February 2009 Archives

February 28, 2009

Deep thought


If the pundit you're reading seems more concerned with the effect the economic crisis is having on an ideology than with the effect the economic crisis is having on actual human beings then the pundit you're reading is irrelevant. Or should be.

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February 27, 2009

Friday night


There's a very short snippet of interview on the front end of this and then Lonnie Mack performs Cincinnati Jail. Limber up those digits, skdadl, 'cos there's some nice piano on the break.

There's another one from Lonnie on the flip.

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Commenter Jeff House demonstrated yesterday that if a post is old enough, adding a comment won't bump it up into the Recently Commented On list at right. Since a number of us are watching closely (watching like hawks, you might even say) to see if Obama really will reverse all of the more noxious policies of the Bush administration in the area of civil liberties and the rule of law, here's a place to continue the conversation.

The reason for Jeff's comment was this story (and it appears that the story has been revised since Jeff first commented yesterday).

The Justice Department is preparing to announce criminal charges against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri for allegedly providing material support to al-Qaeda terrorists, sources said, a groundbreaking step that would place the alleged sleeper agent in the purview of the U.S. courts rather than before a military tribunal.

At the most basic level, this is good since the military tribunals were fraudulent show trials. Al-Marri has been held for five and a half years and should have been either charged or released long ago.

But there's an interesting wrinkle here.

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February 26, 2009

Is that supposed to make me feel better?


So far this morning I've seen at least three Liberal supporters endorse the idea that Michael Ignatieff's comments in response to a National Geographic article on the tar sands can safely be written off as pandering and certainly shouldn't be interpreted as representing his real opinion or the position of the Liberal party. And these are Liberal supporters.

So does that mean that when Iggy said the Conservative government was on probation and he was watching them like a hawk, he didn't really mean that either? How does one tell the difference?

Congratulations. It's taken less than three months for the new leader of the Liberal party to have even less credibility than the one they just dumped. Even some of the people who supported Ignatieff for the leadership are publicly acknowledging that he's full of it.

Is it too early to have a drink?

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February 23, 2009

Watching them like hawks


The Hill Times reports this morning that Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, is going to be passed "at lightning speed." 551 pages of legislation will get only two days of study by the House Finance Committee. Such is the urgency that's being placed on the need for economic stimulus. And so all the extras that are crammed into this thing — extras that have nothing to do with budgeting or stimulus spending — will soon become law without anything approaching proper scrutiny or debate. And even the opposition members who are quoted neglect to remind us that some of the urgency attached to this bill is because for most of December and January we were effectively without a government.

So let's review.

Ignoring his own fixed election date legislation and the rhetoric he spouted along with it, our prime minister called an unnecessary election whereupon we were solemnly informed that he was growing into the job. When he was returned with another minority, indicating that a majority of Canadians weren't all that convinced that he really was growing into the job, he proceeded to spit in the opposition's face. When the opposition parties threatened to rebel, Prime Minister Sweater Vest who had just finished trying to convince everyone that he's a really a nice guy at heart, did the conciliatory thing: he took advantage of what amounts to a constitutional loophole and shut the government down for two months.

The media, with a major assist from Stéphane Dion's communications staff, did their best to convince everyone that coalition and coup are synonyms and that a coalition government would mean the end of life as we know it. Then they commissioned polls so they could report that a majority of us believed what they had just finished telling us we should believe. Funny how that works.

Meanwhile the Liberals took the opportunity to dump Dion and substitute a leader who can glare sternly for the cameras and still take orders from unnamed senior Liberals who feel that coalition and coup are synonyms and that Canada without the promise of a Liberal majority government is the end of life as we know it. Even if that promise is to be somewhat delayed. (Due to technical difficulties beyond their control, of course.)

So here we are with a prime minister who has learned his lesson. He's learned that if he can avoid acting like a complete jackass in public he can continue to game the system to force his agenda on us in what I believe they call an incremental fashion. Just as he was doing before that election that now seems so long ago.

But fear not. We now have Michael Ignatieff to glare sternly at him and vow to ... continue to glare sternly at him.

So we've got that going for us.

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February 20, 2009

Friday night

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Having stumbled across this, there's no way I'm not going to post it. This is ten minutes worth of blues that should get your toes tapping and at that I think the ending got cut off. But it still works. This is Albert Collins with some help from Duke Robillard and Debbie Davies on an instrumental called Frosty.

There's some bonus instrumental Albert on the flip.

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Let Peter Tinsley have his hearings.


Via Impolitical, in yesterday's Globe and Mail Paul Koring had the latest installment on a story I've been watching since March of last year. That's when Peter Tinsley, the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, announced that the MPCC intended to hold public hearings into the handling of Afghan detainees by Canadian forces. Tinsley was quite clear that the principal reason for doing so was the government's unwillingness to provide his people with access to the information they needed in the course of the investigations they had already tried to conduct.

Since that announcement the federal government has made every effort to block those hearings and while Tinsley has vowed to push ahead with them and even to widen their scope, the last report we had was that a government motion had resulted in their indefinite adjournment. That was earlier this month. Today's story may help explain why Tinsley has been so determined.

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February 19, 2009

Did the Green Shift just get dumped?


Most of this from Michael Ignatieff in today's National Post is pretty predictable stuff. But considering that Iggy was talking about a carbon tax before Dion did (and please correct me if I'm wrong), I was a bit surprised to see this:

We should immediately begin working toward a common cap-and-trade system, with a hard cap on emissions and defined reduction targets for industrial emissions.

Has the Liberal party officially switched back to favoring a cap and trade system and I missed the memo? Or is this the memo?


Or maybe Ignatieff is talking cap and trade because he knows it's already a done deal.

Canada and the United States appear set to take an initial step towards a North American climate-change treaty Thursday during President Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa.

Sources from both countries say they expect Harper and the president to announce an agreement that would serve as a building block towards a continental cap-and-trade system.

That would certainly explain all the hot air that Environment Minister Jim Prentice has emitted recently about Harper's government being on the same page as Obama's.

H/t to BigCityLib.

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February 18, 2009

Simple answers to simple questions


The Mound of Sound reports that our Prime Minister is now trying to blame his own refusal to come up with a serious policy on GHG emissions on Obama's predecessor and wonders how best to describe Harper.

What's the term I'm looking for? Oh yeah, Bald-Faced Liar. Or is "weasel" better?

I'd go with both.

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I told you there'd be tweaking


And I've tweaked. There was entirely too much underlining going on in some spots so I've adjusted the way links work. If the type is in green, it should be a link. If you hover the mouse pointer over green type, the underline will appear to confirm that it's a link. That should be a little cleaner.

I've also added links at the end of each post to make it easier to share posts at some of the popular social networking sites.

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And assets to be named later


In his recent budget, federal finance minister Jim Flaherty again relied on the possible sale of unnamed federal assets to supplement his revenue forecasts. And got away with it. When he tried this in the ill-fated economic statement last November I could have sworn that the opposition was unanimous in their criticism of this kind of fudging with figures. But that was then and this is ... different.

And of course we residents of Ontario can tell you that this kind of thing is a pattern with Flaherty. Now the speculation has begun.

The Harper government, under pressure to prevent the federal deficit from ballooning, is pressing ahead with an asset review that could lead to the sale or privatization of several well-known Crown corporations, including Canada Post, Via Rail, the Royal Canadian Mint and the agency that oversees security at Canada's airports.

Emphasis added. Under pressure from whom? To the extent that the deficit we're facing isn't the result of a financial crisis that can best be mitigated with government spending, it's the result of Flaherty's ideology. And any pressure to reduce the deficit through the sale of assets like the Post Office is self-imposed. It's the result of the same ideology that saw Flaherty push ahead with policies such as the cuts to the GST against the advice of just about everyone in a position to offer an informed opinion.

This kind of asset sale is a policy that Flaherty would have loved to pursue under any circumstances. The current economic situation is merely providing an excuse. This is what disaster capitalism looks like.

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February 17, 2009

"A Tropical Paradise"


I've just come back from one of those islands they tend to call that. Palm trees all over the place, warmth, beaches, snorkeling, a relaxed pace of life (well for me anyway, being on vacation--not so much for the locals who seem to put in a day's work like everyone else), all that stuff. Plus, due to French colonial background, some really good bakeries and coffee shops. Lovely place. St. Martin, or St. Maarten on the nominally Dutch side of the island.
But I bought a newspaper and I noticed that actually, for a "tropical paradise", the place has all the same problems we do, apparently for most of the same reasons. There was a protest march in the morning in the main town on the French side, protesting rising unemployment, deteriorating health care, problems in the education system and so on. There were worries about the too-great exposure of the island's economy to the global economic downturn. There was discussion of stimulus packages for the economy. Actually, they've got it worse than we do in that their economy largely depends on tourism and there's not much a stimulus package can do to get people to take island vacations when they ain't got no money. But Canada's dependence on exporting stuff to people who suddenly won't be able to afford to buy it isn't so different really. There was an article about agricultural policy and the effort to increase food self-sufficiency, a major vulnerability for the island it would appear. Vegetables were certainly expensive enough in the grocery stores. Really, they seem to have all the same kinds of problems we do.
The one major difference I saw from reading that newspaper, actually, was that their newspaper is better than ours. Much of the news actually dealt with issues. Where here, we tend to get weird circular discussions of policy that focus on whether the policy statements of the different politicians are such that people will support them, the St. Martin paper discussed policy based on whether it would be good for the island. What a concept! That and really awesome croissants. Maybe it is a tropical paradise after all.

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The Ottawa Sun reports that Canada's Department of Immigration intends to slash funding to the Canadian Arab Federation because its president was mean to the minister.

... Khaled Mouammar called him a "professional whore" after Kenney criticized the presence of Hezbollah and Hamas flags at anti-Israel rallies in Toronto.

So funding that has previously contributed to "teaching new immigrants language and job searching skills" will be lost. And Kenney isn't stopping there:
Kenney said he has already asked department officials to weigh comments made by groups when evaluating funding applications...

Say something nasty about Jason Kenney and your budget gets it. One has visions of government bureaucrats scouring Google results for any comment ever made about members of the Conservative party. So I guess public funding for this blog is out of the question.


Apparently I'm an anti-zionist. I'm not sure what that means but I guess I'm not doing a very good job at it since I just searched the blog for "zion", "zionism" and "zionist" and got no results for any of them. But thanks for the traffic.

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February 16, 2009

We're back


We're now on Movable Type 4.3 and I believe we're fully functional again. This is the first time in a long time I've republished the entire site in one pass. With five years worth of entries, it takes a while.

There are a few differences that readers might want to be aware of:

  • The link to the individual entry page is now the entry title itself.

  • We now have tags and once I publish this entry with a "housekeeping" tag, a tag cloud should appear in the sidebar. I much prefer tags to categories because you can make tags up as you go along and you can have more than one associated with an entry.

  • The sidebar on each individual entry now includes the blogroll making it easier for you to click away to someone else's house if I thoroughly annoy you.

  • This version of MT includes the ability to easily create individual pages that inherit the site's look and feel. By way of demonstration, I've eliminated the meager media section that used to be in the sidebar and created a Media Resources page that contains additional linky goodness. And more to come, no doubt. There's a section on the sidebar called Pages that will contain the links to creations like this.

  • I've eliminated what had become a tediously long list of links to monthly archives but there's a link to an archive index in the sidebar of each page and at the bottom of the front page should you decide to go spelunking.

There will probably be some additional tweaking. For one thing, the top banner will change. I've fiddled with a few different things without getting unanimous approval from the test market, which consists of past and present contributors. The only thing I've found out for sure is that skdadl likes to see things in flames.

If you see anything that looks odd or out of place, please let me know in comments. Of course if you think everything is just wonderful, you can let me know that too.

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Closed for renovations

The site is currently closed for comments and trackbacks while I see if I can upgrade this puppy to the latest version of Movable Type. If things look a little odd around here for a bit, don't get too excited. I assure you that if things continue to look a little odd for long enough, I'll be getting excited enough for all of us. See you on the other side.

Wishful thinking update:

I think I'm almost there but I need to see an individual entry republished.

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February 15, 2009

Sunday morning

Go ahead. Have another cup of coffee. This is Rio Funk by Lee Ritenour.

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February 13, 2009

Friday night


So I took a few minutes, went to YouTube and checked out some Viking Death Metal. I had no idea that human vocal chords could make a sound quite like that.

Here's Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan on Ask Me No Questions.

There's another tune on the flip.

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More like this, please


I've given the Globe and Mail grief in the past for the way it has reported political stories so I suppose I ought to give credit when it's due. This article states things pretty clearly.

The Conservatives are repeating allegations that a B.C. journalist doctored a tape of Stephen Harper talking about the Cadman affair – but only in places where they are protected from lawsuits.

MP Pierre Poilievre, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, slipped out of the Commons by the back door this morning rather than take up the NDP's challenge that he repeat the claims outside the chamber. MPs cannot be sued for what they say in the Commons, but outside the door of the House, they have no special protection.

That provides a pretty clear picture of Poilièvre working at avoiding responsibility for his own words. And later on, after quoting him saying clearly that it's "proven that the tape was doctored" there's this:
In fact, it was never proven in court that the tapes were doctored.

The Conservatives hired audio experts who suggested that the recording of Mr. Harper was doctored, but a court-appointed expert found it was not.

I guess it would be bad form for a journalist to actually call an MP a liar in a national newpaper but this looks like the next best thing.

Poilièvre would do well to remember that while the Liberals may be constrained by the terms of the recent libel settlement, the other opposition MPs aren't. Any one of them can do what NDP MP Joe Comartin did here — push back hard inside the House of Commons and then step outside and talk as loudly as possible to any reporter who will listen. Personally I hope Pierre keeps talking. By all means let's keep this story in the news.

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February 12, 2009

Shorter Jim Prentice


The change in the administration in the United States presents an opportunity for us to pretend that doing nothing about greenhouse gas emissions for the last three years was actually a reasonable approach. Now if we can only figure out how to ensure that Obama doesn't actually do anything either, we'll be all set.

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February 11, 2009

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals may not be inclined to oppose the Conservative government's budget implementation bill but someone is.

On Friday, February 7, the Conservative government introduced an omnibus bill to implement the provisions of the federal budget that contains two “poison pills”: legislated wage rates for federal public sector workers and a problematic overhaul of federal pay equity legislation.

PSAC is committed to fighting wage legislation that would affect any of our members – especially if it threatens free collective bargaining. We also oppose changes to legislation that would undermine pay equity as a human right and make it much harder for women to demand equal pay for work of equal value.

That PSAC press release goes on to explain why the legislated wage rates are a direct violation of the collective bargaining agreement with the PSAC members at the Canada Revenue Agency. It also explains why, at least in the opinion of someone at the PSAC, the Conservative legislation does serious damage to the concept of pay equity and "ignores the recommendations of the 2004 Pay Equity Task Force." And all of it makes sense to me. It once again raises the question of why Ignatieff settled for window dressing and made no real effort to improve the budget.

More power to the PSAC. And I'm betting that come the next election a lot of its members might be voting for someone other than their local Liberal candidates.

H/t to greener at babble.

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In the latest on the tainted peanut story, CTV reports that the owner of Peanut Corporation of America urged his employees to continue shipping product even after he was aware of positive test results for salmonella. This comes to light because of internal company emails released in advance of the company owner's testimony before Congress today.

Wait a minute. This is still a breaking story in which eight people have died (that they're aware of) and already the company owner has been asked to sit in front of a congressional committee and answer questions. But here in Canada with a death toll of 20 from a listeriosis outbreak that began last summer, we have an official inquiry that's only now getting under way. And there are enough questions surrounding the government's choice of the individual who's to head up that inquiry and the manner in which she's proceeding that the opposition parties have already agreed to run a parallel inquiry.

Heckuva job, Harpie.

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February 9, 2009

Towards the end of the Bush administration Senator Barack Obama had the opportunity to vote against a piece of legislation that would grant retroactive immunity to American telecoms who were complicit in illegally spying on American citizens. A lot of those supporting Obama in his run for the presidency were surprised when he voted in favour. Many of those same supporters are no doubt in shock today.

Glenn Greenwald has the details and he's certainly not impressed. The short version is that President Obama's Department of Justice has stuck with the Bush administration's use of the state secrets privilege to thwart a suit brought against a subsidiary of Boeing for its role in the kidnapping and torture of five individuals. As Greenwald points out, the secrets that the DOJ would be protecting involve programs that Obama has already claimed to be winding down. This really appears to be an attempt to prevent the prosecution of crimes committed by, and on behalf of, the Bush administration.

If this is supposed to be postpartisanship, there's nothing new about it. The message it sends is an old one: the political class and large corporations can commit crimes with no consequences. There's another politician who's no longer entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

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Facts are stupid things


I've noticed a few bloggers pointing to this Hill Times piece that reports on Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett's concerns that we the people are getting entirely too much information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page ... is garnering too much media attention and shouldn't be allowed to release his sensational reports unilaterally, says Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett.

I don't think anyone should find it surprising that some Liberal MPs, particularly veteran Liberal MPs, would feel this way. While it appears to have grown worse under Conservative governments, an increase in government secrecy and the politicization of access to information was already happening under Liberal governments as reported in 2003 and again in 2005.

Kevin Page is a public servant and as such one would think that public access to his work product would be the default position and the onus would be on those who would withhold it to provide some compelling reason for doing so. Obviously our Conservative overlords don't agree but let's not forget that recent Liberal governments have preferred to keep us in the dark when it suits them as well. So far I've seen no reason to assume that a Liberal party led by Michael Ignatieff is going to be substantially different. And no, I'm not giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Almost immediate update:

I should add that I'm seeing Liberal supporters who are objecting to Bennett's position. And I suspect there are even Liberal MPs who would object to it. But recent history doesn't make me optimistic that an Ignatieff government would suddenly let the sun shine in everywhere.

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February 8, 2009

Playing chess


I get it now. Stephen Harper really has employed a devious strategy in his attempt to reform the Senate.

Since becoming a Senator, Mike Duffy has already managed to demonstrate contempt for the institution of which he is now a member and for the taxpayers who now pay his generous salary. By spouting offensive crap and using his new soapbox for purely partisan purposes he'll surely convince us all that the Senate desperately needs to be reformed or abolished so that, if for no other reason, at least Duffy will lose access to the microphone.

It's a brilliant maneuver, isn't it? And the Duffster certainly deserves our respect for being willing to lay his reputation on the line and make himself look like a contemptible buffoon for the cause.

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February 7, 2009

Props to Bob Rae


Bob Rae gets in a few good ones here:

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing you in my former role as Deficit Poster Boy and Punching Bag. This title was bequeathed to me by Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney when I became premier of Ontario, and I have been carrying it around on my back since 1990.

I have tried to wear the title as lightly as possible, but have to admit that its "baggage" has hindered my progress on occasion.

It is hard to describe the pleasure I take in bequeathing it to you and Jim Flaherty.

As they say, read the whole thing.

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February 6, 2009

Friday night


For a change of pace I wanted to hear some David Crosby this evening. He brought Graham Nash with him. This is Traction In The Rain.

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February 5, 2009

Hiding behind the troops


It was almost a year ago that the chair of Canada's Military Police Complaints Commission announced his intention to hold public hearings into the handling of Afghan detainees by Canadian forces. And since then the Harper government, those believers in accountability and transparency, have been trying to put a stop to it. Harper may be winning.

Less than two weeks before it was to begin hearing evidence from witnesses into Canada's handling of detainees in Afghanistan, the government has again blocked the inquiry of the Military Police Complaints Commission.

Commission chair Peter Tinsley, who had planned to begin full-scale public hearings on Feb. 17, issued the indefinite adjournment order this week after the Justice Department filed a motion in Federal Court calling for the inquiry to be stayed.

Here's a quote from a letter written by a government lawyer to the commission:
The government of Canada seeks to prevent irreparable harm to the reputation of our soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan, risk to national security ... and the potentially needless expenditure of time, effort and resources

The risk to national security and "potentially needless expenditure" sound like so much padding. It's that first clause that's of interest. The government's lawyer manages to make it sound as though our soldiers did something terrible and they now need to be protected from the consequences of their own actions. In other words, our government is hiding behind the troops they claim to support.

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Here we go again

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Poultry inspection changes could pose health risk, say veterinarians

Veterinarians who monitor food safety at federally regulated poultry slaughterhouses are taking the government to court, claiming a pilot program that shifts inspection duties to slaughterhouse workers breaks federal rules and could pose a health risk to Canadians.

Under the proposed changes, called the "poultry rejection program," slaughterhouse employees would be responsible for monitoring birds as they pass through the production lines, a task usually carried out by veterinarians working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The changes would also mean slaughterhouses wouldn't have to make public the reasons why carcasses were rejected, say the veterinarians.
In a written response to the union last October, the CFIA's executive vice-president, Dr. Brian Evans, said the pilot project frees the veterinarians from the time-consuming and mundane task of inspecting sick carcasses so they have more time to look for pathogens in the birds.

I do believe that during the listeriosis outbreak we heard about changes to the inspection regime that were intended to free up inspectors from "time-consuming and mundane tasks." And that worked out well, didn't it?

Of course we're not entirely sure how well it worked because we're still waiting for the results of that judicial inquiry we were promised. Meanwhile the Conservatives continue the trends of having industry police itself and of implementing their agenda under the radar as much as possible. And speaking of under the radar, let's replay one interesting sentence from that article:

The changes would also mean slaughterhouses wouldn't have to make public the reasons why carcasses were rejected...

Facts are stupid things and our government doesn't want us to have them. Even when they concern the food we eat.

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