February 2008 Archives

February 29, 2008

Friday night blues blogging

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Speaking of Night Music with David Sandborn (see last week's installment)...

Here's Little Milton Campbell with The Blues Is Alright.

And here's Rufus Thomas Walkin' the Dog. Don't be surprised when the sound drops out momentarily. It comes right back.

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February 28, 2008

What to base a future economy around

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The capitalist economy is based around growth. Maximizing production has generally been the name of the game, although lately I do wonder. The question of whether what’s produced is any use has been less and less relevant over time, it seems. And as the financial interests gained ascendancy, there’s less and less guarantee that the “growth” involves anything real at all. But still, growth has been the watchword. And state socialist regimes as in the USSR have tended to the same emphasis, jealously trying to prove they can do the growth thing just as well as the capitalists—to mixed results.
Environmentalists emphasize that growth is getting us into a horrible mess. More modern ideas about social organization of an economy don’t really have a core emphasis, beyond a certain humanism. There’s too much uncertainty about what it might look like to have reached any conclusions about what it might push towards, I suppose. Musing about that, I was reminded of one of the core values in software programming. I diffidently propose that future economies should be based on laziness.

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February 25, 2008

Ken Epp: Back Door Man

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The Doors, "Back Door Man" (1969)

Men don't know,
But the little girls understand.

Update: Bill C-484 will be debated in the Commons for one hour today, 3 March, beginning at 11 a.m. EST. The vote on the bill will be on Friday, 7 March, 5.30 p.m.

Further update: The vote is scheduled for Wednesday, 5 March. Maybe. The truth is, we now don't know when the hell the vote will be.

Today (25 February) and Friday, a private member’s bill called the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act” (C-484), introduced by Ken Epp (Con, Edmonton Sherwood) last November, is up for debate on second reading in the House of Commons; it will be up for voting on 5 March.

If Mr Epp’s claims about the noble aims of this bill were true, then the bill would already have been withdrawn because, in those terms, it is a stupid bill. Mr Epp wants the Criminal Code amended to allow separate homicide charges to be laid against anyone who harms the fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman. As it stands, though, the Criminal Code already allows for more severe sentencing when the victim of an attack is pregnant. Hive off the aggravation charges to a separate charge related to the fetus, and you’re back to a shorter sentence since criminal sentences in Canada typically run concurrently.

Somehow, though, one senses that redress for the murder of a woman and the baby she wanted is not Mr Epp’s purpose, however much he keeps claiming it is (and he does keep claiming that). C-484 is a sneak attempt to reintroduce the personhood of the fetus into Canadian law, and if it succeeds, we will be well on the road to criminalizing abortion again.

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What a swell party this is!

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So did everyone watch the greatest awards show on earth last night? In case you missed it, they're still clearing away the empty bottles and tasty canapés here, from the Great Canadian F-word Blog Awards!

What a trip this has been, organized by pale and Prole at A Creative Revolution on very short notice and then carried through with such wit and verve and nerve. A lot of us knew there were good femblogs out there, but I think we surprised ourselves at just how many would answer the call when it was put out -- how many, how groovy, how deserving, all of them, of this recognition. Congratulations to the winners, the runners-up, but above all to all the nominees, to everyone who joined in the fun, and thanks to two very savvy media fems, Heather Mallick and Antonia Zerbisias, for introducing our awards show and just generally for getting it.

Ok: I've been ducking the snickers long enough. "You won for WHAT?!?" Yeah, well, I know. There's this category called "This Is Everyone's Favourite Title for a Category: Never Mind the Nominees." That's the one I won. Thank you; thank you very much.

Afterthought: Oh, and how could I forget? Special congratulations to the winner of a very special category. Canadian feminist bloggers have spoken: the most Regressive Progressive in the country is ... Michael Ignatieff!

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February 24, 2008

Who's Smoking What? - The Answer

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Back in this post I quoted the results from two polls that measured the same thing but got very different results.
The Strategic Counsel/CTV poll showed support for the federal parties at:

Meanwhile the Harris-Decima/Toronto Star poll showed support at:

I ended that post with a page to Nik Nanos and the results of the latest Nanos poll hit my in box last night:

So the "Who's smoking the high test" award goes to our old friends at the Strategic Counsel who still can't get it right.

And a mild apology goes out to Allan Gregg whose Harris-Decima poll got it right (at least this time). Keep it up Allan so I can stop taking potshots at you.

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February 23, 2008

Mr Beast at Beastly Red gave me such a pure laugh this morning, an occurrence so rare lately that I just had to share: "Canada one step closer to North American domination."

Now, you probably read this story yesterday and felt on first reading, as I did, that familiar sense of despair at watching the corruption and collapse of democracy on this continent. The blustering control freaks who, inexplicably, still run the show, in spite of their impeccable record of failure on all fronts, have signed yet once again one of those cute little treaties (ok: administrative agreements) that never get passed in front of any body of the people’s elected representatives, not in the U.S. and not here. In Canada, they don’t even get announced to the people. The Americans at least allow one of their generals to blurt a bit in a press release, and so we learned, too late and through foreign sources (as usual), that

Canada and the U.S. have signed an agreement that paves the way for the militaries from either nation to send troops across each other's borders during an emergency, but some are questioning why the Harper government has kept silent on the deal.

Neither the Canadian government nor the Canadian Forces announced the new agreement, which was signed Feb. 14 in Texas.

The U.S. military's Northern Command, however, publicized the agreement with a statement outlining how its top officer, Gen. Gene Renuart, and Canadian Lt.-Gen. Marc Dumais, head of Canada Command, signed the plan, which allows the military from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a civil emergency.

Yes, I confess, for a moment there I had the ole DFH (CanDiv) knee-jerk reaction to that report. I mean, we’re just so used to thinking that it’s always going to work their way, that deep integration always means that they get richer and more powerful and we lower our standards and tug our forelocks (and there are reasons we think that). Not Mr Beast, though, and good for Mr Beast. He may have paid a little more attention than I did to the paranoia of far-right wingnuts in the U.S., who are seriously scared of us:

"Co-operative militaries on Home Soil!" notes one website. "The next time your town has a 'national emergency,' don't be surprised if Canadian soldiers respond. And remember - Canadian military aren't bound by posse comitatus."

Posse comitatus is a U.S. law that prohibits the use of federal troops from conducting law enforcement duties on domestic soil unless approved by Congress.

That’s us! Peeps: we’re not bound by posse comitatus! Maybe we’re not Blackwater, but we’re posse comitatus-free! Fear us. We come bearing ... single-payer universal health insurance? No wonder all right-thinking red-blooded Charlton Heston and Pat Boone clones are scared of this treaty (excuse me: administrative agreement). Canadian cooties – ew!

But back to Mr Beast (sorry: got a little carried away there), who was my inspiration. Mr Beast, clearly nourished by the milk of human kindness and the spirit of universal brotherhood, thinks of the task before us so much more positively and generously than had at first occurred to me:

If the US Government is in crisis it will be up to us to step in and help our fellow Americans to continue the west's fantastic way of life! We being the closest and arguably the best able to set things right (Remember 1812? We never forget), would without question jump to the defence of our southern brothers.

Of course we would. We will. Once Canadians grasp the true potential of this treaty (sorry: administrative agreement), everyone is gonna sign up. And they’ll love us. They don’t know that yet, but we know. They’ll love us. We’re nice guys. Everyone knows that.

Where do I sign? And when do we march?

Canada’s Condescending Government may deign to let us know sometime next week ... kind of, sort of, not so’s anyone would notice much:

it will be reported on in the Canadian Forces newspaper next week and that publication will be put on the Internet.

[NB: I don’t know WTH this means:

Scanlon said the actual agreement hasn't been released to the public as that requires approval from both nations. That decision has not yet been taken, he added.

But I think I can guarantee you it doesn’t mean full debate in Parliament.]

Never mind. On to Washington. We have a people to liberate. They’ll welcome us with open arms and flowers. They’ll love us. Trust me.

Cross-posted to Dawg's Blawg.

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February 22, 2008

Friday night blues blogging

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It's an instrumental evening. Warm up with Willie Dixon on Bassology.

This clip has a couple of pieces with guitarist Anson Funderburgh appearing on the old Night Music show with a little help from David Sandborn.

And as a bonus, here's Steve Guyger on harp fronting the T. Leino band on Jumpin' Horse Jam.

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Wingnut medicine

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This is disturbing stuff:

While attending a recent event honoring the twentieth anniversary of the all-important Morgentaler decision here in Canada, I came upon some disturbing news: doctors in Canada are denying pap smears to women citing religious objections. You read it right: doctors are using their personal morality to further restrict a women’s right to equal health care. I came across this fact in an essay written by Peggy Cooke, the recent winner of Canadians for Choice’s essay submission contest that answered the question “Why is a pro-choice Canada so important?”

In her essay detailing her experience as an abortion clinic patient escort, she writes, “I have two close friends whose doctors will not even give them pap tests because it goes against the doctor’s religious beliefs.” Peggy lives in New Brunswick, one of the most repressive provinces in terms of reproductive policy. The provincial government continues to violate the Canada Health Act, by requiring women to seek approval from a doctor and a gynecologist in order to access publicly funded abortions. Abortions done at the private Morgentaler clinic are not funded.

Now, according to the Canadian Medical Association professional code of conduct, doctors are allowed to refuse treatments that go against their beliefs, but they must warn patients about such beliefs and must refer them to doctors who will provide the service being sought.

Legally, doctors who use the conscious clause are required to give a referral to a doctor that will perform the procedure that they themselves refuse to do. In real life, however, this seldom transpires. Many doctors feel a "conscientious objection" not only to the procedure but to the referral, and do not refer, claiming they can not in good conscious refer a patient for a procedure that they object to. Many women never report these doctors because they are already in a vulnerable position and fear the stigma attached to reporting doctors for refusing sexual and reproductive health procedures.

I can see some utllity in having that oath as a way of respecting a broad range of beliefs, but doctors who refuse to make referrals are using their moral framework as an excuse to treat women in a disgraceful manner. And anyone who refuses to do a pap smear needs to turn in their medical licence. A woman's health should win out over religious quackery everytime. What an appalling state of affairs.

h/t to Scott at LG&M.

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Can we fire them *now*?

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Nuclear regulator restores fast-track approvals

Canada's nuclear safety regulator is reinstating a fast-track process for approving reactor projects, signalling a new willingness to support the industry, sources say.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has indicated to industry officials that it plans to get back into the business of prelicensing new reactor designs, removing a major roadblock for the sector, sources familiar with the talks said.

It didn't take long for the new president of the CNSC to make his mark, did it? Except I'm pretty sure it's not his mark. If you know what I mean.

This article adds some interesting context to the firing of the previous president, Linda Keen. The critical part is on the flip.

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Taliban see Canada as 'weak' as Afghan debate drags on: Hillier

Lengthy debate over Canada's role in Afghanistan could put its soldiers increasingly at risk as the Taliban perceive the country as a "weak link," Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier said Friday.

"We are, in the eyes of the Taliban, in a window of extreme vulnerability, and the longer we go without that clarity, with the issue in doubt, the more the Taliban will target us as a perceived weak link," Hillier said.

I'm not the least bit impressed with a Chief of Defence Staff who is effectively telling us, as my title suggests, that we should all shut up and let him get on with the job as he sees it. That's what he's saying and he's using emotional blackmail to make his point.

Taken to its logical conclusion, what all the crap we're getting from Hillier, Harper, the Globe and Mail editorial board and various other Serious People means is that once the boots of Canadian troops touch the ground anywhere in the world and no matter how bogus the reason for the deployment might be, we all need to keep our opinions to ourselves until the powers that be decide the action is over. In other words, democracy is suspended every time our troops are deployed for any reason.

Bullshit. Hillier has made a habit of speaking out on political issues on which, given his position, he should be publicly silent. He needs to be fired. Not that it's going to happen.

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Or is it #137? The incidents of mindless mimicry of the moronic Bush misadministration have been so numerous it's easy to lose count.

This time it's from the respected journal Nature.

Science in retreat
Canada has been scientifically healthy. Not so its government.

Comparisons of nations' scientific outputs over the years have shown that Canada's researchers have plenty to be proud of, consistently maintaining their country's position among the world's top ten (see, for example, Nature 430, 311–316; 2004). Alas, their government's track record is dismal by comparison.

When the Canadian government announced earlier this year that it was closing the office of the national science adviser, few in the country's science community were surprised. Science has long faced an uphill battle for recognition in Canada, but the slope became steeper when the Conservative government was elected in 2006....

Concerns can only be enhanced by the government's manifest disregard for science. Since prime minister Stephen Harper came to power, his government has been sceptical of the science on climate change and has backed away from Canada's Kyoto commitment. In January, it muzzled Environment Canada's scientists, ordering them to route all media enquires through Ottawa to control the agency's media message. Last week, the prime minister and members of the cabinet failed to attend a ceremony to honour the Canadian scientists who contributed to the international climate-change report that won a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Day by day and brick by brick, the Bushies Harpies keep taking down our house.

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Turkey launches ground incursion into Iraq

Thousands of Turkish troops have crossed into northern Iraq for a ground operation against separatist Kurdish rebels, the military confirmed Friday.

The mission marks a dramatic escalation in the country's conflict with the militants. It is the first confirmed ground operation by Turkish troops since the Iraq war that brought down Saddam Hussein, reports The Associated Press.

I can just feel peace and freedom spreading throughout the Middle East. Can you feel it?

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February 21, 2008

Case closed

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Because we had such a good and enlightening discussion of this case back in December 2006, I thought I should record the final verdict, which seems to be justified by overwhelming physical evidence.

Today's verdict simply closes the door on a man few of us understand but who represents something that continues to trouble the conscience in many ways -- well, it troubles mine, anyway. I direct you back to that first post, written while the hunt was still on as far as both the predator and the police were concerned, because it raises issues that have already been put away and are probably not going to be revived ... until the next time.

And there will be a next time.

This man must be put away. But where did he come from?

I won't write his name, but I will write these: Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell, and Annette Nicholls.

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Who's the boss?

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Dave at The Galloping Beaver points us to this story about a group that has issued yet another report about how Canada and the United States should cooperate in a way that would inevitably mean that the United States gets its way.

The United States and Canada should forget arguments over who owns the Northwest Passage and instead jointly manage Arctic waters, academics and former diplomats from both sides urge in a new report.

Aside from the fact that the group includes Paul Cellucci, aka The Mouth from Massachusetts, the former American ambassador to Canada who refuses to retire gracefully and shut the hell up, this caught my eye:
Some form of agreement with the U.S. is both inevitable and desirable, said Rob Huebert of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

"We gain the ability to start planning in the North without worrying that the moment something happens the Americans are going to challenge us and create all the political difficulties for a Canadian decision-maker," he said.

The group has sent a list of nine recommendations to the two governments. They include a suggestion that the U.S. and Canada jointly develop rules on stopping ships in northern waters and on environmental, navigation and safety standards. They also call on the two countries to co-operate on immigration, search and rescue, and surveillance.

The Centre for Military and Strategic Studies was established by, and remains affiliated with, the Department of National Defence. Our own military is helping to underwrite a group that is lobbying our government to share responsibility for our northern border and territorial waters with another country.

Somehow that doesn't work for me.

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Who's Smoking What?

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As the politicos jostle for position in a possible election, there are two new national polls out and at least one of the pollsters is smoking the high test.

CTV breathlessly asserts:

Conservatives take 12-point lead in new poll
Stephen Harper's Conservatives have gained their strongest lead over the Liberals since first taking power in 2006, and have edged ahead in support on almost every key issue, according to a new Strategic Counsel poll....

When respondents were asked which party they would vote for, nearly 40 per cent said they would back the Conservatives (percentage-point change from a Jan. 10-13 poll in brackets):
Conservatives: 39 per cent (+3)
Liberals: 27 per cent (-3)
NDP: 12 per cent (same)
Green Party: 12 per cent (+2)
Bloc Quebecois: 10 per cent (-1)

Meanwhile, in a poll obviously taken in some kind of parallel universe, the Toronto Star says:

Election a Tory-Liberal dogfight, poll suggests

A new poll suggests no federal party should be in a rush to force a spring election, with the Conservatives and Liberals locked in a virtual dead heat.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey put the Tories at 35 per cent and the Liberals at 33 per cent, a statistical tie given the poll's 3.1-percentage-point margin of error.

Meanwhile, back in Ontario, CTV would have us believe:

In Ontario, the Conservatives have overtaken the Liberals for the first time since July 2006, when the Liberals were at 39 per cent and the Tories at 41 percent. Here are the current standings in Ontario (percentage-point change from a Jan. 10-13 poll in brackets):
Conservatives: 42 per cent (+5)
Liberals: 34 per cent (-5)
Green Party: 13 per cent (-1)
NDP: 11 per cent (-1)

That 8 point lead sounds great for the Harpies (and the Greenies)...or not because the Star poll claims:

The poll also found some modest good news for the Tories in vote-rich Ontario, where they climbed into a tie with the Liberals at 40 per cent. The NDP were at 11 per cent and the Greens at eight per cent.

Paging Nik Nanos. Could we get a real pollster in here to show Allan Gregg's old company and his new company how it's done?

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February 19, 2008

Updated below.

No matter what rhetoric we hear from our leaders on cleaning up Canada's environmental record, on one project they are strangely silent: the ecological disaster that is the Athabasca tar sands development. The sheer scope of the damage from the tar sands developments are hard to comprehend, but a recent report evocatively titled Canada’s Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project on Earth has made a valiant effort to grasp the enormity of the problem.

Because of their sheer scale, all Canadians are affected by the Tar Sands, no matter where they live.

If you live downstream, your water is being polluted and your fish and wildlife may be dangerous to eat. If you live in Saskatchewan you are a victim of acid rain. If you live in BC, “supertankers” may soon be plying your shoreline carrying Tar Sands oil to Asia. If you live in Ontario, you are exposed to harmful emissions from the refining of Tar Sands Oil. And the impacts do not stop at Canada’s border – US refineries are re-tooling to handle the dirty oil from Alberta.

With the Tar Sands, Canada has become the world’s dirty energy superpower.

This report follows an equally damning document published last month that shows how the destruction from the projects is made worse by the lax environmental standards of the mining companies and the non-existent enforcement of provincial regulations.

- While the majority of oil sands operations have comprehensive environmental policies in place, only two companies provided evidence of having an independently-accredited environmental management system such as ISO 14,001.

- With the exception of the existing Albian Muskeg River Mine, no operation has voluntary targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

- No project or company has publicly-reported targets to reduce water usage from the Athabasca River.

- Despite more than 40 years of oil sands development, not a single hectare of land has been certified as reclaimed under Government of Alberta guidelines.

The environmental fallout from the project is not just national but global in its destructive reach, yet there has been little debate on the merits of the project. Albertans of course will loudly reject an attempt by anyone outside their province to limit oilsands development, but four decades of blissful ignorance on the part of their provincial government shows that they will never hold the mines to any environmental standards. Even though an Alberta election is going on, environmental damage from tar sands development isn't even considered an issue. In fact, the people of Fort McMurray expect their just rewards as the engine of Alberta's economy. Upholding existing environmental standards isn't on their radar, let alone any thought of scaling back development. The Alberta New Democrats are on record saying they would put in place stronger environamental standards, pursue green energy sources and limit new developments, but few expect the NDP to be a major factor in this election.

The tar sands will become an issue should a federal election be called. With the Green Party having a higher profile these days and the federal NDP's longstanding strength on environmental issues, there is no way to avoid it. It will be fascinating to watch each party waltz around the issue, terrified of upsetting Albertans and giving them a new rallying cry to meld with the mythology of the National Energy Policy. It makes me wish Harper and Dion would stop tiptoeing around and call for a damned election already. We have important things to discuss in this country, whether they want to have that discussion or not.

Update: The Toronto Star Editorial Board agrees with me.

Canadians' concerns over Alberta oil-sands development centre largely around its impact on climate change.

And for good reason. In a list of 207 nations ranked by greenhouse gas emissions, Alberta's oil sands come out higher than 145 of them.

And that comparison is based on 2007 emissions. Under its proposed "intensity" caps to fight global warming, the Harper government predicts a near doubling in oil-sand emissions by 2020.


Clearly released to stir debate in the provincial election campaign underway in Alberta, the frightening findings in this study also need to be addressed by federal parties as they gear up for a spring election.

Whether this helps or hinders my case depends on your opinion of the Toronto Star Editorial Board.

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February 16, 2008

BAE: secret papers reveal threats from Saudi prince

Saudi Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.

You remember Prince Bandar. Good friend of the Bush family. In fact there were credible reports that he was informed of American plans to invade Iraq before then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Hat-tip to Laura Rozen who has more. Always check War and Piece.

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I haven’t written Pakistan/Afghanistan updates for a while because I find so much of the public discussion frustrating, majorly misdirected by public officials and military leaders and very seldom corrected by the press.

The most serious problem with the way anyone’s mission has been framed has been the insistence on talking about Afghanistan as a discrete mission, containable and addressable entirely within itself, which it simply never has been. At least in the last year a few Canadian officials seem to have learned to choke out a few words about Pakistan, although it’s hard to know whether we are doing the smart diplomacy that is needed behind the scenes or just the old white-man’s-burden two-step of shifting the blame to a different group of, y’know, those people. But the Bush/Cheney--Musharraf love affair and the regional war – that’s for another post.

About al-Qaeda – what it is, how it operates, what its criminal aims are – I think we have few doubts about that network. (We should have figured out by now how to disassemble them from the top down – interesting that we haven’t heard much about that from our dear leaders, isn’t it?) It seems mistaken to me, however, to think and talk about something called “the Taliban” as if it were the same thing as al-Qaeda or a parallel thing, since it isn’t. I’m not all that keen on arguing that we should be fighting anywhere at any time, but there’s one thing I know for sure about fighting: if you’re going to fight, you have to fight smart, and if you’re misidentifying your opponent for purely rhetorical reasons or to make political points, then you are not fighting smart. Live through Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara lying to themselves about the Viet Nam war, and you never forget that lesson.

Western political and (some) military leaders keep dropping that label, “the Taliban,” into their public statements as a solid object, as a signifier that they expect will trigger knee-jerk reactions from us, and the mainstream press have mainly followed suit. But what do we actually know about the Taliban since 2001? What we knew then was that they were not al-Qaeda, although they had harboured al-Qaeda. They were a tyrannical theocratic political regime, their power-core no doubt intensely ideologically motivated but very small (and reportedly prepared until the last moment to negotiate with the U.S.). Their foot soldiers and followers were not the highly trained cadres of al-Qaeda; they were just ... Afghans, especially Pashtuns, going along to get along.

The power-core of the Taliban no doubt still seethe away in the border regions of Pakistan, perhaps more closely allied now with al-Qaeda than ever, although who knows? They are no doubt organizing the insurgency in the south, in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, which is their home territory, but again, who are they organizing, and why is that working for them?

Michael Semple can speak clearly and usefully to that question. And I tell you, it makes my brain feel better to listen to someone like Michael Semple, who knows and cares what he’s talking about and can therefore give us straightforward, practical advice.

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February 15, 2008

Friday night blues blogging

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Mississippi Blues is one of those tunes that often turns up in instructional books on delta blues guitar. Johnny Winter demonstrates that he was a diligent and attentive student. Eventually he kicks it up a notch and throws in a couple of licks that I don't think were in the manual.

So do you really need a bonus track when the opener is over nine minutes long? Oh alright. Let's bring back Harpdog Brown and the Bloodhounds. Rockin' Fool.

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February 14, 2008

What does the US still make?

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There’s a common perception that the US economy has seen a hollowing out of the manufacturing sector over the past few decades, accelerating lately. And for those of us who think “post-industrial” is bollocks, that’s a fairly big deal. But in conversations about this decline, I’ve seen it pointed out that the dollar value of US manufacturing is still very high, and has not in fact declined. Note that I don’t know the details of just how true that is, or what “unchanged” means in an otherwise growing economy. Those pointing this out have concluded that the US manufacturing sector has simply been getting more efficient, putting out the same amount of stuff with fewer people.

That turns out not to be the case. Or rather, in a bizarro-world kind of way it is, but not in any useful sense. I always wondered just how much of that unchanged dollar figure was actually military spending. Well, this article about US budget follies (are they on their way to the world’s first Trillion Dollar Deficit?) in passing mentions a quote from one Paul O'Neill, former Treasury Secretary of the United States:

"To grasp the horror of military Keynesianism, consider this statistic: By 1990, production for the Department of Defense amounted to 83% of the value of all manufacturing plants and equipment in the US. Only 17% of the US manufacturing base actually made products not meant to kill."

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Burn that line into your memories, friends, and make sure that every other Canadian you know has it engraved as well.

Via Buckdog: Gerry Ritz, the agriculture minister you probably never spent five minutes thinking about before, oversteps all sorts of boundaries in threatening the Canadian Wheat Board while simultaneously revealing that hidden agenda that the Harperites keep denying they have, and lands himself and his prime minister and party as well (we can only hope) in a world of prairie-blossom muck and hurt:

"To say that I'm extremely disappointed to hear that the Canadian Wheat Board is unwilling to discuss change for western Canadian producers would be an understatement," Gerry Ritz, the agriculture minister, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, the wheat board's chairman, Ken Ritter, said the marketing agency had decided against holding further talks with Ritz on barley because of a lack of "common ground" between the two sides.


Asked about the prospect of a spring election derailing the government's plans, Ritz was blunt.

"It means that the board has sufficiently stalled things long enough that they'll survive until after the election," he said. "When we come back with a majority, then all bets are off."

Ok, you knew that. Just make sure that everyone else you know does too. And they are not just talking Wheat Board; they're talking all bets. The man said so. All bets are off.

If anything is coming off, I hope it's more like the wheels of the Control-freak caucus.

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February 13, 2008

A Wednesday morning ramble

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Alison at Creekside points out that the National Post is vying with the Globe and Mail for the right to call itself the House Organ for Deep Integration. Doesn't surprise me a bit.

Have you noticed how the cheerleaders for the Security and Prosperity Partnership keep writing as if security is uppermost in the minds of Americans? I'll bet the number of Americans who fear that marauding bands of Muslim terrorists are going to sweep down on them from across the Canadian border is vanishingly small. There are a few fringe dwellers who haven't figured out that the Mexicans actually cross from the south. There are a few politicians who demagogue the issue. And there are people who shill for the companies that stand to get rich from being part of the new security infrastructure. In many cases, they're the same companies growing rich from the war in Iraq and the "mission" in Afghanistan. Terror, like war, is good for business.

But I suspect what's really uppermost on the minds of most Americans these days is: why do they still have troops in Iraq? And how did they get themselves into this godawful mortgage that now has them more in debt than when they started? How come in a country that has gotten richer for most of the last three decades, the benefits have all gone to a few people while everyone else treads water? And how could George Bush contemplate turning Social Security over to the same people who are responsible for what Atrios calls Big Shitpile — the subprime mortgage crisis that's turning out to be a bigger crisis than just subprime mortgages?

And I'm sure the Americans who are paying close attention are wondering why a Congress that's ostensibly under Democratic control is on the verge of passing legislation that will grant retroactive immunity to large telecommunications companies that have unlawfully spied on American citizens. Has the National Post mentioned that story? Has the Globe and Mail? Isn't it worth pointing out that the country we're supposed to be integrating with is making a joke out of the rule of law?

Nah. That would take attention away from the bottom line. Obviously our national newspapers have to keep their priorities straight.

Almost immediate update:
Now there's timing for you. Within a few minutes of wrapping up this post, what do I stumble across? A fact-free story about Michael Chertoff's "deepest fear" which is supposed to be terrorists crossing into the U.S. from Canada. There are no names here. No specifics. And Chertoff refers to so-called terrorists who were caught trying to enter the country, not people who actually got in and, you know, blew stuff up. If they were caught, it means the precautions in place at the time worked.

I call bullshit.

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February 12, 2008

We've heard this somewhere before

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The Naitonal Post would like everyone to know that the Liberals are "weak in the knees" when they talk about changing the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. After all, we are so close to winning the pony over there.

Farmers are beginning to return to their fields and families to their homes, and village life is returning to normal. Markets and schools are reopening. All of this would be jeopardized if Liberal peaceniks are permitted to hold sway: Several soldiers and junior officers with extensive combat experience told Mr. Hutchinson that pulling our troops back now would herald the instant return of the Taliban.

What monumental nonsense. This is the same line of bullshit that has kept the Americans mired in Iraq for five years. There are always schools being reopened, markets full of merchandise, and all other signs of normality to protect say the war boosters. Then six months go by, more soliders and civilians die, and the same schools and markets are trotted out again. If the national Post has its way, we will be in Afghanistan forever.

The sad truth is this: there is no benefit to our soldiers staying in Afghanistan. We will not bring democracy by 2009 or 2011 or any year beyond that. Democracy will come to Afghanistan when Afghanis are ready for it. Not one moment before. And it won't be imposed from the outside.

I realize that there is a serious temptation to try to impose our "superior" system on other countries, but such impositions rarely work in the real world. Afghanistan, in particular, is uniquely resistant to solutions being forced upon them by outsiders. History is actually pretty clear on that.

Had the American decapitated the Taliban and left, the Afghanis could have worked out their problems themselves. It would have been ugly, and whatever system resulted would not have been a democracy, but it would have been their system. Democracy as we understand it is meaningless for most Afghanis, It simply has no relevance to their everyday lives.

Afghanistan's 12 million voters choose a Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) on Sunday, the first parliamentary polls since 1969. But the Kuchis care more about rain and sheep than who rules in Kabul, or even in the provincial capital of Kandahar.

"For me, what is the difference? What is democracy?" asks Sardar Khan, who doesn't know how old he is but could be anywhere between 50 and 70. "In the time of the Taliban we were poor Kuchi, if this democracy comes, we will still be poor Kuchi."

On Sunday, this group of nomads will trek 10 km (six miles) there and back in temperatures close to 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) to queue and vote for 10 seats reserved for the gypsies in the 249-member Wolesi Jirga.

Not because they feel it will make a difference but because, they say, the police will force them to vote as they did in the presidential election last year that returned Hamid Karzai, whose base is in Kandahar.

"We don't see our future, we don't know if it will be good or not," says 40-year-old Mohammed Khan as the moon rises over the stark imposing shape of Showqamdam Mountain.

"We don't know the benefits of the election. Election -- what does it mean?"

As it is, our government has become the latest in a thousand years of foolish governments to throw our our sons and daughters into a hopeless Afghan war. It is not "weak in the knees" to suggest a change in the wreckless course we are currently pursuing.

Cross-posted to VITW.

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February 11, 2008


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This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

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February 10, 2008

Return to a "managed" economy?

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So I was reading this article at ZNet, about what the US government ought to be doing instead of just, in effect, lowering taxes again. I mean, if you give everyone tax rebates, that's really just a short-term tax reduction in a lump sum. No real difference from anything the Bushies have ever done. This guy would seem to be pretty unradical for someone on ZNet. Fairly uncontroversially to my view, he was saying, like plenty of others on the left, centre left, and just generally with any sense, that the government should spend money on putting people to work building/rebuilding infrastructure. Some just say infrastructure, some say kill two birds with one stone by making it green infrastructure, which sounds like a plan.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. The thing is, late in the article, the guy said this: "We need to reclaim the managed form of capitalism that produced an economy of shared prosperity during the long postwar boom." People talk like this quite often, especially people the Americans would call "liberals"--that is, people who are mushily not comfortable with the hard right, but who don't want to really seriously think about why. But it's deeply misleading:

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February 9, 2008

Travel advisory update

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Our travel advisory with regards to the United States remains in effect. All indications are that the rule of law continues to grow weaker in our neighbour to the south. An exception can be made if you know the right people, of course. (Hat-tip to digby.)

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I hope I'm not going to wear that title out but it's partly up to the professionals who are supposed to be practicing journalism. Hat-tip to Impolitical for pointing out this interesting bit of reporting from the Globe and Mail. The headline reads thusly:

Afghan debate gets ugly

And the subhead reads thusly:
Ottawa seeks to extend mission as barbs fly in the Commons

Nice use of the passive voice. Makes it sound like both sides in the debate are at fault. But unless the authors of the story left something out, the "barbs" only flew in one direction and only one side got stupid.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan accused the Liberals of sympathizing with the Taliban when he was asked about the policy of Canadian soldiers transferring captured prisoners into Afghan hands.

"What we will not do is what the agent for the Taliban intelligence agency wants us to do over here, which is release to them information on detailed operations in the field," he said in the House of Commons.

The nastiest thing coming from the other side in the story is this:
Deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said that while the government's motion suggests a willingness to compromise, Mr. Van Loan's partisan remarks leave him pessimistic the two parties can come together.

"We are anxious to work with the government to find a respectable, honourable compromise that serves the national interest. But you can't go into the House of Commons and be told you're the Taliban information service."

Oh God, Iggy! How could you!

Please spare us the phony fair and balanced crap. If and when the opposition act like jerks, by all means report it. But based on this story it's strictly Peter Van Loan who's acting like an asshole here. Report it that way. Otherwise I'm going to be a busy blogger.

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February 8, 2008

Friday night blues blogging

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I think I've mentioned before that material by Ry Cooder seems to show up on YouTube and then disappear again. So when I see, I post it while I have the chance. Here's Crazy 'Bout An Automobile.

Here's a different take on Just A Little Bit.

And finally as a bonus track, a tune most of you probably know: Chain Gang.

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The horror, the horror

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Yesterday I watched and listened as Michael Mukasey, attorney general of the United States – that is, counsel to the people of the United States, all the people, not (in theory, anyway) counsel to the president – equivocated and bafflegabbed before the members of the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) for over four hours.

I’m still not fully recovered, and I’m not being sarcastic here when I ask for some company in my anguish. At the end of Mukasey’s exchange with Adam Schiff (D, CA), I was in tears. I knew that I had just heard, for the fourth or fifth time in one day, the senior law officer of the most powerful nation on earth, the nation whose most distinguished jurists and diplomats and politicians (even!) sixty years ago took a leading role in defining the bright lines that lovers of democracy will not cross, even in wartime ... I heard that man argue that agents of the American government, whatever crimes they have committed, however they have violated American law or international treaties that, once signed, become part of American law, must still be allowed the disgraced Nuremberg defence – “I was following orders” – simply because some sweaty sycophant in the DoJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) took dictation from David Addington and declared that the executive branch, especially when ruled by Dick Cheney, always holds trumps.

Given the size and make-up of the HJC, it was predictable that Mukasey’s grilling would cover many different subjects – that committee never has quite the coherence of the SJC – but three current scandals dominated the most revealing exchanges: the OLC’s persistent and perverse authorization of enhanced interrogation torture; the administration’s defiance of the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) through its illegal information-gathering programs (c’mon: you know there’s more than one); and the politicization of the entire U.S. civil service, most seriously the career employees of the DoJ. Mukasey couldn’t even skate past the easiest of those challenges, the third, not when Artur Davis (D, Ala) got him in his sights at the very end of the hearings.

To every single one of the serious questions he faced, Mukasey fuzzed and fumbled his way to the same murkily expressed but undeniably absolute answer: if the president says so, it’s legal in the United States of America (and the rest of the world can go Cheney itself). I can defend my reading of Mukasey’s positions on the latter two challenges another time, but it was his answers to the questions about OLC memos authorizing enhanced interrogation torture that finally broke me down, and I would like others to watch and listen and tell me whether this is not, once again, the banality of evil. Torture is just situational ethics to this man; the definition of torture is, to him, subject to changing “political winds,” and he believes that he is being responsible to tell agents of American power that they never have to pass the orders that they are given through a functioning human conscience, no matter how shocking to the conscience of the whole rest of the world those orders may be.

I read Americans worrying that their executive branch is usurping all other powers and establishing an absolute monarchy (gee: that couldn’t happen in Canada, could it?), but to me, what I heard yesterday is even worse than that. If torture is situational ethics, then we are on to Dostoevsky territory. Torture is an assault on the body, yes – the body may recover; it may be maimed; or it may be destroyed. But torture is aimed most profoundly at the mind, at destroying the mind, at driving the victim mad. And in that madness, what any of us will see is the vision that is the exact opposite of civilization, especially of democracy. The tortured and the torturer both know that once all the rules are conditional, there are no more rules. Civil society ends. Everything is permitted.

And that’s why I was crying yesterday. We are too good and too smart to let this happen again.

Mukasey vs Delahunt (D, Mass):

Mukasey vs Schiff (D, CA):

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February 7, 2008

Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reported yesterday on this curious claim from CIA Director Michael Hayden, caught in a presser after Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on Tuesday:

At the same hearing, focused on threats to U.S. interests around the globe, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden publicly confirmed for the first time that the agency's interrogators had used a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding on a total of three al-Qaeda detainees in 2002 and 2003.

After the hearing, Hayden told reporters that the information obtained from those detainees amounted to a quarter of all the human intelligence the CIA gained about the terrorist organization between 2002 and 2006.

"We would not have done it if it were not that valuable," Hayden said after he and other intelligence community leaders testified. The agency has been under pressure to justify its use of the technique because military officials, lawmakers, human rights experts and international lawyers have called it torture banned by U.S. laws and treaties.

Now, put aside for a moment the more serious question of whether Hayden may have slipped on a banana peel, stepped in a prairie-blossom (we're polite on this site), when he publicly confirmed that the Bush administration has indeed been dabbling in waterboarding. You knew that already, yes?

It's that "quarter" of all humint that caught my eye. I mean, how do they measure that? I was sitting here this morning trying to imagine how they weigh up or measure out all the intel they get. And then there was Sedgequill, in comments at emptywheel:

I’d wondered the same thing. Word count during waterboarding, maybe? I can’t think of a valid means of measurement.

bmaz later wants to know what percentage of that quarter came from waterboarding, an especially interesting question since we have heard that Abu Zubaydah chatted quite openly for months with competent interrogators before he was waterboarded by the, ah, other guys:

Assuming arguendo (Latin legalese meaning “for the sake of argument”) that the figure of 25% is true, the salient question is what percentage of that was obtained through standard interrogation and what percentage through impermissible physically coercive techniques? The corollary question is what percentage of false, bad, information resulted from the torture. If you recall some of the previous reporting, there seems to be some basis that, at least as to Zubayduh, he talked before they tortured him. Bottom line: to what extent did they get the usable information through acceptable techniques and then torture these (and undoubtedly many other) subjects trying to extract even more. I am willing to bet that most of what they got from the torture was unusable, or false, and that anything useful they got was obtained under standard techniques.

But then again, Hayden clearly not being the sharpest pencil in the box, maybe he just made it all up?

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February 6, 2008

Credit to Buckdog for keeping tabs on the government's attempts to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board. The initial frontal assault didn't work so now they'll intentionally damage the board's ability to do its job in the hopes that a weakened institution will be easier to take down.

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February 4, 2008

Can we fire these bums yet?

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Canada ignored global effort on isotopes: CMA

Canada could have avoided the recent medical isotope crisis if supplier MDS Nordion had joined international efforts to co-ordinate global production, a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal says.

The article Monday in the journal says MDS Nordion wouldn't co-operate with Europe's two large-scale isotope suppliers -- Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group in the Netherlands, and the Institut National des Radioelements in Belgium.

The article makes it clear that MDS Nordion was prepared to risk a possible shortage of isotopes to protect its market share. And to protect MDS Nordion our Conservative government was prepared to increase the risk of a nuclear accident however marginally, weaken a nuclear regulatory agency and ruin Linda Keen's reputation and career. If all of that wasn't true, we wouldn't be finding this out from an article in the Canadian Medical Association's journal.

These are not nice people.

Hat-tip to the Jurist.

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There is a lot in this Rosie DiManno column with which I might take issue. Scott Tribe, where I found the link, also has some comments on it. What I really wanted to draw attention to was this, in regard to the controversy surrounding the handling of Afghan prisoners detained by Canadian forces:

... the whole detainee scandal would never have arisen had not Ottawa winced at the optics of handing over prisoners to U.S. authorities.

Optics? Add DiManno to the long list of people who simply refuse to acknowledge the last seven years of American history when it suits them. Some of the most egregious of human rights abuses committed by American forces have occurred at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

It's amazing how someone can practice journalism while wearing blinkers.

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February 2, 2008

Saturday night party blogging

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Apparently we're putting up party songs to help Birth Pangs celebrate its first birthday. I'm in. This was filmed at a rehearsal for a TV show which is why it looks like The Pointer Sisters are all dressed up with no one to talk to. One of the original party songs is Willie Dixon's Wang Dang Doodle.

Happy birthday and party with that.

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Josh Marshall notes that someone ran the numbers and figured out that Rudy Giuliani's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination spent $50 million to get a single delegate.

And at that rate Rudy would have needed $60 billion to win the nomination.

And I have no doubt that he would have spent that much if he'd had it.

Under the category of Thank God For Small Mercies, at least we can enjoy a sense of relief that President Rudy "We Need War With Everyone" Giuliani is a phrase we won't have to take seriously for at least four years.

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The game is afoot

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This is from a piece in The Guardian on the impending "Afghan crisis":

But the immediate crisis has been triggered by Canada, which has threatened to bring home its 2,500 troops from Kandahar, next to Helmand province where British forces are fighting the resurgent Taliban insurgency, unless other allies send reinforcements.

Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, told Gordon Brown this week that the "clear choice" laid out by an internal Canadian panel was that Canada would remain in Afghanistan beyond February 2009 only if allies supplied more combat troops for Kandahar and Canada acquired new equipment.

Note how the Manley report is being treated like it's official government policy even though we have a minority goverment and parliament hasn't voted on anything yet. The demands Manley made will no doubt be met, or at least close enough for jazz. And then any talk about even ending the Kandahar mission, never mind bringing troops home, will be met with cries of "but we told the world we'd stay if they sent another 1,000 troops!"

I'm by no means the first to point this out but let me add my voice to the others who've noted it in the last few days: we're being manipulated. We need to remember every step of the way in the days ahead that Harper has manufactured this situation.

Hat-tip to skdadl at Bread and Roses.

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Wingnut welfare: Canadian edition

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Flaherty broke rules to hire ex-Harris aide

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has broken federal rules by handing a former Mike Harris speechwriter an untendered contract worth more than $120,000, the Toronto Star has learned.

The $122,430 contract to Hugh MacPhie, who worked in the former Ontario Conservative premier's office, violated Treasury Board guidelines requiring multiple bids for contracts over $25,000.

Further along in the story you'll find that the contract was for two months work.

This is typical of the Harris government whose Common Sense Revolution was just a cover story for more crony capitalism. It isn't what you know, it's who you know and whose ass you'll kiss political fortunes you'll support.

Hat-tip to the Jurist who notes a couple of other problematic items in the day's news.

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February 1, 2008

Friday night blues blogging

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A lot of performers have covered J. J. Cale's songs but no one has ever sounded quite like him. He always makes me think he knows things the rest of us can only guess at.

These two clips were recorded at Eric Clapton's Crossroads festival which is why Clapton is sitting in. Notice the moment at the beginning of After Midnight when Cale motions Clapton to step up to the mic and Clapton refuses.

Call Me The Breeze was famously covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd but Cale's version is just a touch more, um, laid back?

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So I’ve been thinking about this whole mortgage meltdown thing, which in turn has started this whole tottering banks and financial institutions thing. Seems to me it says something about the system at a more basic level than a lot of people are considering. I mean, sure, it shows that there’s tons of corruption and greed going on—but it’s not like that was news. Perhaps more importantly it shows that the corruption and greed can mess up the system badly, which may seem obvious but if you look at right wing rhetoric and the normal assumptions in the news media, the baseline is that greed is good for the system and to everyone’s benefit in the end. We see the perennial selective and misleading quotations from old Adam Smith. Smith wasn’t God, but the way people misrepresent him to back their shallow, grasping ideologies you’d think he was.

Anyhow, seems to me the trouble goes even deeper than that.

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Resume turning over detainees, Canada told

Canada should resume transferring detainees to Afghanistan's notorious intelligence service because holding them would mean a propaganda victory for the Taliban, the country's largest human-rights agency says.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says officials from Canada and other countries fighting in southern Afghanistan will meet at the AIHRC headquarters on Feb. 6, exactly three months after Canada halted the handovers.

“We will ask them to start transferring to the Afghan authorities,” said Farid Hamidi, a lawyer for the commission. “If they don't transfer these detainees to the Afghan authorities, it will raise some questions among the people of Afghanistan.”

Since we now know that prisoners turned over to Afghan authorities have been abused, we have a little more to worry about than propaganda victories and questions among the people of Afghanistan. I'm thinking about little things like the Geneva Conventions and the danger that your recommended course of action might represent to our troops down the road. That may just raise some questions among the people of Canada.

I'm also thinking that someone who works for a human rights commission ought to be a lot less concerned with potential propaganda victories and a lot more concerned with, you know, human rights.

Somebody needs to be fired. Actually there are quite a few somebodies in this mess who need to be fired.

Hat-tip to Greg.

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