January 28th, 2010

[DM] "A few links"

Hi, everyone!

I've a post up that gathers together from news links on population-related issues I've been accumulating for the last bit, everything from the need for a bigger Haitian diaspora to female empowerment in Germany and Taiwan to the plight of Mali's European immigrants and China's well-educated ill-employed. Go, read!

[LINK] "Indonesia in Place Among BRIC Emerging Nations, Templeton Says"

Business Week expects BRICI (or IBRIC, or perhaps BIIC, or BICI, or something.

Indonesia, Asia’s second-best performing stock market last year, may be ready to join the so- called BRIC group of major emerging nations, according to Templeton Asset Management Ltd.

“Indonesia’s political and economic outlook has improved tremendously in recent years,” Templeton portfolio manager Dennis Lim wrote in a note yesterday on Chairman Mark Mobius’s blog. “So clearly, it would not look out of place beside the BRIC countries.”

Inclusion in the category -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- coined in 2001 by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Economist Jim O’Neill may increase demand for Indonesian stocks. Investors should “stick with the BRICs,” a group that “tends to outperform in non-recession years,” Morgan Stanley strategists led by Jonathan Garner said last week.

The Jakarta Composite index jumped 87 percent last year as Indonesia skirted the global recession after nine interest rate cuts by the central bank. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s re-election in July boosted confidence he will maintain policies that helped Southeast Asia’s biggest economy expand more than 6 percent annually in the two years until 2008.

Economic growth may average 6.6 percent over the next five years as poverty and unemployment decline, Yudhoyono said on Jan. 4. Fitch Ratings on Jan. 25 raised Indonesia’s credit ratings to one level below investment grade.

[LINK] "N.L. MP thinks pieing should be investigated under legal definition of terrorism"

Is it accurate for me to say that this ludicrousness is what you'd expect from someone from a nation that was seeing a visible-yet-unimportant cultural trait be criticized? Of course it is.

A Liberal MP thinks the federal government should investigate a U.S.-based animal rights group under Canada's anti-terrorism laws after a pie was pushed into the face of Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.

Gerry Byrne's outrage follows an incident Monday in which Shea was hit in the face with a tofu cream pie as she was about to deliver a speech in Burlington, Ont.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has taken responsibility for the incident, saying it was part of a campaign "to stop the government's ill-advised sanction of the slaughter of seals."

In an interview with radio station VOCM in St. John's, N.L., on Tuesday, Byrne said he thinks what happened should be reviewed under the legal definition of terrorism.

"When someone actually coaches or conducts criminal behaviour to impose a political agenda on each and every other citizen of Canada, that does seem to me to meet the test of a terrorist organization," said the MP from Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I am calling on the Government of Canada to actually investigate whether or not this organization, PETA, is acting as a terrorist organization under the test that exists under Canadian law."

[. . .]

Shea, who represents a P.E.I. riding, didn't require medical attention and returned to the podium after wiping the pie from her face.

Shea said afterward that the incident only strengthens her resolve to defend the hunt.

[LINK] Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, spy in Iran

When I was younger, I remember reading about Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor, who, during the Iranian Revolution, hid six Americans who would otherwise have been taken hostage at the American embassy and smuggled them out. It turns out he did other things, too.

While the former Canadian ambassador to Iran is already well known for keeping six American diplomats in hiding after the U.S. embassy was overrun by radical Iranian students, a new book reveals he was also Washington's "most valuable asset" at the time - a strange role for Canada's most senior diplomat in the country.

"Diplomacy can take odd turns," said 75-year-old Taylor in an interview Saturday. "I think this was a highly unusual situation."

"Our Man in Tehran," by Trent University historian Robert Wright, covers Taylor's 30 months in Iran, with two chapters detailing a request the ambassador provide "aggressive intelligence" for the U.S. in a deal between American president Jimmy Carter and then prime minister Joe Clark.

In a hush-hush operation, an agent flown in by the CIA, code-named "Bob," as well as Taylor's chief accomplice Jim Edward, worked with the former ambassador as he smuggled his reports from Tehran to Ottawa. Much of this was in preparation for a commando raid to free American hostages held at the ransacked U.S. embassy.

While Taylor admits there were numerous elements of espionage involved in his work during that tumultuous period, calling him a CIA spy may be pushing it.

"It's a convenient label," said Taylor with a chuckle. "I was never employed by the CIA, nor was I in direct contact with the CIA."

[. . .]

As a senior diplomat, Taylor's involvement in the clandestine intelligence-gathering operation put him and Canada's diplomatic relations in the country at considerable risk had they been discovered, said Whitaker.

In terms of foreign policy however, Whitaker said Taylor's actions were not really ones that generate serious questions that could have been the case if a similar operation had gone on in Iraq for example, a country where U.S. and Canadian policy has differed substantially.

[LINK] "How the Canadian education system is failing queer youth"

This piece by Xtra!'s Natasha Barsotti isn't surprising, sadly. I don't remember being bullied when I was in high school in the late 1990s on Prince Edward Island, but I equally don't remember anything remotely queer-supportive--youth programs, anti-bullying initiatives, even recognition in class materials--being voiced there. I was lucky, I suppose.

When Susan Rose brought her anti-homophobia workshop to Newfoundland’s northern peninsula last May, she was greeted by a guidance counsellor who told her the area had no gay and lesbian students.

It didn’t take her long to figure out why. Homophobic slurs peppered the hallways and classrooms and one student put his finger down his throat when Rose asked if the slurs were generally uttered in anger.

“Wow, if I were gay or lesbian here, I certainly wouldn’t come out,” Rose said, with a glance at the guidance counsellor.

“I guess I was really ignorant, wasn’t I?” the counsellor said to Rose afterwards.

Rose encountered another nervous guidance counsellor on Newfoundland’s west coast. This one was pacing back and forth in the school library, worried that he wasn’t going to be able to deal with the fallout of Rose’s Making Queerness Visible workshop.

“He said, ‘Not that I don’t want your presentation here. It’s here and we’ll deal with it, but I’m just so nervous about tonight.’

“He said, ‘You’re opening up a door. You’re talking about homosexuals. You know as well as I do, I’m going to have dozens of kids going home tonight saying they’re queer[.]’”

[. . .]
According to a national survey conducted in 2007 by the queer lobby group Egale Canada, 75 percent of queer students feel unsafe at school, and one in four said they were physically harassed for being gay.

Six out of 10 queer students surveyed also reported being verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, while half said they hear homophobic slurs on a daily basis.

“That type of information is essential because that gives us a reflection of what the reality of our children’s lives in schools are,” says Chambers Picard, who sits on Egale’s Safe Schools Initiative committee.

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the anti-prorogation protests in Canada and some notes on their importance

I'm impressed that Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell took note of the ongoing controversy over the prorogation of Canada's parliament, asking blogger Tom Slee for a chronology of events.

Early Jan. In an outbreak of slacktivism, thousands of people join the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, who also have one of those old-fashioned website things here. The media, always happy for a story that keeps them from going outside in January, meticulously chart the climbing Facebook numbers until they top 200,000, and a set of protests around the country is scheduled for Jan 23, when MPs would usually be packing their bags to get back to their benches. In smaller countries, organizing a big rally in the capital city may make sense, but whose going to book a flight to Ottawa on short notice? So it’s going to be smaller protests, done locally.

Jan 23. 60 separate demonstrations [map], not counting the one-woman protest in Oman, and about 30,000 people in the streets, which is not bad for a movement with no coherent voice, no structure, and no recognizable public face. Reports described the protests as “organized on Facebook” [CBC]. There’s no doubt that many of the organizers were young’uns who naturally use Facebook, and the rapid growth of the group was an early sign of fertile grounds – an indicator that there was sentiment worth picking up on. Yet the rallies themselves seem to have skewed much older than the organizers, and it’s likely that in the end many people who turned out did so because the mass media picked up on the story and then more traditional networks like Liberal, NDP and Green Party riding associations (and the Bloc in Quebec) and religious groups got their members out. If there is anything that Mr. Harper can be happy about, it’s that the talk is all of the act of shutting down parliament, and not so much of the Afghanistan torture scandal that started it all off.

Jan 24. There’s a second wave group started, and the next week or two will probably decide whether this was a winter blip or the beginning of something bigger. It may be that the difficulties of organizing across Canada in winter will let Mr. Harper off the hook. But there’s also just a chance that Saturday’s success will lead to something bigger, and that would be a lot more exciting than the cross-country skiing.

Aaron Wherry of MacLean's noted that the size of the protest in Ottawa in front of the Parliament buildings was rather notable indeed.

Make what you will then of 3,500—a number equal to the crowd that rallied for Canada thirteen months ago—who gathered before Centre Block’s front steps this afternoon to denounce the prorogation of Parliament.

At its essence, the public protest is both charming and antiquated. A crowd gathers and chants and cheers and, when prompted, cries “shame” upon whatever shameful act has brought them there. Various individuals take the microphone to awkwardly and loudly air their grievances, almost all speaking roughly three times as long as they should. Periodically someone breaks into song.

This afternoon brought out the young and old, the peaceniks and socialists, the Nortel pensioners and autoworkers, the environmentalists and the electoral reformists. This being Ottawa, a place almost entirely unihabitable save for a two-week period each July, it was rather cold.

Chants involved various meditations on the theme of resuming one’s work and various rhymes for the word prorogation (nation, generation, investigation, television station, etc.). Jack Layton, beneath a wide-brimmed hat and dark sunglasses, wandered amongst the common men and women. A young lady read aloud from the list of legislation that perished in the great prorogation of New Year’s Eve 2009. The Raging Grannies, a group of elderly women who are somehow required at these sorts of events, performed a few of their self-penned tunes, somewhat dampening the fervour. A young man with a guitar singing a folk song entitled We Are The Beaver sufficiently revived the masses.

If there is some unimpeachably redeeming value in such demonstrations, beyond the physical and photographable display of public sentiment, it is the waved placard, one of the enduring mediums for political wit. Today’s signs included “I Prorogued The Dishes To Be Here,” “Your Sweater Vest Can’t Fool Us” and, perhaps most Canadian of all, “I Shouldn’t Have To Be Here.” Showing fine artistic skill for his age, a young boy traipsed around with a sign that read “I have to go to school, so why don’t you have to go to work?”

The protests were nation-wide, with thousands protesting in Toronto. One notable element of the protests was the fact that they were organized via Facebook, through groups like this one. Douglas Bell noted in his Globe and Mail blog that the anti-prorogation protesters managed to leverage their membership quite well.

Walied Khogali, a student at U of T and one of the chief organizers, seemed genuinely awestruck at the turnout. “We started with an organizing meeting at Hart House and drew 200 people now we’ve got something like 210,000 members on Facebook. This crowd is amazing; people bought their kids.”

Tech journalist Matthew Ingram argues in conversation with TVO's Steve Paikin that joining the anti-prorogation Facebook groups signifies some sort of political activism or interest, all the more so because these Facebook groups went on to galvanize the protests.

While all this demonstrates Canadians' continued interest in politics, and might even signal a revival of engagement, a lot of the signs aren't good. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who--as Wherry noted in his above post--praised a large public protest in Calgary a bit over a year ago, also said that "Parliament is unimportant" and that the prorogation lets him catch up on his non-parliamentary duties. (As the post mentions, that observation earned him some boos and a political rally.) Have I mentioned that I, like Douglas Bell noted in his Globe and Mail blog, find it dispiriting that demands for regular sessions of parliament have become politicized?

Watch this space for more on this. It's just odd and it's interesting that Crooked Timber picked this news item up: might Canada be pioneering something?