February 2005 Archives

February 28, 2005

A case of selective memory?

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A couple of weeks back Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan was speaking before a special Senate committee which was meeting as part of the scheduled review of Bill C-36, the anti-terror legislation that was passed in the wake of 9/11. Some of the provisions of that law so alarmed some defenders of civil liberties that a review after three years was incorporated into the legislation itself to mollify its critics. McLellan feels that at most "fine-tuning" of the law is all that's required and in support of her position she cited a poll.

McLellan claimed most Canadians support what the government has done, citing polling by EKOS Research Associates that shows 50 per cent of Canadians believe the government has "appropriately responded" to the issue of terrorism, while 41 per cent feel it hasn't gone far enough.

Only 7 per cent believe the government has gone too far, she said. Two per cent said they didn't know or didn't respond. The syndicated poll of 1,015 Canadians was taken in November, and presented to a parliamentary committee in December.

I wonder if the poll actually included hard information about the provisions of the legislation. The reason I wonder that is because a study done last March for the Justice Department, a study done specifically in anticipation of this review, paints a somewhat different picture.
Canadians worry federal anti-terrorism powers could be used to invade personal privacy, unfairly target minorities or turn neighbours into snitches, a government study has found.

While those who took part in the study accepted an overall need for the Anti-Terrorism Act, several provisions of the three-year-old legislation proved to be cause for concern. "I say that it's dangerous for our rights and freedoms," one participant from Quebec City said. "They were already trampled and ridiculed. Now, it's worse."
Consulting firm Millward Brown Goldfarb convened 22 focus group sessions with a total of 196 people late last winter in Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Many who took part in the study knew little about the anti-terror law until they read descriptions of the act provided by the focus group leaders.

Emphasis added. Sounds a bit more thorough than just a poll, doesn't it?
But some who were aware of specific aspects of the law expressed concern it might infringe on the rights of Canadians.
A number of people in the study took issue with provisions of the law compelling individuals to report information about terrorist finances or property.

"Several imagined themselves in a situation where they might see something suspect going on in their neighbourhood, for example, and be 'scared' to report the person."

The powers of preventive arrest and investigation evoked the communist-hunting McCarthy era for some who feared police might use the legal tools to probe crimes other than terrorism.

The article, written early this month about a study that's nearly a year old, indicates the study was "obtained" by Canadian Press. That suggests to me that the government wasn't eager for the press to see it so CP had to go digging for it. Do you suppose McLellan just didn't remember the results of a focus group study done specifically to prepare for this review?

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February 27, 2005

The Mouth That Roared

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Since it was officially announced that The Mouth From Massachusetts would be leaving this fair land next month, I've done my best to ignore him. Once I knew that he was a temporary irritant it seemed best to get on with life and try to deal with more constructive matters. But no matter how hard I try to claw my way out, they drag me back in.

For those who haven't been playing along at home, PM the PM announced on Thursday that Canada would be saying ?no? to George Bush's missile defence system, though it still remains to be seen exactly what that means. In the immediate aftermath of that statement, the Mouth That Pretends To Be An Ambassador threw a little public temper tantrum.

Canada's announcement that it won't join the U.S. missile shield provoked an immediate warning that it has relinquished sovereignty over its airspace.

From now on, the U.S. government will control any decision to fire at incoming missiles over Canadian territory, declared the top U.S. envoy to Canada.

"We will deploy. We will defend North America," said Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada.

"We simply cannot understand why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty - its seat at the table - to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming towards Canada."

Almost immediately on hearing of Cellucci's remarks, I decided that debates about missile trajectories and air space were a red herring. Subsequent reports bear that out (hat tip to Jonathan Dursi).
U.S. officials at the Missile Defence Agency said that under ballistic missile defence, interceptors from launch silos in Alaska and California are aimed out across the Pacific and that their trajectory would take them nowhere near Canada.

Even if it did, the officials said, the interceptors would be out of the atmosphere and, therefore, outside of sovereign airspace within a minute or two of being launched. The actual intercept ? a collision in space ? is designed to occur between 160 and 300 kilometres above the Earth, beyond the atmosphere.

"There's no flying over Canada .....," the intercept is to happen way out over the Pacific as far from North America as possible," Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the agency, said.

In the same way, complaints that Canada is freeloading off the Americans seem like so much noise in the absence of a specific threat assessment which points to exactly what it is Canada is being protected from. The usual justification for the missile defence system is the possibility of attacks from ?rogue nations like North Korea?. That really means North Korea since there currently are no other rogue nations quite like it. While Kim Jong Il has now publicly stated that he has ?the bomb?, no one has yet detected evidence of the kind of tests that would accompany that development and a realistic assessment of his delivery capabilities suggests that he might be able to mount a devastating attack on some part of the Pacific Ocean.

The real point of Cellucci's remarks wasn't air space and missile trajectories, and I would submit that his use of the word ?sovereignty? was calculated ? he knows us well enough to know that it's a hot button that will get the attention of Canadians. His real purpose was to let us know the depth of the displeasure of King George the Incurious and to leave us wondering what kind of repercussions might follow our failure to obey cooperate. Cellucci has taken every opportunity to try and do to us what his government has been trying to do to its own citizens: keep them living in a heightened state of tension and fear. A frightened populace will be far more docile about the fact that its privacy and civil liberties are disappearing while its economy is pillaged for the benefit of the economic aristocracy.

I notice, too, that Cellucci made use of one of Martin's favorite catch-phrases: a seat at the table. As if any amount of cooperation on Canada's part would give us anything more than the opportunity to actually witness Bush doing whatever he damn well pleases rather than finding out about it afterwards. What Bush wanted from us was political cover. As with Iraq, he wants the illusion of a coalition while he continues to act in the interests of his small circle of crony capitalists friends.

You get the behaviour you reward. Bush's pattern of behaviour has been to both exaggerate the threats we face and to contribute to them. If we reward that behaviour with our cooperation then we can expect more of the same. Canada's public rejection of missile defence certainly won't stop Bush. It'll hardly even slow him down. But if it encourages one other country, or even a few more of his own citizens, to dig their heels in a little deeper and refuse to go along to get along, then it may well serve a purpose.

I have no illusions that Martin's announcement had anything to do with any of that. It had to do with preserving his own political skin. Sometimes the right thing happens for the wrong reason.

As for Cellucci, there's no doubt that he went way over the line. If Martin truly had a spine he'd stop disputing Cellucci's comments in the Canadian media, which is really for the benefit of Canadians and not the American government, and send The Mouth back to Washington, D.C. with a formal diplomatic note suggesting that Canada would welcome a representative of the White House who's capable of looking the word ?diplomacy? up in the dictionary and understanding its meaning. But I'll guarandamntee you that ain't gonna happen.

And if anyone is tempted to point to this as another example of irrational, knee-jerk Bush-hatred, I'd suggest that there's a big difference between hating someone for no good reason, and having a profound distrust of someone born of four years spent watching him lie about everything while his actions continually contradict his words.

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February 26, 2005

One more time

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Part 4 of the RSS and Blogs series is now posted at The American Street. This last installment discusses news readers that deliver content either through your email client or your browser.

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The Globe and Mail ran a story earlier this week with the headline "Wal-Mart abandons ?bully' tactics." I guess somebody forgot to tell Wal-Mart's managers in Quebec.

Wal-Mart ordered to stop harassing workers in Quebec

The Quebec Labour Relations Board has ordered Wal-Mart Canada to stop intimidating workers who want to form a union.

The board's ruling cited efforts to "harass and intimidate" three employees at a Sainte-Foy store outside Quebec City.

The ruling says a Wal-Mart manager demanded one cashier give him the names of union sympathizers.

Louis Bolduc of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is trying to organize workers at the store, said Wal-Mart was using unfair tactics.

"[Getting] the employees in an office with two top managers of the store, asking the employees about the organizing of the union," Bolduc said.

"'How many cards? Are you involved?' You shouldn't do that. If you do that, something is going to happen to you.'"

This is the second time Wal-Mart has been reprimanded for trying to intimidate workers in Quebec, Bolduc said.

Wal-Mart has been ordered to stop intimidating employees and to display the ruling in the store's lunchroom for 30 days.


Timothy Noah at Slate fisks a speech given by the CEO of Wal-Mart. Great fun is had by all.

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The power of blog?

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Bump and update. Please see below

There's a post up at Talking Points Memo that quotes a job posting from Craig's List.

The Social Security Administration Communications Division is organizing a series of focus groups to solicit feedback from the public on preliminary marketing/communications materials, particularly those related to the privatization or partial privatization of Social Security.

Participants will be compensated $175 upon the completion of a 20-minute individual interview and a 45-minute group interview with other participants.

Emphasis added. Isn't there something a little odd about a government bureaucracy preparing marketing material and organizing focus groups on a political agenda that's extremely controversial? Shouldn't the Social Security Administration be staying out of this mess until the Republicans actually get around to drafting some legislation so they can vote on it and it becomes, you know, official?

But the real reason I posted this is because of what I found when I followed Josh Marshall's link to Craig's List.

This posting has been removed by Craigslist community.

I believe TPM publishes on Eastern Standard Time. It took an hour and a half. Do you think it's because they got all the focus group participants they needed?


It looks like this might be a case of fraud. Josh Marshall was contacted by a reader who answered the ad before it disappeared and using the information his reader supplied, Marshall contacted the SSA to see what was up.

And an hour or so later I received a call back from Mark Lassiter, the press officer. Lassiter told me in no uncertain terms that these focus group postings and emails are "not being done by SSA or anyone working on SSA's behalf."

He went on to say that there are two main issues of concern to them. First, someone appears to be impersonating SSA personnel, which is a crime. Second, the fact that these follow-up emails are being sent out suggests that this is more than just an attempt to spoof SSA but possibly some sort of identity theft scam (the form requests name, birthdate, social security number, etc.)

Lassiter tells TPM that his office has requested that the SSA Inspector General investigate the matter.

Knowing Josh Marshall, I'm sure there'll be some followup.

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February 25, 2005

Read this

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For a variety of reasons I haven't returned yet to the Maher Arar case or the threat to privacy and civil liberties posed by the actions our government has been taking in their rush to bend over for the Department of Homeland Security. I'll get back to these issues, to be sure, but in the meantime you might want to read this Thomas Walkom piece in the Toronto Star. Among other things, it'll explain how the Social Insurance Number and tax records of a Canadian born woman ended up in the possession of a white supremacist in a California jail cell. At least it'll provide as much of an explanation as she, or anyone else outside of government, is likely to get.

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February 24, 2005

Declan does budget

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While some Canadian bloggers are ranting about the budget that Dithers and Co.* presented yesterday - not that there's anything wrong with that and I may yet do some ranting myself - Declan at Crawl Across the Ocean does a nice, calm job of separating fact from spin in The Budget: Part 1 and The Budget: Part 2.

* For the benefit of international readers, that would be Prime Minister Paul Martin, aka Mr. Dithers, and his Finance Minister Ralph Goodale.

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Dumb and dumber

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When the American Association of Retired People came out publically in opposition to Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, the GOP attack dogs were called into action. The folks who "advised" the Swift Boat Veterans for Smearing John Kerry were paired up with USANext, which purports to be an alternative seniors lobby but actually looks more like a conduit for Big Pharma's political contributions. The initial results of their collaboration surfaced just a few days ago. It wasn't pretty.

A spokesman for USANext appeared on Hardball last night and claimed that the motive for that offensive piece of advertising was to bait the liberal blogs. Cathie from Canada does a nice job of dispensing with that particular bit of spin. But if a reaction from the liberal bloggers is what USANext wanted, they've got it because now Josh Marshall is asking some very pointed questions about the organization's membership and funding.

And it gets better. As this post by Steve Gilliard shows, it seems the photo of the gay couple celebrating their marriage that was used in the ad was stolen from a newspaper's web site and used without permission. Prompted by an inquiry from one of the men in the photo, said newspaper is now investigating and contemplating legal remedies. Can you say "discovery"? Works for me.

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February 23, 2005

Canada's PM Won't Discuss Missile Furor

Prime Minister Paul Martin refused to say Wednesday if he'll reject a Canadian role in the U.S. ballistic missile shield program, after his newly appointed ambassador to Washington triggered a row by suggesting Ottawa had already joined it.

Reports earlier in the day indicated that Martin would opt out, but later Martin told shouting opposition members in the House of Commons that he would make his announcement "when it's in Canada's interest to do so."

According to Google News, that story went up 28 minutes ago so I guess that's the latest word.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off in search of the best thesaurus I can find. I'm going to need synonyms for "dither" to keep things from getting too repetitive around here.

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February 22, 2005

What a country, eh?

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It seems Frank McKenna, our newly appointed ambassador to the U.S., started a bit of a fuss today when he announced to the media that Canada is already a party to George Bush's ballistic missile defence boondoggle. This was followed by a rather fiery session in the House of Commons during which Defence Minister Bill Graham insisted that Canada's decision hadn't yet been taken. And now we learn that Mr. Dithers, um, I mean, PM the PM has decided that Canada won't be participating and has already informed the Americans at the NATO summit in Brussels.

So let's see. In the space of a single afternoon, the Ambassador says "yes", the Defence Minister says "maybe" and the Prime Minister says "no." Well, after all, we are world famous for our comedians.

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Ontario's not waiting

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Ontario rewrites laws to include gay couples

Dozens of Ontario laws are being amended to change the definition of spouse to include homosexual couples, Attorney General Michael Bryant announced today.

"Ontario, of course, was the first province to rule that same-sex marriages were necessary and required under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," said Bryant.

"Same-sex marriage is part of the fabric of Ontario life."

Bryant introduced a bill to amend 73 Ontario statutes that contain the terms: spouse, spousal, marriage, marital, husband, wife, widow and widower, saying that as worded, the laws "offend" the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The legislation also amends Ontario's Marriage Act and the province's Human Rights Code to make it clear that no one would have to perform a marriage ceremony, or host the event, if it goes against their religious beliefs.

"The bill puts into law the findings of the Supreme Court of Canada that religious officials are free to solemnize marriages and manage their sacred properties in a way that's consistent with their religious beliefs," said Bryant.

But he said there was no need to offer civic officials who are licensed to perform marriages the same right to refuse to preside over a same-sex marriage.

"We have never had an instance to my knowledge where a civic official refused to perform a marriage," said Bryant. "I know of no instance where a couple was denied the solemnization."

Most Conservatives and New Democrats are expected to vote in favour of Bryant's bill, which removes reference to gender and gender-specific language from Ontario definitions of spousal terms.

Stephen Harper can fume all he wants. This is a done deal.

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Moonlighting some more

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Part 3 of RSS and Blogs is up at the American Street. This installment looks at stand-alone programs that will allow you to read your favorite blogs even when you're not connected to the internet. In case you're not already getting enough. Of blogs, I mean. Stop snickering.

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I didn't realize until just a few minutes ago that there's a Committee to Protect Bloggers. They've dedicated today to two Iranian bloggers who are facing imprisonment for expressing their opinions. You can click on the banner just above to learn more.

There's also more from the BBC here and here.

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February 20, 2005

The lie that won't die

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This column from Paul Jackson in the Calgary Sun is actually a few days old, but it caught my attention because Neale News has made it today's featured item with the following headline:


How does Jackson manage to hold to that opinion when he starts his column by announcing that he's happily watching Bill O'Reilly on a daily basis? Easy. He just makes stuff up.
... for years Canadians were forbidden to watch Fox News -- Big Brother saw to that -- but the CRTC made one huge error. It gave the green light to the Islamic terrorists' favourite network, al-Jazeera, to pipe its anti-America drivel into Canadian minds, and with that, the charade that there wasn't enough room for another all-news channel fell through.

This again? Aside from the application that was recently approved, the only other application that I'm aware of to broadcast Fox News in Canada was also approved. As for al-Jazeera, Jackson neglects to mention that so many restrictions were placed on the approval of that application that you'll likely never see a broadcast.

The rest of Jackson's column is remarkably uninformative. Short version: everyone who agrees with his politics is a fine upstanding human being, while everyone who doesn't is either a victim or a perpetrator of that scourge of Western Civilization: Liberal Thought Control.

Jackson thinks that Fox News is a top flight example of professional journalism. Given the low standard of his own reporting, I can see where he might come by that opinion honestly.

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February 17, 2005

The second part of my series on RSS aggregators is up at The American Street. If you're interested in knowing a little more about the web-based services that allow you to subscribe to your favorite blogs and news sites, this would be for you.

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February 15, 2005

Gotta run

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I'm off on a little business trip so there'll be nothing new here until later on tomorrow at the earliest.

I had a rhythm established again for a while there. I'll see if I can get it back.

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February 14, 2005


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A while back, Kevin Hayden at The American Street (TAS) asked for feedback on a category of services/programs known as RSS aggregators, aka news readers. These are designed to allow you to "subscribe" to feeds offered by sites that change often so you can tell when there's fresh content on your favorite sites without having to click like mad on all your bookmarks. It's a technology that really can save you time if you depend on the internet for a lot of your news. Or if you're addicted to blogs. (C'mon, you know you are.)

I was interested in taking another look at what was out there anyway, so I decided to take it on as a project and let Kevin know what I found. I just put the first part of what will be a four part series up at TAS. If you're interested, drop by and I'll see you there.

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Ain't too proud to beg

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Until this morning I've been pretty lucky in terms of comment and trackback spam for quite a few months now. I haven't seen much of it. My Activity Log, which reports the stuff that the Blacklist plugin denies, hasn't even shown much of that.

But this morning I had 15 trackback pings from an online gambling site (which I'm not going to link to) before I twigged to what was going on. And a few minutes ago another round started which I was able to head off before more than three got through.

Between the email notifications of successful trackbacks and the Activity Log report of trackback denials, I can see that these are all coming from different IP addresses rather than one central source. That suggests to me that whoever's behind this has successfully planted a trojan on the computers of unsuspecting people and is using them to direct these spam attacks.

If your system isn't protected by up to date anti-virus software and you're not behind a decent firewall, whether hardware or software based, there's a fair to middling chance that your computer is being used for nefarious purposes and you don't even know it.

This link will take you to the anti-virus page at Major Geeks. There are a number of anti-virus programs that are free for personal use. This link will take you to Zone Labs where you can download their entry level firewall program. It's a good product and it's also free for personal use.

Please. I beg you.

Yeah, I know. I'm farting against thunder.

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February 13, 2005

Damn libruls

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Those lefties are spouting their group-think again, questioning the wisdom of that fine President Bush.

The United States was not attacked because we are free. Bin Laden was not attacking the Bill of Rights. We were attacked because the United--over here because the United States' military and political presence is massive over there. Bin Laden in his fatwah, his statement of declaration of war on the United States, said the infidels were standing on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia. They want us out of the Middle East. They don't care whether we have a separation of church and state.


Oh. I stand corrected. Apparently that was Pat Buchanan.

Never mind.

Via Suburban Guerrilla.

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There's an article in the Ottawa Citizen describing how a senior military officer objected to the way Canadian troops treated prisoners in Afghanistan. He's concerned that the troops may be violating the Geneva Convention. What jumped out at me wasn't so much the hoods and flexicuffs, it was this:

But Department of National Defence officials say that since the Afghan mission is a peacekeeping operation, any prisoners taken by Canadian troops are not subject to the convention.

So the standards are lower in a peacekeeping operation than in a war?

These are the kinds of games with semantics that have been used to justify the treatment of detainees in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. I didn't realize that DND officials had been studying at the feet of Alberto Gonzales.

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February 12, 2005

Did somebody hear me?

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I was complaining earlier this week that the terminator seed story didn't seem to be getting any mainstream media coverage here in Canada. In a comment on this post, reader Scott alerted me to a story in today's Ottawa Citizen on this very subject. And to answer Scott's (sort of) question, I was really hoping for the CBC or one of our national newspapers but at this point the Citizen is better than nothing.

It's a two-part story and unfortunately the second part is behind the subscription wall. The first part didn't tell me anything I didn't already know from all the googling I'd already done but if you're inclined, here it is. Move quickly though. The Citizen's stuff disappears eventually.

And while we're on the subject, mahigan at True North has a post up on Monsanto's continuing efforts to ensure that if you eat, they profit.

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February 11, 2005

Bump and update

Apparently the boycott announcement was premature.

Labour rules out Wal-Mart boycott

Organized labour in Quebec has announced a series of moves to fight Wal-Mart's closure of its first unionized store in the province, but those moves, for now at least, stop short of a boycott.

The Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) said a boycott could backfire, pointing out that several unionization drives are underway at other Wal-Marts in Canada. FTQ president Henri Masse said Wal-Mart might accuse his group of working against its own people.

Instead, the labour movement will focus its Wal-Mart strategy on the Quebec government and will fight the closure through labour tribunals.

What follows is the original post which I'll leave up for the record.

Quebec Unions Call for Wal-Mart Boycott

Unions for thousands workers in northern Quebec have urged a boycott of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) over its plans to close a store that last year became North America's first unionized Wal-Mart.
Officials for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, a branch of the Quebec Federation of Labour said they may file a complaint with the government's labor relations board and union leaders at local metals and forest products companies said they deplored Wal-Mart's decision.

The Quebec Federation of Labour is the largest union group in Quebec,

Local mayor Jean Tremblay accused Wal-Mart of being a "bad corporate citizen."

"There are labor rules that everybody follows in Quebec. Other large-surface retailers follow them as well," he said.

"I'm disappointed that Wal-Mart decided to shut down the store instead of negotiating an agreement."
Unions for other big employers in the Saguenay region also called for a boycott of the three Wal-Mart stores in the area.

"We ask you not to go there anymore. They kill jobs, small stores, they come here and have no respect for the workers," Claude Patry, president of the National Aluminum Workers Union of Arvida, told members on Wednesday, according to Radio-Canada.
Quebec is North America's most heavily unionized jurisdiction, and more than 40 percent of its wage and salary workers belong to unions. That compares with an average 32 percent rate in Canada and 12.5 percent in the United States.

Works for me.

Hat tip to Sinister Thoughts.

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Ban Endures on Terminator Seeds

An international moratorium on the use of controversial "terminator technology" in genetically engineered crops survived efforts to overturn it at a United Nations interim meeting on the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bangkok Friday.

The Canadian government initiated the move to lift the de-facto moratorium and allow testing and commercialisation of the genetically engineered technology that makes seeds sterile.

"It was a complete surprise to see this coming from Canada," said Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, a Canadian-based NGO.

"Canada's proposal could easily have been mistaken for one written by (agribusiness giant) Monsanto," Thomas told IPS from Bangkok.

One of the sources quoted in the article is Manjit Misra, director of the Seed Science Centre at Iowa State University.
"This technology is also very important for the protection of intellectual property," he said. In preventing the re-use of seeds, seed companies can get a better return on their research and development costs."

"Without intellectual property protection, private companies won't make those investments. This is something developing countries don't appreciate," he said.

I suspect that what developing countries don't appreciate is the attempts on the part of agribusiness to hold these countries' ability to feed their populations hostage to the almighty bottom line.

In my last post on the subject there was a comment from mahigan at True North that deserves a wider audience. So I'm promoting it.

Genetically engineered canola has already become a noxious weed on the prairies and one that is very hard and expensive to get rid of. There is evidence that the gm version has contaminated non-gm cultivars. Ag Canada was also partnered with one of the seed companies on a gm wheat that was grown in secret test plots. That partnership was dissolved in large part due to resistance from farmers who had already seen the market for their canola shrink and didn't want to see the same thing happen to their market for wheat. It is almost inevitable that these crops will contaminate non-gm crops.

There are some studies that have shown there is no advantage to producers in growing the round-up ready gm canola as the increased costs equal or exceed the benefits of increased yields. I don't think it's a coincidence that the profits of agribusiness continue to grow steadily while net farm incomes have dropped like a rock. I know farmers with annual chemical bills in excess of $250k per year. For some really large operations, it's more than double that.

Even worse, these companies have conducted a very successful subversion of the industry at the most basic levels. Most of the research at universities is paid for by agribusiness. The graduates leave completely indoctrinated with the corporate "bigger is better" and "better living through chemistry" mentality. If they don't go on to farm themselves, they go to work for government and continue to spread the gospel according to Dow, Monsanto and Gargill. This is one of the most crucial issues facing the entire world. What is happening here benefits no one but the global corporatists. As I posted yesterday at my place, this is little more than murder for profit.

This UN decision is a small victory in a war that's far from over.

And there's still no mainstream media coverage that I can find.

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February 10, 2005

Posted for future reference

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Documents: U.S. condoned Iraq oil smuggling

Documents obtained by CNN reveal the United States knew about, and even condoned, embargo-breaking oil sales by Saddam Hussein's regime, and did so to shore up alliances with Iraq's neighbors.

The oil trade with countries such as Turkey and Jordan appears to have been an open secret inside the U.S. government and the United Nations for years.

The unclassified State Department documents sent to congressional committees with oversight of U.S. foreign policy divulge that the United States deemed such sales to be in the "national interest," even though they generated billions of dollars in unmonitored revenue for Saddam's regime.

The trade also generated a needed source of oil and commerce for Iraq's major trading partners, Turkey and Jordan.

"It was in the national security interest, because we depended on the stability in Turkey and the stability in Jordan in order to encircle Saddam Hussein," Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, told CNN when asked about the memo documents.

There's more at the link, including the fact that the trade and Saddam's illicit profit from it actually predated the oil for food program by five years. And if you're tempted to say it was all Clinton's fault, the policy was affirmed in writing by Richard Armitage, Bush's undersecretary of state, in 2002.

Via Suburban Guerrilla.

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A seedy conspiracy

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To follow up on yesterday's post about Canada's attempt to lift the moratorium on "terminator seeds", it seems that Canada is being backed in this effort by Australia and New Zealand though by all accounts Canada is leading the charge. Notice that all three of these are developed countries who aren't having any particular problem feeding their populations?

A spokeswoman for New Zealand's Green Party summarizes the concerns with this technology.

Ms Fitzsimons said it was impossible to be sure whether seed sterility would spread to other crops if this technology is used.

"The risks to small farmers in the developing world are enormous. This technology could mean bankruptcy and starvation for subsistence farmers throughout the developing world.

"This technology could also be used as a way to promote more GE crops on the assumption that the GE seed won't spread. However, that assumption has yet to be proven to any adequate standard," Ms Fitzsimons said..

"There remain huge unanswered questions about its safety, and about whether it will lead to the spread of seed sterility, and thus lead to the bankruptcy and starvation of small farmers. Until those questions are properly answered, we must proceed with caution.

"The technology will undoubtedly give even greater control of the world's food supply to multinational corporations," Ms Fitzsimons said.

Even if you believe that some of Ms Fitzsimmons' concerns are far-fetched, check that last paragraph again. Greater control over the world's food supply will go to multi-national corporations. At the very least. And that's exactly what the multi-national corporations have in mind.

If Google News is any indication, outside of the Guardian piece I pointed to yesterday, mainstream media coverage of this story is exactly zilch. Here's a story with immense implications and the people we rely on to keep us informed seem to be asleep at the wheel.

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

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February 9, 2005

Wal-Mart watch

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Wal-Mart to close unionized Quebec store

Wal-Mart Canada is closing its store in Jonquiere, Que., the company announced Wednesday ? six months after the store became the first Wal-Mart to be unionized in North America.

Wal-Mart said it was unable to reach a tentative agreement with the union that would "permit it to operate the store in an efficient and profitable matter."

In a news release, Wal-Mart said it had told the United Food and Commercial Workers union during negotiations for a first contract that the store's financial situation was "precarious."

The company said the union's demands would have required more hiring and added hours.

But the union disputed Wal-Mart's contention that the closing was for financial reasons. UFCW Canada spokesman Michael Forman told CBC Business News the closing was "a gross infraction of labour practice" and "an assault on all Canadians" and said the union would continue the fight.

But he acknowledged that it would make other Wal-Mart employees think twice before voting for union accreditation.

I'd announce that I'm boycotting Wal-Mart, but I already do. That's obviously not going to change now.

In a bit of what Timmy the G would call synchronicity (see comments), Steve Gilliard draws our attention to another Wal-Mart story.
Wal-Mart is eager to make New York City its next frontier," said an East Coast representative of the company, but many New Yorkers seem ready to welcome Wal-Mart as enthusiastically as a frontier town welcomes a desperado.

Small businesses, union leaders, City Council members and even some mayoral candidates are gearing up to prevent Wal-Mart from setting foot in town, now that the world's largest retailer has acknowledged it wants to open its first New York City store, planned for Rego Park, Queens, in 2008.

Vornado Realty Trust, the developer whose proposed shopping complex would include a 132,000-square-foot Wal-Mart, has filed a land-use application with the city, and the approval process is expected to take seven months. But Wal-Mart's opponents are planning to pressure every government body that will consider the application - the community board, the City Planning Commission and the City Council - to reject it.

The fight seems likely to become the biggest battle against a single store in the city's history, because the labor movement sees Wal-Mart as Public Enemy No. 1 since it is so anti-union, and because many small businesses fear that tens of thousands of Wal-Mart-loving consumers will flock to the store, taking millions of dollars in business with them.

"There will never be a more diverse and comprehensive coalition than this effort against Wal-Mart," said Richard Lipsky, spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, an anti-Wal-Mart coalition in New York. "It will include small-business people, labor people, environmental groups, women's groups, immigrant groups and community groups."

One factor that will make the fight unusually intense is that labor has decided that frustrating Wal-Mart's New York ambitions is pivotal to its new, nationwide campaign to pressure the company to improve the way it pays and treats its workers.

"Wal-Mart has come to represent the lowest common denominator in the treatment of working people," said Brian M. McLaughlin, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, the umbrella group of more than one million union members. "Wal-Mart didn't build its empire on bargains. They built it on the backs of working people here and abroad."

Steve comments:
The union issue is the big deal here. If they whip out the purple rat and the unions start telling people how shitty Wal-Mart is, despite low prices, they will run into a brick wall. Which would be amusing since there are a couple of Targets and K-Mart's here. Home Depot has just come to Manhattan

If Wally World's staff is suprised by the reaction, well, they haven't seen anything yet. This is a union town. The Daily News found that out the hard way when they tried to deliver their scab papers and they mysteriously caught on fire. People hate Wal-Mart because of it's policies. Now, there are some issues with big box stores, but people usually blow it off. Home Depot has things no mom and pop store will have, simple as that. But Wal-Mart just sells cheap shit.
I usually don't like the anti-big box campaigns because they don't reflect reality. ... But Wal-Mart is different. They treat people like shit, their goods are shit and they ruin communities. Target and K Mart are good citizens providing needs for the city. Wal-Mart can only cause harm.

I expect we'll hear more on this, along with the story in Quebec.

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All your seed are belong to us

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Canada backs terminator seeds

An international moratorium on the use of one of the world's most controversial GM food technologies may be broken today if the Canadian government gets seed sterilisation backed at a UN meeting.

Leaked documents seen by the Guardian show that Canada wants all governments to accept the testing and commercialisation of "terminator" crop varieties. These are genetically engineered to produce only infertile seeds which farmers cannot replant.

Jointly patented by the GM company Monsanto and the US government, the technology was condemned in the late 1990s by many African and Asian governments who called for a permanent ban.

Monsanto and other GM companies which were developing similar technologies voluntarily pulled out of research after concerns were also raised about the "terminator" genes spreading to non-GM crops, and international outrage that poor farmers would not be able to use seeds from their crops, as they have always done.

But leaked instructions to Canadian government negotiators at the Bangkok meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, a group which advises the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity, show that Canada will request today that all countries open their doors to the technology.

The papers, leaked to the environment group ETC, also show that the Canadian government will attack an official UN report critical of the potential impact of "terminator" seeds on small farmers and indigenous peoples. The report recommends that governments prohibit the technology.

The Canadian government team in Bangkok was last night unavailable for comment.

If this is true, it's just disgusting. This is designed to benefit corporations like Monsanto and no one else.

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February 8, 2005

Wedge Issues 101

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Tories blast Harper for same-sex warning

Stephen Harper is under fire from members of his party for telling a Sikh audience that same-sex marriage is threatening to tear apart the country's multicultural identity.

The Conservative Leader sparked accusations of political opportunism on the weekend after he told a Sikh gathering in Toronto that the bill to allow same-sex couples to marry jeopardizes Canada's reputation for tolerance of ethnic diversity.

"This is a threat to any Canadian who supports multiculturalism," Mr. Harper said Friday night. "It is a threat to a genuinely multicultural country."

The remarks brought immediate rebuke from some party members.

David Watters, who ran for the party in the last election in Toronto, said the comments show a misunderstanding of minority ethnic groups because same-sex marriage is a minority right.

He said the party appears to be trying to capitalize on social-conservative votes in ethnic communities, but the effort could backfire.

"What we're doing here is putting into jeopardy any chance of winning the next election. That's gone. That's not going to happen under the leadership of Stephen Harper."

Another party member said Mr. Harper is dividing Canadians and the Conservatives.

"Here's an example of where he's pitting one side against another within his own party," Ed Adlers said, adding that he has no reason to believe that Canadian Sikhs are more emphatic about gay marriage than any other group.

Someone needs to explain to Stephen Harper that the idea behind turning something into a wedge issue is to divide the other party, not your own.

Via Greg at Sinister Thoughts.

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February 7, 2005

Why am I not surprised?

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I figured it was just a matter of time. It was inevitable that the American religious right, having convinced themselves that they alone were responsible for Bush's victory last November, would turn their gaze northward and begin telling us how to live.

Sure enough.

Powerful religious groups in the United States are quietly sending money and support to allies in Canada fighting same-sex marriage.

Moreover, some U.S. groups say they are prepared to spend whatever it takes to ensure same-sex marriage does not become legal north of the border.

Patrick Korten, vice-president of communications for the Knights of Columbus head office in New Haven, Conn., says no limit has been set on the help his organization is prepared to offer.

"Whatever it takes," he said. "The family is too important."

Korten said the U.S. headquarters of the Catholic men's group paid $80,782 Canadian to print 2 million postcards now being distributed in Catholic churches across Canada and is already contemplating printing more.

"It has been extremely enthusiastically received in Catholic parishes all over Canada. As a matter of fact, we may have to print some more - there was a great deal of interest in it. It offers a quick, simple but effective way for Catholics ... to make their feelings about the same-sex marriage bill known to their MPs."

Another formidable opponent of same-sex marriage, Focus on the Family, is also sending support and services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year north of the border to its Canadian affiliate.

Sending money across the border to fund allies fighting Canadian legislation is not illegal under Canadian law. While Canadian-registered charities must spend no more than 10 per cent of their budgets on political activity, interest groups are restricted in what they can spend on political lobbying only during elections and referendums.

While the $304,125 Canadian that Focus on the Family Canada received in services from its U.S. parent in 2003 - and didn't declare in its financial statement - is equivalent to only 3.1 per cent of its total revenues that year of $9.6 million, Alex Munter, national co-ordinator for Canadians for Equal Marriage says it is several times more than the $46,000 his opposing group has been able to raise within Canada since the Supreme Court reference on same-sex marriage.

"In terms of scale, we're dealing with an enormous operation that has charitable status and is funded by deep pockets, including deep pockets from the United States."

I think this part is just laughable.
Dobson [founder of Focus on the Family] also attacked Prime Minister Paul Martin for refusing cabinet ministers a free vote.

"Your prime minister, Paul Martin, has recently done things to subvert the will of the people," he said.

I thought Matthew at Living In A Society did a good job addressing this issue a while back.
... the members of Cabinet are required, within the customs of responsible government, to vote with the ministry. The cabinet collectively forms the executive. If a cabinet member opposses a policy of the ministry, the time to show that opposition is in the cabinet room. Once the cabinet reaches a policy decision it must be united in that decision. If a particular cabinet member continues to oppose that policy, the proper thing for he or she to do is resign.

There might be a worthy debate in those remarks, but I'm quite certain that Dobson has no concern with the finer points of parliamentary democracy, just as I'm quite certain that he has no concern with the will of the Canadian people. What concerns him is that legal same-sex marriage will expose his own rhetoric for what it is - rhetoric with little basis in fact.

After all, SSM is already legal in most of Canada and we haven't yet been smitten by the Lord, nor have we seen man-on-dog sex in the streets.

I would hope that even Canadian opponents of same-sex marriage will see this for what it is: unwelcome meddling in Canadian affairs. And I'd dearly love to hear what Stephen Harper has to say about this development.

Because you know Dobson and his allies won't stop here. Given even a hint of victory, they won't stop at telling us which Canadians shouldn't be allowed to marry. They'll be telling us which Canadians should be stuffed in a closet and deprived of all manner of legal rights Then they'll be telling us what to teach in our science classes. And it won't be science.

Cross-posted at the E-Group.

It seems I'm not the only one concerned about this. There are posts on this subject at:
My Blahg
No More Shall I Roam
Queer Thoughts
True North and
Voice in the Wilderness

So maybe I'm paranoid, but at I least I'm not lonely.

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According to this CTV piece, a group of big shots got together over the weekend and decided that Canada should sign on to Bush's missile defence boondoggle. Unfortunately it looks like a realistic assessment of the effectiveness of the plan, and the threat against which it's supposed to defend, didn't enter into their deliberations. Instead we get propaganda.

A majority of government officials, academics, diplomats and others from both sides of the border said the missile project has been wrongly linked to "science fiction scenarios" of weapons in space and that there would be ample opportunity for Canada to get out if the U.S. ever moves in that direction.

Stephen over at No BMD, eh? has already blogged this story but he takes a particularly good run at this paragraph in a thread at the babble discussion board.
What these people term "science fiction scenarios," of course, are currently contemplated in any number of publicly available documents. Indeed, prototype experiments are planned for within the next 18 months. If space weaponization were pure "science fiction," why would we see Philip Coyle, former US Assistant Secretary of Defense arguing so strongly against it?

Why would we see Theresa Hitchens of the mainstream Center for Defense Information say that the USAF Space Command ought to re-think its policy of shooting down other nations' satellites in the event of military conflict.

If it were mere "science fiction," why would we read an article in the Fall issue of International Security, co-authored by a member of the 1998 Rumsfeld report on the BMD threat, arguing that the US should not cross the "Rubicon" of weaponizing space, as it plans to do.

These are just a few examples.

It's become standard practice for BMD-proponents to marginalize by insult and ridicule opponents who claim the US wants to weaponize space. They do so at volume, in the hopes people won't look at the evidence. (Thus they replicate the conduct of Liberal and Conservative MPs who shouted down Jack Layton when he tried to ask a serious BMD-related question in the house after Bush's visit.)

In my view, no "academic" worthy of the name could have signed on to the view that space weaponization and BMD's role in it are "science fiction scenarios."

Their conduct is nothing short of shameful.

But later on in the CTV article we're presented with what may be the worst reason I've seen yet for signing on to missile defence.
"We are witnessing something new in the relationship - the emergence on the American right of a troubling anti-Canadianism, albeit confined to strident voices in the media," said the draft report.

So now we're supposed to sign on to this piece of corporate welfare because of the ravings of blowhards and media whores like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, who lie as naturally they breathe?

And then we get this:

"Nonetheless, this misguided impulse pales beside the disturbing and persistent currents of anti-Americanism in Canada," it said.

Yo! Dufuses! Opposition to George Bush is not anti-American. It's a sentiment shared by nearly half of Americans. And most of the rest of the world.

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February 6, 2005

All for want of a Shift key

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There seems to be a wee bit of controversy concerning a recent post over at Mike Brock: On The Attack. The post was about the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal and apparent attempts on the part of some Liberals to discredit it, or at least to discredit Gomery himself. But the specific comment that seems to have set things off is this one:

speaking the word ?liberal? makes me want to vomit

I think I see the problem. Mike might want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that there are some of us around who feel that any resemblance between Liberals and liberals these days is coincidental, since the former - at least some of the senior ones - seem to take the latter for granted and spend more time stroking their own egos and justifying an inflated sense of entitlement than in developing policies that might actually make the country better.

I may spend more time criticizing Stephen Harper than Paul Martin lately, but that's because criticizing Paul Martin is something Paul Wells does so well.

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February 5, 2005

This is just scary

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Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes

Dr. John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, was at a dinner for teachers in Birmingham, Ala., recently when he met a young woman who had just begun work as a biology teacher in a small school district in the state. Their conversation turned to evolution.

"She confided that she simply ignored evolution because she knew she'd get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it," he recalled. "She told me other teachers were doing the same thing."

Though the teaching of evolution makes the news when officials propose, as they did in Georgia, that evolution disclaimers be affixed to science textbooks, or that creationism be taught along with evolution in biology classes, stories like the one Dr. Frandsen tells are more common.

In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.

Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.

"The most common remark I've heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken," said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama's curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.

Dr. Frandsen, former chairman of the committee on science and public policy of the Alabama Academy of Science, said in an interview that this fear made it impossible to say precisely how many teachers avoid the topic.

"You're not going to hear about it," he said. "And for political reasons nobody will do a survey among randomly selected public school children and parents to ask just what is being taught in science classes."

But he said he believed the practice of avoiding the topic was widespread, particularly in districts where many people adhere to fundamentalist faiths.

"You can imagine how difficult it would be to teach evolution as the standards prescribe in ever so many little towns, not only in Alabama but in the rest of the South, the Midwest - all over," Dr. Frandsen said.

Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said she heard "all the time" from teachers who did not teach evolution "because it's just too much trouble."

The article discusses a survey conducted in 2001 by the National Science Foundation that found that only 53% of Americans agreed with the statement "human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." The foundation was pleased with the result because it represented an improvement. For comparison's sake consider Poland, a country described as "socially conservative and predominately Catholic" where the comparable figure is 75%.

The article ends on this cheery note:

... several experts say scientists are feeling increasing pressure to make their case, in part, Dr. Miller [director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University] said, because scriptural literalists are moving beyond evolution to challenge the teaching of geology and physics on issues like the age of the earth and the origin of the universe.

Since slippery slope arguments are all the rage these days, consider this one. Fundamentalist Christians have already succeeded in frightening teachers away from doing their jobs even in jurisdictions where they don't have enough clout to officially get Intelligent Design onto the curriculum. How far will they push? What other subjects will become taboo?

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Check your sources

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Pentagon sites: Journalism or propaganda?

The U.S. Department of Defense plans to add more sites on the Internet to provide information to a global audience -- but critics question whether the Pentagon is violating President Bush's pledge not to pay journalists to promote his policies.

The Defense Department runs two Web sites overseas, one aimed at people in the Balkan region in Europe, the other for the Maghreb area of North Africa.

It is preparing another site, even as the Pentagon inspector general investigates whether the sites are appropriate.

The Web sites carry stories on subjects such as politics, sports and entertainment.

The sites are run by U.S. military troops trained in "information warfare," a specialty than can include battlefield deception.

Pentagon officials say the goal is to counter "misinformation" about the United States in overseas media.

At first glance, the Web pages appear to be independent news sites. To find out who is actually behind the content, a visitor would have to click on a small link -- at the bottom of the page -- to a disclaimer, which says, in part, that the site is "sponsored by" the U.S. Department of Defense.

"There is an element of deception," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "The problem," he said, is that it looks like a news site unless a visitor looks at the disclaimer, which is "sort of oblique."

The Pentagon maintains that the information on the sites is true and accurate. But in a recent memo, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz insisted that the Web site contractor should only hire journalists who "will not reflect discredit on the U.S. government."

The Defense Department has hired more than 50 freelance writers for the sites.

That's the trouble with this damn internet. Any fool with an agenda can set up a website and claim to be telling you the truth. You can trust me, of course. It's all those other people you have to keep a close eye on.

Via digby who, in a later post, provides a link to one of the sites in question.

Do I need to mention that the Pentagon doesn't have the best record in the world when it comes to telling the truth?

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February 4, 2005

Democracy begins at home

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Bump and update - please see below

Apparently supporters of George Bush believe that democracy is great for countries in the Middle East. They're just not sure they want it at home.

Some in Fargo find they're not wanted at president's speech

City Commissioner Linda Coates says she was shocked to learn she and her husband were among more than 40 area residents on a list of people barred from attending President Bush's speech here Thursday.

The list was supplied to workers at the two Fargo distribution sites, along with tickets and other forms citizens were asked to fill out, The Forum reported.

The list includes critics of Bush or the war in Iraq. It includes two high school students, a librarian, a deputy Democratic campaign manager and a number of university professors.

This kind of crap was bad enough at campaign events, but the election is over. Bush is supposed to be the President of all Americans. Isn't he?

Via Daily Kos.


The first person mentioned in the original article as being on the blacklist, Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates, ended up attending the event. It was acknowledged to her that the blacklist existed, but it was blamed on an "overzealous", unidentified staff member. Uh huh. Via Clean Cut Kid.

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Look a little deeper

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There have already been at least three Canadian bloggers who have pointed to this Globe and Mail story about a potential rift in the Conservative Party but none of them have highlighted the part of the story that caught my eye.

Jim Hughes, president of the Campaign Life Coalition, said members of his organization have been advised to become active in the Conservative Party.

"We've been promoting an activism among our grassroots supporters for all these years. Get off your fannies and get out there and join the parties of your choice and get involved," he said.

In a letter to its members, the organization said old PCs are looking to control the party.

"So how are we to react? Grassroots members of the party must wake up to what is going on and get heavily involved in order to maintain a conservative party."

Mr. Hughes said the organization was activated because of the views of individuals such as Belinda Stronach, who supports the rights of gays to marry.

"That's causing people to say, 'Wait a minute, that's bad politics. You're going to alienate a whole load of our grassroots supporters.' That's caused a lot of social conservatives to decide they're going to make the sacrifice to go to the convention."

Last month, the conservative lobby group Real Women of Canada issued a call to arms, saying the party was moving toward the centre.

"The situation within the Conservative Party of Canada is alarming," the letter said. "The red Tories appear to be in ascendancy within the party with the result that the party is drifting perceptively. We must stop this from happening by ensuring that the Conservative National Convention in Montreal in March is filled with true conservatives who are prepared to stand up for genuine conservative values."

True conservatives? Genuine conservative values? So what does that make Belinda Stronach or Jim Prentice? Phony conservatives?

Greg at Political Staples (linked in the opening sentence) writes:

... the party is united in its' determination to remove the Liberals from power.

And I'm sure the Liberals are united in their determination to cling to power.

It's too soon to sound the death knell for this particular experiment but it's also too easy to dismiss what's happening here. There are some supporters of the new party who want to decouple fiscal conservatism from the social conservative agenda represented by some in the old Alliance Party because they feel that's the way to offer a realistic alternative to the Natural Governing Party. And then there are those who see an opportunity to push an agenda that isn't necessarily mainstream onto centre stage, to give that agenda a veneer of popular support that it doesn't necessarily have.

Since same-sex marriage is the current hot button issue, let's use that as our example. It's not enough to find a poll that asks a simple Yes/No question and shows half or more of the respondents being against same sex marriage in order to claim that groups like the ones mentioned above, or for that matter Stephen Harper, represent the centrist position. In the face of what's contained in the Charter of Rights and the fact that in jurisdictions that cover approximately 85% of the Canadian population same sex marriage is already legal and gay and lesbian couples are already getting married, you need to go deeper than that simple Yes/No question. You have to ask those who oppose the idea what lengths they're prepared to go to in order to prevent it. If it threatens to cause what many Canadians probably want least of all - YACC (Yet Another Constitutional Crisis) - I suspect the picture changes quite a bit.

There are some in the CP who might be accurately described as centrists (and this article makes it sound like they're playing offense, too). But there are some who are pushing for control of the agenda who certainly can't be described that way. There is a struggle for control of the new party and its agenda and those who want to see a Conservative Party that presents a viable alternative to the Liberals ignore that at their peril.

Which is fine by me as long as Stephen Harper is running the party. I'm just sayin'.

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February 2, 2005

Back in November I wrote a bit of rant concerning the recommendations regarding copyright reform that were coming out of the standing committee on Canadian Heritage. Apparently the committee isn't backing off. Over at No More Shall I Roam, Jonathan Dursi has an excellent post on the potential ramifications of the reforms being considered.

I imagine the bloggers among you will be less than impressed at the possible adoption of DMCA style "take-down notices", by which means anyone can send a letter to an ISP demanding that something be removed from a website because of a possible copyright infringement. As Jonathan explains, the potential for abuse is enormous.

But all of us should be less than impressed at the way intellectual property laws are becoming more and more about protecting profit, and less and less about protecting individual rights and ensuring a healthy intellectual commons. As Jonathan writes:

Worse than the tightening [of copyright protection] is the increasing entrenchment into law that there are only two groups of people -- large media outlets who produce content, and everyone else, who is a passive consumer.

And guess whose side our legislators appear to be on?

Jonathan laid the groundwork for his analysis with a good background post here. Both posts are detailed and link-rich.

It's time to start sending cranky (but polite) emails to Ottawa again.

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February 1, 2005

Not a good sign

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There's a wise and passionate defender of democracy of my acquaintance who's fond of saying that the first responsibility of a public education system is to raise good citizens. By this she means teaching students about the foundations and principles of democracy and about their rights and obligations under a truly democratic form of government. And it means teaching them that democracy is fragile and needs to be tended because if it runs on automatic pilot, sooner or later it will go off course.

First Amendment no big deal, students say

The way many high school students see it, government censorship of newspapers may not be a bad thing, and flag burning is hardly protected free speech.

It turns out the First Amendment is a second-rate issue to many of those nearing their own adult independence, according to a study of high school attitudes released Monday.

The original amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of the way of life in the United States, promising citizens the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly.

Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes ?too far? in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

That suggests to me a massive failure on the part of the American educational system. At 53 and childless, I'm fairly far removed from Canada's public education system. I would hope it's doing better but I fear it isn't. Conventional wisdom these days seems to be that the first priority of an education system is to churn out good employees who will also be good consumers. I think our priorities are screwed up.

And for those who think that the answer is a "no-frills" approach to education, consider the following:

Students who take part in school media activities, such as a student newspapers or TV production, are much more likely to support expression of unpopular views, for example.

About nine in 10 principals said it is important for all students to learn some journalism skills, but most administrators say a lack of money limits their media offerings.

More than one in five schools offer no student media opportunities; of the high schools that do not offer student newspapers, 40 percent have eliminated them in the last five years.

?The last 15 years have not been a golden era for student media,? said Warren Watson, director of the J-Ideas project at Ball State University in Indiana. ?Programs are under siege or dying from neglect. Many students do not get the opportunity to practice our basic freedoms.?

One man's frill is another man's learning tool. Maybe freedom is like a muscle -- it needs to be worked on a regular basis to stay limber.

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