Friday, January 31, 2014

Scarlett Johansson opts for peace over bigotry

The antisemitic charity Oxfam has had a longstanding loathing for the only democracy in the Middle East. Oxfam doesn't get too upset about Syria where the government has killed 130,000 civilians (and counting) in the course of a bloody civil war. 

Oxfam doesn't mind Gaza at all, even though it's run by a terrorist group that oppresses the people of Gaza and openly dedicates itself to killing Jews. Oxfam isn't even too fussed by North Korea, a government busily starving its population.

In fact the only country on earth that Oxfam believes should be boycotted is a liberal democracy that safeguards the rights of all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity, creed or colour.

Now Oxfam has parted ways with its most important "ambassador," the actress Scarlett Johansson, who has raised tens of millions of dollars for Oxfam. 

You can't do an ad for SodaStream, they told her. 

Why not? 

Apparently because SodaStream is a model of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation.

SodaStream makes carbonation kits so you can make your own pop at home. SodaStream operates a manufacturing plant at the Mishor Adumim industrial park, inside the West Bank, 10 minutes from Jerusalem. The plant employs Israeli Jews and Arabs and Palestinians – including in management level positions. 

Additionally, the company provides Muslim employees with a company prayer room and break time so that they can pray – as well as benefits for all employees which includes transportation to the facility, subsidized daily meals, medical aid, maternity leave, vacation and a pension plan.

SodaStream employs more than 500 West Bank Palestinians, making the company the largest single employer of Palestinians outside of the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, as SodaStream is a profitable, forward-looking company, it pays good Israeli wages – which are two or three times the average wage in the West Bank.

All this makes SodaStream a special target for the anti-Israel crowd, which just hates the idea of peaceful cooperation.

Oxfam told Johansson it’s either us or SodaStream. Johansson chose SodaStream. It’s a no-brainer really: peace and cooperation over bigotry.

Oxfam revived the blood libel for this poster, urging people to boycott the only democracy in the Middle East.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Here's an old piece from the Palestinian intellectual Ahmad Khalidi. Khalidi represents a large Palestinian constituency....

Thanks, but no thanks
Statehood does not offer the equitable and fair solution the Palestinian people deserve
Ahmad Samih Khalidi
senior associate member of St Antony's College, Oxford
The Guardian, Thursday 13 December 2007
The Palestinian state has now become the universal standard for all solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The international community applauds the concept. President Bush proudly proclaims it as his "vision". The Israelis have come to it belatedly, after years of steadfast refusal and rejection. 

{Actually, the Israelis accepted Palestinian statehood in 1947 when the UN attempted to partition the land into Jewish and Arab states. The Arabs violently rejected the plan and attempted to destroy Israel at its birth. They failed and the Palestinians have refused to make peace ever since, which is why today there is a Jewish state but as yet no Palestinian state. But back to Khalidi...}
Today Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, not only supports the idea but proclaims it as an existential Israeli interest: without it, Israel is fated to disappear under dire assault from the ever-expanding Arab population in both Israel and the occupied territories. This apparent human tide may yet bring disaster to the Jewish state, by demanding equal civil rights to those of the Jews themselves.
But statehood as such is a relatively recent addition to Palestinian aspirations. The main Palestinian impetus after the disaster of 1948 was that of "return"; it was more about reversing the loss of Arab land and patrimony, than the fulfilment of classical post-colonial self-determination, via statehood.
Driven into national concussion by the catastrophic forced displacement of 1948 and up until the mid-1960s, the sense of a separate "Palestinian" national identity all but disappeared. This "lost consciousness" was only reversed by the emergence of Fatah under Yasser Arafat in the Arab diaspora in the late 1950s.
It was only after the 1967 debacle that a new Palestinian national identity began to take shape. At its core was the notion of the armed struggle as a galvanising force. Armed struggle, according to Fatah, restored Palestinian dignity and gave the Palestinians a say in determining their future.
Statehood and state building had no real place in this scheme. Indeed, the first tentative proposals to establish a state in Palestine (ie the West Bank) were rejected as defeatist and a betrayal of the national cause. This was certainly not an exercise in institution building, land acquisition and state building by stealth, as in the Zionist movement before 1948. After the 1973 war, Fatah's leaders turned to the notion again. This was largely the result of a realistic reading of the balance of power and a recognition of the limits of what force, on the part of the Arab states or Palestinian irregulars, was likely to achieve. Eventually, in 1988, Arafat himself backed the idea of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as a historic compromise; Israel behind these borders would get 77% of Mandatory Palestine, and the Palestinians would be reconciled to the remaining 23%.
Today, the Palestinian state is largely a punitive construct devised by the Palestinian's worst historical enemies; Israel and its implacable ally, the US. The intention behind the state today is to constrain Palestinian aspirations territorially, to force them to give up on their moral rights, renege on their history and submit to Israel's diktats on fundamental issues of sovereignty. 

Its core is the rump Palestinian Authority that is now fundamentally sustained by the IDF presence on the West Bank. The PA is increasingly being turned into an accoutrement of Israeli occupation; its function is to serve Israeli security interests as designated by Israel itself and the US military teams that have been overseeing the buildup of Palestinian security forces.
It is very unclear how an independent state can be built on the spears of the very force that is occupying it. Or how state institutions can be constructed while the occupation continues to determine every aspect of Palestinian life.
The notion of a state was an offshoot of the Palestinian struggle and not its nodal point. Nonetheless, there was a period from the mid-1970s onwards when the state could have represented the point where Palestinian national aspirations met the boundaries of what is possible.
Now this concept is less attractive than ever. Olmert demands of Palestinians that they must give up their history. President Bush decides for them what their borders and rights must be. And Tony Blair wags a finger and tells Palestinians that they won't get a state at all unless, it meets his high standards (sic) of governance .
The temptation is to say, thanks, but no thanks. Under such circumstances, Palestinians may just opt for something else. Palestinians could simply continue to say no to a state that does nothing to address its basic needs. Either way, its hard to see how Israel can win this struggle in the long term.

{On the other hand, with these attitudes its impossible to see how the Palestinians can ever end the struggle.  The past 66 years since Israel's founding should have taught them that they can't win, but if like Khalid, they continue to reject Israel's legitimate presence in the land and continue to reject a state living side-by-side in peace with a Jewish state, their struggle never end. It's an oppressive future they're leaving to their children.}

Monday, January 27, 2014

Michael Zwaagstra: Enough about "white privilege," kids need basic knowledge

Print-based literacy, "an unfortunate example of the  neo-liberal agenda"

Michael Zwaagstra's recent experience of teacher's school

Education schools and teacher colleges have long been obsessed with issues of race and culture to the detriment of the academic basics. I experienced this personally during an education graduate course I recently completed. Throughout the course, the professor and students made repeated references to “white privilege” and frequently bashed Western civilization for being racist and sexist. 

During one of our discussions, the professor even suggested that there is too much focus on reading and writing in public schools. In her opinion, reading and writing was only one form of literacy and other forms deserve equal attention. Many students backed up the professor’s position. One of them went so far as to argue that the excessive focus on print-based literacy is an unfortunate example of the so-called neo-liberal agenda.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Toronto schools pay high prices for small jobs

With School Board elections less than a  year away, it's a good time to start reminding ourselves why we need to get rid of many of our school trustees.... 

By: Moira Welsh and Kevin Donovan Staff Reporters, The Toronto Star, Published Jun 21 2012
Here’s what taxpayers were charged for work done at Toronto public schools:
Installing a $17 pencil sharpener: $143 to put in four screws.
The installation of a sign on a school’s front lawn: $19,000
An electrical outlet on the wall in a school library: $3,000
A “breakfast club” kitchen: $250,000
When the librarian at the electrical outlet school saw the bill she hit the roof, wondering at “the number of books that could have been purchased with $3000.”
A Star investigation has found examples of charges that are out of whack with the amount of work done. The work in question was carried out by some of the 900-strong maintenance and construction trades people who have an exclusive contract with the Toronto District School Board. In the case of the electrical plug, the job took four hours, but taxpayers were billed 76 hours, which sources say was done to account for the time of idle workers who had no assignments that week.
Principals, trustees and parents say that much needed work on Toronto’s aging schools is not getting done. Principals were terrified of repercussions from their management and the union and would not go on the record for this story. Some who have complained say they have been threatened by the union with losing their jobs if they speak up.
Union boss Jimmy Hazel, when first asked about these high costs two weeks ago, unleashed a stream of profanity at a Star reporter.
“We don’t need to f------ prove anything to anybody about costs,” Hazel said. “A s---load more work was done to justify the cost of that plug job I can tell you.”
The TDSB’s chief facilities officer, Angelos Bacopoulos, said in an interview that the board realizes they have a serious problem.
“How widespread it is, I do not know,” Bacopoulos said.
He is trying to fix the system, but faces opposition from the union. The contract with the union expires this August and negotiations will begin in September, a TDSB spokesperson said.
{Update: the Provincial Liberal government went over the head of the Toronto Board and renewed basically the same sweetheart deal with the same scuzzy unions.}
Each year, principals at the almost 600 public schools across Toronto submit requests to get work done. Under a longstanding agreement with Jimmy Hazel’s Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council, almost all of that work must be performed by its members, who are TDSB employees. Projects larger than $1.5 million, or those requiring special skills, can only be done by companies whose workers are part of affiliated unions.
Principals are given budgets for repairs at their school and are asked to prioritize the work.
When the call came in early 2012 to install a new electrical outlet in the library (the librarian wanted to plug in a projector and create a new “learning space” for students) at Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, it seemed like an easy request. Since it involved electrical work, union rules required two TDSB electricians to be dispatched. The job, which involved attaching a plug to the library wall and then running cable through the suspended ceiling to an electrical panel, took two hours (four person hours in total).
TDSB emails show about $2,000 was refunded to the school’s account after the principal complained.
A source with knowledge of this project told the Star that the four person hour electrical outlet job was padded with 72 additional hours to justify paying the salary of other electricians who had no work to do. The source also told the Star that Hazel has now determined that he has too many electricians, and as many as seven have recently been laid off.
At the Toronto Catholic District School Board, a school system about half the size of the public board, only 70 workers are employed full-time. Other work is contracted out. Spokesperson Angelo Sangiorgio said it would not “make sense” to employ more because there is not enough plumbing or electrical work to keep trades people busy.
Another job the Star looked into involved installing a pencil sharpener at Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate in 2009. The school purchased the sharpener at Grand and Toy at a cost of $17.
Principals and custodial staff have long been told that Hazel’s union must do the bulk of the work at schools. The principal at the school, Rick Tarasuk, requested installation of the sharpener and a crew was sent out by the TDSB. The sharpener has five screws. It was installed with only four screws under a bookshelf.
Tarasuk was shocked at the cost and raised the issue at a meeting of east end principals. TDSB director Chris Spence was in attendance and vowed to have the charge reversed.
Later, when the Star asked Hazel why it cost $143 to install the pencil sharpener, Hazel passed on TDSB emails that labelled the charge a “clerical error.” Sources say Hazel then called school Tarasuk and threatened to use his influence to have him fired. Hazel told the popular principal he would do this by “going upstairs” to the school’s board of directors. Hazel told the Star in an email this week that while “I can’t have anyone fired,” he is going to talk to TDSB director Spence and complain about Tarasuk because he thinks the principal’s conduct could rate “termination” in most workplaces.
The TDSB has told the Star that it has now sent a message out to school caretakers (who work for a different union) instructing them that they may install pencil sharpeners.

And at the school board, this is what they call progress.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Reality check ~ Canada is the most highly regarded country in the world, not the pariah Liberals think we are

Back on July 1, I wrote a piece for Canada Day about how certain self-proclaimed radicals are persuaded that Canada is an awful place, and even if Canadians don’t see it, the rest of the world, they claim, looks at Canada as a pariah state.

Except, as I pointed out, this is nonsense. According to extensive polls, among people throughout the G7 countries, Canada is the most highly regarded nation in the world – and has been for three years running. (See here.)

Now in a piece for the National Post, Michael Den Tandt has picked up on the same discrepancy between the received wisdom of Canada’s supposedly ruined international reputation and the actual research that precisely the opposite…

On foreign policy, Tories closer to Main Street than critics suggest
Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have, it is a given, laid waste to Canada’s formerly sterling international reputation.
By Michael Den Tandt, Postmedia News January 3, 2014

We know this because various and sundry former diplomats, led by the venerable Paul Heinbecker, have been telling us so for years. They’re backstopped in this by a cohort of thoughtful, stern-minded academics, most recently the University of Ottawa’s Peter Jones writing in Thursday’s Globe and Mail, saying more or less the same thing: Harper and foreign minister John Baird are blinkered Visigoths, stomping about the world stage with their good-versus-evil, black-versus-white world view, shattering the fine china of international diplomacy as they go.
This portrait is eagerly embraced by the opposition parties, of course, because it helps create ideological distance between them and the government — a logical necessity if change (beyond putting new behinds in old seats) is ever to be embraced.

But then along comes something like the New York and Copenhagen-based Reputation Institute’s list of the world’s 50 “most reputable” countries — an online survey of 27,000 respondents from across the G8 — to give that thesis a hard shake. The G8 includes the United States, the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Russia. If this sampling, published last summer in Forbes Magazine, is to be believed, Canada’s international reputation is in fine health. Indeed, we’ve topped the ‘global reputation’ survey for the past three years.

What’s truly intriguing is the list of countries with which Canada shares top billing. In second place in 2013 was Sweden; after that in descending order came Switzerland, Australia, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, The Netherlands and Austria. The countries in Canada’s immediate peer group, in other words, include the very northern European social democracies with whom Harperland is often disparagingly compared by Canadian critics on the Left.  How can this, be if our reputation abroad is in such a terrible state?

No single opinion survey can be the be-all-end-all, obviously. Where an annual snap-shot such as the Reputation Institute’s can be helpful, though, is in providing an anecdotal reality check of some of the more extreme assumptions emanating from the Harper-hating half of Partisan Canada, or Partisan Nation, to borrow the current handy convention.

Partisan Nation exists primarily in cyberspace. It reaches full flower on Twitter. Its membership spans all federal political parties. Members share a barely sane belief in the sanctity of their chosen political heroes, and an equally bug-eyed capacity for demonizing opponents and their opinions. In this mostly imaginary world Justin Trudeau is the shiny pony and Stephen Harper Beelzebub himself.

The irony: Liberals and New Democrats who trade in demonology, caricaturing  Conservatives as Rush Limbaughs in hockey sweaters, are themselves engaging in “black-and-white” dogmatism. In the process they habitually blind themselves to the areas where the Tories are strong, which impedes their ability to counter.

It’s this intellectual inwardness that broke the Liberal party’s back from 2004 on, and now threatens to do the same to the New Democratic Party’s great beachhead of 2011. Partisans simply cannot believe that not all reasonable, good people on Main Street grasp the singular brilliance and inevitability of their worldview. So they keep repeating it.

Surely the starting point for any useful analysis of political reality should be, well, reality? Among people I bump into in daily life, on those rare occasions when foreign policy comes up at all, most agree with Harper and Baird that Canada should support democratic Israel and oppose theocratic Iran; agree with them that Chinese state-owned companies’ interest in the resource sector should be met with deep scrutiny and caution; agreed with their decision to join in the 2011 Lybia campaign but keep clear of any possible military engagement in Syria last year; thought the early Liberal and NDP opposition to Canada’s involvement in the Afghan war was daft; but wholeheartedly endorsed the eventual decision to pull Canadian soldiers out, with the last expected to leave in March.

Paul Heinbecker, declaiming from the op-ed pages of the Globe and Mail or the airwaves of the CBC, is a remote voice indeed.

Bottom line? The selling point of Harper’s Conservatives has never been their personalities, his included. The party wins because it provides policy that millions of Canadians, albeit often with nose pinched between thumb and index finger, consider to be the least bad alternative, and that millions more simply agree with. For government critics to stubbornly insist this isn’t true, whether in foreign policy or another area, is not noble. It’s a recipe for another Tory victory in 2015.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A new low: Taliban commander tries to turn his ten-year-old sister into a suicide bomber

Hussam Abdo
Using your ten-year-old sister as a human bomb is a new low  – even for terrorists – but the Taliban aren’t the first to use children as human bombs. 

Ten years ago in 2004, the Palestinian terror war against Israel was losing its effectiveness, as the Israelis were managing to block the large majority of attacks. The terrorists tried using women as bombers, but they were caught as regularly as the men.

So the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades tried a new tactic: using a child as a human bomb. They sent Hussam Abdo, a mentally delayed 14-year-old, on a suicide attack. Fortunately he was stopped at a checkpoint. "I don't want to blow up," he told Israeli soldiers, who helped him remove his suicide belt without harm.

From The Washington Times:
Afghan girl, 10, says Taliban brother forced her into suicide bomb plot

An Afghan girl, 10, said she was forced to carry out a suicide attack, which failed, on a local police station in Helmand province, sparking an outrage from President Hamid Karzai and the international community.

“Children are the future-makers of the country,” he said, in a statement reported by CNN. “They should be taken care of, and education opportunities should be provided for them. They shouldn’t be used as a tool for suicide attacks.”

It’s not clear how the suicide bombing was thwarted, But the girl, known only as Spozhmai, is only one of several children who have been used as a tool of terrorists in Afghanistan. CNN  reported that Afghan police discovered 41 children between the ages of 6 and 11 who were integral to militants’ suicide bomb plots in the last 12 months.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Court says it's okay to cut funding to antisemitic group that supports terrorism

"Pro-Palestinian" activists stop by to see neo-Nazi friends in Syria
In a victory for common sense, the courts have decided it’s okay to cut government funding to the Canadian Arab Federation because they’re antisemitic and supports terrorist groups. It would have been nice if the court had added that in any case it’s up to the government to decide who to give money to, not the courts, but basically, this is an excellent decision.
Back in 2012, the government also cut funding for Palestine House, for much the same reasons. See here.
Federal Court upholds government stopping funding to Canadian Arab Federation over concerns it appears to support terrorist organizations

 Stewart Bell | January 7, 2014 | Last Updated: Jan 7 5:25 PM ET

TORONTO — A government decision to stop funding the Canadian Arab Federation over concerns it appeared to support terrorist organizations and anti-Semitism has been upheld by the Federal Court.
In dismissing an appeal launched by the Toronto-based pro-Palestinian lobby group, Justice Russel Zinn ruled the decision to not renew the $1-million in annual funding was reasonable.
“All of the statements and actions raised by the Minister can, in my view, reasonably lead one to the view that CAF appears to support organizations that Canada has declared to be terrorist organizations and which are arguably anti-Semitic,” the judge wrote.
The CAF had received 74% of its budget from a federal program that funds language training for new immigrants. But after he became Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney brought that to an end.
He said he wanted to ensure the government was not financing organizations that apologized for violence or terrorism. In a 2009 email, he described the CAF as “radical and anti-semitic” [Sic] and called the funding arrangement “shameful.”
The CAF, whose president had once called Mr. Kenney a “whore of war,” could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But three Jewish organizations applauded the ruling, which was released Monday night.
“It’s particularly disturbing to think that an organization that holds views so diametrically opposed to Canada’s values was given a mandate to integrate new Canadians,” said Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
The court detailed six specific incidents behind the government’s decision, including a 2006 pamphlet that attacked Liberal MP Bob Rae and his wife for their involvement in the Jewish community.
At a 2009 rally organized by the CAF and other groups, the flag of the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah was flown and a protester screamed, “Jewish child, you are going to f—cking die. Hamas is coming for you.”
The CAF’s website had linked to videos and images of Hamas operatives undergoing training, as well as the flags of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian terrorist groups notorious for their suicide bombing campaigns.
The CAF’s vice-president Ali Mullah also attended a conference in Cairo where Hamas and Hezbollah delegates were present. (Ali Mullah was also in Cairo on behalf of CUPE. See here) In addition, the CAF had honored Zafar Bangash, who “has referred to Canadians as ‘infidels or non-believers’ in the past and reported on the September 11 attacks in a way that was unsympathetic to the victims,” the court said.
The court rejected the argument that the Mr. Kenney had restricted free expression on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, saying there was no connection between the program funding decision and the CAF’s advocacy.
Mr. Kenney said the court judgment was “a vindication of common sense. Groups who express apparently hateful views or who defend terrorist organizations should not receive taxpayer funding, period. This is especially true for organizations charged with the integration of newcomers.”