Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking Into My Crystal Ball for 2009

(originally posted at www.greenparty.ca)

You know, I’ve always kind of wanted to be a journalist...all those wonderful travel opportunities to exciting locales around the world. The free buffet lunches. Mostly, though, because journalists always get to gaze into their crystal balls this time of year and prognosticate. I always envied those journalists for being allowed to do so, and to share their visions with an unsuspecting, yet rapturous public.

Well, this is my first year of blogging, and what the heck, is there any reason why I can’t do the same? And share it with you, oh unsuspecting blog-readers? Nope. No reason at all. So, here is my first attempt at predicting the future (well, first written attempt anyway...I’m sure my friends and family are bored silly with my annual musings, especially over this past Christmas).

Here’s what I’m expecting in 2009:

1. More War.

OK, that was probably an easy one to call. But let me explain a bit more. I think that many will soon discover that Barack Obama isn’t the President of Peace many out there thought he would be. He’s been talking about, for quite some time now, the need to send more troops to Afghanistan, and widening that conflict to include areas of Pakistan where the Pakistani government has effectively lost control. The increase of US troops in Afghanistan will lead to more violence in Pakistan. Coupled with a weak government, a growing threat to Kashmir by India, and an increasingly out of control security apparatus, Pakistan could implode.
Oh, and all of those troops coming home to America from Iraq? Don’t look for the total troop withdrawal Obama had been promising. There will remain a strong U.S. presence in Iraq at the end of 2009.

Also watch out for an Israeli air assault on Iran, taking out nuclear reactors.

2. Another General Election in Canada

But not until the fall of 2009. Ignatieff will kill talks of a coalition after Harper introduces a budget with significant economic stimuli for many sectors. The NDP will howl, but at the end of the day, the Liberals will support the budget, likely by absenting enough of themselves from the vote that the budget gets passed. This will give Ignatieff the time he needs to brand himself to Canadians, likely as a consultative strong-man who knows what the economy really needs.

A fall election will have the lowest voter turn-out in Canadian history, with the Liberals gaining seats at the expense of the Bloc and the NDP, but ultimately an extremely minorly reduced Conservative minority government led by Stephen Harper will be the result. The Green Party will not elect a single MP.

3. The Green Party will not elect a single MP.

Oh, I predicted that one already, right? Well, even if there is no General Election, there may be a by-election or two. I know I’m hedging my bets here. But either way, I don’t see us electing an MP at this time. Why? It’s the economy, stupid. And frankly, our Party is not taken seriously as a potential saviour of the economy. Voters (those who actually cast their ballots anyway) will not be willing to take a risk on a party known for a putting a single issue above all others. It’s not our time (which is incredibly unfortunate).

I’m particularly concerned about this in the context of a General Election. Our Leader will not be invited to the televised debate, and there will be only a little public outcry as a result. We will again run a full slate of candidates, including some excellent ones with higher profiles who we will recruit over the next several months. But the economy will kill us. Few will want to hear our message in the face of the economic disaster sweeping the world. Even if we’re the only Party to offer viable solutions.

This situation will lead to great strife within our Party, which should be a growing concern, but which likely will not start to have a huge impact until after the next election.

4. Establishment of a North American Cap and Trade System

To be seen to be doing something, Barack Obama and Stephen Harper will begin discussions on a North American Cap and Trade program, modelled on that being used by Pacific Northwest states, albeit in a watered-down form. It will not come into effect until 2012, and there will be all sorts of exemptions, particularly for the struggling oil and gas industry and for the auto sector. The mining and forestry sectors will take the biggest hits, because their lobbyists aren’t as effective.

Ultimately, greenhouses gases will continue to rise; the rich will get richer, and the poor will get poorer. Taxes will continue to increase, except at the Federal level of government, which, ironically, will be the level spending the most money.

OK, none of these are exactly earth-shattering predictions. But they’re what I’ve got today. Oh, wait. You want a happy prediction? Something not so doom-and-gloom?

The best I can do: The Vancouver Canucks win the Stanley Cup. There you go.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Green Party and the Coalition: Are We Becoming a "One Issue" Party?

(originally posted at www.greenparty.ca)

I just recently read the blogpost from Attila Nagy, who ran for our Party in Scarborough Rouge River in the recent election. I don’t know Mr. Nagy, and I think this may have been the first time that I had read his blog, but I believe that Attila raises some good points. I thought of maybe writing a quick response post to his blog, but instead I’ve decided to make a new post in my own blog, because I am feeling a growing sense of unease about a number of things, and would like to expand on what Attila has communicated.

With regards to our “decision” to support the Coalition, I ask everyone to contemplate what might have happened if the Green Party took the “high road” here and decided to come out in support of neither the Conservatives or the Coalition, but instead in support of the people of Canada, their jobs, and democracy in general. What if we had moralized and urged our elected officials to find a way to work together for a change, for the good of our nation, and point out at the same time that Greens stand for something bigger than partisan politics, because we’ve got real issues to tackle and would very much like to get on with tackling them. I ask you to think about those outcomes, and wonder whether we might have missed an opportunity here.

As a Canadian, I personally would support any government which did not include Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party. Given the current alternatives, the Coalition seems to be the much more palatable of the two. That’s important to me personally, and I believe that a Coalition government would be for the good of Canada.

But as the CEO of an EDA, I really have to question why the Party has positioned itself as we have done. I’m not sure what we gain out of “supporting” this Coalition, given that we have no sitting members in parliament. I believe that we really should have thought this through a little bit more before rushing to embrace the Coalition (which I just heard being referred to as “the New Libs on the Bloc”). Unlike the other Parties, because we have not been directly involved in the situation, we actually had time to sit back and consider our options. I’m not sure that this happened.

Instead, we were almost stepping over ourselves to get our Leader in front of the camera and tell Canadians where the Green Party stands on this issue. And frankly, it was embarrassing to hear discussion about having Elizabeth May appointed to the Senate. I don’t think that Canadians really wanted to hear about that, nor did it add to the debate.

We like to think of ourselves as “grassroots”. We could have had a little bit more canvassing of opinion before our declaration of support. Careful consideration might have led to a different outcome. All of this need not have been framed as a choice between only two alternatives - Harper and the Coalition - and instead a third way, a better way, a Green way may have been found and acted upon.

We may have lost an opportunity here to take a different approach. So, where then, does the proverbial buck stop?

I have been growing increasingly concerned regarding the direction in which the Party has been going. I was personally dismayed by events which played themselves out during the final days of the election when our Leader urged Canadians to not vote for us. Yes, her message was mangled by the media, but confusion of her message to the media should have been expected, given the media's track record presenting nuanced discourse. And now we, as a Party, have come out in favour of a Coalition in which we won’t have any say, and which will also likely take Canada in a direction which is not in keeping with the policies of our Party. Policies which, I might add, have been given the benefit of careful consideration by grassroots members. For one example I offer up that Stephane Dion has already nixed the idea that the Coalition would be pursuing a Carbon Tax. While certainly the discussion of a cap and trade system is much better than Harper’s do-nothing approach, it still won’t get the country to where it needs to be.

I believe that we had a golden opportunity to stake out our position, finding a third alternative to present to the Canadian public in an election which is sure to come sooner rather than later, whether the Coalition takes over from Harper or not. Instead, we have chosen to remain the Party which is beginning to appear to be a true one-issue Party; that issue being to promote at all costs the need to remove Stephen Harper as Prime Minister.

I’m not sure this is what I signed up for. I know others are beginning to feel the same way.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"India's 9/11" and the Need for Vigilance

(originally posted at www.greenparty.ca; cross-posted to www.greenpartysudbury.blogspot.com)

After taking some time off from blogging to focus on the recent election and my own wedding planning, I am motivated today to return to my blog by events from world headlines, as I am deeply troubled by what has been going on in India. The loss of life in Mumbai, at the hands of terrorists, is appalling and disturbing, and my sympathies are of course with the citizens of Mumbai and those throughout the world who have been personally affected by these recent, terrible events.

Commentators in the media have already started referring to these events as “India’s 9/11", and indeed, it seems that these terrorist attacks are different from past terrorist actions in Mumbai and throughout India, of which there have tragically been too many already. The number of civilians killed in India by terrorists has been exceeded only by those in Iraq, which is quite troubling, as India is the world’s largest democratic state.

These recent attacks, though, are different, and may well prove to be a defining event for India and others in the region, just as the attacks in New York and Washington proved to be a catalyst for action for the U.S. and its allies in wake of 9/11.

First, these attacks were co-ordinated to a degree which emphasizes long-term planning on the part of the terrorists, yet security agencies apparently had little fore-knowledge. Indeed, the head of India’s anti-terrorist squad, Hemant Karkare, was killed in the action. The killing of this high-profile Indian official alone would have made the attack a success, from the point of view of the terrorists.

Second, in the past, most terrorist actions have been the result of dissatisfied groups, operating largely from within India, although speculation has been that many of these groups are financed and supported by external organizations. Pakistan has been identified by Indian officials as the primary country from where terrorists organizations are financed and equipped, and there has been criticism that Pakistan has not done enough to clamp down on these organizations.

Nevertheless, long-time rivals India and Pakistan (which have fought several wars in the past 50 years) appeared to have been headed in a more friendly direction, with talks between the two nuclear-armed nations continuing.

Reports from this latest action in Mumbai, however, have identified a previously unknown terrorist organization, the Deccan Mujahadeen, as the only organization which has come forward at this time to take credit. Further, the media has reported that the Indian Navy has seized a terrorist “mother ship” in the Arabian Sea, the MV Alpha, which allegedly came to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan, and likely disgorged the terrorists in speedboats. The speedboats, left in the open by the terrorists where they landed on an Indian beachhead, were traced back to the Alpha. It seems that these terrorists, unlike the primarily home-grown terrorists of previous attacks, may have originated directly from a foreign country immediately prior to the terrorist action.

A third difference has been those who the terrorists have targeted with this action. Other terrorist actions within India have largely been indiscriminate, albeit many have been directed against people of particular religious backgrounds. Although people who profess many religious creeds have been killed in Mumbai, reports are coming in that Americans, Britons and Israelis in particular were targeted by the terrorists. Indeed, the headquarters of a jewish outreach group, the Chabad-Lubavitch, were specifically attacked by the terrorists.

Some media commentators have suggested that the targeted attacks on foreigners has been an attempt by the terrorists to hit India where it hurts, in the economy. Attacks on foreigners may lead to less foreign travel and investment in India, if India is perceived as a dangerous country with which to do business. While I do not doubt that such an outcome could be seen as a victory for terrorism, I have my own doubts that the international community will be persuaded by this latest action to ramp down investment in India’s booming economy.

The reports about the targeting of citizens of particular nationalities (Israeli, British and American) are also troubling. Undoubtedly, citizens from these nations have been identified by terrorists who profess to be Muslims as being more higher-valued targets, given the terrorists particular issues with the actions of the governments of these three nations. That is not surprising. What is surprising is that these particular terrorists, who would have just recently come out of Pakistan, chose to specifically target citizens of these three countries in the attacks in Mumbai. While I understand that citizens of many nations have been killed in the terrorist actions, I can’t ignore that the terrorists chose to target the headquarters of what appears to be a benign jewish organization, nor the reports which have suggested that the terrorists themselves, in speaking with hostages, indicated that they were pre-occupied with the nationalities of their hostages, and had expressed a specific interest in Americans and Britons, while while a citizen of Italy was deemed to be “ok”. This is all very unusual for a terrorist action within India.

For these reasons, this latest attack in Mumbai may yet prove to have more than the average in terms of its political fall out, particularly if Pakistan continues to be implicated in the plot. Even if the Pakistani government escapes direct blame, it may not escape the harsh international condemnation of allowing terrorists to organize within its borders. Back in 2001, a similar condemnation of the Taliban government led to the invasion of Afghanistan.

While I do not expect such an over-reaction to take place in this circumstance, I am concerned that powers within the region may try to seize on this recent terrorist action as a casus belli which justifies their desire to resolve long-standing issues. Currently, the government of Pakistan is weak, wracked by internal political divisions after this year’s election. Also, it has been cast adrift by its major ally, the United States, and has been forced to look elsewhere for economic assistance, and specifically to China. Growing ties between China and Pakistan can only be of concern to India.

India and U.S. have been on the road to resolving a number of longstanding issues, and there appears now to be a happy alignment of their own national issues. The signing of an agreement between the U.S. and India earlier this year has welcomed India into the nuclear community, and has now allowed the U.S. to export nuclear technology to India. The Indian navy has stepped up its presence in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea in the past decade, as India has emerged as a regional power to be reckoned with. And the recent U.S. abandonment of Pakistan has made India feel more secure that the U.S. would remain on-side in disputes between the India and Pakistan, particularly over divided Kashmir.

President-elect Obama has been talking for many months now about the need to focus the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan (which he was dubbed “the good war”), and has proposed a troop surge to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda forces there. Obama has also mused openly about the need to pursue terrorists and Taliban fighters across the Afghan border and into Pakistan. Indeed, there have already been a number of incursions by U.S. forces into Pakistan, including a firefight this past fall between U.S. helicopter-born forces and elements of the Pakistani military, in which a number of Pakistani security forces were killed, along with civilians.

In Kashmir, there has been an increase in violent protests this past year, and India has vowed to crack down on militants in the region. India, too, has been active in Afghanistan.
If the recent terrorist action in Mumbai proves to be India’s 9/11 as the media is already suggesting, the outcomes of this action could easily lead to a broader conflict in the region, between India, the U.S. and NATO on one side, and an increasingly isolated Pakistan on the other. The attacks may be viewed as the impetus to resolve the Kashmiri question in favour of India once and for all, and may be used as part of a U.S. rationale for bringing the Afghan war into Pakistan’s lawless frontier provinces. A weak and divided Pakistani government may find that their choices for action have been limited by these events, and may have to accept an armed U.S. presence on Pakistani soil, if only in a temporary way. It is harder, however, to see how Pakistan would accept any Indian incursion into beyond the line of control into Pakistani Kashmir.

And it is here where my concerns for the well-being of the region, and for the rest of us, have started to incubate in my mind. If this situation plays itself out in a similar fashion to what happened 7 years ago on 9/11, we should all be very concerned for the health and well-being of our world. In this blog, I’ve not mentioned the resource-driven strategic issues which may in part motivate both India and the U.S. to act more in concert in the region (and what sort of reaction such moves might generate from China and Russia), but suffice it to say that a compliant Pakistan would serve those U.S./Indian interests well.

Canada has quite rightly condemned this latest terrorist action. Canadians should now be vigilant, and assist the international community in getting to the bottom of how this terrorist action came about. The international community needs to investigate all leads, and follow-up on those leads. Should those leads point to Pakistan and/or Al Qaeda, Canada should be pragmatic in its approach, and caution India and the U.S. not to act unilaterally, but instead in concert with the world community.