Many Canadians view the financial stewardship of both George W. Bush administrations as grossly irresponsible, including the preoccupation with making life easier for your most affluent citizens with two inequitable tax cuts. The budget surplus of $150 billion President Clinton left him in 2000, which the non-partisan Congressional Budget office then estimated would continue for a decade, ballooned to massive deficits under successive Bush budgets, with the Iraqi war and reduced revenues created by the tax cuts.
In my own country from 1968 to 1998, successive national governments of different political stripes could not manage a single balanced budget. By 1995, Canada and Greece were equally indebted, with net government debt in both topping 70% of gross domestic product. The Chretien government (1993-2003) achieved surpluses after 1998; by 2008 our federal debt had fallen to about 23% of GDP. By one estimate, it will be only 21% this year, compared to 121% for you and 116% for Greece. Canada's national government debt-to-GDP ratio will, however, worsen rapidly over the next three years because of our high deficits across this period; the debts of our two largest provinces are also ballooning.
The Bank of International Settlements, which has functioned as the central bank for 80 years, recently published a paper indicating that your country is among a dozen that, without "drastic measures", will at some point hit a wall of debt. The paper (quoted by Globe and Mail columnist Neil Reynolds) mentions some key estimates: on the present course, your net debt will have risen from 62% of GDP in 2007 to 100% in 2011. Unless things change, you will reach 150% during the next decade. Other governments have done much better, with their debt levels holding in the range of 40%-Asia ( Japan excluded), 28%-Central Europe and 37%-Latin America. Ken Rogoff of Harvard thinks that 90% in the debt-to-GDP ratio is a tipping point; if it goes higher than that, real economic growth becomes difficult to achieve.
From 2007-2010, your federal deficits totaled $3.6 trillion and are projected by the White House OMB and Congressional CBO to double over the upcoming four years. One worry is a credit downgrade and increased pressure to debase your money by printing mountains of new currency. On the optimistic side, historically, as Pearl Harbour and Sputnik can attest, the American people can marshall an astounding national effort to deal with major challenges, including your trade deficit, which must be dealt with so you won't have to pay for it with real assets rather than paper IOUs owed currently in vast quantities to China and others.
Until a few years ago, I allowed my respect and affection for the people of China to mute criticism of the current Hu-Wen government by rationalizing that at least it was not like the brutal one of Mao Tse-tung. Like many visitors, I was too willing to overlook continuous environmental disasters, growing social inequalities, widespread corruption and nepotism, and official violence being perpetrated often across the country.
Like every population, the Chinese people want education, good jobs in a sound economy, clean water and air, and good governance. Living standards have improved for many along the east coast and in other urban areas, but a huge social cost is carried by most people. Many of them continue to be exploited by the party-state and domestic industrial firms, often owned by or contracted for manufacturing to multinationals, which operate today often like 19th century robber barons. This explains partly why the prices of consumer products 'made in China' seem so low—the externalities are borne by workers, their families and the natural environment.
Dr. Peter Navarro, a Harvard-trained business professor at the University of California, argues that consumer markets across the world have been 'conquered' by China largely through cheating on trade practices. These include export subsidies, widespread counterfeiting and piracy of products, currency manipulation, forced labour, and environmental, health and safety standards so lax and weakly enforced that they have made China a very dangerous place to work. In his book The Coming China Wars, Navarro has developed comprehensive proposals intended to ensure that commerce becomes fair for all countries trading with China.
Since 1999, a terrible price has been paid by the Falun Gong community. This ancient discipline encourages good ethical standards for cultivating body and character. It contains the essence of traditional cultivation systems, like Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism), combined with a set of gentle exercises. Its core principles are "truth, compassion and forbearance". It today reaches millions of people of diverse backgrounds in more than one hundred countries.
In China where it first became public in 1992, Falun Gong grew to numbers greater than the membership of the Communist party within seven years (70-100 million by the government's own estimate). The party panicked on seeing nationals in the tens of millions engaging publicly in a form of exercise which had an underlying belief system different from communism. A dilemma for president Jiang Zemin as president in 1999 was not only that Falun Gong was authentically Chinese and growing across the country among citizens of all ages, regions and occupations, including party members; it was also that Marxism as a European ideological import into China is patently foreign. Communists saw a China-based philosophy cutting out from under them the thin ground on which they still stood.
Fearing Falun Gong's growth, the party has repressed it with a savage brutality since July 1999. Torture, rape, beating to death, detention in labour camps and brainwashing have become reality for many Falun Gong practitioners across the country. Today, they comprise two-thirds of the torture victims and half of the people detained in labour camps across China. The documented yearly arbitrary killings and disappearances of Falun Gong exceed by far the totals for any other victim group. According to research David Matas and I have done, set out in our book Bloody Harvest, practitioners have been killed in the thousands since 2001 so that their organs could be trafficked to both Chinese nationals and foreigners.
From the numerous pieces of evidence we examined, we did not form our conclusion from any single one, but rather from their cumulative effect. Each is verifiable in itself and most are incontestable. In combination, they constitute a damning overall picture of guilt in a country which today lacks even the pretence of the rule of law or respect for human dignity. Our revised report is accessible in 18 languages from www.david-kilgour.com.
If China were to revive its traditional values, abandon political Leninism and adopt the rule of law, a free media and governance of, by and for all its people- a democracy with very Chinese characteristics-I believe the new century would bring harmony for both China and its trading partners. The Chinese people have the perseverance, self-discipline, entrepreneurship, intelligence, culture and numbers to make a better and more peaceful world for the entire human family.
Dr. Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan's former Minister of Women's Affairs and a former presidential candidate, warned against peace with the Taliban during her visit to Ottawa last week. She deplored that after 30 years of war the most recent efforts to end the conflict between the Karzai government and the Taliban are compromising hard-fought fundamental values that have only begun to take root. She says that the steps the Karzai government is taking to make peace with the Taliban risk killing a fragile Afghan democracy and the equality and relative liberty for Afghan women.
The recent peace jirga of tribal elders in Kabul endorsed an amnesty for Taliban fighters. Jalal's response: “Taliban do not recognize rights and even they don’t recognize women as human beings. Their engagement will be bad news to our values and to the women of Afghanistan, so I hope it doesn’t happen. We need disempowerment of the Taliban and extremism...It’s not good for … the democratic processes that we have created and we have insisted on and it’s not good for the peace and security of the world. We have to be careful with this.”
Dr. Jalal is prepared with thousands of women and men followers to partner the international community and struggle against extremism from inside Afghanistan. She stresses: "Women empowerment is extremism disempowerment...Afghan women rights promotion and protection will lead to strengthening of peace and democracy and is worth the effort."
She sees President Karzai brokering the values he was once selected to uphold in order to hang on to power. “In the beginning a lot of hope was created… We thought that a government made of civilians will be made a civil government,” she said, noting that laws have been passed prohibiting violence against women and affirming women’s rights. Yet more schools are being burned, more female students are being threatened and attacked, and there are more instances of local laws barring women from travelling outside the house unaccompanied. Even if Canada’s soldiers leave Kandahar in a year, she thinks our country can still have an impact if it redirects even a fraction of the money spent on military might toward development assistance and aid.
Dr. V.P. Vaidik is an Indian who has studied Afghanistan for 40 years and has known almost every Afghan leader personally from King Zither Shah to Humid Kara while also being in touch with the Mujahedeen and Taliban leaders. He is quite optimistic about the future of Afghanistan. His impression, after discussing the matter with many so-called hard and soft Taliban and their supporters is that their main demand is the immediate ouster of the foreign forces from Afghanistan. Fulfillment of this demand would cause the present set up to crumble within a few hours as did the Taliban in 2001 (Dr. Jalal fully agrees here).
As a more reasonable alternative, Vaidik promotes a fixed withdrawal date following a reinvigorated national army consisting of at least 300,000 soldiers. His rationale: “You may not need so many soldiers to control Afghanistan but you would be paying so many unemployed young men to keep them away from the Taliban. The expenditure on an Afghan soldier is 70 times less than on an American soldier. A better equipped, better trained and a better dressed Afghan soldier would be much cheaper than any foreign soldier. The Afghan imbroglio can be solved only by the Afghans and not the foreigners...”
Vaidik adds that what Afghanistan needs today is the massive dose of economic assistance. The Western powers have spent more than $120 billion in Afghanistan during the last seven years. Hardly ten percent of this amount has gone as development assistance. The emergence of a stable, safe, self-sufficient, democratic Afghanistan that will never again be a haven for terrorists or traffickers is well worth the effort.
Finally, since I'm co-chair of the NGO Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and on the international pro-bono legal team for Camp Ashraf, a very brief word about an urgent need. Camp Ashraf in Iraq contains about 1100 women and more than 2000 male long term refugees from Iran, who are members of the MEK (People's Mujahedeen of Iran), which is unfortunately still on the terrorist organization list for both your government and my own. In contrast, all member nations of the EU removed it from their lists last year, following seven court decisions in Europe saying the MEK cannot be considered a terrorist organization to continue. It is bad security policy for both governments to continue to list as terrorist the main opposition to the Tehran regime? In 2003, I understand your government was part of the international force which pushed successfully for Ashraf residents to be declared protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
On July 1st, you will end the US military presence at Ashraf, with your base, the FOB Grizzly, to be transferred to Iraqi forces. While your government asserts that the protected person status for Ashraf residents ended in June 2004, it has continued to treat them as such to the end of 2008. Claiming the US will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that the government of Iraq abides by its assurances and obligations to protect the residents, it admits that the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq , known as UNAMI, will relocate its observing mission from Ashraf to Baghdad following the base closure. If UNAMI considers its situation unsafe once your soldiers leave, one can imagine how serious will be the risk for Ashraf residents.
All these steps seem likely to offer a green light for the present al-Maliki Iraq government, strongly under the influence of Tehran, for its next attack against Ashraf. On July 28 and 29, 2009, eleven unarmed residents were killed by Iraqi police, many were injured and 36 were taken hostage for 72 days under severe conditions.
Under the Geneva Convention, if a successor party receiving protected persons does not abide by its obligations, the previous protector must correct the situation or take back the protection. During the past 18 months, the Iraqi government has made it abundantly clear that it does not recognize any rights of residents. According to resolution 1883 of the UN Security Council, U.S. forces are responsible for the security of UNAMI. Ashraf residents are declared targets of the Iranian regime, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the terrorist Qods force and the Iranian regime's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).
Since this issue is so 'time sensitive', I'd urge you as an influential group or as individuals to invite the Obama administration to keep one or two companies at Ashraf until the future Iraqi government, a stable and independent one, takes office so that UNAMI's monitoring team would not be forced to leave Ashraf prematurely. It would be preferable politically to have an international force replace your soldiers at Ashraf, but American support would make such a proposal more likely to happen. Time is critical for either option.