May 2010 Archives

May 31, 2010

Conspicuous by its absence


Remember that "agreement in principle" regarding the release of documents relating to the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan? When it was announced on May 14th, I wrote the following:

A deal "in principle" is not a final deal when the memorandum that actually spells it all out won't be ready for over two more weeks. And if that memo isn't available until the end of May, when will the specially selected committee of MPs actually be selected, sworn in and get down to work? ...

...As long as we remain in the dark, the winner is Stephen Harper who suspended parliament to avoid the demands of a majority of the Commons and has been able to drag this out for almost six months now.

Today is the day that final memorandum was supposed to be released. So where is it? I thought we had saved democracy?

I wanted to give this the benefit of the doubt but I should have listened to my inner curmudgeon. I think we've been had.

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Actions can have consequences


Ian Welsh points to this brief story:

Ankara warned that further supply vessels will be sent to Gaza, escorted by the Turkish Navy, a development with unpredictable consequences.

I suspect there's going to be some serious diplomatic activity over the next couple of days.

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Just wondering


Since the lead ship in the Freedom Flotilla was flying a Turkish flag and most of the dead are Turkish, how will the Harper government respond if Turkey invokes Article 5 of the NATO charter and urges its NATO allies to join it in declaring war on Israel? Of course when the thought first occurred to me, it was really just snark on my part. But the Turkish president has already called for an emergency meeting of NATO.

And as long we're wondering, let's wonder along with Glenn Greenwald.

Just ponder what we'd be hearing if Iran had raided a humanitarian ship in international waters and killed 15 or so civilians aboard.
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Up to 19 killed in Israeli attack on Gaza aid flotilla

What started as a peaceful demonstration of support for the 1.7 million people of Gaza, turned bloody Monday as Israeli forces boarded six ships attempting to run the three-year-old blockade Israel has maintained of the Gaza Strip.

Reports of as many as 19 of the human rights activists being killed in the assault are giving Israel an international black eye, and threaten to dramatically change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A quick review of other media stories shows the death toll being reported as anywhere from 10 to the 19 reported here. Details are still fuzzy.

Israeli authorities are reporting that it was the demonstrators on board the ships who began the hostilities and the members of the IDF were just defending themselves. No one has yet explained how demonstrators on ships in international waters managed to force Israeli commandos to come aboard so they could be attacked.

Our own government has been relentless in its encouragement of Israel's siege of Gaza. Some of this blood is on our hands.


Live updates at the Guardian.

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May 29, 2010

I'll probably retire that title after this post. I'm way past being surprised by further evidence that much of Barack Obama's campaign rhetoric had as close a relationship with the truth as the average public utterance by Jason Kenney.

The latest news comes from Charlie Savage in the New York Times where you can read that the Obama administration has decided to continue holding several detainees at GTMO indefinitely even though "there is no evidence of involvement in any specific terrorist plot." I take that to indicate that even military commissions, where the rules are already written to give the house an advantage, would be too embarrassing. Even when you control the list of journalists who have access to the hearings, one might still forget herself and commit journalism. And then where would we be?

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May 28, 2010

Friday night


I'd like to open this evening with a tune dedicated to Jason Kenney. It's called Somebody Tell the Truth. This is The Band of Heathens. (With a glance in Some Old Guy's direction 'cos he found this vid before I did.)

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There's quite a bit in this Thomas Friedman column on Iran that's problematic but there is one particularly glaring bit of dishonesty. Iran recently agreed to a deal to ship some of its enriched uranium stockpile to Turkey in return for a quantity that's been further enriched for use in a medical reactor. In his efforts to slam the deal Friedman manages to cough up this whopper:

... that would still leave Iran with a roughly 2,200-pound uranium stockpile, which it still refuses to put under international inspection and is free to augment and continue to reprocess to the higher levels needed for a bomb.

Holy crap, Tom! Pound for pound there are probably more IAEA inspectors on the ground in Iran than in any other country on the planet. Call me when the Iranians actually do refuse to let inspectors in.

Friedman may be a pundit rather than a journalist but you would think the New York Times would still feel a responsibility to do some basic fact-checking and refuse to publish things that are obviously untrue. And you would think the editors of that august publication would feel that responsibility even more strongly given the blood that's on Friedman's hands from the invasion of Iraq. Not to mention the blood that's on their own hands. Let's not forget where Judith Miller once worked.

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No one could have predicted

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Investigator Warned MMS in 2009 About Deepwater Gas Blowouts in Gulf of Mexico

A sixty-page memorandum addressed to Renee Orr, the chief of the leasing division of the Minerals Management Service (MMS), was sent in September 2009 by an environmental investigator, warning of potential disaster in offshore drilling operations and the particular dangers posed by gas hydrates.

It was written as a public comment to the federal government's proposed rule for oil and gas leasing between 2010 and 2015 on the outer continental shelf, and offers a wide-ranging compilation and analysis, based on meticulously documented scientific, industry and government sources, of many accidents little known to the general public.

There's much more at the link. Including this:

Reached by telephone, the investigator told SolveClimate that he received an automated email response from MMS to the online submission of his 60-page report, and never heard from the agency again.

If an independent investigator could figure all this out, why would it have been beyond the capabilities of the oil industry and the Minerals Management Service? But of course it wasn't beyond their capabilities. Among other things the report cites the testimony of another expert on the dangers of deepwater drilling that was published in the early nineties. By the Minerals Management Service.

H/t to Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla.

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May 27, 2010

Lies and the lying liars


Now who would have ever imagined that Jason Kenney, Minister of Canadian Values, would go on national television and lie through his teeth?

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May 25, 2010

Dear media


If Dimitri Soudas, the PMO's Director of Communications, is unwilling to appear before a parliamentary committee to account for himself, may I humbly suggest that you all stop paying any attention to him in his official capacity. If he's unwilling to even go through the motions of being accountable then he must be treated as an unreliable source. So don't use him as a source. You can always get your Conservative talking points from the opposition parties. I'm sure by now they can pretty much predict what the government's going to say on any given issue. And I suspect they would enjoy the opportunity.

If Soudas won't answer to parliament, then he's refusing to answer to us. As long as that's the case, he has nothing to say that I'm interested in hearing. And the only thing I want to hear about him is that he's unemployed.


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May 23, 2010

The tune is called Black and White.

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May 21, 2010

Friday night

This is the weekend when much of Canada celebrates the birth of Queen Victoria. It seems only fair to warn you that the following musical performances have absolutely nothing to do with that. We open with an instrumental called Moanin' by Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters.

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"A deluded goof"


Freshly minted GOP senatorial candidate Rand Paul is taking quite a beating over the last couple of days. His argument that the 1964 Civil Rights Act went too far when it legislated against discrimination by private business is earning him well-deserved ridicule (h/t to matttbastard on Twitter). Paul seems to be arguing that if government had only minded its own business, the free market would have magically eliminated the evils of Jim Crow in the American south.

At his blog, the same matttbastard quotes another convincing rebuttal to this nonsense. But I've heard Paul's argument before and quite recently. It didn't sound any more convincing when it came from Tom Flanagan.

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Actual product may not be as shown


Updated. Please see below.

The Conservative government announced recently that it intended to table legislation that would strengthen a ban on bulk water exports. As I recall, that announcement didn't make it clear that the legislation was actually quite narrow in scope and that some bulk water exports would remain perfectly acceptable.

A federal government plan to strengthen a ban on bulk water exports is undermined by a loophole allowing significant water removal for exports of bottled water, critics said yesterday.

..."Canada will continue to export water in bulk, just in small individual containers instead of giant containers," said Joe Cressy of the Polaris Institute, a research and advocacy organization that is campaigning against bottled water. "The bill is a first step but it doesn't go far enough."

The new legislation is intended to thwart the diversion of river water south to the U.S. through such means as dams, aqueducts, canals and pipelines.

The Council of Canadians, reproduced at Straight Goods, weighs in:

"It is highly problematic that the Act narrows the definition of water removals and diversions to bulk removals of 50,000 litres or more and exempts water in manufactured goods including beverages," says Karunananthan. "Bill C-26 does not cover waters that are not boundary or transboundary waters."

"Bill C-26 does not apply to water resources in the North, which have been the subject of the most recent proposals by right-wing think tanks GWest, the Frontier Centre, and the Montreal Economic Institute," notes Barlow. "Therefore Bill C-26 is effectively not a ban on bulk water exports."

Always read the fine print. That's right up there with: watch what they do, not what they say.

H/t to JimBobby on Twitter for the second link.


Fortunately, Alison took me at my word and read the fine print. As is so often the case with these Conservatives, the closer you look, the worse it gets.

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May 20, 2010

Just wondering


Am I the only one who imagines that a demand from Jim Prentice to adhere to the "highest environmental standards" is likely to produce gales of laughter and little more? We have no moral high ground here.

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May 19, 2010

Senators join campaign to break up Conservative budget bill

The Conservative budget bill is so packed with power-grabbing extras that campaigns are mounting for the legislation to be blown apart and its individual components studied.

Senators - including Progressive Conservative Lowell Murray - environmentalists and postal workers are among the varied groups now pressuring MPs to split the 904-page budget bill just as the House of Commons is poised to pass the wide-ranging legislation.

Harper's Conservatives didn't originate the tactic but as with so many other ways of gaming the system, they seem determined to master it. Because the budget implementation legislation is a "money bill", it's a matter of confidence so voting it down would trigger the election that all the pundits insist no one wants. So the Conservatives are packing all kinds of crap in there that they would have trouble passing otherwise. (I seem to recall Mike Harris being good at these omnibus bills too.)

It draws attention to another flaw in our system: even though it's supposed to take a majority of MPs to express the will of parliament, the Prime Minister of a minority government can determine whether parliament continues to sit by jamming a poison pill into a budget bill and calling it a confidence vote. There have been ideas proposed to change that — I recall one interesting conversation in comments here that I wish I could find right now — and hopefully that discussion will continue to gain traction. Meanwhile we may yet be thankful the Senate is there before we see the back of Sideshow Stephen.

H/t to James Curran.

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May 18, 2010



Bizarro does the heavy lifting but I want to highlight this because it's the kind of thing that drives me wild. In his response to an op-ed by David Bercuson in the Globe and Mail, Bizarro points out:

It is worth noting that today's piece doesn't have the usual description of Mr. Bercuson that the Mop provides along with op-ed pieces. For instance, in another recent piece by the estimable Bercuson, where he was pointing the way for a Harper extension of the Afghan mission, the Mop wrote: David Bercuson is director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, and director of programs at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

They didn't note that he is on the Board of the Royal Military College or that Mr. Bercuson is integrally and professionally tied to the Department of National Defence...

Yes, I'd say it was relevant to point all that out to readers when the op-ed is obviously designed to stifle questions that the civilian and military leadership would rather not answer.

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May 17, 2010

It's not a very well-kept secret that I'm not a big fan of Elizabeth May as a politician. But when she's right, she's right.

"The Green Party of Canada fully supports the Auditor General having a mandate to oversee MP expenses," said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. "The Canadian public deserves accountability for the half billion dollars MPs spend every year. The fact that MPs are afraid to have Sheila Fraser examine their accounts suggests that it is probably long overdue."

H/t to JimBobby.

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Feds move to revoke Wheat Board voting rights for small-scale growers

Wheat and barley growers who don't produce more than 40 tonnes of grain a year would no longer be eligible to vote in Canadian Wheat Board elections under federal legislation introduced Friday.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said hobby farmers and former producers shouldn't get a say in elections which send farmer representatives to the board.

"Everyone agrees these important votes must be cast by real farmers, not producers who have left the business," said Ritz.

Because it falls to Gerry Ritz to identify the "real" farmers just as it's up to Jason Kenney to identify "real" Canadian values. The Conservatives have been trying to sink the Canadian Wheat Board since they came to power and they've been thwarted by the fact that the CWB is run democratically and the majority of its voting members would rather the Conservatives kept their hands off. So naturally the next step is to try and reduce voter turnout. It's a movement conservative tradition.

H/t to leftdog who links to this Reuters piece but after a bit of googling, I went with the Montreal Gazette story quoted at the top.

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May 16, 2010

13 for 48

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Two years ago, in June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled that detainees held by the American government in Guantanamo Bay "have the right to appeal to U.S. civilian courts to challenge their indefinite imprisonment without charges." Since then the government has been challenged 48 times and has won only 13 of those cases. In the other 35, the United States has been unable to demonstrate sufficient grounds for detaining someone to get agreement from a judge.

And bear in mind that even those 13 haven't been convicted of anything. Those are the cases where the prosecution has met the lower standard of convincing the judiciary that there might be sufficient reason to believe that there's actually a crime to be prosecuted. The practical problem with suspending due process is that it assumes that institutions like the Pentagon and the CIA — and CSIS and the RCMP — are infallible and would never mistakenly identify someone as a threat who was completely innocent.

The lastest detainee to be freed is a former Russian Army ballet dancer who has been in custody for eight years. He's lost a fifth of his life based on guilt by association — including association with Abu Zubaydah if that tells you anything — only to be released when he finally comes before a judge.

13 for 48. With dozens more cases to come. (And a rule book for the actual "trials" that apparently was still being written the night before Omar Khadr's recent set of hearings began — he's also been in custody since 2002. And this is the process with which Stephen Harper doesn't think we should interfere.)

H/t to Glenn Greenwald on Twitter.

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May 15, 2010

They call it recovery


David Rosenberg at Zero Hedge:

There are classic signs indeed that the recession in the U.S. ended last summer -- output, sales, etc. But the depression is ongoing and the reason we say that is because real personal income, excluding handouts from the government, has barely budged. In fact, real organic personal income is nearly $500 billion lower now than it was at the peak 16 months ago and this has never occurred before coming out of any technical recession. It is a depression, as the chart below attests -- that is the trendline for real household incomes, until the government comes in to top them off with handouts, subsidies and extended jobless benefits. The share of U.S. personal income being derived from Uncle Sam's generosity has risen above 18% for the first time ever.

Real consumer spending is up $200 billion over the past 16 months and everyone believes we have a sustainable recovery even though organic income is down almost $500 billion. Think about that for a second because once the stimulus wears off, and with a 10% deficit-to-GDP ratio and concerns surfacing everywhere about sovereign credit risks, there is little out there to support future growth in consumption.

H/t Ian Welsh who tipped his in turn to Sean Paul Kelley.

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They call it democracy


You may recall that I posted this less than a month ago.

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.

So how will the shiny new British government conduct itself?

New Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that getting a "grip" on Britain's military operations in Afghanistan would be his top priority on his first day in the job.

A national security council will be convened by the new coalition administration almost immediately to discuss the situation, Mr Hague indicated as he arrived at the Foreign Office.


Mr Hague also said the Government wanted a "solid but not slavish relationship" with the United States - saying the so-called special relationship remained of "huge importance". He added: "No doubt we will not agree on everything. But they remain, in intelligence matters, in nuclear matters, in international diplomacy, in what we are doing in Afghanistan, the indispensable partner of this country."

Translation: British policy regarding Afghanistan will continue to be conducted in a manner that satisfies Americans, not British citizens.

H/t Steve Hynd.

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May 14, 2010

Friday night


Oh look. It's Friday night. I can forget about politics for a bit. There's some nice harp playing here on Your Man Won't Never Know by Moreland and Arbuckle.

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While it seems all the politicians are patting themselves on the back because they've reached a deal concerning access to documents about the Afghan detainee issue — you can read Stephen Harper's reaction here — I'm going to poop this party. A deal "in principle" is not a final deal when the memorandum that actually spells it all out won't be ready for over two more weeks. And if that memo isn't available until the end of May, when will the specially selected committee of MPs actually be selected, sworn in and get down to work? When will the unredacted documents actually begin to flow? And when will the panel that reviews the documents to determine whether there are national security implications attached to their release be selected, sworn in and settle down to work? And incidentally, when will the MPCC start receiving the information needed to properly conduct its inquiry? Because that's where this all started.

This deal needs to be judged according to its results, not the press releases all the politicians are waving around. We're not too far away from the summer break and by the time parliament reconvenes in the fall, who knows where we'll be and what other issues will have popped up to push this to the back burner. If the mechanism they've set up here slows things down to a crawl and we end up getting nothing than there's no victory for democracy here. As long as we remain in the dark, the winner is Stephen Harper who suspended parliament to avoid the demands of a majority of the Commons and has been able to drag this out for almost six months now.

Maybe this will work out. And maybe it's just the latest installment in the ongoing bamboozlement of democracy in this country. Call me when we have some results to show.

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Fire them all


Except Michelle Simson. If she ran in my riding I might actually have to vote for a Liberal.

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Working the refs


One of the most successful tactics pursued by the American conservative movement over the last thirty years or so has been to simultaneously turn "liberal" into a dirty word and convince everyone — members of the media themselves included — that there is an overwhelming liberal bias in the media. Even now, with Fox News openly promoting the tea party movement, Glenn Beck claiming that progressivism is a disease and Rush Limbaugh and his imitators openly spouting racism on talk radio, conservative operatives will grab any opportunity to call foul on any particular piece of reporting that might show their movement in a negative light. They relentlessly "work the refs" so that the next call will go their way. And it works. That's why the Conservatives are doing it here. And it's working. Case in point: even as the CBC moves to the right, it's taking Conservative accusations of a liberal (or Liberal) bias seriously and playing into their hands.

Adding... though I wonder if having Kory Teneycke on display at the CBC serves a constructive purpose. When he's feeling full of himself, he provides an excellent example of the kind of arrogant, spiteful creature who tends to rise to the top when the Conservatives have too much influence.

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David Olive on the presence of students at yesterday's anti-abortion rally in Ottawa:

... I can't imagine the ramifications for a Canadian school board administering public rather than Catholic schools if the students in its guardianship were used as pawns in a national debate. It would take the Toronto Board of Education about one nano-second to call a formal inquiry into the actions of public-school principals and teachers who allied themselves with leaders of, say, anti-poverty groups to have children who may well be indifferent or uninformed of the cause forcibly amassed for the cameras. Now that Catholic schools in Ontario are now taxpayer funded K-12 just as public schools are, the marshalling of those students at public expense and for a cause in which many are doubtless uninformed merits a public-policy debate of its own.
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May 13, 2010

Just wondering


When can we expect Nancy Ruth to tell Dean Del Mastro to shut the fuck up?

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As the Toronto Star does in this story and as The Chronicle Herald did in a story I posted about a few weeks ago. But I"ve come to the conclusion that Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson simply has a different view of her job than the press corps. After all it's tough being a cabinet minister these days. The rules have gotten so much more complicated for a simple elected official who just wants to enrich her friends while simultaneously working every possible angle to ensure her own re-election. That's when you need someone around whose job it is to understand all those silly rules well enough to work the angles and ensure that nothing ever sticks to you. That's Mary Dawson's job. Being a watchdog has nothing to do with it. These silly journalists should really get with the program.

H/t to Impolitical.


Or maybe she is a watchdog but it's the interests of elected officials she's guarding and it's those of us silly enough to expect ethics in government that she's protecting them against.

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Implausible deniability redux


Bill Graham, who was our foreign minister from 2002 to 2004 and our defence minister from 2004 to 2006, testified yesterday in front of the special parliamentary committee on the Afghan mission. He was there specifically to speak to the original detainee-transfer agreement that then Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier signed with the Afghans late in 2005. When he spoke to the larger issue of Canadian responsibility for detainees after their transfer, he brought back memories:

Graham said Canada is responsible for the treatment of detainees once they are turned over to Afghans -- but only to a point.

"That responsibility was not absolute," he said. "You can't be responsible for what you don't know about. It's not an absolute responsibility."

You can't be responsible for what you don't know about. In other words, if you can arrange to remain ignorant about specific cases of abuse, you can absolve yourself of responsibility for them even if you have every reason to suspect that the abuse might be happening. As long as your suspicions remain suspicions, you can go on about your business secure in the knowledge that no one can hold you responsible for anything. Which is a perfect incentive to avoid investigating to see if your suspicions are valid.

On a Monday in May in 2005, appearing before the O'Connor Commission investigating the detention and abuse of Maher Arar, Graham testified that he had no reason to believe that Maher Arar was being abused by the Syrians during his incarceration in their country. Yes, he was aware of Syria's reputation and history of human rights abuses. But no one actually came into his office and showed him irrefutable evidence of Arar's torture so Graham had no reason to conclude that it might be happening. That was his story and he was sticking to it.

At least he's consistent.

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May 10, 2010

Holder Backs a Miranda Limit for Terror Suspects

The Obama administration said Sunday it would seek a law allowing investigators to interrogate terrorism suspects without informing them of their rights...

[Attorney General Eric] Holder proposed carving out a broad new exception to the Miranda rights established in a landmark 1966 Supreme Court ruling. It generally forbids prosecutors from using as evidence statements made before suspects have been warned that they have a right to remain silent and to consult a lawyer.

He said interrogators needed greater flexibility to question terrorism suspects than is provided by existing exceptions.

Note that there is an existing exception — a public safety exception. But this isn't about public safety. The blowhards on talk radio and Fox News are screaming bloody murder about terrorism suspects being handled in civil courts with all the due process that involves. Rather than stand up for the rule of law and tell the loudmouths to get stuffed, the Obama administration is going to attempt to mollify them by compromising on Miranda rights. And of course it won't work. If the O'Reillys and the Limbaughs can't scream about this, they'll find something else to scream about. Meanwhile, the progressive base will once again feel betrayed by an administration that promised change and then embraced so much of what the left condemned in Dubya's policies and they'll be that much less likely to work and vote for Obama, and possibly for Democrats in general.

So aside from contributing to the erosion of civil liberties, this is politically stupid.

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May 9, 2010

Information is the lifeblood of a democracy. Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt governance can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.

Agree completely. That was Stephen Harper writing in the Montreal Gazette five years ago as quoted by David Pugliese in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen. Pugliese goes on to report how Harper the Prime Minister has made a complete mockery of Harper the Advocate for Transparency. The article is all about the deterioration of the access to information process in Ottawa and here's one more short quote to whet your appetite.

In one case, a union requesting information on changes to federal pay equity law was told it would take five years to get the documents.

I'm guessing they're in a sea chest in Kandahar.

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May 8, 2010

Lies, damned lies and push polls


Canwest published a story yesterday concerning a poll it commissioned Ipsos Reid to run that focused on the Afghan detainee issue and Speaker Milliken's recent ruling on the question of parliamentary privilege. Mixed in with the usual election speculation is this:

The poll concludes 49 per cent of Canadians said opposition politicians "can't be trusted to keep secret the information that's important to our national security because all they will do is play partisan politics with what they learn."

But we don't know whether the information that the government has been protecting has, in fact, been withheld out of legitimate national security concerns or for other reasons — like covering people's butts. I'm sure the Conservatives would be quite pleased to have everyone assume that it's the former and it appears Ipsos Reid is pleased to plant that seed in people's minds.

I believe the phrase that would be used if one was objecting to a question like this in a court proceeding would be that it "assumes facts not in evidence." The more colloquial objection is that it's a push poll. Either way, it's intellectually dishonest.

H/t to Impolitical.

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May 7, 2010

Friday night

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Tonight's episode is another retrospective but this time all the performances are by one artist. And while this part wasn't planned, there's one other thing that's common to all three videos: the original versions I posted have all disappeared but all three performances have popped up elsewhere on YouTube.

My practice of posting music on Friday nights began spontaneously (much like this blog). One night I happened to find Stevie Ray Vaughan doing a solo performance of Pride and Joy on a 12 string acoustic and thought: somebody should post this. So I volunteered.

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The last time I used that title it was in reference to our government's support for breaking a moratorium on the use of terminator seeds -- seeds that are genetically altered to be infertile so that farmers can't replant seed garnered from the previous year's crop. The idea, of course, is to force farmers to buy new seed each year at whatever exorbitant price agribusiness wants to charge since it would then have a captive market.

Here's a variation on the same theme, from a website that's been set up to inform us all about the ongoing negotiations between our government and the EU on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

The trade deal would almost entirely eliminate the rights of farmers to save, reuse and sell seed.

Plant varieties can be protected as intellectual property through Plant Breeders Rights as well as patents on genes. The trade deal would give rights holders an unprecedented degree of control over seeds and farming by committing Canada to adopt UPOV'91, the draconian 1991 version of The International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties. The inclusion of UPOV'91 in the deal is completely unnecessary and is excessively harmful to Canadian farmers. Seed breeders would have the right to collect royalties on seed at any point in the food chain!

The draft of the trade deal also says that biotech corporations could seize the crops, equipment, and farms, and freeze the bank accounts of farmers who are deemed patent infringers, like farmers who find unwanted contamination in their fields.

Notice that our government isn't telling us much about these negotiations and so far there's certainly no public debate about them. I have a problem with that and you should too. I'm sure the large, multinational corporations are quite happy with the way negotiations are proceeding but they may be the only big winners from this. And if that's not the case, why isn't the Harper Government™ — normally so quick to advertise what it's doing on our behalf — keeping us better informed?

H/t to Toedancer at Bread & Roses.

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May 6, 2010

Update: Text of the letter from the DoD to the four news organizations on the turn.

I'll be back with updates as we get them, but Spencer Ackerman is reporting via Twitter that Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail, Steven Edwards of Canwest, along with Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald (also a brilliant reporter on all things GTMO) have been banned by the Pentagon from reporting not only on Omar Khadr's military commission but on all further commission hearings at GTMO.

They are being turfed out ostensibly because they have used the real names of some witnesses whose names are being suppressed at the commission but are already in the public domain. Joshua Claus, for instance, who is Interrogator #1, is named not only in his own Wikipedia entry but in Omar's.

This is simply outrageous. Please contact the offices of the leaders of all the opposition parties, and even the PMO if you can be bothered.

Via Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel

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I blame Tony Blair


That probably isn't the last thing I'll have to say about the UK election, but it is the deepest thought I've got at the moment and the most heartfelt.

In the last interview with Blair that I saw in the Guardian (trust me: it's too boring to read), he did his standard public-schoolboy routine, pretending to value good common sense and decency and all that, and his advice to "vote for what you believe in" would have been inspiring coming from many other people.

There was one word he never uttered, though: Iraq.

He talked a bit about foreign policy, but suddenly in Tony Blair's world, UK foreign policy is all about the EU. There were no Memories of the White House (or Memories of Clearing Brush in Crawford, Texas). There wasn't a word of the trauma Blair dragged the British forces and people through in a war that he knew was illegal, the "intelligence" for which he knew was "fixed to fit the policy." There wasn't a word of apology to the grieving families, to the millions of his fellow citizens who had opposed the war from the beginning and came to hate him and his government by the time he belatedly left, nor to the hapless Gordon Brown, to whom Blair left a legacy they both must have known would doom Brown no matter what he did.

Blair is one of the strangest political actors I have watched in my lifetime. Unlike, say, George W. Bush or Stephen Harper, he seems on the surface to be capable of complex and civilized thought. But then we discover that, rather like Obama, there isn't much he wouldn't agree to for the crassest of political reasons, and then beyond that, he's just plain spooky.

I'm not a cheerleader for Brown: Labour is tired by now and he couldn't turn that around. But weathering the financial crisis, eg, has been harder for him politically than it would have been if he hadn't been perceived from the start as the leader of a tired government. For a truly enlightening glimpse of what Cameron's "compassionate conservatism" could mean if the Tories win a majority tonight, see Johann Hari's fine, if depressing, report in the Independent on the actions of a local London council that the Tories consider a "model" for what they would do in government. I'll think about Clegg tomorrow.

But for now, Tony, I'm thinking about the late Robin Cook and the hapless Gordon Brown. What would they say? What could they say? Thanks for the albatross.

Thanks to Debra at Bread and Roses for the Hari reference.

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'Possible' CSIS relied on tainted Afghan intel: official

Canada's spy service says it's "possible" that information received from Afghanistan's notorious secret police may have been extracted by the torture of Canadian-transferred detainees.

But the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says it is forbidden from relying on any intelligence it suspects comes from torture or abuse.

The disclaimer in the second paragraph is generally prominent in these discussions. But just a bit further down in the article, you'll find this:

"When we receive information from any agency where there is a doubt with respect to human rights, what we need to understand is that it doesn't mean that all information received from that agency has been obtained by means of torture," Coulombe said.

The Canadian government has made no secret it has relied on the NDS for information in Afghanistan.

Translation: When the NDS passes information on to us, unless the blood is actually dripping off the page, we're good to go.

Meanwhile, Coulombe has acknowledged that transferring detainees to the custody of the NDS exposes those detainees to the possibility of torture. The risk is there. The risk is real. According to the Geneva Conventions, we have a problem.

Coulombe, incidentally, is the same CSIS official who, according to yesterday's National Post, suggested that the "average Canadian would not object to the use of intelligence potentially obtained by torture if it means saving Canadian lives." So I guess if we can round up a couple of "average Canadians" for confirmation, we can just forget that whole silly Nuremburg business.

Remember, this guy works for you.

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May 5, 2010

Another day, another lawsuit


Former terror detainee Hassan Almrei sues feds

A Syrian-born man who was held for more than eight years on a national security certificate, only to be released without charge, is suing the federal government for negligence and false imprisonment.

Hassan Almrei, who spent much of the time in solitary confinement, filed the claim Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, citing "egregious failings and errors" on the part of several federal agencies.

The judge who struck down the security certificate paved the way for this lawsuit.

Mosley said CSIS and federal cabinet ministers breached their duties of "good faith and candour" to the court by not thoroughly reviewing information on file prior to reissuing the certificate against Almrei under the reworked system in February 2008.

Almrei's statement of claim says many documents the government relied upon in the certificate case were not credible. "For example, as Justice Mosley highlighted, even one of CSIS's own witnesses conceded problems with the Minister's reliance on Wikipedia as a source."

Lorne Waldman, Almrei's lawyer, said Tuesday the Federal Court's strongly worded judgment, which the government did not appeal, was a significant factor in opting to sue.

This one's going to cost us. And rightly so.

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May 4, 2010

Ian Welsh sums up what we've learned about Obama in the first fifteen months of his presidency.

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Silence is Assent


I've borrowed the title from a comment by Toe to yesterday's post concerning Senator Nancy Ruth and her unfortunate advice to aid experts.

I've seen a number of bloggers defend Ruth as a woman who has always stood up for reproductive choice and for women's rights in general. That's great, and if you want to commend her for her previous accomplishments, go for it. It doesn't change the fact that in this instance, she's cast herself in the role of enforcer for a vindictive and bullying prime minister. While you're commending her, ask her if any previous gains in these areas were made by keeping quiet and letting the bullies have their way.

If opposition to Harper's policies disappears from the public discourse, you can guarantee that a whole host of politicians and pundits will be only too happy to repeat the mantra that we're becoming a more conservative society. And Conservatives will be even more emboldened to pursue their agenda, even if they do it in the short term through methods — like cutting funding here and changing regulations there — that don't require legislation. And perhaps most importantly, those politicians who might be willing to stand up and push back will feel like they have no support. If you want opposition politicians to support your positions, you have to make those politicians feel as though you'll support them in return. Or they'll shut up, too.

Unless of course, you think the battle is already lost and we may as well just stop fighting. In that case, there's a bunch of us who may as well just shut down our blogs and spend whatever free time we have watching TV.

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May 3, 2010

Aid groups advised to 'shut the f--- up' on abortion

Aid experts alarmed by Canada's new anti-abortion stand in foreign policy have been advised to "shut the f--- up" or risk Prime Minister Stephen Harper taking even more harsh measures - abroad, or maybe even at home if abortion becomes an election issue.

"We've got five weeks or whatever left until G-8 starts. Shut the f--- up on this issue," Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth told a group of international-development advocates who gathered on Parliament Hill on Monday to sound the alarm about Canada's hard-right stand against abortion in foreign aid.

"If you push it, there will be more backlash," Ruth said. "This is now a political football. This is not about women's health in this country."

The article suggests that the Senator intended this as "friendly advice" but it still amounts to a parliamentarian instructing Canadian citizens to shut up on an issue of public policy lest they be punished for taking the wrong position. And she frames it very much that way — it's not a matter of policy so much as it's a matter of avoiding angering Stephen the Petulant or there will be a backlash.

What a country, eh?

H/t to JimBobby on Twitter. Edited to add: I should have read a little further. JB got it from Antonia.

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Lies, damned lies and push polls


CathiefromCanada reports being on the receiving end of a phone call from Harris Decima and the questions asked included:

... whether I would support an election being called because the Bloc Quebecois should not be permitted to sign a confidentiality oath and therefore should not be permitted to see the documents.

I'd love to see what the exact question is. If it's anything like what Cathie reports here then this is the worst kind of dishonest push polling. The next time parliamentary committees meet to vote on resolutions condemning pollsters for bias, perhaps they ought to have a nice chat about Allan Gregg.

And I'd love to know who commissioned the poll and particularly whether it's one of the media outlets. The problem with having the media and the pollsters working together is that too often, the result isn't journalism. When a media outlet commissions the poll and pulls one number out of it to make up a juicy, and often misleading, headline that outlet is creating the news, not just reporting it. It's not supposed to work that way.

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May 1, 2010

Get Smart goes to GTMO


In yesterday's pre-trial hearings at Omar Khadr's kangaroo-court trial military commission, we heard from Agent 99 11. Today the Cone of Silence descended. Can the shoe phone be far behind?

Just before I get to Barbie Agent 99 11, I have a legal question about U.S. pre-trial hearings. Paul Koring at the Globe and Mail reports today that the Cone of Silence descended (the commission went into secret session) while at least one of the videotapes showing Omar's conversations with CSIS agents at GTMO in 2003 was played for the court.

Does the use of that videotape or any other evidence derived from the direct participation of CSIS or DFAIT or other agents or representatives of Canada signify any of the following: Obama is thumbing his nose at Steve? AG Holder is thumbing his nose at Rob Nicholson? Hillary Clinton is thumbing her nose at Lawrence Cannon? Or the GTMO convening authority is thumbing its nose at all of the above (entirely possible, given the history of the convening authority, which is technically in the U.S. Department of Defense)?

People might recall that the Harper government (in a most minimal response to a decision of the Supreme Court in January of this year) formally requested that the U.S. government not use as evidence in legal proceedings there any evidence collected at GTMO by Canadian agents and representatives, which the SCC has said (2008) was collected in violation of Omar Khadr's rights.

I know that everyone who can YouTube has been able to see at least some of the CSIS agents' floundering with a distressed Khadr in 2003, ever since Judge Mosley released that video and a number of interesting memos in 2008. I don't know whether that's exactly what Col Parrish had the commission watching this morning after the Cone descended -- in theory, that video is still classified in the U.S.

But does its use even in a pre-trial hearing signify that a formal request from Minister Nicholson has fallen on deaf ears in Washington? Does it signify only that we can't be sure who is running this show in Washington at the moment? (That would actually be my guess.) All legal advice welcome.

And Barbie Agent 99 11 on the turn.

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Was it something I said?


This writer, this past Wednesday:

... we'd better reconsider any plans to deploy [Canadian forces] anywhere in future until the people who run the show have learned how to handle some rather basic tasks.


... our military is completely incompetent and needs a thorough overhaul. From the top down.

Today at the CBC:

Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, a high-profile Canadian general suggested to lead a potential large troop deployment to Congo, has instead been ordered to plan a top-down reorganization of the entire military.

Meanwhile, sources tell CBC News the Canadian military will not deploy a large force to the Democratic Republic of Congo after its mission in Afghanistan ends next year.

Apparently I have far more influence than I realized.

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