Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year to all

Going out for a late dinner. Indian, our usual.

Have a good one, everybody, whether you're going out or staying in.

Check this out if you feel like something festive. I challenge you to sit still when listening...it's the usual New Year's pick around here...:)

Darn hockey reporters...

Gee, who told the media this:
"The PM refused to talk to reporters because his communications staff were concerned he might get asked about why he prorogued Parliament last month and what's going to be in the budget Jan. 27

Harper just waved to reporters as he walked out of the Canadian dressing room..."
Darn sports reporters...don't they know they're not supposed to actually write that stuff down, they're just supposed to bask in the reflected glow and be thankful and awestruck that he showed up for the photo-op...:) Thanks for sharing, hockey dude...

Canadian blogger in Iran needs help

There is a Canadian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, imprisoned in Iran. Warren Kinsella posted about this yesterday, as did Scott Tribe. Apparently this Canadian citizen has been in custody for two months without any successful contact having been made despite repeated attempts by Canadian consulate officials there. The Globe has more on this today. A few weeks ago, an Iranian human rights advocate called for his release:
Iranian human rights advocate Ms. Ebadi, who won the Nobel peace prize in 2003, said she had seen media reports about Mr. Derakhshan's arrest.

“All I can say is that I very much hope that he will be released soon, because prison is not the place for journalists and for bloggers,” Ms. Ebadi, speaking through an interpreter, told a news conference in London.
Take a few minutes for a fellow blogger and send a request for his release to the Iranian embassy. Some pressure from Canadian bloggers could help. The contact information, including email, for the Iranian Embassy in Canada can be found at this link, "SalamIran.org."

Update (Thursday a.m.): In The House and Senate had a great post yesterday on this, providing more fulsome context. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yes, this is remarkable


Why do I feel like raining on this little parade today? Conservative Minister and Cadman case spinner James Moore picked as one of "Ten to Watch in 2009: Sixth in a Series of Remarkable People, Places or Things." This is one of the "remarkable" people to watch in 2009? Why? Are we expecting big developments on the Cadman file this year? I haven't been following this Globe series, but I think I'll be looking for comparison's sake from here on in.

Moore is 32, and as the report notes, was elected to his B.C. seat six years out of high school. He was a radio broadcaster during that time, apparently. So his main claim to fame is basically that he's an effective communicator and covered the PM's derriere on the Cadman allegations. Presumably, he will be continuing in this role. No perspective on that matter added to the Globe report, namely that Moore's very public pronouncements that the Zytaruk tape had been doctored turned out to be, well, highly dubious and undermined by various tape experts. This really should tend to discredit those vaunted communication skills and cause people to think twice. But never mind, he's "one to watch." After all, he says things like this: "I believe, absolutely, in Stephen Harper." Just watch him.

Additionally, underneath the communication skills, who's to say what his substance is? He's not particularly educated, although it is true, as noted in the article, that Moore had the benefit of French immersion in high school. And he hasn't really done much of accomplishment other than speak decently to the national media. He's like this generation's Perrin Beatty. And if you're sitting out there asking, who's Perrin Beatty, well, that's the point.

Yet Moore's one to watch in 2009. Kind of makes me think this is symptomatic of what is wrong with our politics.

That's one way of looking at it

Christie Blatchford on the Senate appointments:
There's only one tiny part of the Senate experience I envy, and it's Ms. Wallin who will get to enjoy it.

Given the average age of the 105 senators is 65 (or do I have those numbers reversed?), there is no question that Ms. Wallin, at 55 still a looker, will be considered a hot young tamale.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lid placed back on the jar

Yep, looks like it was a case of rogue politicking by Mr. Bruinooge: "Harper stiff-arms talk of reopening abortion debate." Or, we'll also accept "slow news week" for $200, Alex.  

It's always fascinating to watch the tension over such issues occasionally and publicly erupt within the Conservative party.  The ongoing need to keep the lid on those within the party that can do damage to their electoral fortunes is, well, an ongoing reminder of why a majority has been and will be difficult to attain for the Conservative folk in the near future.  

Besides, as the Citizen report notes, there's more difficulty on the horizon for the Conservatives, as party members voted to resuscitate a version of C-484 at their recent policy convention.  But the Justice ministry didn't want to comment earlier today about any new legislation in this area, despite Justice Minister Nicholson's August promise to bring forward a bill "..that would make pregnancy an aggravating factor for judges to consider when sentencing in assault cases."  Could be tense.  So while it certainly looks like the Conservatives are distancing themselves mightily from Bruinooge and his front page attention getting "crusader" billing, I'd say, stay tuned...

How to flog

Just passing on this piece that I came across some time in the last week that makes some good points on blogging, albeit that some of it is from an American perspective that has to be factored in: "How to Blog," by Farhad Manjoo, Slate Magazine.  It's also just a good old fashioned reminder to have a point, have fun and doggone it, write properly!  

There you go, enjoy or ignore at your leisure.  

Governor General says work together

I don't think it's a stretch to say that the Governor General's New Year message is pointed right at the occupant of the house that is just down the street from Rideau Hall:
As a new year dawns, we are filled with a renewed sense of hope. The days, weeks and months ahead may be whatever we imagine them to be and will be whatever we make of them.

But let us be realistic: the challenges are considerable and have caused a great deal of anxiety. This past year came to a close with the announcement of a global recession—one from which we are not immune—while an unprecedented political crisis shook the country. In December, the number of our soldiers killed in Afghanistan surpassed 100, and the entire country shares the pain of those tragic losses.

What these recent events bring to light is how important it is for us to work together—nations, governments, societies, businesses, organizations, individuals, side by side. The “fend for yourself” mentality has no place in an interdependent world, where the decisions of some have a profound impact on the lives of others; where our fates are inextricably linked. Today, I am calling for greater solidarity between us.

Given the magnitude of the challenges before us, the time has come for us to invent new ways of living together. It is up to us to seize that opportunity. It is in this spirit that my husband Jean-Daniel Lafond, our daughter Marie-Éden and our entire team join us in wishing everyone a year filled with promise and possibilities. (emphasis added)

Michaëlle Jean
Earth to Harper...do we think he'll be getting the meaning of this? Interesting sprinkling of words that encourage cooperation here: "together" (twice), "interdependent," "inextricably linked," "solidarity." Could be too much for Harper to compute.

Fun to speculate as to some greater meaning behind these words from the GG. As in, if you fail to work together, given the magnitude of the challenges facing us, I'll turn to someone who will indeed be capable of inventing a new way for the Canadian parliament to work together. That "fend for yourself" comment is a very intriguing one as well.

Or maybe it's just me...:)

Lightning rod

More in the Globe this morning, front page to boot, on Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge's mission: "'Pro-life' debate gains modern crusader." Front page. That's an awful lot of attention for an issue Harper supposedly doesn't want his party reopening. Bruinooge is confirming that there is indeed some secret society up there on Parliament Hill:
The abortion debate is about to enter a "new era" of advocacy for the rights of the unborn, says a Conservative MP who recently took over the chairmanship of a secretive, parliamentary anti-abortion caucus.

The all-party caucus will publicize what it views as inadequate abotion regulation, and push for legislation to restrict abortions, Winnipeg MP Rod Bruinooge said in an interview.
Well, since they are MP's and all, I would hope that this secrecy charade will soon go by the wayside. It's a little too 007-ish, bordering on ridiculous. So if this "caucus" does become public, it will be interesting to see which MP's stick with Bruinooge's push given some of the language he's used in this Globe report and the CP report yesterday. It's not exactly the stuff of quality advocacy what with the sideshow talk about kidneys. Plus Bruinooge seems like a bit of a "lightning rod," pardon the pun:
Mr. Bruinooge said that his party leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is well aware that he is involved in a campaign to advocate for precisely what Mr. Harper does not want to see - the reopening of the abortion debate.

"I'm under no illusions that this is going to be an easy course," Mr. Bruinooge said. "There are some parties that suppress pro-life thinking. There could be consequences for those MPs in other parties. I know there have been some political parties that have chosen to remove their members for having a certain philosophical viewpoint."
Remove their members for their stance on this issue? No examples are coming to mind on that score. I'm not sure Bruinooge's helping his cause with this characterization that immediately stakes out this "secretive" caucus as martyrs who could be subjected to punishment in "other parties." He's walking a fine line here. It's also a rich spectacle to hear a Conservative speaking about "other parties" suppressing viewpoints. That's the Conservative specialty.

As stated last night, it's odd timing and more importantly, those "other parties" are decidedly and majoritarily pro-choice. With his publicity push, Bruinooge could be helping to put the kibosh on his secret movement's efforts before it ever makes a splash.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Year-end blogging beefs

Don't like year-end lists? Well, here's one that is totally self-indulgent for Canadian bloggers. In no particular order and since the mood struck me...and some other thoughts below...

The beefs:

1. The National Post's "Full Comment" page. What a strange page. Specifically, the idiotic decision to put the author's name in the title of the post and include who "posted" the article directly underneath, leading one to ask, perpetually, huh? Who wrote it? Who cares who posted it unless that person authored the piece? And why do they continue to engage in this lame-brained practice that no other news organization does? Do us a favour, yellow beast, and cease and desist. Use a title of the post and place the author's name underneath. That's all any semi-conscious being needs, thank you...

2. CanWest's article layouts are a continuing annoyance. See here, for example. Hopelessly scrunched to the left with all that white space to the right on your screen just going to waste. Text always too small, always must enlarge. Photo, e-mail, printer links on left interfere with text of article. And try to find a news feed for the main page, good luck on that.

3. Bloggers and news sources that do not time stamp their posts or reports. That just list their items by date. CanWest is again an offender here. How is one to know how long the post has been up? Has it been up for an hour or 18 hours? Two days? Makes a difference in the fast-paced blogosphere, don't ya know.

4. Blogger's spell check is still comically highlighting words like "internet," "bloggers" and "blogosphere," prompting you with an error highlight whenever you use such words. Bloggers? They suggest "loggers," "floggers" and "blockers!" They might want to think about an update to their Blogger spell-check system to account for such strange and foreign word intrusions into the English language. It is their business, after all.

5. Google's French to English translation. Convenient, yes, but an abomination, absolutely. They typically get the masculine and feminine mixed up, for example. Reading the Bernier/Couillard press was a hoot when the two were regularly referred to as "it" as opposed to "he" or "she."

6. Maybe this is just me, but I doubt it. Firefox crashing more than the 2008 stock markets. In the middle of writing a post, that's the best. Disabled ad-block, doesn't matter. Still crashing. At least Blogger saves your post pretty much up to the minute but there are those occasions where it misses a few precious minutes. Doh!

7. The use of that "Snap" technology on blogs to show a pop-up window of a link to another page. Interferes with the ability to see the text of the paragraph you're reading, is often slow to load. What does this feature add, in any event? A micro picture of the site to which you might go that is unreadable anyway?

8. SiteMeter adding those cruise ship/vacation-to-go ads at the top and right of the screen that make the act of perusing one's stats hopelessly slowed down these days. What is it, flash that makes them slow? When a blogger wants to get in and get out to see just when the Privy Council Office has been by, they're making it awfully annoying. Oh, and get ready for this:
We are anxiously looking forward to next year and the opportunity to re-release our new stats tools and reports. We plan to more than redeem ourselves.
Other than the awfully intrusive ads, on the whole I like it just as it is. Let's hope they don't muck it up the way they did in September.

That's it on the beef end. A lot of the above are petty irritations, anyway.

The good:

For the most part, this has been a quite fascinating year to blog within. And rewarding. Thank you to all those who email with their contributions, thoughts, solidarity and good wishes. Here's a passage that kind of sums it up:
Alone in front of a computer, at any moment, are two people: a blogger and a reader. The proximity is palpable, the moment human—whatever authority a blogger has is derived not from the institution he works for but from the humanness he conveys. This is writing with emotion not just under but always breaking through the surface. It renders a writer and a reader not just connected but linked in a visceral, personal way. The only term that really describes this is friendship. And it is a relatively new thing to write for thousands and thousands of friends.

Bruinooge going rogue?

Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge apparently feels quite unencumbered in speaking to the media these days: "New chairman of pro-life Parliamentary caucus pushing to reopen abortion debate." Given the cone of silence under which most Conservative MP's must operate, this tells you something about what Bruinooge, for instance, thinks of such party norms at the moment. He seems to think it's high time to start pushing a divisive issue, in the midst of an economic crisis. What must the PMO be thinking about this? And why would Bruinooge speak out now, likely to the great irritation of Harper? Could it be that Harper's losing that iron-fisted control over the caucus? If you read the CP report today, sure sounds like a possibility:
The new chairman of a secretive pro-life Parliamentary caucus is pledging to rekindle the abortion debate in Canada and bring "more value" to the lives of unborn children.

Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he's not interested in reopening the divisive issue, Winnipeg MP Rod Bruinooge told The Canadian Press people need to be better educated about Canada's abortion stance, which he says puts the country in a "class of its own."
There's more "wisdom" from Bruinooge in the report that you can peruse for yourself as he apparently feels that now is the time to educate we Canadians and women, in particular, on what Rod feels needs changing in terms of what women should be able to do with their bodies.

This comes at an interesting moment. As the auto industry's teetering, Canadians' savings are dwindling and our federal members are supposed to be all hands on deck with an economic stimulus, Bruinooge is otherwise preoccupied. Bruinooge should ask the boss how the decapitation of political party funding, the banning of the federal public service's right to strike and putting the clamps on pay equity went at the end of November. Further confirmation in the form of this report that Conservatives just don't get it.

(h/t CC, DJ, C from C, UOH)

Update (6:20 p.m.): A reader writes:
As a voter in Winnipeg South I have an abiding disdain for Bruinooge. During the local election campaign to he raised the same issue in an odd & tangential way during a local interview/debate. it recieved some brief CBC radio coverage but the issue went nowhere.

I thought it was odd at the time that he would venture into this polarizing territory; all I can think now is that he really is intent on "going off the Tory reservation". Personally, I welcome his misguided tryst in this direction. It can only hurt him locally and give a social-pragmatist like myself hope that there will be one fewer Tory sitting in the HofC after the next election!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fun with numbers

Letter of the day in yesterday's Winnipeg Sun:
A 'FUDGE IT' BUDGET

Ignatieff's federal Liberals are demanding a proper accounting of the nation's finances. We know that the federal government initiated new spending of $75 billion on mortgages but those spending numbers did not show up in Harper's fiscal update a few weeks ago. We know that the federal government added $10 billion in new debt from April to June this year and those numbers did not show up either.

We know that before the last election, less than two months ago, Mr. Harper's government went on a spending spree. Harper's November fiscal update was loaded with fudge -- hence no confidence. The question now is, what's it going to be truth or another "fudge it" budget."

Eugene Parks
Victoria

Fudge will get him defeated.
What's it going to be? That's the big question...

Holiday loose ends

Two loose ends from the past few days that deserve a bit of attention.

First, Professor Errol Mendes explains why it is that Harper's Senate appointments constituted an ungainly somersault:
"Mr. Harper may have had the constitutional and legal authority to appoint the 18 senators, but given the grave concerns about his use of the Governor General and prorogation to avoid defeat in the House of Commons, legitimacy is a serious question. This avoidance of certain loss of confidence in the House of Commons triggered a constitutional crisis which will be entrenched in the history books of this country.

But the prime minister chose not to wait until he could demonstrate that he had regained the confidence of the House of Commons. This is perhaps the most serious strike against the Mr. Harper, in that he has failed to understand that the high calling of his office requires him to take care to make decisions that are not only authorized by law and the Constitution, but also have legitimacy in the eyes of those who support his party, and also across a broad Canadian consensus.

This failure will be a hallmark of his legacy."(emphasis added)
That great line, that he doesn't understand the high calling of his office and what it demands of him in terms of decisions, is an undercurrent running through the Harper government. Pick an issue that they've bungled and you'll find echoes of this theme in it.

Secondly, what must a Conservative speechwriter be thinking when they have the gall to write lines like this:
"In his annual Christmas address, Harper emphasized Canada is 'blessed' to be a democratic country '... where we resolve our differences peacefully ... and always count on the protection from a common rule of law.'"
The PM who fled from a confidence vote, hiding behind the skirts of the Governor General, speaking at year's end of the blessings of life in a democratic country. Just wanted to point that out. You know, for the irony, and all...

Death penalty inconsistency

The Harper government appears to be scrambling now to intervene on behalf of the Kohail brothers who are facing execution in Saudi Arabia, one brother thought to be subject to execution by February.
The family of a Quebec man sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia said they are disappointed so far with efforts by the Canadian government to intervene in their case.
Recall that Stockwell Day had been involved in intervening with this case back in March, clearly to no avail. Now Obhrai is on the case:
Canadian Parliamentary Secretary Deepak Obhrai met with the Saudi minister of justice and other senior Saudi officials last week during a trip to the Middle Eastern country.
A diplomatic note has also been sent by our embassy to the Saudi government, one of the highest means of intervention. Here's Obhrai on CBC yesterday. It seems notable that the Harper government has decided to give a higher profile to this case and their efforts at the moment. But note that Obhrai is just the Parliamentary Secretary. Why Foreign Affairs Minister Cannon was not dispatched, if we were going to send someone to meet with the Saudi minister of justice and other officials there, is not clear.

One has to further wonder about the inconsistency the Harper government has shown to the world on its death penalty stance and how this affects their credibility in the eyes of foreign governments when they make efforts such as they are presently making in the Kohail case. The Canadian government's position on the death penalty was recently summed up this way in oral arguments in a federal court case:
"Canada will not intervene in clemency applications by a Canadian facing a capital sentence in a democratic country that honours the rule of law."
So, they've effectively taken the position that it's OK to execute some Canadians abroad but not others, depending on the legal processes afforded to the Canadians in trouble. I wrote in March what this meant: "The Canadian facing execution in Montana is not worthy of the government's help. Yet the Canadian facing execution in Saudi Arabia is. It's nonsensical inconsistent policy from our government, a departure from decades of consistent opposition to the executions of Canadians abroad, no matter where they may be and no matter the offence for which they've been convicted. When the government starts picking and choosing which Canadians will get its help, we're in trouble. "

The Conservative positioning on the death penalty for Canadians abroad can't be helping matters much at all at the moment. We look inconsistent and by our very act of now seeking to intervene, we're saying to the Saudis that they fall into the class of countries that Canada deems intervention worthy. That their system of justice is not reputable. That may very well be, but you have to wonder about how it impacts the case at hand.

Hopefully, the intervention in Saudi Arabia will produce results. Having young Canadians beheaded in Saudi Arabia would be tragic.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all

For those out there who are still trolling the blogs on Christmas day and in a contemplative mood, I suggest this reading material. This article, happily, just came online two days ago, "Justice after Bush: Prosecuting an outlaw administration," by Scott Horton, published in the December issue of Harper's. The intro and a few other excerpts:
Americans may wish to avoid what is necessary. We may believe that concerns about presidential lawbreaking are naive. That all presidents commit crimes. We may pretend that George W. Bush and his senior officers could not have committed crimes significantly worse than those of their predecessors. We may fear what it would mean to acknowledge such crimes, much less to punish them. But avoiding this task, simply “moving on,” is not possible.

This administration did more than commit crimes. It waged war against the law itself. It transformed the Justice Department into a vehicle for voter suppression, and it also summarily dismissed the U.S. attorneys who attempted to investigate its wrongdoing. It issued wartime contracts to substandard vendors with inside connections, and it also defunded efforts to police their performance. It spied on church groups and political protesters, and it also introduced a sweeping surveillance program that was so clearly illegal that virtually the entire senior echelon of the Justice Department threatened to (but did not in fact) tender their resignations over it. It waged an illegal and disastrous war, and it did so by falsely representing to Congress and to the American public nearly every piece of intelligence it had on Iraq. And through it all, as if to underscore its contempt for any authority but its own, the administration issued more than a hundred carefully crafted “signing statements” that raised pervasive doubt about whether the president would even accede to bills that he himself had signed into law.

No prior administration has been so systematically or so brazenly lawless. Yet it is no simple matter to prosecute a former president or his senior officers. There is no precedent for such a prosecution, and even if there was, the very breadth and audacity of the administration’s activities would make the process so complex as to defy systems of justice far less fragmented than our own. But that only means choices must be made. Indeed, in weighing the enormity of the administration’s transgressions against the realistic prospect of justice, it is possible to determine not only the crime that calls most clearly for prosecution but also the crime that is most likely to be successfully prosecuted. In both cases, that crime is torture.
...
Open criminality is a cancer on democracy.
...
Pursuing the Bush Administration for crimes long known to the public may amount to a kind of hypocrisy, but it is a necessary hypocrisy. The alternative, simply doing nothing, not only ratifies torture; it ratifies the failure of the people to control the actions of their government.
It will be interesting to see what is done, if anything, by the Obama administration. To do nothing would seem antithetical to the principles and spirit Obama symbolizes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Now that's the spirit of the season...

"Tory aide tried to scuttle Hanukah event, school says."
While the holiday season is traditionally a time of celebration and peace for Jews and Christians, a Tory staffer is facing accusations she launched a partisan battle against the Liberals over a Hanukah ceremony at a school for disabled children.

On Sunday, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff attended a menorah lighting ceremony at Toronto's Zareinu Educational Centre, but according to organizers, a Conservative aide tried to shut the event down and block Ignatieff from attending.

Georganne Burke, an aide to Industry Minister Tony Clement, also insinuated that having Ignatieff at the ceremony could endanger the school's federal funding, according to event organizer Gary Gladstone.

"I am advising you that Georganne Burke called me this evening at about 10:30 pm (on Sunday) enraged, advising me for the benefit of the Jewish community the menorah lighting should be cancelled," Gladstone wrote in an email obtained by CTV News.

"(Burke) further went on to say that she felt it would do serious damage to Zareinu to have the event there," he said in the email.

Rabbi Mendy Zirkind, who arranged Iganitieff's appearance, said that Conservative MP Peter Kent was also invited to the event. However, Burke still did everything in her power to try and stop the event from occurring, Zirkind added.
Sigh...

Update: CC reminded me (thx) that this would not be the first time Conservatives would have threatened an organization if Ignatieff appeared. Recall the Guergis incident in May of this year when Ignatieff's planned attendance at a library in her riding was thought to be the cause of reported threats to pull the library's funding.

Could be an interesting year for Mr. Ignatieff and his many travels across Canada...he seems to upset the Conservatives mightily.

And needless to say, this kind of nonsense is just one of many good reasons to make 2009 a Harper free Canada. That would be a very good thing.

Government-backed loans for auto buyers?

Mr. Parks' plan to solve the auto industry mess:
The crises in the automotive industry puts five per cent of the North American economy at immediate risk. At stake are not just the vehicle producers but also parts suppliers, the distribution and financing networks and their workers.

The Bush-Harper automotive plan offers loans to restructure the producers' debt with the goal of an orderly transition to new corporate owners. Naturally, financial markets reacted badly to the Bush-Harper plan because nobody wins, except perhaps the new owners, whoever they may be.

An effective assistance package could, and would, address the entire sector of the economy.

Consumers should be offered government-backed loans to purchase vehicles, in effect extending the CMHC insuring of mortgages to financial institutions to vehicles.

Taxes from both employers and employees and savings in unemployment payments should be diverted to assist workers and stabilize the workforce. During the financial crises, supplier and credit payments need to be guaranteed.

As matters stand, Harper and Bush are demanding that a barely functioning credit system take more losses

My plan would, if adopted, address the entire North American automobile industry.

In contrast, the Bush-Harper plan serves precious few other than the new owners of the automotive industry. Nearly everyone else loses.

Eugene Parks
Victoria, B.C.
Food for thought, as always...

If we must...

Thanks, Lulu, on Christmas Eve as I'm scrambling to get out the door...:) OK, I'll bite:
It’s simple. Just list all the jobs you’ve had in your life, in order. Don’t bust your brain: no durations or details are necessary, and feel free to omit anything that you feel might tend to incriminate you. I’m just curious. And when you’re done, tag another five bloggers you’re curious about.
Mother's helper
Babysitter
Fast food slave
Restaurant take-out person
Carpet cleaning company secretary/receptionist (about 3 summers)
Student government hack
Rogers Cantel office employee
Law firm summer student
Legal researcher
Articling student
Lawyer
Law Instructor
Consultant/Strategist extraordinaire (or very ordinary??!!)
Pesky Blogger
Harper opponent (yes, I count that as a job, it's not always fun...:))

There...now you know barely more!

I tag no one. That's my Christmas gift to the blogging community...:)

Pressing their luck

Apparently CSIS is going to need a few more slap downs:
Canada's spy service has ceased tapping calls between lawyers and suspected foreign terrorists detained under national security certificates in light of a judge's ruling in one four such cases, an agency spokesman said Tuesday.

However, it would be up to each judge presiding over the three other cases to formally decide whether the service should resume monitoring such solicitor-client calls, said John Dunn, with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. (emphasis added)
Well, I'm sure it's just a matter of time before Mr. Dunn will hear from those judges as well given that all lawyers in these cases have been described as "incensed."  It's likely that the result will be the same, that they're to stop breaching solicitor-client privilege.  The first court order should have been a pretty firm indication to them to give it up.  Instead, they seem bent on pressing the boundaries here, feigning ignorance of the obvious protected nature of solicitor-client calls:
A government official suggested the conflicting point of view was based on a different understanding of what had been consented to.

"We did assume that it was all communications," a government official, who asked not to be identified, said Tuesday.

"I guess on the other side it was assumed it didn't include all communications but on our side it was (assumed it did)."
And that is the problem. One assumption is reasonable and justifiable.  The other is unreasonable and offensive to a paramount legal right. They're not equivalent "oopsie" assumptions, despite the remarkable spectacle of CSIS spinning their breaching of solicitor-client privilege.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas, Canadians!

More deficity goodness from those wise fiscal managers, the Harper Conservatives. And remember, this is built up prior to any stimulus spending they undertake: "Ottawa books October deficit of $600-million." My those election comments were but a sham...but we well know that at this point.

Off to do my part for the struggling Canadian economy...last minute traffic-tied shopping in the bustling, lightly snowing metropolis. It isn't Christmas if it isn't last minute...:)

A memo to Harper

"Memo to Harper: Save GM," from the nation's busiest letter writer, making a personal appeal on getting help for the auto industry:
I think it's fair to say that I'm an expert on the automotive industry. My family worked at General Motors. My breakfast and dental work was literally paid for by GM. As a university student, I worked for GM. As an entrepreneur, I created software that is at the heart of GM research. As an industrial scientist, I've prepared companies for automotive audits.

As a DirecTV designer, GM's senior VP has discussed with me how GM's billion dollar investment in the new High Definition (HDTV) technology was progressing. Today, every time Shaw cable works on my PVR, I smile when they explain the TV programming guide to me. I wrote the design specs for GM/DirecTV's guide over a decade ago, so it's amusing to have one of my creations explained.

I've also been in a serious car accident with a GM vehicle. Today, I see siblings, cousins, in-laws and friends losing their automotive jobs and their pensions at risk.

Here are the three things I would change about the auto industry, if I were in the federal government.

One, go green. Two, stop the wild fluctuations of the Canadian dollar. Three, get Stephen Harper's head out of the sand, and stop thinking in ideological terms. Get him to help.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians face economic tragedy. Mr. Harper needs to look for directions. He should ask for input from those of us who understand things industrial. We know what to do.

Eugene Parks, Victoria.
Compelling appeal. Unfortunately for us, signs indicate that Mr. Harper is not stopping to ask for directions from those who can help, he's jettisoning them.

Tuesday morning notes...

Just a few things this morning...

1. Peter Russell describes the Harper Supreme Court appointment announced yesterday as a "stumblebum" process. Heh...:) I guess that's a bit of an improvement over "authoritarian," Russell's other well-known term to describe Mr. Harper's style of governing.

2. Oh, so the plan was to nominate the opposite of "luminaries" to the Senate...well, that should please all the appointees today. So respectful of our institutions, this clever chess master, this must be why his base is expanding so handily....um, forget that.

3. Duffy in dreamland yesterday:
"There's nothing wrong with being a Conservative. They're a fine group. And so are the Liberals," he said, noting that he's received congratulatory e-mails from Liberals and New Democrats. "So I don't think I have any apologies to make on that score."
Reality:
Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch said appointing journalists who cover Parliament Hill raises questions about the independence of the media.

"I wouldn't think any journalist would want those questions raised," he said.
One would think...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Senate-palooza notes

Just a few notes then off to dinner...

1. Check out this headline,"Harper makes history by naming 18 senators in one day," putting the appropriate stamp on the day. For fun, click on the picture of Duffy and drag it to your desktop. Then read the label some CP or canoe staffer affixed to it...:)

2. A few points from this Canwest report. With respect to Marjory LeBreton's points...
Conservative Senator Leader Majory LeBreton said in an interview Mr. Harper will fill another 11 vacancies by the end of 2009, bringing the Conservative total to 49. Eight Liberal seats will become vacant by retirements during the year.

Ms. LeBreton said the 49-50 split, with six independents, will make passage of Senate reform likelier as soon as the end of 2009.
Remember that there is opposition in the provinces to Senate reform of the variety Harper is proposing, so to turn the Senate is but one leg of many that need to be in favour. Secondly, 18 Senators today, plus 11 more in 2009 and throw in Bert Brown and that will be 30 Senate appointments from Mr. minority parliament PM since 2006 (not counting Fortier, who's gone). A historic frenzy of patronage from a politician so steeped in Reform roots. Well done.

Also from the Canwest report, this is awfully young for a Senate appointment:
Patrick Brazeau became the youngest person, at age 34, to get a Senate appointment. He is the leader of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, a strong supporter of the Harper government who frequently challenges the Assembly of First Nations headed by Phil Fontaine.
34.

Finally from this report, a reminder of how much this will cost, in comparison to say the $30 million or so Harper wanted to cut from political parties in his economic update:
...the 18 new senators would reap about $50 million in pay and perks over their eight-year appointments...
3. And one last thought for this post...what does this say about CTV at the moment? That one of its highest profile television journalists so soon after an election accepts one of the highest profile political patronage positions that there is, as a Conservative Senator. CTV will wear this and it does not speak well of a supposedly independent journalistic enterprise. The questions about quid pro quos are obvious. Look back at this incident then today's appointment, and irrespective of any linkage, the appearance is there. It's not good.

Harper's separatist appointment to the Senate

A day of monumental hypocrisy for Mr. Harper.

While Conservative Senator Mike Duffy is getting the lion's share of attention today (nothing more needs to be said beyond using the new title), there should be as much directed toward the pick of Michel Rivard from Quebec. Rivard was a PQ member of the National Assembly at the time of the 1995 Quebec referendum.
Élu député du Parti québécois dans Limoilou en 1994. Délégué régional de la région de Québec du 26 septembre 1994 au 29 janvier 1996, et adjoint parlementaire du ministre responsable de la région de Québec du 29 janvier 1996 au 28 octobre 1998. Défait en 1998.
For Mr. Harper to award a Senate seat to a person who was committed to and worked on the Yes side of that referendum is something that deserves a little scrutiny. Is he trying to "walk back" from his rhetoric of the past few weeks that has damaged significantly his electoral fortunes in Quebec by sending a message with this appointment? Whatever the motivation, not the best judgment on display here.

(h/t to the Jurist who picked up on the Rivard point as well)

Merry Christmas, Trois-Rivieres!

And the finest of the season to you this Christmas week: "Electing Bloc MP may have cost town $2-million subsidy."

With love,

the Harper Conservatives

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Taxpayer tab for Conservative in-and-out scheme litigation over $1 million

Another reminder of the Harper Conservatives' wise use of taxpayer funds, the latest tally for the in-and-out litigation in which the Conservatives are suing Elections Canada and we the taxpayer are picking up the tab: "Legal fees mount in Tory case against Elections Canada." The report notes a judge in the litigation getting testy over Conservative wrangling causing expense to the public. Interesting.
...total costs for the dispute have likely risen to at least $1.4 million, including the undisclosed litigation costs for the Conservatives.
Merry Christmas, Canadians!

Subprime mortgage godfather

Apropos of recent scrutiny of our own mortgage experimentation courtesy of the Harper Conservatives, an article in the NY Times today on how the U.S. got to its own subprime mortgage meltdown: "Bush’s Philosophy Stoked the Mortgage Bonfire." Interesting characterization of Bush's efforts from the report:
Concerned that down payments were a barrier, Mr. Bush persuaded Congress to spend up to $200 million a year to help first-time buyers with down payments and closing costs.

And he pushed to allow first-time buyers to qualify for federally insured mortgages with no money down. Republican Congressional leaders and some housing advocates balked, arguing that homeowners with no stake in their investments would be more prone to walk away, as Mr. West did. Many economic experts, including some in the White House, now share that view. (emphasis added)
All of which sounds familiar to us given the Harper Conservatives having brought the 40-year zero down mortgage to Canada along with U.S. competitors.  And closing costs, you say? Interesting.  Our guy was trying that in September.  Way late in the game and as the Globe has revealed, after people had their hair on fire about the mortgage market, behind the scenes. 

There's much more in the Times report, including the usual complaints, cronies, lax oversight, faith in the unbridled enthusiasm of the free market, preoccupation with various wars to the neglect of domestic issues, etc., all of which led to...meltdown.  

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Groundhog day

Serious versus unserious. That is the dynamic that could very well be shaping up as Ignatieff muses about a far off possible hike in the GST and Conservatives start dreaming up attack ads in their peanut brains: "Liberals say they might hike sales taxes." First of all, Ignatieff didn't commit to anything in that interview, let's be clear. He simply said you can't rule out the possibility of a tax hike, including for example the GST, down the road if we have massive deficits. That's it.

But let's entertain the notion in terms of the political dynamics it would likely unleash anyway. The main question that people will have to decide, it seems to me, is whether they want to have serious discussions about economic policy that are based on the views of respected economists and responsible government budgeting. Such discussions, when faced with burgeoning national deficits, would very likely have to include putting on the federal government's agenda the possibility of tax hikes. If we don't want to have serious discussions about issues, then I suppose we can just bury our heads and continue to buy into the kind of cartoon politics that the Conservatives have resorted to over the past few years. The kind that has brought us the defamation of Stephane Dion, talking oil splotches, slot machines and sweater vests. I have a hunch that in the next federal election, there's not going to be too much of an appetite for more of that kind of politics, the unserious kind. Namely because we've seen too much of it now and it turns out, not surprisingly, it's just not true and it's a waste of our time. You can put on a sweater vest, but that doesn't make you a compassionate individual or a leader worth following in times of economic crisis. He turns out to be an uber-vacillator who really doesn't know what he's doing and who tries to strangle his political opponents at the first opportunity he gets. That's the kind of record the Conservatives are running up after having bought power with the advertising campaign of the past few years. We can see what all those ads have brought us. Good luck trying to wrap that up in a sweater vest again.

And secondly, we're likely getting much closer to the vibe that just played out in the U.S. election. When the country's looking at $30 billion deficits, that tends to cause people to think a little beyond the latest tv attack ad. Times are tough. The Conservative attack shtick is small and irrelevant in comparison. It's been estimated that the two-cent GST cut brought in by the Harper Conservatives will gut the nation's finances to the tune of $60 billion over the next five years. $60 billion. When stacked up against burgeoning deficits, it looks like a pretty irresponsible choice. The ground has shifted.

An unprecedented auto industry bailout, talk of a "depression" courtesy of the Prime Minister himself, warnings about home defaults likely to increase due in no small part to the Harper Conservatives and their experimenting in the mortgage market...and Conservatives are getting giddy about the prospect of attacking the opposition on tax hikes. If that happens, it'll be like the arsonist making fun of the fire brigade for bringing a hose.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lightening up

Why did I find myself laughing heartily through parts of this CP report of an interview they conducted with Michael Ignatieff? Well, there was this:
Ignatieff, a former Harvard academic, has faced charges of elitism before, in part due to his aristocratic family background, his patrician manner and high-flown rhetorical flourishes.

He raised a few eyebrows at his first news conference as leader last week, when he referred to "the year of our Lord, 2008" and the West as "the beating economic heart of our country's future." But Ignatieff urged his critics to "lighten up."

"I think it's important for a politician to communicate clearly and accessibly to everybody but it's also important to have a little fun with the way you choose words and use words. I mean, otherwise we'll all die of boredom." (emphasis added)
Don't know about you but I found that line hilarious. Then there was the special way of referring to the Harper Conservatives (with emphasis on the good parts):
"The boys who gave us the autumn (fiscal) statement could easily give us a terrible budget and any responsible politician who wants to protect the national interest has to keep the coalition hanging over these people's heads so they clearly understand they can't make that same stupid mistake a second time."
The key I think is that it's an absolutely legitimate point but done in a manner that is skillfully and appropriately disparaging without being too insulting. That's what makes it fun.

Some strategic positioning:
"I think it's important not to put a dollar figure out there because, you know, there's a wide range of respectable economic opinion about that question," he said.

"I don't want to be pinned to, it's got to be this billion or that billion and if it isn't, then . . . That's just not the way to make responsible economic policy."
...
"I said to Mr. Harper that we have a problem of trust and we have a problem of confidence - confidence in the constitutional sense and confidence in the human sense. We do have a problem of trust but it's up to him to fix it. I didn't start this problem. He did."
Forgive me a little cheerleading here, it's been a while. These latter statements have the effect of keeping the onus on Harper, I know, what a concept. With the full spotlight on him, Harper's going to be a lot more, ahem, exposed. The last few years have seen Harper escape much scrutiny by always succeeding in making people look at Liberal disarray. It's not going to be nearly as easy now, is what such interviews confirm.

Plus, it seems like it's going to be kind of fun...:)

CSIS caught red-handed, caves


Well that was quick: "Spies to stop wiretapping lawyers." Immediately upon being found out, CSIS agrees to stop listening in on solicitor-client communications. Not even an attempt at an argument made to the judge by CSIS:
Canada's spy agency agreed Thursday to cease listening to privileged conversations between certain terrorism suspects and their defence lawyers, resolving the issue almost as quickly as it emerged from behind the curtain of secrecy.

In two Federal Court hearings this week, it was revealed that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been taping protected solicitor-client conversations. Although such snooping would be clearly unacceptable in most conventional areas of the law, it popped up in the context of Canada's controversial (and evolving) security certificate law.
...
The disclosure spawned a cease-desist-and-delete defence motion, which in turn led a federal official to tell the court the spy service has no problem with turning off its tape recorders whenever lawyers call in the future.

“That's fine M'Lady,” CSIS lawyer Jim Mathieson said in a conference call from Ottawa. Offering no resistance, he told Madam Justice Carolyn Layden-Stevenson that CSIS would happily hang up on future conversations “once the nature of the communication is known” to involve any defence counsel.
Oh yes, just a sunny, that's fine, okey dokey...like nothing has transpired. In caving so quickly, they have essentially acknowledged that they didn't have a leg to stand on by listening in to these privileged calls. One would have expected to hear some kind of legal argument from CSIS when caught to muster some kind of justification for it. Some rationale for having committed such an overtly improper act. Nope, nada. Begging the question, then why were they doing it in the first place? And for over eighteen months?
Late Thursday, Layden-Stevenson issued an order to the spy agency to cease intercepting such calls and to delete any they inadvertently record.
If CSIS doesn't know that "...centuries of legal precedent would make it obvious to government agents that they had to put down their earphones once lawyers called...", then this should be a wake-up call to our elected representatives. Clearly, CSIS needs to be told. It's an indication that CSIS, in executing the security certificate provisions involved here need much better oversight than they've had to date and perhaps some amendments to the process need to be considered. This little exercise has demonstrated that they are clearly willing to push the limits of what is permissible by breaking solicitor-client communications. Makes you wonder what other limits they are pushing as well.

Just sayin'...

Harper quoted in the Globe today, from that CTV year-end interview coming this weekend:
"“Never underestimate the resilience of the American economy and the American people. The Americans did not get on top of this world for no reason.”"
Well that's awfully glowing and reassuring for Americans. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in this present economic mess, I don't recall him speaking about Canada so forcefully and clearly in an interview.

That is all...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Canadian government breaching solicitor-client privilege

A clear violation of solicitor-client privilege by the Canadian government is uncovered: "CSIS monitoring calls between suspects and their lawyers."
Canada's spy service has been listening to telephone conversations between terrorism suspects and their lawyers for the past 18 months as part of a strict monitoring program developed by the government.

The revelation today enraged defense lawyers who argue that intercepting these calls breaches the fundamental right of solicitor-client privilege.

"I feel as though my house was broken into," said Toronto lawyer Barb Jackman. "It's incredibly invasive."
...
On Wednesday, a senior agent with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service testified in a secret Ottawa hearing that the agency was monitoring calls on behalf of the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Justice Carolyn Layden-Stevenson released a two-page public summary of the testimony this morning in a Toronto courtroom. It noted that calls to lawyers are monitored, "to the extent of being satisfied that the communication does not involve a potential breach of the terms of release or a threat to national security."
More in the Globe that gives additional context to the wiretapping. A free and democratic society does not breach the solicitor-client privilege, no matter what the justification. Allow this breach and there are a host of others that could follow. Not to mention the violation of a defendant's abilities to make a full defence to the charges at hand. We don't need to be pursuing the U.S. Guantanamoesque strategy where basic principles underlying our legal system are sacrificed in the name of pursuing terror suspects. Hopefully, the judge in the case will grant the order being sought by counsel seeking to halt the eavesdropping on such calls and secondly, that this publicity will spawn a backlash against the government's tactics here.

Drip, drip, drip...

More on the 40 year mortgage/zero down mess in the Globe today: "Warnings about risky mortgages ignored." From the report:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced in July that the federal government was cancelling its policy of guaranteeing 40-year mortgages as of Oct. 15 in order to shield Canada from the kind of housing crash that has devastated the U.S. economy. However, according to sources, bank executives had been warning Mr. Flaherty and central bank officials since the beginning of 2008 about a dramatic and unexpected increase in demand from consumers for 40-year mortgages with small down payments.

Lenders, insurers and government officials interviewed by The Globe characterized the first half of 2008 as a period of apparent paralysis by federal decision makers. These sources said bank and insurance executives and finance officials disagreed over how to pull the plug on popular and risky mortgage products. One of the few things they did agree about, according to sources, was that there was insufficient monitoring of CMHC, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the total value of mortgage insurance underwritten in Canada. (emphasis added)
Harper, October 7, 2008:
In the U.S., they are still responding to the fallout of the sub-prime mortgage mess. In Canada, we acted early over the past year.

We acted earlier to further strengthen our banking disclosures, transparency and regulation.

We acted earlier to trim excesses in the mortgage market, by reducing the 40-year mortgage to 35 years and requiring a minimum down payment of five per cent for new government-backed mortgages.
Doesn't sound like they acted as early as they're telling us.

CMHC is not disclosing how much of the mortgages it insures are of the 40-year/zero down type. The report describes CMHC as having had no choice but to get into these risky products due to the opening up of the market to U.S. competitors and concerns they would be privatized, both courtesy of the Harper Conservatives. Minister Finley, responsible for CMHC, shockingly not answering questions.

Looking like a huge sleeper issue in the next election.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Harper suddenly on board with 21 new seats for Ontario

Political machinations during prorogation: "Ontario to get 21 more seats in Commons: McGuinty." A refresher on recent trends in Ontario:
Conservative share of vote in Ontario in 2006: 35.1% = 40 seats.
Conservative share of vote in Ontario in 2008: 39.2% = 51 seats.
We are now in a parliamentary position where 12 additional seats are necessary for a Harper majority. Not that circumstances will be in any way easier for Mr. Harper next time out given that his Liberal opponent has changed. And he's provided conclusive evidence of late that he is not to be trusted with a majority. And he may very well lose seats in Quebec. But the number of citizens who were prepared to buy into the "coup" rhetoric was disturbing. So for the Harper team, hope remains ever eternal.

So we get word today from Dalton McGuinty that yes, Ontario will get the seats it deserves as the House of Commons makeup is updated. A proposition that should have been a no-brainer when the matter was first raised. Instead, at the time, we had Harper minister Van Loan calling McGuinty the "small man of confederation" for having the audacity to make the justified 21 seat request. Now McGuinty says Harper agreed to the proper Ontario seat distribution last week (Friday). Is it any coincidence that Harper suddenly gets on side with the basic democratic proposition as he mulls an election in the next six months or so, a possibility made all the more real by events of the last month? As he weighs his political future? Now that it may be politically advantageous for Harper to add those seats in Ontario, of course it's happening. The timing says it all.

Watch for this to become a legislative priority for the Harper Conservatives in the new year if the budget passes.

Now they get it

The Globe editorial board is on a bit of a roll this week, with yet another highly critical editorial of Mr. Harper: "New policies, familiar rhetoric." The board was not impressed by the CTV interview, joining a pack of us on that score:
Worse is that Mr. Harper continues to actively misrepresent the events of the past several weeks and the motives of his opponents. “We only found out [after the economic update] that they've been planning to overturn the results of the election ever since election night,” he said. In fact, there is nothing to suggest that the opposition had any prior intention of toppling the government, and the disarray the Liberals quickly fell into suggests the prospect surprised them as much as anyone.

Nor would the opposition have been “overturning the results of the election,” as Mr. Harper repeatedly alleged. Although a coalition government may be politically untenable, it would be entirely within the boundaries of parliamentary democracy – not a coup attempt, as the Conservatives continually claim.
He's also getting whacked in a separate report for his musing about a "depression" being possible. You know, for the inspiration and leadership he's providing at this time of economic hardship, being the great leader that he is, after all.

Good for the Globe for calling him out. There's really no choice when a Prime Minister is, as they put it, actively misrepresenting events and our system of government. It really is a remarkable thing to behold.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's official: Bush ran the torture presidency

If you haven't read these blog posts from the last few days, they are stellar and shocking. Two of the best writers going, commenting on last week's Senate Armed Service Committee's report on the Bush administration's involvement in torture: "The Torture Presidency" by Scott Horton of Harper's and
Glenn Greenwald's post on Monday on the same matter. The Senate Committee unanimously voted in support of its conclusions, including John McCain, recent Presidential nominee. Greenwald, for one, speaks to the surreal state of affairs where the Blagojevich circus is preoccupying the media and a report which essentially labels Bush, Rumsfeld et al. as war criminals goes largely unreported. Well, some are still giving the Bush administration fits on such matters:



Both Horton and Greenwald are must reads.

Dysfunctional

Fascinating heading of a Globe editorial today: "He's got the title - give him the job." Remarkably, the national newspaper seems to be calling for the nation's Finance Minister to be permitted to do his job by the Prime Minister. And that unless he is permitted to do so, then he can't be a strong Finance Minister that the nation needs at the moment. A catch-22 for you that presumes that Flaherty is worth the plea. Of this, I'm not so sure.
...the country needs economic leadership that goes beyond a few staff members in the Prime Minister's Office, as the government has ably demonstrated with its alternately inadequate and, yes, panicky response to the current fiscal turmoil.

Not every Finance minister will enjoy the clout of Paul Martin or even Don Mazankowski, and Mr. Flaherty has not yet been given a chance to prove that he merits it. But now more than ever, Canada needs a strong hand at Finance. He or she must have command of the department, the respect of cabinet, and the ability to speak to the public with authority on the government's fiscal policy. Mr. Flaherty does not seem to meet any of those criteria, because he apparently lacks the most important qualification of all: the confidence of the Prime Minister. (emphasis added)
This editorial has a bit of a double meaning, despite its heading. There's its argument that Flaherty has the potential to be that "strong hand" that we need but he needs to be given a chance. On the other hand, it also reads as if they're calling for him to be fired and for Harper to put someone he does have confidence in at Finance. It's not entirely clear to me.

The fact that no one is listening to Smilin' Jim and that his economic update is being totally reworked is a big hint that he's not the right guy. And Flaherty's Ontario record alone raises questions about the wisdom of giving Flaherty a stronger hand. So the fact that the national newspaper is arguing "let Jim be Jim" is a very strange thing.

Combine that editorial with this report on Conservative confusion on their economic direction, from Flaherty's "don't panic" on Friday to Clement's same day "we're moving quickly" shtick, and it's still not clear why Flaherty deserves a vote of confidence. Instead, he's portrayed as a very sorry figure in that report, as if he's a virtual puppet of the Prime Minister, powerless to do anything but his bidding. There is talk of how Flaherty should have resigned given what's happened to his economic update, "...either because they were his policies and they were rejected so firmly he had to withdraw them - or they weren't his policies and he shouldn't have allowed them in his statement."

Pretty remarkable stuff...demonstrating the dysfunctionality of the Conservative economic team at the moment. And all presented with the underlying arrow being pointed at the PM.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Giant sucking sound heard in Ottawa region

That would be the whooshing sound of Conservative Senate applications pouring into the PMO:"Hundreds of would-be senators flooding Tories with job requests." The floodgates are open and hungry, repressed Conservatives are lining up:
The Conservative government is being inundated by hundreds of applicants longing to land one of the 18 Senate spots about to be filled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The candidates are springing forward at such a sprightly pace that officials in Harper's office say they're too busy processing papers to even count how many applications they've received.
Gee, and I thought there was important business of the nation to be conducted during prorogation? The economy, no? They sound quite preoccupied with this patronage matter.
...government staffers say they're still surprised by the sheer volume of self-declared candidates.

"Suffice it to say that my boss, like most ministers, is probably shocked by the number of people emailing him to patriotically offer their service to their country by deigning to accept a Senate seat," said one political staffer.

The appetite for appointments appears to have built up over the years among Conservative partisans who doubted that such a historic patronage feast would ever arrive.
Yes, a historic patronage feast. Let's leave it at that apt characterization.

Harper at year end, not pretty

Infamous CTV guy interviews weak PM: here. As a reader puts it, "...if you're looking for evidence of change CTV has an item from the "Year End" message that shows the old Harper in full flight." I do think that's about right.

Interviewer: Are you sorry? Harper: Ramble, ramble, ramble, overturn the results of the election, ramble, ramble.

But do you regret what you did? Ramble, ramble, ramble..."sorry?" Concept does not compute.

Harper doesn't know Michael Ignatieff well. Huh. And if you believe that I've got a bridge in Alaska that Sarah Palin's building for ya...

He had no option on appointing 18 Senators, he had no choice! His "you had an option, sir" moment...:) Footage and all. I'm sure CTV wouldn't mind helping out an election ad, they certainly took their sweet time acting when Stephane was the butt of a Conservative attack using CTV footage. Defensive, defensive, defensive. So sad. "My own party wants me to do this. I'm the one who's been waiting and waiting..." "Frankly, until recently, no one was ever bugging me to get appointed to the Senate..." Frankly! There's the tell. Throw the party under the bus much there, guy?

Steve V has more on the incredible musings about his life after politics. Now if we can only send Mr. Harper on his way in 2009 and fulfill those musings. That way, we would not have to endure such interviews ever again.

Exposing Conservative mismanagement

Politics, politics, above all else for these Harper Conservatives. What do we think is wrong with this picture?
According to data released under the Access to Information Act, Ottawa has spent a total of $39.9-million so far this year in the 17 administrative regions of Quebec.

Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean clearly stands out as the main recipient, with $9.3-million in funding from Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED) since April.

The only other area that comes close to the Saguenay is the Montreal area, with $7.4-million. However, the population of Montreal, at 1.9 million, is almost seven times that of the Saguenay, which has 273,000 residents.
Saguenay being the region represented by Conservative MP Jean-Pierre Blackburn, of course. The one who bragged during the election about bringing home the bacon for his riding. Now confirmed. And to think, this is the kind of thing the Conservatives once railed about. Doesn't look like the wisest distribution of moneys for the Canadian taxpayer.

In the same vein, Brison and McCallum were today publicly pushing the Conservatives to disclose numbers and plans:
The Liberals on Monday released a letter they sent to Flaherty last week outlining their demands. Signed by Brison and McCallum, the letter asks for:

* "Honest budgetary numbers" and an updated economic forecast.
* A detailed plan on any Crown assets the government is considering selling.
* A Finance Department briefing for the parliamentary budget officer.
* A commitment to a two-year, multi-industry economic stimulus package.

The letter asks for a response from the government by Friday, Dec. 19.
The party of prorogation left itself vulnerable to such public opposition demands: "Budget consultations are normally carried out by the House of Commons finance committee, which has been prevented from meeting since the government asked for Parliament to be suspended." It's a free for all now, with no parliamentary process for the Conservatives to work within. We'll see how it goes, but to begin with, it's looking like the opposition is managing it quite well. The Conservatives are on defence for a change and appear to be acquiescing to the above demands:
Brison said Flaherty pledged to provide an updated forecast for the economy as well as a plan for selling $10 billion in government assets over five years, as demanded by the Liberals.
Tough to see how the Conservatives have a choice. The above demands are objectively reasonable. The Conservatives failed to produce substantiating numbers for their economic update, in terms of the budget surplus and the selling of Crown assets to produce that surplus. Brison and McCallum have an ally in the parliamentary budget officer in making the requests.

All in all, not where the Conservatives want to be. It's refreshing to see them being challenged like this and exposed for their weak management on economic matters. Going after their supposed strength, bit by bit.

Monday morning notes...

1. Lawrence Martin demolishes whatever credibility "Smilin' Jim" had left as Finance Minister today: "The Canadian finance minister who wasn't."
The answer to the survival question is hardly shrouded in mystery. Jim Flaherty stays because Jim Flaherty isn't really the Finance Minister.

To a degree seldom seen in Ottawa, his department has been stripped of influence. As opposed to being minister, Jim Flaherty administers. He passes along the PM's policies and directives. He's the yes guy. It's aye, aye, Prime Minister. "And what else would you care for? Coffee, doughnuts, pistachios?"
Not to totally excuse DJ, as Martin suggests. After all, if he wasn't prepared to defend the partisan horrors coming out of the PMO, he'd speak up, right?

2. If you care to have a listen, there is an interview with Michael Ignatieff on CBC's Sunday edition with Michael Enright from December 7th that's been posted to the internet. It runs about 20 minutes. If you don't care to listen to the entire interview, I would point you to this exact point where there is a very good response from Ignatieff on a question from Enright on the divisions in the country as a result of the turmoil in Ottawa. For partisans out there, including myself, it is heartening to hear a line being firmly drawn with Harper on such matters. While that may be a very simplistic kind of observation, as in of course that's what he'd do, we haven't had enough of it. Until the last few weeks, there has been too much hesitation, reluctance to call out sinister tactics, a pox on all our houses kind of equivalency that washes over Ottawa without responsibility being affixed to Harper for the odious words and deeds he's brought to our politics. Without getting too much into the personality thing here, there is a presence that Ignatieff brings that is hopefully going to give Harper fits going forward. Something like the bully meeting his match on the playground and no longer being able to get away with the stunts he's pulled thus far. Or maybe a radio interview is just a radio interview...:)

3. Buckets is doing wonderful blogging these days with the Western separatist developments. I wonder how long it will be until a Harper Conservative speaks out against such horrible, awful people? Aren't we all in mortal danger? And just what kind of flag is that they're touting for the new country, anyway? That's not the Canadian flag! I'm sure our flag-hall monitor PM will definitely get right on this.

4. Shipbuilding, you say, Junior? What is that, the stimulus plan taken from 1815? Guess the rumoured plans to build new vessels overseas are kaput for now...see this David Pugliese column on MacKay and Prentice talking up building the Joint Support Ships overseas. How quickly things change when the Conservatives need to be seen to be doing something economically.

5. Here is the article by Graeme Smith in the Globe today on the decaying security situation on the highway outside Kandahar that is eating our soldiers alive. And here is the minute or less he was given to explain it on the Cartoon News last evening. People really should read the first. But most will just see the second. Part of what's wrong with our clued out population.

6. Cartoon of the day:

Star/Corrigan

Sunday, December 14, 2008

See ya



Couldn't be happening to a more deserving fella...must see footage for posterity. From the NY Times:
But his appearance at a news conference here was interrupted by an Iraqi journalist who shouted in Arabic — “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog” — and threw one of his shoes at the president, who ducked and narrowly avoided being struck.

As chaos ensued, he threw his other shoe, shouting, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” The second shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki stuck out a hand in front of the president’s face to help shield him.
As Bush departs from office with his many disasters in his trail, this episode seems about right...


AP with the significance of the shoes:
In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt. Iraqis whacked a statue of Saddam with their shoes after U.S. marines toppled it to the ground following the 2003 invasion.
And Bush's reaction:
White House press secretary Dana Perino suffered an eye injury in the news conference melee. Bush brushed off the incident, comparing it to political protests at home.
"So what if I guy threw his shoe at me?" he said.
Well, the what is that this is not normal. The man is not respected, in fact, despised.  What an absolute burn.  What is that Iraqi death toll, by the way?  

On the brighter side, there's nowhere to go but up for Obama...  

Republican southern Senators seeking partisan advantage at time of crisis...



This is a discussion on Countdown from Friday night on the subject of that leaked GOP memo in which Republican strategy to strike a blow against organized labour is disclosed. That memo was discussed in a post at pogge's blog yesterday. Faced with the imminent prospect of 3 million Americans losing their jobs due to the tanking of the American auto industry and the tumult that would cause...the Republican southern Senators are preoccupied with striking a significant partisan advantage against a political foe.

Does that sound familiar, Canadians?

For more on the hypocrisy of seeking wage concessions from the UAW and not having done anything of the kind in respect of the Wall Street bailout, NY Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson is powerful today: "Blank Check for Banks, Pink Slips for Detroit."
HERE in Bailout Nation, you’ll be surprised to learn, some of us are more equal than others.

Witness the Congressional back of the hand delivered last Thursday to Detroit automakers. Chrysler and General Motors were asking for $14 billion to see them through the end of the year; the Senate said no.

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who leads the Senate Republicans, opposed the rescue. “None of us want to see them go down, but very few of us had anything to do with the dilemma that they have created for themselves,” he said. “We simply cannot ask the American taxpayer to subsidize failure.”

That’s a new concept — not asking the taxpayer to subsidize failure. Is that not what we just did with the banks, to the tune of $700 billion, 50 times what the beleaguered carmakers asked for?

Moreover, in the bank rescue, taxpayers are subsidizing not only failure but also outright recklessness and greed. In spite of the fact that financial institutions drove the nation into the economic ditch, and even though “very few of us had anything to do with the dilemma that they have created for themselves,” the financial industry received billions, with few strings attached.

Complaints about bailing out high-earning autoworkers are another fascinating disconnect. The supposedly exorbitant autoworker wages that get everybody so riled up pale in comparison with the riches of Wall Street.

Neither were the banks required, as Detroit would have been, to get rid of their private jets or supply Treasury with in-depth restructuring plans in exchange for bailout funds.
The hypocrisy that is going on as between the treatment of the auto industry versus the financial sector just reeks...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Flaherty's go-slow approach sowing doubt

Still making us wonder whether they know what they're doing. Flaherty spoke in Saint John yesterday arguing Canada has time to consult and come up with its own stimulus plan despite the fact that countries around the world are acting much more decisively and quickly. Look at the announcements from Japan yesterday and the direction the EU is heading in, for example. It looks like the Conservatives are prepared to leave themselves open to criticism in this regard. Some of the audience did not like what they heard from Flaherty's go-slow style and offered some pretty candid comments:
“Despite the fact that he says Canada is in the best shape, we are going to go through some very tough times and he has to realize that despite some of the good news he talked about that they've done, they are going to have to do more,” Derek Oland, chairman of Moosehead Breweries Ltd., told radio station CHSJ after the speech.
...
While there are plenty of executives who commend Mr. Flaherty for his calm, others think a substantial and quick jolt is warranted.

Larry Pollock, chief executive officer of Canadian Western Bank, wondered why Mr. Flaherty appears to be playing for time. “Let's see what the plan is,” Mr. Pollock said. “[It is like] somebody has dropped a nuclear bomb on us and we took a pause to try to decide where the Christmas party is going to be.”

The government has to get going because “any stimulus will take some time to work its way through the economy,” Mr. Pollock said. “I'm not sure what he's waiting for and what his strategy is.”
Flaherty's consultation efforts and his repeated warnings about not "panicking" come on the heels of his discredited economic update. In that update, they were also buying time, but under the false cover of projected surpluses out to 2012-2013. The headlines that resulted told the story the government wanted, we're presumptively in surplus. But by the way, it may not last. Now two weeks later, the surplus cover's been predictably dropped:
Speaking to reporters after addressing the Saint John Board of Trade in New Brunswick, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said it is "likely" that the government "will now be obliged to present a budget with a deficit."
...
Flaherty had already said the government was prepared to go into deficit next year if a stimulus package proved necessary to support the Canadian economy.

In his economic statement released last month, Flaherty said the federal government was projecting balanced budgets and small surpluses through 2012-13, but with an allowance that world economic uncertainty might make it impossible to rule out deficits.(emphasis added)
What a waste of time that little p.r. game was.

The actions of the Finance Minister really aren't doing much to instill confidence. Hard to see how this will be changing over the next month.

Sounding off

This post from the Mound of Sound is well worth a read, adding further perspective on the report in the Globe today on the Conservative 40 year mortgage experiment:
...while you may argue that these subprime borrowers got themselves into it, that they're the authors of their own misfortune, the Conservative policies that made this possible have wreaked damage that has spread throughout the real estate market.

Especially today with Republican conservative subversion of global securities/stock markets, many Canadians are seeing their retirement portfolios crater before their eyes. Now Harper/Flaherty have undermined their fallback retirement asset, their home equity. They did it in the deliberate pursuit of a mad, uber-right ideology and we're all going to pay dearly for that.
Garth Turner with more.

Harper/Flaherty 40 year mortgage error in the spotlight

The media are finally zeroing in on a very under reported aspect of the Harper Conservatives' financial foolishness: "How high-risk mortgages crept north." This is a must-read today to learn how the Harper government's choices, principally bringing us the 40 year mortgage with zero down, have led us to the present state of affairs where the Bank of Canada is warning about the prospect of a substantial increase in housing defaults. An excerpt:
The mushrooming of a Canadian version of subprime mortgages has gone largely unnoticed. The Conservative government finally banned the practice last summer, after repeated warnings from frustrated senior officials and bankers that the country's financial system was being exposed to far too much risk as the housing market weakened.

Just yesterday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty repeated the mantra that the government acted early to get rid of risky mortgages. What he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper do not explain, however, is that the expansion of zero-down, 40-year mortgages began with measures contained in the first Conservative budget in May of 2006.
...
The new rules encouraged the entry of such U.S. players as American International Group – the world's largest insurance company – and Triad Guarantee Inc. of Winston-Salem, N.C. Former Triad chief executive officer Mark Tonnesen, who spearheaded his company's aborted push into Canada, said the proliferation of high-risk mortgages could have been mitigated if Ottawa had been more watchful.

“There was a lack of regulation around the expansion of increased risk,” he said.


Virtually unavailable in Canada two years ago, high-risk mortgages proliferated in 2007 and early 2008 and must now be shouldered by thousands of consumers at a time when the economy is sinking quickly and real-estate prices are swooning. Long-term mortgages – designed to help newcomers get into the housing market sooner – are the most expensive in terms of interest costs, and least flexible when mortgage-holders cannot meet their payments and need extensions. (emphasis added)
That's AIG, the subject of a massive U.S. bailout just recently.

Read the article for the Harper and Flaherty spin on what they did, patting themselves on the back for "acting early" to yank the 40 year mortgages out of the market place. Harper got away with repeating this hooey without any questioning during the recent federal election. How irrelevant to say they acted early when they were unwise to proceed down this road in the first place.
Banking and insurance officials were so concerned about the alarming rush to 40-year mortgages at the beginning of 2008 that one bank executive warned the Bank of Canada's chief financial stability officer, Mark Zelmer, in a meeting that “the government has got to put an end to this.”
And these Harper Conservatives are the party who typically get the vote of confidence from Canadians in polls as to who is best placed to steer the economy in difficult times...just remarkable as their incompetence continues to pile up.