September 2009 Archives

September 30, 2009

"In the best interest of the mission"

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UN head fires envoy amid dispute over Afghan election results

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has removed Washington's top diplomat at the UN mission in Afghanistan following a row over the level of transparency in the recent presidential election.

The departure of Peter Galbraith is seen as a victory for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had objected to the American's bid to be more outspoken about the alleged fraud in the Aug. 20 poll.

Mr. Ban's office said the UN chief made the decision "in the best interest of the mission."

I first saw this reported at the Times two weeks ago. That article, which has more detail than today's National Post piece, reported that Galbraith wanted to take a much tougher stand regarding questionable election results and one that would have assured a run-off election rather than allowing Karzai to declare victory based on the results of the initial voting. After what sounded like a pretty heated dispute with his superior, Galbraith left Afghanistan for what was officially classified as a three week "mission to New York" but was speculated to indicate that he'd been relieved of duty. Today's report makes the latter official and suggests that the powers that be are going to try and downplay the obvious election fraud and prop Karzai up.

Since Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the overall military commander of the mission in Afghanistan, wants to run a by-the-book counter-insurgency operation it's difficult to see how this development is in the best interest of anyone with the possible exception of Karzai and his cronies who may get to benefit from his position for just a bit longer. Running COIN by the book means having a credible and legitimate local partner and it's becoming increasingly obvious that Karzai is anything but credible and legitimate. His own constituents think his government is a joke and so does the UN staff on the ground (that Times story indicates that a lot of the senior staff supported Galbraith).

Even if one were to believe that McChrystal's ambitious plan had a reasonable hope of success, dealing with questions about the legitimacy of the Afghan government by publicly sending the questioners packing doesn't further the mission, it sabotages it.

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What are they hiding?

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That's the question posed by MP Paul Dewar at the end of this Canadian Press report.

Federal lawyers are trying to block government witnesses from testifying before a military watchdog investigating the treatment of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Justice Department has invoked national security and told the Military Police Complaints Commission that subpoenaed witnesses will be allowed to appear at the inquiry, but they will be instructed to say nothing when hearings begin next month.

...

The order effects "every single government employee" slated to come before the commission, including military officers and senior staff from both the Defence and Foreign Affairs departments.

The government has been trying to shut this inquiry down since March, 2008 when the MPCC announced its intention to hold hearings because it was having trouble getting cooperation through normal channels. The opposition won a victory recently when Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington issued a ruling that narrowed the scope of the proposed inquiry and now the feds are falling back on that all-purpose tool — national security — to gag the witnesses. They do offer a compromise solution but it's one that would allow them to prescreen the questions and censor any results.

I agree with Dewar — when people work this hard to deflect questions I have to wonder what they're trying to hide. On that score the CP story adds something new:

But the Justice Department has now confirmed to the commission for the first time that military police conducted "several" investigations in Kandahar into the alleged mistreatment of prisoners, but refused to discuss the conclusions.

The hearings are scheduled to begin on Oct. 5th but it may be months before we learn anything substantial if we ever do.

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September 29, 2009

Strategery

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I've been wondering why Liberals haven't made more of the fact that the change their leader made in Outremont was not from one appointed candidate to another but from an appointed candidate to an open race for the nomination. I would have thought they'd take the opportunity to frame this as representing a rededication to grass roots democracy instead of looking for any opportunity to change the subject.

Then it occurred to me that maybe they don't want anyone to think that Outremont is the beginning of a trend. That would explain it.

I think the most interesting development in American democracy I've seen recently may well be the move to mount primary challenges to elected Democrats who don't act like Democrats and don't represent their constituents. It'll be a little difficult to import that particular tactic into Canada when the two largest parties in the country routinely manipulate the nomination process.

Edited to add: yes, I'm aware that there have been primary challenges to moderate Republican candidates from the more extreme right in recent years. They've generally been sponsored by groups like The Club for Growth and are very much on ideological grounds. If you follow the link above you'll find that the case is being made in part on the fact that the incumbent being challenged isn't voting to represent his constituents on the issues, he's voting to represent the lobbyists who contribute to his campaign.

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Another day, another lawsuit?

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Charkaoui demands apology from government

A Moroccan-Canadian man who was imprisoned or under surveillance for six years under a federal security certificate said Tuesday he wants a formal apology from the federal government.

...

Charkaoui also said he has not ruled out seeking compensation from the federal government.

"There are legal avenues open to me," he said.

In comments on one of the previous posts about the security certificate stories skdadl suggested that she'd like to see a public inquiry into the methods and mistakes of CSIS. I replied that I didn't think it was likely because I doubt that either a Conservative or a Liberal government would want to go there. But a lawsuit might raise some interesting possiblities given the current government's unwillingness to admit culpability and settle no matter how silly they've been.

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September 28, 2009

Van Loan tries the Dolchstosslegende

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You might think that the sensible reaction to a series of judicial rebukes would be a serious reassessment of government policies and practices that the courts have found wanting. You might think that, and I certainly think that, but conservative ministers of the Harper persuasion apparently can't afford to think that. Given the well-known liberal bias of facts, conservatives don't do reality checks. They do self-pity; they do paranoia; and hidden in the paranoid self-pity lies a threat:

Under a security certificate, unlike a charge under the Criminal Code, accused terrorists and their lawyers do not have a right to see the intelligence gathered against them.


Van Loan says he is puzzled about the crash of the previously successful regime.

"It held up quite well until 2006," he said. "We started getting different court decisions in the exact same facts."

It was in 2006 that the Conservatives formed the government, replacing the Liberals.

See how it's done? Nudge nudge, wink wink. Activist judges, deference deficit, and see where that leads? To the judicialization of intelligence. It's not our fault; we were stabbed in the back. (Give us a majority, and we'll get even.)

Even in that brief quotation, minister Van Loan is shaving the truth -- ok, he's lying. The judges in the recent reviews of security certificates have not been looking at "the exact same facts" set before them before 2006.They've been looking at tardy admissions from CSIS that some of the evidence -- much of the evidence? all of the evidence? -- they've been running on is tainted because it was derived from torture, or comes from unreliable sources, and in at least one case they've learned that CSIS just plain lied to a judge about a source.

In another context, minister Van Loan has recently been quoted as saying, "The safety and protection of society must come first." Well, no, actually. The basic principles and structures of democracy must come first, and then it would help those of us who are trying to think justly and logically if Van Loan and his colleagues could drop the demagoguery when it clearly flies in the face of the facts. (At that last link, see Greg Weston's nice dissection of the self-contradiction of Van Loan's department on its own website.)

Nobody is stabbing conservatives or CSIS in the back. By the courts at least they are being held to account for their own failures, now numerous enough and shocking enough in both constitutional and human terms to deserve a major inquiry. I know that won't happen any time soon, not under the Liberals either, given their own culpability in the offences to reason and justice of the last decade.

But some threats to the judiciary, to the state, and to the liberty and dignity of all Canadian citizens seem more immediate than others, and I'd say that Peter Van Loan is looming over the horizon with far too much authority for any citizen's comfort.

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September 26, 2009

How to Keep Iran in Check Without War

Seventeen years ago, in January 1992, the U.S. Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the House Republican Research Committee, asserted that there was a "98 percent certainty that Iran already had all (or virtually all) of the components required for two to three operational nuclear weapons." That same month, Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset that "Within three to five years, we can assume that Iran will become autonomous in its ability to develop and produce a nuclear bomb... (The nuclear threat) must be uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S." In that same year, Robert Gates, then director of the CIA, asked, "Is [Iran's nuclear program] a problem today?" He answered, "Probably not. But three, four, five years from now it could be a serious problem." Three years later, a senior Israeli official declared: "If Iran is not interrupted in this program by some foreign power, it will have the device in more or less five years."

Officially, both the United States and Israel now agree that Iran is unlikely to be able to produce a bomb until about 2013 or 2014--the same five-year window that was being predicted seventeen years ago in 1992.

The rhetoric about the threat posed by Iran is heating up again in various places, including some Canadian places. Gary Sick served on the American National Security staff under three presidents, was a principal White House aide for Iran and has written two books on U.S. - Iranian relations. In other words, he's spent some time studying the issues. There's some good context and perspective on the issue here.

H/t Glenn Greenwald who's watching some of the usual American suspects go into full freak-out mode.

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September 25, 2009

Friday night

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The Wikipedia article on David Bromberg describes his style as "eclectic." Close enough. He gets some help from John Sebastian on harp on this one.


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The more things change...

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I've been ignoring the current controversy over the Liberal nomination in Outremont until I read this at CTV and a particular phrase jumped out at me.

The fierce squabble over Martin Cauchon's political comeback is symptomatic of a party that has lost sight of the most basic tenets of democracy, says a former national director of the Liberal party.

"We've turned into one big appointment society," Sheila Gervais told The Canadian Press.

"It's a perfect democratic deficit storm."

I remember the democratic deficit. It's that thing that Paul Martin was going to eliminate. I don't think I've used the phrase here since a short post to mark Martin's resignation as Liberal leader which I ended with:

Democracy begins at home.

I don't think Iggy heard me.

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Charkaoui security certificate to be lifted

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Charkaoui nearly free

The Federal Court of Canada said Thursday a security certificate against a Montreal man who has been imprisoned or under surveillance for six years will be dropped.

Judge Danielle Tremblay Lamer said the only question remaining is how soon it will happen.

This was expected. The government and CSIS are standing by their claims about Charkaoui but that's to be expected too. In the absence of solid evidence to back up their claims, he'll soon be a free man which is the way it's supposed to work. Meanwhile he spent two years in jail and four years under house arrest. I wonder if he'll sue.

And it now seems fair to wonder if we'll ever see another security certificate case.

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September 24, 2009

Strategery

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Has it occurred to anyone else but me that his statements about Israel and the Holocaust are exactly where Ahmadinejad wanted the world's attention to be focused? In which case, it was nice of so many people to accommodate him and maybe that's why he continues to have that insufferably smug smile on his face. Now he can go home and tell Iranians that the world continues to be against them. I don't think it pays to lose sight of the fact that while there may have been serious problems with the recent Iranian election, Ahmadinejad does have a base of support in the country.

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"An ideological rant"

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Tory plans for U.S.-style prisons slammed in report

The Conservative government plans to bring in an American-style prison system that will cost billions of taxpayer dollars and do little to improve public safety, according to a report to be released Thursday in Ottawa.

The 235-page report, A Flawed Compass, is a scathing review of the government's plan, which it calls "immoral, unethical and illegal."

The report was co-authored by Michael Jackson, a law professor at UBC, who described the Conservative plan as:

"an ideological rant. All their recommendations are just that they believe in something.... There's no evidence for anything they recommend, there's no research, no background."

And it will likely come as no surprise that:

The government has already allocated hundreds of millions to the plan, even though it has had no input from either Parliament or the public, according to the report.

'Cos that's just the way they roll.

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QOTD

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David Olive, after thoroughly rebutting Prime Minister Harper's attempt to take credit for the homecoming of Tim Hortons Inc.:

The next time I see Mr. Harper holding forth in a donut shop with a sneeze guard for a backdrop, I'll be thinking of Mary McCarthy's admittedly cruel assessment of bitter rival Lillian Hellman: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"
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September 23, 2009

Stepping on your own message

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How strong a message does the Canadian delegation to the UN send by snubbing the president of Iran when our prime minister is snubbing everybody else including the president of the United States, the country that Harper himself calls our greatest friend and ally?

H/t to Scott Tribe for the last two links.

Edited for clarity. I could imagine someone saying "the Canadian delegation to what?"

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Jonathan Kay appears not to know what a tweet is. (Most basic fact: it is short, 140 characters and spaces max.) He even seems not to know how to click a link.

Either that or he's lying being disingenuous when he reduces Antonia Z's fair comment on a public statement by Irwin Cotler to an attack on Cotler's children or on Cotler through his children.

Antonia tweeted:

MP Irwin Cotler's children join IDF. http://bit.ly/1Ttsq0 Which country are you loyal to, sir?

Now, Jonathan (and Kathy English and John Cruikshank, if you're reading along), see that part in boldface in the tweet? That's called a link. If you click it and watch, you'll see an MP and former cabinet minister endorsing the decision of some young Canadians to join up with the army of a foreign power.

Now, I know that's not illegal, either the joining up or the endorsing. Then again, sheer legality is kind of a low standard for MPs and former cabinet ministers. Gee, at least he's not breaking the law or endorsing that, eh? What more could we ask of those to whom we give immense powers to act in our names after all?

Me, I think we could ask for something wiser and healthier than blind partisanship on one of the most troubling and divisive international issues of our time, a conflict that we know drives discontent and anger far beyond its own borders and continues to drive a dispossessed people deeper into despair.

That's the kind of fair comment that Antonia's tweet (read in full) fairly invites, and it is the perspective that Jonathan Kay suppressed in his column by pretending that she was writing about Cotler's children.

I'll happily stand up to any attempt to damage anyone by mere and sheer association, but that's not what Antonia did. She took on a public figure who made a public statement all on his lonesome and who should be able to defend it that way, indefensible though it is imho.

Kay closes his column off by saying

I think I see a pattern here.


Well, at least there we agree. I think I see one too.

h/t Alison, in comments at Bread and Roses

Update: Warren Kinsella has gone Kay one worse: he pretends to quote Antonia but cuts the link out of her tweet altogether. And then he does some associative sliming of his own by linking Antonia's tweet to the Protocols. I guess that's twice worse, and no wonder he's disabled comments. I do wonder whether the misquote gives Antonia some cause of action. Thanks to Greg in comments below.

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September 22, 2009

The Globe and Mail posted two different stories related to Security Certificates last night. The first article concerns Mohamed Harkat and reports that the house arrest and constant surveillance he's been subject to will stop in favour of much less onerous measures.

Some lesser restrictions - including an order to keep wearing an GPS ankle bracelet, stay away from cellphones and stay within the confines of greater Ottawa - remain as the government continues its long running bid to deport Mr. Harkat as a threat to Canada.

Harkat had been in the news recently when a Federal Court Justice publicly lectured CSIS. It seems the agency had neglected to inform the courts that an informant whose testimony was a critical part of the case against Harkat had failed a polygraph test. Years ago. Apparently that rather crucial bit of information had slipped the minds of our intelligence professionals on five separate occasions. There has now been a change in position on the part of Harkat's accusers.

The government contends that Mr. Harkat is still a threat, just not as much of a threat as he used to be...

Moving right along... the second article has more far-reaching implications.

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I'll believe it when I see it

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Impolitical wants me to know that Michael Ignatieff will soon restore my faith in Liberals by making the Parliamentary Budget Office an independent office with the ability to report directly to the public. This is despite the fact that Liberals joined with Conservatives in blocking a move to do just that in July.

I've been pointing out indications of the "culture of secrecy" in the federal government since Jean Chrétien was prime minister. The Conservatives have been particularly bad on this issue but the trend began with Liberals (and grew worse under Paul Martin than it was under Chrétien).

I keep telling you: ignore what they say and watch what they do. Should Ignatieff ever lead a government, let's see which one of us ends up eating crow.

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September 21, 2009

How would we know if we were winning?

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I've noticed at least a couple of Canadian bloggers take note of this story which has General Stanley McChrystal warning that we're risking defeat in Afghanistan and this next year will be decisive.

I agree with the general that the situation is dire but I'm not sure that defeat is the appropriate word because it remains unclear what victory is supposed to look like. But I don't believe this next year is decisive. That train left the station a long time ago.

I would also like to point out to those who are nodding in agreement with McChrystal that his report was leaked and it was done for the obvious reason of putting pressure on Obama to meet the general's demands. It's the latest in the list of reasons why it seems silly to think that Canada has any input at all into the definition or course of this mission: it's now the subject of a political game between the Pentagon and the White House. Our troops, along with the people who live in the region, are just caught in the middle of it. And the Pentagon, after all, are the folks who have done such a bang-up job of nation-building in Iraq. Pun intended.

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September 20, 2009

We never talk anymore

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'Hush' over Afghan mission must end: Kenny

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny says politicians are too afraid of offending soldiers and their families by questioning Canada's role in Afghanistan, but it's important to have an honest debate about the mission.

I couldn't agree more. At least I couldn't have agreed more if the Senator had spoken up earlier.

Senator Kenny was in the news recently after writing an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen about the mission in Afghanistan in which he used the word "retreat." It created a bit of a stir. In this follow-up story from CTV we find a rebuttal of Kenny's opinion by retired Retired Maj. Gen. Lewis Mackenzie which provides a jumping-off point for a quick discussion. I'm not about to argue tactics and strategy with Gen. Mackenzie but I'll definitely argue with this:


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How soon they forget

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A column by Angelo Persichilli in today's Toronto Star that seems intended to give us some serious analysis of recent political events gets off to a rocky start.

"Don't upset me or I'll do what you want" is the subtle message that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was quietly delivering to NDP Leader Jack Layton during the last 12 months.

But Ignatieff hasn't been the Liberal leader for 12 months. Persichilli has just written the Liberal-NDP coalition out of history. It's not a typo because it's repeated part way through the column:

I'm sure that during the last 12 months the ideologues have been very happy with Layton's hardline stand.

Less than 12 months ago, in November and December, Layton was attempting to work with the Liberals to form a government to replace the Conservatives in an arrangement that would have involved a fair bit of compromise. It was Ignatieff who undermined the coalition and ultimately killed it. But I suspect that acknowledging that would work against the narrative Persichilli wants to promote so it gets left out. Here's the conclusion of the column:

For the time being, in the fight between Harper and Ignatieff, the loser is Jack Layton.

Maybe. Maybe the Liberals will get the election they want and do well enough to make Ignatieff look like a hero. Or maybe they'll do badly enough to make him look like a goat. It's entirely possible that when the dust settles, it'll be Ignatieff who's gone and Layton who's left standing. None of us know right now.

But meanwhile, doesn't Persichilli's lede make it sound as though "in the fight between Harper and Ignatieff" the latter just made an abrupt change in tactics because he's upset with Jack Layton? Is that really the message Persichilli wanted to send? That's what happens when you present concern trolling masquerading as analysis.

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September 19, 2009

Today in WTF? moments

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In the final report of a federally-instituted commission of inquiry that concluded last October, former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci found that Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin were the victims of torture. Iacobucci also stated clearly that CSIS, the RCMP and the Department of Foreign Affairs shared in the responsibility for it.

It was inevitable that these three would sue the Canadian government and given Iacobucci's findings along with the Maher Arar case as precedent, you would think the government would apologize and settle the cases. You'd be wrong.

In newly filed court documents, the government goes so far as to say it "has no knowledge" of whether the men were abused in Syrian prison cells, even though former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci concluded they were tortured.

In other words, the government is ignoring the 544 page report that came out of its own inquiry and is trying to pretend that the whole thing never happened. You'd think these lawyers would be too embarrassed to show up in court. And incidentally, the government is also ignoring the will of parliament.

In June, a House of Commons committee recommended apologies and compensation for the men.

MPs also said the government should do "everything necessary" to remove false allegations about the three and their families in records held by national security agencies.

Haven't they heard? Reality is what Stephen Harper says it is.

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September 18, 2009

Friday night

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This is another of those Friday nights with a reworked line-up that was changed because of events. Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary passed away on Wednesday from the side effects of the chemotherapy she had been taking for leukemia. She had been fighting the illness for some years.

A month ago, when Mike Seeger passed away, I posted a tune by the New Lost City Ramblers which was a group that Seeger founded in 1959 and that helped spark a folk music revival. It was a couple of years later, in 1961, that Peter, Paul and Mary formed and became probably the best known performers to come out of that revival. They were a folk group but they didn't limit themselves to traditional music and exposed a lot of Bob Dylan's early tunes to the world. (Of course it probably helped that they were managed by Albert Grossman who also managed Dylan.) I didn't want to post the same clips that have appeared on so many other blogs over the last couple of days so I went looking for alternatives. But this actually seems like an appropriate set opener for the times. Or maybe it's just the mood I'm in.


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LOTD

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Correction: I don't think I've ever written a blogpost without making at least one stupid error, but this was egregious. I was reading two friends and allies at PB one after the other, and I, um, confused them. My apologies to Mark at Slap, or to anyone else who got confused.

Slap Upside the Head, on the appointment of Stu Murray, former leader of Manitoba's Conservative Party, as CEO of the Canadian Human Rights Museum, especially given Murray's vote against the provincial Charter Compliance Act in 2002:

Hmm... I kind of figured that would put him in the museum, just not really in this way.

As Mark tells us, the Charter Compliance Act "amended 55 acts to give gay common-law spouses equal rights to their straight counterparts in full compliance with Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms," and the museum itself is a favourite target of anti-gay groups, who campaign for the exclusion of GLBT exhibits.

You can watch and listen to Murray here, trying to answer a question yesterday about his 2002 vote. I dunno -- for someone who's going to be paid between $167,300 and $196,900 for this appointment, paid by all the citizens of Canada to administer an institution dedicated by definition to the equal rights of every citizen, Murray's nice-guy routine seems like pretty weak tea to me. I thought it was remarkable how inarticulate a former party leader could become on a question so central to his new appointment. And then there are the cringe-making interventions of the guy I take to be a political aide as well as the maybe-too-helpful reporter herself.

There are the programs meant to buttress human rights in Canada that Harper has defunded wherever he could, and then there are the institutions, like this one, that he can't afford to destroy and so twists cynically, using them to grant sinecures and subsidies to his supporters, the very people who, like him, are still having trouble accepting that the principles enshrined in the Charter are the bottom line for the survival of democracy, here or anywhere. He seems to enjoy this game.

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September 17, 2009

I'll say it again

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And possibly many more times. And as others have said and will continue to say.

Due to an antiquated electoral system, the leaders of the national political parties have it in their heads that if they can just hit that sweet spot — about 40% of the vote — for that single 24 hour period then they can have absolute power for four years (or possibly five years since the courts decided today that Stephen Harper's fixed-date election law is nonsense). And so we have so-called adults who are supposed to be working on legislation to help people in economic pain who are instead playing games in an effort to embarrass each other while they keep one eye on the polls trying to figure out if they can roll the dice and get that magic combination: 40% of the votes on election day.

And then the media breathlessly report the manoeuvres and speculate on how effective they might be because it's so much more exciting than examining the legislation to tell us whether or not it might come close to accomplishing what it's supposed to. From what I've seen it's the union economists who are actually willing to read it, crunch the numbers and try to say something useful about it.

The system's broken. Are any of the leaders of the three national parties that have even a prayer of forming a government willing to address that?

Note: edited slightly because it's the economists who work for organized labour, not the union leaders, who are actually crunching the numbers. See this in the Ottawa Citizen (h/t JB on Twitter).

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First, the good news

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Back in November I expressed my disappointment at the news that then President-Elect Obama intended to continue a planned missile defence installation in eastern Europe. If you check that post you'll see it was updated shortly after it was published to indicate that, in fact, Obama was studying the issue and wasn't actually committed to proceeding.

Flash forward to today:

White House to Scrap Bush's Approach to Missile Shield

President Obama decided not to deploy a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic or 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, as Mr. Bush had planned.

This is a wise decision since missile defence is a waste of money and a needless provocation. Unfortunately there's bad news.

Instead, the new system his administration is developing would deploy smaller SM-3 missiles, at first aboard ships and later probably either in southern Europe or Turkey, those familiar with the plans said.

...

...administration officials stressed that they are not abandoning missile defense, only redesigning it to meet the more immediate Iranian threat.

Right. Because Iran, with its imaginary nuclear weapon, is going to launch missile attacks knowing that the United States and Israel are both dying for an excuse to retaliate. I wonder if those Blue Dog Democrats who are so concerned about the deficit that they're prepared to sabotage health care reform will have any comment.

H/t to Paul Wells.

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September 16, 2009

Quoting Casey Stengel

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NDP to prop up Tories to pass EI changes

The NDP says it will support the Conservatives on a crucial budget motion Friday -- and keep propping up the government long enough to pass EI legislation to help unemployed workers.

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New Democrat MP Thomas Mulcair says his party will support the Tories until they pass the EI legislation unveiled Monday.

Emphasis added. There was no legislation unveiled on Monday. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley held a press conference on Monday and announced upcoming legislation which the NDP said they looked forward to studying. Last I heard they were still waiting to study it. Did I miss a chapter?

Especially given the fact that the BQ eliminated the suspense concerning the ways and means motion on Friday, the NDP could have taken their time and possibly — possibly — gotten more out of this. Instead it appears they've just quietly announced that they're folding so they can get it over with.

While Layton can claim that he got more out of Harper than Ignatieff did*, this is nowhere near the kinds of changes to the EI system that the NDP was originally looking for. So once again: can't anybody here play this game? And after using it twice in a single month I've probably used that one up for a while.

* Preemptive rebuttal: Yes, the January budget represented some degree of compromise from the Conservatives but credit for that, such as it was, goes to the coalition. When Ignatieff took over the Liberals he wasted any leverage he might have had and got nothing for his support but opportunities to glare sternly across the aisle and talk inanely about probation.

Update:

This Globe and Mail piece (h/t calgarygrit) includes more detail on Mulcair's comments. There is this:

... Mr. Mulcair, said his party wants to back an EI expansion promised by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley - as long as the $1-billion in extra funding is really there when the details come out.

But where they were previously talking about this one change as being a good start, now it really sounds as though they're sealing the bargain.

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September 15, 2009

Today in WTF? moments

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Alison at Creekside has the goods on today's debate in the Commons concerning the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, including this gem from Liberal Scott Brison in defence of the bill:

If we isolate Colombia in the Andean region and leave Colombia exposed and vulnerable to the ideological attacks of Chavez's Venezuela, we will be allowing evil to flourish.

Um, what? Has Brison been possessed by the ghost of Ronald Reagan? Hugo Chavez is currently standing at the border shouting leftist slogans at Colombia and Bill C-23 will make him stop? It sounds as though Brison is suggesting that Colombians are too simple minded to resist the siren call of socialism and they need us to protect them from themselves. From what I've heard, the average Colombian needs more protection from his own government than from Hugo Chavez or anyone else.

On Saturday, I emailed six Liberal MPs urging them to vote against this bill at least until such time as there's been a thorough and independent review of Colombia's human rights record and then I posted a copy of the email here. Other than an obviously automated reply from Michael Ignatieff's office acknowledging receipt, I've heard nothing back from any of them. It certainly doesn't sound like I had any influence.

Alison has much more on the debate. It's depressing but I would still encourage you to go read. You'll find that as much as anything else, this bill is about making life easier and more profitable for Canadian mining companies and to hell with the Colombians.

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Reserving judgement

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If all the reports that a federal election is now unlikely are based on this CTV report (h/t Impolitical) then I'm going to hold off quoting Casey Stengel again for the moment. The critical part of that report, the statement that the NDP will vote with the Conservatives when the Liberals move non-confidence next week, isn't sourced to anyone specific. What Fife says is that "the NDP tells me." Call me when someone goes on the record.

I would also like to note the obvious slant in that story. The very first line was that the NDP caucus meeting was "staged." No bias there.

Update:

More from CTV in an article that still has Jack Layton sounding very tentative about the whole thing but gives reasons why the NDP might want to avoid an election.

And number three, they risk being squeezed out of the media story in the election.

Nice use of the passive voice.

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September 14, 2009

Misdirection

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In response to an article in the Globe and Mail on the latest election speculation — at least it was the latest until about five minutes after it was published — Impolitical pretty much nails the position taken by far too many in the political press corps.

The diffusion of responsibility we see, here and elsewhere, is comic. Apparently we have a Prime Minister who's a helpless bystander.

We've had column after broadcast yammering about an "unnecessary" election that Canadians don't want and trying to point the finger for this sad state of affairs somewhere other than in the direction of Sussex Drive. But the simple truth is that in a minority government situation, an election becomes necessary when the government loses the confidence of the majority in the House of Commons and holding on to that confidence has been a problem for Stephen Harper. It was a problem ten months ago when he prorogued parliament to avoid a motion of non-confidence. And it's a problem now after his proxies have clearly spent the summer sabotaging the panel that was supposed to be reviewing the EI program.

The next time you see a pundit trying to point the finger somewhere else, see if any time at all is spent discussing the measures Harper has actually taken to convince one of the other parties to stop voting against him. I don't think you'll see much. What you'll see is a petulant and hyper-partisan prime minister who insists on governing as though he has a majority when the best he's been able to manage is roughly a third of the vote. A lot of people are trying to change the subject but if we go to the polls, the primary reason will be that Stephen Harper and friends don't work and play well with others.

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September 13, 2009

The engine of Canada's economy

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Oilsands emit more than entire countries: report

Alberta's oilsands produce more greenhouse gas emissions than some European countries right now and will produce more than all of the world's volcanoes in just 11 years if the pace of development continues, a new report says.

...

"The emissions are bigger than Estonia and Lithuania right now and in 2020 will be larger than countries like Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Denmark."

Now recall the news that broke a week ago.

Ottawa is eyeing a climate change plan that would allow Alberta's oil sands to continue growing - and polluting - but would clamp down on industries in the rest of the country, multiple sources have told the Toronto Star.

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...numerous accounts say the Conservatives intend to put a cap on the emissions from Ontario's manufacturing sector and other polluting industries across Canada, while letting oil and gas companies meet less stringent intensity targets which allow output, and pollution, to increase.

On this issue, Canada is a joke.

And I'd like to focus on one more thing from the first story.

...there is no commercial carbon capture and storage facility operating anywhere in the world.

Carbon capture and storage is the technology that's supposed to solve this problem. At both the federal level and the provincial level in Alberta billions of dollars are being invested in it so that governments can pretend they have a real solution to the problem. But they don't. It's an unproven technology that's beginning to look like a boondoggle.

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Why did Monsanto's latest GE foods get a free pass into Canada?

Health Canada has begun permitting genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified or GM) foods onto the market without any health safety assessment. Our government has never adequately examined the safety of GE foods and crops but has now dropped the pretence altogether.

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On July 15, Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences announced that they had received approval to introduce their new eight-trait GE corn 'SmartStax' into Canada and the U.S. But Health Canada did not assess 'SmartStax' for human health safety and didn't even authorize it. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officially approved the environmental release of 'SmartStax' but didn't conduct an environmental risk assessment. Furthermore, the CFIA actually substantially weakened a critical environmental stewardship rule just for the introduction of 'SmartStax' -- without publishing a justification.

I've been complaining about the way our government carries water for Monsanto and the other agribusiness corporations since at least the Paul Martin era. If you follow the first link and read the whole story you'll find it demonstrates a complete abdication of responsibility on the part of Health Canada and the CFIA. The cover story is that the eight GE "traits" combined in this product have previously been approved individually so no new approval is necessary when they're all combined ("stacked") in a single product. The truth is that aside from the fact that the previous approvals were done with insufficient testing, we have no friggin' idea what the consequences might be of combining them in a single product. And apparently our government isn't the least bit interested in finding out until it's too late to do anything about it.

There have been negative consequences to the use of Monsanto's products in the past. More recently it's been discovered that Canadian flax is contaminated in a way that makes it illegal for export to European markets even though the genetically modified variety of flax has been barred here since 2001. Once this stuff gets loose in the environment, we lose control. But the bright lights in charge have decided that increasing profits for agribusiness takes priority.

H/t to Toedancer posting at Bread and Roses for the Greenpeace press release.

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September 12, 2009

We send email

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Subject: Please vote No on Bill C-23

To: IgnatM@parl.gc.ca, RaeB@parl.gc.ca, MinnaM@parl.gc.ca, CanniJ@parl.gc.ca, BrisoS@parl.gc.ca, SilvaM@parl.gc.ca

Dear Honorable Members:

The Conservative government has placed Bill C-23, the legislation to implement the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, on the order paper for this Monday the 14th of September. As I'm sure you are all aware, the Parliamentary Committee on International Trade has recommended that this legislation not be implemented until an objective third party does a thorough assessment on the human rights record of the Alvaro Uribe government which, by many accounts, has the worst human rights record in the western hemisphere.

I would ask that you please honour the recommendation of the committee and vote no on Bill C-23.

Yours truly,

See how polite I was? They may never realize that I'm one of those snarky bloggers they've heard so much about.

The addressees are, respectively, the Liberal leader of the opposition, the Liberal critics for Foreign Affairs and Labour and the Liberal members of the Committee on International Trade. The NDP and BQ have consistently opposed this legislation so the Liberals will decide whether it passes or not.

Top ten reasons why Canada should cancel Harper's "free trade deal" with Colombia

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On perverse incentives

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No health plan for illegal migrants: White House

The White House strengthened its stand Friday against health-care coverage for illegal immigrants and a pivotal Senate committee looked ready to follow its lead.

The developments reflected a renewed focus on the issue in the days since a Republican congressman's outburst during President Barack Obama's health-care speech to Congress on Wednesday night. Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted "You lie!" as Obama said illegal immigrants wouldn't be covered under his health plan.

The article will explain that there were already provisions to prevent coverage for people who are in the United States illegally. Doubtless the new measures being introduced will increase the costs of managing a program that was supposed to save money. And doubtless this will introduce requirements that will make it more difficult for people who are in the country legally to access a program that's supposed to create universal coverage.

So the moral of the story is that if you call the president a liar without foundation, make it clear that you'll oppose his legislation no matter what it does and generally act like a jackass, the president will be happy to make concessions to you even if they weaken his own legislation. If, on the other hand, you not only vote for the president but work on his behalf and donate to his campaign and you continue to pressure other Democrats to support the agenda on which the president campaigned, he'll send his chief of staff to tell you that you're "fucking stupid."

I just thought I'd see if it would make me feel better to point out that their politics is even more broken than ours. Not really.

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September 11, 2009

Friday night

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Apparently this is the opening number of the set. If this is how Dr John warms up an audience, who am I to argue?


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Another teachable moment missed

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Update:

The CBC has gone complete whacky and has now completely rewritten their article. Different headline, different body, different subject. The material I quoted is still there if you look for it, which is nice of them. The link text immediately below used to be the headline. End of update

Ignatieff vows never to form coalition

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff vowed Friday that his party would never enter into a governing coalition and said he could make Parliament work without such a deal.

...

Ignatieff said he has a "certain credibility" on the coalition issue, pointing out that he could have become prime minister back in January had he agreed to a pact with the other opposition parties, but he turned it down.

"I don't think I need to give further proof of my feeling that that's not what Canadians want."

Emphasis added.

When the pundits refer back to that ill-fated coalition attempt they love to remind us that it didn't poll at all well. But I think we discovered late last year that a significant number of those who make their living explaining our politics to us either don't understand our system of government themselves or don't really have a problem with misrepresenting it to us. A big part of the reason the public reacted negatively to the coalition was because the media told them to. If it wasn't print pundits competing to see how many times the word "coup" could be squeezed into the same short column, it was broadcasters signaling that they were in dire need of a fainting couch at the mere thought that a bunch of scruffy MPs whose uniforms weren't all the same colour might have the temerity to try and form a government.


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September 10, 2009

On losing the plot

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When I read this column about Afghanistan by James Travers it immediately put me in mind of a post I read yesterday by Eric Martin. The post was titled "You Probably Think this War is About You" and apparently Travers does. His column is about the burden Karzai represents for those of us in the west and the lessons we need to learn. There's very little here about the people who actually live in Afghanistan. Remember them?

If nothing else, that Newshoggers post might remind you that we're dealing with a part of the world most of us, including our political leadership, don't understand very well. We're making a mess and while Travers may be right about us getting an education, we're getting it at someone else's expense.

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September 9, 2009

Today in WTF? moments

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Karzai defends Afghanistan election as honest

Incumbent Hamid Karzai defended last month's Afghan presidential election as honest on Wednesday, a day after returns showed him on course to win in a single round but a U.N-backed panel also ordered a partial recount over fraud.

The standoff has alarmed Western leaders who have risked their own political capital to send troops on an increasingly unpopular mission to defend a government led by a president who seems eager to accept a potentially dubious election victory.

Amid reports of returns that showed every single vote at a polling station for Karzai, including cases of more votes being cast than there were registered voters in that area, this guy has the gall to defend the results the day after the UN orders a partial recount.

H/t to Steve Hynd at Newshoggers who has more.

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Deep thought

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I wonder why people get so excited at the thought of the Bloc Québécois being part of a governing coalition when the BQ have shown more respect for our democratic institutions than the Conservatives have.

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September 8, 2009

Another court case to keep an eye on

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Harper's 2008 election call to be challenged

The Federal Court of Canada is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday against the election call last fall by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Democracy Watch, a citizens' group that monitors ethics in government, is to argue before the court in Ottawa that Harper violated his own legislation by calling the election before he'd served four years in office.

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch seems to think this is a lose-lose for the Conservatives. This is Conacher as quoted in a press release (h/t babble):

"If Democracy Watch wins, the Federal Court will rule that Prime Minister Harper is a dishonest lawbreaker because he gave false reasons for calling the snap federal election last September in violation of his own fixed-election-date law. If Democracy Watch loses, the court will rule that Prime Minister Harper is a dishonest promise-breaker because he failed to keep his 2006 election promise to pass a law fixing election dates," said Conacher.

Works for me. And it doesn't hurt to have this in the headlines while everyone is jumping up and down about unnecessary elections.

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Perseverance

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I haven't noticed the Military Police Complaints Commission in the news for a while but I figured they'd surface sooner or later. They just won't quit.

A military police watchdog agency has subpoenaed senior federal officials and filed a court application to force the Conservative government to release information about the transfer of suspected Taliban fighters to Afghan custody.

The Military Police Complaints Commission is trying to get around what it considers roadblocks in its investigation of allegations that the Canadian military handed over prisoners knowing they would probably be tortured.

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...subpoenas have been served on four former commanders of Canadian troops in Kandahar, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, four foreign affairs employees and the chief of the Correctional Service of Canada.

I'm guessing that Stephen Harper is getting really annoyed with these people. When I upgraded the software here to a version that supports tags, I tagged all the posts relating to this story with "Afghan detainees" so the history's easy enough to review if you've a mind to.

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September 7, 2009

Aaaaaand they're off!

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If we do have an election this fall I expect to be watching the media as closely as I watch the politicians. Here, before the campaign even begins, is what I expect to see. This is a sentence from Tim Powers in yesterday's Globe and Mail:

Iggy the "world-class leader" has in his nine months of leadership supported a coalition with the socialists and separatists, promised to raise taxes on occasion, abandoned EI reform and cancelled his trip to China after talking endlessly about the importance of that travel.

The prospect of a governing coalition that included the BQ doesn't cause me to feel faint as it appears to do with some, but the fact is that the governing coalition in question consisted of the Liberals and the NDP with the BQ agreeing not to vote it down for 18 months. There's a difference and I'm betting Tim Powers knows there's a difference.

The remarks Ignatieff made about raising taxes were back in April. Iggy allowed at the time that if there was still a structural deficit when the economy recovered that raising taxes would be one possible remedy for it. I remember it well because when he was criticized for his remarks from the right he immediately back-pedaled. I thought his original remarks were a sign of progress, an indication that a politician might actually be ready to discuss the economy as if we're all adults, and was quite disappointed when he appeared to repudiate his original position. But at no time did he promise to raise taxes. He simply didn't.

I didn't have any faith at all in the so-called "blue ribbon" panel that was to review the EI system over the summer. Among other reasons, I expected the Conservatives to do what they've done before: sabotage it so they can then point to it and say "See! Government is broken." If the Liberals got tired of the antics of Diane Finley and Pierre Poilièvre and abandoned the panel, it doesn't mean they've abandoned EI reform. Unless, of course, you're in the Conservative war room.

So the campaign hasn't even begun and we've already got three lies in a single sentence. I understand there's a difference between those who report the news and those who are hired to present opinions. But I would think that even the latter should stay within shouting distance of the truth.

PS to those who support Michael Ignatieff: I hope I haven't raised your expectations because I still don't like him.

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September 6, 2009

Deep thought

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I wonder if the people who are yelling the loudest about an unnecessary election would be the same ones who would yell the loudest if the Governor General reacted to the fall of the government by turning to the opposition and asking them to form a government.

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Sunday morning

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When I hear that trumpet sound, gonna get up out of the ground
Ain't no grave gonna hold my body down

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September 5, 2009

Throwdown? On Chet?

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Now I agree that Earl Scruggs is pretty serious. And Steve Martin ain't no slouch but Chet has friends too.

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September 4, 2009

Friday night

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To start us off this evening, here are three guys who can play a little guitar.


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Today in WTF? moments

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Of the reasons typically offered in support of continuing Canada's involvement in combat operations in Afghanistan, the most contemptible is that it somehow bolsters Canada's international image — as if sending fellow citizens off to kill or be killed in a foreign land is a normal part of any country's marketing strategy. So I'm less than impressed to find that Canada's embassy in Washington, D.C. is playing host to a simulation of an attack by the Taliban on an Afghan village. The "magic of Hollywood" will be employed to remind everyone of Canada's participation in Kandahar.

At least four times over two days this month, simulated IED blasts will bring the Afghan war - and Canada's combat role in Kandahar - home to Americans if an elaborate scheme based on modern training realism attracts widespread attention, as is hoped.

"If this works the way I want it to, more Americans will know what Canada is doing in Afghanistan," said Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas Martin, a military attaché at the Canadian embassy.

I don't recall John Manley mentioning that we should extend our mission by two more years so our military could mount an extravagant dog and pony show to impress Americans.

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The wheels grind slowly

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Ottawa's Khadr appeal to be heard by top court

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the federal government's appeal of a ruling forcing Ottawa to press for the release of Canadian Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay.

Government foot-dragging pays off for a while longer. And if the Liberals stay with their present course, is this likely to be in the news again before an election?

Update:

The story I linked to has already been updated and now includes this:

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on Nov. 13.

Which suggests that a headline saying anything like "Supreme Court thinks Harper government is derelict in its duty" wouldn't likely appear for some time after that. And Khadr remains stuck in a system that has nothing to do with justice.

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September 1, 2009

Liberals set stage for election

The Liberals will no longer help prop up Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, paving the way for a fall election if the other opposition parties also vote no confidence in the Conservatives.

I am by no means assuming that this time it's different. As I understand it, we're a month or more away from any opportunity for the opposition to bring the Conservative government down and that's loads of time for politicians to change their minds for any number of reasons.

But just in case there are some of you out there who are really finalizing your campaigns and your talking points and preparing to knock on my door — virtually or otherwise — to ask for my support, I have two words for you: electoral reform. Put it high on your list of priorities, tell me what you intend to do about it and make me believe you're serious and I'll sit up and take notice.

Failing that, I'll be voting strategically to try and bring down a Conservative incumbent. Given the recent history of the riding I'm in that likely means voting NDP which, at the moment, will be easier on my nose than voting Liberal.

Oh, and one other thing: if you robocall me I'll hunt you down and hang you by your toes in the nearest town square as a warning for everyone else.

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