For the Israeli media, is there any leave?

Yonatan Mendel begins his essay in the London Review of Books this way:

A year ago I applied for the job of Occupied Territories correspondent at Ma’ariv, an Israeli newspaper. I speak Arabic and have taught in Palestinian schools and taken part in many joint Jewish-Palestinian projects. At my interview the boss asked how I could possibly be objective. I had spent too much time with Palestinians; I was bound to be biased in their favour. I didn’t get the job. My next interview was with Walla, Israel’s most popular website. This time I did get the job and I became Walla’s Middle East correspondent. I soon understood what Tamar Liebes, the director of the Smart Institute of Communication at the Hebrew University, meant when she said: ‘Journalists and publishers see themselves as actors within the Zionist movement, not as critical outsiders …

… and continues with many paragraphs that ought to challenge how those of us in the West cover any conflict …

In most of the articles on the conflict two sides battle it out: the Israel Defence Forces, on the one hand, and the Palestinians, on the other. When a violent incident is reported, the IDF confirms or the army says but the Palestinians claim: ‘The Palestinians claimed that a baby was severely injured in IDF shootings.’ Is this a fib? ‘The Palestinians claim that Israeli settlers threatened them’: but who are the Palestinians? Did the entire Palestinian people, citizens of Israel, inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, people living in refugee camps in neighbouring Arab states and those living in the diaspora make the claim? Why is it that a serious article is reporting a claim made by the Palestinians? Why is there so rarely a name, a desk, an organisation or a source of this information? Could it be because that would make it seem more reliable? . . .

The IDF, again the envy of all other armies, kills only the most important people. ‘A high-ranking member of Hamas was killed’ is almost a chorus in the Israel media. Low-ranking members of Hamas have either never been found or never been killed. Shlomi Eldar, a TV correspondent in the Gaza Strip, bravely wrote about this phenomenon in his book Eyeless in Gaza (2005). When Riyad Abu Zaid was assassinated in 2003, the Israeli press echoed the IDF announcement that the man was the head of the military wing of Hamas in Gaza. Eldar, one of Israel’s few investigative journalists, discovered that the man was merely a secretary in the movement’s prisoner club. ‘It was one of many occasions in which Israel “upgraded” a Palestinian activist,’ Eldar wrote. ‘After every assassination any minor activist is “promoted” to a major one.’ . . .

Read all of Mandel's essay

Budget 2008: "Disadvantage Canada"

Manufacturers, and car companies in particular, down on the budget. The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters turned Flaherty’s theme of “Advantage Canada” right around on him:

The federal government may tout its budget as Advantage Canada, but for the nation’s largest business sector, it’s putting manufacturing at a competitive disadvantage.

“Disadvantage Canada, that’s what this budget represents for Canada’s manufacturing and exporting sectors,” said CME President Jay Myers. “We were very specific in what the nation’s most innovative industry needed and we received recycled ideas and pocket change at a critical time when we needed tangible solutions. It’s disappointing.”

Here’s the Automotive Parts Manufacturer’s Association. They’re not so happy, either:

Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association(APMA) applauds the Government of Canada’s efforts to increase competitiveness for manufacturers stemming from its Fall 2007 statement reducing corporate taxes and yesterday’s Budget which provided a modest extension to the accelerated depreciation of capital equipment by one year. We further acknowledge that funds have been allocated to the auto sector to research “green auto” initiatives and are encouraged by the suggested scientific research and experimental development program improvements.

However, fundamentally, we are disappointed in yesterday’s budget as it did not address the more immediate issues facing the majority of our member companies, the small and medium sized enterprises.  Many of the measures are good for the long term, but do nothing for a company that is not profitable in the short term.

APMA’s President, Gerry Fedchun commented, “…tax reductions are only good if you are profitable!  Our smaller members are not profitable today so they do not benefit from this.  In fact, without immediate intervention for our sector, there will be more plant closings in the near future.” 

APMA is part of the Canadian Manufacturing Coalition and we are supportive of their initiatives.  We look forward to continuing our work with government to ensure that Canada will have a strong and vibrant automotive parts manufacturing sector in the future.

APMA is Canada's national association representing OEM producers of parts, equipment, tools, supplies and services for the worldwide automotive industry. APMA’s members account for approximately 90 per cent of Canada’s $32 Billion (2006) industry, employing 88,000 workers

Emerson on NAFTA's imminent demise

Senators Obama and Clinton, appealing to Democratic voters in a Rust Belt state where manufacturing jobs are evaporating, are avowing that one of the first things they’ll do upon winning the White House is to take the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. ‘Course, if the problem is lost manufacturing jobs, that ain’t going to bring any jobs back nor is it likely to prevent more from disappearing.

In any event, here in Ottawa, we’ve spent a lot of time today talking to people about what, if anything, it might mean if NAFTA unravels and/or re-ravels in the wake of a Democrat taking the White House.

Jayson Myers, an economist and president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters says the NAFTA comments are symptomatic of increasing protectionist sentiment in the U.S. across a wide range of issues. “The deeper point here is not really about NAFTA. NAFTA is the lightning rod for some pretty tough grassroots protectionism,” Myers said.

And here’s International Trade Minister David Emerson, in a scrum with reporters outside the weekly Conservative caucus meeting, picking up on what Jay said:

“Well, I've been very concerned for a couple of years now.  This rhetoric of protectionism has been creeping — it's been getting more strident. It's permeating Congress.  Protectionist groups are flexing their muscle and it's not just the heat of the presidential campaign that is causing concern, it's the whole congressional system.

Reporter:  So you're not prepared to shrug this off as election politics in the U.S. and Democrats trying to appeal to blue collar workers.

Emerson: No, I don't think so.  I mean clearly there's a political element to it but I think it's reflective of a broader grassroots mood in the United States that I frankly think is based on a number of people that are very visible and high profile spreading an awful lot of disinformation.  And, you know, I think the United States when it comes right down to it have got to sharpen their pencils and their analysis and they're going to realize that maybe this isn't such a great idea.

Me:   Minister, are there some industrial sectors in Canada that might be at particular risk if NAFTA unravels?

Emerson: I wouldn't want to put my finger on any one.  I actually think the biggest risk is that there will be periodic outbursts of protectionist sentiment.  You know, it may be softwood lumber one day or it may be beef another day and I think that the real risk is that you lose the ability to resolve these disputes in a relatively neutral and objective way.

Me:   Does our increasing imports to America's energy supply give us a bit more of an ace-in-the-hole than we might have had 16 years ago?

Emerson: Well, I think knowledgeable observers would have to take note of the fact that we are the largest supplier of energy to the United States and, you know, NAFTA has been kind of a foundation of integrating the North American energy market.  So, again, when people get below the rhetoric and start picking away at the details, you're going to find that it's not such a slam dunk proposition to go from the rhetoric to a meaningful improvement.

Canadians getting great cars cheap: Desrosiers

The king of Canadian automotive industry analysts, Dennis Desrosiers, takes a look at some recent data published by Statistics Canada on 2007 car sales and, after crunching his own numbers, observes:

.. the average weeks of before-tax family income needed to purchase  a new vehicle in Canada dropped to 18.9 weeks … the lowest level since 1991. So relative to before-tax income Canadians paid almost the same for a new vehicle in 2007 as they did in 1991. Not a bad deal, especially since vehicles are vastly superior today from virtually all perspectives (design, performance, content, build quality etc) than in 1991.

The OEMs [original equipment manufacturers, like General Motors and Toyota] are providing spectacular value to the consumer  … pure and simple. And these stats dispel the notion that somehow the OEMs have taken advantage of the consumer relative to changes in exchange rates. Yes, many vehicles on a pure exchange rate basis have become a little higher priced in Canada than in the US but the OEMs have responded and lowered prices and with all the lower MSRP prices announced this year already and the heavy discounting in the market that has been in place for a number of years .. the consumer is winning and winning big.

Pollsters divided

As we approach Budget Week — the first key confidence motion checkpoint — it’s interesting and not a bit confusing to see some well-respected polling firms getting different responses from voters. In all cases, the Conservatives are leading or tied for the lead but in no case are they at majority territory. The Libs are doing very poorly according to one poll but doing as well as the Conservatives in two others.

Here’s a summary:

  • CONS-LIBS TIED The latest to be released is from Nanos Research.  This poll of 878 people was taken Feb. 16–20 by telephone which the pollster says is accurate to within 3.3 per cent, 19 times out of 20 (Pct change since last Nanos poll on Feb 4 2008):
    • Liberal Party 34% (+1)
    • Conservative Party 34% (+3)
    • NDP 14% (-5)
    • BQ 10% (NC)
    • Green Party 8% (NC)
  • CONS SURGE The most recent result from The Strategic Counsel (PDF), the polling firm used by CTV News and The Globe and Mail. This poll of 1,000 was taken Feb. 14th and 17th by telephone and the pollster says the results are accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20 (Pct change since last SC poll on Jan 13 2008):
    • Conservative Party 39% (+3)
    • Liberal Party 27% (-3)
    • NDP 12% (-2)
    • BQ 10% (-1)
    • Green Party 12% (-2)
  • CONS-LIBS TIED A Harris-Decima poll prepared for The Canadian Press. This poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted by phone Feb. 14–17 and the pollster says its results are accurate to within 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
    • Conservative Party 35%
    • Liberal Party 33% 
    • NDP 13%
    • Green Party 9%
    • BQ 8%

Metcalfe looks for silver bullet to solve energy problem

“I'm interested in silver bullets. I think they exist,” says Bob Metcalfe (right), one of the most engaging and wise enterpreneur/inventors I've ever met. Metcalfe got filthy rich inventing Ethernet, the now ubiquitous technology that lets computers on a local area network talk to each other. He's now, mostly, a venture capitalist. But in a recent interview in which he talks about the future of optical networks — he believes terabit Ethernet is a decade or two away (!) — he says the lessons of the Internet's construction hold some promise for the great challenge at the beginning of the beginning of this century: clean and cheap energy.

Metcalfe — who joked that he may start up a blog called The Ener-net — has been hanging around the green-tech community and often hears the “gray hairs”, as he calls them, repeat the conventional wisdom that the path to sustainable cheap, clean energy will be slow, “requiring scalable solutions” and there “there will be no silver bullets.”

So Metcalfe thought about that.

“So I reflected on the history of the Internet, which I judge to be a great success, and there were silver bullets! One of them, probably the biggest silver bullets in the Internet story was the invention of dense-wave division multiplexing, or the earlier invention of optical communications in general. That's a silver bullet! That converted telecommunications from scarce to plentiful, just like that. That's a silver bullet. I'm interested in silver bullets. I think they exists. So I'm hoping to find some in the energy space.”

Why doesn't the CF look like us?

The Montreal Gazette has a dramatic front page today, pointing to an inside feature by freelancer David Sachs. Sachs takes a look at the demographic makeup of the Canadian Forces and finds that the CF — mostly white and male — doesn't look like much like contemporary Canada and, given various projections, certainly won't look like Canada in the next decade or so. Right now, about 15 per cent of the Canadian population are visible minorities and, yet, just three per cent of CF members are visible minorities. That ratio's even worse when it comes to CF leadership. Not a single one of the 75 most senior generals and admirals in the CF, as of March 1, 2006, was a visible minority. And of the 14,235 men and women who were officers in the CF at that time, just 352 or 2.5 per cent were visible minorities. It gets worse looking at non-commissioned officers: There are 47,784 of them in the CF and just 863 or 1.8 per cent are visible minorites. (More on the officer class below). Sachs writes:

Beyond the implications for the maintenance and expansion of our armed forces, there are implications for public support of our military missions, and for the social cohesion of our nation. How far can a military diverge from the population it serves before it is seen as a mercenary force, or at least, a distinct military caste? How does the widespread lack of connection with our soldiers affect public opinion on military matters?

The piece is not necessarily a criticism of the CF; rather it explores some of the factors that have made the CF look the way it does today — Esprit de Corps publisher Scott Taylor figures 30 per cent of those serving now are from military families and are following dad's footsteps — and explores some of the ways the CF is trying attract more visible minorities, aboriginals, and women.

Notably, the piece quotes “Capt. Ken Charles, a national diversity officer and himself an immigrant from St. Lucia” to support this statement: “No soldiers or representatives of minority communities interviewed claimed that racism was in any way apparent in the Canadian military. Capt. Charles says the only incidence of racial bias he’s encountered in the military was on a visit to the United States, when someone there assumed he was a driver.”

Last year, I received a briefing note through an access-to-information request that had been prepared for then Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor by Vice-Admiral Greg Jarvis. Jarvis would retire a few months after filing this report but was, at the time, Chief of Military Personnel.

Jarvis found that, after general officers, the whitest group of officers in the CF are Air Force pilots. There are 1,952 pilot officers in the CF but just 24 or 1.2 per cent are visible minorities. Just 11 or 0.6 per cent of pilot officers are aboriginals, and 70 or 3.6 per cent are women.

It's not much better in the rest of the Air Force, so far as officers go. Of the 1,365 officers in Air Operations, just 23 or 1.7 per cent were visible minorities; 12 or 0.9 per cent were aboriginals; and 174 or 12.7 per cent were women.

Visible minorities are best represented among the officer class in “Engineering”, where, of the 833 officers, 40 or 4.8 per cent are visible minorities.

Among the non-comm officer class, the Military Police is the least diverse, with just 16 or 1.3 per cent visible minorities among the 1,245 non-commissioned officers. Non-commissioned officer musicians are the most diverse, with 9 or 3.9 per cent visible minorities among this group of 233.

Telephoning Poland

The Prime Minister’s Director of Communications Sandra Buckler passed along the following this afternoon:

The Prime Minister spoke yesterday to Prime Minister Tusk of Poland to express Canada’s appreciation for the contribution Poland is making to the international effort in Afghanistan. With 1300 troops on the ground, as well as helicopters, Poland is a robust contributor as a new and committed member of NATO. The Prime Minister reviewed with Prime Minister Tusk the establishment of the Manley Panel and its recommendations, broadly accepted by the government, including that Canada remain in Kandahar beyond 2009, on condition that NATO allies contribute an additional battle group and that additional equipment is secured for the Canadian Forces. Prime Minister Tusk confirmed Poland’s desire to make as significant a contribution as their capacity will allow and to assist Canada wherever possible. The Prime Minister indicated he was looking forward to working with President Kaczynski, who will represent Poland at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, and other allies, to ensure the greatest possible chances of success for the international effort in Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Tusk also spoke about the commitment flowing from the last Canada-EU Summit in Berlin, to undertake a comprehensive study into a closer economic partnership between Canada and the EU. The study is due to be completed in the spring which will allow the preparation of concrete deliverables for the forthcoming Canada-EU Summit under the French Presidency in the fall of 2009, an initiative which Poland supports.

Telephoning Slovenia

The Prime Minister’s director of communications Sandra Buckler provided us with the following information this afternoon:

Prime Minister Harper spoke today to Prime Minister Janez Janša of Slovenia. The Prime Minister congratulated Prime Minister Janša on being the first new European Union (EU) member state to hold the rotating Presidency of the European Union. Leaders discussed the commitment undertaken at the Canada-EU Summit in Berlin in 2007 to complete a study on a closer economic partnership between Canada and the EU, which is due to be completed in the spring. The results of this study will be reviewed at the 2008 Canada-EU Summit under the French Presidency in order to pursue a balanced and closer economic integration, something which the business communities in both Europe and Canada support and for which Prime Minister Janša confirmed Slovenia’s support. The Prime Minister then raised Afghanistan and Canada’s appreciation for the Slovenian troop contribution. The Prime Minister underscored Canada’s continued interest in and support for the EUPOL mission, an EU initiative to build capacity and in train the Afghan National Police. Canada has contributed 22 police personnel to the EUPOL Mission, an undertaking which leaders agreed was crucial to the success of the overall international effort in Afghanistan. Finally, leaders noted that Canada and Slovenia will face off in the opening round of the Hockey World Championships in Halifax on May 2 and said they looked forward to meeting at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in April.