go. But do Canadians want to go this way too? An Ipsos poll from 4 years ago showed that 74% of Canadians supported the Kyoto protocol. Many (75%) were also of the opinion that it is possible to develope an alternative that is just as effective but would cost the Canadian economy less.

PollutionBut the Asia Pacific Partnership isn't it. It's a cop out. Yes, we will make friends with the political elite of the US (Bush and his friends), but it will come at a huge environmental cost. Canada has seen the limits of Mother Earth before: In 1992 the cod fishery in Newfoundland led to the loss of 40.000 jobs in the industry (source: Greenpeace). This time it is greenhouse gases and global warming that are threating the future of us all. Are we continuing to work on a cleaner future through the Kyoto protocol, or are we turning our backs on the world community?

The world needs a long term solution. And it needs it quickly. Kyoto includes 163 countries, all committed to work (and economically pay) for a better environment though a protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The plan is there. It might not be perfect for all economic concerns that Canada has but the alternative (sofar only The Asia Pacific Partnership) seems to be "nothing more than a nice little public relations ploy." (US Senator John McCain)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Fighting for Change in the US

One of the biggest problems in the US is its outdated and overly corrupted political system. But how can it be that politicians get away with lies and deceptions? Well, a lot has to do with the mainstream media; they make a lot of money, but are often way too soft on injustice in society; it just isn't their main priority. Up until now this has kept many (including me) confused of what to think about the US, and in particular about their politics.

For a long time it has seemed strange to me that such a huge country has only two political parties, while my motherland (Netherlands, 16 million people) has so many. Most importantly, all Western countries have a significant Labour party. But why does such a party not exsist in the US? Are Americans that different from us?

Too much power seems to be in the hands of politicians sponsored by big corporations. The allowance for campaign contributions is (still) a legal form of corporatocracy. Many corporations contribute even to both parties, Democrat and Republican. When will Americans see the necessity of stopping this form of bribery? If these companies find it so valuable to sponsor politicians, why not tax them more?

Jonathan RintelsOf course this is not going to happen soon. But Jonathan Rintels suggests his own way to change; an open media. Blogging and podcasting are important forms of open medias. Together we will have to fight to get and keep this media open, but sofar it's all we've got.

The Blog | Jonathan Rintels: Fighting for an Open Society | The Huffington Post

Friday, May 19, 2006

BBC Interviews “Wrong Guy”

Have fun with the following:

On May 8, a man named Guy Goma showed up for a job interview for a technology-related position at the BBC. A mix-up led producers to believe Guy Goma the job applicant was in fact Guy Kewney – a technology website editor who was scheduled to appear for a live interview. Well, it turns out they had the wrong Guy. Guy Kewney watched the interview from the green room where he was waiting to go on. The BBC later apologized to viewers and invited Guy Goma back for a follow-up interview (source: Democracy Now).

After LOL I'm wondering if he actually got the job he applied for. Anyone?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Retired CIA Analyst Ray McGovern Takes on Rumsfeld Over Justification for Iraq Invasion

photo©Laura Hanifin
In the broadcast of Democracy Now! (May 5th, 2006) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld comes under fire from retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern at a speech in Atlanta.

Near the end Rumsfeld began taking questions from the audience. Ray McGovern, who spent 27 years as a C.I.A. analyst, asked the following:

    RAY McGOVERN: And so, I would like to ask you to be up front with the American people. Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

    DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven’t lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn't lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The President spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people, and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

    RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were?

    DONALD RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were, and we were --

    RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were, “near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and northeast, south and west of there.” Those were your words.

    DONALD RUMSFELD: My words -- my words were -- no, no, no, wait a minute! Let him stay one second. Just a second.

    RAY McGOVERN: This is America, huh? Go ahead.

    DONALD RUMSFELD: You're getting plenty of play, sir.

    RAY McGOVERN: I'd just like an honest answer.

    DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m giving it to you.

    RAY McGOVERN: We're talking about lies and your allegation that there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?

    DONALD RUMSFELD: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.

    RAY McGOVERN: Zarqawi, he was in the north of Iraq, in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That’s where he was.

    DONALD RUMSFELD: He was also in Baghdad.

    RAY McGOVERN: Yeah, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story.

    DONALD RUMSFELD: You are -- let me give you an example. It's easy for you to make a charge, but why do you think that the men and women in uniform every day, when they came out of Kuwait and went into Iraq, put on chemical weapon protective suits? Because they liked the style? They honestly believed that there were chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on his own people previously. He had used them on his neighbor, the Iranians. And they believed he had those weapons. We believed he had those weapons.

    RAY McGOVERN: That's what we call a non-sequitur. It doesn’t matter what the troops believe. It matters what you believe.

    MODERATOR: I think, Mr. Secretary, the debate is over. We have other questions, courtesy to the audience.

This small clip just shows the incapability of Donald Rumsfeld to come up with a real argument to defend his position that he did not lie. Indeed, the chemical weapons excuse story is a non-sequitur.

Also interesting was the fact that mister McGovern was actually not allowed to ask the very question he did. When he entered the hall he was given a small blurb about Rumsfeld:

I was met with this little blurb on Donald Rumsfeld, and as I read it, I had to chuckle. It says, “There’s going to be a question-and-answer period, but please adhere to these guidelines. Refrain from using the word ‘lie’ in relation to the war in Iraq. Do not question the secretary’s personal responsibility for torture. And please don’t discuss first use of nuclear weapons against Iran. If you violate these guidelines, you'll be immediately removed from the auditorium, flown to an undesignated prison location somewhere in Eastern Europe and tortured. Thank you for your cooperation. The World Cannot Wait.” A wonderful, wonderful group. Those were the folks that spoke up and tried to brace Donald Rumsfeld with the lies and their charges of him being -- and he is, arguably -- a war criminal. And we shouldn't shy away from saying that.

Read the full story here: Retired CIA Analyst Ray McGovern Takes on Rumsfeld Over Justification for Iraq Invasion
Or watch streaming media: Click here

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dutch Minister of Defense Henk Kamp predicts more trouble in Afghanistan

Henk KampMinister of Defense Henk Kamp agrees that the situation in Afghanistan is more dangerous than about half a year ago. "It is really dangerous in Urusghan". Also Dutch Prime Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer prepares us for more victims in the Afghan war.

According to Minister Henk Kamp the main reason for having Dutch troops in Afghanistan is Al-Quada.

"It all started with the attacks in New York (WTC) and Washington. Just imagine what happened there. Thousands of people died when the office buildings (WTC) collapsed. Therefore we are having all these problems in the world, and we (Dutch troops) are helping to ease the situation"
It is interesting to see that Henk Kamp's main argument for siding with the US is the planned attacks in New York. Of course this was a horrible experience, but let's not forget the thousands of people that have been killed in the meantime. Especially Iraq deals with a monthly loss of around 3.000 casualties. Yes, monthly (read the Lancet: "Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq"; PDF file) . More killing in Iraq will likely result in more attacks.

"The Netherlands is increasing its troops (in Afghanistan) from 1200 to 1400, the maximum The Netherlands is willing to employ there. If more are needed the NATO will have to deliver those extra troops. "

Interviewer: "Is there a moment that it becomes too dangerous?"
HK: "Yes, we hope it will not happen and I can't give you a mark; every problem will result in a different answer, but in theory, when we think we can not succeed, we will consider leaving."