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The provisional government of Iraq convened for the first time today. Granted limited powers, at first, this council will, with luck, form the basis of democratic rule in a beleaguered country for the first time in decades... if we play our cards right.

Good luck, councillors. The whole world is keeping their fingers crossed.

Kids these days? Well, one kid showed there is a future for courage and compassion. A few days ago, 13-year-old Sam Bernard took on two sick teenagers who were intent on hanging a cat by its neck until it was dead. Not only did the kid defy intimidation to take the cat out of its noose and give it mouth to mouth, he refused to be silenced (despite threats from these sicko youths to "kill every cat in the neighbourhood", and took the matter to the RCMP. Now the sicko youths (one of whom derailed a VIA train) face animal cruelty charges.

It's easy to look at the unrepentant sicko youths (one of whom is described as having "low intelligence" -- ya think?) and throw up your hands at the future of the world. But decent people, including one decent and very brave boy, faced them down, and will keep facing them down. As long as we have decent people, we will always have hope.

A month ago, Canadians learned, the hard way, that Alberta's economy is not just about oil when we witnessed the economic fallout of a single cow being diagnosed with the BSC ("Mad Cow") virus. Quite rightly, everyone went into controlled panic mode, the American border was closed to Canadian beef, and scientists madly culled the herds and did tests to see if any other examples of the disease existed.

It's now a month later, and the scientists say that Canada is clean. American scientists, by and large, agree that Canada is clean. But the American restriction on Canadian beef remain in place.

The stumbling block(s) appears to be Japan and South Korea which don't seem to trust our scientists. They say that if American restrictions on Canadian beef are dropped, they will impose restrictions on American beef entering into their countries. America, unwilling to put a gun to its head a pull the trigger, is understandably a little leery about relaxing the restrictions just yet.

As a result we have the very odd situation of Canadian and Albertan officials consulting with Japanese officials to try and get an American ban lifted. So far, we've had no luck, and Canadian frustration is mounting. As Canadian Agricultural Minister Lyle VanClief noted, the Japanese weren't "clear on (their) concerns, quite frankly." Unless the Japanese have specific objections to our scientific findings, why seek to maintain the ban? Does Japan have a beef industry of its own to defend? Does the country have the space for it?

Actually, Japan does have a beef industry, and it's quite protectionist over it.

If, as we say, our cattle no longer presents any BSC risk to the rest of the world (unlike Japan), and if it looks as though Japan's objections are being made out of protectionism more than reasonable doubts over our scientific expertise, it may be time to gently show Japan that we mean business. Unfortunately, some of the actions we might take (say, restrictions on Japanese auto imports) would end up hurting ourselves (a large number of Japanese cars are built in North America), but we don't want things to go too far.

First of all, let's ban the importation of Japanese beef. They won't take ours, we won't take theirs. That's a perfectly reasonable step. And if that doesn't work, ramp things up a bit further. Restrictions on energy exports to Japan would probably be as far as we would go, as that would be quite a hefty sword to wield...

Interestingly enough, for all of this, and for SARS, Canada's economy continues to perform very well, although Tim Horton's Donuts have downsized their creations to 1964 levels...

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