September 2004 Archives

September 30, 2004

Arar Inquiry: Do you feel safer now?

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Cross-posted to the E-Group

There has been no public testimony in the Arar inquiry since I last wrote about it, but even though the hearings there have been were in camera and held in an undisclosed location (do you suppose it was Dick Cheney's secret bunker?), a number of interesting things have emerged. Among them are that the Chrétien adminstration didn't learn from history and that the RCMP is, to put it bluntly, unfit for intelligence work.

There's a James Travers article in the Toronto Star that takes us back to the MacDonald Commission which was convened in the late seventies to investigate our national police force.

Along with breaking laws and investigating groups that only threatened partisan political interests, the force's security service also wilfully mislead its political masters.

For those who have forgotten, the commission recommended divorcing the work of bringing criminals to justice from the more subtle, less finite task of insulating the nation from threats that are often as uncertain as they are obscure.

It was because of the Commission's findings that Ottawa took the Mounties out of the business of intelligence and created the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and a civilian agency, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), to keep an eye on them. But in the rush to be seen to take action after 9/11, in a move that Travers describes as one of ?political expediency?, the MacDonald Commission and the reasons it was struck were forgotten and the government suddenly put the RCMP right back in the spy business again.

Unfortunately it seems no one bothered to figure out whether they were really equipped to handle it. A redacted (the 21st century word for censored) version of the Garvie report, prepared at the request of the Commission of Public Complaints against the RCMP, was released to the public and the 75% of it that we're allowed to see is pretty discouraging.

The Garvie report paints a picture of an RCMP-led police intelligence unit that cut corners, ignored rules and lacked the expertise to deal with complex national-security cases. It also says the Canadian counterterrorism unit was so strapped for cash that its investigators couldn't buy airline tickets to New York to join Mr. Arar's interrogation.

We had already learned that while Arar was held in New York, the RCMP violated policy by sharing intelligence with American officials without the normal restrictions on it. We now know that the Americans specifically requested information that ?might help them file criminal charges?. And the Mounties' response?
... the RCMP told the U.S. officials that the Canadian side believed the intelligence it was passing along was reliable. But "the reliability assessment of that information was inaccurate."

In other words they screwed up. It sounds like they just took everything they had, including the apartment lease that tied Arar to another suspect, Abdullah Almalki (and which, incidentally, they had obtained without a warrant), and passed it to the Americans figuring they could sort it out for themselves. The lease wasn't mentioned again specifically but it now seems clear that because it was given to the Americans without the proper restrictions on its use, they in turn passed it on to Syrian intelligence.

And there's more.

The Garvie report says RCMP Inspector Richard Roy, the force's liaison officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa, learned at some point during Mr. Arar's 12-day detention in New York that "there was a possibility that Arar would be sent to Syria." Yet the officers mentioned this to investigators from the A-O Canada unit only on the morning of Oct. 8, 2002, when Mr. Arar was on board the plane to the Middle East.

The A-O Canada unit were the ones actually handling the Arar file. But, hey, it's not like they needed to know what was going on, eh?

There is only one respect here in which the Mounties look better than CSIS. Only 25% of the RCMP report is censored while a new version of the SIRC report on the role CSIS played was released, after the government admitted that redacting every word on 89 pages was a little bit much, and we still only get to see 30% of it. While it seems to clear CSIS of any serious wrongdoing, it reveals some interesting information about the Department of Foreign Affairs.

At the time our ambassador to Syria was Franco Pillarella. One would think that he would have been busy lobbying for Arar's release from the point where Canada figured out he was there. But apparently Pillarella took time out to be verbally ?briefed? on the results of Arar's interrogation, requested a written transcript, had it translated from Arabic to English and passed it on to CSIS agents. Now is it only me or does it send a mixed message to the Syrians to sit down and be ?briefed? on an interrogation when you're insisting that a citizen of your country is being held illegally? He was insisting that, wasn't he? And did everyone in the Canadian government forget that the Syrians torture prisoners?

This all went down in November of 2002 and Arar had roughly another nine months in a Damascus prison to look forward to. If our ambassador was busy playing spy vs. spy, is it fair to ask how hard he was working to get Arar out of there? Because it took until the following spring to really get things moving and even then the RCMP wasn't on side.

By the next spring, the Arar case had become a cause c?l?bre in Canada, straining relations with the United States, when then-prime-minister Jean Chr?tien's government decided to intervene with Syrian authorities. A letter was drafted from then-foreign-affairs-minister Bill Graham to Damascus, saying, "the government of Canada has no evidence Mr. Arar was involved in any terrorist activities."

The Garvie report says a senior RCMP officer, Deputy Commissioner Garry Loeppky, tried but failed to get that line deleted from the letter, arguing that it was misleading because Mr. Arar "remains a subject of great interest."

Arar's detention was illegal from day one. As a dual citizen, according to international law he had the right to have the Americans return him to Canada instead of sending him to Syria. Even if the RCMP had enough on the guy to charge him, which they obviously didn't, the correct course of action was to get him out of Syria as quickly as possible and back in the hands of Canadian authorities. But from this it looks like the RCMP was quite happy to leave him in that Damascus prison and Foreign Affairs was sitting on its hands for months. Did everyone in the Canadian government forget...oh, never mind.

It's unclear from the Commission website and from all of these stories exactly what happens from here. Last week and the week before were taken up with hearings on the confidentiality of some of the thousands of government documents the lawyers are reviewing. The consensus seems to be that they're on another break but will resume in camera hearings in October for another round of the same. One story I read suggested that public testimony won't resume until early next year.

The tone of the Travers article I quoted near the top of this post almost suggests that we now know enough to assess what happened to Maher Arar. We have a dysfunctional national police force, hurriedly pressed into service as an intelligence agency, blundering around pretending they know what they're doing while CSIS, the real spooks, are using Foreign Affairs to find out what the Mounties have been up to and the government is too busy looking south for approval to remember that the guy in the cell in Damascus is one of ours. But it wouldn't surprise me to find that there are some interesting twists and turns yet to come. And I'm now waiting anxiously to see who gets fired over this. Somebody should be.

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September 28, 2004

Before you head south for the winter

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I spent some time this evening reviewing the stories about the Maher Arar case that I've collected since the last time I wrote about it. Arar is the Canadian citizen who was deported by American officals to Syria, where he was tortured and imprisoned for ten months. I'll have more about that soon, but there's an item that popped up just this evening that I'll pass along right now.

The term for what the Americans did to Arar is extraordinary rendition. A Kossack (member of Daily Kos) named KatherineR defines it for us.

"Extraordinary rendition" is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation. As one intelligence official described it in the Washington Post, "We don't kick the sh*t out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the sh*t out of them."

It's a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatment but, as KatherineR reports, there's a loophole in American law that allows it if the receiving government, such as Syria, provides "assurances" that the deportee won't be mistreated.

It seems a loophole isn't good enough for the Bush administration. The following is from an email KatherineR received from a Democratic Congressman's staffer regarding a provision that's been inserted, or perhaps hidden would be a better word, in legislation that's been introduced in the House of Representatives in response to the 9/11 commission report.

The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist - thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture.

Are you planning a trip south in the near future? Is there anything in your background that would cause American law enforcement officials to take a second look at you? Because what this says is that what happened to Maher Arar is about to become the law of the land if the Republicans have their way (the legislation was introduced by Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert). There won't be anything extraordinary about rendition anymore.

Now check out this part:

The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish "by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured," would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary's regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will - even countries other than the person's home country or the country in which they were born.

How is someone being held in detention supposed to provide clear and convincing evidence that he or she will be mistreated? Particularly if the country in question is one unknown to the detainee. It says "any country in the world". They're declaring that all they have to do is hang the "suspected terrorist" label on you and they can do anything they want, and do it by executive fiat since the courts have no jurisdiction to review the decision.

This isn't law yet but it well could be. And if it becomes law, can you say Travel Alert?

Update - 4:00 pm, Sept. 29, 2004:
I don't know if the traditional media is on this story but the blogosphere sure is. I wondered last night if the KatherineR quoted above is the same person who used to post at Obsidian Wings. It turns out she is and she got one of her former blogmates to put this story up as a guest post. Aside from asking Americans to contact their elected representatives and express their opposition to this particular bit of insanity, she asked other bloggers to spread the word and link back to her post. As of this writing, she's got 28 trackbacks. It's about to be 29. It would be neat if bloggers helped stop this.

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September 27, 2004

Show me the money!

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This is part of an ongoing discussion on the private sector and Canada's health care system. This post will provide a list of the previous installments and a brief description of each.

Since the last two posts were a bit of a digression caused by yours truly, it still falls to me to answer the points raised by Andrew in Public/Private Health Care. The evidence of problems in our system provided in that post is duly noted but I think it only reinforces what seemed clear from the beginning of our discussion: what has brought the issue to a head is money.

Health care costs are rising in all jurisdictions but the problem seems magnified in Canada because the effects of cuts in federal transfer payments to the provinces ten years ago are still being felt. That and the provincial premiers have spent most of the last decade whining at, pleading with, screaming at and threatening the federal government in an effort to get the old funding levels restored. And being politicians they do their whining, pleading, screaming and threatening in public to convince the voters that the problems we're talking about aren't their fault.

So those who favour privatization of all or some services in health care suggest that there's money to be saved. But as I've already pointed out, and has Andrew has agreed, the private sector doesn't do anything without the expectation of profit. So it isn't enough that the efficiency born of competition and market forces reduces costs. The reduction in costs has to be such that the operators of those private facilities get an acceptable profit margin and there's still a savings to the taxpayer. If the reduction in costs is 5%, and the profit margin is 10%, then we're worse off than we were before.

Has anyone ever worked the numbers? Are there studies showing the numbers for private and public facilities side by side, in a way that at least comes close to comparing apples and apples, so we can see what kinds of efficiencies and cost savings we're talking about? Has anyone fired up a spreadsheet program and played ?what if? with the numbers to prove the point? That's partly what I meant when I said that asking me to have faith in market forces isn't enough. Show me the money.

There are several points in Andrew's post that specifically address money. The first was this:

The government must fundamentally change how funds are allocated for health care. Hospitals/clinics/etc must be paid based on the procedures they perform instead of being given yearly budgets.

I'm not sure that's workable. The demand for health care services is unpredictable in many ways. Redundancy and overcapacity have to be built into the system.

The obvious example is emergency room staff though I think this applies in other ways as well. You can't keep people waiting in emerg while you phone the staff at home and ask them to come in because you have a heavier load than you expected. You have to try and staff for peak demand, or close to it, even if it means you have capacity going idle at times. People don't get sick or injured on a schedule.

Efficiency takes a back seat to ensuring you can cope with what might be thrown at you. In many areas of health care the normal supply and demand model won't meet the requirements. Supply has to anticipate the demand and trying to estimate demand too closely could spell disaster.

The last sentence in this section of Andrew's post wasn't clear to me.

Another benefit of this is that the facilities that are most often used by patients receive the most money - thus competition is introduced into the system.

I'd like to get clarification on this. Meanwhile, I'll carry on.
Private clinics should be allowed to provide "perks" for dollars. i.e. If you want a room with a network connection (because you absolutely must blog about your experience in the hospital) then it could be made available, for a cost. Likewise, if you wanted fancy meals, they too could be charged to your account.

This is more in the nature of adding an additional revenue stream than reducing costs and there might be some possibilities here. But again, if you run out of rooms without the network connection and someone who can't pay for it needs the room, are you going to leave him out in the hall? Or will you give him the room with the network connection at the basic rate?

The fancy meals concern me too. Basic hospital food is bad enough. If there's a premium product that brings in greater revenue, won't there be a temptation to let the quality on the entry level product slide even more to encourage people to part with a few extra bucks? So now the people who really can't afford the premium product are getting even worse food. And food, at least its nutritional value, isn't a perk. People recovering from an illness or surgery should eat properly.

The private sector should be allowed to set wages/benefits for the personnel they hire, but should not be allowed to milk the system as in the Sunset Lodge example. This sets up competition for human resources, which should lead to better wages for doctors, and more down to earth rates for other employees.

In many areas of the private sector employers don't set wages and benefits, they negotiate them with the bargaining units that represent the employees. And many of those currently working in the health care system are unionized. Are you going to outlaw unions? Short of the kind of back room dealing that went on in the Sunset Lodge example it seems fair to ask how much money can really be saved this way. And how much of that would be used to pay the better wages for doctors? And the better wages for others that might find themselves the subject of a bidding war? Why assume it would just be doctors?

Aside: Family physicians in Ontario just got a raise.

None of this completely shoots down Andrew's ideas, but I'd argue that none of them are quite that simple. The devil's in the details and the details need to be fleshed out, especially in terms of the kind of cost savings or additional revenues we can expect while still ensuring that quality and availability of care improve rather than deteriorating. Show me the money.

And while we're talking about money, will we get to see the books? With Highway 407, we in Ontario recently saw a public-private partnership where confidentiality was written into the contract. We weren't allowed to know the details until long after the fact and I think any involvement on the part of the private sector in health care will require far more transparency and accountability than that. You can argue that the public sector isn't as accountable as it could be (and many have in posts and comments) but at least when something is in public hands we have some hope that we can gang up on the politicians and put the pressure on them to open up the books. When confidentiality is written into the contract, any hope of accountability is gone. Show me the books.

To summarize, there are three questions here for the private sector. What constitutes an acceptable profit margin? Can the cost savings or additional revenues such that private sector operators will meet their profit targets without actually raising the taxpayers' bill be demonstrated? And is the private sector prepared to operate in a manner that's transparent enough that we can keep tabs on them? It's our money.

This doesn't answer all the issues that Andrew raised, but it's long enough for one post. I'm planning another in a day or so and he, and others, can either jump in now or lay back and wait. As a preview of what's to come, the working title for the next post is Opportunities and Imperatives.

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September 26, 2004

Curiosity, the cat and all that

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I see by the referral list at Site Meter that I've had several hits today from a discussion forum at a site called It certainly looks like an interesting place.

See Wall Street through the unique lens of the Anals of Stock Proctology. You too can follow in the footsteps of world famous Stock Proctologist, Dr. Stepan N. Stool. Yes, unlike most doctors, who are not Stepan N. Stool, Dr. Stepan N. Stool walked on Wall Street. Now you can too! Just follow Dr. Stool and the Anals.

When I think of Wall Street and proctology in the same context, there are a number of comments that spring to mind. But I'll contain myself. I have to admit, though, that I'm dying of curiosity. So if anyone wanders through who would care to fill me in on how I ended up under discussion there, it would be much appreciated.

It certainly wouldn't have anything to do with my investment acumen. I don't have any.

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I had originally intended to add another installment to the on-going health care discussion tonight but I've been distracted by Billmon. Now don't go to Whiskey Bar looking for new content because as of this writing there isn't any. Instead he's surfaced in the LA Times with his fear that he may be witnessing the end of the poliblogosphere as we know it.

That may seem a strange thing to say, given the flattering coverage of blogs triggered by the CBS affair. But the media's infatuation has a distinct odor of the deathbed about it ? not for the blogosphere, which has a commercially bright future, but for the idea of blogging as a grass-roots challenge to the increasingly sanitized "content" peddled by the Time Warner-Capital Cities-Disney-General Electric-Viacom-Tribune media oligopoly.
Media exposure, in turn, is intensifying an existing trend toward a "winner take all" concentration of audience share. Even before blogs hit the big time, Web stats showed the blogosphere to be a surprisingly unequal place, with a relative handful of blogs ? say, the top several hundred ? accounting for the lion's share of all page hits.

But as long as blogs remained on the commercial fringes, the playing field at least was relatively level. Audience was largely a function of reputation ? for the frequency or quality or ideological appeal of the blogger's posts. Costs were low, and few bloggers were trying to make a living at it, so money wasn't an issue. It may not have been egalitarian, but it wasn't strictly hierarchical, either.

That world of inspired amateurs still exists, but it's rapidly being overshadowed by the blogosphere's potential for niche marketing. Ad dollars are flowing into the blogosphere. And naturally, most are going to the A-list blogs. As media steer readers toward the top blogs, the temptation to sell out to the highest bidder could become irresistible, and the possibility of making it in the marketplace as an independent blogger increasingly theoretical.

I understand Billmon's concern but I also think he should give more consideration to what drives both those who write blogs, the original ?independent bloggers?, and those who read them.

More than any other single individual, it was Steve Gilliard who inspired me to start blogging. I was familiar with his writing long before he started his own blog because of his involvement with the now-defunct NetSlaves as a partner and as the main contributor of content. It didn't take me long to figure out that here was a writer who, to paraphrase Steve himself, said what he meant and meant what he said. Whether he was roasting the self-proclaimed prophets of the boom or explaining in detail how badly Iraq could go wrong months before the invasion even started, here was a writer who pulled no punches. Mahigan at True North described Steve's approach as ?full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes? and it fits as well as anything would. When NetSlaves folded I followed Steve around the internet because I wanted what he was offering.

He's now blogging full time and is running ads and soliciting reader contributions to support the site. And I've yet to see it have one bit of influence on his writing. For that matter he had a serious health problem this year and even surgery didn't slow him down for long or moderate his tone. What you see is what you get. I visit him every day.

One evening I followed a link on Steve' blogroll and discovered Melanie at Just a Bump in the Beltway. While hers is a much different personality and style than Steve's, I sensed the same thing that I appreciated in Steve's writing. Call it a lack of artifice. Melanie wears her politics on her sleeve and has inserted herself in the debate, not to score points, but out of a genuine concern for the way the world is unfolding. Her intelligence and experience equip her to sift through what the media offers and focus on the issues that deserve attention, but it was the authenticity that first caught my attention and kept me going back.

I raise Melanie as an example because I recently had the opportunity to sit and talk with her over drinks and roast beef when she was in Toronto on business. I was pleased, though not surprised, to find that Melanie in real life is the Melanie I had gotten to know on her blog. What you see is what you get.

I find it difficult to credit the idea that voices like Melanie's and Steve's will change significantly just because the media suddenly finds that blogs are sexy or advertisers have spotted a growing market. That's not to say that no one who blogs is incapable of having his or her head turned by the possibility of attention or money. But there are others like these two who I'm sure have a good grip on why they started blogging and what they wanted to achieve.

I don't think either of these two blogs are considered A List in terms of traffic, but both have a pretty respectable readership. And if you spend any time in the comments of either of these two blogs, you'll see that both have a loyal audience. The same people return every day, month in, month out ? they must see what I see. There are a lot of options available for readers should the A List bloggers make the jump to media stardom and stop doing what brought them attention and success in the first place.

A number of bloggers have picked up on Billmon's piece and discussed it, but it seems to me that none of them have paid as much attention to the readers as they should. The explosive growth in popularity of Whiskey Bar and Daily Kos didn't happen just because the people behind those sites are good at what they do, although they certainly are. It happened because there was a pent-up demand for what was on offer at those sites. Billmon describes ?a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity? and worries that it's about to be absorbed by the very establishment that it started out criticizing. But it seems to me that even if that happens, the core readership that made those blogs as popular as they are will move on in search of what they've come to expect.

It's dead simple to remove a URL from your bookmarks and replace it with another. And it's not much more difficult to start a blog. You can still do it at Blogger for free and even a site like this one, with its own domain and hosting package, is a pretty cheap hobby even at traffic levels considerably higher than I see. When I played the guitar regularly I spent more on strings than I spend to run this place.

I think the kind of self-criticism and introspection that Billmon is engaging in here is healthy and I wish that many in the traditional media still had the capacity to do it. But I also think it's the readers who have made political blogging the phenomenon that it is. And now that they've had a taste of what they want, they're not likely to give it up easily. If the A List stops giving them what they want, they'll move to the B List. And if that doesn't work, some of them will step forward to start their own blogs and the others will flock to them.

So I think rumours of the demise of that ?populist creativity? are greatly exaggerated.

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September 25, 2004

Health care debate annotated index

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About ten days ago Andrew and I started a discussion on the Canadian health care system. It occurs to me that if this goes on much longer, providing an ever-increasing list of links at the beginning of each post for the benefit of those who happen to wander into the middle of it is going to become a bit of pain. So I'm making up an index of the posts, with a bit of a synopsis of each, and I'll update it as new posts are added to the conversation. This way I can provide one link at the beginning of a post and the interested reader can get caught up on the conversation. (Or decide that both Andrew and I are crazy and go on his way.)

What's So Wrong with Privatizing Health Care?
In which Andrew suggests that the cure for what ails Canada's health care system is to increase privatization, i.e. encourage more private sector involvement in the delivery of health care services, and wonders why so many Canadians are opposed to this, or at least sceptical of it.

Faith based privatization
In which pogge displays symptoms of Fear of Privatization, a psychological condition born of experience with the gap between the theory of market forces and the real-life results of giving those forces free rein. In particular, an example of private sector involvement in long term care in BC is provided where the results look a bit shaky so far.

Faith based privatization II
In which pogge lists numerous examples of corporate misbehaviour and argues that any proposal for increased private sector involvement in health care has to deal in specifics and acknowledge the possibility that corporate malfeasance can happen, rather than dealing only in theory and hoping that bad acts won't happen.

Public/Private Health Care
In which Andrew provides examples of his own to show that our current publicly run system is far from perfect and argues that because it's public and essentially a monopoly, there are no alternatives available short of leaving the country. He then offers more specific proposals for private sector involvement and suggests why he believes these would improve the system.

An open letter to Andrew: Let's review the premise
In which pogge, in a state of fatigue and paranoia, reads too much into one of Andrew's sources and wonders darkly if he's really dealing with a sleeper agent planted in the Canadian blogosphere by the Cato Institute and bent on undermining the Canadian way of life.

Open Response to Pogge
In which Andrew tells pogge to calm down and stop being silly (no, not really) and reiterates his support for the Canadian idea of health care: single payer, timely access for all, etc. The spirit of the Canada Health Act applies even if the document isn't to be treated as literal gospel.

Show me the money!
In which pogge asks for numbers. How much cost savings would privatization result in? How much profit would the private sector expect in return? And how open would they be with the book-keeping?

The Money Hunt
In which Andrew votes in favour of "rabid regulation" no matter who is delivering health care (no argument here) and offers up a certain Senator in support of his fee-for-service suggestion for funding hospitals. Pogge has some reading to do.

Opportunities and imperatives
In which pogge suggests that opportunity, the driving force behind the market economy, won't always satisfy and may often conflict with the imperative represented by single payer health care.

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September 24, 2004

Dear Andrew:

For the benefit of everyone else, I'll provide the background for this discussion. A while back you wrote a post in which you asked why some Canadians are sceptical about increased involvement by the private sector in the delivery of health care services in Canada. I responded here and when you added a comment to that post, I responded to your comment here.

On Monday you put up a post to answer my concerns and provide some more specific proposals and tonight I started to draft a response. But after examining more closely the sources you've cited in support of your arguments, and one of those sources in particular, I've saved that post as a draft and I'm writing this one instead because I'm wondering if we're really on the same page in this discussion.

You cite the death of Joshua Fleuelling as an example of how badly our health care system has gone wrong, and it was certainly a tragic incident. As I recall, the incident happened in the midst of a lot of turmoil in Ontario. The effects of deep and sudden cuts in transfer payments to the provinces that originated in 1995 were still rippling through the system then as they're still rippling through the system today. The provincial government had undertaken a massive restructuring of hospitals, an effort that was criticized as being too much, too fast. They had reduced the number of available beds, laid off nurses and generally had everything in an uproar.

But the cite you provide (pdf) mentions none of that. It's a four page essay written by Merrill Matthews Jr., Ph.D. and Kerri Houston. For the record, Matthews works for the Council for Affordable Health Insurance (CAHI), a lobby group for the private health insurance industry in the US. Houston is a PR flack for something called the American Conservative Network. Now read the piece again starting with the subtitle: The Crime of Government-Run Health Care.

Does it read like an effort to tell the real story of Joshua Fleuelling's death? Or does it read like a couple of lobbyists grabbing at any opportunity to trash not only Canada's health care system, but the whole concept of single payer healthcare? And let's note that the claim that Fluelling died because people had the flu is never sourced. I lived right here in Ontario all through that period and I distinctly recall the situation being a lot more complicated than that article represents. (I also recall that the situation was taken more seriously than the article represents. It resulted in an inquest whose recommendations regarding emergency training and staffing were implemented. In other words, the system responded.)

I'm aware of the danger of assuming that those authors represent your views in all respects, but I'm also concerned that we could spend a lot of time discussing this issue only to find that we're talking at cross-purposes. I'm concerned our differences may be more fundamental than I thought.

I'm quite confident that debating the two authors of that piece would be a complete waste of time. They represent an industry association that would oppose anything that didn't look like the American system because that's their whole reason for being. Their interest is in preserving and expanding the opportunity for profit for the interests they serve. Everything else is secondary.

If it seems like I'm bashing you unfairly over this one source, it's because you've provided a perfect example of exactly the people who scare the life out of me when we talk about changes to the system. There's serious money in health care and people like this, and the people they work for, are positively salivating at the prospect of getting their hands on it. They'll spin things just as hard as they can to do it.

As for the Fraser Institute, which you also cite, I feel pretty much the same way about them. They've never met a privatization they didn't like. They specialize in burying you in charts and numbers that don't necessarily prove what they claim to, but you have to wade through a host of assumptions to find out which ones have skewed the results. One of their most successful memes is Tax Freedom Day but it turns out they play a little fast and loose to get there.

So are we really discussing the end of single payer health care? Are we talking two-tier health care? I'm assuming that universal access and single payer are givens in this discussion and that the challenge is to preserve those principles and to improve the level of service while coping with rising costs. If that represents an ideology then maybe I misspoke originally and it's me that has gone off in the wrong direction. If that's really the case, then please consider this a mea culpa.

Though we haven't gotten to it yet, I'm assuming that there's an interest in examining why costs are rising and examining all the alternatives for getting them under control, even if the solutions don't end up involving privatization and may actually work against corporate interests. One example is the patent laws that apply to brand name drugs and whether they should be reviewed.

I think we need to review the premise of the discussion before we dig any deeper into the details. We need to make sure we're trying to get to the same place before we argue about the best way to get there.


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September 23, 2004

I've got yer democracy right here

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U.S. Hand Seen in Afghan Election

Mohammed Mohaqiq says he was getting ready to make his run for the Afghan presidency when U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad dropped by his campaign office and proposed a deal.

"He told me to drop out of the elections, but not in a way to put pressure," Mohaqiq said. "It was like a request."

Except that it wasn't a request. When Mohaqiq decided to continue his campaign:
"He left, and then called my most loyal men, and the most educated people in my party or campaign, to the presidential palace and told them to make me ? or request me ? to resign the nomination. And he told my men to ask me what I need in return."

That's not a request. It's a combination of pressure and attempted bribery.
"It is not only me," Mohaqiq said. "They have been doing the same thing with all candidates. That is why all people think that not only Khalilzad is like this, but the whole U.S. government is the same. They all want Karzai ? and this election is just a show."

The charges were repeated by several other candidates and their senior campaign staff in interviews here. They reflected anger over what many Afghans see as foreign interference that could undermine the shaky foundations of a democracy the U.S. promised to build.

In a statement issued by Khalilzad, he denied the allegation and described his efforts as "keeping in touch". You know, kinda like dropping someone a line on his birthday.
Khalilzad has been nicknamed "the Viceroy" because the influence he wields over the Afghan government reminds some Afghans of the excesses of British colonialism. Some of Karzai's rivals think that the ambassador has taken on a new role: presidential campaign manager.

This is not the first time Khalilzad has been accused of meddling in Afghan politics. Delegates to gatherings that named Karzai interim president in 2002 and ratified Afghanistan's new Constitution last December also accused the ambassador of interfering, even of paying delegates for their support. Khalilzad denies the claims.

I have to hand to him, he makes Paul Cellucci sound good. And coming from me that says a lot.

Khalilzad's efforts may be paying off. The article describes the ongoing negotiation between Mohaqiq, the American ambassador and Karzai and it sounds like they're close to a deal. It warms your heart, doesn't it?

Via Sinister Thoughts. It seems like an appropriate name in this case.

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September 20, 2004

Water, water everywhere

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At least it might seem that way if you live in the Great Lakes basin.

In 1998 a company called Nova Group applied for a permit to draw 156 million gallons of water a day from Lake Superior and ship it to Asia by sea-going tanker. That proposal got people a little excited.

So Great Lakes politicians rolled up their sleeves and promised to develop a resource-based conservation standard that would keep the water where it belongs: in the basin.

After three years of intense fact gathering and rule-making, the politicians have now given Great Lakes residents just 90 days to comment on their handiwork.

The politicians referred to are in an organization called the Council of Great Lakes Governors and Premiers representing eight American states that border the lakes as well as Ontario and Quebec. Their handiwork is more properly referred to as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Or just Annex for short. The reaction it's getting is mixed at best. Some environmentalists say it's a step in the right direction, "with substantive changes", because it at least sets up a formal mechanism to deal with proposals for withdrawing water from the lakes.
They argue it would at least create a regulatory framework that would subject diversions to proper scrutiny and give Ontario and Quebec a voice, if not a veto, on proposed U.S. diversions.

"We have political expediency now," said Sarah Miller, of the Canadian Environmental Law Association. "Right now, there are no rules."

But others fear that this agreement would open the floodgates (pun intended). To return to the Detroit Free Press (second link above):
... what began as a project to keep water in the basin has become a precise formula for allowing water out. What should have been a simple mechanism to limit diversions has become a way to say yes to water-challenged communities all along the basin.
First, the new standards are more permissive than the status quo. Under the Great Lakes Charter and the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, no governor can pump water out of the basin without the consensus of his peers. Annex changes that to a simple majority-rule vote.

The new permitting system also makes it possible to say yes to unlimited demands, which as any householder knows, is a great way to empty a bank account.
Despite the illusion of abundance, only 1 percent of the lakes is renewable, and that 1 percent now sustains one of the world's largest economies. Yet no one has a good handle on how much water the region is now spending.

Good data on evaporation, rainfall, cumulative effects and groundwater doesn't exist. The accuracy of much existing data is in doubt.

So, putting more straws in a glass without really knowing its sustainable volume is pure folly.

Elizabeth May, the executive director of the Sierra Club, voices her doubts in the Toronto Star.
For the first time in history, this agreement would open the Lakes to water diversions based on the premise that customers for Great Lakes water from outside the Great Lakes Basin have to be treated equally to those inside the basin. Water takings would happen one permit at a time.

The language of the agreement imposes conditions and claims to be about protecting the waters of the Great Lakes.

But, in reality, the tests of when a diversion is appropriate are subjective. If a user claims that they cannot manage, even with aggressive water conservation measures that can be enough to open the taps.

And for good measure, May invokes another expert reaction.
One of the experts who has analyzed the agreement, Ralph Pentland, calls it tantamount to a "Water for sale" sign over the Great Lakes.

Pentland is not some wild-eyed radical. He was Canadian co-chair of the IJC study board on the issue of Great Lakes' diversions and consumptive uses and before that for nearly two decades was director of Environment Canada's water policy.

Pentland has compared the impact of the decision about to be taken over the future of the Great Lakes with another potential Aral Sea disaster.

The Aral Sea in central Asia was once famous as the third largest lake in the world. It is now famous for the stark images of rusting hulks of freighters stranded in a toxic dust bowl where fish once swam. The lake is now too toxic and salty for fish and has shrunk in area by more than 60 per cent.

In Pentland's view, the agreement between the governors and premiers places the Great Lakes on a "slippery slope." The comparison to the fate of the Aral Sea is not hyperbole.

May also raises the issue of trade agreements. What kind of NAFTA precedent would this set? It wouldn't be the first time "free trade" has had unintended consequences.

As the Detroit Free Press points out, only 1 per cent of the Great Lakes is renewable. Draw any more than that and water levels start dropping with consequences that we can't properly measure and don't entirely understand. And there's another wild card in the deck: climate change.

Annex also ignores the work of climate change. Rapid evaporation and warmer temperatures left docks and wetlands in Lakes Michigan and Huron high and dry a year ago. It also removed more water from the lakes in just six months than 30 Chicago diversions would have.

Chicago is licensed to take 2 billion gallons a day.

This doesn't look like a conspiracy of evil corporations plotting to get their mitts on our water. It looks more like a diverse group of legislators trying to balance competing interests, including communities and interests who are staring water shortages in the face. Fresh water, like oil, is going to be an increasingly valuable and scarce resource - certainly in the medium to long term. But the consequences of getting this wrong could be a catastrophe.

There are links to pdf versions of documents as well as links to allow you to submit comments by email or online on this page. The comment period started quietly in July. We have until October 18th to get in on the act. I do wonder what the hurry is.

Note: Cross-posted to the E-Group

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September 19, 2004

The other forgeries

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Josh Marshall has an interesting post up. He discusses the relative lack of enthusiasm that's been shown in determining the source of the forged documents that were supposed to prove that Saddam had an ongoing nuclear weapons program.

Marshall should know. As he reveals, he and his colleagues have interviewed a key player in the story and even brought the guy to the US to do so. And despite a congressional request to investigate the matter, the FBI showed absolutely no interest in talking to him.

Maybe they should put Buckhead on the case. If as much energy was invested in this as has been invested in the War on Dan Rather™, we'd probably know a lot more by now.

Marshall promises that there's more to come, so once again I'd suggest keeping an eye on Talking Points Memo.

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The coalition of the disappearing?

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Britain to cut troop levels in Iraq

The British Army is to start pulling troops out of Iraq next month despite the deteriorating security situation in much of the country, The Observer has learnt.

The main British combat force in Iraq, about 5,000-strong, will be reduced by around a third by the end of October during a routine rotation of units.
The forthcoming 'drawdown' of British troops in Basra has not been made public and is likely to provoke consternation in both Washington and Baghdad. Many in Iraq argue that more, not fewer, troops are needed. Last week British troops in Basra fought fierce battles with Shia militia groups.
Senior officers say the scaling back of the British commitment in Iraq is a sign of their success in keeping order and helping reconstruction. But both Basra and Maysan have seen heavy combat recently, with some units sustaining up to 35 per cent casualties, and remains restive. The al-Mahdi army, which was responsible for most of the fighting, remains heavily armed.

'Whatever they say, fewer troops mean less capability,' a military expert told The Observer . 'You need as many boots on the ground as you can get for low-intensity warfare and peace-keeping operations.'

Via Steve Gilliard, who comments:
They're leaving. Like a guy getting a divorce, They're looking for places and sneaking out stuff a bit at a time. One day, they'll be going home and leaving the US on the hook for the whole mess. What will the neocons do then, stop drinking scotch?

It's difficult to put any other interpretation on it. Despite the spin that "senior officers" try to put on this, it's obvious that the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate and it's difficult to call any part of this a success.

As the Observer article also reports, the political grief for Blair just keeps on growing. So while Britain's withdrawal looks to be happening piecemeal and by stealth instead of all at once and by formal announcement, as Spain's withdrawal was, the US is increasingly being left to shoulder the burden alone. To paraphrase Colin Powell: they broke it, they own it.

If Bush is re-elected, I don't expect that to change. If Kerry takes over, it remains to be seen whether he'll have better luck. It'll take a lot more than just hanging an "Under New Management" sign on the White House to convince to any other country to go back in.

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September 18, 2004

Missile Defense: Mission Unaccomplished

... it has been two years since the interceptors have been flight tested. The rocket booster designed to lift them into outer space?to collide with North Korean missiles as they arc across the heavens?has never been tested while carrying an interceptor. Nor has it been tested at more than half its required speed. The interceptors, launched by other means, did hit their target in five out of eight flight tests (the last of which took place in December 2002), but those tests were?not to put too fine a point on it?rigged. The targets were "lit up" so the sensors could spot them more quickly. The technicians knew where the target was coming from and where it was going. The hits were remarkable technical achievements, but they proved nothing about how the system would perform against a real missile in an actual attack (nor, in fairness to the MDA, were the tests intended to prove anything about that).
In fairness to the MDA, my aunt Fanny. Why aren't they screaming bloody murder at the idea that deployment of the first ten interceptors is going ahead without anything approaching proper testing? Oh, yeah. It might affect their budget.

Via Greg at Sinister Thoughts.

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They know where you live

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It's been pretty well established that the first shot in the War on Dan Rather™ was fired by someone posting anonymously on the Free Republic message board as Buckhead. Within hours of the 60 Minutes II segment in which Rather unveiled the documents which were supposed to add additional weight to the charges that Bush failed to fulfill his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard, Buckhead went on line with a detailed post discussing proportional fonts, superscripts and the other arguments that suggest the memos are forgeries.

Courtesy of the LA Times (via Hullabaloo), Buckhead isn't anonymous anymore.

... it was the work of Harry W. MacDougald, an Atlanta lawyer with strong ties to conservative Republican causes who helped draft the petition urging the Arkansas Supreme Court to disbar President Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Times has found.

The identity of "Buckhead," a blogger known previously only by his screen name on the site and lifted to folk hero status in the conservative blogosphere since last week's posting, is likely to fuel speculation among Democrats that the efforts to discredit the CBS memos were engineered by Republicans eager to undermine reports that Bush received preferential treatment in the National Guard more than 30 years ago.

Republican officials have denied any involvement among those debunking the CBS story.

The story provides more detail on MacDougald's Republican credentials. Personally I don't find it at all surprising that he's heavily invested in supporting the GOP and defeating Democrats. And for the moment I'll leave it to others to continue speculating on the actual source of the memos and whether they were really "aged" on a Kinko's photocopier in Texas by Dick Cheney.

(Although I will add to those who think that Rather should resign, that I trust the same high standard of accountability should apply to all those who tried to make hay with the obvious forgeries that purported to prove Saddam was trying to buy yellowcake from Niger and working hand in glove with bin Laden. I'm looking at you, George Bush.)

But it's notable that despite posting under an anonymous handle, if someone wants to track you down badly enough, he will. Anonymity on the internet these days is an illusion if you attract enough attention.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to wish a good day to any members of the RCMP and CSIS who might be listening in, as well as to the minions agents of any local law enforcement agencies. I don't really think Paul Martin is a completely useless prime minister.

Well, actually, I really do. But I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party.

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September 17, 2004

All the news that fit to, er, edit

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Cross-posted to the E-Group

The Reuters news agency is accusing CanWest Global of a little monkey business with its wire copy.

One of the world's leading news agencies, Reuters, said CanWest newspapers has been altering words and phrases in its stories dealing with the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reuters told CBC News it would complain to CanWest about the issue.

David Schlesinger, the global managing editor for Reuters, says that CanWest has crossed the line. And I agree.
As an example, Schlesinger cited a recent Reuters story, in which the original copy read: "...the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been involved in a four-year-old revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank."

In the National Post version of the story, printed Tuesday, it became: "...the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel."

Neither the National Post nor CanWest returned calls.

The folks at CanWest are certainly entitled to their opinion but no matter how you slice it, that's not editing for style. That's making a substantive change to the story while pretending that it still represents what was reported by Reuters. And Reuters isn't the only agency involved.
But the Ottawa Citizen, another CanWest paper, has admitted to making erroneous changes in a story about Iraq from another leading news agency.

Last week, the Citizen inserted the word "terrorist" seven times into an Associated Press story on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where Iraqi insurgents have been battling U.S.-led occupation forces.

In an interview, Ottawa Citizen editor Scott Anderson conceded fighters in Fallujah were not terrorists but said CanWest has a policy of renaming some groups as terrorists.

He added the paper had applied that term primarily to Arab groups, and that mistakes had been made occasionally.

CanWest has a policy of "renaming" some groups as terrorists. Primarily Arab groups. Good to know.

If I didn't already have a policy of not paying a penny for what CanWest tries to pass off as journalism, I would certainly adopt one now.

However, Anderson said he did not believe the paper had a duty to inform its readers when it changed words.

It's beginning to look as though Anderson feels it's the paper's duty to misinform readers. Except when they get caught, of course.
In response to a letter published Friday about the Fallujah article, the Citizen wrote: "The changes to the Associated Press story do not reflect Citizen policy, which is to use the term 'terrorist' to describe someone who deliberately targets civilians. As such, the changes to the Associated Press story were made in error."

Since they feel no duty to inform their readers about changes, it makes you wonder how often they do it and how long it's been going on.

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Faith based privatization II

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For those who haven't been playing along at home, on Wednesday Andrew at Bound by Gravity asked why people react so strongly to the idea of private sector involvement in the delivery of health care in Canada. Yesterday I responded. This morning Andrew replied in comments to my post and I have enough to say that I'm not going to try and deal with it in comments, hence this post.

From Andrew's comment:

You seem to have picked a "worst case scenario" to use as an example. While I don't disagree that the Sunset Lodge lesson is indeed disturbing, is it really a good example to use in the case against privatization?

I didn't set out to pick a worst case scenario. Sunset Lodge was a case I was aware of because of a couple of previous posts I'd written. I went looking for an update to see how it was going and I didn't have to look very hard. How bad would it have to be, or how many other cases like it would I have to find, before it's not dismissed as a worst case scenario and instead acknowledged as an example of what can go wrong?
Also, the Nortels, Enrons, Hollinger, and WorldComs of the private sector are the exceptions, not the rules.

How many examples of corporate misbehaviour would I have to supply before the possibility stops being dismissed as an aberration that hardly ever happens and becomes a possibility that needs to be taken into account when the subject of discussion eats up as many taxpayer dollars, and more importantly has such a profound affect on our lives, as health care? Or education?
Ken Larson was pacing the floor of his office in a tiny elementary school in Oro Grande, Calif., surrounded by the chaos of fax lines beeping, three beleaguered secretaries peppering him with questions and phone lines ringing for the umpteenth time.

It had been a month since one of the nation's largest charter school operators collapsed, leaving 6,000 students with no school to attend this fall. The businessman who used $100 million in state financing to build an empire of 60 mostly storefront schools had simply abandoned his headquarters as bankruptcy loomed, refusing to take phone calls. That left Mr. Larson, a school superintendent whose district licensed dozens of the schools, to clean up the mess.

"Hysterical parents are calling us, swearing and shouting," Mr. Larson said in an interview in Oro Grande last week. "People are walking off with assets all over the state. We're absolutely sinking."

The disintegration of the California Charter Academy, the largest chain of publicly financed but privately run charter schools to slide into insolvency, offers a sobering picture of what can follow. Thousands of parents were forced into a last-minute search for alternate schools, and some are still looking; many teachers remain jobless; and students' academic records are at risk in abandoned school sites across California.

How many failed privatizations would I have to point to before their proponents stop talking in vague terms about the theory of market forces and start putting forward specific plans that ensure the next privatization won't lead to a disaster like this? The problem here doesn't involve just money. It involves children's lives.

Back to Andrew:

Sure these places screwed people over, and did so in a flamboyant manner - however their behavior was criminal, and is being treated as such (Nortel and Hollinger haven't had criminal cases yet, but they're coming).

If the screwups at Nortel or Hollinger had affected my health adversely I could die before the case finally winds its way through the courts. Or I could be left with a permanent health problem. Again, there's more at stake here than just money.
You can't use lawbreakers as examples of how the private sector cannot be trusted.

Why the hell not? In the real world, the private sector is people and people break the law.
When the public sector has conclusively proven that they cannot manage health care adequately something must be done. We need to seem some of Paul Martin's "transformative change" in the health sector, or patients will still wait 16 weeks for an MRI and 21 months to see if they have brain cancer or not. (in Ottawa, at least) I think this change MUST include the private sector.

When did the failure of Canada's health care system become "conclusive"? Certainly there are problems, but it's the problems that get all the attention. What about all the good outcomes that don't make news? The issue that's brought all this to the fore is rising costs. But increasing health care costs aren't unique to Canada and aren't entirely the result of our particular system. Costs are escalating even faster in the US which is why many Americans are now demanding a single payer system like ours. It's why health care premiums in the US are rising at five times the rate of inflation and it's why even more Americans can no longer afford coverage.

With your initial post, you wanted to know why people react so strongly to the idea of private sector involvement in the delivery of health care services and that's what I'm trying to explain.

It's accepted that a private sector company's first loyalty is to its shareholders and its first priority is profit. Why would it surprise you that many people would rather have a health care system whose first priority is patient outcomes? Efficiency is highly overrated when people's lives are on the line.

People want a health care system they can trust to put their well-being ahead of other considerations. When you talk about market forces and I respond with specific examples of misbehaviour on the part of corporations, which are the actors in the market, you dismiss them. I'm telling you why I don't trust the actors to whom you want to assign responsibility for my well-being and you're dismissing my concerns as exceptions as if that means that a privatization scheme can ignore them. I have no interest in being an exception.

I've seen this debate play out too many times before. When market forces don't work out as predicted their proponents don't acknowledge it and revise their approach, they dismiss the failure as an aberration and insist that it'll work next time because the theory is sound. And yet the failures keep happening.

I wrote in my previous post that I'm not opposed to private sector involvement on an ideological basis. But I also said that faith in "free markets" isn't a plan. You're not going to get anywhere with a lot of people unless you also acknowledge the down side of market forces and demonstrate that the tendency for free markets to result in a few winners and a lot of losers can be overcome. As long as there are too many examples of privatization turning out to be opportunities for the unscrupulous to line up at the public trough, you won't get anywhere talking theory. You have a lot of scepticism to overcome and you're going to have to deal with it.

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September 16, 2004

That didn't take long

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We were supposed to get a fix for health care for a generation. Then it was a deal for a decade.

Premiers might be back to ask for more cash

Canada's premiers won't rule out asking for more money to fund health care before a 10-year deal reached early Thursday runs out.

McGuinty said the new money will shorten waiting lists for procedures such as joint replacements or MRIs, but wouldn't eliminate them.

"It's a great start, but we still have a long way to go, a lot of work to do and we do need some more funding," Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams said.

I haven't read any of the in depth stories on the deal that was made yet. It sounds like I should get busy and do it before the ink is dry because that's about long the deal will last.

As for Ralph Klein, he's doing his best Marlene Dietrich.

I want to be left alone...

So that's why he left the meeting early.

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That's why they call it a bounce

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New Harris Poll Shows Tight Presidential Race

Sen. John Kerry and President Bush are now enjoying almost equal levels of support, according to the latest Harris Interactive poll.

Immediately after the Republican convention in New York, several polls showed Mr. Bush jumping ahead of Mr. Kerry with a clear lead of between six and 11 percentage points. There's no such "convention bounce" for the president in the latest poll by Harris.

The Harris poll, conducted by telephone Sept. 9-13, shows Sen. Kerry leading Mr. Bush 48% to 47% among likely voters nationwide. The poll also found that a slender 51% to 45% majority doesn't believe that Mr. Bush deserves to be re-elected.

I don't normally make much of polls, particularly with six weeks to go until the election. But recently there's been a lot of triumphalism on the part of some, and gnashing of teeth on the part of others, because it had become conventional wisdom that Kerry was tanking in the polls. But the reason it's called a convention bounce is because it usually comes back down. Apparently it did. It stills looks close and it could still go either way, though I still think Kerry might squeak out a victory. There are too many things that can still come back to bite Bush on the butt.

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Faith based privatization

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Andrew at Bound by Gravity wants answers. He wants to know, to quote his post title, "What's So Wrong With Privatizing Health Care?". There are some more specific issues raised in the post, but there also seems to be an inherent assumption in Andrew's approach: that market forces have a predictable outcome and that outcome would be largely benign. It's an assumption I don't share.

The Liberal government in British Columbia set out to privatize services in the province's long term care sector a couple of years back. According to a recent article in the Tyee, it isn't necessarily working out well unless you own shares in the multi-national that picked up the business.

Certainly employees in the health care sector have lost.

Last summer, with the help of Bill 29, the Salvation Army contracted out housekeeping, dietary, maintenance and laundry jobs at Sunset Lodge. Morrison Healthcare and Crothall Services Group, both subsidiaries of the giant U.K.-based conglomerate Compass Group Plc, won the contracts.
Morrison and Crothall are paying their staff approximately half the wages that the former HEU members who worked at Sunset Lodge earned. In addition, benefits are sharply reduced.

The taxpayer may not be better off.
Leaked documents from one private company that contracts workers to B.C. health facilities indicates that while wages are much lower for privately contracted workers, the province may end up paying nearly as much or even more for their services.
A letter from a New Westminster-based company that hopes to win some of the contracts has for the first time revealed charge-out rates, and they match or exceed the cost of unionized staff paid under the HEU's province-wide master agreement.

In an April 20 letter to Richmond Hospital, Health Staffing International manager Greg Boorman offers to provide the services of qualified registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified care aides and other staff. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Tyee.
HSI receives $36 an hour for each licensed practical nurse, according to the rate sheet. But LPNs working under the HEU master agreement are presently paid less: $26.47 an hour, including benefits. (This rate takes into account the 11-per cent wages rollback agreed to earlier this month.)

HSI laundry and housekeeping aides are charged out at $19 an hour, compared with $20.67 for unionized staff.

And patients may not be better off either.
At the provincially-funded seniors home Sunset Lodge in Esquimalt, the shift to contract workers earning far less than their HEU predecessors was followed by charges of poor care from government inspectors and angry relatives of residents.

Last summer, with the help of Bill 29, the Salvation Army contracted out housekeeping, dietary, maintenance and laundry jobs at Sunset Lodge. Morrison Healthcare and Crothall Services Group, both subsidiaries of the giant U.K.-based conglomerate Compass Group Plc, won the contracts.
Following several complaints from relatives of the residents-many of whom have severe dementia--inspectors from the licensed facilities division of the Vancouver Island Health Authority showed up at Sunset Lodge unannounced last Nov. 4.

While they were unable to confirm all of the complaints, they discovered sufficient defects in the quality of care that they handed Sunset Lodge a "high" health and safety [hazard] rating.

There was a followup inspection about a month later and it resulted in the same high hazard rating.

It seems entirely possible that the only real winners here will be the private sector companies that get the contracts and their investors. Oh, and the rogue union that was only too happy to climb into bed with them.

I'm not opposed to the involvement of the private sector in health care on strictly ideological grounds. I'm opposed as long as that involvement is encouraged without a careful and controlled methodology that guarantees the outcome won't look like Sunset Lodge. And the recent history of privatization and public-private partnerships in both BC and Ontario just doesn't fill me full of confidence. The private sector doesn't get into a market without the promise of profit, nor should it. But the point of privatization isn't just to ensure that taxpayers do as well or better even with the profit margin built in, it's to ensure that patient outcomes are as good or better too. And faith in "free markets" isn't a plan.

Don't ask me to have faith in the benevolence of the Almighty Invisible Hand when I see evidence (Enron) all (Nortel) around (Halliburton) me (Hollinger) that the private sector can screw up, and screw people over, at least as much as the public sector can. The practice of relying on "market forces" to make things better never seems to work out quite as well as the theory makes it sound.

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September 15, 2004

Arar Inquiry: Dirty Work

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Cross-posted to the E-Group.

This story surfaced late last week while I was still on a break. Last Thursday Maher Arar, his wife Monia Mazigh, their lawyer Lorne Waldman and Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, held a press conference to accuse the Canadian government of using Tunisian police to intimidate a forthcoming witness in the Arar inquiry.

On August 3rd Mazigh's brother Mourad, a dual Canadian-Tunisian citizen who's currently living in Tunisia, was picked up by secret police in that country and interrogated for three hours. The focus of the interrogation was Maher Arar, not his own activities. Arar stated that the Tunisian police had information that could only have come from Canada. Neve was in attendance to attest to the fact that the Tunisians have a reputation for playing rough - the better to make you talk.

The decision was made to go public with this because Deputy Prime Minister Ann McLellan and Barbara McIsaac, a lawyer representing the attorney general, have both been written to twice. Neither has responded. The press didn't get a lot more out of McLellan.

Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan declined to comment directly on Mr. Arar's allegation, saying to reporters in Kelowna, B.C., that, as a matter of policy, the government will not discuss security operations.

But she said Canada shares intelligence with other countries, a practice that is "absolutely key to our fight against terrorism."

Sharing intelligence is one thing, though even that is currently under scrutiny precisely because Arar himself is an example of what can happen when it's done injudiciously. We've already learned that the RCMP violated its own policies when it shared information on Arar with American authorities without the normal restrictions.

But it's a different thing altogether to encourage that a suspect be questioned behind closed doors by people who have a reputation for ignoring the rules we normally think of as governing civilized behaviour. So what interest would the Tunisians have in Arar unless that interest was prompted by a Canadian request? If our own authorities wanted to question Mourad Mazigh, why not do so back in July when he was in Canada? It's not like the investigation into Arar's activities is new. It started at least two years ago.

Arar himself spoke to the crux of the matter.

"This is becoming a pattern. In the past two years, a lot of Canadians have been interrogated abroad. So they wait for people to leave, and then they use those other guys in other countries to interrogate them. This is what's alarming about this."

That in fact is the whole point of the extraordinary renditions that the CIA is accused of performing: send the suspect to a jurisdiction that isn't quite as fussy about the methods used to extract information. Let someone else do the dirty work.

Mourad Mazigh wasn't the only one questioned in Tunisia. A week or so before the press conference, his father was also questioned.

Arar suggested the RCMP were behind the questioning. He said his wife's father was asked whether Arar had ever applied for permanent residence in Tunisia.

Arar said the Mounties have speculated that he was trying to hide in Tunisia and had sought resident status.

"The RCMP have been trying to prove this for two years," he said. "It's outrageous that they would have my father-in-law visited just because they are desperate to find evidence that isn't there."

Has the RCMP not noticed that one thing Arar isn't doing is hiding?

If this was really an attempt to intimidate Arar's brother-in-law, it may have worked. Monia Mazigh told the press that her brother is "rethinking" his intention to testify.

But at least the incident has attracted the attention of the commission.

The commission of inquiry is waiting for the government to respond to Mr. Arar's charges, commission chief counsel Paul Cavalluzzo said.

The commission, to date, has no evidence that witnesses are being intimidated as the result of the actions of any federal official, but if this does turn out to be true the commission will not tolerate it, Mr. Cavalluzzo said in an interview.

The longer this inquiry goes on, the more evident it becomes that it was necessary.

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Caption contest

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The original caption is:

Paul Martin points to Dalton McGuinty (second from left) as he confers with staff Tuesday. (CP photo)

We can do better than that can't we?

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September 14, 2004

Timing is everything

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Test of Missile Defense System Delayed Again

The Pentagon's last hope of flight-testing critical new elements of an antimissile system, before activating the system this autumn, appeared to vanish yesterday with the disclosure that the next flight test has been postponed until late this year, well past the November election.

The Air Force general in charge of the program said the setback will not affect plans to begin operating the system in the next month or two. But the delay leaves the Pentagon pressing ahead with a system that will not have been flight-tested in nearly two years -- and never with the actual interceptor that will be deployed.

Isn't this where I came in? This thing doesn't work but they're deploying it soon anyway while pushing the tests off until after the election. Note the fact that "the actual interceptor that will be deployed" has never been tested.
The Pentagon's chief weapons evaluator has calculated that the system may be capable of hitting its targets only about 20 percent of the time. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which is responsible for developing the system, offers estimates of greater than 80 percent, according to several officials familiar with the classified figures.

The bureaucracy responsible for the system says it's 80 percent effective while the Pentagon's "chief weapons evaluator", presumably someone without a personal stake in the matter, says 20 percent. Who are you going to believe?
Since the last flight test in December 2002, a number of critical hardware and software changes have been incorporated into the system, and officials have counted on the next test to gather critical data about the system's accuracy and reliability.

Critical hardware and software changes have been made, but they won't be tested until after deployment. Do you feel safer? Why would they do this?
Democratic lawmakers and other critics of the system accused the administration yesterday of playing politics with the test schedule, seeking to avoid the risk of an embarrassing flop during the presidential campaign.

Oh yeah. That's why.
But Lt. Gen. Henry A. "Trey" Obering III, MDA's director, attributed the delay solely to technical considerations.

Solely? Aren't technical considerations the whole crux of the matter?

There's more in the article if you can stand it. This thing is a joke. I still maintain that we may be in more danger with this thing than without it. If I deployed the software I write this way I probably wouldn't have any customers still willing to do business with me. And I wouldn't blame them a bit.

So shortly before the election, Bush will stand up in front of the American people and claim to have made them safer by deploying a missile defense system that's largely untested and that his own chief weapons evaluator has said may only work one time out five. And even he can't be sure because there are changes in the system that have never be checked out in the field. And this is the presidential candidate who's strong on national security?

Via Suburban Guerrilla, whose break was shorter than mine. Good thing, too.

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September 9, 2004

Coming soon to a blog near you

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I'm almost in the mood to start posting again. Unfortunately I have a customer who's very much in the mood to see me, so I'll be on the road for a couple of days. But I expect you'll be hearing from me again on a semi-regular basis starting next week.

Just in time for The Great Health Care Meeting That Will Solve All The Problems Of The Universe*.

Oh goodie.

* For you non-Canadian readers, that's a Canadian thing, eh.

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September 2, 2004

Useful idiots

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Cross-posted to the E-Group.

Paul Wells gets cranky with both the Globe and Mail and the National Post over a couple of editorials regarding the two French journalists being held hostage in Iraq. Good for him.

What Wells addresses in particular is the patronizing assumption that appears to underlie both of these op-eds: France has no real experience with terrorism, unlike the members of these two editorial boards who gained so much useful experience by, you know, witnessing 9/11 on their television sets. In fact France, like many European countries, has experience with terrorism that predates 9/11 by decades. But let's not let that interfere with the French bashing that's become so popular these days.

But there's another problem with both of these pieces.

From the Globe and Mail:

But terrorists are not merely punishing the West because of its "attitude toward Islam" -- they are opposed to the values and freedoms of the West, and every attack is aimed at those values and freedoms. That is the only logic behind the attacks.

From the National Post:

The goal of Islamist terror is not to reward those countries that have played the useful idiots, to borrow Stalin's phrase, but rather to impose militant Islam on the world by whatever means necessary.

There it is again. They hate our freedoms. They're all working together and they all take their instructions from Terrorist HQ. There's no point in trying to differentiate between groups. No nuance allowed.

The group in question here is the Islamic Army of Iraq and their stated goal is to overturn a French decision to ban traditional Muslim dress in French schools. I've seen no evidence to suggest that they're directly in touch with bin Laden or that they're responsible for any other actions than this one kidnapping. They may not know Osama bin Laden from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Their stated goal may be their real goal or they may be a couple of thugs who will end up accepting a ransom in lieu of their original demand at which point they'll never be heard from again. We just don't know right now.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq with an insufficient force to maintain security has created a power vacuum. It's allowed all manner of crooks, fanatics and malcontents to seize the opportunity to commit mayhem. Lumping them all together may serve George Bush's purpose, which is to scare hell out of the American people so he can claim that only four more years of his mismanagement can keep them safe. But while I expect Bush to disdain nuance, I would hope for more from the editorial boards of two of Canada's national newspapers.

I understand why it serves the interests of the Republican party to keep people uninformed and cowering under their beds. But is it too much to expect from the Globe and the Post to know a little history and to actually try and present a little analysis? Knowledge is power. If we're more informed about the threats we face, we can more realistically judge how vulnerable we are and what we need to do to minimize that vulnerability. The less we know, the more mindlessly afraid we'll be. Whose interest does that serve? And who are the useful idiots here?

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