Hue Hunger Games – April 18, 2008

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Ngo Mon Gate – where Emperor Bao Dai abdicated to a Ho Chi Minh delegation in 1945

The ancient capital of Viet Nam is a fascinating place. The citadel is actually three nested citadels: imposing grey walls protected by a moat, a second citadel whose entrance is shown above, and a third “citadel” called the Forbidden Purple City, territory that excluded all except the emperor, his family and inner coterie. The top photo is the Ngo Mon, or Noontime, gate to the second citadel, the central door being reserved for the emperor himself.

Inside the To Mieu Temple complex honouring the Nguyen Dynasty there are nine urns dedicated to the nine Nguyen emperors, the largest being dedicated to Nguyen Anh (Emperor Gia Long), founder of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802 A.D.

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The nine dynastic urns; and below the gorgeous  gate to To Mieu complex, its detail and, last, the long, low To Mieu Temple:

To Mieu Temple

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Thanks to B52 bombing during the Vietnam War, there was nothing much left of the Forbidden Purple City, but some sort of restoration had begun back in 2008 when we were there. We were instructed by signs not to venture off the approved path for our own safety. Below, the Forbidden Purple City ruin:

And a few more photos of the Citadel:

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 We  arrived in Hue in the dark on April 17, after taking an afternoon flight from Saigon to Da Nang and driving a short distance north to Hue. We ate by Hue’s Perfume River in a floating restaurant and Anita was disappointed to learn, on our fourth night in Viet Nam, that “rice fried chicken” is not the same as “chicken fried rice.”

 

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The Hue bridge over the Perfume River captured from our table

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Our April 18 Hunger Games:

Hue is not a large city, but it is complicated enough to be no fun navigating in the dark if you are dropped off by a cyclo driver somewhere other than where you instructed him to take you. Here’s that story:

Anytime we left our hotel (the Thai Binh II on Hung Vuong Street) there were cyclo drivers waiting to take people where they wanted to go in the city. After a very busy April 18 we wanted to try supper at a Japanese Restaurant famous in Lonely Planet for its owner’s wonderful work with hundreds of Vietnamese street children and well-liked for its food and its service. Though it was a fairly short walk away (260 metres) I thought it might be generous to use one of these sad-looking, solicitous fellows to take us there. I wrote down the address in modern Vietnamese characters and showed it to him. We got in the cyclo and off we went. He took ages to find the street (it seemed like 45 minutes) and when he did we got off as soon as we could and started to walk toward the address. Every junction we came to seemed to have 4 or 5 options to continue on the street. So we would pick the most likely one and cross the square to it and then I would brave the motorbikes to cross the street to make sure we had guessed right. Most of the time we hadn’t. Often I had forgotten the name on the street sign by the time I re-crossed the river of motorbikes.

Someone borrowed my pen to draw a map for us and I left it accidentally with her.

Then my flashlight packed it in.

I didn’t have a travel cell phone or a wifi device in 2008, so we were dependent on our Lonely Planet guidebook, instinct, intuition and local maps when not with a local English-speaking driver. Google maps now shows me the walk would have been really short from our hotel. We were getting hungry and Anita feels ill if she goes too long without eating protein. When we eventually found the address (our driver had dropped us off much farther from the restaurant than we would have had to walk) the restaurant had closed!

So now, without flashlight or pen or protein, we tried to figure out how to get back to our hotel and the place where we ate the night before. We didn’t agree and, hungry and tired, we began to argue about which way to go. And, once a minute since we had left our useless cyclo driver, we were were solicited by other cyclo drivers. At this point I was feeling quite murderous…

Finally Anita announced, righteously, that she was going back to the hotel by herself. I know in my bones that she could have done it. So I said:

Fine! You go back to the hotel. I’ll kill something and bring it for you to eat.

Then the gods smiled on us. They sent us two saviours who had witnessed our embarrassing interchange. They were Kim and Sandra from Sydney, Aus. Kim told us exactly how to get back to our hotel and where to eat right near it. It was 5 or 10 minutes walk. We exchanged addresses and agreed to meet in Hoi An – the city we would all be in on the 19th and 20th. We are still good friends and hope to see them in our town in Ontario again this summer.

Other Places We Went on April 18:

Now, here is a summary of where we went in Hue on that fateful April with Sang, our wonderful driver:

  1. Tu Duc’s tomb
  2. Minh Mang’s tomb
  3. Nam Giao Temple
  4. Lunch at Y Thao Garden – Imperial Cuisine
  5. Thien Mu Pagoda
  6. Hue Citadel

Tomb of Tu Duc, the longest reigning Nguyen Dynasty Emperor:

 

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Tomb of Minh Mang:

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Nam Giao Temple was once the most sacred in the country. Here the Emperor would offer elaborate, sacrificial homage to Thuong De. Now it is neglected but very peaceful:

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Imperial cuisine at the Y Thao Garden:

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Thien Mu Pagoda – the most sacred place, 3 km from Hue – honours 7 buddhas:

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Small wonder we were tired that evening. Poor decision I made. We had only 260 m to walk. We would have learned quickly that the Jass Man’s Japanese restaurant had closed down and gone to the river for more “rice fried chicken.” But then we would never have met Sandra and Kim from Sydney…

My Short, Essential To-Do List for Our 42nd Parliament

Brampton - October 4, 2015

Brampton – October 4, 2015

1. Trans Pacific Partnership

First and foremost, the TPP likely needs to be killed dead. Wikileaks has been revealing details of the secret TPP from time to time since at least 2013. There are many very serious threats to the people of Canada and the other eleven countries who signed the deal this October. (See list below for just some threats). These threats are enabled by the extraordinary power given to foreign corporations (mostly in the U.S.) by the deal’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement Agreements (ISDS Agreements)  to sue nations for expected future profits if their legislatures enact laws or operate public institutions that are deemed to affect their profits.  Canada has first hand experience of these lawsuits since it has been involved with the U.S. and later Mexico in NAFTA. This legal, but immoral, right to sue has cost Canada and Mexico, but not the U.S., millions in lawsuits. The TPP is incredibly more pervasive and involves 12, not just 3 countries. More and more Canadian businesses and institutions, such as small farmers and the CBC are directly under attack from the TPP – a much larger group than under NAFTA, which at least had some provisions to protect our water and our farms. It is very likely that Canadians ourselves, and likely even most MP’s, will not see the details of this deal.

The argument that Canada is better in than out of this deal sounds powerful, but deceives us. This deal will provide very few Canadians with good, stable jobs that offer a package of benefits. NAFTA at least protected our auto industry but other U.S. firms no longer had to manufacture or do research here in order to sell in Canada. Shortly after the free trade deal with the U.S. in 1987 Caterpillar closed its plant in Brampton, Ontario and fired 90% of its workers. Ten per cent went to North Carolina with Caterpillar’s manufacturing. Bye bye. Trade deals that began in 1987 between Canada and the U.S. and expanded to include Mexico in 1994 have not preserved quality manufacturing jobs.  Canada’s manufacturing as a per cent of GDP, and the good jobs with benefits that go with it, has fallen from 24% in the 1960’s to about 10% in 2015. As for Canada’s pathetic decline in research and development this article in the Tyee is worth reading. With the TPP the victims in the 12 TPP countries will be the general population. The winners will be those highly placed in the foreign corporations who conjured up this deal in secret. The poor in all twelve countries will become destitute, except for a small fraction of educated English speakers who will form a small lower-middle class.

In years past, Canadians and others aware of this grave corporate threat took to the tear-gassed streets and successfully defeated monster trade deals like the MAI. The ‘better in than out” choice is a false one. Rather, all 12 countries should present this deal accurately to their electors; then its defeat would be certain.

Some issues with the TPP:

Investor-State Dispute Settlements, as mentioned above, allow foreign corporations to sue countries and cities for billions of “lost future profits” if they enact legislation to protect health care, the environment, jobs, wages and democracy and these actions affect their “sacred” right to profits forever.

Temporary Foreign Workers: Foreign corporations that procure TFW’s probably will be able to sue for lost income if Canada cuts numbers of TFW’s permitted to work here. This is already being done in a case about McDonalds. And Canadian Seafarers are threatened and fighting back. TFW’s are themselves abused and are already being inappropriately used to prevent Canadians from making a just wage.

BGH: American milk and meats use Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), suspected of being associated with cancer. We probably will be exposed to this?

Food Safety: Canadian standards on food safety will likely be further weakened by the TPP.

Labeling: Will Canadian products still be identified in supermarkets? I doubt it.

Public services: Wikileaks revealed that TPP pushes for the elimination of publicly funded institutions like the CBC and Canada Post. These leaks are notably absent from discussions even on the threatened CBC!

Bank Deregulation: Will banking regulations be weakened?

Privacy: Canadian privacy, already blown away by C-51, will be further jeopardized by this agreement, which will force internet service providers to track our activity.

Job Losses: Canadian jobs will likely be lost in large numbers to workers from countries with lower wages, labour standards and non-existent unionization.

2. Bill C-51

Clayton Ruby, a distinguished lawyer and activist who has been practising law since 1969, believes Bill C-51 should be completely thrown out and rewritten. It is a catch-all list of vague but serious offenses that can be gratuitously applied to acts that are really quite innocent. It permits dirty tricks. It can turn an innocent article or speech, by abuse of its ill-defined powers, into an “act of terrorism.” Justin Trudeau cannot invent a system of oversight to guard against abuses possible with such a plethora of vague possibilities that have not been properly classified. This article gives some excellent examples of how irretrievably defective this bill is. It must be rewritten into something that can be easily and clearly reviewed by whomever are given the responsibility of oversight.

3. Truly Proportional Representation; Not PR-lite!

There are only two types of proportional representation currently used that are truly proportional: Party List Proportional Representation and Mixed Member Proportional Representation. Tom Mulcair has suggested one of them: Mixed Member Proportional Representation, used by Germany and New Zealand. Party List Proportional Representation is used by over eighty countries worldwide. See my post on PR here.Justin Trudeau should confer with his counterparts in parliament and pick one of the above systems. There are various minor ways in which different countries have modified the two choices. The Canadian people must be educated about the importance of replacing our FPTP system with whichever system will ultimately be selected. This is the job of parliament. The committee that looks into selecting PLPR or MMPR (MMP) should be composed mostly of members from the parties that proposed this reform: the NDP, the Liberals and Elizabeth May.

Note: Instant Runoff, also known as Alternative Vote is NOT proportional representation! It will betray the continually frustrated supporters of the Greens and the NDP- the very people that gave the Liberals a majority despite receiving less than 40% of the popular vote.

Since 68% of Canadian voters elected to vote for a party that included electoral reform in its platform, parliament has total authority to pass legislation to enact it.

There must not be a referendum on this! It is time Canada moved confidently to a truly proportional system. Parliamentarians on October 19th were given a strong mandate to do this for us.

No need to re-invent the wheel. Beware of attempts to dilute, adulterate or corrupt this very important reform of our electoral system.

By the way, if the TPP with its ISDS agreements is ratified, our improved electoral system will mean nothing, since foreign corporations will hold us to ransom and voting will be a farce, because our leaders will be no more than puppets. That’s why killing the TPP is numero uno – the sine qua non.

4. Other Stuff

There are many other important tasks for what will be a truly busy four years. Ferreting out and removing the bad bits squirreled away in Stephen Harper’s many, huge, undebatable omnibus bills will be an unenviable task. And the Liberals must act to prevent existing infrastructure of public institutions like the CBC from being sold:

  1. Harper reduced Canada’s protected lakes, rivers and waterways from 2.5 million to a mere 159 in Bill C-45.
  2. Dozens of laws in over 10 Huge Harper omnibus bills have decimated the powers and rights of our indigenous peoples. What I call “buckshot legislation.”
  3. CBC infrastructure must be preserved by immediately dismissing most of its  current Board of directors, 80% of whom are Conservative Party contributors appointed by Harper. These party hacks plan to sell all CBC buildings!

5. Hopeful Congratulations to Justin Trudeau

All the above being said, I’ll admit I’m nervous about Mr. Trudeau’s recent cautious avoidance of the term Proportional Representation, his voting with Harper on C-51 and his unequivocal pro-trade stance. But he really seems to be setting out an ambitious agenda for the first half of his mandate. I have not been this hopeful for over a dozen years.

Congratulations, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You have already changed the world’s perception of Canada for the better. You have slain Cerberus in grand style. You hold the future of my grandchildren in your hands. You can be greater than your father.

An Apology for Absence

This precious distraction from my canvassing is 423 km away...

This precious distraction from my canvassing is 423 km away…

I must apologize for not being very present on my blog lately. Been wrapped up in working in two ridings in two different roles to replace Stephen Harper’s corrupt, dictatorial, majority government with a minority government of Everybody But Harper.

Just back from a Monday to Friday trip to see the above damsel, I watched the debate on TVA Montreal en français hier soir.

Gilles Duceppe of the separatist Bloc Québecois is the real spoiler in this one. I am wishing with fingers crossed and eyes/ears wide open for a coalition government that brings in proportional representation. This will be the parliament in which Canadians will show whether we have the potential to mature as a real democracy. During the campaign, which ends on October 19, with the Canadian federal election, Harper will use the Bloc to scare the bejesus out of voters about coalition government like he did in 08. Hope Justin Trudeau steps up and goes for a truly proportional system. I trust Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May to support Proportional Representation, but if Trudeau sniffs a majority in 201? he may not cooperate.

Even more scared that Harper will somehow get a majority (not likely, but possible…) or, with a weaker plurality, avoid recalling parliament for a few months while he finishes dismantling “my Canada” in the true dictatorial style to which we’ve become accustomed.

Anyway, I’ll be back blogging on October 20, if not before. Meanwhile thanks for visiting, following and liking.

Michael Harris on the Harper Campaign Meltdown

On bombing ISIS:

In Harper-land, foreign policy is just long-distance domestic politics.

Just one great line from the best, most wittily comprehensive piece I’ve EVER read on the Harper record and the meltdown of his 2015 campaign.

http://ipolitics.ca/2015/09/10/the-week-that-stephen-harper-lost-the-benefit-of-the-doubt/

A caveat: Keep working to defeat Harper, and don’t underestimate his ability to appeal to a solid base of voters who cannot look past their narrow self-interest to see that the ultimate end of his policy is ruination for all but the few billionaires whose fortunes are so huge that they pull ALL the strings.

On October 19 – Vote to Repair Our Broken Democracy

I am working very hard to defeat Stephen Harper on October 19 and bring to Canada a voting system that eliminates the voter alienation that our current, outdated, First Past The Post (FPTP) system causes.

Some form of Party-List Proportional Representation is used by over 8o countries in the world, including Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Brazil, South Africa, Israel, Poland, the UK (for their EU representatives), Spain, Russia, Croatia, Albania and Austria. Two countries, Germany and New Zealand, use another good form: Mixed-Member Proportional Representation, known as MMP.

There is an excellent, more complete list of countries that use Proportional Representation at proportional-representation.org.

Only a few major Western countries, slow to wisen up, still use FPTP: Canada, the U.S. Congress, India and the UK House of Commons.

Liberal Position: “Make Every Vote Count.”

We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

As part of a national engagement process, we will ensure that electoral reform measures – such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting – are fully and fairly studied and considered.

This will be carried out by a special all-party parliamentary committee, which will bring recommendations to Parliament on the way forward, to allow for action before the succeeding federal election. Within 18 months of forming government, we will bring forward legislation to enact electoral reform.

Note: I would prefer Justin Trudeau to come out firmly for MMP or Party-List Proportional Representation. His latest position has too much wiggle room, and some of the forms of PR are less proportional than MMP and Party-List Proportional Representation.

NDP:

From the Huffington Post:

Mulcair favourably references Germany and New Zealand, which have both adopted proportional representation. Specifically, the two nations use mixed-member proportional representation, the same system favoured by the NDP.

Note: Tom Mulcair’s preferred method, abbreviated as MMP, is used by only two countries. The vast majority use Party-List Proportional Representation.

Green Party:

From the Huffington Post:

The Greens want Canada to replace the current first-past-the-post electoral system with a form of proportional representation.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said the existing electoral system allowed the Conservatives to form a majority government in 2011 with less than 40 per cent of the vote.

Note: Considering only 60% ov eligible voters voted, Stephen Harper has ruled like a dictator with only 23% (that’s twenty-three per cent!) of eligible voters marking their X for Harper on a ballot.

The Good News:

All three parties say they are committed to eliminating the FPTP system!

Proportional Representation is in the platforms of all three parties. They do not have to call a referendum on it. If Harper loses his majority, a coalition of the above parties with a combined majority of seats in Parliament can pass this and thereby fix our broken, unrepresentative, currently dysfunctional democracy in which only 61% of voters felt it important to vote.

This is NOT undemocratic, folks; we elect our representatives to govern for us. They will have an obligation to keep their promise to us after a careful review, done with the help of citizen expertise and input, that is finished within a year.

Some Concerns:

Changing how we vote is complicated.

It will take a genuine commitment to bring in a true, fully proportional form of voting, and not some watered-down alternative.

There is a risk that one of these parties may reverse its position and renege on its promise. Rest assured that every right-wing talk show in the country will try to turn voters against this change. It requires courage from the leaders.

Faced with cold feet or heavy propaganda from the media, one of the leaders may decide, as some provinces have done, to “consult the people” without properly educating them, as some provinces have done. In some cases the process required a 60% majority to move to Proportional Representation – a kiss of death if ever there was one when one considers the sad lack of sophistication out there on this complicated issue.  No cynical or cowardly referendum nonsense, please.

Proportional Representation must be at the very top of the new government’s agenda. All parties must set to work immediately and make the compromises necessary to bring in serious change. They must continue to relentlessly focus on this issue while managing the other important things that arise.

Past History:

In 1979 Pierre Trudeau proposed switching Canada’s system to Proportional Representation to the NDP, but both the Liberal caucus members and the NDP caucus members rejected it.

In 2000 the Law Commission of Canada, headed by Nathalie Des Rosiers, studied and recommended the MMP system in a 200 page report. It was not acted on by the Liberals.

In 2012 Stephane Dion proposed Proportional Representation in a New Brunswick speech.

In 2013 Joyce Murray, a Liberal leadership candidate who came second to Justin Trudeau, proposed Proportional Representation.

In February 2014 at the Liberal Convention a resolution was passed recommending “an electoral system including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent all Canadians more fairly and to allow Parliament to serve Canada better.Note: Beware of the ambiguous term, Preferential Ballot. This is a name for something that could be used in real Proportional Representation or something else in a voting system called the Alternative Vote, which is very similar to the current FPTP system and can even, in some cases, produce a less representative result.

Confused?

I don’t blame you, but remember that PR systems are used in the most enlightened countries on the planet and outnumber FPTP in progressive countries by about 90 to 4.  (See above) I want to believe that Canadians are smart enough to be taught something new and better. The FPTP system is keeping voters away in droves and the last four years under Harper’s ruthless hand have gone a long way towards destroying the Canada that those of us who care for our democracy, our environment and our children’s healthy and productive future still remember and love. We must learn to think seven generations ahead, like our First Nations did, before we vote on October 19. Choose wisely. Don’t wast your vote on an excellent candidate if that vote can, just this year, elect the most likely candidate to defeat Harper. With luck none of us after this October will have to hold our nose with one hand and make our X with the other – ever again!

More and more Canadians are catching on every day. Let’s keep our political leaders’ feet to the fire until they get it done.