April 2010 Archives

April 30, 2010

Friday night

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I've had a busy week and didn't really think about what I was going to do for this evening's episode until just a few minutes ago. So I decided to do a retrospective of sorts. Here's three vids that came to mind when I tried to think of performances I've posted on previous Friday nights that I've particularly enjoyed. Get warmed up with Roy Rogers and Norton Buffalo.


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The culture war is already on

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As far as I can tell, the Canadian government is the only one in the G8 that wants to make a point of omitting access to abortion from women's reproductive health programs we're funding as part of our foreign aid, even in jurisdictions where abortion is safe and legal. I would argue that this represents a change in policy for Canada. And when it's a change that's being introduced by a government with the support of less than 40% of the population, one with a conservative base to pander to, and one that has hedged and mumbled and stonewalled for weeks before finally announcing that, in fact, that is the new policy, I believe it's more than a little disingenuous to argue that it's the people who are questioning the change and objecting to it who are politicizing the issue.


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Dr. Dawg has a link-rich post that brings us up to date on Omar Khadr and the kangaroo court that's supposed to pass for justice. Barack Obama had promised to be the one to sweep away this legacy of the Bush regime, to restore America's honour and dignity and make it, once again, a nation ruled by law. Barack Obama is a fraud.

Stephen Harper has taken the position that it's unnecessary to intervene in Khadr's case because the United States is a democracy and Khadr will receive fair treatment there. Stephen Harper has always been a fraud.

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April 28, 2010

Updated on the flip.

Assuming their commanding officers can locate their maps so they can find their way back. And we'd better reconsider any plans to deploy them anywhere in future until the people who run the show have learned how to handle some rather basic tasks. Like filing.

If we're to take Major Denis Gagnon at face value, our military isn't even competent enough to handle important documents in a way that allows for their location and retrieval in anything short of "years." In other words, our military is completely incompetent and needs a thorough overhaul. From the top down. If we can't trust them with paperwork, how can we possibly trust them with loaded weapons?

I look forward to hearing about senior officers being demoted or discharged. Perhaps Major Gagnon should be among them.

H/t Alison.


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April 23, 2010

Friday night

I've been behind the wheel a lot lately and feel inspired to devote an episode to road songs. This is a fairly new one and comes with full credits included.


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April 22, 2010

QOTD

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SEK at Lawyers, Guns & Money spends some time with the transcript of Sarah Palin's recent speech in Hamilton and then comments (emphasis in the original):

Nine hundred poor Canadians purchased $200 tickets to listen to the segue-free ramblings of a woman who forgets the subject of her sentence by the time she reaches the verb, then the verb by the time she reaches the object but keeps talking anyway. Such is, after all, the beauty of talking points: so long as you say them all, the coherence of the speech containing them is inconsequential. "Sound bites" are called "bites" instead of "meals" for a reason now.
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I guess they're not good and ready yet

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Lacking records from Ottawa, detainee probe is losing steam

Starved of government records requested from Ottawa, a watchdog probing Canada's Afghan detainee transfers is facing the prospect its investigation may be derailed, and hearings suspended.

The Military Police Complaints Commission, irked that the flow of documents has slowed to "a trickle," has summoned a Canadian general and a deputy minister to answer for delays - and to address its suspicion that Ottawa is holding back vital information.

It was the government's attempts to block these hearings that caught everyone's attention in the first place. And it appears that foot-dragging and simply withholding information may yet be the winning strategy. Sometimes it seems like this government has more contempt for democracy than the average tinpot dictator.

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April 21, 2010

Today in stenography

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Barbara Yaffe of the Vancouver Sun is deeply concerned about our ability to save for our collective retirement. Or maybe she was just looking for a reason to take the numbers presented in the recent Fraser Institute report at face value and simply repeat them without subjecting them to any kind of analysis.

The problem with the angle on the story she's chosen is that the total tax bill the Fraser Institute has calculated for the average family in 2009 includes Canada Pension Plan contributions which happens to be one of the ways we, you know, save for our collective retirement. And if that total tax bill represents a larger chunk of our income than it did fifty years ago, perhaps one of the reasons is that the Canada Pension Plan hadn't been implemented fifty years ago so no one was contributing to it. Just a thought. If she's missed that rather obvious hole in her own logic, then perhaps those looking for sound commentary on issues involving economics and taxation should consider looking elsewhere. Just another thought.

If you'd like to see someone actually analyze the Fraser Institute's work instead of simply repeating the numbers in a suitably breathless tone of voice, you could do worse than Relentlessly Progressive Economics, starting here, here, here and here.

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April 20, 2010

Standing up for Canadian values

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Just over a year ago, British MP George Galloway was all set to make a public appearance in Canada following a speaking tour of the U.S. when it was announced that Canadian border officials would bar his entry to the country. At the time, the office of Minister of Canadian Values Immigration Jason Kenney was quite insistent that the minister had no part in this and that the initial decision to ban Galloway from Canada was made by civil servants with no political interference. Would anyone be surprised to learn that Kenney was less than honest? After all, it wouldn't be the first time.

Galloway immediately announced his intention to challenge the government's actions in court and in the first of a two part story at rabble.ca, it's reported that 66 pages of documents were mistakenly released to his legal team and some of them contradict the official government story. It seems that Kenney's right hand man — pun very much intended — Alykhan Velshi was in the thick of things.

There's more in the rabble piece including questions about possible violations of Canada's privacy legislation. There's a second part of the story due out today and there's also a press release here in which rabble invites everyone to play along at home by reviewing the documents and looking for even more angles to the story.

Update:

The second installment of the rabble story is up.

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April 18, 2010

Democracy in action

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This is from an article in Britain's Telegraph about the ongoing election campaign there.

An opinion poll yesterday showed that more than three-quarters of voters support the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.

The Com Res poll found that 77 per cent wanted troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, while more than half thought that the presence of troops there put British streets at greater risk from terrorism.

But the three main parties are all fighting the general election on programmes which include backing for the Nato mission against the Taliban.

Awesome, isn't it?

H/t to Steve Hynd.

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Journamalism

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Fast troop removal out of character for Canada

I've given you the headline but let's look at the subhead, too.

Withdrawal makes little sense, defence experts say

It's a curious story that attempts to suggest that because there was a small Canadian military presence in Bosnia 19 years after Canadians first deployed there, our planned withdrawal from Afghanistan next year makes absolutely no sense. As far as I'm concerned, the comparison doesn't make a lot of sense but I don't believe the comparison is really the point. The point comes at the end of the article where the sources identified as "defence experts" suggest that we should stay in Afghanistan to impress Americans. And those defence experts are: retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie and one other source, identified thusly:

Queen's University defence policy expert Douglas Bland ...

If you snoop around a bit at the Queen's University website, you'll find that Bland is the Chair in Defence Management Studies.

Queen's University established the Chair in Defence Management Studies at the School of Policy Studies in 1996 with the support of funding from the Department of National Defence and other donors.

It would be nice if the article identified him as being someone whose work is actually paid for by the military. What do you want to bet that at least some of the "other donors" are military contractors? If Bland was properly identified it would be easier to tell that this story is meant to push the military establishment's point of view. And the best they can come up with is that we need to stay in Afghanistan to impress Americans who, even they admit, mostly don't know we're even there.

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April 16, 2010

Friday night

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Don't know about you but I'm glad it's Friday. This is Milton Suggs on vocal with Willie Pickens on piano performing Count Basie's Going to Chicago Blues.


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Abdelrazik's bank account frozen

A bank account belonging to Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Canadian citizen ordered repatriated last year by a federal court judge who ruled the government had trampled on his constitutional rights, has been frozen.

...

Federal regulations require banks and other financial institutions to freeze accounts of anyone on the UN Security Council terrorist blacklist. Mr. Abdelrazik's lawyers contend the regulations infringe on his rights. "It's unconstitutional" to freeze his assets, Paul Champ said.

The story suggests that it's the U.S. that has vetoed Abdelrazik's removal from that UN list — "apparently" — but I wouldn't be surprised to find that our own miserable excuse for a government has quietly supported the decision.

Abousfian Abdelrazik has never even been charged with a crime, never mind being convicted of one. Federal regulations need to be changed.

H/t to Unionist at babble.

Update:

Dr. Dawg has the details on an effort to push back against this insanity.

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April 13, 2010

Has the ethics watchdog decided not to bark?

Federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson appears to have invented a secret bureaucratic process to avoid posting public disclosure statements by ministers who are in conflicts of interest, say the Liberal and NDP ethics critics and a government watchdog group.

They say Dawson's handling of a conflict of interest case involving Fisheries Minister Gail Shea raises questions about the Federal Accountability Act and about Dawson, the person charged with making sure that MPs, ministers and senior public servants follow the rules on ethics in conducting public business.

Here's the key bit:

In an email on Monday, a spokeswoman for Dawson said the commissioner regularly reaches arrangements with holders of public office to avoid public recusals.

"Doing so can preclude the need for recusal and thus the need to make a public declaration," Margaret Booth said.

Yes, by all means, let us have quiet "arrangements" between someone who's supposed to be looking out for the public interest and the government officials she's supposed to be scrutinizing. Why should anything about public office be, you know, public? Wikipedia describes one of her previous rulings thusly:

... even when the government's own actions and those of one of their close associates are in question, they are allowed to choose whether a judicial inquiry will take place, to set the scope of the inquiry, to choose the inquiry commissioner(s) who will judge them, and to control a legal proceeding against another person who has made allegations about them.

Dawson appears to have had a distinguished career as a public servant. But I don't think she's quite got the hang of this watchdog thing.

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April 12, 2010

Malfeasance in office

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No, this isn't about Helena Guergis. This is a reminder that Abousfian Abdelrazik's lawsuit is proceeding and his lawyers are aiming straight at Lawrence Cannon.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon should be held personally accountable for "malfeasance in office," lawyers for Abousfian Abdelrazik, the Canadian citizen imprisoned and tortured in Sudan, will argue on Monday in Federal Court.

Mr. Cannon repeatedly promised Mr. Abdelrazik a passport to get home and then repeatedly rescinded that promise until a Federal Court judge ruled the minister had violated the constitution by thwarting the rights of a citizen to return home. Even after complying with the order, Mr. Cannon, who labelled Mr. Abdelrazik a threat to national security, has declined to offer any explanation.

Cannon's behaviour was inexcusable, but I'm not sure the court will be able to hold him accountable. But I do expect Adelrazik to win a judgement. Let's not forget that Canadian officials have already been found to be complicit in his detention.

In a stunning judgment last year -not challenged by the government - Mr. Justice Russel Zinn of the Federal Court found that Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents were complicit in Mr. Abdelrazik arrest and imprisonment in Sudan, a country so notorious for its human-rights abuses that its President, Omar al-Bashir, is under international indictment for war crimes and genocide.

Has anybody at CSIS been fired for this?

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April 9, 2010

Friday night

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I keep hearing about a great new band called Three Busty Hookers but I can't seem to find any video of them. So instead, here's J. B. Lenoir with The Whale Has Swallowed Me. He demonstrates some interesting technique in the break.


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Finance failing on its own terms

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So, we've all been upset for some time now with finance capital and the destructive bubble-bursting and taxpayer bailouts and all that. But supposedly, there's a point to it all--the banks and financial giants use those huge steaming gobs of money to lend to productive business, thus helping the economy grow, right? (Let's leave aside the question of whether growth-as-usual is even what we need)
So, how's it been doing at that? It was a couple weeks ago now a Counterpunch article mainly about something else pointed out something that I haven't seen in all the economic commentary I've browsed through. It stuck in my mind:

In December 2009 the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) released figures showing that the amount of loans outstanding in the nation's banks fell $210.4 billion in the third quarter of 2009. That was the largest quarterly decline since the FDIC began tracking loans in 1984. "We need to see banks making more loans to their business customers," Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairwoman Sheila Bair told reporters. The FDIC figures show that banks have been deemphasizing business lending for many years, long before the current contraction commenced . . .

Banks have lent sparingly to businesses for the past 35 years. Businesses report that in each quarter since 1974 -the very beginning of post-Golden-Age austerity- ease of borrowing was either worse or the same as it was the prior quarter. Business loans were increasingly hard to get over this entire period.

The data reveal a secular shift away from productive lending to businesses toward nonproductive lending to consumers and speculative investments.

Well, isn't that just special. Kind of takes away the last support for the modern financial model--aside from doing all kinds of crap we don't want, turns out the financiers increasingly suck at doing the stuff that justifies their existence. Their focus on financial paper and its orgasmic levels of paper profit really is crowding out investment in the real economy. Do we really need private banks at all? Seems to me a combination of credit unions and publicly owned banks would do just fine.

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April 8, 2010

Journamalism

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Here's the headline from a Canwest story with David Akin's byline that was written based on the transcripts of testimony at the MPCC hearing on Tuesday:

Detainees were 'delighted' to be transferred from Canadian to Afghan prisons: testimony

That's followed up with both a photo caption and a report on the testimony that are presented as if they're in contrast to the concerns others have expressed about the potential treatment of detainees by the Afghan authorities. It's as if someone is claiming that those detainees would actually expect better treatment from the NDS than from Canadian forces. Now, courtesy of Aaron Wherry, here's the portion of the transcript that isn't reported in the Canwest story:

Q. You mentioned some of the detainees were quite happy--quite happy might be overstating it. I don't suppose anybody would be quite happy to go off to prison, but they didn't protest at being turned over--

A. Never.

Q. --to the NDS. Do you know why?

A. I believe because they could be bought out of the Afghan jails.

Q. They saw it as a way of getting a quick release?

A. I believe that is a way of life in the Afghan system. It is so corrupt that if you had enough money you could buy people out of jail.

Puts things in a somewhat different light, doesn't it?

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April 7, 2010

"at risk of absurdity"

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I wanted to work up a post to address the fact that yesterday's decision to close the MPCC hearings to the public pretty much makes a mockery out of calling them "public hearings." The editorial board of the Globe and Mail spared me the trouble.

There is a presumption of openness in public hearings - in court, in Parliament, in quasi-judicial bodies. Yet it was overcome yesterday at the Military Police Complaints Commission in Ottawa without the media being given a warning, or a chance to argue for openness, or to find out a concrete justification for the closed hearing.

There is an overwhelming public interest in the possible Canadian involvement, even indirectly, in torture abroad. That is why the MPCC called this inquiry the Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings. Public interest hearings held in private are at risk of absurdity.

Was the closing of the hearing justified? It is impossible to know. All that is known is the justice department's nebulous, stated reason - national security. The MPCC did not bother to offer any reason at all; it merely advised that the hearings were going in-camera.

The editorial also has nice things to say about Peter Tinsley, former chair of the MPCC. I can't help but think that Tinsley would have pushed back against the government's arguments for closing the doors on the hearings since he's the one who called for public hearings in the first place.

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It would have been nice if the Globe and Mail had included the fact that Ken Boessenkool is a close friend of, and former policy advisor to, Stephen Harper in the blurb attached to this column. It would better prepare the reader for something like this:

The debate has left out a key component of the government's fiscal stimulus package. Well before the depth of the recession was clear and long before the government introduced its Economic Action Plan, Ottawa announced an extremely effective stimulus package. Its timing was impeccable, arriving just as economic activity was slowing. Its design was clever in that the money entered the economy the day it came into effect. Its target was brilliant in that it encouraged spending rather than saving - so economic activity was boosted immediately. It was clearly sustainable in that the size of the package was well within most reasonable forecasts of future surpluses.

I'm referring to the government's reduction of the GST from 6 per cent to 5 per cent in January of 2008.

So the GST reduction, which was originally announced in 2006 with the first cut occurring in July of that year, was actually part of the government's reaction to a recession that in late 2008 the government was still insisting wasn't going to happen? Now let's look at the way Boessenkool is actually identified.

Ken Boessenkool is executive fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

Well maybe that is enough warning that what follows is about an alternate universe and not the one in which the rest of us live.

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"an atrocious way to run a country"

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Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Dan Gardner takes issue with the government's reaction to the news that Graham James, previously convicted of sexually abusing the young hockey players he coached, was pardoned three years ago. While other pundits are asking why we're only just finding this out now, Gardner quite properly questions why we found out at all.

The Canadian Press story that broke the news refers, vaguely, to the pardon being revealed after a new accuser came forward in Winnipeg. But it's not legal for police, prosecutors, or other officials to reveal pardon information. Only if the minister personally approves the release of such information, and only if he does so in accordance with the criteria in law, is it legal.

But there's been no indication that anyone in government has paid the slightest attention to the issue of confidentiality. Instead Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told us that Stephen Harper read the same news about the pardon the rest of us saw, got angry that the pardon was granted, and immediately phoned Toews to demand an overhaul of the system based on limited information about one case. To which Gardner responds:

If [Harper] were an especially serious leader, he would ask officials to conduct an intense and thorough investigation of the issue, to talk with stakeholders and to bring their research together in one concise and informed paper. He might even ask an arms-length agency to do this work, to get a truly impartial perspective.

The government used to have an agency whose purpose was to do just that sort of thing. It was the Law Commission of Canada. Stephen Harper closed it shortly after taking power.

I could have quoted more. Go read the whole thing.

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April 5, 2010


If they're walking around and gathering in groups and they're not Americans, they must be insurgents, yes? A couple of them might be armed, but then again, those could be cameras (except we hate journalists anyway, right, especially foreign journalists?). Well, it's not like they have the Second Amendment or anything, right? Only Americans get that. So they're insurgents, or even if they aren't, we kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out.

Oh, and the kids and the unarmed guys in the emergency van? Their fault for bringing kids into a battle.

Here's the "battle" as recorded on a classified U.S. military video in 2007, released today by Wikileaks and deserving of the widest distribution possible. Over a dozen people apparently unaware of the attacking helicopters were killed in this attack, including two Reuters journalists. Two children in the emergency van were wounded, and were prevented from being treated at U.S. military hospitals, transferred instead to an underequipped local hospital.

Warning: This is very disturbing to watch. I hyperventilated. Be sure to catch the anodyne lies and excuses of the U.S. military at the time, playing out the roles that Orwell and Arendt predicted for them as essence of mindless evil.


The Wikileaks release of this horrifying video comes on the same day that the occupying military command in Kabul admitted that U.S. special forces not only murdered three pregnant women (correction: two pregnant women and one teenage girl) at Gardez in Afghanistan in February but then dug the bullets out of their bodies in order to make it appear that the women had been stabbed to death by the "insurgents" the special ops guys also ambushed.

H/t to Toe and pogge at Bread and Roses, and to emptywheel.

Update: AlJazeeraEnglish interview with Julian Assange, editor of Wikileaks, on the turn.


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April 4, 2010

Sunday morning

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April 2, 2010

Friday night

Ain't nothin' wrong with me
A little liquor won't fix
And everybody loves me when I sing the blues

Scrapomatic was the opening act last week and I brought them back for another look. This time the song is Louisiana Anna.


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Today in WTF? moments

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Karzai accuses UN of election interference

During his speech Thursday, [Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai acknowledged there had been "vast fraud" in the August vote, which returned him to office for a second, five-year term. But he blamed the fraud on the UN and other foreign organizations, which he suggested were part of an international conspiracy to deny him re-election or tarnish his victory.

"No doubt, there was huge fraud. There was vast fraud. The fraud is not by the Afghans. This fraud has been done by the foreigners," Karzai said, including officials of the UN, the European Union and "the embassies here in Kabul."

Karzai failed to explain what "the foreigners" would have to gain by tarnishing the victory of the leader they've been propping up for the best part of a decade or why the concerted efforts of all those powerful players failed to bring him down.

I'd be curious to hear Hillary Clinton's reaction to Karzai's comments.

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