March 2004 Archives

March 31, 2004

Don at Revolutionary Moderation is running a contest that should make things more interesting once Paul Martin gets around to dropping the writ. Your chances of winning depend on your ability to predict how often and how badly people can screw up. You can read about it at his blog, or in the cross-post at the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog. I'm already working on my entry. After all, I know a lot about screwing up. In fact, I've been told I'm an expert.

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File-sharing doesn't kill CD sales, study finds

A study of file-sharing's effects on music sales says on-line music trading appears to have had little part in the recent slide in CD sales.

For the study, released Monday, researchers at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina tracked music downloads over 17 weeks in 2002, matching data on file transfers with actual market performance of the songs and albums being downloaded. Even high levels of file-swapping seemed to translate into an effect on album sales that was "statistically indistinguishable from zero," they wrote.

"We find that file sharing has only had a limited effect on record sales," the study's authors wrote. "While downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing."
The study, conducted by Harvard Business School associate professor Felix Oberholzer and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, associate professor Koleman Strumpf, used logs from two OpenNap servers in late 2002 to observe about 1.75-million downloads over their 17-week sample period.
Even in the most pessimistic version of their model, they found that it would take about 5,000 downloads to displace sales of just one physical CD, the authors wrote. Despite the huge scale of downloading worldwide, that would be only a tiny contribution to the overall slide in album sales over the past several years, they said.

Moreover, their data seemed to show that downloads could even have a slight positive effect on the sales of the top albums, the researchers said.

This comes on the same day as this:
The Federal Court of Canada ruled Wednesday that Internet Service Providers can't be forced to turn over identities of suspected music swappers, throwing a roadblock in the path of the recording industry's efforts to crack down on the practice.

In a 31-page decision, Judge Konrad von Finckenstein said the Canadian Recording Industry Association hasn't made its case for ordering ISPs to turn over the names of 29 suspected so-called music uploaders, people who offer music for others to download.

The industry had wanted the names so that it could launch lawsuits against individuals it claims are high-volume Internet music swappers.

As part of his ruling, the judge found that simply downloading a song or having a file available on peer-to-peer software such as Kazaa doesn't constitute copyright infringement.

I'd like to say that I hope this will put an end to this nonsense, but I doubt it. The people who run the entertainment industry seem to be slow learners.

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Oh, woe is Paul

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The curse of the new leader

With a very important national election looming, the Paul Martin government's political approach is under the microscope. Observers query its posture toward the Liberal legacy. Why, they wonder, after 10 years of sound rule, does Paul Martin not run on the record? Why does he not low-bridge the sponsorship scandal and play up the past decade's accomplishments? Why is he not, as former prime minister Jean Chrétien phrased it yesterday in London, "defending institutions"?

Canada's political history offers a clue. In abstract terms, the Liberal challenge is to retain power through a change in leadership. There have been nine previous such attempts at the federal level, seven of which ended in failure.

Why is the task so difficult? Mainly because the attempt to renew a government through a change in leadership usually begins in political adversity. After all, if the party weren't facing trouble, the incumbent leader would stay on and fight the next election. Liberals in the past couple of years have been understandably anxious at the prospect of seeking a fourth mandate in the face of a wave of political change that has now defeated five provincial governments from B.C. to Newfoundland and Labrador. They chose renewal.

As with all life's changes, the process of renewing an incumbent party and government carries with it a troubling measure of pain. The retirement of one leader and race for succession opens wounds. Cabinet shuffling, riding-level battles, program and personnel changes in the civil service and party apparatus -- these are often agonizing parts of the renewal process.

The article was written by John Duffy, described in the editorial blurb that introduces the piece as a "Liberal strategist". I'm glad it doesn't describe him as an historian because his historical analogies don't work.

The wave of political change at the provincial level is at least in part due to new financial realities at that level as the provinces struggle to cope with the reduction in transfer payments implemented by none other than Paul Martin when he was finance minister.

As for the rest, it misrepresents the recent transition. Jean Chrétien didn't resign because he was defeated or was unpopular with the voters, he retired because he was old. Were he five years younger I suspect he might have gone for a fourth mandate and won it. Paul Martin inherited a Liberal party that was in good shape in the polls, though it's true he inherited some liabilities in terms of the sponsorship scandal. If that's enough to cost him the next election it will be because he's rushed into it without dealing with the mess properly. His own impatience is hardly his predecessor's fault.

As for the "wounds" opened through "[c]abinet shuffling, riding-level battles, program and personnel changes in the civil service and party apparatus", has Duffy not been reading the news? Team Martin seems to be going out of its way to alienate and even ostracize anyone who wasn't a 100% Martin loyalist prior to his coronation. It wasn't Chrétien who abruptly froze wages and advancement in the civil service (except for the hand-picked elite who directly serve cabinet ministers, of course). Chrétien didn't force an almost wholesale change in cabinet which sent experienced ministers to the back benches. And it wasn't Chrétien's people who have played the games at the riding level that Paul Wells has documented so well. (Update: here's just one example. Browse the February and March archives for more.)

Trying to present Paul Martin as "cursed" is just so much political spin. Most of his "wounds" are self-inflicted and this article counts as another one. Martin spent years putting together a massive political machine that has demonstrated nothing short of ruthlessness in undermining his old boss and everyone associated with him. Now John Duffy wants to present him as some kind of martyr. See the anti-Chrétien and the burden he labours under.

Oh, please.

Link via Warren Kinsella (March 31st entry).

Update 6:53 pm:
OK, on reflection I whizzed by the reason for Jean Chrétien stepping down a little quickly back there. It's true that within the Liberal party there was a movement to force him out. But the strongest push for that came from the Martin camp and to the extent that this dissension in the ranks became a public issue and one that affected Chrétien's ability to govern, Team Martin bears as much responsibility as anyone else, if not more. To try to garner sympathy for Martin because he has to deal with the aftermath of his own actions, particularly when he seems so determined to make the aftermath even worse, is just silly.

And Paul Wells also responded to this Duffy article with more nuance and more detailed analysis than I was able to muster.

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The Invisible Men

While the nation focused on Richard Clarke's allegations last week, CIA director George Tenet let slip other revelations in his testimony to the 9-11 Commission, admissions that sharpen the contours of the shadowy intelligence practice called "extraordinary rendition."

The policy, codified in the late 1980s to allow U.S. law enforcement to apprehend wanted men in lawless states like Lebanon during its civil war, has emerged in recent years as one of America's key counterterrorism tools, and has now expanded in scope to include the transfer of terrorism suspects by U.S. intelligence agents to foreign countries for interrogation - and, say some insiders, torture prohibited inside this nation's borders.

This Village Voice article is subtitled "Canadian inquiry may reveal CIA secrets on outsourcing torture" in reference to the judicial inquiry into the imprisonment and torture of Maher Arar. The piece provides some background into the policy of rendition and suggests that in the past, some people merely suspected of terrorism have simply been 'disappeared'.
"Plenty of renditions were not to the U.S. We just facilitated the renditions," said one former CIA official about terrorism suspects captured by the agency in the 1990s. "We'd arrest them and send them to Jordan or Egypt, and they'd disappear." The men were not brought to the U.S., said the former official, "because the evidence against them would never hold up in court."
George Tenet repeated the conclusion to the 9-11 Commission. "We were taking terrorists off the street," he said, "but the threat level persisted."

The practice of rendition is thought to have increased dramatically since 9-11, and in addition to suspects being handed over to foreign countries, detainees have also been sent to U.S. bases overseas, like Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Tenet said rendition remains one of the principal strategies employed against the threat of international terrorism.

And he added that so-called "liaison partners" - foreign intelligence services - were essential to the CIA's effectiveness.

"Although liaison services are an essential part of an aggressive posture against terrorism," Tenet said, "their ability to share is sometimes hindered by their countries' own legal protections and open societies. These limitations include restrictions on rendering terrorists to countries that permit capital punishment."

Maher Arar may be just the 'tip of the iceberg'. That inquiry should get a lot attention from Americans as well as Canadians.
... American observers have an interest in what kind of intelligence causes authorities here to send suspects off to prisons in countries that permit the use of torture. "Who knows whether some of these people [we detained] were dissidents?" said the former CIA official. "Intelligence is imprecise. You can't go on a hunch and torture someone."
But it appears that's exactly what happened.

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March 30, 2004

A story with a moral

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In 2002 a Canadian engineering company called Acres International was found guilty of "bribing the former head of a [World Bank] water project in the impoverished mountain kingdom of Lesotho". The individual who accepted the bribes is in jail for 12 years while Acres was fined $4.2 million, a fine which was reduced to $2.8 million on appeal (they had originally been found guilty on a second count which was overturned). The conviction has led the World Bank to consider barring the company from any future World Bank-financed projects, an option which will soon be under consideration by the bank's sanction committee.

Acres president Tony Hylton said it was too soon to guess what the committee's decision will be.

"The company's gone through an awful lot over the last couple of years with the Lesotho incident and what we're looking to do is co-operate as fully as we possibly can with the World Bank and try to move forward and get this behind us as soon as possible," he said.
The company had protested its innocence and suggested the Lesotho court was unfit to handle such a complex case.

"We think that findings were somewhat flawed," Mr. Hylton said yesterday, "but we've nevertheless agreed to pay the fine as part of our commitment to being a good corporate citizen. We just want to move on with it. We've paid a heavy price and what we're trying to do is take an industry lead in promoting honest and ethical business practices."

Acres has put in place a new "business integrity management system," he said.

They've agreed to pay the fine, be a good corporate citizen and put in place a business integrity management system. Well then, that should fix things up.

Lesotho went to great trouble and expense to prosecute this case which involved several corrupt officials and other multi-national companies. There are additional investigations in progress. In fact the World Bank has praised the tiny African country for its courage and determination. The legal proceedings have cost about $6 million so far (admittedly a rough conversion on my part) but you'd think the fine levied against Acres would at least help to defray those costs. But apparently not.

Acres International, the Canadian engineering company convicted of bribing the former chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, seems to be intent on wriggling out of paying a R13 million fine imposed on it for its crimes in the mountain kingdom.

The company's disingenuous bid to pay the fine in instalments compounds its offence, and its tardiness in paying up is shaming and shows contempt for a legal process that has won international acclaim.

Since the World Bank was so full of praise, maybe it'll help?
Despite promises of support, the World Bank has not delivered.
So Lesotho is getting squeezed by both sides.

And how does our government feel about all this?

As far as the federal government is concerned, Acres is a company in good standing. Export Development Canada, a federal Crown corporation that subsidizes exports, refuses to debar Acres, and the Canadian International Development Agency, a federal aid agency that on its own has provided Acres and its affiliates with more than $100-million over the years, only last month affirmed that no penalties were called for: "We will continue to fulfil existing contractual agreements with Acres and will consider new proposals when submitted."

...the very person who deposited Acres' bribes into the Swiss bank account of a corrupt foreign official, and who enriched himself in the process, was himself a Canadian federal official, appointed by the federal Cabinet and abusing his official capacity as Canada's honorary consul to Lesotho. The government's evident reaction: "So what?"

There's a lesson to be learned here. The individual who accepted the bribes is in jail. The impoverished country that dared to prosecute, at great expense, its own corrupt officials and large multi-national companies is having trouble paying the court costs. The corporation found guilty of corruption has the moral and financial support of its own government and feels it's in a strong enough position to negotiate how it's going to pay a penalty assessed against it in a court of law.

When in doubt, incorporate.

Hat tip to Bourque for that last link. Google did the rest.

Updated to add a link I missed -- to back up the court costs.

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The wheel grinds slowly

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Judge to interview potential Arar witnesses

The federal inquiry into the Maher Arar case will start looking at potential witnesses late next month.

Justice Dennis O'Connor said Monday that he will hear applications for standing at the inquiry beginning April 29.
Actual testimony isn't expected to begin until June 14.

If PM the PM pushes ahead with his spring election, the Arar case likely won't come into play. But this still has the potential to be the scandal of the year. It looks like the arrest and imprisonment of two other men are very much a part of this case, and it remains to be seen whether the raid on journalist Juliet O'Neill's home will be part of the proceedings.
On three separate occasions, an RCMP officer hauled away a total of seven garbage bags from Ms. O'Neill's house, then analyzed the contents. Officers followed her when she left home to go to work. They scoured the Internet for evidence of illicit e-mails. The Truth Verification Section of the RCMP's Behavioural Sciences Branch was certainly busy. (No, we did not make up that name.)

And what truth was so important that the constitutional right to free speech -- which includes a free press and, by extension, the right to keep secret one's confidential sources -- should be treated so shabbily? It all had to do with the disappearance and torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen whom the United States had deported to Syria. Ms. O'Neill had written a story citing a leaked document that contained incriminating information that Mr. Arar had allegedly provided under torture. (Mr. Arar later said, credibly, that he confessed only because he was being tortured. The Canadian government has since called a public inquiry into Canada's role in his ordeal.) Under the Security of Information Act, both the person who gave that document to Ms. O'Neill and Ms. O'Neill herself could be charged. Yet her story in no way put Canada's security at risk.

The Truth Verification Section of the RCMP's Behavioural Sciences Branch? M'kay. That name alone may require an inquiry to explain.

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March 29, 2004

OK, this is funny

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The White House Props Department. Check out the T-shirts.

Via TalkLeft.

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An interesting question

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Chris at See Why? is taking things apart and thinking about them in different ways, as he often does.

Here's a question I've asked before, but not seen discussed elsewhere let alone answered: How would we have felt if Iran had intervened in 2003 on a humanitarian pretext to depose Saddam Hussein?

I have to confess, as much as I dislike Saddam Hussein, and as much as I'm attracted to the idea that Iraq's sovereignty couldn't have counted for much under Saddam Hussein, I don't think I would have been very happy about it. The fact is, I don't trust Iran's leaders. I wouldn't have trusted their intentions, or had much faith in their ability to do much good in Iraq (beyond, of course, getting rid of Saddam Hussein).

If any pro-war types are reading this, I'm curious: Do you share my reaction? If you do, do you notice that your dislike for Saddam Huseein can survive undiminished even as you frown at the thought of a humanitarian intervention to depose him?

There's more here.

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Reframing the issue

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Europe, U.S. Diverge on How to Fight Terrorism

While President Bush was giving an address earlier this month describing the war on terrorism as "not a figure of speech" but "an inescapable calling of our generation," the official in charge of overseeing Europe's counterterrorism efforts was offering a far different assessment.

"Europe is not at war," Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the European Union, told a German newspaper. "We have to energetically oppose terrorism, but we mustn't change the way we live."

Between those two declarations lies a gap that reflects the different modern histories, cultures and approaches to terrorism of the United States and Europe, according to politicians and analysts on the continent.

The Madrid train bombings that killed 190 rush-hour commuters on March 11 -- the first major attack on European soil believed to have been carried out by Islamic extremists connected to the al Qaeda network -- has compelled European nations to reassess how they fight terrorism. At a summit that ended Friday, EU leaders announced several measures designed to increase cooperation among their police forces and intelligence services. But the attacks have not led to a fundamental shift in Europe's approach.

A couple of weeks ago, following the elections in Spain and the excoriation of Spanish voters from some corners, one of the things I suggested was that the bombings in Madrid might just galvanize the European community to slough off Bush's War on Terror™ rhetoric in favour of a more nuanced approach. This WaPo article suggests that the European attitude towards terrorism was always different but now the EU is taking more initiative to deal with the problem in their own manner. Close enough for blogging?
European officials say they recognize that the diffuse nature of Islamic terrorism -- small cells of militants operating autonomously -- is a new phenomenon that requires better cross-border cooperation to combat. They also concede that Islamic radicals are using European cities as staging grounds for attacks elsewhere, beginning with the Sept. 11 strikes, which were carried out largely by an al Qaeda cell in Hamburg. Several countries, notably Britain, have adopted tough anti-terrorism legislation and rounded up hundreds of suspected operatives. But many officials acknowledge they have been slow to implement steps to deal with terrorism on a transnational level.
Just as in the United States, where the CIA and FBI have been reluctant to share resources and information, intelligence and law enforcement agencies in Europe have jealously guarded their own sources, methods and information. While they may cooperate with each other and with their U.S. counterparts on a case-by-case basis, analysts say there is no overall strategy or protocol. And many fear that the appointment of a new "anti-terrorism czar" -- one of a package of new measures EU leaders announced Thursday -- could add another layer of bureaucracy without improving effectiveness.

"It is a defining moment for the lack of definition," said Timothy Garton Ash, an international relations analyst at Oxford University. "We have yet to see a really coherent European response."

It sounds like they may be closer to that coherent response. When they talk about an "anti-terrorism czar" it raises concerns that civil liberties will be jeopardized, but with a less hysterical approach they may end up with a better balance between security and privacy rights. Maybe they'll teach us North Americans something yet.

Link via The Agonist.

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March 28, 2004

Trouble brewing

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From Aljazeera (via Needlenose):

Iraq's top Shia cleric may issue a religious edict declaring the June transfer of power to Iraqis illegal if an interim constitution article is not amended, a close aide has said.

"If article 61 of the interim constitution is not changed, Imam (Ayat Allah Ali) Sistani may issue a fatwa declaring illegitimate all those (Iraqis) to whom power is transferred in June," said Ayat Allah Muhammad Baqir al-Mohri in comments published on Saturday.

Sistani "may also order the Iraqi people to protest or carry out major popular demonstrations and sit-ins in all Iraqi cities," added Mohri.

Swopa at Needlenose explains:
...Article 61 outlines the schedule for elections and the drafting of a permanent constitution. It contains a clause enabling a two-thirds majority in any three provinces -- which, not coincidentally, is the number of provinces in the Kurdish region of Iraq -- to block any permanent constitution.

Sistani objected to this clause before the TAL was signed. By giving the Kurds a veto over any draft constitution they don't like, Article 61 creates a loophole that could make the "interim" law permanent ... exactly the kind of democracy-blocking technicality that the Shiite clerics have been fearing.

There's a potential for serious fireworks here. A large proportion of the Shia population will listen to Sistani. And he's a moderate compared to many of the Shiite clerics.

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March 27, 2004

I'm putting in my notice

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In the near future I'll be moving to a new domain and converting to Movable Type. In due course I'll be importing all the posts from this site and, if the plugin I've found works as advertised, I'll be importing all the Haloscan comments too. What I don't have automated solutions for are links and trackbacks.

I'll be notifying all the bloggers who have kindly listed this blog on their rolls and providing a new link, but that won't take care of links to individual posts. I hate link rot. I'm thinking I can use Technorati to see who's linked to what, track down the new archival links, and send the appropriate blogger all the info necessary to make the correction. I'm not obsessive, I'm just a detail person. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Is there a policy and procedure manual for bloggers who move? Would that be like trying to herd cats?

I won't be deleting this site right away so things won't blow up immediately. When I make the move official, I'll leave a post up here on the front page with a link to the new digs, disable the comments and trackbacks here, take my site meter and go. But I'll leave this place standing for a while before I give blogspot back their disk space.

But first I have to figure out how Movable Type works and get it where I want it. It's always something. Posting may be light for a while but not necessarily non-existent.

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Is there a Plan B?

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Shorter John Manley: Canada isn't capable of making its own way in the world as an independent country so we should give up trying, find out what George Bush wants us to do and just do it.

I'm not sure how else to interpret Manley's comments once you strip out the obligatory "we can agree to disagree on certain things" qualification.

Politicians like Manley, Stephen Harper, Belinda Stronach and for that matter, Paul Martin, continue to discuss American policy as if it's carved in stone and as if it couldn't possibly be mistaken. That seems ironic when you consider that roughly half of Americans don't feel that way.

George Bush won the presidency with a minority of the popular vote. Recent polls suggest that the upcoming election could be just as close -- twenty-first century America is a deeply polarized country. With Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 commission this past week serving as a flashpoint, it looks as though a critical mass of Americans may be coming to the realization that the Bush administration's security policies are flawed. BMD may well be a non-starter or at the very least, get pushed to the back burner in a nation that is only now coming to grips with the fact that the threat it faces may not be the threat that Bush has been defending against.

Meanwhile the Bush administration's economic policies have seen the loss of over two million jobs in less than four years. Outsourcing in particular and free trade in general are bound to become more politicized issues which raises the possibility of a backlash of protectionism. It's a funny thing about backlashes, they tend to strike out blindly and catch people in a cross fire. Whether Canada is a friend, an ally, a trading partner or a client state, the fact remains that in the eyes of American politicians, Canadians aren't at the top of their list of priorities. We don't vote for them; we can't guarantee them job security.

On the surface the deep integration strategy looks comforting. It spares us the difficult job of making our own way in the world. And from that standpoint, I'm not sure whether comments like Manley's should make me feel disappointed or insulted.

But more importantly, just because the US is the last superpower doesn't mean it can't go wildly off the mark. Iraq is but one example. The refusal to take global warming seriously is another while the tendency to treat oil like it's in never-ending supply when it's obviously not is yet another. The American economy looks to be increasingly in trouble while ours remains in better shape. Why do we want to be more like them, again?

Instead of sitting on our hands waiting to find out what the White House thinks we should do, maybe we should try and come up with our own answers. Aside from being the grown up thing to do, it just might be the smart thing too.

Props: Orcinus for the Reuters link, Just a Bump in the Beltway for the Guardian and LA Times links. If you're not registered at the LAT, the Bump post quotes extensively from that article.

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March 25, 2004

Lies, damned lies and polls

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Margaret Wente's column in today's Globe and Mail makes much of a recent poll taken in Iraq.

As for popularity, the Americans in Iraq are doing better than the Liberals are in Canada. Fifty-one per cent of Iraqis think the Americans should get out now or soon. But 39 per cent think they should stick around.
As it happens, ABC News published a fairly extensive article on the poll Wente refers to and provides a breakdown on some of those numbers. It turns out that only 30% of Arab Iraqis think the American troops should stay. The 39% figure Wente quotes is arrived at because 82% of Iraqi Kurds support the continued presence of the Americans. For those not familiar with the ethnic breakdown in Iraq, the vast majority of Kurds live in the northern part of Iraq in what was already a semi-autonomous zone outside of Saddam Hussein's control. They didn't get the crap bombed out of them in the invasion. As for the 30%, they may well just be thinking that the Iraqi security forces aren't yet in a position to maintain order.

More from Wente:

The war is also more popular over there than it is here. Almost half (49 per cent) of those questioned believe the American and British invasion of their country was right, compared to 39 per cent who say it was wrong.
87% of Iraqi Kurds felt the invasion was right -- they've been asking for the US to liberate them for years. Only 40% of Arab Iraqis said the invasion was right. And 48% of the Arabs said that the invasion humiliated Iraq. Not Hussein, Iraq.

I could go on, but you get the idea. It was one opinion poll conducted in a country that has been traumatized first by a cruel and repressive dictator coupled with crippling sanctions, then by Shock and Awe™ and since then by an outbreak of lawlessness coupled with an occupation that has been incompetently handled and, by all accounts, at times needlessly cruel. If you were an Iraqi who had been accustomed to keeping his thoughts to himself out of fear of repercussions, how likely is it that you would shade your answers or even lie outright?

Wente was always in support of the invasion and even now, while she grudgingly admits that the Bush administration lied and handled the post-invasion badly, she's trying to come up with some kind of retroactive justification. That doesn't fly. The invasion was illegal and was undertaken under false pretenses. The fact that it may, and I emphasize may, end up with some positive outcomes to put up against the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and wounded, doesn't retroactively change an action that was morally and legally wrong, into something that's now morally and legally right. If you do something for the wrong reasons, and accidentally end up with a good result, it doesn't retroactively make your reasons right.

One more thing. In passing Wente makes reference to the fact that while there were anti-war protests in many parts of the world on the anniversary of the invasion, there were no protests in Iraq. Would you walk around downtown Baghdad these days drawing attention to yourself? I'm not sure I would. Anti-war demonstrations aren't usually held in the middle of the battlefield.

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Quote of the day

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From Bourque:

... Tory insider Tim Powers says there's a report that Chuck Guite is driving a white Bronco down the Queensway with Alfonso Gagliano in the back seat and the OPP following closely ...

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Analysis Paralysis

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Paul Martin then:

Under Paul Martin as finance minister, the Liberals rolled out a series of polls and focus groups in the months, and even weeks, before a budget to check, recheck and check a final time whether the entire budget, and specific items within it, would fly with the right target groups.

Nothing suggests that this mode of governing has not been carried into the Prime Minister's Office now that Mr. Martin occupies it. We can assume, therefore, that every major item in the budget had been tested and retested by the Liberals' favourite pollsters and focus-group organizers. Such is the nature, if not of contemporary government, then of this government.

Paul Martin now:
The Liberal government's internal opinion surveys in the wake of the federal budget have given it new confidence to call an election this spring, Ottawa sources say.
A "perception analysis," carried out as Finance Minister Ralph Goodale delivered his budget speech on Tuesday, produced results that surpassed expectations, one senior source said. In the analysis, members offocus groups were given small monitors. While they listened to the speech, they rated their reaction to every section of the budget.

"His numbers were very, very good," the source said.

The focus groups gave top marks to the government-accountability package, the tax break for police and military personnel on dangerous missions, and the measures to make education more affordable, the source said.

Another Liberal official argued that the response from the Conservative Party and the New Democrats, who complained about a lack of tax cuts and debt repayment respectively, positions the Liberals well, in the middle of the spectrum.

"These are battle lines which favour us."

There's the real story of the budget that Finance Minister Ralph Goodale laid on us on Tuesday. It was scientifically designed to be as inoffensive as possible to as a broad a swath of the middle as possible, while leaving those on the margins at either side to twist in the wind. Politicized to the nth degree.

I've seen a number of people, both professional pundits and bloggers, express disappointment or surprise that there was no grand vision here. It doesn't surprise me a bit. Paul Martin's not a grand vision kind of guy. His pattern throughout his tenure as Finance Minister was to pay lip service to Liberal Values™ while implementing policies that demonstrate a vision that didn't really extend beyond expunging every last bit of red ink from the financial statements. The merits of paying down the debt vs. investing in social programs would be a worthy debate to have, but with Martin we'll never get to have it. It makes for lousy TV and doesn't lend itself to the kind of simple questions that work well on opinion polls. So the role of government in our society continues to change, some would say erode, while Martin continues to speak in platitudes. Agree with his policies or not, but we're not getting the government that was advertised.

Jean Chrétien may not be the intellect or the policy wonk that his successor is, but he was much more shrewd -- he had good instincts about what he could sell to Canadian voters. Without the Little Guy at the helm, Martin doesn't seem to be able to steer the ship without first measuring what each little turn of the wheel will do to him in the next poll. So if the government appears to be stalled in so many ways, if vacancies in the Supreme Court, the Senate and the diplomatic corps go unfilled, and if catchy mottos like "the politics of achievement" continue to substitute for a lack of specific policy, that's why. The folks who put the Strategy in Earnscliffe Strategy Group haven't had a chance yet to fan out, leak all the possibilities and measure the exact impact of every single decision that needs to be taken. Government by trial balloon takes time.

If you're looking for a career change and you're any good with numbers, I'd suggest you consider becoming a pollster. As long as Paul Martin is in Ottawa, it appears it'll be a growth industry. And that's all the grand vision I can find in the Martin government's first budget.

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March 24, 2004

Oregon county bans all marriage

In a new twist in the battle over same-sex marriage roiling the United States, a county in Oregon has banned all marriages -- gay and heterosexual -- until the state decides who can and who cannot wed.

The last marriage licenses were handed out in Benton County at 4 p.m. local time (7:00 p.m. EST) Tuesday. As of Wednesday, officials in the county of 79,000 people will begin telling couples applying for licenses to go elsewhere until the gay marriage debate is settled.

"It may seem odd," Benton County Commissioner Linda Modrell told Reuters in a telephone interview, but "we need to treat everyone in our county equally."

I guess that's one way to do it.

Hat tip to Chris at See Why?

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March 23, 2004

It's a dirty job...

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One of the most unenviable jobs in the blogosphere belongs to yankeedoodle at Today in Iraq. Every day he blogs every attack or combat action he can find, every significant news or op-ed piece related to the war that he can turn up and always, the stories from the local media about American casualties. He started last June and his blog provides an ongoing day-to-day history of the war. His stamina must be phenomenal. I think in his place I'd have given up or gone nuts long ago.

Today, as he occasionally does, he stepped outside the role of historian to offer what he calls a Rant of the Day and it demonstrates as much as anything could, his motivation and his spirit. Here are the last few paragraphs.

We don't need a commission to investigate the so-called "intelligence failures" as the Bush administration hyped an unprovoked war. We need a criminal investigation with the objective of prosecuting the conspirators who devised Bush's War and ensuring they receive the full criminal sanctions provided by the law. We need to do more than hold them accountable at the ballot box. We need to do this for a variety of reasons.

First, because the bastards deserve it.

Second, because we've been down this road with this gang before. Had we properly punished the Iran-Contra conspirators, the current nest of neocon-men would have thought a bit more about the consequences of their actions. Deterrence works.

Finally, we need to punish these criminals because that is the only way we can hope to remove the filthy stain they have left on our collective honor.

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I still don't see a difference

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Today's Globe and Mail has more details on the insider dealings surrounding the "secret privatization campaign at the government transmission company [Hydro One]". The most ludicrous item is probably the $105,000 paid for a single email containing advice of the same kind and quality you can get for free at blogs and discussion boards across the internet, where free market ideologues are always happy to share their views.

Despite the high price tag, the e-mail didn't contain overeloquent prose and had a lengthy incoherent passage.

Mr. Gourley, a former Ontario deputy finance minister, contended that government firms put taxpayer dollars "at risk unnecessarily! Ministries and crown corporations invest taxpayer dollars without the discipline required by investors on lenders who merely look to Government (i.e. other taxpayers) to backstop the investments through government guarantees regardless of the merit or worth of the investment."

And if that doesn't get you going, consider Paul Rhodes, who received $335,237 for a total of 81 pages of work.
A key part of Mr. Rhodes's work was a memo, frequently rewritten by Hydro One executives, claiming the transmission utility was such a terrible business that the province had to quickly sell it to investors, rather than risk big losses by continuing to own it.

Although Mr. Rhodes has no utility experience, he claimed in one memo written in early 2000 that Hydro One's prospects were so dire it faced a "death spiral," an unusual assessment for a monopoly business that is often prized by investors. There has been no public indication of a financial collapse at Hydro One since then.

"The best way to avoid the withering of [Hydro One] and the resultant political liability is through the timely divestment of the corporation," he wrote.

Emphasis added. Don't confuse Hydro One with Ontario Power Generation which is definitely in financial trouble. But there's no indication of that with regards to Hydro One, which is undoubtedly why it made an attractive target for privatization - because it held the promise of high profits for the favoured few. Another player in this scam scheme was Tom Long.
Under the consulting contract for one of the firms, Monitor Group, Mr. Long co-wrote a memo, with the former director of policy in Mr. Harris's office, John Toogood, advising Ms. Clitheroe to deliberately underprice the stock to be sold by the utility by hundreds of millions of dollars to make the privatization successful for investors.

According to the memo, Tory insiders were more concerned with the returns to be earned by shareholders in Hydro One after privatization than ensuring that taxpayers received top dollar for the asset the government was selling.

There's more in the article if you can stomach it, including the fact that Hydro One executives paid large sums of money to be told who to suck up to and how to do it effectively. Put simply, the plan was to make Hydro One look like a poorer and less promising operation than it was to justify lowering the price in the IPO and fattening the wallets of a few insiders at the expense of the rest of us.

As I pointed out in a previous post, a number of the individuals involved in this were prominent in the Conservative leadership campaigns of Tony Clement and Belinda Stronach. There may be a new front man but odds are a lot of the backroom players will be the same. Let's remember that when the Conservatives try to tell us that only Liberals are capable of this kind of corruption.

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March 22, 2004

Big hairy deal

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Liberals introduce new whistleblower legislation

In the wake of the sponsorship scandal, the federal government introduced new whistleblower legislation Monday to protect public service employees who report wrongdoing in government departments and Crown corporations.

"This important bill is the central point of the government's firm commitment to ensure transparency, accountability, financial accountability and ethics," said Privy Council president Denis Coderre.

We'll be the judge of that, Denis.
Employees of cabinet ministers along with public servants working in areas of national security, including the RCMP, CSIS, Communications Security Establishment and National Defence, are not covered under the new legislation.
Excuse me? As we speak there's an investigation under way to try and establish whether there was political involvement, including cabinet level involvement, in the AdScam mess. Why are employees of cabinet ministers exempted from this?

I also find it interesting that people who work for the spooks aren't covered on the eve of an inquiry into the Arar case.

The proposed law would also create a Public Service Integrity Commissioner to investigate complaints and allegations.

The appointed commissioner would report to a cabinet minister rather than to Parliament, which is troubling for bureaucrats.

Great. How does this differ from having Ethics Counsellor Howard "The Human Rubber Stamp" Wilson report directly to the Prime Minister? It means that one person at a high level in the elected party has control over the process.

Not impressed.

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Microsoft: €497 million EU fine too big

Microsoft Corp. will be fined €497 million (US$610 million) by the European Commission on Wednesday for abusing its monopoly in computer operating systems, a person close to the company said Monday.

The fine, which was set late last week after settlement talks with Microsoft broke down, was backed by national competition regulators from the 15 Union member states Monday.
The Commission is expected to rule on Wednesday that Microsoft abused the monopoly position of its Windows operating system twice. By withholding vital information about Windows from makers of software for servers, the firm gained an unfair advantage over them in the market for server software; it also competed unfairly by bundling its Media Player software into Windows, the ruling is expected to find.

The commission is expected to announce remedies to restore competition in these markets, requiring Microsoft to sell two versions of Windows to PC makers in Europe, one of them with Media Player stripped out.

It would also have to share more secret Windows code to allow rival server software makers to compete with Microsoft server software more fairly, according to people close to the case. Computer servers drive networks of PCs.

Some analysts said these remedies are more important than the fine in terms of making an impact on Microsoft, because the company has over $50 billion in cash reserves and has already set some of that aside for covering legal costs.

Couldn't happen to a nicer monopoly.

Microsoft, of course, plans to appeal.

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In today's Globe and Mail, Norm Spector has a column in which he offers advice to Stephen Harper as the newly chosen leader of the Conservative Party. The one item that caught my eye was this:

Beware of getting too close to George W. Bush. You should criticize his shifting explanations for war as the equivocations of old-style politics, something Paul Martin has perfected.
It's too late for that now.

Despite the feel good spin from the White House, recent events suggest that the world isn't any safer because of the invasion of Iraq. It's certainly not safer for Iraqis (props to Melanie). As we approach July 1st, the date when the CPA is to turn control over to the interim Iraqi government, the situation will only become more explosive.

The most influential man in Iraq isn't George Bush, it's an Iranian cleric named al-Sistani who exerts a major influence on Iraqi Shi'ite Muslims, 60% of Iraq's population. Al-Sistani rejects the interim constitution which is supposed to be the law of the land until a real Iraqi government can be elected next year and proceed to draft a real constitution. Without his support, the smooth transition that the White House hopes for could instead end up as a civil war. Time and again he's thwarted American plans in Iraq because one word from him can send tens of thousands of Iraqis into the streets. He's done it before and there's no guarantee that next time it will be a peaceful demonstration.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the talk of the town is a man named Richard Clarke, a top White House official under four presidents and Bush's counterterrorism coordinator until his resignation 13 months ago. Clarke has gone public with accusations that Bush ignored warnings from the outgoing Clinton administration about the danger that Al Qaeda represented and downgraded American efforts to combat terrorism prior to 9/11. Even more damning is Clarke's accusation that immediately after the attack on the Twin Towers, Bush and his senior cabinet officials insisted on trying to blame Saddam Hussein for the attack despite all the arguments from intelligence officials, including Clarke himself, that Iraq had nothing to do with it.

No doubt the Republican PR machine will go into overdrive to smear Clarke and to assure Americans that Bush always made the fight against terrorism a priority, and always recognized that Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan, not Iraq. But in a way, the damage is already done. To even enter the debate is to further acknowledge that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11 and that the invasion of Iraq was a distraction from the War on Terror™. Whether Bush will suffer substantial political damage among those voters who are still with him remains to be seen. But in Canada, where a majority of Canadians have already expressed approval of the decision to stay out of the Iraq war, this can only further discredit Bush's policy.

Which brings me back to Stephen Harper. In the run-up to the war Harper was extremely vocal in his support for Canadian participation and displayed nothing short of contempt for the government's decision to stay out of it. While he seems to have dialed back the rhetoric, he continues to hold to that position. None of the revelations of the past year that have undermined Bush's public justification for the war seem to have made any impression on him.

With the Liberals intent on hanging their hat on Paul Martin's popularity in the upcoming election, it looks like we're going to see a campaign that's as much about leaders as about issues. That means that Harper himself becomes as much an issue as Paul Martin.

Richard Clarke is due to testify before the 9/11 commission in Washington this week, a commission that will undoubtedly attract more and more attention as the July deadline for its report approaches and as the pre-election atmosphere in the States heats up. Between the virtual fireworks in DC and the literal fireworks in Iraq it's certain that the whole issue of the war will remain very much in the public eye. And with that, Harper's position on the war will remain an issue his political opponents can use against him.

If Harper backs away from that position now, he becomes subject to the same accusations of cynicism and hypocricy he wants to be able to throw at Paul Martin. This is one piece of baggage Harper will continue to have to carry.

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March 21, 2004

A tale for our times

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Once upon a time there was a truck driver named Ahmad Abou El-Maati. In August of 2001, while doing a run that took him across the US border, El-Maati was grilled by border guards because they discovered "a schematic map of Ottawa marking government buildings and nuclear research facilities" in his 18-wheeler. His employer would subsequently write a letter to document the fact that the previous driver of the rig had a route in Ottawa, but it appears that was largely ignored in the events that followed.

Canadian law enforcement agents took an interest in El-Maati and the RCMP subsequently searched several locations for explosives, maps and other indications that he was involved in terrorist activity. No evidence was found or at least, none has been forthcoming. It's important to note, I guess, that between the discovery of the original map and the searches and subsequent events, 9/11 happened.

In November of 2001 El-Maati travelled to Syria where he was immediately taken into custody. He was tortured until he volunteered to say whatever the Syrians wanted to hear to make it stop. In consultation with his torturers, the story that he decided on was that he planned to use a truck full of explosives to blow up the Canadian Parliament buildings. The confession El-Maati subsequently signed to avoid further torture was duly supplied to Canadian officials. They took it at face value and acted on the assumption that there was an Al-Qaeda cell operating in Ottawa that intended to attack government targets.

And that, believe it or not, is why Maher Arar, a man El-Maati barely knew, was arrested in New York, deported to Syria and imprisoned and tortured for ten months. Arar, you see, once bumped into El-Maati in a parking lot and was also an acquaintance of Abdullah Almalki, another "known associate" of El-Maati's. There was no plot to blow up targets in Ottawa, no Al-Qaeda cell which involved any of these three men and therefore, no reason at all to imprison any of them.

That's a pretty cursory review of events and I'm taking at face value what the media considers as speculation at this point, but it's the story I'm going with for now. The only statements that contradict it in all the months this has been dragging on have come from unnamed "officials" who have hinted darkly that Arar was a terrorist without ever offering proof. The closest we came to documented evidence of a real plot and real terrorists was in the documents that were leaked to journalist Juliet O'Neill. It seems likely now that all the "evidence" those documents contained is tainted because it was the product of torture.

Canadian officials have continued to maintain that it's their American counterparts who bear responsibility for Arar's deportation and since American agencies like the CIA have a history of what they call "extraordinary renditions", it has something of the ring of truth about it. But there was no American involvement in the detention and torture of El-Maati. So I have some questions.

Why did Syria arrest El-Maati and why did he remain in custody for over two years? (He was released earlier this year.)

How did the results of the Syrian interrogations end up in the possession of the RCMP and CSIS and why would this be taken seriously given Syria's reputation for torture?

Why did Canadian agencies identify additional individuals as suspects based solely, it seems, on evidence produced by torture which is well-known to be unreliable?

Was this unreliable evidence the only factor in the subsequent arrest and torture of Abdullah Almalki who was released last week after nearly two years in custody?

Again, why did Syria arrest Almaki? On a request from Canada?

Where was Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham while all of this was going on?

And finally: Canadians have been told repeatedly that there have been reports of intended terrorist attacks on Canada. This threat has been used to justify the kinds of events recounted here as well as legislation that threatens privacy and civil rights. But when details on the threats have been requested the answer has been that details can't be revealed because to do so would threaten national security. Why should we believe that?

Ottawa, we have a problem. The inquiry into the Arar case needs to answer all of these questions.

This post relies largely on two Globe and Mail articles. One is from January of this year and the second is from yesterday. A hat tip to Katherine R at Obsidian Wings for the second link. Katherine has posted extensively on the Arar case.

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March 20, 2004

Happy anniversary

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It's the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and who better to comment than an Iraqi. Here's the last line of Riverbend's post at Baghdad Burning.

I hope someone feels safer, because we certainly don't.
Go read the rest.

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The Empire strikes back. Badly.

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Liberal MPs confront Fraser

Auditor-General Sheila Fraser flushed deep red yesterday under grilling by Liberal MPs, who suggested her sponsorship program findings fed a public "misperception" that Liberals funnelled money "out the back door" into friendly ad firms.

Liberal MP Dennis Mills (Toronto Danforth) called it "the big lie" fuelled by her report.

I thought this was far more interesting than Alfonso Gagliano's testimony, though I wonder if it was Gagliano's weak performance that prompted it. So far, with Paul "Hell or High Water" Martin leading the charge, the Liberals have styled themselves as bold avengers seeking the truth and willing to let the chips fall where they may. So far, the people being grilled and those being fired have been civil servants and Crown corporate appointees with the latter owing their positions to Jean Chrétien.

Gagliano was the first high level elected official to appear and his testimony has done nothing to resolve things. He neither accepted responsibility, which might have provided his political peers with a potential scapegoat, nor convincingly deflected the blame away from the politicians. If there's one thing that everyone seems to agree on about Gagliano's testimony, it's that it wasn't convincing.

The budget is scheduled to be tabled next week and if Team Martin wants to stick to its original schedule then the election call would come soon after. But AdScam is dragging on and dominating the media and the polls aren't looking any better than they did a week ago. This little tussle with Fraser makes it look like the Libs have decided that it's time to play defense, something Team Martin has been very poor at so far. They haven't improved.

But MP Beth Phinney (Hamilton Mountain) suggested yesterday Fraser jumped to conclusions, without enough documentation, about how the $100 million was spent.

Maybe, Phinney said, it's "like the HRDC billion-dollar boondoggle, which turned out to be $600 or something they couldn't find the paper for. There wasn't a billion dollars lost, but the opposition still uses those quotes."

"Is this $100 million what you people, as the auditors, can't justify?" she asked. "Further paperwork may be able to justify it, but there isn't paperwork there, as you've said? Is it absolutely a fact that $100 million has disappeared illegally into somebody's pocket?"

"No," Fraser replied, "that was not a finding of the audit."

"That's certainly what the public thinks," Phinney said.

Fraser's report indicated that $100 million was the potential exposure in the scandal. If the public, the media or the opposition jumped to the conclusion that the entire hundred mill was ripped off, that's hardly Fraser's problem. And Phinney's charge that Fraser "jumped to conclusions" because of a lack of documentation is laughable. The lack of documentation is the point.

As for Phinney's suggestion that this is suddenly going to look like a tempest in a teapot, I don't think so. There's a story in today's Toronto Star in which a former Groupaction executive, a named source this time, says that the agency received $1.5 million for a job that was worth, at most, $50,000. He's already given a statement to the RCMP and indicated that, among other things, the 300 hours of his time that was billed against the job was bogus. He was never anywhere near this project. This is not a non-scandal.

Mills said he had difficulty understanding how an auditor could "judge the appropriateness or inappropriateness of a political intervention on a file."

"There's a misperception in the Canadian public that $100 million went out the back door, and that is factually incorrect," Mills said.

Yo! Dennis! The facts and the degree of political intervention are exactly what you and your fellow MPs are supposed to be establishing. Fraser did her job already.

Earlier today, Stephen Harper won a first ballot victory to become the leader of the Conservative Party. He now resumes his position as leader of the official opposition and his party, no longer distracted by a leadership campaign, can concentrate all its energy on making the Liberals look vulnerable. As if the Liberals weren't doing a good job of that all by themselves.

When is that election again?

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RIP Mitchell Sharp

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Mitchell Sharp dies at 92

Mitchell Sharp, a federal civil servant who was a powerful Liberal cabinet minister under two prime ministers and adviser to former prime minister Jean Chrétien, died yesterday. He was 92.

The elder statesman, who refused to slow down in his old age and worked as an adviser to Mr. Chrétien for the past decade for a dollar a year, died after one month in hospital. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer after breaking his collarbone in a fall in his home on Feb. 22.

That Globe and Mail piece provides a summary of a long life of public service.

And this post at Pol·Spy says it pretty well.

Pol·Spy frequently skewers politicos from every party — we’re an equal opportunity offender. There are times, however, when we lay down our pens out of respect. This is one of those times. Sharp lived a life of service to his country, and for that all Canadians should be thankful regardless of their political leanings.

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Poor Alfonso. So misunderstood.

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Former Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano has been getting a pretty rough ride in the media and the blogosphere these past few days. People seem only too quick to assume the worst when he claims that he knew nothing about the sponsorship scandal that saw as much as $100 million funnelled through his department into a black hole of patronage. Maybe we should give the guy a break. Obviously his mistake was in being too trusting of ministry employees and too concerned with the damage he might do to office morale if he second guessed them.

How else do you explain that even though he became concerned enough to order an internal audit in 2000, and as a former accountant had the skills and experience required to read and interpret an audit report, he accepted the verbal summary given to him by a (conveniently unnamed) ministry auditor to the effect that there were only administrative problems. Nothing serious. Don't worry, be happy. Far better to risk the taxpayers' money and his own reputation than to actually read the audit and make it appear that he didn't accept everything he was told at face value. We can't have that. What a guy, eh?

It must be tough to be a federal cabinet minister, going in to work every day and giving one's best impression of these guys.

He's also been quite generous in providing grist for the cartoonists' mill.

And if all that isn't enough, he may well prove to be a boon to the legal profession. Should he ever go to court over this, he may provide his legal team with the opportunity to set precedent with his plea: Not guilty on the grounds that I couldn't possibly pull off something this slick when I obviously couldn't find my butt with both hands.

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Via Suburban Guerrilla

Victorious Galloway demands inquiry

The controversial anti-war MP George Galloway demanded a government inquiry today after a US newspaper which falsely accused him of accepting $10m from Saddam Hussein apologised and paid undisclosed damages.

The article in the Christian Science Monitor was based on documents given to a journalist by an Iraqi general. But tests showed that the documents, dated between 1992 and 1993, were in fact only a few months old.

Mr Galloway, who was expelled by Labour after remarks interpreted as inciting Arabs to fight British troops, said the forged documents were evidence of a dirty tricks campaign against him and other anti-war campaigners around the world. "A crime has been committed against an elected British member of parliament," said Mr Galloway.

"The general who passed on these documents is known. I want the British embassy to launch an investigation to find out why he did it, on whose behalf, and what other documents he has forged. They are very elaborate documents and were not cooked up in someone's kitchen. It is a systematic conspiracy."

While I can sympathize with your anger, sir, the fact that the forgery was so easy to expose does suggest that the conspiracy wasn't that sophisticated. Given their track record, I'd start the investigation with the Bush administration. You'll have to get in line, though.
Mr Galloway also launched high court libel proceedings against the Daily Telegraph after it made similar claims last April that he was in the pay of Saddam Hussein. The action is ongoing and is due to be heard in the high court in November, according to the MP's spokesman.
I'd strongly recommend to whomever is organizing the Daily Telegraph's defense that they not have publisher Conrad Black testify. He's a bit overloaded right now and hasn't been doing very well in front of judges lately.

How often do I get a chance to take at a shot at both George Bush and Conrad Black in the same post? I couldn't resist this one.

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March 19, 2004

And then there were three

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Same-sex marriage is legal: Quebec's top court

Quebec homosexuals have the right to marry and the traditional definition of marriage is discriminatory and unjustified, the province's top court said Friday.

The Quebec Court of Appeal upheld a lower-court ruling in 2002 that same-sex marriage should be legal.

Quebec now joins Ontario and British Columbia in effectively legalizing same-sex marriage. It's pretty much a done deal.

By the time Parliament gets around to doing whatever it's going to do, reversing this decision would mean stripping rights from countless couples in the three provinces who are already married. I just don't see it happening.

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March 18, 2004

I'd like to see that

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Earlier today I pointed to some comments Stephen Harper made concerning the NDP and the threat they pose to Canada. I wasn't the only one who took issue with Harper's remarks. Matt Fletcher, James at and Andrew Spicer all thought Harper's remarks were worthy of comment, as did NDP leader Jack Layton himself. But Layton's taken it one step further and challenged Harper to a one on one debate.

“It’s time for Stephen Harper to tell Canadians why he finds peace or equality so bad,” said Layton. “Given his derision of Ms. Stronach for not debating, I’m sure he’d welcome a debate on why fighting climate change, building better public health care or stronger communities are bad for the future of Canada.”
“This is a test of leadership for Stephen Harper,” said Layton. “If he truly believes that fighting climate change, building homecare or staying out of wars fought on a fiction are the end of Canada, then he has the obligation to explain to Canadians why.”
Layton also worked in a not so subtle reminder that he has some experience managing public money, and quite a bit of it. His years of experience as a Toronto city councillor saw him involved with a budget that's larger than some provinces.

So far the only response is this:

MP James Moore, a Harper backer, dismissed Layton's claim and blew off talk of a one-on-one debate, saying Harper will be debating all party leaders in the Commons and in an election campaign expected in the coming weeks.
I think Layton should take a page out of the Conservatives' playbook at his next public appearance and set up an empty chair with Harper's name on it. It was perfectly acceptable when Harper and Clement wanted to poke fun at Belinda Stronach for refusing to debate. Sauce, goose, chicken. Oops, I meant gander, of course.

A tip of the hat to the babble discussion board for the Halifax Live link.

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This is more like it

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Joe Conason on Spain. It's all good but this is the conclusion.

Neither ideological inconsistency nor moral cowardice explains why the Spanish electorate dumped the discredited conservatives. The Bush administration’s reckless drive to war in Iraq, against majority dissent in Spain and elsewhere, undermined support for the United States. Since then, people around the world have been confirmed in their worst suspicions about the purported causes of that war. Now we are discovering the destructive impact of the lies told by our own leaders and diplomats, about Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction and cooperation with Al Qaeda.

The neoconservative strategy in Iraq has proved wrong in almost every particular. The costs of the war have been far greater than predicted, while the benefits remain in grave doubt. Meanwhile the Western alliance continues to decline, as does the moral reputation of the United States.

We certainly have enemies who are working to destroy us. We must use every instrument at our disposal to destroy them instead, including diplomacy, intelligence, foreign assistance and—sometimes—military force. Before their next assault, however, we should ask ourselves why we have made it so easy for our enemies to separate us from our friends.

Via Tristero.

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Be vewy, vewy qwiet

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MPs quietly extend own benefits

Government and opposition MPs took only minutes last week to pass a bill that will extend Parliament's medical insurance plan to retired MPs five years earlier than it would otherwise be available.

The legislation will allow 50-year-old former MPs to receive topped-up medical and hospital benefits until they qualify for the normal parliamentary retirement plan that kicks in at age 55.

In a deal reached earlier in private, all parties agreed to treat the bill as though it had received first reading in the usual process, second reading, committee hearings, committee report stage, and third and final reading in only 15 minutes, according to the time notations in Hansard.

The bill did not leave the Commons floor and no committee hearings took place.

Isn't it amazing how a group of people who normally squabble about anything and everything can come together when there's a really important issue to consider? It's inspiring actually.

Jacques Saada, the government House leader, claimed that this bill just puts MPs on an "equal footing with public servants". Yeah, right.

But James Infantino, a pensions and disability officer with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the chief union for rank-and-file government employees, pointed out that public servants who leave the government can only continue to take part in their plan if they are drawing a government pension. The only pension available for a retired public servant at age 50 is a reduced allowance that depletes the eventual pension benefits by 5% a year as long as the allowance is being drawn.

"It's more generous than the public service plan," said Mr. Infantino, who broke out laughing when told of Mr. Saada's claim that the bill puts MPs on the same footing as public servants.

At least someone got some amusement out of it. Wondering why we're only hearing about it now?
The brief Commons debate on the bill took place immediately after Question Period last Friday, when members of the parliamentary press gallery who would normally be inside the chamber were interviewing Cabinet ministers and MPs outside the Commons.
Timing is everything.
The bill must still be passed by the Senate.
Hahahahahahaha *cough gasp*...I think I just hurt myself.

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Quick! Look frightened!

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The Mouth from Massachusetts, er, that is, American ambassador Paul Cellucci is worried about us. It seems we're not frightened enough.

Montreal, Toronto or Windsor could be the target of terrorist attacks, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci warned.

The train bombs in Madrid that killed 201 people are a reminder that "no one is immune from these attacks and everyone should be vigilant and stand on guard," Cellucci said in a speech to the University of Western Ontario on Wednesday.
Cellucci said he's encouraged by Prime Minister Paul Martin's request for a review of the country's defence policy. He also praised Canada for its troop commitment to Afghanistan and its financial contributions to Iraq.

Cellucci said although the RCMP, the Canadians Security Intelligence Service and the military understand the seriousness of the terrorist threat, Canadian citizens do not express enough concern.

Could someone explain to me how merely expressing concern helps make us safer? I do realize that encouraging fear in the population tends to help elect extreme, right-wing governments...oh, I get it.

In honour of Paul Cellucci, I've added a link to the sidebar that will show the current terror alert level. Isn't he cute?

Updated because I spelled Massachusetts wrong. Have I mentioned how much I dislike Paul Cellucci?

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Steady, Stephen, you're almost there

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NDP as bad as separatists - Harper

Stephen Harper is calling on Prime Minister Paul Martin to rule out co-operation with the New Democrats in the next Parliament -- a situation the Conservative leadership front-runner predicts is a "real possibility" and as dangerous a prospect for Canada as any deal with the Bloc Quebecois.
Harper said the NDP opposes free trade, enterprise and balanced budgets: "In their own way, they are capable of doing as much damage to Canada as the Bloc Quebecois, when put inside a governing coalition. I challenge Paul Martin to state unequivocally that he would not form a coalition with the NDP."
Excuse me, Stephen, but did you just say that the NDP opposes balanced budgets? So if I read their platform it's going to include a promise to go into debt? Come hell or high water? Oh, sorry. That's a Martinism.

The intent here, of course, is to paint the NDP as being completely irresponsible with taxpayers' dollars because they're a bunch of *gasp* lefties. But recent evidence from right here in Ontario would suggest that people who self-identify as fiscal conservatives can be thoroughly incompetent managers, run deficits and lie about it, and be just as likely to engage in patronage and cronyism as anyone else.

I'd say Jack Layton deserves congratulations for raising the profile of the NDP. He's obviously got Harper a little nervous. The New Democrats, by the way, debunk Harper's claims in the same article -- with facts instead of overblown rhetoric.

Layton's staff also compiled statistics claiming that provincial New Democratic governments have run deficits 59 per cent of their years in office compared with 65 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives and 85 per cent for the Liberals at the provincial and federal level.

"The NDP has had a record of coming in and mopping up after terrible deficits have been left by Conservative administrations," Layton said.

With the Conservative leadership race in the home stretch and Harper acknowledged as the front runner, he's been working hard to present a calm, controlled, moderate face to the public. I guess the pressure built up inside and he just had to let loose.

This election's going to be fun in a weird, surrealistic sort of way.

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March 17, 2004

Paging David Pratt

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Canada warned of 'untested' defence system

A former senior Pentagon official has offered a blunt warning to the Canadian government: It is considering signing on to a missile defence system that's untested, over budget and likely to fuel the global arms race.

Philip Coyle, an assistant defence secretary in the Clinton administration, also said there's no doubt the defence system President George W. Bush wants to begin deploying by the end of this year will lead to the militarization of space.

And anyone who feels Canadian participation will lead to better protection for Canada misunderstands the system, he said.

When Jack Layton raises concerns like this, our defense minister accuses him of fear mongering. Coyle may well be a partisan Democrat, but former assistant defense secretaries generally take issues of defense seriously.
"I've heard some people in the government of Canada seem to think they will be left behind if they don't sign on," Coyle said in an interview.

"They needn't worry about that. This is going to take so long that those who are worried about being left behind aren't going to be in office when the technology matures anyway."
"I think there is a misunderstanding in Canada that somehow the United States is going to defend it with missile defences," Coyle said. "That's not in the cards, at least not today, and it may never be."

Translation: the damn thing doesn't work.
Darren Gibb, a spokesperson for Defence Minister David Pratt, said the minister is looking for calm and reasoned debate in Canada, absent a number of myths that have sprung up surrounding the system.
Horse hockey. Pratt's response to these concerns has amounted to: don't worry, be happy, we know what we're doing.
He said politicians in Canada who believe the system will be the first step toward weaponization of space are correct, and one published study shows it would take 1,600 satellites to defend against one intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

"Once you have those satellites up in space, you can use them to attack other satellites," he said.

"You will automatically have war-in-space capability as soon as the space platforms for weapons defence are established."

The ball's in your court, Mr. Pratt. Let's have some calm and reasoned debate.

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As part of my continuing war on people who are only too happy to smear the Spanish for availing themselves of their democratic rights, I give you David Brooks:

The Spanish government was conducting policies in Afghanistan and Iraq that Al Qaeda found objectionable. A group linked to Al Qaeda murdered 200 Spaniards, claiming that the bombing was punishment for those policies. Some significant percentage of the Spanish electorate was mobilized after the massacre to shift the course of the campaign, throw out the old government and replace it with one whose policies are more to Al Qaeda's liking.
If David Brooks is so familiar with Al Qaeda's likes and dislikes that he can tell which political parties AQ prefers, even in foreign countries, then it's difficult to believe he's writing for the New York Times and not working for the CIA. Or the Office of Special Plans. Oh, wait. They shut that down. And by the way, Dave, I haven't heard Zapatero say anything about withdrawing from Afghanistan. Does that tell you anything?
What is the Spanish word for appeasement?
What's the English word for distorting the truth to score rhetorical points?
There are millions of Americans, in and out of government, who believe the swing Spanish voters are shamefully trying to seek a separate peace in the war on terror.
There are millions of people all over the world who believe that the Bush administration has made a proper mess of the War on Terror™ by allowing itself to be distracted by the invasion of Iraq. A lot of them are American. Where's Osama bin Laden? And why is life for everyone in Afghanistan outside of Kabul so miserable?
I'm resisting that conclusion, because I don't know what mix of issues swung the Spanish election during those final days. But I do know that reversing course in the wake of a terrorist attack is inexcusable. I don't care what the policy is. You do not give terrorists the chance to think that their methods work. You do not give them the chance to celebrate victories. When you do that, you make the world a more dangerous place, for others and probably for yourself.
So no matter how corrupt an incumbent government may be, how much it lies, and how badly it's stumbled in the fight against terrorism, tossing it out in favour of a government that might do a better job would be something to be avoided? Keeping the incompetent in office would be a blow against terrorism while searching for a more competent alternative would be a victory for the terrorists? Don't look at me that way, that's what you just said. But I guess that's good news for George Bush.
We can be pretty sure now that this will not be the last of the election-eve massacres. Al Qaeda will regard Spain as a splendid triumph. After all, how often have murderers altered a democratic election? And having done it once, why stop now? Why should they not now massacre Italians, Poles, Americans and Brits?
Of course terrorism has affected elections in the past and will again in the future. The key question is how the elections are affected. Do you tie yourself up in knots trying to anticipate what the terrorists might want you to do so you can do the opposite? No matter how silly, distasteful or disastrous that choice might be? Is anything and everything the terrorists might want automatically wrong just because terrorists want it? Now who's letting terrorism dictate his choices?

Brooks goes on to somehow make the argument that if Afghanistan and Iraq are now destroyed, it's Spain's fault. Seriously. He then argues that Europe and the US will be farther apart than ever. Here's a clue, Dave: Bush started that process a long time ago. Somewhere in there he finds some room to blame the American administration for not doing more to sell Europe on the importance of the liberation of Iraq. No kidding. The liberation of Iraq isn't what they were selling and now it just sounds like a retroactive spin job. And that "crude cowboy stereotype", Dave? There's a reason for that. It's the image he seems to have cultivated.

And finally, here's his big finish:

This is a watershed event. It will change how Al Qaeda thinks about the world. It will change how Europeans see the world. It will constrain American policy for years to come.
It may very well be a watershed event. Europe may just take the lead in fighting terror because the US has blown it. As for constraining American policy, is that necessarily a bad thing? Why is the burden of proof still on everyone else when so much of America's policy has turned out to be based on things that simply weren't true, and so much of what it's done has been done so incompetently? Iraq's a mess, Dave, and it ain't Spain's fault.

There's nothing in the events of the last week or so that wasn't entirely predictable and trying to blame it on Spanish swing voters is utterly ridiculous.

Hat tip to Chris at See Why? for the link. If you're still with me, sorry but I've built up so much snark reading some of this stuff that I had to vent. I don't really feel any better but I think I'm done now.

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March 16, 2004

Compare and contrast

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Graham urges countries to balance security and respect for human rights

Canada is calling on the international community to strike a balance between the desire for more security in the fight against terrorism and the need to guarantee people's rights and freedoms.

In a speech Tuesday at the UN Commission on Human Rights, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham told delegates that "if we disregard human rights, we will only be creating new sources of injustice, thus sowing the seeds of future violence."

"We must work together to ensure that counterterrorism measures respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and comply with international law - if we are to succeed in our aim of making this a safer world."

Sounds great, Bill.

Ottawa must explain its handling of senior Haitian security official: lawyer

A senior Haitian security official wanted on drug charges in the United States made a brief court appearance Tuesday as his lawyer fumed about the way the case was being handled.

Oriel Jean has never been charged with anything before and the United States is using "trumped up" charges to try to "pump" him for information, said defence lawyer Guidy Mamann. Mamann said officials were digging for dirt on the former Haitian government of Jean Bertrand Aristide.
Jean was denied legal counsel for two days over the weekend and he was interrogated by an American drug enforcement agent without a lawyer present, said Mamann.

I don't know anything about Oriel Jean. He may very well be a bad actor. But since when do we deny the accused access to a lawyer while allowing foreign law enforcement officials to question them?

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I told you so

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This time it's Mark Steyn. See the post immediately below this one if you're wondering what I mean.

The Spanish dishonoured their dead

"When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, naturally they will like the strong horse." So said Osama bin Laden in his final video appearance two-and-a-half years ago. But even the late Osama might have been surprised to see the Spanish people, invited to choose between a strong horse and a weak horse, opt to make their general election an exercise in mass self-gelding.

To be sure, there are all kinds of John Kerry-esque footnoted nuances to Sunday's stark numbers. One sympathises with those electors reported to be angry at the government's pathetic insistence, in the face of the emerging evidence, that Thursday's attack was the work of Eta, when it was obviously the jihad boys. One's sympathy, however, disappears with their decision to vote for a party committed to disengaging from the war against the jihadi. As Margaret Thatcher would have said: "This is no time to go wobbly, Manuel." But they did. And no one will remember the footnotes, the qualifications, the background - just the final score: terrorists toppled a European government.

Emphasis added. That's just wrong. What the new Spanish government has done is to stop pretending that the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with "the war against the jihadi".

As for the terrorists toppling a European government, wrong again. That government put itself on thin ice when it went against the wishes of the vast majority of it's own population. And that government finished itself off when it played politics with the bombings to a point where even their own police officials were threatening to resign because of the way the attacks were being misrepresented to the Spanish people.

The rest of the piece is just an excuse to continue to pretend that the war in Iraq has something to do with the War on Terror™, to bash Europe, to bash socialism and to bash whatever other "usual suspects" Steyn can squeeze in.

So far I think the only people who have dishonoured Spain's dead are those particular politicians who attempted to deceive their own citizens and people who write columns like this one.

Hat tip to Atrios for the Beautiful Horizons link.

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Let the smear campaign begin

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Updated. Please see below.*

Shame on Spain

It must be said: Spanish voters have allowed a small band of terrorists to dictate the outcome of their national elections. It is a shameful downfall, and very surprising: That is not how democracies react when they are attacked by fanatics. Americans were visibly united and hardened by Sept. 11; the Italians overcame deep political differences in their determination to crush the Red Brigades; Israeli cohesion has only been increased by decades of terrorism. That is the normal reaction of democratic political communities based on respect for the will of many when they are threatened by the violent few.
The medium is Canada's Globe and Mail but who's the author?
Edward Luttwak is a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
A little googling will show that the Center for Strategic and International Studies is well connected with the American political and corporate establishment. This is the party line and the flacks and hacks are fanning out to get the newest meme in play.

A little over a year ago when France wasn't cooperating with the Bush effort to gain approval for the invasion of Iraq, the French people suddenly became "cheese eating surrender monkeys" and the congressional cafeteria in DC suddenly wasn't serving French fries anymore, it was serving Freedom fries. Anyone who dared to oppose American policy concerning Iraq was branded as "Chirac's bitch" even if that opposition was prinicipled and even if one's position differed significantly from the French position. Remember "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists"?

Luttwak lards his article with some historical facts which are probably accurate, but they're really irrelevant to his main point. The Spanish people dared to invoke their democratic right in a manner that Luttwak disapproves of. Suggesting that the Spaniards might have their own reasons for voting as they did, might view their own interests in a way that differs from the way the American policy establishment sees things, is something that just can't be considered. The only reason that Luttwak will allow for an opinion that differs from his own is that it's based on cowardice. The fact that Spain now has a governing party whose foreign policy is actually more in tune with the opinions of the majority of Spaniards, which even the hawks won't try and dispute, is beside the point. Even if the outcome of the election actually looks like democracy in action.

I expect you'll see a lot of these articles for a while. The details will differ but the basic point will be the same. The more that people like Luttwak bluster and toss insults around, the more inclined I am to think that the Spanish people did the right thing. If the opposition had something of substance to offer, why would they be so quick to resort to ad hominems?


In comments, Melanie, who's based in DC and would know better than I do, suggests that Luttwak doesn't necessarily represent the official CSIS position. (Not to be confused with Canada's CSIS.) My bad. Then Luttwak is freelancing here. Still I suspect he's not a lone actor but representing the talking points of a group that doesn't want you to allow for any nuance in assessing Spain's position. I'm still betting you'll see other pieces like this one.

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Department of tiresome memes II

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This time it was Stephen Harper, but we've heard this recently from both Belinda Stronach and Paul Martin. During the Conservative Party leadership debate on Sunday night Harper said

his priorities would be to lower taxes and create a competitive environment that would encourage more business to locate in Canada.
But Canada already is competitive.
Canada is the least costly place to conduct business compared with its major industrialized counterparts, despite the tempering impact of a sharply higher Canadian dollar, a new study said Wednesday.

Even with the 20-per-cent appreciation of the Canadian dollar against its U.S. counterpart last year, this country came in first in the professional services firm's ranking of 11 industrialized nations from North America and Europe as well as the Asia-Pacific region.

The study was conducted by KPMG, hardly a bunch of left wingnuts, and Canada has been placing first on it since about 1998 (sorry, dead tree source). Canada's federal corporate tax rate has been dropping steadily for years and for 2004 it sits at 21%. The corresponding American rate is 35%. You'd think that if chopping away at taxes was the be all and end all, whatever magic was supposed to happen would have started to show itself by now.

It's a hallmark of the market fundamentalist to insist that if following his advice hasn't had the desired effect then the obvious and only answer is to do even more of the same. One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome.

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March 15, 2004

Throughout the day I've been reading everyone from right wing warfloggers to anti-war liberals who argue that the outcome of the elections in Spain following the terrorist bombings in Madrid three days before somehow represents a victory for Al Qaeda. I don't see it. The main line of reasoning seems to be that the sudden reversal in fortunes of the incumbent party, which had supported the American invasion of Iraq, demonstrates to the terrorists that they can affect the outcome of elections, that they can have a significant impact on world events.

But they already knew that. In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, two countries have been invaded, the international community has been polarized, and the most powerful nation in the world has curtailed the civil liberties of its own citizens in an unprecedented fashion (even if we have reason to believe some of these things were the result of cynical opportunism in disguise). Even if much of the time it seems that Afghanistan has fallen off the radar, Iraq is in the news daily and has been for over a year. The terrorists hardly needed to attack Spain to confirm for themselves that they had been noticed.

And the implication that the Spaniards voted as they did out of fear seems wrong-headed too. In a way 9/11 represented a loss of innocence for Americans - it was the first time that international terrorism had struck seriously on American soil. But I think it's a mistake to project American reactions on to Europeans who have lived with not just the threat but the fact of terrorism for decades.

As William Rivers Pitt reminds us, it was only a matter of two days before the Spaniards were almost literally banging on the government's door demanding to know what their government knew about who had really committed these crimes. And by all accounts the election itself saw surprisingly high turn-out. That doesn't sound like a people cowering in their homes afraid of the next attack. It sounds like a people who were angry and defiant, a people demanding answers and demanding justice.

A governing party that had repudiated the wishes of its own electorate in joining the Coalition was itself repudiated. The voters felt that their leaders were playing politics with the fight against terrorism and they made it clear that was unacceptable. That sounds like a victory for democracy to me. As for the new governing party, it has already committed to fight terrorism but to do it in a more intelligent and self-critical manner. It has also shown a willingness to speak truth to power.

"The war in Iraq was a huge disaster, the occupation continues to be a huge disaster," said Zapatero on Spanish radio. "It only generated more violence and hatred and the lesson has to be taken."
And now the wider European community has been galvanized to take it's own approach to the fight, perhaps repudiating, or at least not waiting on, the American leadership that appears to have stumbled so badly. Just maybe, in the process, they'll begin to ask some of the difficult questions that have been glossed over in Bush's simplistic "they hate our freedoms" rhetoric. It isn't all clear sailing from here. The danger itself persists, along with the danger that civil liberties will be threatened and that a backlash against immigrants, and particularly against Muslims, will occur. But if the Spaniards and the rest of Europe have watched and learned from the Americans there's reason to hope that they'll find a better way.

The bombers in Madrid achieved their immediate goal: to spread death, destruction and terror. But given the behaviour of the Spanish people and the outcome of the election, I fail to see how it represents much in the way of a larger victory, be it strategic, moral or symbolic. Even if the defeat of the incumbent Spanish government was what the terrorists wanted, I'd submit that even terrorists can get one wrong now and then.

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March 14, 2004

Another day, another scandal

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No questions asked

Ottawa offered a Liberal-friendly company $55 million to create jobs in New Brunswick last year without knowing how the money would be spent, or even where.

The money was pledged to Irving Shipbuilding Inc., part of a web of companies owned by one of the wealthiest families in the world, New Brunswick's Irving clan.

Several cabinet ministers involved in setting up the special $55 million program were criticized last year for accepting Irving hospitality either on company jets or at the family's fishing lodge on the exclusive Restigouche River.

None of the federal money has been released yet, and both company and federal officials said this week that the tax dollars won't be used until more details are worked out. However, the terms of the special package created for the Irvings are unusual by almost any standard.

J.D. Irving Ltd. did not have to propose a single idea for how the tax dollars would be spent, or even tell the federal government what part of New Brunswick might benefit before the package was approved. The company did not have to tell the government how many jobs it hoped to create with the tax dollars. Nor did the company have to pledge one penny to the laid-off ship workers who were cited as justification for the federal spending.

The company had to promise only three things: that it would match the federal money, that it would prepare a defunct shipyard site for redevelopment, and that it wouldn't build any more ships in Saint John.

I'll bet the opposition has fun with this one. You may recall that five different cabinet ministers had to apologize last year for accepting free flights on the Irving corporate jet or free vacations at their fishing lodge. The suggestion at the time was that highly placed Liberals were just a bit too chummy with the Irvings. This certainly does nothing to dispel that impression.

The government official "designated to answer all questions about the Irving grant" is Stephen Heckbert.

Heckbert said the federal government didn't require job targets or a business plan because it didn't want to restrict the long-term potential of the program.

"It would be inappropriate to tie their hands with short-term targets," he said of the Irving package. "We want them to look at creating an industry with the same long-term impact as the shipyard."

The rich really are different than you and me. The government will give them money without "tying their hands". I guess all that stuff they teach in management courses about setting goals and "failing to plan is planning to fail" doesn't apply when it's taxpayers' money. We'll set the money aside, you come up with some paperwork that makes it look good and we'll open the vault. I have to admit this is the first time I've ever heard of back-dating a business plan.

And what do the Irvings have to say about all this?

Mary Keith, who is the spokesperson for J.D. Irving Ltd., said the government got all the accountability it needs when it made Irving promise to match any tax dollars it spends.
The arrogance is palpable.

Since none of the money has actually changed hands yet and given the current mood of the country, I suspect this project will be shot down. Works for me.

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March 13, 2004

Proposed Iraq briefing had Canada skeptical

Canadian officials say they challenged the U.S. to share secret intelligence showing that the Baghdad regime had dangerous weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war, but Washington failed to deliver, thus cementing the Chrétien government's resolve to stay out of the conflict.

Washington's refusal to share raw intelligence with its close ally seemed puzzling at the time, one senior official said. But a year later, the reason now seems clear: "They didn't have any evidence."

To paraphrase Jean Chrétien: when you don't have a proof, it's not a proof and it isn't proven.

This article quotes several Canadian officials to the effect that despite a concerted sales pitch by the Bush administration, our government was always left with the impression that the Americans were selling the sizzle, not the steak. Fortunately enough of our guys insisted on asking: but where's the beef?

In regards to Iraq, the official said, the best intelligence was not coming from Washington's spy satellite photos and intercepts of Iraqi military radio traffic, but rather from UN weapons inspectors on the ground.

"We couldn't preclude the possibility of weapons of mass destruction, but that's why we had the UN inspectors."

The UN-based Canadian said the Americans tried to depict the UN inspectors as "bumbling Inspector Clouseau characters."

In fact, it was the Americans who bumbled, he continued. It took nuclear weapons inspectors from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency "not more than a day and a half" to prove that documents purporting to show Iraq was buying uranium for warheads from Africa were forgeries.

As for Mr. Powell's presentation to the UN, "he went to the Security Council and unloaded a tractor trailer full of mythology. ..... All of it turned out not to be true."

A tractor trailer full of mythology? I wonder if he actually said something else and it was cleaned up for publication.

At the time, there were many who claimed that we should be lining up behind the Bush White House without question, that America as our friend and ally deserved to be taken on faith. But "shoot first and ask questions later" is a reflex reaction in a genuine emergency, not a sound foreign policy. I'm glad the folks in charge had sense enough to realize that when people's lives are on the line, skepticism is a good thing. I hope the Martin administration understands that too, but I reserve the right to remain skeptical.

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March 12, 2004

What's in a name?

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Somehow it seems appropriate that his last name is Champagne. It certainly describes the lifestyle he was living. Paul Champagne is the DND employee who was fired for "signing contracts without authorization" in the scandal that appears to be worth about $159 million. When the story first broke, the government was suing Hewlett Packard for the money. Now it seems the government is admitting that HP never saw the invoices. So who was cashing all those cheques made out to HP?

The latest CBC story includes a picture of the $1.1 million home that Champagne was living in on his "$62,000 - $77,000 a year salary". Nice work if you can get it.

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Are you seeing porn pictures in your browser when you'd rather not? Are icons spontaneously appearing on your desktop? Does your browser go places that you didn't send it to or change it's home page without being told?

I'm betting most folks out there know about viruses and run anti-virus software. Most of you probably know about firewalls too. But there still seems to be a lot of people who don't know about spyware, aka malware, aka browser hijackers. For reasons I won't go into, I've spent some time in the last day or two refreshing my memory on the various dangers and the various tools available to cope with them. For your surfing pleasure, I commend to you a few sites with useful information and tools, many of them free for the download.

Computer Cops

Jason's Toolbox - Browser Security Tests - If you check the menu at the left you'll see he also offers to test your email defenses.

Major Geeks - There's a lot of stuff here, but of particular interest are the Security and Spyware Tools sections.


If you're still using Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, well, that's up to you. But consider either the full version of Mozilla which includes both a browser and an email client, or Firefox for browsing and Thunderbird for email. All are free and all have a better reputation for security than Microsoft products. They're avaible at

Now you know what I've been up to while I could have been blogging. Be careful out there. (Cue Hill Street Blues theme song.)

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March 10, 2004

Money recovered in Defence scandal

A federal employee has been fired, the RCMP have been called in and forensic auditors are poring over the books amid suspicions the Defence Department was defrauded of tens of millions of dollars in computer hardware service and support contracts.

Defence Minister David Pratt said about $50 million of the money has been recovered by withholding payments to the company involved. The missing sum could be double that, though Pratt said it's too early to say. "We've got an aggressive strategy to recover the government's money," Pratt said.

Ah, it's only another 50 mill. What's the big deal?

I wonder does the government realize that you can get a professional designation in purchasing? Theoretically that would mean you can hire people who know how to purchase goods and services without having money, you know, like, disappear and stuff.

And by the way, that guy they fired? Why isn't he in jail? According to Pratt, "decisive action" was taken last April.

Update a few minutes later:

According to this CBC story, there's as much as $159 million involved and a battle brewing between the government and Hewlett Packard.

On Wednesday, Ottawa said it's taking legal action against the company, demanding the computer giant prove it provided the services or pay back the $159 million.

But in a statement, Hewlett Packard said its own investigation "has revealed the potential that an employee of DND and others unknown to HP engaged in fraudulent activity."

It added, "HP believes there is no merit to the government's demands, and intends to defend vigorously any claim, if brought."

Hewlett-Packard said it was asked by National Defence to manage a group of suppliers and often the nature of the work of these sub-contractors was kept secret from the company.

So let me get this straight. Ottawa hired HP to manage other companies, but declined to tell HP what the other companies were doing. And now Ottawa is surprised that things got out of control. It's just keeps getting better, doesn't it?

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Salon's Premium content normally requires a subscription or, at least, sitting through an ad to get a day pass. But in the case of this article they've made an exception and kudos to them for doing so. You can click on that link and just start reading.

Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, U.S. Air Force retired, spent the last three years of her career working in the office of the secretary of defense where she had an up-close and personal look at the way intelligence was politicized and misused as the Bush administration made its case for invading Iraq.

The talking points were a series of bulleted statements, written persuasively and in a convincing way, and superficially they seemed reasonable and rational. Saddam Hussein had gassed his neighbors, abused his people, and was continuing in that mode, becoming an imminently dangerous threat to his neighbors and to us -- except that none of his neighbors or Israel felt this was the case. Saddam Hussein had harbored al-Qaida operatives and offered and probably provided them with training facilities -- without mentioning that the suspected facilities were in the U.S./Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was pursuing and had WMD of the type that could be used by him, in conjunction with al-Qaida and other terrorists, to attack and damage American interests, Americans and America -- except the intelligence didn't really say that. Saddam Hussein had not been seriously weakened by war and sanctions and weekly bombings over the past 12 years, and in fact was plotting to hurt America and support anti-American activities, in part through his carrying on with terrorists -- although here the intelligence said the opposite. His support for the Palestinians and Arafat proved his terrorist connections, and basically, the time to act was now. This was the gist of the talking points, and it remained on message throughout the time I watched the points evolve.
There's a lot more and it's definitely worth a read.

Via The Agonist.

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I wish I'd said that

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Matt Fletcher at Living in a Society has a great post up on the subject of compulsory voting. He's against it, as I am. I particularly like this part:

Voting is the very last step in the democratic process. If people aren't going to be involved from the beggining it is beneficial to no one, least of all our democracy, to force them to be involved at the very end.
But go read the whole thing.

Democracy's messy and complicated. It can't be fixed with simple, top-down solutions.

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PM won't reveal attendees in Groupaction meeting

Despite accusations of “weaseling,” Prime Minister Paul Martin refused repeated demands during Question Period Tuesday that he reveal the names of cabinet ministers who met in 1998 with an advertising agency that is now facing a criminal investigation.
The ministers' meeting with Groupaction, which enjoyed close ties to the Liberals but has since fallen out of favour, has been called highly unusual by government insiders. No documents related to this meeting were included in the recent release of cabinet records to a parliamentary inquiry into the sponsorship and advertising scandal.

Government officials said Monday that the government is not planning to release other records from that cabinet committee, including documents related to items such as newspaper advertising, which Groupaction was discussing with ministers at the meeting.

On Tuesday, Mr. Martin ducked the repeated calls that he reveal the names of those who attended the meeting, insisting that he need do so only if a Commons committee investigating the sponsorship scandal approves a motion that he do so. But the opposition, noting that the committee is dominated by Liberals and that Mr. Martin has promised to leave no rock unturned, accused him of hypocrisy. Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe called for him to show leadership and not hide behind the nitty-gritty of Parliamentary procedure.

I'm a little confused though perhaps it's just my lack of understanding in these matters. Martin apparently stated that due process must be respected. How would it be a violation of due process for Martin to volunteer information? Is there a rule against that?

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March 9, 2004

So far she's got a perfect record

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Stronach wins tight race for riding nomination

Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach had her first victory on the road to public office, taking a tight win of the party's nomination in her Newmarket-Aurora riding.

Stronach, who has vowed to run for the House of Commons even if she loses the leadership race, faced off Tuesday night against in her home riding against former Canadian Alliance candidate Lois Brown.

Stronach won 512 of the 924 ballots that were cast Tuesday night. Brown won 412 ballots.

So she's past the first hurdle, though this part is interesting:
There had been acrimony between the two camps, with Brown's organizers accusing Stronach of trying to sabotage their computers, and Stronach complaining about Harper's interference in the riding.
No word yet on whether Brown plans to appeal. (That was a joke. Unless of course Brown actually appeals in which case I'm prescient.)

Now what happens when Stronach has to beat someone from another party?

Stronach will face Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, who won in the 2000 election with 67 per cent of the vote.
Uh oh.

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PM may call June vote as scandals subside

Prime Minister Paul Martin has ruled out a May election and is now expected to wait until at least June to head to the polls in hopes the Liberals will have recovered the public's confidence in the aftermath of the $100-million sponsorship corruption scandal.

Senior Liberal insiders told CanWest News Service the Martin-led government needs more time for hearings into the sponsorship scandal to demonstrate to Canadians the former finance minister did not know about the wrongdoing.

That's not as official as having Martin say it himself but he's always relied on leaks to prepare the ground for his announcements, especially the ones that may involve a little political damage. The story goes on to speculate about when we might actually vote but it's really just speculation. The opinion polls will tell us, since Martin has the luxury of being able to control the timing for another year or so.

This is hardly surprising when the rebound in the polls he hoped to get out of the Mad As Hell tour has left a little to be desired. 38% support for the Liberals means a minority government, something I'm sure Martin doesn't want anything to do with. Without a majority those free votes in the commons might actually mean something.

The story also mentions that Martin is looking forward to a meeting with Sheila Copps to smooth things over, but I guess at the time this story was put together neither Martin nor the CanWest News Service had heard about this little gem of a story:

Sheila Copps alleges there was more than just dirty tricks involved in her defeat for the Liberal nomination in her riding in Hamilton, Ont.-- there was criminal wrongdoing.

Speaking outside the House of Commons Tuesday, Copps said she believes that someone broke into her phone system over the weekend and changed an outgoing message that offered her supporters a ride to Saturday's nomination vote.

She says if supporters called her office on the morning of the vote to get a ride to the polls, the confusing message they got was, "Hi, Bob. Please leave a message."

Copps suggested she has suspicions on who was involved, but wouldn't name names.

"I think whoever tapped into our phone system obviously can be tracked by the police. And we can find out who was involved," Copps told CTV News.

"I think it was well planned, well orchestrated and it follows a pattern," she added.

Copps said she has asked the RCMP and Elections Canada to investigate the alleged break in.

Oh goodie, another RCMP investigation. The overtime bill at our national police force must be pretty awesome these days. And at the rate their case load is piling up, we might not vote until Christmas.

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March 8, 2004

Food for thought

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Lester Brown has been thinking and writing about agricultural and environmental issues for over four decades. In 1974 he founded the Worldwatch Institute. More recently, in 2001, he founded the Earth Policy Institute where he currently serves as president. Along the way he has written numerous books and reports that are highly thought of in the environmental movement, so much so that in 1986 the Library of Congress requested his writings.

The reason I'm taking pains to introduce Brown to you, and to myself, is that he's just gone on record with a pretty dire prediction.

The world is on the verge of a grain shortage that will destabilize poor countries, drive up food prices and send financial markets reeling, says a leading U.S. environmental thinker.
He says global grain production has been flat for the last eight years and has fallen short of demand for the last four years. China's grain production last year was 70 million tonnes below demand - a shortfall equal to Canada's total grain harvest.
Brown acknowledges that the "agricultural establishment" doesn't share his views but it wasn't so long ago that the establishment didn't wholly accept the theory of global warming either and that's one of the things that's contributing to the crisis Brown is predicting.
For every one-degree rise in average temperatures during the growing season there is a 10-per-cent decline in yields, says Brown.
Even if he's overstating the size of the shortfall in production, or understating the timeline, it would be enough that he has the trend right to suggest serious global repercussions. Even in first world nations decreased supply means rising prices. Since large quantities of grain are used in the production of meat and dairy products, that ham 'n' swiss on brown I had for lunch could soon be a luxury. And even in relatively wealthy societies such as Canada, there are plenty of folks who scrape by on minimum wage or social assistance. What happens to them when staples like bread, eggs and milk start to increase sharply in price?

But it's in the poorer countries where avoiding starvation is already a challenge that things would really become critical. The agricultural sectors in some of those countries have already been damaged in the rush to implement free markets. Their own farmers have left the land when they found they couldn't compete with the sudden influx of cheap imports from first world countries where agricultural production is more efficient and is still being subsidized by governments. What happens when those first world surpluses either disappear or go to customers who place higher bids for what are now precious commodities -- precious because they're scarce and in demand? Welcome to the era of globalization where unintended consequences run rampant.

The other major issue Brown raises is that of fresh water. He says that it takes a thousand tonnes of water to produce a tonne of grain.

Chinese farmers are pumping too much water from underground aquifers, reducing the water available for irrigation, he said.
He said the fastest-growing wheat markets in recent years have been North Africa and the Middle East, where virtually every country is running up against the limit of water supplies.
If global warming continues to affect yields, then more and more water will be required to produce the same amount of grain until the limits of available water are reached in more and more countries.

There's been far more talk than action on curbing human contributions to climate change. Wacky weather and the imminent extinction of arctic species haven't produced much except more lip service. Brown suggests that rising food prices and scarcity will change that as consumers themselves begin to demand action. But if Brown's even close in his predictions, there'll be tragic consequences long before any action we take will have any real effects.

I was in the mood for a change so I went looking for something to write about that wasn't politics. I found it. Now I think I'll make a sandwich while I can still afford it.

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Score one for Paul Wells

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PM demands brainstorming from bureaucrats

Prime Minister Paul Martin has pressed top civil servants across the government into what one called a "deliberately provocative" brainstorming exercise that could well produce elements of a Liberal election campaign platform, The Canadian Press has learned.

In the political equivalent of the no-huddle, hurry-up offence, deputy ministers were told Feb. 20 they had two weeks to "think outside the box" and come up with envelope-pushing policy prescriptions, said one insider.

The Canadian Press needs to pay more attention to bloggers. Inkless Wells had this story over a week ago, with a follow-up here. His stories have more humour in them too.

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The battle for the Liberal nomination in the riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek continues to get attention in the national media even though the vote is over and Tony Valeri's been declared the winner. Sheila Copps, who came out on the wrong end of the contest, is charging that the party leadership interfered in the process and that the fix was in but Jack Siegel, the chief returning officer for the nomination, has a different explanation.

"I don't think there was any tampering" by the Liberal leadership, he said. "I think there was some pretty shoddy work done managing the list, which was a result of having too many meetings and too many members all at once."
Oh. Okay. I feel so much better knowing that the party that's been governing the country for the last ten years can't properly organize a membership list and a nomination meeting in a riding where they've known for weeks that the battle would be hotly contested and would garner national attention. Do these people think about what they're saying before they say it?

At least the good people of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek can take comfort in the fact that despite all the talk about irregularities in the voting, no one's talking about sending in the troops.

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March 6, 2004


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I spent a good deal of time this afternoon wading through the articles I had bookmarked this past week concerning events in Haiti. While a lot of details are murky, there are certain things that seem pretty clear.

Aristide asked for international intervention to help restore order in his country long before it came. In fact that help was denied until the situation had deteriorated enough to make it seem plausible to insist that order could only be restored if he stepped down. Then suddenly he stepped down, except that he continues to insist that he was forced from office and didn't resign.

A number of articles I read referred to "irregularities" or "flaws" in the Haitian elections of 2000, but the only specifics I could find referenced eight senatorial races where the winning candidates achieved a plurality rather than a majority. If these were the only problems, they weren't enough to alter the fact that Aristide was the duly elected leader of Haiti. In fact, to the extent that the democratic process was undermined the fault seems to lie mainly with the opposition who refused to play their part in rerunning seven of those eight senatorial elections and who boycotted the presidential election precisely so they could claim that it had no legitimacy. Time after time Aristide has expressed interest in negotiation, power sharing and supporting the democratic process. Time after time it's the opposition that has refused to negotiate and has insisted that nothing short of Aristide's resignation would be satisfactory, even though I've yet to find a single source that suggests the opposition had enough support to win an election. Not even close.

This is the opposition that was funded by the tiny minority of Haitians who own half the country, including the media, and by American dollars, 70 million of them, even while the White House imposed sanctions that denied Haiti $400 million in aid and $120 million in loans. The Americans seemed to have been determined to undermine the Haitian government while fuelling the calls for its overthrow. It wouldn't be the first time. The US supported the coup that brought Aristide's government down in 1991 during his first term as President.

Aristide himself has been the target of accusations of wrong doing but it's also been suggested that he's the target of a disinformation campaign designed to discredit him. Once again, it wouldn't be the first time. It does seem clear that one of Aristide's crimes was to resist implementing some of the policies that the market fundamentalists in the White House, the IMF and the World Bank were urging on him. To the extent that the opposition ranks swelled in recent years, it was because of free market policies that he did implement which had the effect of making the poverty and misery in Haiti worse.

Members of Canada's special forces, JTF2, were deployed to Haiti ostensibly to secure the airport to allow the evacuation of Canadians. Whether or not they were actually involved in escorting Aristide on to the plane and out of the country is something we may never know. But it's not difficult to see that Canada was complicit in the events leading up to Aristide's departure. As early as January, 2003 Canadian officials met with the Americans, who have a long history of self-serving intervention in Haiti, the French, Haiti's original colonial ruler, and members of the E.U. to discuss alternatives to the Aristide regime. It was understood that Aristide had to go It's funny how it worked out that way, isn't it?

The only way I can conclude that events weren't manipulated to force Aristide from office is to accept at face value the version of events put forward by American officials who have already demonstrated a willingness to lie without hesitation. And yet that's exactly what Paul Martin and Bill Graham have done: accepted the American version of events at face value. At any point where the pursuit of a different policy by Canada might have changed the outcome, we've ended by echoing the White House line.

I think we have blood on our hands in this one. We've been willing partners in a regime change, and that raises some unpleasant questions.

Is the reason for the sudden interest in rebuilding Canada's military so it can be used to lend an air of international respectability to operations like this? The Prime Minister has indicated that there's to be an exhaustive review of our defense and foreign policy but the conclusions of that review won't be known to us until late this year, after an election. But the commitment to increase military funding, the assurances given to the Americans of our cooperation in various components of Operation Fortress North America and our willingness to discuss involvement in the Ballistic Missile Defense program are already on the record. Are the results of that policy review actually preordained?

Is the eagerness of our government to cooperate in efforts to turn this continent into a high-tech bunker because government officials already knew they would be taking actions that make it more likely Canadians will be the targets of international terrorism? After all, if we're going to meddle in the affairs of other nations for purposes of protecting the lifestyles of the wealthy and powerful, we'll need some place to hunker down and hide while we try to convince ourselves that it's our freedom they hate rather than our arrogance and duplicity.

Just what is this "place in the world" that Paul Martin envisions for Canada? And what's so sophisticated about a relationship with the United States that amounts to saying "Whatever you say, boss, just don't threaten our trade surplus"? Are we lining up behind George Bush to make the world safe for Wal-mart?

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March 4, 2004

While the rest of the country watches the Liberal party implode over allegations of corruption, Ontarians are being to treated to some reminders that cronyism can live quite happily in political parties of any stripe. It seems friends and associates of the provincial Tories took every opportunity to line up at the trough. We've got your untendered contracts, your ridiculous 'head-hunting fees' for searching out people all the players already knew and your protestations that "I knew nothing".

The Conservative Party of Canada may be technically a new party, but some of the cast of characters is familiar. Four of the movers and shakers on the Tony Clement and Belinda Stronach leadership campaigns are involved in the latest Ontario scandal. And then there's Brian Mulroney. So before the CPC spends an entire election campaign saying "Vote for us because they're corrupt" I'd suggest they ask themselves why we should believe they're not.

As for those who see the current tussle in Ottawa as a battle between the Chrétienites and the Martinites, consider the possibility that to those of us on the outside, they all look pretty dirty right now.

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March 3, 2004

Song for the day

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Gonna Move Up To The Country And Paint My Mailbox Blue by Taj Mahal.

Just for fun.

Thank you and goodnight.

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I'm guilty as charged

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As one of those who applauded the firing of Jean Pelletier, I have to assume that Warren Kinsella (no permalink, today's post) will consider it hypocritical of me if I don't draw attention to this story about the target of the remarks that got Pelletier tossed out on his butt.

Olympic medallist Myriam Bédard, who blew the whistle on Via Rail's connection with the federal sponsorship scandal, received a generous gift from the head of a Quebec advertising firm, says a report.

The Journal de Montreal reports that Bedard received a $70,000 Mercedes sports car at a banquet in March 1999. According to the report, the car was partly paid for by Jean Brault, the president of Groupaction, one of the Montreal advertising companies at the heart of the sponsorship scandal.

With all due respect to Warren Kinsella, this story doesn't make a damn bit of difference to my position. As chairman of a crown corporation, Pelletier was in a position of authority in my name. The remarks he directed towards Bédard represented a gross abuse of that authority, not to mention demonstrating a level of sexism and misogyny that's simply unacceptable in a civil service which my tax dollars help to support. Were I in a position of authority like that and bone-headed enough to make comments like his in the media, I would expect to get treated in exactly the manner in which Pelletier was treated.

If, as Kinsella claims, Pelletier had previously served Canada well let's try and remember that he had also been well compensated for that service. He wasn't working for free. Whether or not Bédard is squeaky clean in all of this is irrelevant to the fact that Pelletier screwed up. Badly. Neither his past service nor his Order of Canada should make him immune from responsibility for his actions.

Now if that makes me even the tiniest part of what Kinsella characterizes as "the braying media pack", or even the "braying pack of anonymous bloggers", I can live with that. As someone who was an employee for twenty some odd years before I became self-employed, I worked for my share of jerks and it's rather nice to see one of the jerks get canned for a change.

Link via The Middleman who makes some good points of his own.

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March 2, 2004

Speaking at a breakfast meeting in Halifax, Belinda Stronach managed to come out with at least two phrases that are beginning to drive me to distraction.

I believe we must re-establish Canada's place in the world
Have we moved? Did I miss another memo? I thought we were sitting at the top of North America where we've always been.

Paul Martin likes to use this phrase too. What the hell does it mean? Is there some equivalent of Blackwell's worst dressed list that Canada is showing up on? Why don't we worry about fixing our health care system, the infrastructure deficit and yes, properly funding our military based on our real needs, and let our "place in the world" sort itself out. Who are we trying to impress?

It's in the best interest of Canadians to have a strong relationship with the U.S. and to fulfil our international obligations.
I've heard this one from folks like Stephen Harper before and I'd like to know exactly which international obligations we've failed to fulfill. I really would like to know. If this is code for our failure to back Bush up in the Iraq war I would suggest to Stronach & Harper et. al. that the failure was on the part of the American administration which failed to live up to international law when it pre-emptively invaded a sovereign nation for reasons that have turned out to be entirely bogus.
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I have enough soap, thank you

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Liberal flirts with sale of CBC

[The] CBC, which recently received a $60 million cash infusion from the feds, continues to be a favourite target of conservatives, Conservatives — and columnists at CanWest Global newspapers.

It's hardly surprising that they would support the privatization of CBC.

But when a member of Prime Minister Paul Martin's cabinet calls the public network a "monster," while suggesting that potential foreign buyers could be regulated into ensuring it remains — to borrow a laughable Fox News phrase — "fair and balanced," then that's news.

The story goes on to describe comments from National Revenue Minister Stan Keyes to the effect that there's something unhealthy about competition between the public and private sectors and that the CBC should be privatized. Keyes apparently feels that regulations could be changed to somehow protect the national network's independence while still allowing private, or even foreign, ownership.

I've been waiting for this issue to surface since the Martin government was sworn in last December. Needless to say I'll have a serious problem with any attempt to privatize the CBC or to allow increased foreign ownership of Canadian media. The article's author, Antonia Zerbisias, goes on to remind us:

Exactly a year ago, CanWest president Leonard Asper urged a House of Commons committee to allow foreign media companies to buy Canadian broadcasters. Having big fat and new sources of capital would help CanWest with its massive debt.

A government decision on foreign ownership of cable companies is reportedly expected this month. If outsiders are permitted to buy up chunks of Rogers and Shaw, you can be sure that it won't be long before they can buy up TV stations here.

Which is why Keyes' comments about CBC being privatized, as casual as they may appear, are important to put on the public record right now.

CanWest Global is the house that Leonard's father Izzy Asper built. It now controls the National Post, one of our three national newspapers (and you have to count the Toronto Star as a national paper to get to three) as well as a national television network. Its holdings constitute over 30% of a Canadian media market where 84% of the media is owned by five companies.

Izzy had a pretty straightforward attitude towards journalism:

In 1991, after acquiring a 20 percent stake in New Zealand's TV3, Izzy Asper gathered 200 employees of the station in the cafeteria and astounded them by asking a journalist, "You. What business do you think you're in?"

The journalist replied that "the business we're in is to make sure our audience gets the most carefully researched news and information possible." Asper asked the same questions of the drama and entertainment departments and got similar answers.

"You're all wrong," he told them. "You're in the business of selling soap."

Since Izzy passed away and his son Leonard took over, I've seen little to suggest that the attitude at CanWest is substantially different, nor would I really expect it to change. When media are privately owned, the bottom line will always be the primary concern and we need to rely on diversity of ownership to ensure that we're hearing a diversity of voices. In Canada the diversity simply isn't there and the kind of changes being suggested by Keyes, or for that matter Leonard Asper, do nothing to increase it.

I'm not here to argue that the CBC always gets it right or that its free of bias. I'm content if it gets it right sometimes and if its bias is different from the corporately owned media outlets. As evidence of that difference I would offer the fact that during the recent unpleasantness in Iraq our national network passed on the opportunity to have its reporters embedded with the troops and took a more sceptical view of events than too many others who were initially content to be little more than cheerleaders for Shock and Awe™. I think it's safe to say that position has been vindicated by subsequent events.

So if the CBC keeps the privately owned media honest on some issues, while they in turn keep the CBC honest on other issues, that's just fine with me. Given the concentration of media ownership in this country it's imperative that we have one voice that can fairly be relied on to present a different (read non-corporate) point of view. If all the voices we can hear are saying the same thing, how will we know when we're being lied to?

And it's imperative that there be one voice which can be counted on to make informing us take precedence over selling soap when there are serious matters at hand. That in itself will help to keep the other voices honest. Anytime this subject comes up I'm reminded of a paragraph from a letter written by E. B. White (sorry, dead tree source):

The press in our free country is reliable and useful not because of its good character but because of its great diversity. As long as there are many owners, each pursuing his own brand of truth, we the people have the opportunity to arrive at the truth and to dwell in the light. The multiplicity of ownership is crucial. It's only when there are few owners, or, as in a government-controlled press, one owner, that the truth becomes elusive and the light fails. For a citizen in our free society, it is an enormous privilege and a wonderful protection to have access to hundreds of periodicals, each peddling its own belief. There is safety in numbers: the papers expose each other's follies and peccadillos, correct each other's mistakes, and cancel out each other's biases. The reader is free to range around in the whole editorial bouillabaisse and explore for the one clam that matters - the truth.
God but that man could write. If White were alive today would the Aspers hire him? Would the CBC?

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Some Liberals question Via chair's firing

Prime Minister Paul Martin's decision to fire the chair of Via Rail for calling an Olympic champion who spoke up against the sponsorship program a "pitiful" single mother has upset some people in the Liberal party.

Peter Donolo, who was communications director for former prime minister Jean Chrétien, wonders if Pelletier was fired for reasons other than his remarks about Myriam Bédard – namely, his past job as Chrétien's chief of staff.

"I don't think that the timing of this was particularly positive for Mr. Pelletier," said Donolo...

It wasn't positive for Pelletier? Buy a clue, Donolo. Pelletier's comments showed utter contempt for employees and for women in particular. To leave him in charge of a crown corporation sends a message that this attitude is acceptable. If this isn't "positive timing" for Pelletier, he should have thought of that before he opened his big fat mouth.
But former transport minister David Collenette, another Chrétien loyalist, wondered why the government felt the need to act so quickly in cases like this, when there are a number of inquiries into the sponsorship scandal underway.

Sorry for shouting, but these are the people who are running our country.

The song for the day is Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm. Seems appropriate.

I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.
No, I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.
Well, he hands you a nickel,
He hands you a dime,
He asks you with a grin
If you're havin' a good time,
Then he fines you every time you slam the door.
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.

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March 1, 2004

I agree with William Thorsell about something. I think my head's going to explode.

...constitutionally, Canadians are more "American" than the Americans in dealing with gay marriage, because Canadians are more deferential to their new Charter, while socially, Canadians are more committed to group equality rights than the Americans. (This extends to social services and taxation in Canada, as well as matters of race, language, gender and sexual orientation.)

Two implications for current events: Canada's new Conservative Party needs to decide how "Canadian" it is going to be on equality rights, at the risk of crippling itself. And citizens need to know more about judges appointed to our superior courts, especially the Supreme Court of Canada. If a law is unconstitutional, it should be struck down, but a judge should not decide the nature of the remedy.

We want a separation — not imbalance — of powers. Parliament should have authorized gay marriage directly, because it's the right thing to do, and the right place to do it.

Actually I'll quibble with, or at least question, the portion I italicized. Thorsell is clearly coming out in favour of the proposal to have Supreme Court nominees questioned by MPs. But if the powers are clearly separated and the judge's role strictly limited to ruling on constitutionality while not "deciding the remedy", is the individual personality and politics of the judge still an issue?

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I'm going to put aside my normal cynicism concerning the Martin Liberals and applaud this development:

Pelletier fired from Via Rail

Jean Pelletier has been fired as chair of Via Rail over comments he made about former Olympic gold medallist Myriam Bédard.

Bédard said last week that she was forced out of her marketing job at Via after she raised questions about excessive billing by one of the companies at the heart of the sponsorship scandal.

Pelletier responded by calling Bédard a "pitiful" single mother who was trying to attract attention to herself.

I would imagine the guy's pretty well-fixed and won't suffer much. But at least he's off the government payroll now and I would hope it stays that way. (Yeah, I imagine he'll get a hefty settlement and pension.)

You have to wonder how Pelletier managed to rise so high when he's shown such little understanding about people. The woman he insulted is an Olympian, a gold medal winner. Did he think Canadians wouldn't rally around her? And did he think a woman with enough mettle to achieve that kind of success wouldn't push back?

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