May 2004 Archives

May 31, 2004

Monday night geek blogging

This week's edition of geek blogging has a political component thanks to this article in the Toronto Star (and thanks to Ray at PolSpy for pointing it out, though I interpret things a bit differently than he does). It seems those lovable, hard-working folks on the Canadian Heritage parliamentary committee are laying the groundwork to do to us with regards to intellectual content exactly what the entertainment industry wants to do to us with regards to music and video: nickel and dime us to death.

The long-running legal battle against file sharers and downloaders on the part of organizations like the RIAA and Canada's equivalent, the CRIA, is really a battle for control of the supply and distribution of content. While the development of digital technology has posed an unprecedented challenge to the entertainment industry's business model, it also provides an unprecedented opportunity in the form of DRM. Ostensibly the acronym stands for Digital Rights Management but it could as easily stand for Digital Restrictions Management. In whatever flavour it's implemented, the technology is designed to manage, as in limit, what you can do with the content you pay for.

In the entertainment industry's vision of the perfect future we would no longer buy content, we would only rent it. Embedded DRM technology in one form or another would limit our ability to transfer files, would put a cap on the number of copies we could make even for archival or backup purposes and in the long run, would even limit the number of times we could play or view a file. Along the way we would say goodbye to what Americans call "fair use" and Canadians call "exceptions". The public's rights are sacrificed on the altar of the industry's right to endless profits because ensuring the public's rights would allow the potential for some abuse. ("Freebies" is the way that Liberal MP Sarmite Bulte refers to that abuse and apparently freebies are so evil that they must be prevented at all costs. As long as it's the consumer who pays the costs.) We may not be all the way to that vision of the future yet but it's certainly not for lack of trying on the part of industry lobby groups (with more than a little help from Microsoft which, at the same time, would like to lock you into its proprietary file formats like Windows Media Player).

The Star article makes an important point:

... under Canadian patent law, inventors receive a limited monopoly over their invention that grants them exclusive authority over how that invention is used.

In return, the patent expires after a prescribed period at which time anyone may use the invention without prior authorization.

Moreover, obtaining patent protection also requires inventors to fully disclose and describe their invention so that the public obtains the immediate benefit of that knowledge.

The Canadian Supreme Court has affirmed a similar balance in copyright. Creators enjoy a basket of exclusive rights such as the sole right to reproduce or perform the work. In return, the term of copyright protection is limited so that expired work becomes part of the public domain and may be used by anyone without permission or payment.

What the article doesn't say is that patents and copyrights were created with the long term public interest in mind in the first place. That short-term monopoly was meant to provide the creators with an incentive to fully develop their ideas to a point where they were useful and valuable before they finally ended up in the public domain. But somewhere along the line the public interest faded from view and the monopoly became an end in itself. How old is Steamboat Willy anyway? Isn't it about time we let the old guy retire?

So with that discussion as background, just what has that parliamentary committee, chaired by Bulte, been up to?

It foresees, among other things, schools being required to pay for using, as course materials, Web-based information that is made publicly available ? often with the poster's intention of reaching as wide an audience as possible and with no expectation of payment.
The committee's recommendation for swift ratification of the controversial World Intellectual Property Organization's Internet treaties and increased liability for Internet service providers will rightly garner much attention. It is its approach to educational uses of the Internet, however, that are a particular cause for concern given the current financial strain on our schools.
The Canadian educational community has proposed what would appear to be a balanced solution in the form of establishing a limited educational user right to publicly available work on the Internet.

In keeping with longstanding and widely accepted practices on the Internet, publicly available work would include materials that are not technologically or password protected ? that is, information the author would appear to want to make widely available.

Bulte's committee surprisingly rejected the education community's proposal, opting instead for a new license to cover Internet based works. This new license would require schools to pay yet another fee (the education community already hands over millions in license fees each year for content) for works found on the Internet.
Although it acknowledges that some work on the Internet is intended to be freely available, the committee recommends the adoption of the narrowest possible definition of publicly available. Its vision of publicly-available includes only those works that are not technologically or password protected and contain an explicit notice that the material can be used without prior payment or permission.

Rather than adopting an approach that facilitates the use of the Internet, Bulte's committee has called for the creation of a restrictive regime in which nothing is allowed unless expressly permitted. The result will be an Internet in which schools will be required to pay to use Internet materials contrary to the expectations of many creators.

The committee is so intent on ensuring and enforcing the monopolization of content that it would do so even in circumstances where the creators themselves want the content freely distributed and without the expectation of payment. The control mechanism for its own sake has become more important than the rights and intentions of the owners, which is what copyright is supposed to protect. By taking "the narrowest possible definition" they ensure the commercialization of the content and of the internet. Commercialization becomes the default position and the public domain be damned because there's no balance here between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of the public.

As Ray at PolSpy pointed out, we don't need a new license. Here on the internet we have licenses that individual creators can tailor to their needs. Ray thinks this is an attempt on the government's part to control the flow of information but I'm not so sure. I think it's legislation by lobby group though the lobbyists may be disguised as consultants. What they're proposing here is a regime that maximizes the potential for profit and puts the users on the defensive. I think they're setting a precedent. The education market is big business. They'll come for the rest of us eventually. And I'll bet the next step is some form of DRM to allow more control of access to information. Do you realize that right now you can save a web page to your hard drive and view it off-line? I wonder how long that'll last.

And this is a committee operating in the name of Canadian Heritage.

This has been Monday night geek blogging because being paranoid doesn't necessarily mean they're not out to get you.

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A comment about comments

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When someone gets desperate enough, or juvenile enough, to starting throwing accusations of anti-semitism around simply because he's not winning a debate or doesn't like the opinions expressed here, I see no reason to allow the bandwidth I pay for to provide him with a platform.

I just banned an IP for the first time since I started blogging. I'd like to think it will be the last time but somehow I doubt it.

I suppose it would be nice if I could say this is a free speech zone and anything goes. But it isn't free -- I pay the bill here. And I don't have the time or patience for people who can't keep it civil and stay within obvious bounds. If that affects your interest in reading this blog I'm sorry about that, but I'm also prepared to live with it.

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Arms race? What arms race?

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India tests mini-nukes

India has successfully developed a low yield nuclear bomb capable of use in the battlefield, a German newspaper reported on Saturday, quoting diplomatic sources in New Delhi. The daily Berliner Zeitung said Indian nuclear scientists tested a series of mini-atomic bombs in Rajasthan. The addition of mini-nuclear bombs to Indian defence inventory will radically alter the military balance with nuclear rival Pakistan, the report said.

Not to be outdone...

Pakistan's missile test raises worries in India

India yesterday expressed concern over rival Pakistan's testing of a medium-range nuclear-capable missile, saying it would escalate an arms race in South Asia.

Pakistan on Saturday tested its new Ghauri V, which has a range of up to 930 miles and can strike most major population centers in northern India. Islamabad said it had notified India of the test before it was conducted.

Is it too early in the day for a stiff drink?

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Via Whiskey Bar, this New York Times article suggests a certain, um, lack of truth in advertising:

Meanwhile on Sunday, people in the streets of Najaf were handed mysterious fliers with Mr. Sadr's picture that said "Moktada was followed by the Iraqi police for his ties to the slaying of Khoei, and due to violent actions he was killed during an attempt to arrest him."

Another flier had a photo of Iraqi policemen and the words "The Justice Ministry tried to arrest Mr. Sadr, but he and his followers resisted fiercely, which drove the Iraqi police to defend themselves."

The fliers appeared to have been made by Iraq's Justice Ministry or its allies to be handed out in case Iraqi policemen killed Mr. Sadr. Somehow, they were distributed prematurely. There were no reports of Mr. Sadr's death.

Posted without further comment. For now.

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May 30, 2004

Speaking off the record

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There's already been a lot of comment around the blogosphere concerning New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent's latest column. Just a few days after the NYT's editor's note which addressed the weaknesses in the paper's reporting on the issue of special weapons in Iraq, Okrent writes about the same issue and is even harder on the Times than its own editorial board was. The most pointed response I've seen is digby's who's always worth a read.

There are a few issues raised in Okrent's piece that I wanted to comment on. I've seen people on both sides of the debate isolate Judith Miller, as if she was the lone hawk in a newsroom full of raging doves and deserves all the blame or all the credit, depending on your point of view. Okrent dispatches that notion.

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Last night's post on Abu Ghraib and the media brought a response worth noting. Before I get to the main event, let's deal with this:

CBS committed a crime by releasing these photos of prisoners being humiliated. That is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

I think the examples you provided proved that the public is tired of the constant barrage of photos and feel that the media is trying to turn this into a scandal.

You may have a point but you've undermined your original argument. Your accusation against CBS carries with it the implicit assumption that the Iraqi prisoners in question were, in fact, entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. That being the case, surely the greater crimes were the abuses themselves committed by American MPs and contractors, and by extension their military and civilian superiors who crafted the policy and created the conditions under which those abuses could take place. That's why this is a scandal.

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May 29, 2004

On 'abuse fatigue'

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In comments to a recent post here, one commentor disputed my statement that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was a scandal and said the following:

It is only the media that is making Abu Ghraib a scandal. The polls have shown the public is sick and tired of it already, and the Iraqis are dismayed at the attention it is getting.

I was reminded of that when I read this story in Newsday which reports on a recent CBS poll showing 61% of respondents feel the media has spent too much time covering the story and displaying the photos. Is this because 61% of respondents feel the story isn't really a scandal? Not exactly.
Leslie Johnson, a 27-year-old New Yorker who was stepping out of a Starbucks coffee house in Harlem on her day off, said she thinks it's "good for people to see the other side" of war.

But coverage of the prison abuse in Iraq has reminded her of the twin towers falling on Sept. 11, 2001.

"When 9/11 happened, they kept showing the buildings being hit," she said. In this case, too, she's "had enough of seeing it."

"You don't want to see people being humiliated," said Johnson, who works in publishing.

Jean Dorsainvil, a 52-year-old New Yorker who's originally from Haiti, said he's cut back on his consumption of stories about the prison abuse because he was starting to get upset at the United States.

"I started building hate in my heart," said Dorsainvil, a fire safety director for a Manhattan building.

He thinks it's important that people involved are punished but wants the media to stop showing the images. "If you keep showing the pictures, you inflame things," he said.

Even at the 35th Street Bistro in the Seattle neighborhood of Fremont -- where it's difficult to find someone who supports the war -- people were more than ready to stop seeing the images.

"I kind of just turn it off now. It's just kind of disappointing," said Jennifer Lim, a 35-year-old restaurant server who was dining at the bistro.

She also worries about its impact on the United States' image overseas -- since she already found it to be low during her travels to southeast Asia and Mexico a few years ago.

Hal Abbott, a 50-year-old therapist from Seattle who sat nearby, agreed: "Politically it's hurt us a great deal in terms of our allies -- and in terms of our enemies," he said.

Penny Walker, a 40-year-old from Houston who home schools her children, also is concerned about the impact on U.S. troops in Iraq.

"The media is how people get first impressions and by the media exploiting it so much -- yes, I guess people need to know some of what's going on -- but across the country and across other countries ... everybody's thinking all Americans are like that. And I don't think we are," said Walker as she ate eggs, bacon and toast at a hotel in Corpus Christi, Texas, with the youngest of her three daughters, 9-year-old Caitlin.

Steven Clegg, a 21-year-old mechanic from Cross Lanes, a suburb of Charleston, W. Va., agrees that there's been too much coverage. He's even found himself questioning the photos' authenticity.

But either way, he said the scandal was bound to affect people's thinking about the war, including his own.

"I still wonder what we're doing over there," Clegg said as he sat on a mall bench, watching his brother's two young children and feeding one of them with a bottle.

None of those responses sound to me like accusations that the media created the scandal. Given that these were crimes committed by Americans in the name of America, and committed in a context where the American military were supposed to be liberators and not conquerors, the real scandal would have been for the American media to possess evidence of these crimes and not report it. The initial army investigations and the complaints by the Red Cross were already months old when CBS finally showed the first batch of photos. It seems fair to ask whether the American public would ever have found out what was going on in Abu Ghraib had CBS not pushed the issue.

So question the amount of coverage if you want to. Certainly the media of today are quite capable of overdoing it when they latch on to something that they think will sell papers or boost ratings. But to claim that this is a scandal created by the media is ludicrous.

And brace yourselves because there's still more to come.

As for the Iraqis, they didn't need CBS to tell them what was happening. They knew. Long ago. Before Fallujah.

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This explains a lot

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The read of the weekend is this long New Yorker article on Ahmad Chalabi entitled, appropriately enough, The Manipulator. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be amazed. Seriously, you might find it informative even if you think you're pretty well informed on the subject of the invasion of Iraq.

For example, one thing that hawks have often put forward in favour of their position is that the Iraq Liberation Act was passed while Clinton was in office, which supposedly proves that the Democrats were as interested in regime change in Iraq as the Republicans. In fact the legislation was drafted by Republicans in consultation with Chalabi, and was passed at a time when the GOP controlled Congress and Clinton was on the defensive because of failed CIA operations in Iraq -- operations that involved...guess who? Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.

The act?s call for ?regime change? in Iraq was radical, yet it created remarkably little controversy, because Chalabi had once again shrewdly pitched the removal of Saddam as a project by and for Iraqis, requiring minimal air support from the U.S. At this time, Congress also passed bills giving overt support of ninety-seven million dollars to the I.N.C.

Shortly after the act?s passage, General Anthony Zinni, who was then the commander of centcom, which is assigned operational control of U.S. combat forces in the Middle East, saw a copy of Chalabi?s military plan. ?It got me pretty angry,? he told me. Zinni knew Iraq?s terrain well, and testified before Congress that Chalabi?s plan was ?pie in the sky, a fairy tale.? He said, ?They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground Saddam?s regime will collapse, they won?t fight. I said, ?I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.? The exile group was giving them inaccurate intelligence. Their scheme was ridiculous.?

This con artist and his proxies are at the centre of almost every bogus story and every bit of misdirection associated with the invasion of Iraq going back over ten years. At one point he even conned Scott Ritter into revealing what kind of intelligence the UN inspectors were looking for and then obligingly came up with the appropriate information. Ritter eventually saw the light when Chalabi tried to recruit him to support one of the INC's invasion schemes.

This is a good read.

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They've got to be kidding

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Allawi Nominated As Transitional Iraq PM

The Iraqi Governing Council chose a longtime anti-Saddam Hussein exile to become prime minister of Iraq's interim government, making the surprise announcement Friday despite U.N. concerns over his ties to the United States and the CIA.

That's not all they should be concerned about. For starters, he's Ahmad Chalabi's nephew -- twice! -- so he's plugged into the same circle of friends. He's an exile, though he wasn't part of Chalabi's INC -- instead he headed the Iraqi National Accord. He was the source for the bogus claim that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction could be operational in 45 minutes. And he was neck deep in both the fictional story of the uranium buy from Niger and the attempts to link Saddam directly with the perpetrators of 9/11. And we all know how well those claims worked out.

So instead of installing Chalabi, who had no credibility with Iraqis and none left with anyone else, they're installing someone else who has no credibility with Iraqis or with anyone else.

You can't make this stuff up.

Hat tip to Fuzzy Puppy (see also the post below that one).

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May 28, 2004

Never mind

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Terror threat source called into question

Earlier this week Attorney General John Ashcroft warned of an attack planned on America for sometime in the coming months. That may happen, but NBC News has learned one of Ashcroft?s sources is highly suspect.

In warning Americans to brace for a possible attack, Ashcroft cited what he called ?credible intelligence from multiple sources,? saying that ?just after New Year's, al-Qaida announced openly that preparations for an attack on the United States were 70 percent complete.? After the March 11 attack in Madrid, Spain, an al-Qaida spokesman announced that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack in the United States were complete.?

But terrorism experts tell NBC News there's no evidence a credible al-Qaida spokesman ever said that, and the claims actually were made by a largely discredited group, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, known for putting propaganda on the Internet.

?This particular group is not really taken seriously by Western intelligence,? said terrorism expert M.J. Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, an international policy assessment group. ?It does not appear to have any real field operational capability. But it is certainly part of the global jihad movement ? part of its propaganda wing, if you like. It likes to weave a web of lies; it likes to put out disinformation so that the truth is deeply buried. So it is a dangerous group in that sense, but it is not taken seriously in terms of its operational capability.?

The group has claimed responsibility for the power blackout in the Northeast last year, a power outage in London and the Madrid bombing. None of the claims was found to be credible.
A senior U.S. intelligence official previously told NBC News that this group has no known operational capability and may be no more than one man with a fax machine.

The Terror Alert Level remains at Yellow.

When asked to comment, Prime Minister Paul Martin said "It's very, very important for Canadians to understand that every conceivable precaution is being taken even though there's absolutely nothing to worry about."

Conservative leader Stephen Harper, reached by telephone, said "We shouldn't even be talking about this. You're inciting anti-Americanism." and hung up. Then he fired the Conservative public safety critic.

NDP leader Jack Layton said that he wasn't the least bit surprised since everyone knows that Paul Martin is responsible for both last year's power blackout and the invention of the fax machine.

Apologies to non-Canadian visitors for the inside jokes. It's been a long week. Link via TalkLeft.

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Cross-posted to the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog

Today's Globe and Mail has an update on the public inquiry into the detention of Maher Arar and his subsequent deportation to Syria for "questioning". Government lawyers have submitted a position paper arguing that much of the proceeding should be kept hidden from public view to avoid a loss of confidence in CSIS and the RCMP on the part of foreign governments.

This would be especially true if these agencies are forced to talk about their investigative techniques, ongoing probes and international information-sharing agreements, they say.

They argue that Canada could find itself shut out of the global intelligence-gathering loop, or even face trade sanctions, if it gains a reputation as an intelligence blabbermouth.

The paper's authors say that terrorist groups may try to watch the open portions of the proceedings to find out the identities of police officers, spies and confidential informants.

Certainly Justice Dennis O'Connor has his work cut out for him in deciding how much information should be made public, but personally I'm hoping he errs on the side of openness rather than secrecy. I think the confidence of foreign governments in these agencies is of secondary importance to our own confidence in agencies which act in our name and should ultimately be accountable to us.

The article presents both sides of the debate:

Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin said the government stance not only jeopardizes the whole inquiry but may have further repercussions.

The freedom-of-information expert said he fears the government plans to make the position paper its new "bible," so as to increase secrecy all around.

"No official government pronouncement has gone this far before and done it so emphatically," Mr. Rubin said in a written riposte.

Yet the public interest in having an open commission is far outweighed by the public interest in being kept safe from terrorists and other threats, according to lead government lawyer Barbara McIsaac.

I'd like to remind Ms. McIsaac that she's just used the word "public" not once, but twice. And the public is us. As far as I can recall, no one has asked the public to weigh in on the balance we'd like to see between safety and secrecy.

In a post a couple of days ago called Questions for the Leaders Ian Welsh touched on Bill C-7, a piece of legislation which would give cabinet ministers unprecedented authority to suspend due process and do it in a way that would leave them unaccountable by virtue of the simple act of stamping Top Secret on the file in question. I don't recall a lot of public debate on the matter yet according to the Library of Parliament that bill received Royal Assent on May 6th, though it's not yet in force. Do you recall being asked for your opinion on the matter? Isn't an election campaign the perfect opportunity to be asked?

I'm not surprised when law enforcement agencies favour measures which make their jobs easier. I expect them to have to be reminded regularly that in a free society their jobs aren't supposed to be that easy. That's what due process is all about. I understand their desire to protect their information sharing agreements and I don't think it's necessary for us to know all the nuts and bolts of it. But I'd like to know in general terms what information we're sharing and with whom. Again, it's being done in my name and may well be my information.

And while I'm not happy about it, I'm not surprised that the Liberals aren't raising the issue in the current campaign. They've already decided on their course of action and it's obvious that they'd rather not talk about it. The only Liberal statement regarding terrorism so far was yesterday's assurance from Martin and McLellan that everything's okay, there's nothing to worry about.

But I'm disappointed that this issue doesn't seem to be on the radar for any of the opposition parties, except for Harper's request that in light of current security concerns we refrain from any mention of the United States which might be seen as negative. And I'm disappointed as well that the media would rather look for opportunities to express mock outrage than to focus attention on issues that the politicians have overlooked.

I may be in the minority here. It's quite possible that most people don't feel as strongly as I do that as much of the Arar inquiry as possible should be out in the open. It's also possible that the majority of people don't feel as strongly as I do that Bill C-7 is bad legislation. But if we don't talk about it how will we, or our politicians, know what the majority thinks?

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May 27, 2004

We do requests

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Sean at PolSpy has started a petition to be submitted to Paul Martin asking him to abolish the GST as Martin promised to do in 1990. Since he's asked other bloggers to spread the word: you can sign the petition here and Sean's comments are here.

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Cross-posted at the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog

Are we having fun yet? Hard on the heels of Jack Layton's attack on Paul Martin, now we have Stephen Harper accusing Martin of being anti-American. You'd think there was an election going on or something.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper says some Liberal campaign ads are so offensive, he wants them yanked off the air. Harper says the ads promote anti-Americanism and are inappropriate.

The ads asks voters to choose between a country like Canada with generous social programs, or a country like the U.S. with its lower tax rates, referring to tax cuts proposed by Harper.

"I think given the security situation it's not appropriate for any political party to do anything that would encourage anti-Americanism or break down that co-operation at this point," Harper said after U.S. officials announced an increased terrorist threat Wednesday.

Having learned from recent experience, I'll hasten to add that none of the articles I've seen quote Harper actually using the word "offensive" so that may be some journalist's spin, but all the articles agree on the main point. Not only is Harper critical of the ads, he wants them pulled off the air.

Now I'll grant Harper the right to criticize the ads in any way he chooses. If he wants to claim that being critical of the current White House administration's economic policies is anti-American that's up to him. I suspect the majority of American voters who cast their ballots for Al Gore three and a half years ago might disagree, but if the Conservative leader wants to make himself look foolish, so be it. And if being critical of the American health care system is a problem then about half the blogosphere better shut down right now. Most of the bloggers I'm thinking of are American too.

But when he insists that these ads must be pulled because of the current "security situation" he goes a bit far. There are many who think that yesterday's announcement concerning impending terrorist attacks in the US was nothing more than spin on the part of the White House designed to distract from Bush's falling ratings in the polls and any of the several scandals that are heating up all around him. And before Harper accuses me of being anti-American, I read that in the New York Times.

The United States is both our largest trading partner and our biggest foreign policy issue. How can we debate issues during an election if we have to watch what we say in any context where the US might enter the discussion? For Harper to try to stifle debate in this way is just anti-Canadian.

I kid. It's not anti-Canadian. It's just silly. The Globe and Mail's version of the same story has this:

Asked whether any terrorist-related circumstances would justify suspending the election campaign, Mr. Harper said he didn't want to speculate.

"But terrorists win if we start to disrupt the normal activities of our society," he said.

You said it, Stephen. Now think about it.

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News that may not be news

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Terror suspects no threat to Canada: Martin

Prime Minister Paul Martin says Canada faces no threat from seven suspects wanted by the FBI in connection with a suspected al-Qaeda terror plot in the United States.

..."Canadians?can feel very confident that the matter is in hand and there is no threat leveled against Canada," said Martin.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft warned Washington had information from multiple sources that indicated a large-scale attack within the U.S. in the summer or fall.

...Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said while the suspects are not believed to be in Canada, law enforcement angencies will be on heightened alert.

...Opposition Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said the Liberal government should be working closely with the U.S. on such sensitive security issues.

Atrios quotes from an article in a Philadelphia paper:

Despite the hype, most of the alleged terrorists named yesterday by Ashcroft had been publicly identified long ago. One former national security official in the Bush administration told Reuters news service: "This is more butt-covering than anything else."

If the suspects were already publicly identified, I would have thought that law enforcement agencies would already be on heightened alert.

As for Stephen Harper, this is from a Paul Wells post from yesterday evening:

Harper said the US security scare made it more important than ever for Canadian authorities to refrain from seeming anti-American. So he called on Martin to pull the campaign ads that compare Canadian and American health care.

Huh? When the Americans are nervous about their security, we're forbidden from criticizing their health care? Sorry. That's a bit lame.

More than a bit, I'd say. But I'm sure Paul Cellucci was pleased.

As of this writing, the Terror Alert Level remains at Bert, er, I mean, Yellow.

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May 26, 2004

Former vice-president Al Gore gave a speech today and it was quite an address. Among other things, Gore called for the resignation of not one, not two, but six highly placed members of the White House administration.

... I am calling today for Republicans as well as Democrats to join me in asking for the immediate resignations of those immediately below George Bush and Dick Cheney who are most responsible for creating the catastrophe that we are facing in Iraq.

We desperately need a national security team with at least minimal competence because the current team is making things worse with each passing day. They are endangering the lives of our soldiers, and sharply increasing the danger faced by American citizens everywhere in the world, including here at home. They are enraging hundreds of millions of people and embittering an entire generation of anti-Americans whose rage is already near the boiling point.

We simply cannot afford to further increase the risk to our country with more blunders by this team. Donald Rumsfeld, as the chief architect of the war plan, should resign today. His deputies Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and his intelligence chief Stephen Cambone should also resign. The nation is especially at risk every single day that Rumsfeld remains as Secretary of Defense.

Condoleeza Rice, who has badly mishandled the coordination of national security policy, should also resign immediately.

George Tenet should also resign. I want to offer a special word about George Tenet, because he is a personal friend and I know him to be a good and decent man. It is especially painful to call for his resignation, but I have regretfully concluded that it is extremely important that our country have new leadership at the CIA immediately.

If you think Republicans get worked up about Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Tom Delay's gonna have a cow.

The full text of the speech is at that link and it's a fairly long read. Gore didn't just blurt out his request for those resignations, he worked up to it. And by no means is he absolving Bush of blame. He's just urging voters to deal with Bush and Cheney in November.

For a first hand reaction, go see Chris at Explananda. He was in the audience.

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Adventures in babysitting

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Cross-posted to the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog

One would have thought that when Paul Martin put his cabinet together, he would have chosen people in whom he had a certain amount of confidence.

Apparently not.

Despite promises to attack the democratic deficit, Prime Minister Paul Martin's office has issued a directive to all cabinet ministers, saying all speaking events related to their portfolios during the election campaign must be vetted by the PMO.

Moreover, officials in Martin's office say permission for most events will be denied.

"The general rule is that we have the tendency to say no rather than yes," said Mario Lague, Martin's deputy chief of staff for communications.

"If they haven't made a commitment, before saying yes they have to contact us - and it takes a good reason to say yes."

The directive is contained in a memo dated May 20, sent to the chief of staff for each minister as well as the national director of the Liberal Party of Canada by Ruth Thorkelson, Martin's deputy chief of staff for parliamentary affairs and appointments.

The memo also makes it clear that ministers must check with the Prime Minister's Office before speaking out on issues that concern their departments.

Isn't it comforting to know that senior elected officials can't be trusted to conduct themselves properly at speaking engagements or address issues that concern their departments without the guidance and oversight of lobbyists unelected officials?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have lunch. If I can get permission from the PMO, of course. Got a minute, Ruth?

Hat-tip to Warren Kinsella (May 26th entry) for the link.

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May 25, 2004

In an unsigned editorial dated tomorrow (May 26th), the New York Times looks back at its coverage of the story of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and finds itself wanting.

... we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged ? or failed to emerge.

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change" in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks. (The most prominent of the anti-Saddam campaigners, Ahmad Chalabi, has been named as an occasional source in Times articles since at least 1991, and has introduced reporters to other exiles. He became a favorite of hard-liners within the Bush administration and a paid broker of information from Iraqi exiles, until his payments were cut off last week.) Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations ? in particular, this one.

Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.

The piece goes on to describe several examples of stories that were one-sided and subjected to insufficient scrutiny, and admits that when the supposed facts of those stories were later challenged the follow-ups were buried inside the paper instead of being on page 1 where the original stories had run.

This isn't enough, but it's a start. The media abdicated their reponsibilities to such a degree that they have to share some of the responsibility for the fiasco that the Iraq adventure has turned out to be. Someone, or more than one someone, should probably be fired though I'm not sure we can expect to see that.

When the media act like cheerleaders for the government, we lose. I don't care if it's done for partisan reasons or simply to pander to power. We have to rely on the media to go after the truth and to challenge the party line. Always. Or democracy is broken. If media companies have become so large and powerful that they consider themselves to be part of the elite instead of in opposition to it, then we have a problem.

There's a hopeful note at the end of this editorial.

We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.

Emphasis added. Better late than never, I guess. I hope Chalabi, among others, is feeling his neck.

Link via Atrios.

Update minutes later: Some feel more strongly about it than I did when I said my piece above. From Kos:

Idiots. The editors, Judith Miller, and every other journalist who helped enable the administration's lies have blood on their hands.

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Feel that Liberal love

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Cross-posted at the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog

Not long ago Paul Martin stood in front of a Quebec audience and said "We need you", as if a heartfelt plea would be enough to overcome the alienation that has developed towards the Liberals in that province. Apparently Ralph Goodale has decided on a different tactic in the west.

Vote for us or else.

Ralph Goodale, the federal Finance Minister, warned Western Canadians yesterday they will be shut out of the corridors of power if they fail to vote for the Liberal party in the June 28 election.

The declaration outraged opposition MPs, who accused the Liberals of running a "campaign of fear and intimidation" with subtle threats to punish Canada's fastest-growing region unless its residents vote for the ruling party in Ottawa.

..."We have traditionally occupied the roles of official critics in the opposition ... but that does not have to be the only role that is aspired to by Western Canadians," he said.

"We can do that and we can also be major players in the government, too, setting the agenda and making the decisions rather than critiquing after the fact. I think we have a terrific opportunity to move to the centre of the stage."

Vote for us and we'll reward you. Vote against us and we'll ignore you. So much for a war of ideas. It's all about the power, baby. (Uh, Ralph? What if you lose?)

I don't claim to have any special insight into the mood of western voters but I doubt this kind of ploy will impress too many.

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May 24, 2004

Monday night geek blogging

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Via Slashdot, a noble soul who decided to do an exhaustive comparison of weblog software packages has made the results available to all, complete with a feature comparison chart. If you're in the market to start your own blog, you might find this useful. If you're curious about the "Movable Type fallout" referred to in the opening paragraph, it concerns the licensing scheme recently introduced for Version 3.0. You might find this James Bow post educational along with a follow-up by James here.

And on a completely different subject, last week I blogged about a security problem in the Macintosh OS X operating system. The Register is reporting that on Friday Apple issued a patch to fix the problem, even though the company claimed that it was strictly a "theoretical vulnerability" that never really placed users at risk. (Can one assume, then, that the patch is strictly theoretical as well?) The patch is available through Apple's Software Update service or it's support website.

According to a BBC report at least one security firm, Secunia, is still unhappy with Apple.

Computer security firm Secunia said the patch issued by Apple did not close all the vulnerabilities in OS X.

In an advisory, it said there were still two other flaws that could allow malicious websites to run software code on a Mac.

"From the beginning, Apple has downplayed this issue," said Secunia chief executive officer, Niels Henrik Rasmussen.

"Users are still as vulnerable as Apple left them last week," he told BBC News Online.

If Apple users are now wondering just what's going on and who they should trust, welcome to my world.

This has been Monday night geek blogging because even during a federal election campaign there are fools out there with too much time on their hands who will try and screw up your computer.

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Duceppe's opening shot

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Cross-posted to the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog

When I first read this Toronto Star story about Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe's opening salvo in the campaign, I wondered if he'd made a tactical error. Conventional wisdom in politics has it that if your opponent has been busy shooting himself in the foot it's best to sit back and let him continue. The sponsorship scandal has already decimated Liberal support in Quebec, so why wouldn't Duceppe be content to simply work that issue?

Instead, he's already playing the sovereignty card.

Quebec should be its own country, Bloc Qu?b?cois Leader Gilles Duceppe said yesterday, declaring his sovereignist party is Quebecers' best bet to bring about the "ultimate goal."

"The most important thing of all for us, is serving Quebec's interests," Duceppe said yesterday in his first speech of the campaign. "We deeply believe that Quebec deserves to be not only a nation but have its own country."
Contrary to what Liberal strategists predicted, the Bloc is making no attempt to play down its separatist dream.

I wondered at first if Duceppe wasn't taking a risk here. With support for separatism at a relatively low ebb, might he scare away some support by making this a bigger issue than it needs to be?

And then it occurred to me that by forcing the issue, he forces Jean Lapierre and the other former "separatists" recruited by the Liberals in Quebec to come out in opposition to a policy they had previously supported and worked toward. With the integrity of the "old" Liberal party already in question, Duceppe has a chance to question the integrity of the "new" Liberals as well.

Maybe Duceppe knows what he's doing after all.

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He who pays the piper...

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Don at All Things Canadian picked up on the following statement by Paul Wells:

I can pretty nearly guarantee you there are more NDP voters than Conservative voters travelling with Harper

Don wonders out loud if Wells is suggesting, or reinforcing, that the media is "leftist". If we're going to talk about media bias, we need to make the distinction between the bias of individual reporters and the institutional bias that may exist at a particular newspaper or television network.

My own gut feeling is that the majority of reporters, and in this context I mean particularly reporters and not pundits, would be socially liberal and would range from fiscally moderate to fiscally liberal. I haven't taken a poll, that's just my hunch.

But for the most part, individual reporters don't decide what stories to cover, they go where they're told by their editors. A reporter doesn't choose whether his story is splashed across the front page or buried on page 15. Again, that decision is made by someone in authority. The all-important marketing decision as to which niche a particular paper is trying to appeal to isn't made by the individual journalists, it's made by the owners or people who report to the owners. And if the Globe and Mail, for example, publishes an unsigned editorial endorsing a particular candidate, policy or party, that position has nothing to do with the views of the paper's individual reporters. That position is put forth by the editorial board which represents the paper's publishers and owners.

Given that, it's quite easy to reconcile the Paul Wells statement above with at least the possibility that some of the media those reporters work for might still reflect a more conservative bias. If you want to make a judgement about institutional bias at the New York Times, to choose another example, you can't make that judgement by pointing to either Paul Krugman or William Safire. You have to look at the big picture: which stories get coverage and which get ignored, which are displayed prominently and which are buried in the back, and what does the editorial board have to say because it may not agree with either Krugman or Safire.

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May 23, 2004

Sinking polls panic Liberals

Voter outrage over the Ontario Liberal government's tax hikes this week has sent advisers in Prime Minister Paul Martin's inner circle into panic mode, even suggesting postponing the call for a June 28 election.

Although David Herle, campaign co-chair, insisted planning is on track for the election call, he confirmed the Liberals are polling overnight amid reports Ontario voters are reacting negatively to higher taxes imposed by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Emphasis added. Unbelievable. On Saturday of a long weekend these guys are still polling trying to figure out whether to go or not. And I don't care what Herle says about being "on track" -- if they're still polling, they're still dithering.

Unbelievable. Did I say that already?

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May 22, 2004

Who talked?

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When the allegation first broke that one or more senior White House officials had purposely outted an undercover CIA operative, Valerie Plame, in order to discredit her husband Joseph Wilson, it was suggested that the story had been "shopped around" to half a dozen journalists who had refused to run with it. That raised the possibility of a half dozen different sources who could identify the leaker. From the New York Times:

2 Journalists Subpoenaed Over Source of Disclosure

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed at least two journalists, Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press" and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, to testify about whether the Bush White House leaked the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer to the news media.

I've been following this story pretty closely and I don't recall hearing Russert's or Cooper's names mentioned in connection with it before, so I have to assume that they're among the half dozen mentioned above. So how did their names surface? Who identified them?

And now we get down to the nitty gritty of it:

Lawyers for NBC and Time said they would fight the subpoenas. NBC said its subpoena could have a "chilling effect" on its ability to report the news.

In a statement, Neal Shapiro, the network's president, said, "Sources will simply stop speaking with the press if they fear those conversations will become public."
Robin Bierstedt, vice president and deputy general counsel of Time Inc., said: "It is Time Inc.'s policy to protect its confidential sources. While we would like all of our reporting to be on the record, a promise of confidentiality is sometimes necessary to get information that would otherwise be unavailable."

It always seemed likely that getting at the truth would come down to a confrontation with one or more journalists about revealing a confidential source. We're almost there. I wonder if they issued a subpoena to Robert Novak, or if they're saving him for bigger and better things. Like criminal charges.

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Let the games begin

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It's official: Election coming June 28

Paul Martin will visit Gov.-Gen. Adrienne Clarkson on Sunday and ask her to dissolve Parliament, clearing the way for a June 28 federal election, the Prime Minister's Office announced today.


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May 21, 2004

Events, dear boy. Events.

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Cross-posted to the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog.

The title of the post is a quote from former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. It was his response when asked by a young journalist what can most easily steer a government off course. By now we're all expecting that PM the PM will drop the writ for a federal election this Sunday and whether we await with breathless anticipation, nervous trepidation or just plain, old irritable impatience, we would do well to remember that Macmillan's sentiment can apply to election campaigns as easily as to governments.

In his column in yesterday's Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson referred to them as rogue issues -- those things that emerge in the middle of a campaign to cause the best laid plans of politicians and their handlers to be thrown out the window of the campaign bus. We've already seen a couple in the past week. The rising price of gas was the first as Stephen Harper tried to jump out in front of it prompting the Liberals to scramble for a response. The Ontario provincial budget was another as Martin tried to put the blame for actions taken by a Liberal government on it's Tory predecessor. (Can you say: blame Clinton?)

We can study the polls and make our predictions, but we would do well to remember that polls don't always tell the story. In the 1995 provincial election in Ontario, Liberal leader Lynn Macleod began the campaign with what looked like a healthy lead in the polls. Needless to say, Mike Harris won and I had to use Google to double check how to spell Macleod's last name. We're a fickle bunch here in Ontario; we're easily swayed. And we have a third of the seats that are up for grabs.

Of the four major parties, the Bloc has a leader with campaign experience, Stephen Harper has the experience but leads a party that's still trying to find it's sea legs, and the Liberals and the NDP both have leaders who have never previously sought the highest office in the land.

So keep an eye out for the surprises that none of the campaigns have anticipated, not to mention the surprises that one campaign may have in store for the others. And watch the headlines and the RevMod Gaffe-o-meter. Anything can happen and probably will. Thirty-six days can be a long time when everyone's watching your every move.

Frankly I'd like to see a few surprises since these days more than ever, being able to think on your feet might be a desirable quality in a leader. And in that regard, my money's not on Paul Martin. I think this one's up for grabs.

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A multitude of sins

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Try and figure out why Ahmad Chalabi's home and offices were raided by Iraqi police accompanied by US troops Thursday morning. Go ahead, I dare you.

According to Fox News, it's because Chalabi and his INC mates have been passing highly classified US intelligence to Iran.

But if you go by Newsweek it was the result of an investigation into corruption initiated by Iraqi authorities. It's claimed that Chalabi and his cronies profited from the introduction of the new currency by taking old money turned in for exchange and putting it back in circulation again. Chalabi is also accused of misusing secret files in his possession left over from Saddam's regime to blackmail Iraqis for fun and profit.

And then there's the Daily Telegraph which speculates that Chalabi's real problem is the "explosive" evidence he possesses of corruption in the UN Oil for Food program, evidence which could prove embarrassing to any number of people in any number of countries.

Chalabi's been a con man from the beginning. He's already been convicted of fraud in Jordan and it's been obvious for months that he was gaming the US all along in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. And by gaming I mean passing on false intelligence and telling the Americans whatever he thought they needed to hear to justify the invasion. The man has so many games going on I'm surprised he can keep them all straight himself. Of course maybe what happened today is an indication that he really hasn't been keeping them all straight.

It may be a while before we find out which of his many transgressions came back and bit him in the butt today, if we ever find out for sure. And I'm certain it'll be a while before we find out what really went on with the Oil for Food program since the same files that are supposed to prove the corruption are the ones he's been using to blackmail people. Who knows what he's done to them? Hopefully they can find someone somewhere on the planet who doesn't have his own agenda where Iraq is concerned and get a real investigation done. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Meanwhile it's a real circus. But at least we can hope that the question of Chalabi's credibility has finally been put to bed once and for all. The State Department and the CIA have been suspicious of him for a long time. Iraqis certainly don't trust him. If the White House has given up on him too, that should about do it. And I have to assume that with Fox News in the hunt, the White House no longer has a very high opinion of Mr. Chalabi.

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May 20, 2004

Paging Gerry Nicholls

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In a post a few days ago, I took Gerry Nicholls of the National Citizens Coalition to task for his characterization of a law that limits the amount that lobby groups can spend on election advertising. Nicholls seemed to think that the law was depriving him of his freedom of speech.

This is what it looks like when you're deprived of your freedom of speech.

Bill Nevins, a New Mexico high school teacher and personal friend, was fired last year and classes in poetry and the poetry club at Rio Rancho High School were permanently terminated. It had nothing to do with obscenity, but it had everything to do with extremist politics.
In March 2003, a teenage girl named Courtney presented one of her poems before an audience at Barnes & Noble bookstore in Albuquerque, then read the poem live on the school's closed-circuit television channel.

A school military liaison and the high school principal accused the girl of being "un-American" because she criticized the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's failure to give substance to its "No child left behind" education policy.

The girl's mother, also a teacher, was ordered by the principal to destroy the child's poetry. The mother refused and may lose her job.

Bill Nevins was suspended for not censoring the poetry of his students. Remember, there is no obscenity to be found in any of the poetry. He was later fired by the principal.

After firing Nevins and terminating the teaching and reading of poetry in the school, the principal and the military liaison read a poem of their own as they raised the flag outside the school. When the principal had the flag at full staff, he applauded the action he'd taken in concert with the military liaison.

Then to all students and faculty who did not share his political opinions, the principal shouted: "Shut your faces." What a wonderful lesson he gave those 3,000 students at the largest public high school in New Mexico. In his mind, only certain opinions are to be allowed.

But more was to come. Posters done by art students were ordered torn down, even though none was termed obscene. Some were satirical, implicating a national policy that had led us into war. Art teachers who refused to rip down the posters on display in their classrooms were not given contracts to return to the school in this current school year.

See the difference?

Via Gallimaufry.

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The RevMod Gaffe-o-meter is already on display at Revolutionary Moderation and the deadline for your entry is midnight of the day the writ is dropped for the federal election. Don't know what I'm talking about? All will be revealed here.

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Arar inquiry update

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There have been a few developments concerning the inquiry into the imprisonment and torture of Maher Arar in Syria, although testimony isn't set to begin for another month.

The other two Canadians detained and interrogated in Syria whose stories are related to the Arar case were not granted formal standing at the inquiry but are expected to be called as witnesses. In the case of Almalki, his appearance will depend on whether he's back in Canada at the time. The article at this link will also fill you in on organizations that have been granted Intervenor standing.

The interesting development today was the announcement that Ron Atkey has been appointed as a friend of the court. Atkey is a former Conservative cabinet minister and, more to the point, a former head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the civilian panel that oversees CSIS. This Globe and Mail article describes Atkey as "an outspoken critic who has frequently butted heads with the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service" which suits me just fine. His role will be to aid Judge O'Connor and in particular to rebut the arguments of the government's lawyers as they try to keep everything a deep, dark secret. I guess this is to compensate for the fact that Arar's lawyer won't be privy to the discussions regarding what information remains classified and what can be revealed.

And right on cue:

The Security Intelligence Review Committee has handed its report on the Maher Arar case to Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan.

The report focuses on the role of Canada's spy agency, but the head of the panel, Paule Gathier, says none of it should be made public.

The official reason for keeping it secret is that releasing it might "prejudge" the inquiry. I suspect Mr. Atkey has his work cut out for him.

As Drudge would say, developing...

And the Arar Commission has an official website.

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There are issues? Who knew?

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Cross-posted at the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog

While everybody else reviews poll after poll and highlights the efforts of the two largest parties to throw mud at each other hoping some of it will stick, Canada's national broadcaster has a different idea about how to cover the upcoming election. As reported in today's Globe and Mail, the CBC wants to focus on issues.

In a statement issued to TV and radio news staff last week, CBC editor-in-chief Tony Burman says too many media organizations "focus on the party 'horse race' -- reflected in the constant stream of 'voter-preference' polls, [which] can crowd out more meaningful campaign news and information."

Instead, Mr. Burman says, the corporation's campaign coverage -- including English and French language networks -- "should lay before the electorate the different party platforms and positions, and reflect the debate among the parties and the public about these issues."

To that end, the CBC will not only not commission polls -- either alone or, as it has in the past, in partnership with other news organizations -- but it also intends to "place limits on the systematic reporting of polls conducted by other media organizations," covering primarily poll results that constitute a major campaign story.

Imagine that. Election coverage that looks at party platforms and highlights debate about issues. Think it'll start a trend?


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May 18, 2004

...if you're a Mac user running OS X there's a serious security problem you should know about. Really. I'm not just having fun with you.

Two vulnerabilities have been reported in Mac OS X, allowing malicious web sites to compromise a vulnerable system.

1) The problem is that the "help" URI handler allows execution of arbitrary local scripts (.scpt) via the classic directory traversal character sequence using "help:runscript".

2) It is reportedly also possible to silently place arbitrary files in a known location, including script files, on a user's system using the "disk" URI handler.

Apparently there's no permanent solution at this time, but there are "mitigating actions" you can take. Follow the link.

There's more information at

Update: I should have kept reading the original post at Making Light where I first read about this. There are more links to follow there and apparently there is software you can download that will allow you to plug the hole. Frankly it's all Greek to me. I know nothing about OS X.

(Brand new readers may wonder at the tone of this post. I use Windows and readers who use Macs have been mean to me.)

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Paul Wells points to a Newsweek story which lays out the process of policy making that led to the now notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Since the story also mentions the policy of renditions, the deportation of suspects to third countries for questioning as was the case with Maher Arar, Wells suggests that perhaps some enterprising Canadian reporter should be looking for a connection between the two.

There may be an interesting story there but as the Village Voice article I blogged back in late March makes clear, rendition isn't a new weapon in the arsenal of American intelligence agencies - it's been in use since at least the late 80's. Any move on the part of Bush administration lawyers to find some legal justification for it would only be because the practice became more common after 9/11.

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Keep it simple stupid

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To no one's great surprise after the media reports of the last couple of days, the Ontario budget brought down by the McGuinty government today instituted a health care premium to raise revenue for, you guessed it, the health care system.

I'm not going to bother getting excited about the overall increase in taxes this represents along with the increase to sin taxes and user fees for things like driver's licence renewals. Aside from the fact that it wouldn't do me any good to complain, I expected to get hit one way or another. Even if the tax cuts made by the previous Tory governments were feasible in the long run, they were implemented too quickly at the same time that those governments mismanaged in other ways. Something had to give somewhere.

But I am going to chime in alongside Andrew Spicer and ask why McGuinty didn't just raise income taxes rather than creating a separate premium for health care. It's not like the money doesn't come from the same source: the taxpayer. He's just made things more complicated not only for government, but for employers who have to deduct the thing from employees' pay cheques. Had he just tweaked the income tax rate up, he could have reduced it again if the opportunity presented itself.

Of course I know the answer: during the election campaign McGuinty made an ill-advised commitment not to raise income taxes and I suppose he feels he can play games with semantics when it comes time to try and find a promise he did keep in the next election campaign. But it's not like he's really fooling anyone here and it's not like he'll avoid any political fallout for the approach he's taken. He's just made life more complicated for everyone without any real gain for anyone, including himself.

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May 17, 2004

Monday night geek blogging

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Windows XP users might be interested to know that Service Pack 2 is coming. Windows 2000 users like me who have thus far avoided XP might be interested as well. From The Register, which can be counted on to view Microsoft with a skeptical eye and voice its opinions with a sharp tongue:

According to Microsoft execs (of the non-droid variety), about 80 per cent of SP2 is security-related, and it clearly does many useful, sensible and desirable things. It makes it much harder for the unwary to run dangerous attachments, makes it easier to implement and stick to security policies, does a pretty sophisticated job on popups, and makes serious improvements to the functionality and usability of the built-in firewall.

And although there are clearly Microsoft-friendly payloads you might not necessarily want attached to this, there are clear signs that the company is trying to some extent to stay honest.

OK, stopping here for a moment. When The Reg says MS is "trying to some extent to stay honest", this is a big deal. Carrying on:

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A few weeks back I took Len Crispino, the president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), to task for comments he made in response to an Ontario government announcement as reported in the Globe and Mail. The government indicated that it intended to strengthen the enforcement of labour laws in the province and, in particular, to ensure that employees were receiving the salary, overtime and benefits to which they were entitled.

In the Globe story, Crispino's comments followed closely on the general explanation of what the government wanted to accomplish and made it sound as though the OCC was complaining about the mere fact of enforcing laws and the "red tape" that would entail. A representative of the OCC dropped by in comments to that first post today and shared more of Crispino's remarks as well as directing me to the OCC web site where I found this media release.

It seems that the OCC's objection was to a specific mechanism of enforcement, a permit system, rather than to the general idea that existing laws should be enforced on behalf of employees. The permit system is mentioned in the Globe story, but not until about five paragraphs after Crispino's comments are reported. In short, the situation was a bit more complex than it was presented. So Crispino's foot wasn't really in his mouth (or I'm not currently in a position to make that judgement), the Globe reporter could have been more precise in the way he raised the issues to which Crispino was responding, and I got caught taking what I read at face value.

I hope subsequent editions of the Department of foot in mouth will hold up better than that one did. And thanks to Brad of the OCC for taking the time to respond.

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All the free speech money can buy

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Updated May 18th. Please see below.

Cross-posted at the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog.

Gerry Nicholls, the vice president of the National Citizens Coalition, has an op-ed in today's National Post on the eve of a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada on the so-called gag law - the law which sets limits on the amount of money that individuals and lobby groups can spend on election advertising during a campaign. The last time Nicholls addressed this issue I accused him of having a flair for the melodramatic. Nothing's changed.

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May 14, 2004

Duty calls

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I have some business to take care of so there won't be any new content here for a bit. I should be back before the weekend is out, though.

I've added a few new links to the blogroll lately if you're looking for something to read.

Have fun. But not too much fun -- I wouldn't want to miss anything.

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May 13, 2004

A sign of things to come?

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Cross-posted to the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog.

The NDP has regained official party status in Ontario and done it in rather a resounding fashion with a convincing victory in a byelection in Hamilton East.

New Democrat Andrea Horwath, 41, a Hamilton city councillor since 1997, trounced Liberal candidate Ralph Agostino, 42, with nearly twice as many votes.

... The riding's 187 poll stations reported an unofficial vote count of 15,185 ballots for Horwath, compared to 6,362 votes for Agostino.

The Tory candidate, Tara Crugnale, got 1,619 votes.

To be fair, the incumbent Liberal would have been Dominic Agostino but he passed away in March from liver cancer. The Liberal candidate was his brother and I don't image Ralph had much time to establish a name for himself in the riding.

And while the Tory candidate had her head handed to her, recall that the provincial Tories in Ontario are on a serious time-out. We don't like them anymore. They've been sent to their rooms. Hopefully for at least a generation.

The loss for the Liberals is a blow to the McGuinty government and sends a message that voters aren't happy with what the party has done since it swept into power last fall.

It's also damaging to Hamilton's Liberal Party members. A number of members questioned how Agostino was selected as the candidate, particularly since a well-known city councillor had also wanted to represent the riding.

(Hmmm. Funny business in the nomination process here too?)

So is this a backlash against Liberals in general? Or is this really provincial business that has no bearing on the coming federal election?

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Ralph rebutted

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A few days ago I poked fun at some remarks Ralph Klein made in the Alberta legislature when he responded to the issue of public auto insurance by avoiding the question and going off on a mis-informed rant about the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile by Augusto Pinochet. There's a more serious response to Klein up at rabble, written by an Albertan who is also a Chilean expatriate. It's worth a read, but here's a taste:

What is perhaps most frightening about the Premier's statement, however, is what it reveals about his level of contempt for democracy. His assertion that Pinochet was ?forced? to mount a coup because of Allende's policies demonstrates that, for Klein, democracy and human life take a back seat to ideology.

To justify the coup in Chile, and the subsequent murder and torture of thousands on the grounds of ideological differences, makes one wonder to what degree Klein is prepared to subvert democracy in Alberta for the sake of implementing his ideology. Klein, who has shown complete intolerance of protest and signs of dissent, is essentially saying that it is acceptable and laudable to bypass democratic processes and institutions if one strongly disagrees with the governing ideology. The question for the Premier is whether that philosophy should apply equally for both sides of the political spectrum, or only to those governments that he disagrees with.

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May 12, 2004

Cross-posted at the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog

Defense Minister David Pratt has defended Canada's negotiations with the United States with regard to the Ballistic Missile Defense program on the grounds that it's a land based system and that the introduction of weapons into space is the stuff of science fiction.

I think there is a recognition that even the possible use of weapons in space is so far off into the future, that this is not a concern that we're having to deal with ... This is not an issue that this government will have to deal with, that the next government is going to have to deal with, or even the government after that. This is so far off into the future that it may never happen.


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May 11, 2004

But that's just a minor detail

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Thirty-one former government officials today urged the Bush Administration to delay the national missile defense deployment scheduled for later this year.

The release comes the day that the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to release the results of its mark-up on the annual Defense Authorization bill. While the Committee is likely to approve the Administration?s $10.2 billion missile defense request, Senators Levin (D-MI) and Reed (D-RI) are expected to offer amendments on the Senate floor the week of May 17 to cut funds and require additional testing.

These officials -- who worked for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton -- argued that the missile defense system planned for rollout by September "will provide no real defense" and labeled it a "sham."
[final paragraph of the letter to the President]

In fact, this system will provide no real defense. Without adequate systems testing the ground-based missile defense program lacks a sound scientific and technical basis for cost-effective development, let alone deployment. Do not allow the American public to be deceived. The "initial defensive capability" being advertised by the Missile Defense Agency is a sham. We strongly urge that you drop the 2004 deployment, and commit instead to a sensible research and development schedule.

Pardon me for shouting but IT DOESN'T WORK! Aside from any other reasons for opposing involvement in this program on Canada's part, why are we pretending that we're talking about something that would actually accomplish what it's supposed to do?

Via MaxSpeak, You Listen!

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He said what?

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A tip of the hat to Don at All Things Canadian... for bringing this first story to my attention. When I first read it, I thought maybe PM the PM had lost it.


Prime Minister Paul Martin says he believes Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and they've fallen into terrorists' hands. Martin said the threat of terrorism is even greater now than it was following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, because terrorists have acquired nuclear, chemical and biological weapons from the toppled Iraqi leader.

"The fact is that there is now, we know well, a proliferation of nuclear weapons, and that many weapons that Saddam Hussein had, we don't know where they are," Martin told a crowd of about 700 university researchers and business leaders in Montreal. "That means terrorists have access to all of that."

But after reading the Globe and Mail version of the story, I think someone was in a bit too much of a hurry to get a nice, punchy story with a provocative headline into print.
Prime Minister Paul Martin said yesterday that global terrorism has increased, not declined, since the United States-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Asserting that failed states and nuclear proliferation will provide a lasting threat of terror for the Western world, Mr. Martin's answer indicated he believes that the removal of the Iraqi dictator did not represent the major advance in the ''war against terror'' claimed by U.S. President George W. Bush.
"The problem is increasingly failed states, or states that are on the edge of failure, the fact that now we know well that there is proliferation of nuclear weapons and that many of the weapons that Saddam Hussein had, for example, we do not know where they are, so that means the terrorists have access to all that."

Aides to Mr. Martin insisted later that his answer was not an assertion that Mr. Hussein had nuclear weapons that might now be in the hands of terrorists. The reference to the "proliferation of nuclear weapons" and "the weapons that Saddam Hussein had" were meant to be separate notions, they said.

This actually makes a lot more sense. Martin may be a fool about some things, but I'm sure he knows better than to claim that Iraq had WMD without proof to back it up. After all, look what it did for George Bush's reputation in the rest of the world, eh?

So don't believe everything you read. Even when you read it here.

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Cross-posted at the BlogsCanada E-Group.

Once the Liberals had decided that their main electoral strategy would be to demonize Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, I guess it was inevitable that they would then appeal to potential NDP voters to help defeat the scary socons by voting Liberal instead. Besides, why throw your vote away on those marginal lefties, eh?

Sure enough:

Voting NDP only helps Conservatives: Dosanjh

The former New Democratic premier of British Columbia levelled a broadside at his old party Tuesday, dismissing it as irrelevant at the federal level and useful only to steal votes from the Liberals.

Voting NDP in the upcoming election can accomplish little more than handing victory to the Conservative party, said former premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who is running as a Liberal in the coming federal election. "A vote for the NDP is essentially a vote for (Conservative Leader) Stephen Harper," he told a news conference.

"A vote for (NDP Leader) Jack Layton is a whispered vote. It's essentially a vote that will have no strength, it will weaken a progressive government in this country.

"One has to decide whether you shout from the sidelines or you get into the real act and make sure there's a difference in the kind of government we have in this country."

Never mind the fact that to many NDP voters, the only differences between a Martin government and a Conservative one are that the Liberal version would have more more meetings, higher cell phone bills and would actually make the corporate lobbyists part of the government team. (Does the name Earnscliffe ring a bell?)

It's a well-worn strategy, but I suspect that this time it will ring a little hollow. And I hope Dosanjh has made some new friends because I think he just lost some of his old ones.

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May 10, 2004

Right on cue

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When I spotted this CBC story about the Saudi oil minister calling on OPEC to raise oil production and thereby lower prices, I was going to make a point. Then I stumbled on the following blog entry and realized I don't have to.

Saudis Keep Oil Promise to Bush

Saudi officials came out Monday to announce a push to convince OPEC to raise production in its upcoming June meeting. This announcement is a complete 180 degree change in tone from Saudi Arabia who fought to lower production over the past year. Raising the daily production limit of oil will result in an ease in gas prices over the coming months. Oil is currently at a 13-year high.

In a recently released book by Bob Woodward, he disclosed an informal agreement between Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan and President Bush to lower gas prices before the upcoming election.

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Quote of the day

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The Toronto Star informs us that former Ontario premier Mike Harris has enrolled at the Rotman School's Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics and Board Effectiveness where he will study ethics, board strategy and financial reporting and auditing systems. The article continues:

Given the $5.6 billion deficit left behind by the Tories, Ontarians might be forgiven for wishing Harris had enrolled at Rotman before he was premier.

Ain't that the truth.

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Apparently the mere thought of public auto insurance provokes such a violent reaction in Alberta premier Ralph Klein that he engages his mouth before putting his brain in gear. When the Liberal leader in the Alberta legislature raised the possibility of a public insurance plan Klein had this to say:

It sounds like (former president Salvador) Allende in Chile, you know, when he took over all the coppermines and said the Americans are out, the government now owns all the coppermines, all the minerals, all the resources, all the mining ...

Pinochet came in, Mr. Speaker, and I'm not saying that Pinochet was any better, but because of the only elected communist in Chile, Allende, and the socialist reforms he put in, Pinochet was forced, I would say, to mount a coup.

Right, Ralph. Pinochet violently overthrew the elected leader of Chile because he just couldn't help himself. And everyone knows that seventeen years of a vicious, cruel dictatorship is better than the policies of a guy who actually, you know, won an election.

But Ralph couldn't leave it at that. After quite a bit of public outcry he decided to clarify his remarks.

My comments last week were not meant in any way to express personal support or admiration for the Pinochet regime - quite the contrary. . . . My only purpose for making those remarks was to point out that socialism can often lead to unintended repercussions to society. Unfortunately, that's what happened in Chile.

So Pinochet's crimes were the "unintended repercussions" of socialism and that's why public auto insurance is a bad thing. Attaboy, Ralph. Jam the other foot in there too.

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May 9, 2004

While there were several investigations into the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the most publicized report was written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba. That report has been available on-line for a few days now even though it was originally classified. (And incidentally questions are being asked as to just why that is since it's illegal to classify information to hide illegal activity.)

But Time Magazine (via Mark Kleiman) informs us that military personnel have been instructed NOT to read the report on-line.

An email to Pentagon staff marked "URGENT IT (Information Technology) BULLETIN: Taguba Report" orders employees not to read or download the Taguba report at Fox News, on the grounds that the document is classified. It also orders them not to discuss the matter with friends or family members. The emailed memo was leaked to TIME by a senior U.S. civilian official in Baghdad, who did not hide his disdain for the "factotums" in the Pentagon. "I do wonder how incredibly stupid some people in the Pentagon are," he emailed TIME. "Not only are they drawing everyone's attention to the report ? and where it can be seen ? but attempting to muzzle people never works."

If there are any military personnel out there who are curious but don't want to disobey orders, go read Seymour Hersh. He hits all the high points anyway. Where do they think he got his material?

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A comment on comments

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Since it seems the comment spammers have discovered me, I've recently installed MT Blacklist. If anyone finds that a legitimate comment or trackback has been bounced, I would very much appreciate hearing about it. Toward that end, I've moved the email link to the top of the sidebar at the right.

I hate spam.

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[I'm joining the group over at the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog and the following is cross-posted there as an introduction.

The general hilarity will continue here but the occasional post regarding federal politics and the upcoming election will be cross-posted in both places. I would encourage you to drop by there if you haven't already. There's a group of interesting and articulate voices from various points on the political spectrum and often a lot of follow-up conversation.]

I'm pleased to be joining this august group of pundits as we approach (or not) the election we've all been anticipating. And I should take this opportunity to thank Jim Elve for building and maintaining this space we get to play in and allowing me to join the party.

Is that enough sucking up?

I'll be posting under the nickname pogge which is an acronym for my blog: Peace, order and good government, eh? It's not that my identity is a deep, dark secret, but when I first started blogging I approached it as an experiment and wanted the focus to be on issues and current events rather than on myself. More than six months later I guess it's no longer an experiment but I've gotten used to the name. (Incidentally, in my mind's ear it rhymes with soggy.)

I'm 52 years old, I'm self-employed and I was born and raised in Toronto. Though I now live a ways east of that city, I've lived in Ontario all my life. That would make me a boomer in the province everyone else loves to hate. This should be fun.

I'm not a card-carrying member of any party and in fact I've voted for various parties over the years, but I suspect I'll be perceived as coming at things from the left. Socially I'm a live-and-let-live liberal -- I was raised to mind my own business. Fiscally I often think of myself as a centrist who got left behind when the pendulum swung to the right and got stuck over there.

I would imagine that everyone here agrees on the role government plays in providing peace and order. It's the good government part that gets tricky. The devil's in the details and I guess that's why we're all here.

Mainly I think that we get the government we deserve (Cliches 'r' Us!). Democracy isn't cheap and it isn't easy -- it's something we have to work at. As I look around this land on the eve of another election, I can't help but think that we've got a loooooooot of work to do.

And so, on with the party. Is there any cold beer?

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May 6, 2004

Election is most important ever: PM

Prime Minister Paul Martin assailed Conservative Leader Stephen Harper during Wednesday's private caucus session and told his MPs they are about to embark upon the ''most important'' election in the country's history, one offering Canadians a choice between U.S.-style tax cuts and a caring society.

But apparently it's not important enough for the Liberals to come up with a specific platform other than "Stephen Harper is a very scary man".
Caucus insiders described the Prime Minister as "passionate and pumped up" as he criticized the kind of Canada Mr. Harper wants to lead as one that will destroy the country's social safety net.

Passionate and pumped up? I'm glad there was no accompanying illustration.
"At no time have . . . the choices been so clear," Mr. Martin said, according to one caucus source.

Absolutely. We can have a Conservative government, or we can have a Conservative government disguised as a Liberal government.
He made no mention of the election date in caucus...


I'm on the road until tomorrow afternoon so this will be it for today. Since Martin can't seem to make up his mind about anything, I don't think I'll miss very much.

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May 5, 2004

Coming undone?

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One thing that has characterized the Bush administration is the way the inner circle has consistently stayed on message. There have been stories about internal disputes but there haven't been many cracks show in public. So it's interesting that these two stories surface on the same day:

Bush Annoyed with Rumsfeld Over Iraq Abuse, Aides Say

President Bush, compelled to publicly condemn the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in interviews on Wednesday, has privately expressed annoyance to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over his handling of the issue, aides said.

Bush knew of the allegations in general terms around the time the U.S. military issued a statement about them in mid-January, but aides said he only learned how severe the abuse had been a week ago when CBS broadcast photographs showing Iraqi prisoners in humiliating poses.

The aides said the president had complained to Rumsfeld for not having fully alerted him to the details.

"The president was not satisfied with the way he was informed with regard to the pictures, and he let Secretary Rumsfeld know about it too," a senior administration official said. "He believes it's better to make it known privately instead of pointing fingers."

I'm sure Bush has been annoyed before but how often have we heard about him rebuking a senior member of his administration? Of course it's possible that this is spin to put the responsibility on Rummie. Is Bush (or Rove) setting his Secretary of Defense up to take the fall?

And there's this:

Powell aides go public on rift with Bush

In an article in GQ magazine Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff of the United States secretary of state, bemoans Mr Powell's firefighting role in President George Bush's cabinet.

"He has spent as much time doing damage control and, shall we say, apologising around the world for some less-than-graceful actions as he has anything else."

The article, which includes an interview with Mr Powell, is most illuminating for the comments made by his close friends and colleagues who are explicit about his distrust and disdain for the hawks in the administration.

Mr Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, remarks on his boss's anguish at the damage to his credibility following his speech to the United Nations last year making the case for war and insisting there were weapons of mass destruction. "It's a source of great distress for the secretary," he said.

Meanwhile his mentor from the National War College, Harlan Ullman, describes the US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as a "jerk".
In an article in GQ magazine Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff of the United States secretary of state, bemoans Mr Powell's firefighting role in President George Bush's cabinet.

"He has spent as much time doing damage control and, shall we say, apologising around the world for some less-than-graceful actions as he has anything else."

The article, which includes an interview with Mr Powell, is most illuminating for the comments made by his close friends and colleagues who are explicit about his distrust and disdain for the hawks in the administration.

Mr Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, remarks on his boss's anguish at the damage to his credibility following his speech to the United Nations last year making the case for war and insisting there were weapons of mass destruction. "It's a source of great distress for the secretary," he said.

Meanwhile his mentor from the National War College, Harlan Ullman, describes the US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as a "jerk".
[Wilkerson] then goes on to name former neo-conservative adviser, Richard Perle. He said: "Thank God [he] tendered his resignation and no longer will be even a semi-official person in this administration."

This is, I think, unprecedented. And it pretty much confirms that Powell has no intention of staying with the administration even if Bush wins a second term.

I haven't written anything yet on the revelations concerning the mistreatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. That's in part because I don't think we've heard anything like the end of it yet. Every time I cruise the media sites or the blogs I see new stories of abuse, or reminders of incidents reported about Afghanistan or Gitmo that didn't get much attention at the time but are now resurfacing. This story is a long way from over and the Bush administration is being tested in a way that it hasn't faced before. It may just unravel before our eyes.

Rumsfeld testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday.

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Priorities, people, priorities

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I have to agree with Ray at Pol·Spy on this one. Even if you think the Governor-General accomplished something with her $5 million tour, what those 80,000 veterans helped to accomplish was far more important.

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Feds' Cherry probe secret

The official languages commissioner, who ignited a public firestorm when she launched an investigation into "anti-French" remarks by Don Cherry, won't release her report to the public. Instead, her findings will be sent to the publicly funded CBC -- the hockey commentator's boss -- which can opt to keep it secret.

Chantale Breton, a spokesman for Commissioner Dyane Adam, said the process is designed to protect the integrity of investigations. She expects the report will be wrapped up and passed on to the CBC within two weeks.

Regular readers of this space may recall that I thought the whole brouhaha over Cherry's remarks was overblown. I'm far more concerned with the attitude displayed by our official languages commissioner than with anything Cherry said. Cherry may make more money, but at least he gets ratings, which is his job.

Why this reflexive attitude on the part of a public servant that everything is a secret unless someone files a Freedom of Information request? She was one of the principal drivers in making this a major media event in the first place.

We're still in the midst of a parliamentary inquiry into a government program in which millions of taxpayer dollars can't be properly tracked because spending wasn't properly documented. When they finally got Chuck "I saved Canada single-handedly" Guité to sit his butt in a chair and answer questions, he seemed proud of the fact that he had purposely kept the paper trail in the sponsorship program as sparse as possible. He seemed to expect to be congratulated for thwarting the possibility that any Canadian might be able to exercise the legal right to request information on how our money was spent. (Never mind the fact that he belittled Sheila Fraser for having trouble figuring out where the money went after admitting that he made it as difficult as possible to figure out where the money went. Duh!)

So with this as a backdrop, the official languages commissioner takes it upon herself to start this investigation and then announces that the results will be a deep dark secret? Does she not understand that her work product is our property?

Methinks she's entitled to a long vacation. At her own expense.


Late yesterday, CBC spokesman Jason MacDonald said the broadcaster will agree to make the report public.

So we'll get to see what all the fuss is about. Previously I had no interest in her report but now I'm dying to hear about it.

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May 4, 2004

Having a problem with Sasser?

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I see I'm getting a number of hits this morning on searches for information about the Sasser Worm. If you think you've been infected, Symantec has a free removal tool. Go here. That page provides some explanation of what the worm does. Scroll down a bit for the link to download the tool.

Good luck.

Update: The logs tell me a lot more of you are interested in this right now than anything else, so I'll bump it back up.

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Quote of the day

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks has posted a lengthy excerpt from Joe Wilson's new book. Wilson, you may recall, is the former American diplomat who had the temerity to challenge the Bush administration for including the claim that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger in the 2003 State of the Union address. Since it was Wilson who had gone to Niger to investigate the claim and found it to be false, he was a bit surprised to see it show up in a subsequent address to the nation as if it was a virtual certainty. When he called the White House on its duplicity, he was rewarded by having his wife's status as an undercover CIA operative leaked to the press. The investigation into this leak, which is a possible violation of the law, is ongoing.

The entire excerpt is worth reading if you're interested in the case, but I was particularly struck by a short passage in the middle of it about bringing democracy to a country where it hasn't previously existed. After noting that he, himself, was involved in democratization efforts for much of his 22 year career in the Foreign Service, he writes this:

The best description I have heard for the process is that it is like a fine English lawn: you must seed it, you must water it, and if you want it to look really good, you must roll it -- for six hundred years.

Updated to make a correction. As a commentor pointed out, it was the 2003 SOTU address that incorporated the claim, not the one in 2002.

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It's entirely possible that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the entity currently in charge of Iraq, doesn't actually exist. From Slate:

...what, bureaucratically speaking, is the CPA? A new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, posted online by the good-government folks at the Federation of American Scientists says, "It is unclear whether CPA is a federal agency." Noting that its "organizational status is uncertain," the report speculates that the CPA may be a part of the Pentagon (the Army cuts Bremer's checks), it may be a stand-alone executive agency, or it may be an international institution, like NATO.

The confusion?which, the report notes, raises questions about "whether, and to what extent, CPA might be held accountable for its programs, activities, decisions, and expenditures"?stems from the White House, which hasn't released information delineating the CPA's authority, structure, or place in government. (It also didn't return calls seeking clarification.) The best information congressional researchers could find on the CPA's structure was "an undated organization chart" that "provides some insight into the structure of the authority, although it does not include some key offices and positions."

In last fall's $87 billion war and reconstruction bill, Congress described the CPA as an "entity of the United States Government." Presidential memorandums reiterate that view. But the U.S. Army has a slightly different take: Its legal office said the "CPA is not a federal agency. Like NATO, CPA is composed of [an] international coalition."

The uncertainty goes back to the CPA's birth, which seems to have happened via immaculate conception. The White House doesn't appear to have announced it. References to the CPA just started showing up in government documents. The congressional researchers write, "[N]o explicit, unambiguous, and authoritative statement has been provided that declares how the authority was established, under what authority, and by whom."

The report posits "two alternative explanations for how the CPA was established." One is that Bush may have created the CPA via a presidential directive. The researchers caution, "This document, if it exists, has not been made available to the public." The other explanation, suggested by the Army and others, is that the CPA was created by a U.N. Security Council resolution. However, as the congressional sleuths point out, while the resolution does recognize the United States and Britain as "occupying powers," it "does not establish, or authorize the creation of, a specific organization to carry out this responsibility."

Via digby at Hullabaloo who asks:
By the way, when exactly did the Congress of the United States close up shop, anyway?

Maybe Congress never actually existed either.

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Department of foot in mouth III

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In his May 3rd entry, Warren Kinsella draws our attention to this Larry Zolf column. I think Warren's interest (may I call you Warren?) is in what the piece says about the inability of Team Martin to get its act together, but I found this little gem buried part way through when Zolf is relating comments from someone he refers to as his "Mulroney insider".

The public is "too dumb to see that the Liberals were paying off the ad agencies for the referendum and election work they had done."

Actually, Mr. Insider, I had pretty much figured that out. But thanks for confirming that Team Mulroney regards most of us with contempt.

Now would this be the same Mulroney who recently endorsed Stephen Harper and wants us all to vote Conservative? Because I'm sure comments like this will really help. Are you sure we're smart enough to find the polling station by ourselves?

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May 2, 2004

Worm unleashed that exploits latest Windows security holes, Microsoft warns

Microsoft Corp. issued an unusual weekend security warning Saturday that a worm has been unleashed on the Internet taking advantage of a security hole announced publicly last month (see story). Microsoft once again urged users to install its most recent critical Windows updates.

"Microsoft has verified that the worm exploits the Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (LSASS) issue addressed in Microsoft Security Update MS04-011 on April 13, 2004," the company said in an announcement posted yesterday and updated 3 a.m. PDT this morning. In its security update, Microsoft included a tool that checks for system infection by the Sasser worm.

Versions of Windows XP and 2000 are vulnerable, although not XP 64-Bit Edition Version 2003, Microsoft said.

Some users may be reluctant to apply the patches, however, since there have been reports that the fixes create new system problems, such as causing some systems to slow down or stop responding (see story).

The story goes on to say that Symantec recently upgraded the threat level to 4 out of a possible 5. I installed the patch. Are we having fun yet?

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Fool me once...

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There's been a lot of attention paid to the fact that Google is going public. Personally I haven't read much about it, preferring to wait and see if my favorite dotcom critic would eventually share his thoughts on the matter. While Steve Gilliard has lately made his blogging reputation with his analysis of events in Iraq and of American politics, his writing on the dotcom boom and bust during his association with the now defunct was required reading for anyone who wanted to cut through the hype and see what was really going on.

Steve has a post up (scroll down) on the Google IPO that seems to sum things up nicely. First he quotes from a Motley Fool article:

Google's set up a Dual Class stock structure. The publicly traded Class A stock and management-held Class B stocks have identical economic rights, but the Class B shares get 10 votes for each one that the Class A shares receive.

Guess how every single vote in the history of the company will go? However management wants it to, it's already stuffed the voting boxes. Fellows, if you're going to quote Warren Buffett in your owner's manual (a fine document, by the way), you ought to at least recognize that Buffett considers Berkshire shareholders as partners and gives them the right to buy shares that have the same power as his. If you don't want to have to listen to others, then don't go public.

Google will not be able to control the pricing on the opening day of the IPO. But I really have to wonder whether this really just isn't anything more than cashing in at the peak.

Then Steve offers his own thoughts:
Look at the Google S-1, and you immediately ask why, with its $105m in net profits, is worth a capitalization of $25b, more than Costco. What is clear is that the stock will eventually fall from whatever price the IPO mania drives and investors will be dealing with a company worth less than they paid. Before you get all glossy-eyed about Google, remember, the most successful IPO of the dotcom era was Krispy Kreme. Most IPO investors lost their shirt and while Google is profitable, Google is only one company in a market vunerable to technological change.

In essence, the Google shareholders have no voice in the company, while insiders can run it into the ground. They also aren't issuing quarterly reports. In short, they are even more arrogant than the dotcom folks. Not only do they want the IPO money, they don't want any kind of supervision.
Google is an ad-driven company, it relies on ads to make money, If cusotmers find another way to sell goods online, well, there goes their profitability. Google will also be smaller than Yahoo and Microsoft, both of whom could be gunning for their market.

This doesn't mean that Google won't maintain their profiability, or grow, but their aquisition profile has been less than robust. Google is merely the most successful of a number of search companies, it doesn't have a lock on the market in anyway, nor is its technology unique.
This doesn't mean Google won't be a good investment a year or two from now, when the stock price has shaken down and the company's responses to Microsoft and Yahoo, who was an early investor in Google, are clearer. Will they go on a buying spree? Will key people leave? You need time to sort these things out, something which the dotcoms didn't have. Running to buy Google's IPO is a mug's game for small investors and poker for my trader friends. And like Texas Hold 'Em, it's fun to watch and nervewracking to play.

Listen to Steve. Pass on this one for now.

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May 1, 2004

Paul Martin and George Bush had their first formal meeting today, and one of the issues they discussed was the current American ban on live Canadian cattle. Although Martin didn't get a firm commitment on lifting the ban from the President, he said that Bush's response was very encouraging. Or was that very, very encouraging? For his part, Bush said:

And it's in our nations' interest that live beef be moving back and forth. It's also in our interest that we make decisions based on sound science.

Hear that? Sound science. That should take care of the problem.

Hatchery Salmon to Count as Wildlife

The Bush administration has decided to count hatchery-bred fish, which are pumped into West Coast rivers by the hundreds of millions yearly, when it decides whether stream-bred wild salmon are entitled to protection under the Endangered Species Act.

This represents a major change in the federal government's approach to protecting Pacific salmon -- a $700 million-a-year effort that it has described as the most expensive and complicated of all attempts to enforce the Endangered Species Act.
In the past 15 years, the federal government's effort to protect stream-bred wild salmon has forced costly changes in how forests are cut, housing developments are built, farms are cultivated and rivers are operated for hydroelectricity production. Farm, timber and power interests have complained for years about these costs and have sued to remove protections for some fish.

They are enthusiastic advocates of counting hatchery fish when assessing the survival chances of wild salmon. Unlike their wild cousins, hatchery fish can be bred without ecosystem-wide modifications to highways, farms and dams.
Six of the world's leading experts on salmon ecology complained last month in the journal Science that fish produced in hatcheries cannot be counted on to save wild salmon. The scientists had been asked by the federal government to comment on its salmon-recovery program but said they were later told that some of their conclusions about hatchery fish were inappropriate for official government reports.

The Bush administration's idea of "sound science" is to draft the policies that will please their corporate contributors and then try and find the science that will support those policies. If they can't find it, they make it up. If all the science contradicts their policies, they ignore it.

If I were a Canadian cattle rancher, I sure wouldn't be holding my breath right now waiting for any movement on lifting the ban.

The Washington Post link is via David Neiwert at Orcinus who has much more on the story, including this:

The long-term ramifications of the Bush policy are profound. Because not only salmon are affected: Indeed, some 150 species -- including, of course, the native orca populations -- are directly dependent on the salmon. Even more species depend on a secondary level on their presence, including birds that feed off the insects that rely on the nutrients provided by the carcasses of returned salmon spawners. Under this policy, their gradual decline is simply inevitable. And the appearance of a hatchery-borne disease could wipe out entire runs in a single swoop, and with it all the animals that depend on them.

The only science involved in Bush's policy is that of increasing campaign donations.

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