Clinton weighs in on the softwood lumber dispute

This is a follow-up to two earlier posts on the Canada/USA softwood lumber dispute, American government shows contempt for the rule of law and a later update.

The issue is still front-page news here in Canada, but I gather that it receives little attention in the US media. The Wall Street Journal is a notable exception; it has repeatedly supported Canada’s position, most recently a couple of weeks ago.

Former US President Bill Clinton spoke in London, Ontario, last night, and offered his thoughts on the Canada/USA softwood lumber dispute.

According to the Globe and Mail, Mr. Clinton “strongly endorsed Prime Minister Paul Martin’s tough public stand on softwood lumber and implicitly criticized Washington’s refusal to abide by a NAFTA panel ruling on the issue.”

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has, indeed, been talking tough. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister implied that that the USA may be jeopardizing its access to abundant Canadian energy supplies. On October 8, the Globe and Mail reported:

Paul Martin won kudos from The Wall Street Journal for his tirade against U.S. tariffs on softwood lumber while he was in New York, but George W. Bush’s spokesman conceded he wasn’t even aware of the Prime Minister’s public relations blitz south of the border.

“I haven’t seen his comments,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday.

In a New York speech Thursday, and later in a brief afternoon interview on CNN, Mr. Martin hinted at using Canadian energy as a trade weapon and called the U.S. refusal to lift the roughly 20-per-cent duty “nonsense.”

In an editorial yesterday, The Wall Street Journal said the duties on Canadian lumber are at odds with Mr. Bush’s professed belief in an integrated North American economy.

“Americans have a stake here too, since the duties add about $1,000 (U.S.) to the cost of a new home and affect thousands of jobs in industries that depend on lower-cost Canadian lumber,” the editorial said.

“President Bush’s vision of a strong North America depends upon the integrated market being allowed to work. That’s as much in the interest of Americans as Canadians.”

Mr. Clinton says that Prime Minister Martin had no other option. “If I were the Canadian prime minister, that’s what I’d say.”

At the same time, Mr. Clinton echoed the line taken by senior U.S. officials in recent days, repeating that both sides should get back to the bargaining table. …

Mr. Clinton repeatedly called for a return to negotiations, saying the North American trade relationship is simply too important to do otherwise.

“If I were [Mr. Martin], I’d be very firm in public and try to work on it behind closed doors,” he said.

Mr. Clinton believes that the NAFTA ruling harms American states. Nonetheless, he implied that the US government should abide by it:

He spoke at length about U.S. states’ concerns over Canadian stumpage fees — payments to provincial governments for cutting trees — which U.S. lumber producers say are unfairly low.

However, he repeatedly suggested, without going into specifics, that he strongly believes in bilateral and multilateral agreements, and that countries should enter into and adhere to those agreements, even if they occasionally sustain rulings not in their favour.

“I believe in institutional co-operation, even if it means you disagree with the occasional decision now and then.”

In my view, that last paragraph is exactly right.

Of course the US government doesn’t like the fact that the NAFTA panel ruled against it:  no one likes to lose in arbitration. But the free trade agreement is a package deal. On the whole it is in the best interests of both countries. For that reason, the USA should respect the NAFTA ruling, even though they don’t like it.

It may seem absurd for Canada to get into a trade war with the USA. It seems obvious that Canada needs the USA more than the USA needs Canada.

But not so fast:  Senator Orrin Hatch doesn’t see it that way. According to today’s Ottawa Citizen:

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the most influential Republicans on Capitol Hill, said yesterday Canada is poised to surpass Saudi Arabia as “the world’s oil giant,” and that energy-hungry Americans can ill afford to alienate their northern neighbours.

“Neither of us can afford to kick the other one in the teeth,” Mr. Hatch, a 29-year veteran of the Senate, said ….

Mr. Hatch said the U.S. will increasingly need to tap into the huge supply of Canadian oil from Alberta’s oilsands.

“Anyone watching what is happening up north will recognize that, before long, Canada will inevitably overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s oil giant,” Mr. Hatch said.

“What does this all mean for the United States? … It means that the United States can enjoy a new gigantic source of oil from a friendly neighbour.” …

Canada ranks second to Saudi Arabia in proven crude oil reserves, including an estimated 174 billion barrels from the oil sands.

Most Overrated Virtue, revisited

When I published this post the discussion went off on a tangent. I raised a general question, What is the most overrated virtue? I didn’t anticipate that my comment on the narrower issue of introverts and extroverts would provoke a controversy.

The post continues to show up in search queries. And the question I posed continues to interest me.

I just received a late entry from anonymous, and I think it’s a good one:

the most underrated virtue? thats easy, silence. everyone has something to say. whatever happened to just shutting up and listening for a change?

Hmmm. I wonder whether anonymous has read the other posts on this blog. “Everyone has something to say” describes the dynamic pretty well.

In other sports news

You think boxing is a tough sport? Consider hockey:

Pat Quinn, coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, sports two black eyes
If this is what the coaches look like, imagine what it’s like to be a player!

(I apologize for the poor quality of the photo, but it’s a picture I took of a TV interview.)

Boxing: a legal form of attempted murder?

“I don’t think there’s anyone to blame here other than the circumstances. He’s a victim of his own courage.”
Boxing promoter Lou DiBella, commenting on the death of boxer Leavander Johnson. Johnson died due to injuries sustained in a professional boxing match.
A Jesuit publication, Civilta Cattolica, has created a stir this week by condemning the sport of boxing as “merciless and inhuman”, a “legalized form of attempted murder.” Yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen reports:

Editorials in the 156-year-old Civilta Cattolica are cleared in advance by the Vatican secretariat of state and are believed to reflect the Pope’s official views. The article, titled “The Immorality of Professional Boxing,” appears today [Saturday].

The editorial cites the deaths of hundreds of boxers in the past century, including Leavander Johnson, who died last month after a Las Vegas fight. …

Boxing “violates the natural and divine moral perception against killing,” but commercial forces are too strong to call for a legal ban on the sport, the editorial says.

Johnson, who was 35 years old, was the champion in the lightweight division of the International Boxing Federation. He was also the father of four children. He died after a fight with Jesus Chavez.

The Johnson-Chavez fight was stopped by referee Tony Weeks in the 11th round but Johnson then collapsed outside his dressing room. ABC news reports:

Margaret Goodman, chairwoman of the Nevada medical advisory board to the state boxing commission, said the tragedy would be examined urgently.

“The commission is going to sit down and look at everything again and again and again,” she said. “We really need to look at what can be done in the future.”

Goodman was the ringside physician on Saturday and entered the ring at the end of the 10th round to check Johnson’s condition. She said she saw no sign that he should not be allowed to continue.

“Something is wrong,” she said. “I don’t know what it is and I don’t know what needs to be changed but we need to re-evaluate the entire way we approach the testing and treatment of boxers. These kids trust their lives to us and we are failing them.”

According to, “Johnson was the fourth fighter this year to suffer a serious brain injury in a boxing match in Las Vegas and the second to die from his injuries. Martin Sanchez died on July 2, a day after being knocked out by Rustam Nugaev.”

The raw data are certainly startling:

An editorial in The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, after the [Johnson-Chavez] fight said nearly 900 boxers had died as a result of injuries in the ring since 1920.

“It is time to halt that tabulation,” the newspaper said. “It is time to ban boxing, a sport in which death is the predictable outcome of athletic proficiency … it is surprising that more boxers don’t die.

“Even among prizefighters who walk away, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates 15-40 percent of ex-boxers have some form of chronic brain injury and most professional fighters — whether they have apparent symptoms or not — have some degree of brain damage.”

In light of the above stats, it’s hard to make a case in favour of professional boxing. But if you doubt that boxing is a legitimate sport, just watch a highlight reel from the career of Muhammad Ali. The man was the very picture of athletic grace, even as his career was in decline.

What do you think? Is the Vatican right — should boxing be banned?


Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar.

(Actually, since the sun has gone down, Yom Kippur was yesterday by Jewish reckoning. As usual, I’m a little slow to post.)

In the Hebrew scriptures (see Leviticus 16), the Day of Atonement centers on the activities of the High Priest in the Temple. This was the only day of the year when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, where God was enthroned in the midst of Israel.

The High Priest sacrificed a bullock and sprinkled some of its blood in the Holy of Holies. In this way, he atoned for the sins of himself and his fellow priests.

Next, the High Priest sacrificed a goat to atone for the sins of the rest of the population and to cleanse the sanctuary.

Then the High Priest placed his hands on the head of a second goat and confessed the sins of Israel. The goat, known as the scapegoat, was driven into the desert where it symbolically carried away the people’s sins.

It has been impossible to carry out the activities just described for nearly 2,000 years now. In 70 CE*, the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Jews cannot rebuild the Temple elsewhere; the site in Jerusalem was chosen by God.

The destruction of the Temple could have marked the end of the Jewish faith. But the Rabbis of that era, led by Johanan ben Zakkai, gathered in Jamnia (Jabneh) and reconstituted the religion to correspond to the new reality. G.F. Moore comments,

the work of conservation and adaptation was accomplished with such wisdom that Judaism not only was tided over the crisis but entered upon a period of progress which it may well count among the most notable chapters in its history.

[“Reorganization at Jamnia” in Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era]

Christians will find it interesting to note that Johanan ben Zakkai was a Pharisee.** The destruction of the Temple marked the end of the Sadducees as a religious/political power. The rabbinical council in Jamnia “was a purely Pharisaean body. It was the definitive triumph of Pharisaism.”

Christians are deeply committed to a principle expressed in the letter to the Hebrews (a New Testament document). Hebrews 9:22 says, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

The Rabbis who gathered in Jamnia did not see it that way. The destruction of the Temple was, from one point of view, a profound tragedy, lamented to this day. But from another point of view, it merely furthered a trend that had been building momentum for some time. At least as far back as the Babylonian captivity (6th c. BCE), Jews had been scattered among the nations. G.F. Moore observes,

The vast majority of the Jews, dispersed as they were over the face of the earth, never had opportunity to make such sacrifices, even by proxy; while the inhabitants of the more distant parts of Palestine, who resorted in numbers to the Holy City at the festivals, could make but infrequent use of all the sacrificial purifications and expiations provided in the Law. …

The Day of Atonement, [a day] of fasting and humiliation before God, of confession of sins, and contrition for them, and of fervent prayer for forgiveness, was, even before the destruction of the temple, the reality, of which the rites of the day in Jerusalem, whatever objective efficacy was attributed to them, were only a dramatic symbol.

[“Ritual Atonement” in Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era]

The activities mentioned above remain the focus of the Day of Atonement today, 1900 years after the gathering in Jamnia. The day involves humbling oneself before God, fasting, confessing and expressing contrition for one’s sins, and praying for forgiveness.

The efficacy of the appeal for forgiveness ultimately hinges on God’s character. If God takes pleasure in punishing us, the appeal will be rejected. If God takes pleasure in forgiving us — I might exaggerate and say, if God is looking for any pretext on which to forgive us — then God will respond to our acts of contrition by absolving us of our sins. From the Jewish perspective, no blood sacrifice is required; our contrition and God’s mercy are all that is necessary.

I know from my experience in evangelical Christian circles that the emphasis on personal guilt and contrition can be overdone. But presumably it can also be “underdone”.

This year, because of the Jewish contacts I have made in the blogosphere, I received an e-mail asking my forgiveness for a small offence. In fact, I had not taken any offense whatsoever; but I understood the blogger’s concern to clear the books of any sins outstanding from the past year.

I feel honoured to have received that e-mail. That isn’t the point, I know. But I am deeply touched nonetheless.

Repentance and confession are salutary practices, with power to cleanse the soul and effect reconciliation where relationships are strained. Yom Kippur could serve as a reminder to us gentiles. We would do well to step back from our daily activities once in a while:  to reflect, take responsibility for the wrongs we have committed, and seek forgiveness.

*CE = Common Era, standard terminology used among scholars in place of A.D. Likewise, BCE = Before Common Era.

**I caution Christian readers that the depiction of the Pharisees in the Gospels is highly prejudiced. It was written at a time of great controversy, from the perspective of one of the parties to that controversy. It is not an objective historical account.

Keeping an open mind re the Iraq war

I pride myself on keeping an open mind. At the risk of shocking my liberal readers, here’s a chance for me to illustrate the point.

For many months now, in comments on various blogs, I have been describing the Iraq war as “a colossal blunder”. Now I’m having second thoughts. I may have been wrong in that judgement.

That admission should surprise you, because I am decidedly left-leaning in my politics. But some time in the last ten years I embraced the motto, truth over ideology. My policy comprises these two major principles:

  1. follow the evidence wherever it leads;
  2. be receptive to new information even after you have reached a conclusion.

I have already changed my mind about Iraq once. I supported the war back when I still trusted President Bush not to lie to the American people (and the rest of the Western world).

In the aftermath of 9/11, I was prepared to support the American invasion of Iraq if Saddam Hussein constituted a real security risk. President Bush told us that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. I had no way of verifying the allegations, but President Bush’s solemn assurances were confirmed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Despite the strenuous objections of the United Nations, I concluded that the invasion of Iraq was justified.

Like everyone else, I was startled when no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. At the same time, allegations began to surface that the American administration had distorted the intelligence information available to it. Some critics have not minced words:  they say that President Bush lied to the American people.

It is very difficult to prove that someone has lied when their assertions were based on classified information. But sufficient evidence has emerged to suggest that “lied” is not too strong a word. Over at Toner Mishap, blogger On the Mark offered these examples (in a comment here):

here are a few [of President Bush’s lies] without even having to give it much thought:

“the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” in the State of the Union address in 2003; which his administration had concluded was bogus in March 2002.

“We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda.” Aboard the USS Lincoln. Actually, they didn’t remove one, they created one.

“We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.” In press conference with reporters on July 14, 2003. In fact, after a Security Council resolution was passed demanding that Iraq allow inspectors in, they were given complete access to the country.

His citing of a United Nations International Atomic Energy report alleging that Iraq was “six months away” from developing a nuclear weapon; and that Iraq maintained a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft that could be used, in Bush’s words, “for missions targeting the United States.” There was no such report by the IAEA and these aircraft lacked the range to reach the U.S.

The list is quite damning, and I am sure that others could add to it. President Bush’s credibility has been damaged, perhaps beyond repair, which makes it very difficult for me to support the war in Iraq.

But my policy is to be receptive to new information. Here is what I have learned in recent weeks.

First, Saddam Hussein may have collaborated with Osama bin Laden. The evidence is found in the article Case Closed written by Stephen Hayes. (The article was first published in 2003, so it isn’t actually new — it’s just new to me. Hat tip to Ralphie over at Kerckhoff Coffeehouse):

OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda — perhaps even for Mohamed Atta — according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was written in response to a request from the committee as part of its investigation into prewar intelligence claims made by the administration.

Intelligence reporting included in the 16-page memo comes from a variety of domestic and foreign agencies, including the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources. Some of it is new information obtained in custodial interviews with high-level al Qaeda terrorists and Iraqi officials, and some of it is more than a decade old. The picture that emerges is one of a history of collaboration between two of America’s most determined and dangerous enemies.

According to the memo — which lays out the intelligence in 50 numbered points — Iraq-al Qaeda contacts began in 1990 and continued through mid-March 2003, days before the Iraq War began.

Hayes indicates that the report is very specific at certain points. For example, it states that officials in the Iraqi military visited Osama bin Laden’s farm in Khartoum in Sept.-Oct. 1995, and again in July 1996. In 1999, according to the report, Saddam Hussein personally sent Faruq Hijazi (deputy director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service and later Iraq’s ambassador to Turkey) to meet with bin Laden at least twice, first in Sudan and later in Afghanistan.

If we can trust the US administration when it leaks such classified information — which admittedly is a big “if” — then On the Mark was wrong in one of his allegations. President Bush may not have been lying when he said, “We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda.”

The difficulty is that we are again relying on classified information. If President Bush’s credibility were unimpeachable, that wouldn’t be an issue; but I continue to have lingering doubts.

The second item of new information is found in an article published by the Washington Post. (Hat tip to Jack at Random Thoughts):

The United States has obtained a letter from Osama bin Laden’s deputy [Ayman Zawahiri] to the leader of Iraq’s insurgency [Abu Musab Zarqawi]. …

U.S. officials said the letter was captured during counterterrorism operations in Iraq, but they were unwilling to specify how or when, and would provide only two quotes from it. The senior official said it has been authenticated “based on multiple sources over an extended period of time.” They released information about the letter to four news organizations — saying word of its existence had started leaking out to reporters — on the same day that President Bush delivered a speech about the war on terrorism.

The letter of instructions and requests outlines a four-stage plan, according to officials:  First, expel American forces from Iraq. Second, establish a caliphate over as much of Iraq as possible. Third, extend the jihad to neighboring countries, with specific reference to Egypt and the Levant — a term that describes Syria and Lebanon. And finally, war against Israel.

U.S. officials say they were struck by the letter’s emphasis on the centrality of Iraq to al Qaeda’s long-term mission.

[update: a translation of the letter is available here]

Iraq may not have been central to al Qaeda’s long-term mission before the USA invaded it. But surely the shift in priorities is to the US administration’s credit. President Bush wanted to ensure that the front line of the battle was elsewhere, not on US soil. He has succeeded, if the information cited by the Washington Post is trustworthy.

Once again we are relying on classified information, with the same caveat as before.

But I am impressed by these two pieces of new information. If Saddam Hussein was collaborating with Osama bin Laden, that is sufficient justification for the invasion of Iraq. And if the invasion has diverted al Qaeda’s attention, so that Iraq has become the front line in the “war on terror”, then President Bush deserves our commendation. (I never thought I’d hear myself say that.)

Am I fully persuaded on either point? No. But the above data are causing me to reconsider my earlier conclusions. I admit it:  in my earlier characterization of the Iraq war as “a colossal blunder”, I may have been wrong.

Principles or ideology?

Many of my readers also read Mary P.’s blog. But those of you who don’t might want to check out this post, Parenting Without Ideologies:

I am firmly of the opinion that you are a better parent if you operate from principles and a philosophy, rather than in a constant state of reaction. [But] how do you know whether you are developing an approach and a philosophy, or whether you’ve crossed the line into ideology?

Even if you’re not the parent of a small child (Mary P.’s focus), you may be interested in her criteria for distinguishing principles from ideology.

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