Sunday, December 30, 2007

On Conservatism, Culture Wars, and Ideologues in Layman's Clothing

Ideology always trumps reality in the mind of an ideologue

In the search for new leads on the recent CBC/Liberal collusion accusations, one inevitably comes across those who, usually for largely partisan reasons, thinks the allegations are no trouble at all.

One, in particular, couldn't escape notice. Posted by an individual by the name of Elasticsoul. This particular tirade followed a brief quote from CBC publisher John Cruickshank's letter to Conservative party campaign chair Doug Finley. It reads as follows:

"The Conservative Party of Canada is much like the Republican Party of the United States: it is now largely controlled by neoconservative 'market fundamentalists.' They WANT to damage faith in the political process. They WANT to start a nasty culture war to divide the electorate and put the other parties on the defensive. The Conservatives are following the model used successfully by the Republicans to gain power, if necessary at the expense of national unity, national pride, and certainly morality.

The Conservatives try to play the 'struggling honest outsider' role, but are at least as dirty as the other major parties. The Conservatives have FAR more cash in the bank than their opponents and are the governing party, yet constantly claim to be fighting powerful forces. The Conservatives ARE the powerful, well-funded, regressive force that the rest of us are trying to contain.
Predictably, Elasticsoul's little lecture hits on all the typical anti-conservative talking points. It also presents us with a choice opportunity to examine the thought processes of an ideologue of his nature, and determine precisley where a good deal of the hostility that is infecting the Canadian political process is coming from, and what implications it holds for the future.

First off, this particular individual certainly isn't very interested in discussing whether or not there is a serious issue at hand (and there is; the allegations alone are serious enough). For some reason, ideology seems much more important to Elasticsoul than whether or not the CBC has been behaving in a politically partisan manner.

First off, it seems that Conservatives are allegedly the only ones interested in damaging faith in the political process. It seems that Conservatives are allegedly the only ones interested in cultural warfare, despite the fact that so many self-proclaimed opponents of conservatism seem so eager to wage such a conflict.

The Conservatives are also accused of sowing disunity and resorting to immoral means in order to attain power (although he doesn't elaborate on what those may be).

Yet the complaints of immorality clearly appeal most to those who so desperately wish to spread the idea that, should anyone disagree with them, anything that could concievably be wrong with such a person simply must be wrong with them. In the minds of ideologues such as Elasticsoul, morality and politics have become entirely inseparable. He and those who agree with him are surmised to hold a monopoly on morality. Anyone who disagrees is degenerative, regressive, and utterly immoral.

Under such pervasive ideological conditions, it's unsurprising that some of those who are most impressionable can be coaxed into changing their minds.

Of course one has to consider the particular context of Elasticsoul's comments. At certain points, they seem to almost border on panic. Conservatism is treated almost as if it's some sort of infection that must be contained.

Yet, no legitimate government comes to power without support. When last anyone bothered to check, 30% of Canadians still support the Conservative party. That's an awfully large "infection", and in any human patient, would certainly border on terminal.

Yet, despite the tenure of a government that allegedly preys on national unity in order to achieve power, national unity remains at its highest point in decades, and Quebec separatism remains on the verge of becoming a spent force (although ruling out any resurgence would be extremely foolhardy).

In other words, Canada remains healthy despite its Conservative government. That should give people such as Elasticsoul cause to reconsider their rhetoric, but sadly, ideology brooks no such reconsideration. It is, by its very nature, rigid, unforgiving, and ignorant of facts. Ideology always seems to trump real issues in the mind of an ideologue. It's unsurprising -- they wouldn't be ideologues otherwise.

People such as Elasticsoul accuse Conservatives of being corrosive to national unity, yet it's they themselves who brand the 30% -- nearly a third -- of Canadians who plan to vote Conservative as somehow dangerous, even teetering on the brink of catastrophic.

The so-called "culture war" that Elasticsoul bemoans seems only to be fought amongst those -- on either side of the political divide -- most interested in waging such a battle.

It's also impressive how often morality can be tossed right out the window. In fact, it seems immorality may be the cultural warrior's mutual stock in trade.

Fortunately, most Canadians aren't bothering to take up arms in such a conflict, no matter how badly individuals such as Elasticsoul would actually encourage them to.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

CBC Lives in Glass House, Throws Stones

CBC claims about transparency are utterly laughable

In the most recent development in the allegations that an as-yet unnamed CBC reporter fed questions to Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, the CBC has finally broken its silence...

...about a Conservative party fundraising letter.

In the letter, CBC news publisher John Cruickshank castigates Conservative party campaign chairman Doug Finley for spreading cynicism throughout the political process:

"Dear Mr. Finley,

I have reviewed your pre-Christmas fundraising letter.

I write this public response to you because I believe that by its inaccuracy, innuendo, exaggeration and expressed malice towards hundreds of Canadian journalists you risk damaging not just your target, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but also public faith in our political process.

I understand that a private association like the Conservative party does not have the sort of transparent and reliable complaints process that we have at the CBC. That is regrettable.

I understand that you have already availed yourself of access to our Ombudsman, complaining that a member of the CBC News staff communicated suggested questions to Liberal MPs in advance of a public hearing. I appreciate this show of confidence in the integrity of our process. I wish you had reflected that respect for our commitment to answer any and all complaints about our work in your unfortunate letter to potential donors.

You were well aware when you sat down to write your appeal for cash that CBC News had publicly condemned the behaviour you complain of and had called a disciplinary meeting to look into it.

Your suggestion to your potential contributors that the CBC was waging a partisan campaign against your party and the government of Canada was flatly contradicted by every step we had taken before you composed your cash appeal.

We accept that you are not the only, or even the first, Canadian political party to use CBC News as a whipping boy for fundraising purposes.

The Liberal party accused us of bias on several occasions when it fit their agenda.

As a public broadcaster we take our responsibilities to all Canadian shareholders very seriously. This is more than just a glib promise. Unlike any other broadcaster in the country, the CBC has a journalistic standards and practices book. This book is given to each reporter, producer, editor and host working at the CBC. It outlines in explicit detail the code of conduct for our journalists. It covers conflict of interest; it covers issues of journalistic fairness and balance. It is clear, and it is binding. It is also a living document. We talk about it and refer to it daily when we are dealing with difficult ethical issues. It is also freely available to the general public to see, so they know exactly what standards we aim to maintain.

I would be delighted to share a copy of it with you.

CBC News is especially sensitive to how we cover partisan political debates. The CBC is non-partisan. We do not want to be seen to be a creation of any party (although, as you know, it was a Progressive Conservative government that brought our organization into being.)

While all our journalists try to live by our code of conduct, CBC News is not infallible. But we are accountable. When there are errors of judgment, or misunderstandings or improper interpretation of the journalistic standards and practices, we investigate. When we discover shortcomings, we change our standards and practices.

No other news organization in the country operates within such a demanding ethical regime. For you to sully the reputations of so many dedicated Canadian professionals is utterly unacceptable. Your denigration of our ethical standards can only contribute to the public cynicism about public life that is already far too pervasive.

Yours sincerely,
John Cruickshank,
CBC News
Of course, Cruickshank's letter seems to overlook a number of problems regarding the overall situation.

First off, he insists the CBC's process for dealing with complaints is "transparent and reliable". Yet, the CBC has already promised it will not be releasing the identity of the reporter in question. Not only will the public not have the benefit of knowing to whom to attribute this clear case of misconduct, but the individuals who will have to interact with him or her will not know, either. They certainly have the right to know about the ethical standing of any potentially disreputable reporter, so that they may make an informed choice about whether or not they wish to take the risk of dealing with that reporter.

In fact, the entirely behind-closed-doors disciplinary process practically ensures that the various questions that need to be answered won't even be asked.

Questions that also deal with the notable ambiguity of key passages of the very code of conduct that Cruickshank alludes to. (An email directed to the "transparent and reliable" CBC ombudsman, Vince Carlin, regarding this last particular matter has yet gone unanswered.)

Cruickshank's big words aside, a great many Canadians are calling for some accountability from the CBC, but we have yet to see it.

It's a very frustrating position to be in to find that one cannot have their questions about the operation of a publicly-funded organization answered. We've been asking them for weeks.

Cruickshank's stonewalling in the wake of Finley's fundraising letter (the greater implications of which are discussed elsewhere) only stands to reinforce the fact that a public inquiry is the only way Canadians will get the answers about the CBC that they deserve.

Will John Cruickshank finally begin answering some questions, or will he at least advise Prime Minister Stephen Harper to start the process by which these questions can be answered publicly?

The time for an answer to this question, and to many others, is now.

The What the Fuck!? Files Vol. 3 - What Some People Are Teaching Their Kids


Sargeant Jonathon Menjivar died in Iraq.

Oh, wait. No he didn't.

These are the revelations that have come out of a sad, sad episode in Texas wherein a six-year-old girl won four tickets to go see Hannah Montana by telling contest organizers her father was killed in Iraq.

"My daddy died this year in Iraq," her winning essay begins.

But there were two problems: first off, the US Department of Defense has no record of a Sgt Menjivar being killed in Iraq. Secondly, it sounds like a made-up name.

Now, one might think that, having been busted, the little girl's mother would be ready to dole out some discipline. Guess again. She was involved.

One might think she might be a little apologetic, at least in public.

Guess again.

"We did the essay and that's what we did to win," said Priscilla Ceballos, the little girl's mother. "We did whatever we could do to win."

This, apparently, is what some people are teaching their children.


Time For the Commonwealth to Step Up to The Plate

The time to stop violence in Pakistan is now

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has the toughest job in the entire world right now.

Of course, it isn't as if the job wasn't hard enough before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan and the first woman to lead a Muslim country, had previously described herself as the person Muslim extremists fear most.

She may have been right, as an Al Qaida-linked Pakistani extremist attacked Bhutto as she attended a Pakistan People's Party rally in Rawalpindi.

Since Bhutto's death, the powderkeg that is Pakistan has exploded, as PPP supporters have taken to the streets and rioting.

Musharrif has some heavy lifting ahead of him, as his government has promised to bring the Al Qaida militants responsible for the attack on Bhutto to justice.

However, he need not do it alone.

Word has begun to circulate that NATO may assign additional troops to reinforce the Pakistani border in order to prevent Taliban and Al Qaida militants from passing back and forth at will.

This is a good start.

However, this is also an opportunity for the Commonwealth to pitch in stabilizing a critical member state by way of a peacekeeping mission. With 58 member states with a combined up a grand total of 1.9 billion people, (although India alone constitutes one billion of this number -- but more on this shortly) the Commonwealth could certainly muster manpower to spare.

Fielding Commonwealth peacekeeprs in Pakistan would carry the added benefit of fielding a multicultural force less likely to be deemed an occupation force by Pakistani locals.

To top it off, at least Pakistan, unlike Afghanistan, has a fully trained, fully equipped and reliable military. Commonwealth forces would merely be reinforcing them.

Of course, engaging the Commonwealth in Pakistan is far from a perfect solution. Participation by troops from India, in particular, could only exacerbate the violent situation, and for obvious reasons.

There are also valid questions as to whether or not many African countries, in particular, could afford to dispatch forces to Pakistan. Britain, Canada and Australia would certainly be obligated to help out financially in order to make this happen.

Commonwealth engagement in Pakistan would also have a positive effect on the war in Afghanistan, as insurgents would have fewer places to hide out when necessary: certainly a plus in the books of many. Anything that can help end the conflict in Afghanistan sooner can certainly be regarded as a good thing.

The Commonwealth is certainly an organization that could use a boost to its international credibility. Flexing some muscle in Pakistan, as some other commentators have suggested, could provide just such a boost.

Musharraf would do well to call some friends to help him with his heavy lifting.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Iranian Supply of Taliban Forces Finally Comes to Forefront

Like it or not, it's time to get tough on Iran

Those paying close attention to the Afghanistan conflict have long had their suspicions regarding where the Taliban is recieving its armaments from.

On Christmas Day, speaking in the midst of a visit to Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Canadian minister of defence Peter MacKay has finally decided to stop beind so quiet about it.

"We're very concerned that weapons are coming in from Iran," MacKay announced. "We're very concerned that these weapons are going to the insurgents and are keeping this issue alive. We've certainly made our views to the Iranian government about this known."

"It's so difficult to cut these supply lines when you have people from other countries giving out weapons that are being used against Canadian Forces and troops from other countries."

In the days since MacKay's comments some predictable people have made some predictable comments regarding them. Unfortuantely, all too many of these people are willfully out to lunch, and out of touch with the facts.

The fact that Iranian weapons have been ending up in the hands of the Taliban is well known. British military intelligence services have confirmed it.

In fact, on 5 September, British special forces intercepted trucks crossing into Afghanistan from Iran. They contained materiel to make Explosively Formed Penetrators, a form of roadside bomb used by the Taliban.

"It is difficult for me to conceive that this convoy could have originated in Iran and come to Afghanistan without at least the knowledge of the Iranian military," said General Dan McNeill, who noted that these discoveries suggest direct Iranian involvement. "These EFPs have caused me some anxiety. I would say whoever put these together had the benefit of not only knowledge, but also some technology and machines."

The Iranians have also been caught supplying such devices to Iraqi insurgents.

"This confirms our view that elements within Iran are supporting the Taliban," announced a spokesperson from the British embassy in Kabul. "We have previously raised the issue of arms to the Taliban with the Iranians and will continue to do so."

MacNeill and MacKay are far from the only ones to allege that Iran has been supplying insurgents in Afghanistan. In 2006, General Mohammad Ayub Safi, an Afghan officer charged with border security in Herat province, noted that "in only the first quarter of [2006], more than 10 Iranian officials have been arrested in Herat who were allegedly involved in illegal activities."

One caveat, however, should be raised: even General McNeill has been reluctant to accuse the Iranian government of explicit involvement in Afghanistan. Rather, the Iranians may merely be passively allowing shipments of weapons bound for Afghanistan to travel through their territory, and turning a willfully blind eye toward "rogue elements" within their military that are providing such training to Taliban fighters and other Afghan insurgents.

One must also remember that the diplomatic relationship between Tehran and Kabul has notably improved, although one also cannot rule out the interest Iranian officials have in seeing American troops, in particular, killed in combat, as well as the direct benefit they would recieve from undermining fledgling democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's in Iran's interests to undermine the emerging Afghan state, even if they empower a Sunni regime in the process.

One could raise the point that the Iranian theocracy and the Taliban have always shared a mutual hostility. Then again, those who raise this argument are clearly unaware of, or simply ignoring, the previously-hostile relationship between the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (who is their principle ally in the war against the Karzai government and its NATO allies).

War makes for strange bedfellows. History reminds us of that time and time again.

Unfortunately, war against Iran is clearly not an option at this time. With American and British troops in Iraq and NATO troops in Afghanistan stretched near their limit, the forces necessary to deal with definitively with Iran are simply unavailable. While Desert Storm-style air strikes could still concievably put the fear of western power into characteristically beligerent Iranian leaders, the necessary ground support to ensure that lesson takes simply is not available. Other options are necessary.

Deploying more troops along the Iranian border is clearly necessary. Beyond that, the Iranian government must be made to understand that allowing hostile forces to travel through their territory unmolested is an act that will carry repercussions.

If the Iranians want to continue supplying -- be it directly or indirectly -- insurgents in Afghanistan with arms, perhaps its time we start supplying Kurds in Northern Iran with weapons so they can get serious about resisting Iranian oppression. Perhaps the Lor, Bakhtiari and Qashqai tribes that have taken up arms against the Iranian state could use a little assistance.

What goes around comes around, and when it comes to getting tough on Iran, turnabout may yet be fair play.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Conservatives Should Be Wary of Their Rhetoric

Media martyrdom may make for good fundraising, but bad politics

With a 2008 election possibly in the cards, the Conservatives -- like all of Canada's political parties -- will need every dollar they can get their hands on.

Apparently, they're banking on outrage over the recent allegations of collusion between the Liberal party and the CBC. In a fundraising letter, Conservative party campaign director Doug Finley is urging Conservative party members to contribute whatever they can to help the party win what he predicts will be an uphill battle:

"Let's face the facts.

Running as a Conservative in Canada is never easy.

The Liberals have long benefited from the support of the country's most powerful vested interests. And the NDP has always been backed by the country's loudest vocal interests.

And now it has been revealed that representatives of the CBC – the CBC that you and I pay for with our taxes – worked with Liberal MPs to attack our Government's record on a House of Commons committee.

That's right. Former Liberal Cabinet Minister Jean Lapierre – now a journalist with the TVA network – told CTV Newsnet that questions posed by Liberal MPs in House Committee were written by the CBC.

"I knew all about those questions. They were written by the CBC and provided to the Liberal Members of Parliament and the questions that Pablo Rodriguez asked were written by the CBC and I can't believe that but last night, an influential Member of Parliament came to me and told me those are the questions that the CBC wants us to ask tomorrow."
-Jean Lapierre, CTV Newsnet, December 13, 2007
Lapierre's stunning revelations shocked me. And having listened to Canadians' feedback on talk radio and read their comments on the blogs I know they probably shocked you too.

The CBC even admitted to Canadian Press that its behaviour in this instance was both "inappropriate" and "inconsistent" with the Corporation's policies and practices.

Sadly, this is not the first time our taxpayer-funded public broadcaster has found itself caught up in an embarrassing anti-Conservative controversy.

During the 2004 election campaign, it was revealed that CBC tried to stack a town hall-style meeting with Stephen Harper with people who were "scared, freaked out or worried about the Conservatives, the Conservative agenda or its leader."

And following our 2006 election victory the CBC publicly expressed "regret" after one its journalists was exposed using footage of Stephen Harper totally out-of-context and in a way that distorted the Government's position.

So what does this all mean?

In the coming weeks and months Canada could be headed into an election forced by St├ęphane Dion's Liberals.

We may not have the support of the Liberals' powerful allies. (As Campaign Director, I can assure you that the CBC will not be writing Stephen Harper's questions for his debate with Mr. Dion). But we do have the support of people like you. Proud Canadians who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules.

I would ask that you make a contribution - $200 or $100 – whatever you can afford to ensure the Conservative Party has the resources it needs to take on the Liberal Party and its vested interest allies.

We will need all of the money we can raise in order to fight back with paid advertising, direct voter contact and candidate support when the Liberals - and their vested interest allies – begin to attack our record, our leader and our plans for Canada's future.

People like you are the backbone of the Conservative Party, the only party that stands up to the vested and vocal interests who so desperately want to go back. Please contribute today so we can keep Canada moving forward under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In theory, the letter may bring in precisely the results one simply knows Finley is hoping for.

Needing money to overcome the machinations of a powerful media enemy may look good on a partisan fundraising letter, but it overlooks a number of basic political realities.

The Conservatives may be overestimating the value of money to a political campaign. Certainly, one can't mount a campaign without it, but masses of money doesn't guarantee political success. This is a lesson the Conservatives should have learned by now, having out-fundraised the Liberals since what seems like the dawn of time, the Conservatives have all too often come up short electorally.

First off, one has to consider the key differences between "earned media" and "paid media". Paid media consists of TV, radio and newspaper ads that are paid for by the party. Earned media consists of media exposure earned by releasing policy statements, criticising political opponents, or staging photo ops.

Earned media is infinitely more valuable than paid media, because earned media is what makes a party seem like it matters. A party that seems unnewsworthy by necessity also seems inconsequential. Being deemed insignificant is a political death warrant by any means.

Secondly, no amount of money can elect a candidate that is unlikable.

As Steven Levitt and Michael Dubner remind us, money can't force people to cast their ballot in favour of a candidate. In examining US congressional campaigns in which opponents ran against one another on consecutive occasions, Levitt and Dubner concluded that in some cases, 50% of money spent by a candidate could account for as little as 1% of their vote total.

Levitt and Dubner basically concluded that in elections, previously defeated candidates had a tendency to spend more money, while incumbents had a tendency to spend either the same amount, or less. However, despite expectations that the higher-spending candidates would at least perform better, voting patterns didn't always correlate to the amount of additional spending.

In short, money doesn't have quite the impact on politics that some imagine.

Even with Liberal fundraising figures languishing in the basement, the Conservatives are far from guaranteed to ski down mountains of cash and back into 24 Sussex Drive. In a future election they'll have to earn their way back into power.

If they want to do so, they'll need to earn media coverage, and control their message stringently enough to ensure that such coverage will be favourable.

Complaining about a hostile CBC and throwing money to the four winds is a recipe for electoral disaster.

The alleged collusion between the Liberals and the CBC is, indeed a serious matter. But milking this controversy for the purposes of fundraising may send a message to the Candian electorate that the Conservative party may not be altogether comfortable with.

To those in the know, it suggests the party may be out of touch with some basic political realities.

The Conservatives need to call a public inquiry into the collusion allegations, and let that matter take care of itself. Scrambling to raise money on the back of these allegations only makes the party appear weak and unable to conduct a political campaign in the media.

The Conservatives may inspire a windfall of fundraising cash with this issue, but they'll do themselves more favours by simply getting down to the business of conducting politics. That will involve dealing with the media including, inevitably, the CBC.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Opposition Leaders Start Election Countdown Clock

Politics as usual promised in new year

The opposition party leaders have spoken: Canadians should expect an election in 2008.

In theory, at least.

Less than two months after insisting Canadians don't want an election, Stephane Dion is once again pledging himself to defeating the upcoming spring budget.

It's like deja vu all over again.

"After two years of this minority Conservative government, the psychological threshold will have been reached," Dion announced. "People may not want, necessarily, an election, but they will not be surprised if there is one."

This coming from the man who so recently led his party into months of avoiding every opportunity to defeat the government. Canadians will probably be forgiven if they're less than convinced.

Jack Layton certainly isn't.

"[Dion] has been propping up Mr. Harper all fall, and abstaining on a throne speech that's explicitly said we'll stay in Afghanistan longer, we will abandon Kyoto and we'll give huge tax reductions to those doing well," Layton sniffed.

Even Gilles Duceppe is looking foward the spring budget with eager eyes. "I don't see how their budget will be supported by any of the opposition parties," he insists.

Yet just as all the government-slaying rhetoric about the budget was overdue this time last year, it's doubly overdue this year, as experts are looking toward a "tame budget".

According to Toronto Dominion bank's Don Drummond, recent economic misgivings expressed by Harper suggest this upcoming budget will be a little less spectacular than usual. "We are so used to, in Canada, to have blockbuster budgets that always have billions and billions of dollars in new spending, or billions of dollars in tax cuts, and I just don't think we're going to have that in 2008," Drummond said.

If the government does, indeed, advance a moderate budget come spring, opposition leaders may have a tough time trying to sell defeating the government to the Canadian people.

After all, Dion started his ruminations about defeating the government bright and early in 2007. It shouldn't shock Canadians that he would do so even earlier with his party tied in the polls.

Although it may cause nervousness in some Conservative party circles, the opposition promises to force an election in 2008 really amount to nothing more than business-as-usual under a minority Parliament.

But the Conservatives have proven to have more tricks up their political sleeve than the opposition gave them credit for in 2007, and one can rest assured that all the opposition talk of defeating the government will vanish without a trace if the government makes it politically inexpedient to do so.

The political doomsday clock may be running, but under a minority parliament, it always is.

The opposition threats to defeat the government in 2008 is really nothing more than business-as-usual, and business-as-usual is precisely what Canadians should expect.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Many a Tear Shed Over Canadian Blog Awards

Everything, it seems, has to be political

If anyone needed a crash course in acrimony, the recent controversy over the Canadian Blog Awards may be just the ticket.

Long story short, various feminist blogs have demanded the establishment of a feminist blog category, and have become quite outraged that they didn't get their way.

Perhaps what is most disheartening is the fact that these feminists were offered an opportunity to accept various compromises, including the establishment of a "men's issues" category. That suggestion, in particular, was rebuffed with regard as such:

"This whole but “what about the menz” argument is absolute bullshit. “Mens rights” organizations are not about helping men preserve their rights, they’re about maintaining privileges that allow them to treat women as second class citizens and get away with it. And that’s just as bad as being a racist in my book."
The undue denegration of masculinism
aside, the argument essentially boils down as follows: "we feminists deserve recognition on our terms, and our terms alone."

Considering that "their terms" clearly include denying similar recognition to others who may or may not want it says some very unfortunate things about the particular individuals involved. It's hard to credit such a relatively small group of people with speaking for all feminists, but it's certainly indicative of what these particular individuals think feminism stands for.

There once was a time when feminism was promoted as encouraging the reconceptualization of gender roles for both women and men. While this may or may not render any percieved need for a "men's issues" or "masculinist" category at the Canadian Blog Awards, the idea that feminists would reject it outright -- dismissing it as sexist simply because it deals men expresses a very unsettling attitude. The fact that they think the Canadian Blog Awards should institutionalize this attitude, and are so outraged when it won't, is more unsettling still.

Yet more unsettling than that is the suggestion, raised by a predictable source that Canadians with conservative political beliefs shouldn't even be allowed to participate:

"In the nuttiest of nutshells, SB, the CBAs were bound to collapse for one painfully simple reason -- you were going to allow Canada's conservatives to participate. And as I will explain in horrific detail, that was the fatal flaw since, quite simply, anything those people touch turns to shit. Every time. Without exception. As you have now learned.

There is a reason that Canada's wingnuts shouldn't be allowed near anything of value, and that's because they will wreck it every time, and the CBAs are no exception. Most of us -- the sane ones -- will look at something like the CBAs and think, "Cool. A way to recognize and reward the creme de la creme of the blogosphere." And we would proceed accordingly. So far, so good.

The wingnut contingent, on the other hand, would look at the CBAs and think, "Cool. A way to ram our political and ideological agenda down everyone's throat through carefully-choreographed and relentless freeping." See the difference, SB? Because that's (kind of) what happened here.
As it turns out, Cynic and his ilk want to use the freeping of the Beaver's "Worst Canadian" poll as a test case for excluding conservatives from the Awards.

As it turns out, Left-wingers have engaged in their share of freeping as well. Add to this the pro-abortion freeping of the Great Canadian Wish list (even as anti-abortion activists also freeped it), and the obvious freeping in favour of getting Stephen Harper on the "Worst Canadian" list as well, and it seems that Canada's left-wingers are no less guilty of the "cardinal sin" of freeping as their opponents.

(Truth hurts, get a fucking helmet.)

So, then, in the end, what does it all boil down to? Maybe that Canadian Cynic has spent the last two months pouting over his inability to propel the Galloping Beaver to a win in the 2007 Weblog awards. Also, that some feminists seem to think they're entitled to dictate the terms under which debate over gender can take place.

In the end, however, one has to feel bad for the awards' organizers, considering the amount of abuse they've been absorbing for nothing more than refusing to acquiesce to the demands of the wrong group of self-interested people.

Will Pablo Rodriguez Speak Up?

Rodriguez has some questions to answer as well

In a recent op/ed piece published in the National Post, Ian MacDonald raises an intriguing point:

Pablo Rodriguez rarely asks questions in English.

In fact, during this past session of Parliament, Rodriguez asked a single question in English. He asked an additional seven in French.

Yet, MacDonald notes, when Rodriguez appeared before the committee, to address Brian Mulroney (who speaks fluent French), he asked (in English), "Mr. Mulroney, you said you made no presentation to Maxime Bernier on the wireless spectrum issue. While he was the industry minister, have you ever had a private or public dinner or lunch with him in Montreal, or any other city? Have you ever met with him at all? If so, how many times, in which city? Have you ever placed a telephone call to him, or has he called you? On any of those, did you discuss the wireless spectrum issue?"

MacDonald asserts that the question was crafted "with lawyerly precision", and his assessment may not be altogether unfair.

To add a caveat, to treat the innuendo stirred up by noting that Rodriguez uncharacteristically asked his question in English as conclusive of anything would be unfair. However, to discard the suspicion it raises out of hand would also be altogether unreasonable.

To put it simply, it raises questions about who wrote -- or, rather, helped him write -- this particular question, but by the same token there are plenty of reasonable answers. Certainly, a Liberal staffer could have helped him translate the letter into English, and craft it with such precision.

But, by the same token, why ask the question in English at all when Rodriguez's self-noted language of preference is French?

Perhaps someone listening to the answer prefers to communicate in English.

On the other hand, Rodriguez could have simply been asking the question in English as a courtesy to Mulroney, whose first language is English. It seems a reasonable tactic to ensure a straight answer from Mulroney.

But who, other than Rodriguez, knows for sure?

For his part, Rodriguez claims that he was "inspired by what I saw on TV, inspired by the questions in the House of Commons, inspired by the fact that Mr. Bernier never wants to answer questions."

Now it's time for Rodriguez to answer some questions about his relationship with the as-yet-unnamed CBC reporter.

This is merely another reason why a public inquiry should be held. Otherwise, Canadians may never get the answers they deserve.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Counter-Branding at its Most Blatant

Counter-branding a key political tactic

Although the 2006 mid-term elections in the United States have long passed, they continue to teach us lessons about politics in general. A particular lesson can be derived from the advertisement featured above.

The lesson at hand deals with branding -- the creating and marketing of an identity to the electorate.

The spot in question, seemingly released as a pro-Democrat spot leading up to the 2006 election, can be treated as one of the more solid examples of an act as essential to any political party or entity as branding -- that of counter-branding.

As much as branding is the act of constructing a simple and coherent identity concept for onesdelf, counter-branding is the act of creating one that will then be applied to a competitor. In this sense, not only are the brands individuals and movements create for themsleves competitive with the brands opponents create for themselves, but also competitive with the attempts of the opposition to brand them in their stead.

In this case, the authors of the attempt to brand is obvious (Democrats), as is the identity of those they intend to brand (Republicans).

In the ad, the creators essentially cherry pick a few phrases out of what they claim is a dictionary definition of conservatism: "resistant to change", "unimaginatively conventional", "a bourgeois mentality". The ad then boils those three phrases down to three presented keywords: "materialistic", "resistant" and "unimaginative".

It then concludes: "are you sure you're a conservative?"

Of course, that isn't really the question the ad means to ask. The question the ad implies is: "these are the values of conservatism. Are you sure you want to be a conservative?"

Now, the fact that different dictionaries define conservatism differently would seem to complicate this effort. But in the end, that doesn't really matter much -- not even when the individuals behind the ad make a sly attempt to rely on the authority of a dictionary.

What really matters is whether or not the message takes hold, and helps in the construction of a voting coalition large enough to defeat the opposition.

In the weeks following November 7, 2006, this eventually turned out to be the case.

The United States could be considered to be one of the most fertile testing grounds for political branding techniques, possibly because American citizens (arguably) have lived their lives uniquely awash in branding techniques, and in the advertising by which that branding is done.

At least this serves as a convenient (if perhaps fickle) explanation for the colouring (perhaps even branding) of Democrat-voting states in Pepsi cola blue, while colouring Republican-voting states in Coca-Cola red. Especially when one considers the values being implied.

Pepsi cola has for years told American consumers that it's "the choice of a new generation". Likewise, Democrats have always tried to portray themselves as "the voice of a new generation". The Republicans, on the other hand, have simply portrayed themselves as "classic" America: traditional and Rockwellian.

Much like Pepsi and Coke have flooded the marketing world with countless spokespersons, the Democrats and Republicans have also promoted their own icons: the youthful Robert F Kennedy and Howard Dean for the Democrats, the older but more "white-bread" Ronald Reagan and Ike Eisenhauer for the Republicans.

When either party wants to impose an image of their own creation on their opponents, they've often proven to be quite predictable: youthful, energetic Democrats attempt to brand Republicans (ironically, the historically younger of the two parties) as outdated, unimaginative and slow. The sturdy, trusty Republicans attempt to brand Democrats as weak, untrustworthy, and a little radical.

When either of these parties bests the other, there certainly are other factors involved. But the predominance of these messages in the days both preceding and following a balloting day points to their formidability on the political scene.

This form of political judo should not be taken lightly.

Of course, there's a certain extent to which branding and counter-branding works. North of the 49th parallel, we've seen both successful examples of counter-branding:

And disastrous attempts:

Warren Kinsella would be the first to remind us that attack ads, in particular, often work. This is due to the pervasive power of counter-branding as a technique.

But it can also backfire. As such, overzealous conter-branding (as was the case with the astounding bone-headed "soldiers in our cities" ad) can be as much a danger to those who attempt it as to those who would be on the business end of it.

It's for this reason that it's unsurprising that political campaigns have very much become branding wars. Just as some of the memorable branding wars of the 1990s had us wondering "what's the diff?" between Coke and Pepsi, the political battles of the 2000s have invited people of all stripes to don a blindfold and drop their ballot for the political product of their choice.

Regardless of who wins the political branding war, it's democracy that will inevitably lose, as image becomes more important than ideas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lions for Lambs Raises Important Questions About War on Terror

What would a win in the war on terror look like?

"Do you want to win the terror?" Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise) asks. "This is the quintessential yes or no question of our time."

Janine Roth (Meryl Streep) shuffles uncomfortably in her chair. Like many Americans -- like many citizens in countries participating in the War on Terror (including in Canada) -- she probably knows her instinctive answer to that question. But then again, a question is nagging in the back of her mind: what do we do next?

Irving, an up-and-coming young Senator (annointed as "the future of the Republican party" by Roth herself) doesn't really seem to have an idea.

Lions for Lambs, Robert Redford's recent political drama about the war on terror (focusing almost entirely on Afghanistan), asks this question. Even if we all share Irving's single-minded desire for "a win", what precisely do we do next?

Lions for Lambs also inspires an even more important question: what, precisely, would "a win" in the war on terror look like? Just as Iraq has exposed the importance of the question of what we do following a military victory, we must also be very cognizant of this question.

If addressed from the point of view of pure elementary logic, it seems very simple: victory in the war on terror entails the elimination of terrorism. At its most simplistic, the idea of winning the war on terror suggests that we will one day live in a world without terrorism.

We desperately need to reconsider this answer. It's nothing more than a pipe dream.

In order to determine the truth of this, we need look no further than another historical pipe dream, one that allegedly originates from the opposite side of the political spectrum as the war on terror: the idea of a world without nuclear weapons.

In Weapons and Hope, Freeman Dyson -- a notable anti-nuclear weapons activist -- asks what he felt to be the most important question of the Cold War period: what would a nuclear weapons free world look like?

In the end, Dyson determines, it's virtually impossible. Once released from the lamp, the Nuclear genie could never be forced back inside.

Equally sadly, the idea of a terrorism-free world is equally impossible. Like nuclear weapons, terrorism is a genie that can never be forced back into the lamp. So long as individuals consider themselves oppressed and have a much more powerful enemy they want to fight, terrorism will always be a tempting option, be it as a form of societal intimidation or as asymetrical warfare.

In the single minded desire to win the war on terror, we need to be very cognizant of how we conceptualize victory.

Secure homelands are clearly an integral part of that concept. Whether we like it or not, we will have to engage the rest of the world -- both militarily and diplomatically -- in order to attain that security.

We must also avoid sinking to the depths of our opponents. Mutually Assured Destruction can come about from the careless disregard of the principles our civilization was built upon as from unrestrained escalation of the conflict abroad. And while dismantling terrorist networks by force is an absolute necessity, we must also ensure that terrorism doesn't become a bogeyman that can be exploited to push political agendas -- that is, if it hasn't already (and there's a good deal of disagreement on this).

Most importantly, we must ensure that our troops are fighting for what we tell them they are.

That's the responsibility of those of us on the home front, as Lions for Lambs reminds us. Whether we support the war on terror or not, it's our responsibility to hold our leaders accountable, and to ensure that our fighting men and women aren't put at unnecessary risk.

Certainly, we must win the war on terror. By the same token, we do ourselves -- and those who are fighting in this war -- a grave disservice if we fail to understand what victory in this conflict means, and how it will be won.

We must all do our part. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of allowing our fighting men and women to do all the heavy lifting for us.

Cutting the Shit Regarding Copyright Law

Lots of panic, little substance in copyright debate

If one were to believe certain online commentators, one would think that the new copyright law expected to be introduced (although recently postponed) by Jim Prentice is nothing short of a promise to rape nuns and devour orphans.

Yet, when one examines a good deal of the commentary, one thing becomes abundantly clear: much of this protest is based almost entirely on rhetoric, with very little substance to it.

After all, it takes a very special brand of ideologue to denounce a piece of legislation you haven't even seen yet.

Of course, certain panic stricken individuals would like to remind everyone precisely how important this matter is. "This is a very important event, an important piece of legislation," said Kempton Lam, who organized a recent protest at Prentice's Calgary office. "If it’s not set right, [we] are going to suffer the consequences for years to come.”

Seems pretty dire, doesn't it?

Given the obvious importance of the copyright issue, one would expect that those protesting this phantom would have something really, really important to say.

Guess again. In fact, it seems the objections to what is believed (although not confirmed) to be contained in the bill boil down to three As: anti-Americanism, anti-corporatism and assinine premises.

During Question Period this past week, NDP copyright critic Charlie Angus accused the Conservatives of "rolling out the red carpet to corporations.”

University of Ottawa professor and would-be copyright guru Michael Geist has accused the government of pandering to the American entertainment industry.

Geist is also among those who have insisted that the bill will closely mimic the American Digital Millenium Copyright Act (without, of course, having seen the proposed bill). "There was every sense that the government was going to produce precisely what the US has done," Geist insisted. "People recognize that [the DMCA] has caused significant harm for all sorts of groups: privacy interests, consumer groups [and] free speech."

Of course, the fact that copying someone else's copyrighted intellectual property doesn't qualify as "free speech" notwithstanding, the most ridiculous argument should, of course, be saved for last.

"Say I buy a DVD and want to rip that to a file and put that on my iPod. It’s the movie that I bought. I didn’t go out and buy the experience of putting a plastic disc in a player and then pushing a button on a remote control," argues Ian Wallace. "I bought the experience to watch that movie."

Not so. Purchasing a CD or DVD does not entail purchasing the right to copy that material at will.

At its most extreme, it may not be entirely unreasonable to agree with Terence Corcoran's assessment of the protestors. To suggest that people should be allowed to tinker away at anti-circumvention measures with impunity is, frankly, ludicrous.

Canadians don't tolerate lawlessness in the corporeal world. There's no reason why we should be expected to settle for it in cyberspace. Property rights are a fundamental foundation of the rule of law, and intellectual property is simply no different.

Perhaps the greatest irony is this: by targeting the anti-circumvention articles of any proposed copyright act as the locus of protest against Geist's phantom copyright bill, individuals such as Geist, Lam and Angus want to use hostility toward "large corporations" to try and topple the entire bill.

Now, if only big corporations were the only ones who own intellectual property.

The ironic thing about the movement to undermine copyright law in Canada, under the guise of freeing information from the shackles of big corporations, is that it will undermine the intellectual property rights of countless authors, musicians, film producers, and other assorted artists. People like Ian Wallace would like to believe they're conducting a David-and-Goliath struggle against "evil corporations". Instead, they're helping screw the little guy: thousands of hard-working producers of intellectual property who will see their ability to make a living off their work endangered simply because some jerkoff doesn't want to pay for the new Die Hard DVD, and some other jerkoff figures "by golly, he shouldn't have to, either".

Michael Geist takes his ill-concieved information revolutionary act a step too far when he actually suggests that copyright law should facilitate the distribution of copyrighted works in digital form as a business model.

Someone should tell Mr Geist that's up to the copyright holders. Copyright law needs to ensure that such transactions are carried out legally, within the guidelines imposed by law. In other words, copyright law needs to ensure that, whether directly or indirectly, copyright holders are the ones selling their intellectual property, not pirates.

As for developing digital distribution as a business model? Not the government's job.

As for the allegedly-impending shitstorm of lawsuits against consumers, Canadian Independent Record Production Association CEO Duncan McKie raises the most pertinent point: "the property holders would have to decide to sue."

And if the person on the business end of that lawsuit happens to be someone illegally copying that copyright holder's property, they can't exactly pretend that haven't reaped what they sow.

All the panic over an amended copyright law is premature at best, and outright ridiculous at worst.

It's time to give it a rest.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CIC Complaint Reveals Disturbing Matters Regarding Human Rights Commission

Human Rights Commissions being abused for political motivations? Seemingly so

In a recent op/ed column published in The National Post, Ezra Levant takes aim at the recent filing of a human rights complaint against Maclean's magazine.

According to Levant:

"Its crime? Refusing the CIC's absurd demand that Maclean's print a five-page letter to the editor in response to an article the CIC didn't like."
It's unsurprising that Levant would have something to say about this matter, as he himself has found himself subject to such manipulations of Canadian human rights law.

The complaint deals with a feature ran in the 20 October, 2006 issue of Maclean's. Entitled "The Future Belongs to Islam", the feature is a reprint of a chapter from America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It by Mark Steyn.

Now, for those who pay close enough attention to the work at hand, there should be little question that Steyn's column is unmitigated intellectual garbage. It paints a very unflattering portrait of Steyn's feverish worldview, wherein somehow every evil at work in the world today, including Islamic terrorism, can be conveniently blamed on the very concept of social security and universal health care.

In the end, the intended point of the article becomes agonizingly clear: if only westerners would have more babies, we wouldn't need to fear the big, bad Muslims who are "transforming Europe into Eurabia".

In fact, "The Future Belongs to Islam" deals in many of the same logical fallacies pedalled by many dilletantish "foreign policy experts" such as David Frum and Michael Ignatieff, including the "Islamic death cult" plopper (god forbid anyone should ever believe that perhaps Islamic terrorists do have grievances or goals, be they legitimate or illegitimate).

A good number of the ideas in "The Future Belongs to Islam" don't stand up to precursory scrutiny, just as the very premise of his book, America Alone, melts before the listing of the NATO states currently involved in Afghanistan (America Alone... oh, except for Canada, Britain, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands...).

That being said, its in this vein that the best way to combat the kind of ignorance being spread by Steyn and his ilk isn't in a Human Rights Tribunal. The best way to combat Steyn's sophistic trash is by refuting it in the media.

But that doesn't mean that Maclean's should be legally obligated to print a five-page letter to the editor refuting Steyn's work. That being said, Maclean's isn't the only game in town. There are plenty of other publications in which Steyn's feature could be refuted (although all of them will draw the line at a five page letter to the editor).

Virtually every publication in North America places some limits on the length of the letters it will consider publishing. Yet Levant predicts that the Human Rights Tribunal may rule against Maclean's magazine:

"It may shock those who do not follow human rights law in Canada, but Maclean's will probably lose.

Forcing editors to publish rambling letters is not a human right in Canada. But that's not how the CIC worded their complaint, filed with the B.C., Ontario and federal human rights commissions. Maclean's is "flagrantly Islamophobic" and "subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt" according to a CIC statement. "I felt personally victimized," said Khurrum Awan at the CIC's recent press conference. All this because Maclean's dared to run a column discussing the demographic rise of Islam in the West.
Levant notes that the CIC has tried to use the courts to silence those critical of Islam before, but also notes that using the Human Rights Commission may prove to be more productive than tactics used in the past.

"It's a new strategy for the CIC, which in the past has tried unsuccessfully to sue news media it disagreed with -- including the National Post -- using Canada's defamation laws. But Canada's civil courts aren't the best tool for that sort of bullying. In a defamation lawsuit, the CIC would have to hire its own lawyers, follow the rules of court and prove that it suffered real damages -- and the newspapers would have truth and fair comment as defences. Launching a nuisance suit against Maclean's would result in an embarrassing loss for the CIC, a court order to pay the magazine's legal fees and it would deepen the CIC's reputation as a group of radicals who don't understand Canadian values. (Three years ago, Mohamed Elmasry, the CIC's Egyptian-born president, declared that every adult Jew in Israel is a legitimate target for terrorists).

So civil lawsuits won't work. Criminal charges are a non-starter, too: Canada's hate-speech laws are reserved for extreme acts of incitement, and charges can only be laid with the approval of the justice minister. And in criminal court, the accused must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. No chance there.
Levant contends that the activist nature of the HRC favours complainants:

"That's why human rights commissions are the perfect instrument for the CIC. The CIC doesn't even have to hire a lawyer: Once the complaint has been accepted by the commissions, taxpayers' dollars and government lawyers are used to pursue the matter. Maclean's, on the other hand, will have to hire its own lawyers with its own money. Rules of court don't apply. Normal rules of evidence don't apply. The commissions are not neutral; they're filled with activists, many of whom aren't even lawyers and do not understand the free-speech safeguards contained in our constitution."
Those who have paid even passing attention to the human rights debate in Canada are well aware of the fact that many self-described right-wingers oppose the human rights commission.

It isn't as if they're disinterested individuals, either. Consider the recent furor over a decision by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission to impose a lifetime ban on Bill Whatcott from criticizing homosexuality. He had recently published and distributed a pamphlet he alleged quoted a classified ad for "Men seeking boys". Whatcott more recently ran for mayor of Edmonton, and filed his nomination papers wearing a "homosexuality is a sin" T-shirt (classy guy).

Yet in the Maclean's complaint, these individuals may have finally found themselves a horse to race.

If the Whatcott example is held up as an example of the punishment that Maclean's could recieve if found guilty (perhaps a permanent ban on publishing articles criticizing Islam), the Whatcott precedent could actually be transformed from something relatively reasonable (although this will inevitably be in the eye of the beholder) into something outright sinister.

Even merely ordering a retraction and apology could turn out to be very troublesome.

"The punishments that these commissions can order are bizarre. Besides fines to the government and payments to complainants, defendants can be forced to "apologize" for having unacceptable political or religious opinions.

An apology might not sound onerous, yet it is far more troubling than a fine. Ordering a person -- or a magazine -- to say or publish words that they don't believe is an Orwellian act of thought control. The editor of Maclean's, Ken Whyte, maintains his magazine is fair. But human rights commissions have the power to order him to publish a confession that he's a bigot -- or, as in one Ontario case, even order someone to study Islam. Even convicted murderers cannot be "ordered" to apologize.
In fact, as it turns out, using the human rights commission to attack Maclean's may turn out to be an abuse of the very human rights codes these commissions are charged with administering.

"Some of Canada's human rights codes cover "publications." Those powers were originally meant to cover things like signs saying No Jews Allowed or Whites Only (in human rights jargon, symbols that "indicate discrimination") or a swastika or burning KKK cross planted on someone's yard.

You don't need to be a lawyer to know that a magazine article is not what the founders of human rights commissions had in mind. As Alan Borovoy, the general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association -- and one of the architects of modern Canadian human rights law -- wrote last year, "during the years when my colleagues and I were labouring to create such commissions, we never imagined that they might ultimately be used against freedom of speech." Censoring debates was "hardly the role we had envisioned for human rights commissions."

Borovoy's warning has gone unheeded. The opposite, actually -- it signalled to the CICs of the world that human rights commissions are the perfect instrument to pursue their agenda of censorship. At the federal Canadian Human Rights Commission, for example, one single activist -- a lawyer named Richard Warman, who used to work at the commission himself -- has filed 26 complaints, nearly 50% of all complaints under that commission's "hate messages" section. He's turned it into a part-time job, winning tens of thousands of dollars in "awards" from people he's complained about in the past few years. Warman is a liberal activist, who likes to complain against Web sites he calls racist or homophobic. He's had the common sense to stick to suing small, oddball bloggers who can't fight back. But surely the CIC has observed Warman's winning streak, and will use his precedents to go after Maclean's.
However, Levant also cites the case of Reverend Stephen Boissoin who wrote a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate, published on June 17, 2002, wherein he railed against an alleged pro-gay agenda in Canadian schools, and exhorting that "enslavement to homosexuality can be remedied."

"An even more terrifying precedent recently was set in Alberta. The case involved a letter to the editor written by a Christian pastor and published in the Red Deer Advocate newspaper. The letter was a zealous, even rude, expression of the pastor's belief that homosexuality was a sin, and that there was a homosexual political "agenda" that had to be stopped. But instead of joining the debate by writing a letter to the editor, a local teacher complained to the human rights commission.

The commission's one-woman panel--a divorce lawyer with no expertise in constitutional rights -- ruled that "the publication's exposure of homosexuals to hatred and contempt trumps the freedom of speech afforded in the Charter." That was it: Freedom of speech, and of the press, and religion, all of which are called "fundamental freedoms" in our Constitution, now come second to the newly discovered right of a thin-skinned bystander not to be offended.
Levant actually fails to mention that University of Calgary Education professor Darren Lund waited until after a 17-year-old gay teenager was assaulted until he decided to file a complaint.

Whether the assault was coincidental or not (the assault took place two weeks after the article was printed; one may make of that what they will), Lund may have been justified in feeling the letter caused harm.

“I do stand on the principle that I think the letter did expose people to hatred and I think the government, if it’s serious about its human-rights legislation, needs to make a ruling in this case and I think it’s very clear what they need to do,” Lund remarked.

Yet, the Boissoin case did take a turn for the unsettling, when the government itself chose to get involved, and certainly not on behalf of a pastor who was already finding himself in a position of legal disadvantage.

"In a rare move, the Alberta government sent a lawyer to intervene in the case -- against the pastor. The government lawyer argued that "if people were allowed to simply hide behind the rubric of political and religious opinion, they would defeat the entire purpose of the human rights legislation." Borovoy's well-intentioned laws aren't about making sure aboriginals can get taxi rides anymore.

The human rights panellist in question -- Lori Andreachuk, a former Tory riding association president -- wholeheartedly embraces this expansion of the definiton of "human rights." "It is, in my view, nonsensical to enact human rights legislation, to protect the dignity and human rights of Albertans, only to have it overridden by the expression of opinion in all forms," she wrote. Though no harm was proved to have come from the pastor's letter, it "was likely to expose gay persons to more hatred in the community" -- precisely the same language used by the CIC in their complaint against Maclean's.

In a ruling that spanned some 80 pages, Andreachuk spared just two paragraphs to explain why she was overruling the Charter's guarantee of freedom of speech. In real courts, a demanding legal hurdle called the Oakes Test must be passed before that can be done. The reason for infringing a Charter right must be "pressing and substantial," the infringement couldn't be "arbitrary or irrational" and it must be as "minimal" as possible. None of that analysis was even attempted by Andreachuk -- that's boring legal stuff for real judges in real courts. The Oakes Test was named after David Oakes, a man charged with trafficking of hash oil, who beat the rap using the Charter. Accused drug dealers get the benefit of the Constitution, but not accused pastors.
It is indeed troubling that Canadian human rights commissions are allowed to operate in a manner so contradictory to Canadian legal traditions, while handing down rulings that are still legally binding.

With the filing of the recent complaint against Maclean's magazine, there may finally be no way around this.

"There will be more human rights complaints like the CIC's, and more staggering rulings like the Alberta decision. It's odd: Mohamed Elmasry, an apologist for Islamo-fascism, using the same tools as an "anti-racist" leftist like Richard Warman. At first glance, they may seem like opposites, but they're actually identical: Both are illiberal censors who have found a quirk in our legal system, and are using it to undermine our Western traditions of freedom. Until last week, I would have thought that Maclean's magazine was too big a fish for them to swallow. I don't think that anymore."
While one of the principal functions of any healthy democracy is protecting its most vulnerable members from abuse, it may be time for Canadians to finally admit that two wrongs don't make a right.

While a belief in human rights is unquestionably one of the most important foundations of Canadian society, so is the belief in the rule of law. Yet when the principle of legal equality -- another fundamental foundation of Canadian society -- begins to take a backseat to the political motivations of those who use them to further their agenda.

It's time for Human Rights Commissions to start functioning like actual courts of law. If those administering these Commissions aren't up to this task, then the time has come to discard these commissions altogether, and start enforcing Human Rights Codes through the courts.

The CIC complaint against Maclean's magazine is both an abandonment of the CIC's responsibility in this matter -- namely, refuting Steyn's original article -- and an abuse of the system.

It cannot be allowed to stand.

Big Words from the CBC

But will it live up to them?

In a recent email being circulated amongst various bloggers, an unnamed CBC vice president has promised the CBC will get to the bottom of the matter:

"I wanted to let you know that CBC news chiefs have looked at the allegations made [recently].

They feel that the reporter's actions in pursuing the story were inappropriate and against CBC/Radio-Canada's Journalistic Standards.

They are continuing to investigate the particulars and will follow the disciplinary processes outlined in the CBC's collective agreement.

I imagine that the CBC Ombudsman will be responding to complaints and investigating what happened as well.

They want to make sure this doesn't happen in future.
It's a big promise.

But aside from the fact that the CBC has already announced it will not publicly reveal the identity of the reporter in question (raising some suspicion of an impending cover-up), a cursory examination of the CBC's published Journalistic Standards actually says very little about the matter at hand.

It's important to remember that there have been two explanations for the matter forwarded: that forwarded by the Liberal party and the CBC itself, suggesting that the reporter in question was merely pursuing a story of his or her own, and one forwarded by various Conservatives suggesting that the CBC and Liberal party were "strategically colluding".

If approached from the CBC/Liberal perspective, only one segment of the document, listed under "information gathering" seems to have any significance to the matter at hand. The passage refers to clandestine methods, and reads as follows:

"As a general rule, journalism should be conducted in the open. The credibility and trust placed in the CBC's journalistic programming by the public depends largely on confidence in the ethical and professional standards of its practitioners.

Covert methods, as referred to in this policy, should only be employed with due regard to their legality, to considerations such as fairness and invasion of privacy and whether the information to be obtained is of such significance as to warrant being made public but is unavailable by other means.
From this point of view, the reporter in question would be guilty only of using unnecessary means to get the information he or she desired. Such a question could be asked of Mulroney, or anyone else involved in the sale of wireless spectra, in the course of a properly-arranged interview.

Yet, one has to consider the chain of events necessary for this controversy to have transpired in the first place.

Pablo Rodriguez, as it turns out, is not a regular member of the House of Commons Ethics Committee. In order to be allowed to question Mulroney at the hearing, he first had to be granted permission to do so by the committee chairman, Liberal MP Paul Szabo. Beyond that, Szabo had to agree to allow the question despite the fact that it clearly dealt with matters outside the hearing's topic matter.

Conservative members of the committee called for a vote on whether or not the line of questioning would be allowed, and were outvoted.

It seems the opposition -- the Liberal party in particular -- were very interested in having Rodriguez's questions -- whether penned by or merely "suggested" by the CBC -- asked.

Once it becomes clear that a good deal of maneuvering by the Liberals was necessary in order to get these questions asked in the first place, it also becomes clear that the asking of the questions was not merely an attempt to glean the truth regarding the spectra auction, but rather a political ploy. The case for suspecting outright collusion becomes clear and quite persuasive.

The CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices document does contain a section regarding socio-political activities, which reads as follows:

"Employees assigned to information programming areas are limited in engaging in political activity, as they have the potential to influence or appear to influence politically related programming.

The following is Corporate By-Law No. 14(3)33 under the heading OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES

"(3)(a) No employee who is employed by the Corporation on a full-time basis as a producer, a supervisor of news or information programming, an editor, a journalist, a reporter, an on-air personality, or who is a designated management employee or primarily responsible to represent the Corporation in its contact with the public, may, subject to subparagraph 14(3)(b) or (c), take a position publicly in a referendum or plebiscite, actively support a political party or candidate, stand for nomination as a candidate and/or be a candidate for election to the House of Commons, a provincial legislature, the Yukon legislative assembly, the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories, or a municipal or civic office. For the purposes of this paragraph "designated management employee" means any employee who is a member of the Executive Group (persons paid on the Executive payroll) and any management employee who reports directly to a member of the Executive Group.

(b) A designated management employee may stand for nomination and/or be a candidate for election to a municipal or civic office with prior permission of his or her superior officer.

(c) An employee whose political activities are restricted under subparagraph 14(3)(a) and to whom section 87 of the Canada Elections Act (Revised Statutes of Canada 1985, chapter E-2) applies, shall be granted leave of absence without pay to stand for nomination as a candidate and/or be a candidate for election to the House of Commons, a provincial legislature or the Yukon legislative assembly, or the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories, on the following conditions:

(i) that prior to the taking of such leave, the employee shall apply in writing to the president, requesting such leave and setting out the period of time required; and,

(ii) that the employee shall accept assignment to another position in the Corporation on his or her return, if the president in his or her discretion, determines that the usefulness of the employee in his or her duties to the Corporation will be impaired by the taking of such leave. If the assignment to another position is refused by the employee, the employee shall be separated from the Corporation effective at the time of the expiration of the leave of absence.
(d) Employees of the Corporation affected by subsection 14(3) may attend political occasions as private-citizen members of a publicly invited audience.

(i) Subject to paragraph 14(3)(a), any employee of the Corporation employed on a full-time basis may take a position publicly in a referendum or plebiscite or actively support a political party or candidate and may be granted leave of absence without pay to stand for nomination as a candidate and/or be a candidate for election to the House of Commons, a provincial legislature, the Yukon legislative assembly, the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories, or a municipal or civic office, on prior written application to the Corporation setting out the period of leave required, if any.

(ii) An employee who is a candidate for election to the House of Commons, a provincial legislature, the Yukon legislative assembly, the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories, or any municipal or civic office and is elected shall be separated from the Corporation on the date that he or she is officially declared elected. However, an employee declared elected to any municipal or civic office may apply to his or her vice-president for permission to continue his or her employment with the Corporation while holding such office. If the vice-president in his or her discretion determines that the holding of such office will not interfere with the proper and regular performance of the employee in his or her duties to the Corporation then such permission shall be granted.
Interestingly, aside from passages forbidding anyone employed in a CBC newsroom from publicly expressing political support or standing as a candidate without first requesting and recieving a leave of absence, the CBC's document on Journalistic Standards and Practices says very little about the matter at hand.

In fact, aside from an ambiguously-worded passage forbidding "active support" of a political party or candidate, there's very little in this document to prevent a CBC journalist from working behind the scenes politically.

When considering this particular controversy as a case of CBC/Liberal collusion, it becomes evident that the reporter in question was working behind the scenes.

Without a more explicitly-worded statement in the document at hand, there is a valid question regarding whether or not the CBC can discipline the reporter in question at all.

Of course, failing to take any action at all can only serve to undermine the CBC's self-claimed "unique position of trust".

The lack of any specific statements regarding behind-the-scenes political work by CBC personell -- whether that behind-the-scenes work involves the use of CBC resources or not -- also puts CBC ombudsman and "leading commentator on journalism ethics in Canada" Vince Carlin in a difficult position. He may find his hands tied regarding any charges of collusion, but if that turns out to be the case, he'll also have to see to it that the CBC's Journalistic Standards statement is amended.

That could be viewed as a tacit admission that something shadier than a misguided attempt at getting information has occured here.

Whether or not the CBC lives up to its big promises and maintains its "unique position of trust" remains to be seen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Celebrating 300 Posts!

As blogging activity has picked up significantly at the Nexus over the past couple of months, its unsurprising that we're starting to knockoff a few milestones around these parts.

This one in particular (as the headline reads), is 300 posts.

It's been a heckuva ride over the past few months in particular, and I'd like to thank my few regular readers, those who have read my work, and those who will do so in future.

I'd also like to thank those who have consistently demonstrated that they just don't get it. Their empty admonitions, vapid villifications and attempts at character assassination have actually demonstrated that this bizarre little experiment you've all been so kind as to participate in has largely been a success.

They stand as proof that there are, indeed, people in the world who still view ego as more important than ideas.

I'd also like to thank those who have consistently demonstrated that they do get it (you'll find them listed under the blogroll).

No matter what happens in coming months, there are a few promises I'd like to make: I promise no punches will be pulled. I promise a constant influx of fresh ideas and perspectives. I promise to challenge cowardice, of any variety, wherever it may be found.

I also promise to be more active in the blogging community.

More than anything, I promise no apologies to those who won't like what's coming next. Don't expect the next 300 posts to be any different than the first.

Monday, December 17, 2007

John McCain Recieves Key Endorsements

McCain campaign due for a boost, but is it too late?

Joe Lieberman has decided who he thinks should be President of the United States.

And it isn't a Democrat.

In a surprise move, Lieberman has endorsed Republican candidate John McCain as the man to reunite the United States. "Being a Republican is important. Being a Democrat is important. But you know what's more important than that? The interest and well-being of the United States of America," Lieberman announced. "Let's put the United States first again, and John McCain is the man as president who will help us do that."

On the endorsement front, today was a very good day for McCain. the Des Moines Register and Boston Globe have chosen McCain as the Republican best qualified to become Commander-in-Chief.

"Time after time, McCain has stuck to his beliefs in the face of opposition from other elected leaders and the public," the Register's Editorial Board wrote. "The force of John McCain's moral authority could go a long way toward restoring Americans' trust in government and inspiring new generations to believe in the goodness and greatness of America."

"As a lawmaker and as a candidate, he has done more than his share to transcend partisanship and promote an honest discussion of the problems facing the United States," the board continued.

Despite previously-sagging polling numbers, these key endorsements are only the tip of the iceberg of McCain's turning fortunes. In a poll recently published in USA Today, McCain's favourable/unfavourable rating registered at 50% favourable/30% favourable. The nearest competing Republican, former New York city mayor Rudi Giuliani, registered numbers of 50% favourable/41% unfavourable.

Fabourable/unfavourable ratings actually being the most reliable polling data, this is very good news for McCain. Now lagging only 3 points behind front-runners Guiliani and the Chuck-Norris-fuelled Mike Huckabee, McCain is clearly set for a late-campaign surge.

However, it's possible that it may be too late for McCain. As with his past presidential campaign, McCain has been having trouble raising funds. He may find himself in a situation similar to that he found himself in in 2004, where he needed to win four of the first five primaries simply to stay competitive.

Unless this late surge in polling numbers is accompanied by a similar surge in his fundraising numbers, McCain simply may not be able to make up lost ground in this contest. Even then, defeating either Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama may turn out to be the penultimate uphill battle.

McCain has his work cut out for him. Unfortunately, his future may not be entirely in his own hands. American voters planning to donate funds to a presidential campaign will have to render judgement on him, too.

With Americans ready to embrace the kind of change McCain offers, that judgement may yet turn out to be favourable, but only time will tell.

Poppy Objection Should Have Been Overruled

Judge's objection to the wearing of a poppy in court betrays lack of objectivity

A courtroom controversy that has been quietly brewing for the past couple of months recently became a little bit louder, as the fallout from an incident in a Kitchener, Ontario courtroom has hit the letters to the editor page of The National Post.

On October 31st, Justice Margaret Woolcott issued a stern lecture to Constable Dan Haines and defence lawyer Richard Prendiville. "I think that somehow I owe you something in training," she said. "I wouldn't wear my poppy to court."

"Because however much -- and I really probably should have said something to [Prendiville] too -- but however much you may think that's a totally acceptable symbol, and that it is totally neutral, that might not be entirely the case for everybody who comes to court," Woolcott suggested. "It represents a symbol of support and I suspect that 99.999 per cent of us happily wear it outside of the courtroom. You probably should not wear anything like that in court."

Woolcott is entirely wrong in taking this stance. Some people, however, seem to fail to understand why.

In a 14 December letter, Ted Doueck essentially suggests Marget Woolcott's decision to lecture a police officer testifying in an assault trial for wearing a poppy was a sound act of accomodation for the local Mennonite minority:

"In Waterloo County, Ont, where Justice Margaret Woolcott sits on the Ontario Court bench, there is a large Mennonite population, who have a long and worthy history of adherence to non-violence and peace-making and are opposed to war and killing. Among this group of loyal Canadian citizens (whom you have blithely labeled "hateful eccentrics") the wearing of a poppy is generally viewed as glorification of war and all it entails.

Mennonites understand very well the disasters and destruction that accompany war and aggression -- they historically experienced these disasters themselves, as the persecuted targets of governments who were unwilling to accept and respect their policies of non-resistance and nonviolence. I have no idea what Justice Woolcott's personal views may be on this issue, but I commend her for displaying sensitivity to the fact that there are legitimate, alternate views in our society about the efficacy of war and violence in solving human problems. This opinion does not minimize the tragic loss of lives experienced in war but rejects the implicit endorsement of violence and military struggle which the poppy signifies.

Justice Woolcott recognized that wearing a poppy in a courtroom is essentially a political statement, made by a police constable whose line of work also entails the potential use of force and violence to uphold the law. Not all Canadians feel comfortable with that political view, nor should they, as she correctly pointed out to the officer in question.
In short, Dueck argues that it's acceptable to chide the officer in question because some people don't agree with the poppy as a symbol. In particular Mennonites, he argues, understand this as well as anyone due to the past persecutions they've suffered.

The irony that some of history's worst persecutions were ended only through war may be lost on him. This is precisley the point raised in a response written by Calgary's Alexander MacKay:

"As a surviving combat infantryman of two terrible wars I am deeply offended by letter-writer Ted Dueck's assertions that the poppy stands for war, that its wearing is viewed as "glorification of war" and that it signifies an "endorsement of violence."

In my service I never met any combat soldier who glorified war. Indeed it was universally reviled but accepted as a necessary alternative to more horrible consequences.

Undeniably all war is horrible, but the Second World War came about largely because we, the Western democracies, wanted peace too much. So craven did we become in seeking peace that we not only sold other innocent countries (e.g. Czechoslovakia) into slavery but we shunned facing war when it could have been resolved with minimum bloodshed -- instead of paying the eventual butcher's bill of 60 million lives.

Those who reject all war should reflect on Korea. There, the intervention of the willing, including Canada at a cost of more than 500 lives, prevented South Korea from suffering the terrible fate of its northern brethren. Today, South Korea is a vibrant modern society with boundless opportunities for its youth. Would Mr. Dueck have preferred that our sacrifices not have been made for them? Does he applaud the results of our failure to intervene in Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur?

Mr. Dueck and Margaret Woolcott, the Ontario Court Justice who berated a police officer for wearing a poppy in her courtroom, are disingenuous in attempting to affix their own pejorative meanings to a symbol that was solely intended to commemorate, and grieve for, those brave individuals who gave their lives so that others, including those who revile them, may live their lives in peace and security.
In another letter, Victoria's Michael Ross takes issue with Dueck and Woolcott's treatment of the poppy as a symbol:

"Apparently letter writer Ted Dueck's and Madame Justice Woolcott attended the same revisionist history classes. The poppy is not a symbol of war any more than a judge's robes are a symbol of unquestionable Solomonian wisdom. The poppy is purely and simply put, a symbol of remembrance. The reason it is worn by policemen across Canada is not to make a "political statement;" but to show that they remember those Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice and laid down their lives for their country. When my great-grandfather and my grandfather volunteered to fight tyranny overseas as proud members of the Canadian army, they fought so that all Canadians -- including Mennonites, Ontario Justices, and the residents of Waterloo -- could live in peace, freedom, and security.

I salute and thank the policemen across this nation who don the poppy to honour and remember the deeds of our fathers. The only political statement here is that of the Judge. I would think that she has more important issues to contend with in her court than hectoring policemen around Remembrance Day.
Ross is precisely right. If anyone involved in this unfortunate incident has used the courtroom as a forum for a political statement, it certainly wasn't Haines or Prendiville. It was Woolcott herself.

Whether in the name of an objection to the symbolism behind the poppy, or as a form of accomodation to those who don't agree with it, Woolcott's suggestion that the poppy -- worn in remembrance of those who died fighting to defend the country our justice system is supposed to represent -- is explicitly a political statement. It represents, at best, an accomodationists' insistence that the opinion of .001% (by her own estimation) should somehow count for more than that of the remaining 99.999%. The suggestion that a police officer can't wear a poppy in remembrance of those who gave up their lives so that we may have, among other things, our legal system is nothing short of a national embarrassment.

The suggestion that he can't do so because someone, somewhere might object to it is implicitly silly, and has no place in a court of law.

In the end, what Woolcott's objection reveals is her own lack of objectivity. She has demonstrated a noted inability to accept that while some people may interpret the poppy in ways other than that intended (and Ted Dueck's letter stands as proof of that), that is simply part of life in a democracy. In a democracy, where we enjoy freedom of speech, we're allowed to make statements that may risk offending someone. This freedom makes us obligated to face the consequences for such statements, but we have that freedom nonetheless.

Case in point: in her attempt to avoid offending the small number of people who see the poppy as a celebration of war, Woolcott has offended a great many more.

The damage she has done to her own reputation, and the reputation of her court, is a consequence she'll have to accept.